Alright, 2014 is practically over. Pondering that fact earlier this week, I knew I wanted to write something, but I couldn’t decide what. I considered writing a list of my 12 favorite (or least favorite) books I read this year, but writing a bunch of book reviews sounded too exhausting. The idea of simply writing “GOOD RIDDANCE” in bold, 128-point font struck me as appealing, but I eventually backed down, feeling I owed myself a slightly more substantial piece of writing.
This is what I ended up settling on: a list of six things, or whatever, from 2014. It’s not exactly six things that happened to me this year, nor is it six things I enjoyed. It’s just six things. Or whatever.
1. Depression and a Jerkbrain
I wrote about this during Blogathon, but it was definitely a thing[ref]or whatever[/ref] from my 2014. For the first time in my life (that I can recall), I was not just sad or bummed out, but quite thoroughly (though situationally) depressed[ref]If it’s worth anything, I wasn’t diagnosed, but I also didn’t seek help for it. I experienced many symptoms, though–total lack of motivation, increased fatigue, difficulty eating, difficulty experiencing joy in things. I’m comfortable saying I was depressed, albeit situationally.[/ref].
This time last year, I was determined to make 2014 a better year than 2013, and for a few days, it looked like it was going to be. New Year’s Eve was unbelievable, ringing in the year on what seemed like a high note. But only a few days later, tendrils of doubt and unhappiness began creeping in to my life, thanks primarily to a toxic, hostile work environment that made me dread every day.
I won’t recount what I’ve already written–my Blogathon post, linked above, has the details on my experience. But 2014 was already a quarter over before I got out of my depression. I did things during those months, sure, but my overwhelming memory is that of a thick, awful-feeling haze. As far as I’m concerned, I lost three months of this year to situational depression.
I hadn’t experienced depression before this, not firsthand. I’d seen what it could do to people I loved, and I recognized intellectually the signs and symptoms, but I don’t think any number of poetically worded metaphors could capture the experience. Depression is simply awful.
My experience, however, got me to an interesting place. After spending three months thinking I was worthless, I’ve become fairly good at identifying when my brain is acting up and just being a jerk to me. I have days when, due to some circumstance or another, I’m overwhelmingly anxious or convinced of my own ineptitude and uselessness, my brain enthusiastically spiraling further and further into entirely unhelpful thoughts. If there’s anything good that came from spending three months depressed, it’s that I’m more comfortable saying that my brain is a jerk and a liar, and better at proactively reaching out for support when I need it. Which isn’t terrible, I suppose.[ref]Big important disclaimer: This is my experience and nobody else’s. Everyone experiences depression differently, and depression doesn’t always have a moral or a teaching moment.[/ref]
2. Ready Player One
I read 43 books this year, a fact that surprises me almost as much as it likely surprises you. That’s a lot of books. There were some truly stellar ones in there, including More Than Two, The Information, The Intuitionist, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, and Rise of the Warrior Cop, but I want to instead highlight a profound stinker: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
Ready Player One is a nostalgia-packed love letter to nerds who grew up in the ’80s. It has virtual reality, evil megacorporations, and retro references on every page. Tons of people love it… but I found it possibly the most ham-handed, unskillful book I read all year.
The plot is a bog-standard hero’s journey, wrapped in ’80s nostalgia so thick it’s choking. If the characters were unique and compelling, that might be forgivable, but they’re not–with very few exceptions, they’re little more than trite clichés, like the Japanese characters who make painfully frequent references to “honor”, or the chief antagonist who commits a moustache-twirling act of mass violence within the first few chapters in order to establish his role as Designated Villain. And as if that weren’t enough, the whole thing is a parable for Net Neutrality so blunt that I, an ardent supporter of the cause, found myself wincing.
When I watch superhero movies, I sometimes willingly disengage from my critical brain so I can be swept up in the mindless action. Ready Player One was so full of reminders of its lousiness that I couldn’t even do that while reading–I might try to enjoy the ride, but then the designated love interest would have an entirely predictable falling-out with the protagonist, and I’d realize once again how formulaic and hackneyed the whole thing was. I only finished the book out of hope that it would get better, and while the third act was an improvement upon the first two, it wasn’t enough to redeem it.
If Ready Player One were an arcade game, I’d have jammed the coin return button so much my thumb would be sore.
