Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.
Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.
As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.
Derek Beaupre: I think it’s been confirmed we’re living in a simulation over the year. We’re still on track for the machines to take over. I’m still praying for a solar flare to knock out all electrical devices and send us back to the 1700s. The creative juices aren’t really flowing, and I’ve found myself rooting for the Chicago Bears today. Lord knows Tim Cook and the NSA have a thicc file on me.
James Funk: I started contributing to this thread at the end of 2016, so I’ve obviously registered a sense of despair in each of my posts. It is perhaps for this reason that I was so drawn this year to Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Early in the film, Ethan Hawke’s character, a minister, writes in his diary that “I know that nothing can change, and I know there is no hope.”
The film goes on to explore the various ways in which Hawke’s character resists, channels, and perhaps transcends such despair, which has spiritual and political dimensions. I’m still not sure whether he succeeds in his effort at transcendence; it’s possible that transcendence is an act of mystification. It’s the most haunting and moving film I’ve seen in a minute, though, and I wanted to plug it one more time before the year ends.
Brian Kraker: Writing these annual posts, looking back on the year that was, inevitably produce several “That was this year?!” moments. I couldn’t believe “This is America” was released in 2018. That Black Panther isn’t even a year old. The phrase “Philly Special” seems like it’s been part of sports lexicon for ages. I feel like this phenomenon has only become exacerbated by the modern news cycle, where days feels like weeks, weeks feel like years, and 2018 feels like an eternity. The Parkland shooting feels like a generation ago. Maybe because of subsequent shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh or a bar in Thousand Oaks. Or maybe because of the break-neck speed in which we’re incessantly informed of the latest scandal in our White House, the latest human rights violation at the border, the latest instant of racial discrimination.
It’s overwhelming. It’s always been overwhelming, but it seems harder to escape than ever. Easy access to information also has the inverse effect of constant bombardment of information. And it makes time stretch in new and bizarre ways. Markelle Fultz’s jump shot has been broken since I can remember. Patrick Mahomes has always been the most exciting quarterback in the league. Gritty has always been the greatest mascot in sports. Brief cultural moments seem like they’ve lasted ages as well. They become larger than life, simply by remaining in our lives for longer than a day, a week, a news cycle.
But in reality, 2018 lasted as long as every other year. We witnessed the impossible (UMBC defeating Virginia; the Vikings winning a big playoff game). We witnessed the predictable (Alabama winning another title; the Vikings losing a big playoff game). And in a year of impossible athletic feats by the world’s most talented athletes, the greatest feat of strength came when a woman sat in a crowded room, raised her right hand, and told the truth about a Supreme Court nominee, with the entire world watching.
All that and more happened, in a single year. Just like every other year. And while it feels like it stretched out longer than the others, it was the same length. And while next year will at times feel insurmountable, and impossibly long, and packed with more news, moments and life than seems feasible, it won’t be. Because this year was too long, and we survived it. And we’ll survive the next one, too.
