All the news that fits

My mother is one of the greeting card masses, each December crafting a Christmas (news)letter to distribute widely to friends and family. Her slogan of choice for the publication? All the news that fits.

It was always a bit of a tongue-clucker to us, as every year we greeted our mom with exaggerated sighs and eye rolls when she began to sound the newsletter alarm. She once drafted full columns, enlisting her children as begrudging staff reporters and copy editors. She reviewed our family calendars and photos carefully and sorted through the shared memories, embellishing with a flourish of pride here, culling an already worn story there. Pre-Facebook programmers, she was the master of our collective Year in Review. A mother’s touch that algorithms have yet to replicate.

As time passes, the letter grows leaner and leaner. (I fully expect to be tasked with crafting a twitter-length capsule summary of my 2020.) Some years, this one included, I must stretch for events to include. As though the steady stream of electronic updates I send out into the ether during the year has obscured — or at least shifted — my concept of newsworthiness. The newsletter, after all, is simply another outlet for my dulled, weary social senses.

And this time around, my year was filled almost exclusively with negativity, rendering it a big non-surprise when I procrastinated even more vigorously than usual on the task. Now, January the First has come and gone and still, I have not reviewed the CliffsNotes of my last 365 days. Not for the first time in 2015, I was stuck for words to convey the vast, shitty bleakness of it all. Holiday fodder, my year was not.

“What, exactly, am I supposed to say?” I asked her in a borderline accusatory tone. It is easy to announce engagements and graduations and road trips and parties and new jobs and kids and weddings. Stressors they might also be, but ones wrapped in ribbons and accompanied by joy. How does one convey a major breakup, an unwilling move, a seismic and unwelcome career path shift, trauma and its curious after-effects? It is hardly possible to discuss these things in person, to family or friends or professionals, let alone capture them for consumption by any and all recipients on my family’s season’s greetings mailing list.

We might consume salacious gossip about celebrities or politicians, or revel all-too-often in their distress. But to hear that an acquantaince has endured a steady stream of bad brings a discomfort that we do not quite want to face. “Everyone has problems,” after all.

Facebook confirmed my self-assessment, failing to extract any major milestones to trumpet to my modest swath of followers. Bits and pieces of the few happy glimpses, yes, but nothing of particularly special note. After all, I did not post diatribes or explanations or lists of the life-changing events I went through in real-time. Yet despite my contemporaneous silence about it, “life-changing” is the best ex post descriptor I can ascribe to 2015. Some of the changes themselves are not yet complete, and certainly massive consequences remain unrealized, to be felt in 2016 and beyond. This feels worthy of sharing, even if it is not an honesty that is capable of being embraced with gusto.

That I have packaged the past year into the “bad” pile is not to say that I have ignored the good moments, however few and fleeting they might have been. In the push to spotlight any and all happiness and put it on worldly display, our collective amnesia for the negative is strong. It borders on an aversion to experiencing anything that can’t be turned into a pithy photo caption designed to elicit electronic hearts. But bad events are events too. They shape us and teach us and evolve us. They should be examined and internalized. Not just so we can say “#blessed” when they don’t happen to us, but so that we can better understand our friends; their good makes them just as special and important as their bad.

This process of acceptance requires a grappling that I have begun, though it will remain a work in progress for the foreseeable future. Still, a glimmer of light peeks out from beneath the heavy lid of December 31.

So when I look back on the past year, I remember some things that I will forever wish to forget. It was, without question, the worst year of my three decades. But I also look forward, like so many of my fellow humans, with the rosy filter of optimism, and soldier on through time and space, clutching to the hope that it was the last worst year of my life. Goodbye, 2015. You will be neither missed nor mourned. And as for the upcoming year: all the new that fits.

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