Let's make one thing clear for a moment: I'm not going to write about how "2016 wasn't that bad" or speculate on why it only seemed so bad. 2016 was rough, you guys. Obviously. I'm not trying to dismiss the very real pain and suffering that many of us (myself included) felt this year.
There are a variety of reasons why 2016 was so difficult. There was Aleppo (that image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh will haunt me for the rest of my life). There was Istanbul. There was Brussels. And this isn't just about foreign crises, either--in Florida, we had the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Tensions about law enforcement increased: cops shot and killed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and a sniper killed five Dallas police officers (which became the deadliest incident for law enforcement in the US since 9/11). And, of course, there was the proverbial elephant [whom we allowed] in the room (not to mention the tidal wave of hate-mongering and shockingly "post-truth" American political rhetoric that came along with him).
In less violent and more predictable news, a lot of celebrities died. They always do--because we're all mortals, not gods--but somehow it seemed extraordinarily harsh this year. We lost David Bowie. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. Anton Yelchin (who was younger than I am). Gene Wilder. Alan Rickman. Nancy Reagan. John Glenn. Muhammed Ali. Leonard Cohen. Prince. These were powerful voices. They were performers, politicians, actors, artists, astronauts, and musicians. They had important stories to tell and they helped all of us to understand each other--and ourselves--a little bit better. They will be missed, and losing them added a particularly bitter taste to the year.
But, having said all of that, I am grateful for 2016. And I think it's spiritually and personally important for me to explore and express why.
1. I'm grateful for all the people I met this year.
I was blessed to connect with a variety of new people in 2016. Strong, earnest, beautiful, flawed, thoughtful, and creative people. There are too many to list here by name. But because of these people I made it through. They helped me to navigate the world's and the country's tumultuous atmosphere as mentioned above (regarding American politics, race relations, and international affairs). They helped me to navigate a faith transition (which is still underway, and has been for several years now; it's been a sacred and important experience for me but it's also been stressful and complicated and I'm glad to have had good friends to support me along the way). They helped me to navigate a career change. They helped me to navigate relationships.
These people taught me to think more deeply, speak more kindly, write more clearly, act more boldly, and take care of myself more diligently. And for that I am grateful.
2. I'm grateful for all the art I encountered this year.
It's been a great year for film! In previous drafts of this post, I went into detail about a bunch of the films I saw and what I thought of them (and I also listed a bunch of films that I'd like to see soon). But I kept having technical difficulties and I kept losing several paragraphs at a time while writing so I'm going to give you the abridged version: it was a GREAT year for film. You can check out my top ten list, if you want. And I'm hoping to write more about these films as soon as I resurrect the reviews section of this site, which hasn't been active for a couple of years. Suffice it to say that 2016 will always go down in history as the year of Swiss Army Man, Lemonade, and Arrival.
It's been a great year for music, too! (I added over 150 songs from this year to my collection of "yearly favorites" playlists.) We really got a lot of good stuff. Radiohead, Blood Orange, Kanye, and Bon Iver dropped some wonderful new albums. Tyler Glenn laid bare his faith crisis and sexuality in what I'd consider the most introspective, angry, vulnerable, honest, and evocative dance-pop album of recent memory. And even Jimmy Eat World and blink-182 sort of came back. Not to mention A Tribe Called Quest's invigorating and triumphant return after an eighteen-year hiatus to bring us a deeply, viscerally, aesthetically, and politically satisfying manifesto of a hip-hop album in "We Got It From Here." To me, the musical standout, though, was the aforementioned new album/video/film/experiment from Beyoncé: "LEMONADE." It's triumphant, powerful, mesmerizing, vulnerable, eclectic, and haunting.
And last but not least, it's been a great year for video games! The most interesting new releases, to me, were Inside (a disturbing puzzle-platformer), Thumper (a frenetic, dark, stressful rhythm game), DOOM (a remake? reboot? sequel? Who knows, but it's wonderful and kinetic), and Superhot (the most innovative shooter I've played in years)!
3. I'm grateful for all that I was able to work on this year.
I finished writing, recording, and mixing a solo album. And I left the mental health industry to start laying the groundwork for a new future (including twelve applications to various Masters and PhD programs in Film and Media Studies throughout the country). I've been blessed to work on a lot of cool things with a lot of great people and 2016 has been particularly exciting for that sort of thing. But the project about which I probably feel the most passionate is "Mormonism and the Movies." I--and over a dozen of my friends--are almost done with the collaborative book project, which I organized two years ago. It's about three hundred pages long so far, and I've been speaking with publishers throughout the past few weeks trying to figure out how to get it on your bookshelves in 2017. I'm really, really excited about it.
4. Most of my family was able to hang out together for Christmas this year.
I'm sure the holidays are often difficult for a lot of people. Especially for those children, adolescents, and even adults whose sexual orientation or religious choices alienate them from their families. A lot of people--whose only "crime" is often just to try to be true to themselves--end up shunned, dismissed, or disowned, and have no fireplace around which to gather during the holiday season. That this still happens in 2016 is truly, profoundly awful.
I'm privileged enough to not be in any of those scenarios. Nonetheless, I was definitely stressed as December approached.
Over the years, I've felt an increasing anxiety about who I am and how some parts of my identity (for example my theological, philosophical, artistic, or political ideologies) may or may not clash with other parts of my identity (for example my sense of racial, genealogical, traditional, and familial belonging). Family gatherings tend to exacerbate such anxieties. And the uniquely divisive and ugly 2016 Election didn't help, that's for damn sure.
But my family all got together. We had fun. We played video games, card games, and board games. We watched and discussed films. We cooked and ate food. We ran errands. We told jokes, recalled shared memories, exchanged gifts, and laughed together. We disagreed and we agreed and we clashed and we embraced. My family is a melting pot of ideas, experiences, and assumptions that don't always see eye-to-eye, but we are connected and we love each other. Throughout the holiday vacation, depending on the context, we were able to be both restrained and expressive, both melancholy and joyful, both serious and playful. We were perfectly imperfect. In short: Christmas went really, really well, and that was a sigh of relief and happiness for me personally.
5. I met a few dogs this year.
Dogs are so nice! I love to meet dogs.