I won’t lie, my ideas about this year are mucky at best. Maybe that’s a succinct summary of sorts. Perhaps taking a little tour through the muck will demuckify it a little.
Aside from a childish urge to change the pyramid into a volcano, my turn of thought this year could be pictured as an upside-down version of the triangle representing a hierarchy of values. At the bottom, your needs dictate your values with little room for choice. At the top, you might value almost anything. I’ve tried this year to value the search for what to value while feeling utterly bewildered.
To be honest, reaching bewilderment was a victory. The starting point was closer to despair and depression. It’s hard to admit that publicly because, remaining fairly high on Maslow’s hierarchy, to complain feels disrespectful to so many who struggle below. But often I was there regardless, lost and listless, letting my life continue on autopilot with no idea where I’d steer it if I could.
It was Yuval Noah Harari’s books that helped me get to bewilderment. I recommend starting with Sapiens, though it was 21 Lessons for the 21st Century that showed me the way from panic and despair to bewilderment. I remain there, but it feels justified and perhaps not endless.
The connection of the year’s events to my feelings isn’t clear to me. Strangely, I don’t attribute it to the most obvious new force in my life: my growing role in my father’s care as he reaches the late stages of Parkinson’s disease. While full of challenges, this role is very fulfilling on the “belongingness and love” level. I feel as close to my dad as I ever have. We started the year with him in Phoenix where he and Sarah fought off COVID-19 while Ann and I did what little we could from the trailer in the yard that Sarah got for us. Ironically she did that with a marathon road trip from Phoenix to Kentucky and back, probably picking up the virus along the way. Ann and I tested negative through it all and still have not had COVID-19 to our knowledge. In early December I took over from Sarah after 15 years as Dad’s primary caregiver, and supported his choice to start in-home hospice care in Phoenix. Like many terminal diagnoses, Parkinson’s does not offer a clear timeline. It’s possible that he will improve and cease to qualify for hospice care, or his condition could continue to degrade slowly or quickly. I’m grateful that the hospice program along with a gracious in-home caregiver (thank you Jan) seems to be allowing him to continue living at his home in Phoenix with Sarah according to his wishes.
In a development that I hope is over for a while, I spent more time in airports in this pandemic-ridden year than any in recent memory, all of it anxiously hoping my KN95 mask wouldn’t breach. Most of it came over six flights in total for a much-needed visit with my mom in Bay City, Michigan in early October. We embraced mushroom hunting as a great form of pandemic-safe entertainment, and made good use of her new ping-pong table in the garage. She continues to amaze me with her zest and resourcefulness. After I left she hired contractors to enlarge the bathroom on her first floor as a major step in her self-motivated “age in place” program. In my dream life I’d hike or bike to Michigan for visits, but alas air travel will probably remain the only viable method.
The other airline excursion was a hastily planned flight to Denver with Ann for IS fair 20202021. The original plan was to drive and camp, but a case of food poisoning necessitated a revision. It turned out to be a fun mini-vacation, and our recovering digestive systems kept the meals cheap if nothing else.
Other parts of the year shine brightly in my memory, contrasting the overall mood. Over the summer Ann and I did nine remote water quality data collections for Adventure Scientists’ Wild and Scenic Rivers program. My ski buddy Aaron and I spent a week in May skiing volcanoes in the Cascades, including a summit of Mt. Adams.
I read a lot of really good books. On the fiction side of things I discovered Octavia Butler with Kindred and kept going with Wild Seed and Mind of my Mind, and also Richard Powers with Overstory and Bewildered. Martha Wells’ Murderbot series continued to be a welcome diversion. Nonfiction standouts beyond the Harari books already mentioned were Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. For reasons I might discuss in another post, I’m experimenting with Bookwyrm as an alternative to Goodreads for sharing my reviews.
There were a lot of other ingredients in the muck. My steady, fulfilling, and flexible job is nothing to take for granted. My marriage proves to resilient and robust time and again. Table tennis and pickeball have become treasured simple pleasures. In retrospect, after writing all this, my year sounds pretty nice. But it was all against the backdrop of pandemic, mounting evidence of ecological collapse, and ever more pernicious forms of techno-political disruption. My efforts to counter these threats feel puny and ineffective. Attempts to envision a better future, laughably pathetic. I’ve always had these undercurrents in my emotional makeup, but this year their power swelled. I’ve also had antidotes for a long time. Recognizing the comic self-importance underlying most of my own and all of humanity’s problems is still a pretty reliable technique. Spending time outdoors still works, though it sometimes feels self-indulgent later. Laughter is priceless when it comes, and should be succumbed to with the entirety of one’s being.
Will 2022 bring more antidotes? I’ll toast the possibility with you, cheers.