The Arc of 2015: In Good Time

The following was written a few weeks ago, while I was away for some R&R in the woods. That was the only way this year’s update was going to happen.

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Winter 2015: Just add snow. Also, I’m destined to become a mountain man.

The Setting: New England Winter

I’m sitting, propped up by pillows and legs outstretched, on an old firm couch in a guest house above a garage on a farm in rural Connecticut.

The temperature outside is at freezing point, but it’s warm inside. I woke up just in time to watch the sun finish rising out the three large windows that face the forest that surrounds the properties.

New England winters mean something to me. I grew up with them. Despite the bitter cold and the ice and the snow typical of the season in the region — I usually enjoyed them. Especially  I enjoyed them when sleeping somewhere surrounded by forest.

I’m here with my wife, who’s out running right now. I already made myself breakfast and ate it. I’m on my second cup of tea. This weekend is a necessary time-out, and not the only one I have taken this year.

This house is small but perfectly designed and artfully furnished. The couch I am on runs alongside a set of window perpendicular to those through which I watched the sun rise. Now the sun shines upon the large table where we ate dinner last night.

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I have to say, I aced the cook on this rib-eye.

A pair of blue jays have been fluttering around the giant, stately bushes outside. I can see the main house from here. It’s large and also stately but in an un-obsequious way. The owners seem kind. We’re here, probably, for a few more days.

A fly is buzzing around and I’m pretending not to care. That sort of thing is easier to do here.

I had planned, in view of this setting and circumstance, to continue with the new fiction piece I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been wanting to explore for a long time, but hadn’t up until recently been able to start. Now it’s started. Not only that, I am happy to be engaged with it. I can see, now, why I left it in its prior uninitiated state for years. The time wasn’t right.

No, that’s wrong. It would be more accurate to say that the time hadn’t arrived yet.

Musings on Time

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This book rattled my brain. I like it when that happens.

I have been thinking about time, recently. This is partially a result at having read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and also Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture. Both books, in their ways, jab at popular notions of time.

I worry about time a lot. I used to worry about it a lot more. I would like to worry about it even less.

A good portion of the lessening can probably be attributed to aging. What “they” say, as far as it concerns me personally, at least, appears true. I worry less now than I did in my twenties.

I can see and feel my body aging, now. This has been both a new cause of a concern and, at the same time, an clear indication of my powerlessness against time.

Contrastingly, in career terms, I have lately begun to accept that, at thirty-one, I am mostly still considered young. There are still days when I feel like I should be “further along” by now, or that I “should have” accomplished “x” or “y” — but I try to respond to such ideas with self-compassion and a plea for personal patience.

When I still felt young, which was still going on as recently as three or four years ago, I was, as I have said, much more obsessed with time.

I never felt able to keep up. I never believed I was going to get to where I wanted — had –- to go.

That’s changed. It’s changed for a few reasons.

Withdrawing from Time’s Pull

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This journal has been a great “next best thing” sub-in for morning pages.

First, while it’s still a battle I lose for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, I committed some time ago to working towards presence.

Nearly every day, I write this sentence out as an affirmation in my Five Minute Journal:

I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.

Also every day, I second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “right” to affirm both presence and mindfulness. It could be argued that they’re the same thing. But I still do it, every time. And, today, I think I know why.

My affirmation of presence is a reminder. That, whether I believe it or not, remember it or not –- I am here. This is a fact I have had difficulty believing and facing in the past, despite its more than obvious truth. We are all, always, here, until we’re not.

But do we always feel that way? Do we acknowledge it? I don’t, not always, or often enough.

Sometimes, honestly, it hurts to be here. My own mind, the internet, social media, TV or films or books — even my work — they offer a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of acknowledging the pain that sometimes seizes my heart when I consider the sheer power and responsibility of being here.

And I don’t mean to suggest there’s not joy in that knowledge, too. But, for some (me), the process of courageously pursuing that joy can become a loaded one with its own potential to overwhelm.

Still, presence is truth. As such, it’s impervious to regret. That makes it work fighting for, to me.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the path by which I seek and access truth. It’s how I come back to the present, and to myself, when I’m obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.

