What I learned in 2018

Selfie at Indie Author Day 2018

I’ve enjoyed writing parodies for years, but 2018 isn’t a year for levity and snark. It was a year when we faced many hard questions. Since this site is about learning and sharing insights, I’m starting a new annual feature, “What I learned.” Here are five things I learned in 2018.

President Trump didn’t change us. He revealed us.

When we look at where we are as a nation, from separating migrant children from their parents to looking the other way as a murderous government butchers a reporter, we cry out, “This is not who we are!” But an honest and objective look at our history tells us, “I hate to tell you, but yeah, you kinda did this stuff before.”

I’d say that President Trump appeals to the worst angels of our nature. The part of us who wants to hurl an offensive insult at someone who ticked us off; stare too long at a woman’s legs; drive off as quickly as possible after dinging a car door in the parking lot and not leaving a note; push to the front of the sample line at Costco, take two (even if it leaves none for the person behind you who’s been waiting patiently), and complain loudly to the employee that the food is undercooked.

Here’s the real question: Is this the type of country and people we want to be? If not, how do we change things for the better?

Stoneman Douglas: Courage and progress in the face of torment

Let’s look at what the student survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, and the March For Our Lives movement they started, accomplished this year:

What we must remember is that these students and families were forced into this position by the most horrible of circumstances. As one of the parents told me, “We’re part of a club no one wants to join.” And they’ve had to endure constant attacks by powerful politicians and media personalities, death threats, and accusations of being “crisis actors” — all while dealing with personal upheaval, PTSD, and unshakeable sorrow. “Oh, but they got to hang out with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt.” They would much rather be with the teachers and friends they’ve lost. And they would gladly give up all the national attention, magazine spreads, and public accolades to have their old lives back.

We should take a moment to appreciate the courage and sacrifice of all those who suffered through mass shootings and got involved with movements for change. It should inspire us to continue their work to make our communities safer. And when we see them on social media, give them a like and a kind word. They are still grieving, and they need to know they are not alone.

When they hate you, be yourself anyway.

This year also witnessed the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history as well as increasing acts of hate crimes. Recently, a swastika and shooting threat appeared at my alma mater, Cal State Northridge.

These attacks tend to solidify us in the Jewish community instead of intimidate us. Our family went to a public Hanukkah celebration that was put on by Chabad at a shopping center. We all enjoyed the music, dancing, latkes, and sufganiyot. The Chabad members encouraged my son and me to put on tefillin, something I haven’t done since my bar mitzvah. Also this year, most of my Jewish friends (including some I didn’t know are Jewish) posted pictures of their lit menorahs on social media. We wanted to tell the world, “We are Jewish, and we are proud.”

There will always be those who hate us for who we are. We can’t let them bully us or make us feel ashamed. We’ve outlasted all other groups and nations that tried to eliminate us. We will outlast them.

Writing is about making connections.

I had an active year as an author, but I didn’t do a lot of book writing. I spoke at the Muzeo, was on Facebook Live for Hometown Reads, and appeared at Indie Author Day in Anaheim. This is in addition to building relationships with other authors, agents, and publishers on social media and submitting my work for publication.

Writing is about making connections. Part of our work is to build relationships with others in our business and to reach out to our readers. This is how we build a platform by being ourselves. Our goal isn’t merely to sell books, but offer something positive to the world and give readers something they can connect with and enjoy.

Take care of your health.

I’ve been recovering from hernia surgery this week. Although I’m mostly back to normal, I can’t lift anything heavy for a few more weeks. (It’s a good excuse to get out of rearranging the furniture.) A few other family members and friends have been dealing with health concerns. All of these are reminders that I need to take better care of myself, especially as I approach 60.

I can see us facing a number of challenges in the coming year. As hard as 2018 has been, 2019 could be harder. Our efforts to build a better and more just society will face stiff resistance from the powers who benefit from the problems they’ve created. We face the possibility of economic uncertainty, military adventurism, domestic terrorism, and more natural disasters. Corrupt abusers of the law will not go quietly. They will do everything possible to hold onto power — even if it destroys the country..

To deal with these crises, we need all of our moral, intellectual, and physical strength. We need to be well enough to be present, have the endurance to do the work that is needed, and maintain the mental acuity needed to address challenges with creativity and heart. Health isn’t about delaying death. It’s about having the energy and fitness to do what matters to us. To deal with the challenges ahead, we need to take care of ourselves.

What did you learn this year? Please post your thoughts in comments.


Originally published at Matthew Arnold Stern.