Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Melancholic Meditations, December 2016

Credit: jaymantri.com

2016 has been widely reviled a dumpster fire of a year, and for good reason.  From the deaths of beloved celebrities and a terrible summer movie season to a soul draining, mind numbing, bigotry stuffed shit sundae of an election topped with the demon piss soaked maraschino cherry of Donald Trump’s victory, it’s hard to see much good coming out of the past year.  As John Oliver and friends so eloquently put it, “Fuck you, 2016!”

As depressing as this year has been, I have to admit it hasn’t been all bad for me personally.  I have a new nephew and a new first cousin once removed.  I got to go to a conference in Hawaii in May, a family road trip to South Carolina in July, and then my first WorldCon in August.  My spouse got a job, thus solving what academics so tactfully call “the two body problem.”  I had a few academic publications and signed a contract to work on a book on skepticism in Indian philosophy.  I got on Twitter for reasons I still don’t entirely understand.  I continue to have a lot of fun with this blog, which will celebrate its second anniversary on December 23rd.

Of course, this is also the year I turned 40, which in itself isn’t so bad (and beats the alternative in any case).  Still, 2016 has not given me the greatest world in which to start my new decade of life.

As we come to the end of this difficult year, it’s hard not to feel melancholic.  And defeated.  And despondent.

The year began with the deaths of several celebrities within the first few weeks: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey.  Lemmy Kilmister and Natalie Cole had died in the last week of 2015 as a sort of test run, I suppose.  Throughout the year we lost Prince (the most personal for me), Anton Yelchin, Phife Dawg, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, and more.  We also lost non-artist celebrities like Gwen Ifill, John Glenn, and Muhammed Ali as well as controversial figures like Fidel Castro.  If you’re morbidly curious, Wikipedia has a list of “notable” deaths by month and year.

As if all the death wasn’t enough, the summer movie season was almost entirely awful, from the lameness of Warcraft to the soullessness of the Independence Day sequel (although I liked the new Ghostbusters and loved Kubo and the Two Strings).  At least November came around to give us Arrival, which will probably end up somewhere on my list of top ten science fiction films.

I’m working on finishing some 2016 books.  Aside from Ian Douglas’s Altered Starscape, which wasn’t very good, I have enjoyed Robert Sawyer’s Quantum Night and N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate.  I’m currently reading Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning.  I suspect that Jemisin’s and Palmer’s books feel different as I’ve been reading them in these post-election Trumpian times, something I hope to discuss when I get around to writing a Best Books of 2016 post.

But by far the worst of 2016 for me was the US Presidential election, which had been in full swing for most of 2015 and now threatens to influence the entire world for decades to come.

The few weeks immediately following the election were surreal.  My teaching persona is generally light-hearted: I tell jokes, bring the students candy, and try to keep things upbeat and fun.  I don’t do a dour-and-serious-let’s-talk-about-our-feelings sort of classroom.  I generally steer away from contemporary politics unless it’s relevant, which considering the fact that almost everything I teach these days is hundreds or thousands of years old, isn’t so hard.  Other than a few brief comments, I chose to maintain my usual classroom demeanor.  Teaching is always about playing a part (something I learned early in my teaching career), but the schism between what I was feeling and the part I was playing was wider than usual.  I don’t know if this was the right choice for me or for the students, especially since some of them were dealing with their own despair.  But maybe a bit of light-heartedness is all the more valuable in a harsh world.  I’m not sure what I will do going forward.

It’s not just the result of the election that plunged me into despondency.  To be sure, the result was horrific and continues to unleash new horrors daily, but the entire process of the election was heart breaking.  Even if we had narrowly avoided a Trump administration, the scars would have cut deep for me. 

It wasn’t just the blatant bigotry that underscored Trump’s campaign, it was the internalization of that divisiveness on the left that resulted in misogynist Bernie Bros, smug dismissiveness from all corners, and in recent weeks the (unintentional?) scapegoating of women, people of color, and LGBTQIA people via left wing economic transmutations of right wing cultural critiques of poorly defined concepts like “identity politics” and “political correctness.”  (Jamelle Bouie's "Keep Hope Alive" gives one of the better responses to these bizarre transmutations).

Even more depressing, all of this seems to simply be the American instantiation of a global trend of reactionary bigotry seen in India, Europe, and elsewhere.  It’s hard not to feel the pull of the thought that a more just world that respects the diversity of humanity is a fleeting dream, at best a temporary respite from our regularly scheduled program of tribalism, violence, and injustice.  I would like to believe that we humans are better than this.  But after 2016, I’m not sure that we are.

Some may try to find comfort in the new year: “Chin up!  2017 can’t be as bad as 2016!”  My response: whatever comfort the new year might bring, it will be shattered on Jan. 20, 2017 when Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.

At least we have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to look forward to in a few days.  I’d normally end this post by saying something cheesy like, “Help us, Rogue One, you’re our only hope!”  Of course, I already have Rogue One tickets.  I’ll see the movie.  Probably a few times.  I’ll keep on keeping on, hoping and struggling for a more decent future.  But I’d be lying if I said my December 2016 melancholy doesn’t make all of this a lot more difficult.


  1. I realized I didn't even mention other terrible things of 2016 like the the murder of 49 people at a gay night club in Orlando (http://examinedworlds.blogspot.com/2016/06/dear-lgbtqia-friends.html), the continuing killing of unarmed black people by police (http://examinedworlds.blogspot.com/2016/07/americas-terrible-week-few-thoughts.html), and the tragedy in Aleppo, Syria, which has only gotten worse (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38299172). I'm sure there are other terrible things of 2016 that I'm forgetting...

  2. Yep. Pretty much sums up all my thoughts. Shitty McShit turd sandwich of a year. Folks are trying to make this into left vs right but those of us who think with our thinking brains know it's way deeper.

    On a side note, whoa! You don't look 40! Congratulations to Mrs. Mills on getting that job!

    1. Thanks, Kyanna. That's a good point. There are plenty of conservatives and libertarians who aren't happy about the recent turn of events, either.

      My profile picture was taken in Aug. 2014 when I was a wee tyke of 37. I don't think I look too different now, though. You can see a more recent picture here: http://examinedworlds.blogspot.com/2016/08/worldcon-report-2.html

      We're excited about becoming a two-full-time-job-in-the-same-city household.

      Thanks, again! I hope things are well for you, or at least as well as we can expect in 2016.