Worrying about the past and the future is a normal, natural thing. Arguably, these anxieties even hold some utility, when indulged in a balanced way. Even when I’ve found myself worrying too much (and thus slipping from mindfulness) — I try not to judge myself. It’s part of our nature to “leave the planet” in spots.

It’s the coming back that really counts.

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The wife and I went for a hike. Found this. Felt good.

That’s why, I think, I started this post the way that I did. I was settling into life, in the moment.

This can be a delicate process, when writing, or creating. Creators face a difficult balancing act during each engaged act of genesis.

Creativity, unsurprisingly, is much like sex in this way. It’s about both being fully in and outside the moment, extending outside the body through the body.

Acknowledging Time’s Power

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The view from the exact spot wherein this was written. Cozy, right?

Now, obviously, we cannot be creating constantly, just as we cannot be constantly having sex. Reprieve from the realities of friction and fluid depletion, social order and sustained healthy living — these necessities preclude such behavior.

While time conceptually may be much less harsh and villainous than we often consider it to be, in cosmic terms it’s still one of only a few primal ruling elements of our lives.

However, also in cosmic terms (we’re keeping topics small today), time can be viewed simply. It proceeds and we ride its current, unable to do more than pretend at stopping or going (in relative terms) at spots along the way.

This is why, when caught up by concerns of time — I turn to gratitude.

Gratitude as a Perspective on Time

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Cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this little hairy genius.

Gratitude is about perspective — about taking a particular view of one slice of time, at one such stopping point or another, and appreciating it.

I am fortunate to be in this house, at this time, writing this –- to you. I know this. I appreciate it as a captured, treasured moment of grace, an example of the exact relationship I seek in this world that speaks to my needs and wants as a person.

Often, though, in the busyness of trying to do and be more, all the time and in the midst of so many others doing and being their own things…I forget it all. I forget the moments of grace, I forget what I know to be true about time and life and the importance of remaining in the moment with my feet on the ground. I forget it all.

Being an artist, for many of us, is not a choice. Finding an audience, however, is a privilege. One that needs to be cultivated, earned, and sustained.

So, as 2015 gives way to 2016 — I say it again. I am not only grateful for the life I have been given and have built, but also for you. I am grateful for your time, support, and for the occasional commiserating moments we have shared and which I hope we’ll continue to share in the future.

Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used

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We were able to shoot The Confession due to the kindness of our audience.

Kindness, to wrap up, represents the ideal state I wish to arrive in, on those rare, joyful occasions whereupon I am able to remove myself from time.

It’s the core appreciation of life, and of living, that feeds my beliefs. Probably, it fuels all the work that I do, that I have always viewed not as my own, but as something rooted in more primal, fundamental life-stuff than can be claimed as having originated in a single, struggling human.

Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments

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I found a kitten this year. Here he is struggling to get away from Rebecca.

Struggle is the final key word, here.

Prior to writing this, I had been struggling to determine the appropriate lens through which to review the prior year.

Two years ago, on the first anniversary of this site, I remarked upon an arc of what I viewed as progress — observable inroads made against the injustices of the day. Last year, on its second anniversary, I celebrated a productive year of movement. Those posts have as much to do with my own natural evolutions through time, and through self-discovery, as they do with the conditions, histories, and developments of which my experiences are but a part.

Now, it’s three years later. The Videoblogs will be coming out (relatively) soon. It’s possible I’ll be compiling my first book of fiction as that happens. The podcast continues to grow. Time moves on and I try to ride its currents and appreciate its mystery, rather than pretend there’s a damn thing I can do to control where it takes me, when or how.

If you had said to me, three or four years ago, that this is where I would be, in this exact place in the woods, settled firmly in this moment, taking some time off with the woman I love in the midst of a years-long pattern of being in constant touch with all of you, who have supported my endeavors for years (via both your attention and your direct patronage), perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised — but I also would have believed it.

This is because, as I am learning, time is much less measurable than it seems, or than at least I had thought.

It helps to set goals and mark progress, but change more often occurs, I am finding, via a day to day commitment to more courageously pursue those truths which compel us. The pursuit is the important thing. Everything else is at best a nice detour or a short break, but more often an unnecessary distraction.

Time is not containable. That is its beauty and our privilege.

