This morning I took my coffee by the river. There was frost on the rocks but the sun was warm and shining. I wrote in my journal, as I imagine many others are today, a number of resolutions for the new year. But different than in previous years or other periods of resolve and transition, I began my list by writing:
"These are the commitments I will make to myself & to the world."
And then in writing them down I realized what I already knew: That the work of searching within, engaging in self-critique, and enacting efforts of personal growth is also the work of saving the world.
What we do for ourselves, we do for others.
By valuing our own wellbeing, we are valuing what we have to offer in service.
I used to think New Year's resolutions were sort of stupid. Like: You shouldn't need a special day once a year to make lifestyle changes. Probably I'll slip up in a couple weeks and it'll be back to the old ways and comfort zones. And I'll actually be worse off than before since I've got all the same problems but now with a layer of commitment failure on top of it. If you really cared, or really needed to make a change, you'd just go ahead with it. The day shouldn't matter.
I still think that last bit is true; we ought to be making changes all the time, learning and adjusting as we go. Every day, every moment, is a new opportunity for growth. I believe the work of reflection and self-critique has been among the most critically undervalued virtues in our culture, in our relationships, in business, and perhaps most especially in our politics and governmental institutions. This has never been more apparent to me than it has been this year, as it has been a time defined by, in summary: Basic horror at the sight of ourselves in the mirror.
Mass shooting deaths (428)
Weinstein, et. al.
Net neutrality out*
Paris agreement out*
Nuclear brink in N. Korea (Dr. Strangelove IRL)*
Rich-serving tax overhaul*
There are more. A wide spectrum of tragedies and failures, some ongoing, all reflecting a deeply systemic brokenness. They are hard to look at, some of them disgusting, some of them violent, hateful and corrupt.
But the overarching theme this year has been something of a forced revelation. The issues we were previously able to ignore blissfully or hide conveniently -- toxic masculinity, systemic racism, political corruption, environmental consumerism, & etc. -- are now being brought into widespread focus and exposure. By these events we become naked before ourselves, like the sudden realization of age, or the pounds we've put on, or the scars across the skin from years of mistakes and battle wounds.
The shift toward this began with the 2016 election. And while perhaps it would've happened in some way regardless of the outcome, the harsh reality of Trump has uniquely enabled it. Having him as a candidate was embarrassing enough (Clinton being less embarrassing yet still problematic); having him as president has been an embarrassment none of us can hide from or try to cover up. But importantly, Trump is not uniquely evil; rather, he is a uniquely adept and singular personification of many evils already at work -- some which that have been at work for many decades previous. His position of authority, therefore, simultaneously legitimizes and sabotages the status quo. The hidden gem within the tragedy of naming such a man our leader is that it has forcibly revealed the failures of our system, and since then the deeply embedded sicknesses within our society. Event by event, new truths are revealed, and unlike in former times, they now must be gazed into, spoken aloud, and reckoned with.
(All of this is also why the most impactful and conversational films this year have been those which are deconstructive, such as mother!, The Last Jedi, and Get Out. Film provides a space to articulate these issues and explore solutions by narrative proxy. Especially relevant here, though, is the way film is both created and engaged with in collaboration and by group experience.)
There is much work yet to do, for this year has only been the spark of movement. In the days since the election, as often as I've found myself bitter, depressed, angry and completely disgusted, I have also been encouraged and made hopeful by the cultural shift at hand.
I've also been encouraged by the creative work that has continued, much with new boldness and a greater weight of purpose than before -- by my family and friends and fellow artists, my collaborators and crew, and my clients -- all the brilliant minds and giving hearts I've had the privilege of sharing space and work and life with this past year. In our small circles we are given, every day, the opportunity to create our own new realities and new normals, growing together into a more loving and generous humanity.
At Bend Design this year I met a guy named Kawandeep Virdee (whichlight), who was one of the speakers. He gave me this drawing, which I now have taped to the wall in my room. Like most of his work, the message is deceptively simple: easy to receive and understand, but rich with meaning beyond the surface.
Its declaration has been helpful to me, and perhaps it is a perfect kind of resolution for any of us: a simple reminder that "I" & "We" belong together, in this world and for it, knowing that the work of saving it is a task we all share.
So today in reflecting on the idea of this holiday, I've found a new appreciation for it: It is the one holiday in which we openly embrace a virtue of self-critique, reflection, and acts of change. It happens individually, but its true value is collective. My resolutions are not for me, but for us.
Perhaps it may be a small start, just as our mad, disruptive year has been. My hope is that the absurdity of this year might eventually lead to a norm of collective introspection and mindfulness, deconstruction and renewal. We will perhaps become, in time, a people defined not by our flaws but by our ownership of them, not by our corruptions but by our virtues, not by our hatreds but by our loves.
Whatever comes next: I am glad to be in this world with you.
I'm going to do what I can to save it.
You are welcome to join me.
It is New Year's Eve, 2017
& the Deathmoth lives.