As I write this, it’s Winter Solstice. Outside my office window it’s bright and hazy and cold enough that I can see the white smoke rising from the dry cleaners down the street. But in an hour or so, it will be dark, and the longest night of the year will start. I’m immeasurably lucky to be able to spend it warm and cozy indoors with my family.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that 2018 has brought a sense of instability to life, such that all those privileges I once took for granted – home, food, family, health – now seem more precious and perhaps more fragile. In my own life, very little has changed, but outside the window and just over the horizon, everything is churning like a stormy sea.
Stability: in 2018, I taught at CBU for the tenth year, and worked at the Fortress of Louisbourg for the second summer. I wrote role-playing adventures for Paizo and plays for local theatre companies. I helped run a storytelling festival, and Sheila ran community-building applied theatre sessions. We turned 44 and 45, respectively, and our kid turned 7. Not many surprises.
Uncertainty: in 2018, nationalist and populist trends continued to rise in most Western countries, resulting in more sectarian violence, hate crimes, and alt-right political gains. The loose cannon superpower to the south unstitched decades-old alliances and inflamed new rivalries across the globe. In Canada, progressive governments caved to pressure from oil lobbies, stalling all attempts to reduce our greenhouse emissions in time to avert climate catastrophe.
That, right there, is a recipe for cognitive dissonance.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that cognitive dissonance is the reigning state of mind for affluent Westerners in 2018. Our lives are so good compared to the news, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the two. Moreover, our impressions of humanity have undergone a schism: there’s the way people behave in real life, and the way they behave online. How can they even be the same species?
Yet I can’t stop reading the news, or cycling through social media. I’m sure I’m not the first to make this comparison, but it’s like being hooked on a terrible, endless TV show, a grand guignol soap opera written by a team of sadists and lunatics who continually raise the stakes, but who lack any interest in empathy or closure. And when I look back honestly on my year – when I tally the hours and face up to my own addiction – I suspect I’ve spent about half my waking life binging the nightmare reality show.
By September, I’d convinced myself that passive observation wasn’t healthy, but I didn’t unplug either. Around the time the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its doomsaying “12 Years Left” report, I audaciously resolved to drop everything and hurl myself into the fray, advocating for climate reform at as many levels as I could muster: federally, provincially, municipally, at work and in the community, and (thanks to the endless patience of my wife and daughter) at home.
For a month or two, it worked. I don’t mean I solved climate change. I mean it felt right, to spend my time researching and writing letters, making calls and signing petitions, even organizing and running my very own “Climate Cafe.” It felt the way a vocation is meant to feel: not fun or even rewarding, but fulfilling because you know it’s the right thing to do.
I ran out of steam around the time world leaders convened in Poland for COP24, resulting in nearly zero progress towards a global plan for reducing greenhouse emissions. Other flickers of hope came and went, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, or the House of Commons’s emergency meeting on climate change, or my own (currently stalled) attempts to get solar panels on my roof. Now it’s the holidays, a time to count your blessings and spread the love, but my cognitive dissonance is back in full force. Obviously, I didn’t expect to solve global warming single-handedly in two months. But I’m more accustomed to projects where I can at least mark my progress somehow.
I keep telling myself to be patient, and a clear goal/project will reveal itself. 2019 is an election year, so maybe there will be some campaigning in my future? Or maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and make a podcast (writing plays isn’t exactly the best way to reach a wide audience). Or maybe patience is not a virtue in this case; 12 years is such a short time, and every day I spend scribbling in notebooks about my own shortcomings is a day the planet will never get back.
This is the snake-eating-its-own-tail conundrum I’m offering you, my friends and loved ones, in lieu of a Christmas letter. I will not impose New Years’ resolutions upon you, or try to push my crisis into your laps. But if there’s a bright spot here, it’s you – the people with whom I share the dark days. If I can find faith, or hope for the future, it comes not from above but from between – connections that make sparks, real human exchanges that generate energy. That shit is infinitely renewable.