2016: Look Back and Recoil

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Well, it’s happened again: twelve months have gone by, and we’re staring a new year in the face once more. Not many people will be lining up to remember 2016 as a banner year, myself included, and yet I don’t find myself feeling quite as down about things the way most everyone else is. To properly explain why, I’m going to pull back the curtain a bit and talk about a few things I haven’t discussed with anyone outside of my family and a few friends.

Way back in December of 2015, I made myself a little resolution for the coming year: in 2016, I would write my first novel. I’d been reading Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), and I was captivated by her account of the events that led to the creation of her old webseries The Guild. According to her, the series was essentially a last-ditch effort to break herself out of a cycle of depression and addiction to World of Warcraft. As someone with both literary pretensions and emotional troubles of his own, her story resonated with me, and I began concocting a little idea I could turn into a first novel by the end of the year. By the end of January, I had the research material, I had a protagonist, and I had a few scraps of setting. Everything was in place.

Suffice to say, that novel was never written. In fact, very little of anything happened as planned this year. As it happened, 2016 was the year I finally acknowledged that I have a problem with depression. I’ve had problems with my mood for the longest time, but I’d always been deeply reluctant to describe them as “depression.” After all, I could still get out of bed in the morning, so I must not be depressed, right? It’s all just a bunch of bad eating and sleep habits I can easily overpower through force of will, right?

It was around March, when I was advised to get a psychological assessment for myself and I had started to lose months in a grey fug that I realized that something serious needed to be done. I’m no stranger to counseling, but this particular problem had had lasted years and had proven singularly resistant to talking cures. This time, something drastic was needed.

To cut a short story shorter, I was recommended to a psychiatrist, I got a pile of pills, and now I’m doing…well, better. Over the past few months I’ve found myself becoming more productive in my writing, slightly more at ease with my coworkers, and generally more willing to think optimistically about the future. It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course; the drugs pack a punch that I’m still trying to manage, and I do worry about what will happen when I go off them in the future. For now, though, I’m feeling better than I have in years, which has lead me to view the end of 2016 in a positive light, of all things.

As for world affairs, this year has continued to confirm that my old decision to avoid most news outlets was a wise decision. Still, even I was shocked by Brexit and the Orange Goblin and the like. However, after the shock wore off, I’ve found myself less afraid of the future than curious about it. While I’m no Trump or Brexit supporter (and I’m certainly no alt-right goon), I must confess that I’ve never been fond of the world as “conventional wisdom” would have it. We admit there are serious problems, but we fear radical solutions to them, preferring stopgaps and inadequate compromises. We argue and argue, but no one ever seems to understand what they’re really arguing about. We have to have sides, and anyone who says the wrong thing or acts the wrong way must be cast into the outer darkness. Meanwhile the world grows shoddier and more crowded, and we call it “progress.” Perhaps it’s just the drugs talking, but all the turmoil of 2016 has left me with this strange feeling – it’s not quite hope, not per se – that this time around, something will change, that for once it won’t be “business as usual.” I’ll probably be disappointed. But for this brief moment, I am not afraid.

Anyway, that’s enough of my incoherent soapboxing, let’s talk about what I read and saw this year!

Books: Most of my reading this year was focused more on nonfiction and nongenre reading, due in part to the needs of research. Most of my research revolved around the early years of the Soviet Union, and as you can expect I found a few goodies. I particularly enjoyed the first volume of Stephen Kotkin’s projected Stalin trilogy, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. It’s a “history of the world from Stalin’s office” that discusses his life less in terms of personal psychology and more in terms of the context of his society and his politics. In Kotkin’s reading, the issue with Stalin was not that he betrayed the revolution, but that he took it more seriously than everyone else did. I also reread W. Bruce Lincoln’s Red Victory, his wonderful even-handed overview of the Russian Civil War. As it turns out, that book was only the final volume of a trilogy about the prerevolutionary and revolutionary periods, so I have more to read in the future.

As for fiction, there’ll be a little post on Strange Horizons covering my genre reading, but far and away I’ll remember 2016 as the year I discovered Gillian Flynn. I read her first novel, Sharp Objects, back in the summer, and I just loved her world of damaged, poisonous women, locked into families that should never have been, feeding and preying on one another. It’s good clean Christian fun!

Movies/TV: My resolution for the new year is to wean myself off of television. Even though the medium is in a golden age, I’ve found that I appreciate the succinctness of movies much more. Television locks you in for days at a time; a movie has 90 to 150 minutes to enthrall you. I mostly rewatched a lot of movies this year, but I did sample two classics. The first was the first two parts of Coppala’s Godfather trilogy, which I liked but don’t hold in as high esteem as I do Apocalypse Now Redux. The second was Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy, and after watching those, I now want to be Clint Eastwood when I grow up. As for reading about movies, I’ve fallen in love with Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women, a “autobiographical topography of female neurosis in horror and exploitation films” that I really need to write about more in the future.

Games: I replayed a lot of games as usual, but I also made my first foray into role-playing games this year with Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. As I noted back in October, the experiment was a rousing success, and now I’m looking for other CRPGs to experiment within. I’ve still got Fallout: New Vegas to work on, but there’s a few other titles in my Steam library begging for my attention.

Writing: Ah, the big one. I had a number of reviews in Strange Horizons this year before my depression completely closed down on me, and this November I made my return to fiction with “The Kuvira Letters.” It’s no great work of literature, sure, but it’s the first piece of fiction I’ve actually written since I was in university, so I’m pretty damn proud of it.

So, what does 2017 hold for me? Hard to say at this point. I have one or two fanfiction ideas I’d like to try before moving into my own work, and I have two multi-post projects for the blog that will be appearing sooner or later. For now, though, I will leave you with a little song and a reminder to…keep it real.

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