January 1, 2015, 12:00am.
Just in time to count down to the new year, I finish bluffing my way through Mustang Sally on the bass, subbing in for a musician who didn’t arrive. I play the bass roughly as well as I do car repair – given enough time, manuals, and privacy, I can almost get to “adequate.” On this occasion, I had none of those, and with added pressure – this song was always my dad’s show piece when he used to play bass in a band. It’s a good thing he wasn’t also 30 feet in front of me (oh, wait, he was).
January 1, 2016, 12:00am.
Paper Bird are about 1/3 of the way through their set at the Oriental Theatre in Denver, and they stop to count down to the new year. They break out a bottle of champagne to give all the band a drink, and foolishly leave the still-mostly-full bottle close enough to the lip of the stage for the front row to grab. It was never seen again. The fog machine which ran for a couple of minutes before the band came on appears to have been a waste of money, as the audience supplied plenty of their own, uh, fog.
These were both lighthearted, fun bookends to a difficult year. I’m conscious as I’m writing this that compared to most of the world throughout history, it was an unbelievably good year. I had heath, food, shelter, and iDevices. I saw some unbelievable live bands (nights watching The Decemberists, U2, and Jon Foreman will all hold a special place in my memory). I spent a brilliant week in Chicago with my dad and sister where we ran around being tourists 18 hours a day yet somehow didn’t have pizza, a hot dog, or go to Wrigley, and spent another brilliant week here in FoCo with them recovering. Got a promotion. Objectively, it was an excellent year.
Disjectively (does he know that’s wrong, or is he just playing with us? or is he not sure, and using this overdone device to hedge his bets?), it felt like a year in which I didn’t know who I was.
I have yet to accomplish some of the basic “adult” things – having a partner, kids, house, minivan. I attempted the last one in February, but only made it halfway. In the past, I’d have said this didn’t bother me much day-to-day, as there was still plenty of life to get on with. I didn’t realize how much of a lie that was until this year – in truth, not having a personal life in which to find my identity was only possible because I found my identity in my work life. In 2015, I went through the most difficult period in 5 years at my current job, and found myself undone.
Running out of parts of life to find optimistic is an annoying mental exercise. The running-in-a-swimming pool feeling of our worst days is a common experience, but this year it felt as though the steps along the side to get out had been removed. Nothing truly significant was ever wrong, but however much I knew that intellectually, it rarely made a difference to my emotional state. This made me a terrible friend, as I often blew off people I cared deeply about in order to chase after any misguided interaction which might improve my personal or work life, or to wallow in self pity alone. Or, worse, to go and drink.
I am about as good at self control as I am at car repair or bass playing, and Fort Collins offers many delicious hop-and-malt-based recipes for disaster. It’s an ugly journey from going for a drink because you’re lost in the world to accidentally finding yourself asleep in the bathroom of a Five Guys you went into because you’d been out too long. It’s a slippery, greasy, salty, cajun seasoned slope. It’s remarkably counterproductive, too – the proverbial highways of 2015 are littered with relationships crashed by my drunken text messages. Note to self, replace all metaphors before posting.
Over the course of the year I would recognize this, and stay away from the bars for a few weeks, but the symptoms only stay away as long as you treat them – as soon as I thought I’d regained control, I’d lose it. The reasons I was frustrated didn’t change just because of a few weeks of looking for different distractions – I was still seeing all of life through the lens of things I didn’t have. I still hung my identity on things which could fall away at any moment.
The wise thing to do would be to wait to write until there’s a neatly packaged ending, until a newfound appreciation for the rule of a sovereign, good creator over the world has given me rest in my current (objectively fine) circumstance. That would be a bit dishonest, though. I’m grateful for these two weeks at the end of the year to reflect and start to see more clearly, but I’d hesitate to declare any further progress than that. Whatever else 2016 is about, it can’t rise or fall based on finding a partner, being successful at work, or anything else so terribly circumstantial. Reasons to live need far stronger foundations.
Here’s to the future. I’ll report back in 2017.