Patrick Masterson: Because we are only given the one opportunity to make sense of our exile from grace before the infinite light of His answer takes us away from it and The Book says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made in weakness.” There it gathers:
Extrajudicial killings in Pakistan. A record number of recognized minority and gay athletes competing in the Olympics (check your facts!). Which industry has the worst jargon and what a building means. Three more Kardashians. Crazy poor Asians. Property overinflation. “Year of the Woman” while men still measure and swing their dicks at the helms of the world’s most powerful nations (sorry, Germany, the UN Security Council’s permanent members passed a resolution that says). Giant stone slabs that could be aliens passing through drowned in the chokehold of your Instagram and Twitter feeds, where if you didn’t see it, you could blame it on algorithms because you’re exactly that lazy and merely pretend to invest the work you know you aren’t doing. Earrings of late capitalism. 93 million miles, five billion years, 41 years for Voyager 2 to go the other direction. Another kid to save the loveless marriage you made up. Smirr on the spectrum. The lifeblood of a familiar verbiage. White knights. A heathen’s projection of the Catholic imagination. Insurance companies spying on your CPAP machine usage. Gun licenses for every man, woman and child until there are no more of each because gun violence and mass shootings are so common, we treat them like Grand Theft Auto 3 treated Chatterbox callers. Waffle patterns. Novichok. The omnipotence of violence. Anticipating “a further escalation” with Krakatoa. Gritty down in seven. Bilingual palindromes. The Kingdom of Eswatini, which you don’t even remember being in Black Panther, right? The wits to relegate drowning to enemies. Tans garnered from a public pool. “But things were going so well.” The idiocy of autofiction. Gypsy souls, no hookups. Chemtrails in the pitch-black nightfall beyond the sanctuary of your cities. Promises. Removing China’s two-term presidential limit. The end of the northern white rhinoceros. Driving a bus straight into the crowd (Paris); flying a plane straight into the mountain (Avianca). The feel-good white friend nothingness of Green Book, which you’re excited to see because Mahershala Ali, obviously. Uber as a verb you don’t even reconsider anymore. Syria. Foreign bartenders with perfect tattoos. Considerate blindness. The exact pitch of your youngest child’s wail. Graveyard clay. Lamenting the legalization of marijuana because a bunch of fintech bros with their dads’ startup capital are already prepping to move in and monetize your mellow. “It was a scotch in champagne flutes kind of trip.” Sunglasses and white heat on a moonless ocean. XXXTentacion. Avocado toast. Millenarians. Faded ink. Swiping right for better odds because it’s a numbers game. Blood from the heavens and signs from a cracked sky. Identifying cheaters through Venmo. “Chillout” mixes. Memorization of every train line in Red Dead Redemption 2 but no clue how to get to Transnistria, and anyway, “I was more of a God of War guy.” Soft power. Maple wafers. Cowboy movies. Affection as an aesthetic. The company you choose to keep and the company you deserve, even if they know it and especially if they don’t. Robert Mugabe is still alive. Conchomancy. “Bandersnatch.” Knowing you’re as much of an answer to someone as they are a question to you. Pictures of the Paris riots from a Burger King. Private space travel for no good reason. Trolls in the woods to save an indifferent Earth. Unnerving drunk texts. Merzbow with an accordion. Socialist dominatrices. Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Triggers. Pedantically pointing out that you never ranked your year-end list. Christmas lights decorated on a B-52. Our endless untangled wood, thickets of thought, brambles of fear. The return of polio. Eodermdromes. Systolic and diastolic divergence. The weight. And you – you want to be happy?
Delivered with all the sincerity and conviction some keyboard jockey you don’t even know why you’re reading can muster: Fuck you. You don’t deserve it. Nobody deserves to feel good, or to feel anything – you don’t even deserve to be alive, honestly. You stand at the edge of all the disappointment your love is bound to bring, waiting, wonder all over your face as an ill-conceived simian. And you wait like you believe, a true believer, determined with the faith that no one can take away your feelings, your unfathomably unimportant feelings and dreams and aspirations. You’re a moron and no one knows anything better than you. Nobody can tell you what the facts are. Nobody knows your truth. Nobody can command you to feel a certain way, from jubilant to angry to in love to out of this whole deflated world full of actual air. Nobody can convince you of God or grace or power or weakness. Go on, take a look in the mirror: There you stand. Your imbecile grin, your yellowing decayed teeth mere crooked, poorly worn papyrus stubs. Your graying hair everyone says is great yet refuses to touch because they know its frayed filth, the imperfect cranium it comes with. Your blank eyes, your lost irises. Your roughened shoulders, your poor posture. A slow-burning nod toward the ecstatic drone of your infinite regress. See how deep that river of joy runs. See how resistant to the elements of emotion you become. See what self-satisfaction you maintain, what mutant pride steps forth, what strength you have, what bravery your body holds. See how long you can stand to look. See yourself for what you are. Then see if it’s enough. Well, you did before, didn’t you? And wasn’t it?