You can read my full review on Goodreads.
3. The Path Forward
But lest you think my 12 things or whatever of 2014 are all bitter and unhappy, there’s this one: I found a career path!
When I graduated from Whitman with a Bachelor’s in Sociology, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My time spent writing Sexcetera had turned me on[ref]heheheh[/ref] to the idea of sex education, but the notion of being a public school teacher had me lukewarm at best, and trying to be a traveling freelance educator seemed like the most ridiculous of pipe dreams. I knew I wanted to stick with R, so, lacking any further direction, I remained in Walla Walla and stumbled into a marketing job.
This spring, after briefly entertaining the notion of being a Doctor Nerdlove-esque advice columnist, I happened across a tantalizing idea. It came to me by way of a video called “The Other Safe Sex Conversation“. I wasn’t particularly watching for career ideas, but the video offered such a neat perspective that I followed it to the end, where the credits advertised the group behind its creation: Interchange Counseling, which held annual intensive seminars for counselors.
There was a satisfying click and thunk as those pieces fell into place. I had never considered it before, but counseling–oh my god, counseling! I could help people. I could engage with many of the ideas I cared about–sexuality, relationships, masculinity–on a daily basis. I could help people find paths to their own joyful self-realizations, a process I’d done myself and which was deeply important to me. Counseling!
After being aimless for a year or so, finding a next step pulled much of my life into focus. I wouldn’t have predicted this choice, but now that I’ve found it, it feels indisputably like the Thing I Want to Do[ref]At least, the Thing I Want to Do Next.[/ref], and the process of finding and applying to graduate programs has only further honed my enthusiasm. I’m happy to say that as of Christmas Eve, I’ve submitted all three of my grad school applications, and I’m hoping to start a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program in the fall of 2015.
4. Video Games
I didn’t record it in any Official List of New Year’s Resolutions for 2014, but it was a goal of mine to play more video games this year. I’m no stranger to video games, but I’ve also never played as many as I’ve liked to, for whatever reason; for many years, my gaming experience mostly consisted of Portal and Portal 2, Kingdom of Loathing, Minecraft, and Mega Man X. Over the past few years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of well acclaimed, interesting-looking games (largely from Humble Bundles), and this year, I plugged in my gamepad and actually got around to playing some.
I played and enjoyed the genre-aware, thoroughly critical Stanley Parable. Gone Home immersed me in an unparalleled emotional experience. Guacamelee! reminded me of the button-mashing platformers of my youth, and Bastion and Transistor blew me away with their gorgeous… well, everything.
Suffice to say, I’ve earned the Video Games nerd merit badge for this year, and I plan to earn it again in the year to come.
5. I Hate Cars
Cars suck and I hate everything about them. And because I don’t have the emotional energy to tell this tale in full, here’s the bullet-point version:
- My beloved car, Zeke, was totaled on Halloween as he sat parked on the street
- Repairing him wasn’t going to be worth it, so I let the insurance company buy him off me
- With the proceeds from his sale, I bought a used car in Pasco, with cash to spare
- Upon returning to Walla Walla, the new car magically transformed into a complete piece of shit that won’t start and has demanded over a thousand dollars in repairs
- I hate cars
- I hate cars
- I hate cars
6. That Dork I’m Dating
I’m not usually super-corny like this, so grant me it this time.
2014 was really rough at times–like, ridiculously, unfairly so. But my relationship with R has been a constant source of strength for me, even when things have been really, really shitty. She’s backed me up more times than I can count, providing me with support when I need it and simply giving me a space to unapologetically be myself when that’s called for. R has been my partner and my person all year, and for that, I’m so grateful.
I’m also incredibly proud of her. She spent the majority of 2014 practicing and playing roller derby, a sport at which she kicks ass (and in which she’s continuing to develop her ass-kickery). Recall how I said I read 43 books this year? She read 48, all while holding down a full-time reporting job. She moved from our small town newspaper to a much bigger company in a bigger city; attended numerous conferences (and un-conferences) on reporting, coding, and journalism; and relocated to a new city where she immediately settled in and made friends.
She amazes me constantly, and my 2014 was made infinitely better because we tackled it together.
Anyway, that’s six things or whatever. Happy end of 2014, everyone! Here’s to putting it all behind us.
2014, I have waited long to say this to you: