Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saying farewell to 2013

Here's a holiday message for all you followers of Saberfrog.

Here in Rochester, New York, it's been bitterly cold. So cold that my car – which last year decided that anything under 20 degrees was not acceptable – has sometimes been reluctant to start.

So it gets to be Christmas day. The day when I should, ideally, be able to get in my car and go visit my mom, sister, and brother-in-law under my own power. But nope. The car would not start, and I had to call my family for a ride.

Frustrated and furious, I returned to my apartment to await my rescue. I found myself contemplating the many other things in my life that have not gone according to plan, and all the things that were making me feel stressed and struggling, and all the ways in which I felt constantly behind.

I turned on the TV, which was tuned to BBC America. And – I kid you not – less than a minute had elapsed before an unexpected programming interruption occurred. It was a live Christmas message from Her Majesty The Queen.

She began by talking about how she once met a man who had to spend a year in a plaster cast due to back surgery, and how he responded to his incapacitation by reading and studying. She then made the point that in this busy holiday season, we need to take time for contemplation.

As you might guess, this hit me where I lived.

If I myself wasn't in an incapacitated situation, I wouldn't even have been home. I wouldn't have had the TV on, and I might not have needed to hear that message so badly. And why was this being shown on American TV anyway? If anything, I was among the few people on Earth she wasn't talking to. Yet it felt as if she was speaking to me personally.

Then the Queen's message ended, and BBC America resumed its zillionth Doctor Who marathon already in progress. Which was somehow fitting, because it seemed like a real-life version of the episode where Wilf was spoken to directly by a mysterious Time Lord woman appearing on his TV.

Of such things are religions made, I suppose. Sometimes things happen and they seem like signs or miracles, even if logically they're not.

That doesn't make them unimportant.

Recently I've been revisiting some older projects, including an attempt at a feature-length movie that I made as a teenager. Back then, I had a much simpler and more innocent view of the world. I believed in dedication and hard work overcoming adversity.

I had not yet gone to film school, or lived in a big city. As a result, I had not been exposed to the artistic intellectual's more cynical viewpoint – that everything is bad; that being “dark” or depressed is somehow deeper than coping; that society is just a big conspiracy to keep the individual in chains, and that therefore resentment and hostility are the only correct attitudes for dealing with life. I didn't think that my entire generation, and perhaps the culture as a whole, would elevate this despairing viewpoint to the level of canon.

Rereading my scripts and notes for my teenage opus, I thought, God, I had it right the first time. And over the years, I've allowed myself to be talked out of it. Now I need to relearn things that I used to know by instinct.

I guess what I'm getting at is, you should live life like the rules work. Live like your dreams and actions count. Live like things matter.

It's easy to get frustrated. It's easy to dig the Web for horrifying news stories about something that happened far from your own community, and use these incidents to buttress a view that the world is broken beyond repair.

But there will always be obstacles and there will always be suffering. You shouldn't use that as an excuse to not try. It shouldn't stop you from aspiring to a better life.

So write that story, apply for that job, call that person you've been wanting to talk to.

The people who succeed, and are happy and stable, are the people who have a sense of balance. They know that some days are bad and some days are good. Perhaps most of all, they believe that their life and dreams and beliefs matter.

Many people who consider themselves intelligent or educated take pride in distancing themselves from religion. While I'm not a religious person either, I'm of the Joseph Campbell school that it still serves an important function. People who believe that there is an order to the universe, and that there is right and wrong, and that their actions matter, tend to live better lives. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's how we become good people.

December is an important time for many religions. It's the month of Christmas, of Hanukkah, of the winter solstice. It's a time when we should be looking ahead to better times even if the current reality is cold and dark.

Even on a secular level, it's the end of one year and the start of another. It's a time to let go of the past, and make plans for the future.

So have a happy new year. Face 2014 with hope and confidence.

And tell 'em the Queen sent you.