Goodbye 2016

On Fire, the web comic that was everywhere this year.

When you keep a public journal — which is what this blog has been for the better part of its nearly 20 year existence — you can look back and see what you wanted people to see of your life.  I scrolled back through 12 months of posts and it was clear that I did not want you to see much.

I wrote a handful of political screeds tied to the rise of the Orange Thing. There are fewer ramblings about writing, and minimal posts about travel. Back in May, I started writing “stuff I like” posts every week or two. This was not quite a life support strategy, but it’s hardly the prolific “sit there, I have something to say” kind of writing that gives a personal blog its character. It was an exercise in finding good things to share, but also, a play to keep you from wandering off while I found my way through the year.

I did land some plum assignments:  a story about gay Seattle, a byline in Sunset magazine, a piece about Mississippi that comes out after the New Year, some highly praised posts for a tour company’s blog… it was all interesting work that required research and, in some cases, interviews, and I enjoyed it tremendously. That work made me feel like I was doing Actual Journalism, albeit in a sector that is a luxury, to be sure. But still.

Pursuing meaty freelance travel writing gigs was made possible by my base gig — I’m part of the team that helped relaunch the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance website. On that project, I learned how to do new technical things and because I had a steady income, I could be very choosy about which writing projects  to pursue. I didn’t have to take on every content farming gig that came my way because I needed the work.

While I have missed the excitement of frequent travel and the perks of being a “popular blogger,” my work is better for slowing down, for choosing the subjects myself.  If the work isn’t here on my blog, that’s because it’s published in other places. Turning the volume down on bloggy static has allowed me to focus on writing good work and being paid to do so.

[Here is where I deleted two paragraphs of how I connect junk content and aspirational marketing with the results of the US election. That’s a conversation best had over cocktails.]

Where was I going? Oh, I was talking about what I did not show you this year. I didn’t say much about the band — it has been a bit of a slow year, though it has been good to rebuild, and we have a cool idea cooking for next year, please stay tuned. I did not show you much of the world beyond the Pacific Northwest. I wrote a little about the loss my family experienced, and isn’t it telling that I use passive voice here? I’ve said almost nothing about Julius, my Austrian husband. A person who loves daylight and open windows and candor, it seems I’ve done the equivalent of putting the lights on timers and locking the door behind me.

The exception has been Harley the Dog, apparently I could not say enough about him, so much so that I wrote a book about this flawed little guy who got me out of bed every day since his arrival. Adopting a dog has been the most useful thing I’ve done this year, and if it has been inconvenient at times, and he does not behave as perfectly as I would like, it is worth it because he has also kept things from going completely gray.

When I was 21 or so, I returned to the US from a long stint of travel in the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. I had crippling culture shock and it was manifesting in weird ways. My stepmom — with good intentions, I am sure — shuffled me off to talk with a therapist. A short while later, I overheard my stepmom arguing with my father. They needed to go somewhere, and they could not leave me alone with my brother because, she said, I was suicidal. I don’t know if the therapist told her this or she decided it independently, she did like to embellish a story if it benefited her narrative. I was depressed and confused about what to do next, and, after hearing that diagnosis, angry at being so completely misunderstood. Certainly I wished myself out of this bland Southern California suburb, but dead? Hardly. Depressed? Very much so.

There’s this thing called situational depression (or adjustment disorder); that’s when your circumstances suck and the result looks kind of like clinical depression. (Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, I just read a lot.) So if you have, say, a death in your family and a husband who lives overseas and maybe on top of that, you’re subject to a relentless onslaught of negativity from a nihilistic sociopathic demagogue presidential candidate (and his followers), well, that shit can bring you down.  Fancy bylines and blazing shows with your band and watching your dog run on the beach can provide bright spots, but if the circumstances bumming you out don’t change, it can be hard to get the other side of feeling blue.  You might find yourself crying on the freeway when you find out Carrie Fisher George Michael David Bowie Gene Wilder Prince died because enough already, must we perpetually be reminded of our losses? Situational depression rings very true right now.

@christhebarker // our 2016 losses // via Twitter

None of this is a plea for sympathy and I don’t wish to be perceived as though I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself, though probably I am, sometimes. In the channels I play around in online — Music! Travel! Cute Dogs! — admitting you’re sad can be alienating. I guess I want to claim the darkness of this year as a thing that’s been true. In my public writing here, it’s manifested mostly as silence, and I suppose I want to explain that, not just to you, my readers, but to myself.

I have spent much of my time since the election wondering how to become strong for the fight that is ahead of us. We have an incoming president who is petulant, vain, and amoral, and a vice president who is reactionary, hateful, and self-righteous. I can name the things I am afraid of — losing my health insurance, a tightening of borders that makes travel difficult, economic chaos that makes it hard for me to continue running my own business, media censorship, a reversal in rights for women, an increase in antisemitism — and that’s just me being selfish. That’s before we get to issues that affect my friends who are trans or gay or Muslim or have a chronic illness or anyone who’s not a straight white Christian man. With money.

My own issues are sapping my energy for resistance. I suppose I want to name those: I’m anxious has hell and depressed, have been for a little over a year now, I’m working on it.  Truly, I hope I am just being overly dramatic and that none of my fears will come to fruition, and come spring, my greatest sorrow will be that we have not yet mastered “fetch.”

But I know I’m not alone, and we are going to need each other, so hey, this is me right now. I have good work and pretty good dog and the very best of friends. Let’s turn on all the lights start the new year there, shall we?

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15 thoughts on “Goodbye 2016

  1. So sorry, Pam. Anxiety and depression are soul-sucking mo-fo’s. This kinda describes my 2011, when I ran to the ER a few times with throat-throttling panic attacks. Anxiety and depression are dark tunnels, but you come out the other side. Even now, everything still scares the fuck out of me, and I’ll be raising a teenager during the Trump administration, which makes me reach for the Klonopin. Sunshine and dance lessons help me; Harley helps you. If you’re feeling it, I’m still willing to buy one of your dessert paintings. I can’t eat gluten but I can hang some on my wall. 🙂

  2. Pam, thanks for the candid talk. Your really have been a constant all of these years and it is so understandable that you (and all of us) find it reallyreally difficult to crawl out of the miasma of the post election dreariness. I hope you will find some hopeful path to take to counteract any feelings of anger and depression. May you rediscover a lightness and beauty to your days.

    • Miasma, yes, that’s a good word for this. It’s a soup of bad things, to be sure, but your presence — jeez, are you still here? can I get you anything? — means SO much.

  3. Despite the wtf year and its accompanying deep, dark pits of woe, I go into 2017 knowing with certainty that there are some amazing, kickass people out there pushing back, right alongside me. Thanks for being one of them.

  4. Been there. I know too well that gray no man’s land, the one on the border of the abyss.

    Dogs. Music. Art. Books. Coffee. A select group of close friends and family. Stuff that makes it necessary to hang on until the next shiny thing begins to twinkle in the periphery.

    The hardest for me: Getting outside into the sunlight. (Yeah, even in Paris.) Sharing the real stories. Staying out of my own way.

    Thank you for your sharing so candidly, Pam. This too shall pass. Even the Orange Thing.

    PS I enjoy your Things I Liked Series. Please don’t give it up.

  5. “I have spent much of my time since the election wondering how to become strong for the fight that is ahead of us.” This is the thing that is the most challenging isn’t it… but could dig us out of the damp fug of being overwhelmed by it all.
    Thanks for all you’ve shared in 2016 and will be reading along in 2017. I don’t often comment as my words seem lame when you express things so brilliantly… but I read pretty much every post and you inspire my own work.

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