2016 was fucked up from the jump. Ted Cruz won a primary and David Bowie died right around the same time, and maybe that should have clued us in to the fact that the next twelve months would be a sewage tsunami.
This is not a list of grievances, though. I agree that 2016 was a tough year, full of losses and trauma, but mixed in with all of that gloom were moments of joy and wonder. The healthy thing to do is point out things that made the year tolerable, from small achievements to major changes. (For the sake of organization, I’ve made it into a list, but the rankings are fairly arbitrary.)
10. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The announcement of Dylan’s award sparked instant debate, and his shrugging refusal to show up for it irked some people quite a bit. Neither “controversy” diminishes the weight of what the man has accomplished over the last 55 years. He has been honored so often, with Grammys and an Oscar and presidential medals, but it will never quite feel like enough to repay him for “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Shelter from the Storm.” (The blu-ray of Martin Scorsese’s essential Bob Dylan: No Direction Home arrived in October if you need any convincing about Bob.)
9. My son entered kindergarten.
You know that moment when you go from paying $1100 a month for preschool to paying nothing for a good public education? It’s pretty goddamn sweet. Ian has transitioned well, making friends and moving toward literacy. The kid enjoys school, which is a relief and a joy for his teacher parents.
8. We bought a new car.
Sure, we had to make this purchase because of a car accident, but it’s hard to feel bummed about our 2016 Honda CR-V, which has heated leather seats and lots of other things our old Kia minivan didn’t.
7. A Brief History of Seven Killings
This novel, the third by the incredibly gifted Marlon James, is the best thing I’ve read in years. A multi-character account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, it weaves politics, music, humor, horror, and class together into a vivid portrait of Jamaica beyond the resorts. (For an equally brilliant companion piece, read James’ The Book of Night Women, too.)
I’m late to Beyoncé. I never liked Destiny’s Child, and for the last 15 years I’ve largely ignored her solo work, with a few catchy singles excepted. Lemonade has changed all of that. It’s a blistering, angry, defiant concept album about infidelity, and it belongs on the shelf next to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Highlight: Jack White’s scorched-Earth guitar underlining Bey’s rage on “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
5. Mia writing stories.
“Can I be a scientist and a writer, Daddy?” Of course she can. She journals almost every day, but she also works on short stories, and we’ve had long conversations about story structure, character, and plot development. I love seeing her piece her ideas together. She’s only eight, but I can’t wait to see what she becomes.
4. I performed for Mortified.
I like public speaking, like being in front of a crowd. I’ve given sermons and done standup (of a sort), but the best response I’ve ever had came from reading some absolutely awful stuff I wrote when I was a freshman in college. Mortified showcases people sharing embarrassing writing from their youth. This would be torture if the audience wasn’t so warm and supportive. Performing felt like a group hug.
3. Early retirement.
I should still be teaching. There’s no reason why a blind man, given proper accommodation, cannot teach middle school social studies. But since I didn’t have much of a choice, I retired on February 1. This freed me up for volunteer activities, allowed me to become a stay-at-home dad, and created space for regular afternoon siestas. I miss my students and my colleagues, but not the paperwork or the endless faculty meetings. And in 2017, I am going to write.
2. We bought a new house.
For the last five years, we have been renting a townhome. It was spacious, and it was in a great neighborhood. Still, we wanted to own our own home. The financial variables finally fell into place, and we were able to get a down payment together and buy a single-family home across town. There’s a fenced-in backyard, sidewalks perfect for walking with a guide dog, and my wife’s dream kitchen. Best of all, our neighbors are uniformly kind and supportive. We can grow old here.
Obviously, this is a generic answer. I’m sorry for that. But in a year when you can make an obvious case that most people are terrible (deplorable, perhaps?), our family has been surrounded by love. From the lady across the street (who brought us fresh brownies on our first night in the new house), to our realtor (who cared enough to drive my wife to a doctor’s appointment months after closing), to my father’s best friend (who transported my family home from Christmas in Western Pennsylvania–long story), we have been blessed with an abundance of generous people in our lives this year. Sometimes, you only notice how good the folks around you are when the world at large is at its worst. I could name so many people who brightened my life, but I trust you to know who you are. Thank you for what you’ve done for me, my wife, and our children. We feel loved, and that has made 2016 not just bearable, but memorable.
Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2017!