If his shoulder holds up through 2019, Marc Marquez will win his sixth MotoGP championship in seven years. But the real story, the one to watch, will be unfolding on the other side of the Repsol Honda garage.
Rory Masterson: “I am the Trumpet of the Graveyard. Hearken to what I have to say! You must hearken unto my voice…” – The Dirty Dust
Every hour was a day. Every day was a week. Every week a month, every month a year. That’s how 2018 felt. As the push notifications went from bad to worse, and the information about ourselves informed targeted ads from fake companies based in Radio Nowhere, we lost our sense of touch.
Turns out, voter fraud is real. Just, ehm, not in the way that you thought it was. Not that you’ll share that link, though, because you disagree with the headline and don’t care to look further into its accuracy. Anyway, you’re only continuing to use Facebook as a platform for events, but the event is the downfall of this version of democracy at the hands of people who don’t live here and never aspire to do so. Did you get the invite? I’ll forward you the link. I know, it’s the same day as Limp Bizkit’s reunion in the Kum-and-Go parking lot in Ames, Iowa, but I think you can manage, comrade.
As ever, sports won’t save us by themselves. France won a World Cup and then kicked up a ruckus over gas prices and yellow vests and eating the rich – surely this isn’t what Kylian Mbappé had in mind. Maybe he hasn’t heard. His algorithms might be that good, or at least not as fast as he is.
It could be heartbreaking, and often was – trotting out the Saints’ defense following what they knew was a Stefon Diggs game-ending touchdown for a humiliating extra point against the Vikings was a) by the rules, b) a touch unnecessary c) and, as a result, a perfect summation of all things 2018. It could be astounding – the UMBC Retrievers, because of course that is their mascot, beating Virginia handily. Curling becoming a national pastime. The US Gymnastics team shoving it in everyone’s face, even the diabolical inner workings of USA Gymnastics itself, during a fraught Olympics. Gritty, everybody’s fellow worker, dancing merrily in the snow, oblivious only to the chaos for which he is not personally responsible.
Then again, even Kawhi Leonard laughed in 2018. Although, his visible discomfort was probably the best proxy for any of us that laughed at any time this year, forever carrying the weight of everything and all of its possible repercussions. Maybe he was laughing at us. Or maybe it was because he was looking forward to his first full winter in Toronto, having already lost feeling.
Don’t hate James Harden for scoring a ton of points on your team. Hate him for doing it in a league that, in the regular season anyway, allows for his precise exploitation and a perpetual feeling of “Isn’t anyone going to stop him?” Hate him for not figuring anything else out in Game 7 when one missed three-pointer became five became 15 became 27. James, James, James: where are your fouls now?
I cannot say for sure with what weapons the next NBA dynasty will be constructed, nor whom will build it (shout out to passive voice, as much a factor in headline confusion at news outlets as any in this year), but I have to believe that Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis will both have something to do with it. Durant knows his legacy is on the line; nobody hates him strictly because he’s good at basketball, despite what he seems to believe. Then again, seeming to believe in anything off the beaten path this year usually meant playing yourself, particularly in the NBA, so maybe he’ll issue a public statement after receiving an invitation to every NBA2K player’s hangout and every outdoor court in America and having the masses droll over him. Is that what he wants?
Davis also knows his legacy is on the line, but as a player still with his original franchise, and with our society’s burning desire to keep [primarily black] athletes in line more than our civic leaders, and in a post-Decision and post-Durant world, he has perhaps the most PR freedom of any star in his prime, ever. Anything but the Warriors will do, Anthony. Amen.
Brighid O’Brien: 2018 was an odd year. On my drive home to Boston from Virginia, I tried to decide what my favorite pieces of culture to come out of this past year were. That new Haim album was great! I thought, before remembering it came out in 2017. How good was Lady Bird, though! Again…a film from 2017.
