This is the final article on SeanMunger.com of the year 2016. It may already be 2017 where you live at the time you read this. The holidays will soon be over, and my “holiday hiatus” on this blog must come to an end. Tonight we take stock of the year past, and I admit, with full honesty, that I really don’t know what to say besides what so many others have said: as for 2016, I’m glad it’s over. But that simple statement, as true as it is, cannot and must not be all that speaks for me as we end this difficult and astonishing year. Too much has happened–to me personally and to the world–to leave it at that.
My life is very different at the end of 2016 than it was at the beginning. I still live in the same place, I have the same job, my surroundings and day-to-day life looks the same as it did, but I’m different, and the world is too. In looking back on the blog articles I wrote during 2016, as I did yesterday for my retrospective, I was taken by some unintentional subtle prophecy that managed to seep through my keyboard this year, especially in two specific articles: one, in which I talked about the struggle to remain optimistic in the face of worsening news about climate change, and the second, in which I discussed the implications of the “Brexit” vote by Britain to leave the European Union. The specifics of these articles speak for themselves, but the message I was trying to get across has finally sunk in to me on a personal level: the world is changing, has changed, and many of our assumptions about how it worked in the past are no longer valid.
“Brexit”–the vote by Britain to leave the European Union–was a 2016 event with profound implications for how the world is changing, and is going to change.
I’m not talking merely about election results, which of course were a major sea change for the western world in 2016. I’m talking personally too. In recent months, especially since the election, my own attitudes, habits and personal outlook on the world has been changing. I’ve been living in a comfortable bubble, sealing myself off from the world principally behind walls of books, but I’m beginning to see the realities of the world in a different way than I did before. I grew up in the 1980s, definitely a product of privileged American suburbia in a political and social order defined most by the aftermath of World War II, and the initial counter-reactions to that order in the 1960s and 1970s. But 2016 is not 1986, and events both political and personal are forcing me to view the world differently. How that view will manifest itself remains to be seen. The issue of climate change seems certain to shape my destiny, both personally and professionally, in the years to come. I’ll definitely mark the start of that change in my life from events of this year, 2016. There is no going back.
I’ve also changed creatively. My horror publisher has gone bust, and instead of writing a horror book a year as I’ve been doing for the past few years, I’m setting my sights on different challenges. I’m now working on an ongoing history project, the Second Decade podcast, and in my fiction writing I’m turning to smaller stories, more human stories, like the ones included in my September 2016 anthology Hotel Himalaya: Three Travel Romances. While the grand mind-blowing and time-bending themes of my “big” novels like The Valley of Forever (released this month, December 2016) still interest me, I’m also becoming interested in telling stories about love, human relationships and the human condition. I’ll never land a multi-million dollar book deal or be a New York Times best-selling author. But I am proud of stuff like Hotel Himalaya, and I think I’d like to do more of it. I think of writing now as not merely a personal hobby, but an activity that dovetails with an attempt to come to grips with the world as it really is–and where we might like to see it go, however difficult the process of getting there. Stories about zombies and ghosts are fun, but they’re not substantive. Perhaps it’s time to leave that in the past.
Released at the end of 2016, the Star Wars film Rogue One teaches us a well-timed lesson about the audacity of hope.
I think all of us have been scarred by 2016, in different ways. Communities struggling with racial violence or intolerance, climate change activists who fear for the planet as ignorant deniers of proven science prepare to take the reins of power, or people who are seeing social justice on the verge of retreating–we all know what’s going on. Yet as difficult as it sometimes is to see any hope for the future, 2016 has demonstrated that hope is a stubborn thing. The final word spoken on-screen in the Star Wars film Rogue One, released at the end of this year, is “Hope.” We cannot give up. Whether we’re struggling against racism or sexism, for greater diversity and inclusion, for greater compassion in our political and economic life, against climate change and environmental destruction, or for personal goals like health or spiritual understanding, we’re all enlisted in one fight or another, whether we like it or not, and like the characters in Rogue One we have to keep fighting until we win, or there are no more chances left.
When I taught a class in the summer of 2013 about the history of the Iraq War I came across mention of an old Iraqi proverb: “There is always a happy ending. If things don’t turn out happily, that means it’s not the end.” There’s a kernel of hope there. I have no idea what 2017 may have in store, but I do know that its events will call upon us to act and think in new and different ways. Twenty-sixteen was a disaster; no one denies that. But in the aftermath of every disaster there’s an opportunity for change.
Happy New Year.