Thank you for your continued readership, listenership and support. You are loved and appreciated. I wish you the best for each of the days that make up the new year.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Subscribe to my list for exclusive access to posts like this one, and advanced (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month (sometimes less).

"You're going to do it again?" Probably. Ugh.

The Arc of 2014: Movement

Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren't completely on board with Cass (Masha King) for the moment.
Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren’t sure if this year was even real. From The Videoblogs.

I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.

Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.

Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.

It was fucking hard.

But…damn…did it feel good.

During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.

What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.

So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.

Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.

This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.

Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.

 

But, what happened? What made the difference?

Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.

So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.

Multiverse Completed and Distributed

Laughter without voices.
Laughter without voices.

You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.

Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.

Comedic Voice Let Off Leash

I didn't say it was a tasteful comedic voice.
I didn’t say it was a tasteful comedic voice.

I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.

Got Fictional

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.
You too can get a hold on some DREAD.

I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years. In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.

Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs

Cass (Masha King) waits for an explanation as to how this all happened.
Cass (Masha King) is also waiting for an explanation as to how this all happened. From The Videoblogs.

I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.

You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!

Became A Professional

The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.
When The Videoblogs was just a stack of pages.

I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?

Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.

What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.

What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.

And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.

Why We Move

I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.

This is far from over.

Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.

Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.

So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.

It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.

What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.

We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.

This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.

I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.

Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.

The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback

Up is down and down is up.
I messed with this photo. It was fun.

About Those Lists

The year’s headed to a close. The lists have been coming out for a while now, already:

Here’s The Best _________ of the Year.

Here’s The Top 10 ________ You Missed This Year.

Here are the best movies. The best albums. Books. Pictures.

What did we miss? What didn’t we keep up on? What did we fail to consume? The list of lists goes on.

I’ve being a little harsh, but there’s a reason. Lists are fine. Measurements, subjective judgments, as to what’s “best,” as to what you should make time for in a world apparently low on time and definitely drowning in content — they’re fine too. They have some value. I mean that. I like lists. I think there are too many of them, and I don’t trust the motives behind many of the list-writers and think the listing has gotten a bit out of control in an overly Buzzfed kind of way — but I get it.

Looking back, in itself, is a crucial tool for learning. Looking back and organizing what trails behind us into value-tested lists helps us bring retrospective order and clarity to a year that, like all others, invariably, felt as if it was rushing by while it ran its course from January 1 to December 31. And so, here we are, facing another end, another pile of lists.

I don’t have a list for you. But I did notice something recently, in reflecting back upon this this year, that I believe is worth discussing.

The Shift

This year felt like a shift.

I often talk, both here and in general conversation, about the importance of Story to both art and society. As a writer and filmmaker, I obsesses constantly over Story. It’s the god I serve. However, in obsessing, as it often goes, I sometimes forget to reflect upon where Story comes from. In a word, as has been pointed out frequently and repeatedly over the years by artists more experienced and more accomplished than me (though we all seem to consistently forget it): Story comes from Life. Story, at its best, is a neatly ordered facsimile of something that is felt in the world but which begs further exploration and needs expression before any real sense can be made of it.

I realize that some of what I am about to say may be colored by the experience of my recent personal growth spurt (which has been well-documented in this space over the course of this year). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started to truly (and finally) mature as a storyteller and person as soon as I started making distinct, observable changes to my life. Neither do I believe it was so simple as deciding, personally, to embrace change on my own.

Before there can be change there must be readiness; before that, acceptance; before that, awareness; before that, willingness; before that, a sense of needing something to be different.

Up until very recently, I wasn’t sure many people, at least in contemporary America, ever got past this sense of need — to look at something that feels wrong, to acknowledge honestly that, for change to occur, we need to eventually explore areas of pain and dissatisfaction. In my mind — and to a degree I think it’s still an unfortunately common occurrence —  when faced with a feeling of wrongness, we almost inevitably (desperately) suppress the impulse to look at that feeling, to begin trying to figure out what’s going on inside us (and outside us). It’s “safer,” in the unspoken opinion of such people, to hold on to simmering pain, than to risk greater burns by exposing ourselves to potentially hard truths.

