December 28, 2010

In a year.

Looking back at the year that just passed is an interesting exercise. In hindsight, some things look significantly better or significantly worse than they really were, and the memory does a good job of numbing feelings of experiences that were much more intense when they happened.

I’ve been told that this year was a blur for many people, that time passed quickly — too quickly, perhaps — without notice.

Not for me. This year, I made it a point to notice where time was going and what was happening around me. It was, after all, my year of meaning.

I have learned, this year, that part of being present is being comfortable with being alone and doing nothing. This hasn’t been easy; for most of my life, I have equated being alone with being lonely. I know now that is not the case. I have learned that spending time with myself and doing nothing can be just as entertaining, engaging, and exciting as filling my schedule. My solitary walks through the city have been among my favorite experiences of the year.

I’ve done a lot of walking, this year. Not owning a car and not purchasing a transit pass encourages travel by foot, as does living in an apartment with easy access to the street as opposed to a tiny box in the sky.

Despite my reliance on walking, I have taken more long-distance road trips this year than I have in many years. For someone that strongly dislikes driving, this is surprising. I moved back to Toronto in a van early in the year. Since then, I have driven driven to Buffalo to see a Hanson concert, driven to Wine Country and picked fruit, driven to the north to step in a cranberry bog, and have driven to my brother’s home, a couple of hours away, on several occasions.

I did not, however, drive to British Columbia for my high school reunion. Instead, I flew there, and spent a week by the Pacific Ocean watching seals, sea lions, and orcas swim freely in their natural habitat, and not in captivity as we are so used to seeing them. On my flight back from my reunion, I realized just how little I had traveled this year. Unlike previous years where I would spend a considerable amount of time in airports and airplanes, in 2010 I mostly stayed put in either DC or Toronto.

It is a strange feeling, this sense of being settled.

I have become interested once again in growing houseplants (though this interest may have also been spurred by my love moving into a lovely house with a beautiful garden), and have begun writing spoken word poetry again. Best of all, I have started to cook more, and really enjoy the time I spend in a kitchen.

Some of the best moments of my year involve food, in restaurants or in the home, or even wandering the aisles of grocery store, loading my cart with vegetables and cheese and peanut butter pretzels. But the kitchen is where I have learned the most about myself. I have tested my patience, scalded my taste buds, and even learned more about my body and what I need to do to get healthier. I have learned that I am a mayonnaise man that paradoxically enjoys mustard more than mayonnaise.

Playing in a kitchen and cooking a meal may not be something most people consider monumental enough to consider in a recap of a year. Often, however, it is those little everyday routines that shape the course of a year: writing letters on my dining table, calling Luis Garcia twice a week and still failing to get elusive reservations, putting on pyjamas and crawling under the covers with a book (or more frequently now, my iPad) before I go to sleep.

Sometimes, I watch part of a movie instead of reading before going to bed. Now that I no longer write about film for any publication, I’ve become less interested in the business behind the industry and more interested in the entertainment they provide. While I still watch dramas and procedurals (I am still fascinated by the courts and the interaction between lawyers and the jury), but most often my playlist includes romantic comedies and animated film. (Have you watched Toy Story 3 yet? You should. It was, along with The Social Network and Rabbit Hole, my favorite movie of the year.)

For the early part of this year, I eschewed film and instead spent all my evenings catching up on episodes of The Wire. It seems as though everyone has already said it, but I will add my voice to the chorus: _The Wire_is the best show to grace a television screen. It was my brother that got me hooked on the show, as he so often is the person that introduces me parts to popular culture that I may have missed. It was also my brother that rekindled my interest in hip-hop this year, after years of mostly ignoring the genre. (Listening to Biggie Smalls on NPR helped remind me of just how much I really enjoy good hip-hop and its lyricism.)

The whole year wasn’t full of music and movies and good food. Every year has its struggles, and this year I have fought through numerous sleepless nights, a mild bout of depression, some lingering fear and self-esteem issues, and some ill-health as well. Through the ups and downs, I have learned so much: I have learned that the things that shake us also make us stronger, that it may be possible to sometimes care too much, that the words we say in anger can scar, and that we can take immense inspiration from our heroes who have overcome so much more before us.

And of course, I have learned that we all make mistakes, and that forgiveness is important. The case of Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga was a perfect example of being gracious in error, and it was one of many noteworthy incidents in sports this year. Some, like the Jim Joyce story, were good life lessons. Others, like the disgusting way that LeBron James handled his free agency, were examples of how not to live. For a sports fan, moments that take place on and off the field can shape the course of a year.

Watching Canada win the Olympic hockey gold, surrounded by other expatriates at the Canadian Embassy in DC, reminded me of why I’m so proud to be Canadian. Watching athletes push their bodies past what seemed previously-humanly possible reminded me of just how much potential we all have. Watching the whole world get excited about the World Cup in South Africa reminded me of how sport is an important way for us to learn about and celebrate each other, across cultural and national boundaries. (Plus, it was nice that The Netherlands, the team I cheer for most, made it to the finals.)

It was a good year to be a sports fan. It was a good year to idolize and revere players, but also to acknowledge the coaches and broadcasters that make sports come alive. As is the case every year, some of our idols (in sports and outside) passed away, some of our idols came back to prominence, some of our idols faded into irrelevance, and perhaps, hopefully, we found new giants amongst us to serve as role models.

The man who was one of my biggest inspirations, one of my biggest role models, passed away seven years ago. Growing up, Fred Rogers was Mister Rogers”, a man on TV who shared his neighborhood with me and that reminded me that it was okay to be me, just the way I am. He was someone that inspired me to do good for the people around me, every day.

Earlier this month, while aimlessly browsing through Youtube, I came across video archives of several of his television shows, award show appearances, and speeches, and realized that even now, almost twenty-five years since I first saw him on television and seven years since his passing, he still continued to have an impact on my life.

In the end, it’s those simple things that Mister Rogers taught me, all those years ago, that are my enduring lessons of 2010: that life is unpredictable and has its ups and downs; that sometimes people will leave your life and sometimes new people will enter it; that loving someone is one of the best feelings in the world; that loving yourself is one of the hardest, but most important things you can do; and, that no matter what life throws at you, you can get through it with a smile when you have the best of friends by your side.

Good lessons to take into 2011, in my humble opinion.

(What you just read was my weak attempt at creating some kind of narrative around the best articles I’ve read on the internet this year. There are probably so many more articles I should have included but simply forgot, and even more that I just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Hopefully, they’ll make next year’s list.)