In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.
ANGELS IN AMERICA, Tony Kushner
I detest end of the year lists though I make them every year. I can never remember anything I consumed before the latter half of the year. Did I read a single book before October? Did I go to the theatre in the summer — or even worse — in the spring? It stresses me out to try to collate all that information, let alone arrange it in a hierarchy of best to worst.
But I get the appeal. There is something tempting about keeping a record of what you loved and hated: as if the best books or the worst movies you have seen in a year can sum up your experience of it. This year the worst movie I saw in the cinema was Colossal. It was June, a sticky bright London night. As we descended the stairs in the Curzon Soho, we saw Wallace Shawn leaving the cinema and giggled too hard in the dark. The movie was colossally bad. What this says about my year is that I went to the cinema a lot and have seen Clueless enough times to recognise him instantly. If you dig a little deeper, it also gives you this: it was the night after the terrorist attacks in London. The city seemed muted but it was a Sunday night. I went to the cinema a lot this year when the writing was going badly: the good movies made it better, the bad movies made it worse. Here is my 2017: I wrote, I went to the cinema and I tried to get better.
It is popular wisdom that each generation of humanity thinks the time they are living in is extraordinary. Whether they are scholars of literature or history or science, they are able to ignore the patterns of life and declare: this is the worst, the brightest, the most alchemical time to be alive. We have the ability to turn our experiences into grand plot points in the narrative of the planet, forgetting that it is a thing that has preceded us and will outlive us.
“2017 was a trash-fire” is the opinion of the internet. A conflagration of shittiness unlike anything that went before it. Who am I to disagree? If 2016 was marked by celebrity deaths, this year has been marked by dangerous politicians, by pulling the veil off sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. We’ve been on the dark end of the wheel for things that had already been set in motion: the continued carnage of war, political gaffes and then monstrous brutality, acts of violence that make humanity hard to fathom. Most days the news was so depressing it had be turned off.
There were also movies, books, meals, conversations, pieces of music so good they made me pause between my breaths, made me stop in the middle of the street because I wanted to feel them again. There was love too, among all the darkness, and the madness of hope.
Here is what I love about end of year lists: if a speck of my experience this year can be summarised by the things I loved and hated this year, by the books I couldn’t stop recommending and the songs that played so often in my head that their lyrics became part of my vocabulary, that means yours can be too. We can meet in the middle of the trash fire and trade our loves. Give me something as good as St. Vincent or Kaveh Akbar. Give me your favourite things. The obscure podcasts, the trashy movies you secretly loved, the music that moved you. Remember that there is joy in the sharing of things.
The world is old and long and large. We can only try to get better.
SRL issue 23 will go live on Sunday 17 December. It will feature fiction by:
and poetry by: