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Graphic by Brian Kraker

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.

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I don’t remember the first time. I remember things surrounding the first time but not the thing itself. I remember welcoming the torrential rain left over from Hurricane Ike on my sunburned arms. I remember a crowd full of people enthusiastically booing Dani Pedrosa on the grid and cheering Nicky Hayden’s crutches on the podium. I remember Valentino Rossi. I remember Nico Terol.

I don’t remember much of the second time, either. A brief mental snippet from Saturday morning as bikes stream past – two seconds, maybe three. Enough to know that it was real and that I did not just imagine it or Nicky Hayden’s flat-track demo laps or Jay Leno chilling trackside in denim or a crowd full of people politely clapping Dani Pedrosa on the grid and cheering Ben Spies on the podium. I remember Toni Elias. I remember Nico Terol.

The third time I saw Marc Marquez race in person was different. He was riding a MotoGP bike for one. He was on pole gunning to remain undefeated through the first ten races of 2014 for another. He was in his moment as the best motorcycle road racer on the planet.

Spoiler alert: This is another sermon on greatness. Greatness is a quality reliant on perception, I know, and everyone’s got a different view from where they sit. For last Sunday’s seventh annual Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, mine happened to be trackside. This is what I think about on vacation.

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The alarm went off.

You woke up. Maybe you were fully awake with the adrenaline of anticipation by the time it started; maybe you were still half-asleep and in a daze of obligation. Friends congregated around a television – you could have been one of them – or you just kept your phone charged to ensure you got the texts as they rolled in. You had cereal, or you started in on the drinking. Grease was standing by as a coping mechanism. You were decked out in the attire of a country you’ve never visited and don’t know anyone from, or just your pajamas. Your Twitter feed was open. All the quips from strangers you’ll never know rolled in. And you remember where you were when David Luiz scored after 18 minutes. The knockout rounds had truly begun. The day was just beginning.

For you, anyway. Somewhere else, I was already in the process of interviewing the first of four candidates for a position at my radio station. I had already traveled an hour north from my apartment by the time of Luiz’s goal. My cereal was long gone. I wasn’t watching. I had been up since 4am. I had already seen genius again.

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Everyone has seen The Old Guitarist. It’s one of those paintings, like The Mona Lisa or Starry Night or The Persistence of Memory, that has survived time and trends and somehow made it into the Western cultural subconscious – people who don’t like or know anything about art still vaguely recognize it. If you’d like to see The Old Guitarist in person (and you should, even if security tells you not to), the painting hangs among the walls of the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s something else.

The subject matter is simple: an old, blind beggar playing a guitar in rags on a Barcelona street. But what’s noticeable is how the color palette plays to the subject matter, a gradient of blues that sets the tone of the painting. It’s not the only one: Between 1901 and 1904, Pablo Picasso painted several works with a similar eye that are still being examined today – in fact, just this week, it was revealed that infrared technology had uncovered another layer in 1901’s The Blue Room.

Contemporary critics and the public, however, did not receive these paintings warmly. The beggars and prostitutes of his art soured crowds that had been showing a great interest in his work just a year before. We know it now as Picasso’s Blue Period, a dark layover in the artist’s life.

So you’ve got one of the great artists of his time making challenging works – some inarguably among his best – in a state of desperation and nobody’s noticing. This is a post about art, sure, but it’s also about sports. And no one is painting a more desperate picture in the art of motorcycle racing right now than Jorge Lorenzo.

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…I’m more than enough all alone to keep on ruling until the comet comes by again, and not just once but ten times, because the way I am I don’t intend to die again, God damn it, let other people die, he said, talking without any pauses to think, as if he were reciting by heart, because he had known ever since the war that thinking aloud was driving off the fear of the dynamite charges that were shaking the building, making plans for tomorrow in the morning and for the coming century at dusk until the last coup de grace rang out in the street…

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“…It is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them: which, to say truly, is a beam of glory…” –Francis Bacon

One by one, they fell. Jorge Lorenzo was the first to go, tucking the front on the first lap after getting a drive out of the corner that surprised him. Five laps later, Stefan Bradl went in a similar fashion. There was a surprising Andrea Iannone. There was the assertive Bradley Smith. There was, toward the end, Alvaro Bautista. When Valentino Rossi’s spirited strikes failed and the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship had finally settled in the Qatari night, they had all fallen, even if they’d stayed upright. They were not alone.

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2013 brought many strange occurrences and changes. From the triumphant, like Jason Collins’ admission of homosexuality, to the tragic, like the Boston Marathon bombings, to the downright necessary, like Pope Francis and the charge toward universal acceptance. Toronto got some run, with Drake and Mayor Rob Ford (pictured above) giving the Ontarian capital a few things to consider aside from the Maple Leafs’ collapse and a distinct lack of Chris Bosh in recent years. It also brought a website, born of a hellish New York morning and a few text and Facebook messages, which, we hope, you have enjoyed thus far. Now, several of us discuss 2013 in its many forms. How could 2014 ever follow this performance?

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