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Welcome to the 24th year of this blog. I know, right? I have adult students who are younger than my website. I don’t know how to feel about this.
Long time readers (any of you left?) will know that I reserve the first post of each year for a serious reflection of what has gone past, and a prissy expression of gratitude for all the good things in my life.
You know how Facebook makes that annoying personalized “Year in Review” video for you? Here’s mine for 2016:
There are a lot of bad things to mull about this past year, but let’s begin with the triumphs. Science saw some great strides forward. The discovery of gravity waves is astoundingly important, and not just because it confirms the genius of a young patent clerk who dreamed this stuff up 100 years ago. The announcement of the strong likelihood of a large planet in the outskirts of our solar system is very exciting, especially coming on the heels of a close encounter with Pluto. This was all capped off with the imagination-stoking discovery of an Earth-like exo-planet a mere 4.2 light years from us.
As has long been bemoaned in social media, 2016 was a bad year for culturally influential people…. well, at least people with arguably mostly positive influences. Those with mostly less than positive influences persist still, and some are about to ascend to positions of extraordinary political power.
We lost some historical and cultural titans this year: Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Gordie Howe, Alan Rickman, Fidel Castro, John Glenn, Janet Reno, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Keith Emmerson, Greg Lake, Abe Vigoda, Harper Lee, Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole, and Antonin Scalia.
The celebrity death that hit me the hardest was that of David Bowie, whose departure left me inconsolable for weeks, and I tried to explain why here.
I had never been a Prince fan…. until he died. Then I devoured his back catalogue like a starving man let loose in a bakery. And I was ashamed of my ignorance. I had not known –how could I not have known? How?— that we had had living amongst us a modern Beethoven, an artistic genius that comes along once every few generations. That’s who Prince was, and I am definitely a fan now.
With the deaths of Prince and Bowie, I took some time to consider the importance of art and of artistic living, and what we mean by that overused word “genius.” I had intended to write a brief treatise on my thoughts on this issue, but never found the time. But the conclusion I came to was that artistic living, or the pursuit of genuine expression and the self-knowledge that such pursuit renders, is the most important thing to which a sentient individual can strive. And ultimately that’s why Bowie’s and Prince’s deaths linger with me still, since those two men, beyond all others, represent to me the essence of that singular quest.
Of course, I lost friends, as well. To honour their privacy, I will not discuss them here, but each taught me something about the universe. It’s a shame that often it’s the manner or fact of a person’s death that compels us to consider the lesson of their lives.
The exception was my karate teacher, Sensei Tominaga, whose importance to me I did take the time to describe. Now there was a man who had figured out life, and therefore death…. or at least I like to think so.
I live in terror for what and who 2017 may take from me. But we should not fret over things we cannot control. Instead, we should focus on being better versions of ourselves, to give the brevity of our tangible lives the fullest extent of meaning. As Hemmingway once wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”
With that bit of fortune cookie pablum behind us, let’s get to the traditional part of this blog post. In no particular order, here are things I am grateful for on Jan 1, 2017:
- After a year of death for people who were influential on me and my way of thinking, I am thankful that I still have with me my perfect parents, who will always be my litmus test for what is right and good and proper.
- I am thankful for being part of a very large family, and I cringe at the thought of our numbers dwindling.
- I am hourly overjoyed by the presence in my life of a certain single-minded quadruped who has taught me more about why we are alive than could any human teacher or role model.
- And, of course, I am grateful for the continued affections of a certain young woman, for what is man if he cannot love and be loved. I am told that an organic connection to the trunk of humanity, stretching back to the dawn of life, is to be only gained through either parenthood or intimate partnership. It is, one could argue, the essence of humanity.
- This past year, I was generously given a fairly prominent teaching award. This has reinforced how lucky I am to be an educator. See, pretty much all university professors, when first hired, dread the teaching aspects of the job; we all want to have more protected time for our research. For me, it was genuinely shocking to discover how much I love the teaching, and how much affection I have had for literally hundreds of students who have sat in my classrooms. It is a privilege to be granted an audience, and a further privilege to be allowed the fellowship of generations of young adults, who are surprisingly the most interesting people in any society. In short, I am grateful for my job.
With that schlocky stuff over, it’s back to our regularly scheduled program of dick jokes and Trump memes.
Something tells me some very big things are in store for 2017 –some very good, and some very very bad. So I think I’d like to begin this year by contemplating the unlikely wisdom of Community character Abed Nadir, who said in the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory“:
“Chaos already dominates enough of our lives. The universe is an endless, raging sea of randomness. Our job isn’t to fight it, but to weather it together on the raft of life… a raft held together by those few, rare, beautiful things that we know to be predictable.”