For the length of the Jersey Turnpike, I wracked my brain. Had I enjoyed anything in 2018? Admittedly this hasn’t been my favorite year, as I often found myself feeling lonely and alone. I’d driven from San Diego to Mississippi to a new home and new job in Virginia. I might have had my heart broken. But that’s not to say I didn’t need 2018 and everything it brought with it. For every exciting episode of Game of Thrones, you need the expository, dialogue-heavy episode or two beforehand to set everything up. I’d like to think 2018 was that year for me. A few things I loved about 2018:
⁃ The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
⁃ Drinking too much rosé at bar trivia
⁃ Driving across America with my mother
– The Apple Music playlist “Beneath the Stars”
⁃ Camping at Coachella
⁃ Nightcall Podcast
⁃ Deciding not to care about Westworld
⁃ Going to concerts by myself
⁃ Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
⁃ The Sunday Washington Post
When I stopped in Austin this summer, I walked Congress Ave. with my mother. As our day was winding down and we were headed back in the direction of our hotel, we walked across the bridge (the one with the bats!) and stopped to look at the kayakers that dotted the river below. Closer to the banks we saw some turtles basking in the sun. Some were just floating, others found rocks to lay out on. A little ways away from the group, I spotted a lone turtle attempting to climb on top of a small tree branch that was floating in the water. He wanted prime tanning real estate and was determined to get it. Every time he had made it to the top of the log, ready to mount it with one more pull, it would roll over towards him, dunking him back in the water. We watched this turtle struggle for maybe 20 minutes. He didn’t give up.
Eventually we had to move on – we had been walking all day and BBQ brisket was calling. But I think about that turtle all the time. Things might be hard sometimes – just when you think you’ve made it, the world comes crashing back on you and you have to start from square one. But that doesn’t mean you should stop wanting it. I never know if that turtle made it on top of the log. But I do know that, in 2019, I’m sure as hell going to try to find my sunny spot.
Jill Pellegrini: I have nothing to say about the year 2018
aside from that it has been far too long
2018 has been 32 years long
Kevin Price: Every dipshit who seriously uses the term “Acela Corridor” (NY excluded) has a Big 4 parade to skip out of work and be an asshole at. George W. Bush painting gave way to George W. Bush passing out hard candy in “Democrats whine ‘Trump isn’t a real Republican II.'” California is constantly on fire.
Nevada Wolf Pack hoops heads into 2019 undefeated and will beat Duke to win it all. All is well.
James Vasiliou: In 2018, I made the pivot (again) to video. YouTube, the source of my teenage fascination in the aughts, climbed back into my headspace as a primary source of entertainment. This was a result of the exhaustion I felt from Twitter’s ability to amplify the worst in discourse while Facebook continued to reveal that relatives, friends and acquaintances are all susceptible to the rightward shifting Overton window, a result of hiring GOP operatives to achieve “balance.”
Instagram served as a temporary reprieve until I saw photos of friends, relatives engaging in activities that made me feel completely inadequate. So, I wandered back to the first social media site that introduced me to the aesthetics of early ’90s rap videos and that comedian who performs “Shoes.”
My return ultimately brought me to video essays by outlets like Vox and the Atlantic. But, a chance click eventually guided me to the work of Natalie Wynn otherwise known on YouTube as ContraPoints.
ContraPoints is a singular personality who engages in dialectics with characters she has written to dissect the awful ideas of bad actors like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos. While the channel has been active for several years, the production value has never been higher. There is professional lighting, elaborate costuming, a score and a fuck ton of corn dogs. One of this year’s highlights is her observation on Incels which includes a stylized set with a chaise lounge and an 18th century costume complete with powdered wig. These highly theatrical clips make other forms of video essays seem cheap and unthoughtful, which is great because YouTube needs a leftist who is willing to confront its right wing fringe with something other than droning about The Great Marxists of the Past.
ContraPoints won’t save us from the online political discourse but she’ll surely have an answer to the Internet assholes who have placed the bar for said discourse on the floor.