An Arc of Redemption

I can all say this because I used to be this sort of person — to a significant extent. As I have mentioned more than once over the course of this year, for a while I was saved by my impulse to pursue and tell stories. When that wasn’t enough, almost in spite of myself, I turned to life for answers. And that’s where I found it, more so this year than ever before. Not a formula or a prescription or a list or even an answer — but a common arc.

Thinking back on this year and those few preceding it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or entirely due to my own volition, that this was the year I began piecing together an idea of what I definitively have to do and why.

Something is happening out there. Something is happening here, in this country, in this city and beyond. I can feel it, can sense my part in it.

In our hyper-connected, fast-moving world — in a world of lists and ultra-divided attention — it can be easy to forget that everything worthy takes time. Healing takes times. Recovery takes time. Social pains that symptomatically erupt into our world, they, sadly, sometimes, have to inflict their damage before enough attention will be paid to studying their causes. Beyond this, even — studying can take us only so far. The pain must be lived, experienced.

And then it must be discussed, and then something must be done. Invariably, something does get done. I believe that, now. I don’t believe it excuses us from action, that change will come on its own without human interjection, but I believe in the inevitability of our collective drift towards redemptive change.

“In everything that can be called art, there is a quality of redemption.”
— Raymond Chandler

I’ve made no secret of my specific points of anger, in regards to American society in particular, in writing here this past year, or in writing and creating in general for the past many years. At several points, in the past, I was blind with anger. We all know this happens. We all know it’s bad when this happens, not only because it’s no way to live but because in blinding ourselves we miss things. Again, while I’m speaking mostly on personal terms, I know for a fact that I haven’t been, and am not, the only angry person out there. That’s part of the point I’m trying to make here.

In becoming blind, when this happens to us or when we let it happen, one of the most crucial things we consequently lose the ability to see and/or source out are our paths to redemption. For a long time, despite a sincere focus on and hunger for redemption, I could not see any way to it; not while I was angry. Now, I’m working on it. Day by day, I find myself feeling less resentful of past transgressions, and more grateful for the time I (and we) still have to make repairs.

A lot of this gratefulness has to do with the arc I’m seeing. It makes perfect sense that I would have missed this as well when I was still very angry, but still it has surprised me in recent months to discover that I have never been as alone in this “fight” as I have felt.

Something is happening out there. The pain of the last several years, and the resultant anger, is subsiding. People are moving again. In particular, young people are moving. The Millennial Generation, in particular, is moving — and quickly.

The Pushback

We, the young, haven’t forgotten our anger, but some of us seem to finally be using it for fuel. For lack of a better term at the moment, this something that is happening, this arc, seems to me at least to represent some early version of a long overdue pushback.

We’re underemployed, underrepresented, misunderstood and in many ways we are not adequately respected. We’re also not perfect, and perhaps we have struggled to shoulder or adequately embrace our responsibilities on social and personal levels in our early adult years.

I’m not sure that last part is entirely our fault, if it is our fault at all. But, either way, we as a loosely-defined generation have, in my opinion, begun to truly absorb the pain caused by the hubris and naivete of those few generations that immediately precede us. We’ve grown up fast, even if we have grown up late.

This is happening out of necessity. Someone has to fix this mess. If older generations want to help us — good. We can definitely learn from them. We can definitely stand to integrate some of the lessons and the time-tested values of the past. But preceding generations can learn from us, too. They’d do well to acknowledge this before it’s too late. We’re not keen on waiting.

The arc of 2013 seems like the beginning of the rise of a new power. This power is by no means mature, organized or specific. But it is accelerated by technology, its heart finds its locus from a mostly just place (if still a place that remains somewhat naive), and it’s growth is inevitable.

I don’t pretend to know where this power is going to take us in 2014 and beyond. I don’t know who its real leaders will be (if any ever emerge) or how well it’s going to handle the increasing influence it is inheriting and, increasingly, earning. I don’t even know how or if it will succeed in hastening or forcing some of the change that desperately needs to happen in this country and this world.

But I’m excited to find out. I’m excited to do my part. I’m still angry but I think I know how to deal with it now, how to channel it.

I’m excited, and ready, to push back. So are many others. Are you?

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year. Let’s make this one count.