Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - A Total Sack of Crap

Was 2008, when taken as a whole, as bad as I am currently remembering it? It's hard to say for sure, but I'm leaning toward yes - a real sack of crap. Most people's homes, their primary asset, crashed around 20% from a year ago today, so if you own a $200K home, that's about $40K less dollars upon which you can depend. The stock market is uniformly down 40-50%, so if you're lucky enough to have money to invest, you have half as much today. For one-third of the year, it would cost you upwards of $40-50 to fill up your tank with gasoline and everyone was freaking out that the price of oil and gas would continue to climb indefinitely. A whole bunch of new reports came out continuing to indicate that earth is melting. A warmer earth means a whole lot more than rising sea levels. Warm water streams that fork through the oceans sink when they get to the polar ice caps as cold water rises to the surface, resulting in a conveyor-belt effect that keeps ocean water from stagnating. Melted ice caps will stop this movement. Stagnate ocean water means death of many lifeforms on a global scale.

The local news was not any better. The mayor of our largest city is a convicted felon. The primary employers in our area faced/face the very real threat of bankruptcy for the final quarter of 2008 and into 2009. The Michigan population has declined about 40K residents since the last census. The Lions are the Lions. National and local employment are not near the percentages of The Great Depression, but because of the great population increase since the 1930s, there are far more people who are out of work than during that time. The Kuwaiti government decided to pull the plug on a multi-billion dollar business venture that would have been headquartered in Michigan (though this one isn't Michigan's fault). I gained 10 pounds.

And yet, despite all of this, people get excited by the change of one integer in the way that they write the date. Starting a new year isn't like starting a new semester in school or embarking on a new set of responsibilities in a job. Nothing has changed, and there is no reason for anything to change because thousands of years ago someone invented the Julian calendar and decided that tomorrow will be the first of something new. That just doesn't make any sense.

This is, perhaps, what I find most enjoyable about the human spirit. We have the ability, based on subjective delineations, to compartmentalize the sack of crap that was 2008, put it behind us, and say "2009 will be different." That is quite amazing. 2009, for no real reason, brings hope, excitement, optimism, and a virtual elimination of anything from the past that we choose to put in the past. The New Year is an artificially generated opportunity to make new opportunities. Maybe, instead of eliminating remembrance of a difficult past year, it is a fresh chance to uniformly acknowledge that we are where we are right now, and let's move forward in closer lockstep. It is the time to collectively acknowledge the failures and successes of the past 365 days and figure out how to use that knowledge for something better. This rarely, if ever, happens, but the opportunity reasserts itself at 12:00 AM, January 1st every single year. That is why it is exciting. It's like going on a date for the first time with a new person, leaving a hated high school for a fresh start at college, watching the pilot episode of a new Joss Whedon series - everything is new and no one has yet screwed anything up.

Like everyone else, I very much look forward to putting the great 2008 sack of crap behind me, but it is also important to remember that not all things were bad. Everyone has their own pleasures from the year - the Red Wings won the Cup, I traveled to Europe with my brother and fiancee, I got engaged, my sister had a baby, my brother started his career, my parents got a puppy, you got a new iPhone, whatever it may be. While I know that 2009 doesn't really mean anything and there is no reason to truly believe that tomorrow will be different or better than today, I am going to hold on to the good things that happened in 2008 and work on ways to make 12:00:00 AM January 1st, 2009 better than 11:59:59 PM December 31st, 2008. Maybe this is the best thing of all - even knowing there is no new reason for hope, we can still produce it.


jhemak said...

Ken, your blog is now one of the select few I have added to my Google Reader account. And I enjoyed this post. So, there you have it -- two compliments. Or maybe I should have told you this tomorrow such that you'd think 2009 was different from 2008.

Ken said...

Thanks J - truthfully that means quite a bit to me. I was saying to Maureen the other day that as much as I try to get lots of people to read the blog, it is truly gratifying when I can manage to retain someone as a faithful reader. It is easy for a person just to come and check something out once or twice, but it actually requires effort to read time and again. Have a really Happy New Year.

Aunt Cathie said...

And if the beginning of 2009 doesn't seem to be working out, do what I do and start over again on Chinese New Year! If you think about it, any day is a good day for a new start - it ties in with that saying "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

Daniel J. said...

Such a pessimist. Did you ever think for a second that the human species would survive the Earth lifespan from our beginnings to its end? So this is only inevitable man. Let's get scientific with this comment. All planets adapt to unfathomably harsh conditions in the universe. Our select species is just a tiny insignificant, inconsequential speck of dust in the whole works of things. The reason we are all "freaking out" about the impending crises is because we don't realize that we are a very small function of greater purposes. I agree that we should not accept meager living standards; however, as much as we change our situations we all know the inevitable will happen. Study foreign religions and you may be enlightened to totally new viewpoints on life as a whole as I was. Because religion is only a series of words and beliefs. Reality is real.

Ken said...

Welcome back to the internet, Dan. I don't think pessimism is even a small portion of this post. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the opposite is true. While there is reason for pessimism - regardless of our tiny role in the universe - we can look past that and focus on the possibilities of what is out there.