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Things I learned in 2009

For someone so intellectual-minded, it is amazing how little I reflect on recent events. (It’s far easier to reflect about philosophy or death or happiness or something like that).  One advantage of this blog is that it allows me and others to see how my attitudes and perspectives change over time: you can see the ways I am changing, the details of my life that are changing and revising. Here are some events which were major events in my life but might not seem that way to someone who knows me or who stumbles randomly upon my blog.

  1. I discovered a passion and sense of urgency about climate change. Climate change  teaches many things about argumentation and public discourse. First, it’s amazing how many people proudly ignore the conclusions of scientists.   Many rationalize the status quo  by contenting themselves with a superficial awareness of the problem and not doing their homework. The worst way to learn about climate change is to read the newspaper. Newspapers cover some stories superficially and with a “neutral” point of view that gives undue attention to the opinions of  industry spokesmen. Finally, climate change has always been one of “my issues,” but I’ve been shocked by how much I’ve been overlooking over the last 10 years. (I blame it on intellectual laziness). I’ve spent the last year catching up.
  2. I discovered how many people are really frightened by what I would consider moderate liberal beliefs. I’m not talking about kneejerk Sarah Palin conservatism; I’m talking about  practical-minded business conservatives who fear any kind of disruptive legislation. Things like climate change and health care inspire genuine fear in these people … for no good reason, I would argue. You can persuade these people by  pointing to the risks inherent in the status quo.
  3. Roku and the 2007 writer’s strike made me aware of how irrelevant TV is (when compared to Netflix and the Internet). Roku has totally transformed the way I watch movies and provided lots of new opportunities to discover unknown works of art.
  4. I discovered how to write about important events of my past and important feelings without letting  ego get in the way. I posted a serious autobiographical essay (under a pseudonym), and I learned a lot about the challenges and rewards of writing memoirs. See Vivian Gornick’s Situation and the Story for more information about that.
  5. I learned how to skip lunch. Now I have developed a routine to have a gigantic breakfast (with canned sardines or kippers). Suddenly I have discovered that I no longer need to eat lunch. (I also find that I am more mentally alert during the day…go figure).
  6. I discovered an amazing fiction writer named Jack Matthews. It has become something of an obsession. I published a short essay about Matthews 6 months ago. I’m in the process of publishing 2 essays and an interview with the man.  I also decided a few months ago to write a series of literary essays about the man’s stories. It’s amazing.
  7. I discovered the responsibilities that come with being a good child. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort helping my father take care of my sick father. It’s not fun and it’s challenging at times, but I’ve definitely learned a lot from it.
  8. Just when I thought I was going to release my first major story collection, I came up with ideas for some more   stories to add. So I delayed publication date again.  I have not been as productive in 2009 as I would have liked, but the creative writing I have done has been remarkable.
  9. Without really trying I have come up with two good ideas for books. (here and here). It’s odd to realize this, but this year I have started 3 new book projects without really intending to. (These projects are not my most important projects, but they are certainly worthy enough).
  10. I have made the unlikely acquaintance of  a female friend online. This person is not someone who lives nearby; she has  different attitudes about lots of things. I am being vague about the details (people always jump to conclusions when you mention a person of the opposite sex in casual conversation). Suffice to say that this new friendship has been a pleasant surprise and eye-opening for me (and her).
  11. I tried online dating for 6 months. Again.  Every few years I try  online dating and remember why I hate it so much.   For men online dating is  almost never is a good deal. It means having to send a few dozen personalized emails and hope you get one response (and hope that the woman doesn’t flake out on you). I think many women do it simply to be flattered by the male attention. Alas, maybe I’m just complaining about bitter grapes.  Ever since one of my online dates prospects stole a $60 DVD set from me, I’ve become cynical.
  12. One of my  best friends developed breast cancer, and I’m surprised how much it affected me. I had seen her only a week before her diagnosis, and I’ve followed her ups and downs through her blog. Her struggle has been an inspiration but it has also made me aware of the dangers that come just with living.  Staying healthy is never something  people should take for granted. Fortunately, my friend has a strong network of friends and family, so she is not fighting alone.
  13. I have learned that keeping weight off is not as easy as one might think. In 2008 I lost 20 pounds, but in 2009 I gained 8-10 pounds of it again. It’s still better than before,  but it’s been frustrating.
  14. I have learned to take comfort in obscurity, to be content with personal pursuits that people don’t appreciate or even understand.  I’ve learned to measure my life’s accomplishments with my own ruler. People like  Jack Matthews serves as an example of the  artist who labors under eternal obscurity; I always remain struck by how many incredible artists, singers/writers/actors/filmmakers/ are around us and are totally overlooked (even by those who are allegedly devoted to identifying new talents). A good artist doesn’t require  praise or recognition, but fans should be generous about giving it.
  15. An artist’s life is always a struggle. You are always trying to be productive, trying to make money, trying to promote yourself, trying to experiment with new forms. It is short-sighted to condemn the efforts of others for pursuing their goals differently or for having different goals in the first place. Artistically speaking, I’ve noticed how regularly some people in the arts  disregard requests or advice  and how they appear to be pursuing their dreams incompetently (I’m sure they think the same about me). Every artist is blind to certain realities and attuned to others. We must overlook such petty differences and support a variety of artistic endeavors.   Everyone is proud of their own accomplishments and thinks their contribution to humanity is interesting and important. We may disagree, but we have no right (or authority) to say so.
  16. Finally, I wish to say how comforting it is to renew and maintain  ties with old acquaintances…not for the friendship itself but for the sake of continuity.  It is fatiguing and disheartening to have so many people enter your life and leave it   quickly afterwards . Permanence is reassuring.  No one can retain every friend they make, but it’s good knowing that certain people will never escape. I can’t tell you how  people I  considered such good  friends at one time have moved on and no longer seem interested in keeping in touch … even on a superficial level.   Call me a sensitive drama queen (I don’t care),  but it is profoundly disappointing. At the same time I know that there must be people who harbor resentment towards me for treating me in the same way.  Facebook is a way to let you keep these casual ties (and occasionally engage in direct conversation). Last October I attended a mini-reunion of college friends. Quite apart from the joy of seeing old friends, the whole experience provided a lot of comfort; these were people who hadn’t disappeared and probably never would. Over time you appreciate that sense of permanence more and more.  I think that is why over time family matters more than ever.
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