Happy new year! Welcome to 2021, and good riddance to the hellscape that was 2020. Though that feels weird to type for a variety of reasons, but especially because nothing actually changed except a digit in the date. It isn’t a big change. But it feels big, and naysaying that feeling just seems cynical and mildly mean-spirited.
There is a big change coming in a few weeks, though – January 20th. I never thought I would be excited about an elderly white man being elected, but I’m excited for Biden. Not because of Biden in and of himself, but because he is Not Trump, and President Not Trump sounds great. Though, like the year changing, it is not a miracle change that suddenly fix all of our problems.
But again: it feels cynical to have to add that as an addendum when talking about him.
But maybe cynical is not the right word. Maybe it’s about realism? Pragmatism? Biden is Not Trump but there is still so much work to do. So many factors that got us into this mess, that got Trump elected, that show just how broken our system and most of the world is, that show no signs of being fixed now or ever, that–
Hold it. Deep breath. Let me start again.
Happy 2021! Happy Almost Not Trump!
No caveats. No cynicism or pragmatism. I am here typing this. You are here reading it. That is worth something and should be celebrated without crumbling under the crushing weight of everything else in the world. If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to breathe and sit with that. I’m so glad you’re still here, and I’m glad I am, too.
I am extremely aware that not everyone is still with us, whether we’re talking about surviving the pandemic or surviving the Trump administration. My cousin Myron passed away of Covid-19 in November, and we had his funeral on Zoom. I sat in my living room and watched my cousin Natalie and the rabbi in the cemetery. I have been to far too many funerals in the last eight years, including burying both of my parents. Watching on my computer was distinctly wrong. Family should have been there to shovel dirt onto the wooden casket — a Jewish tradition, a final mitzvah for a loved one who has passed away. You start by holding the shovel upside down, actually, moving dirt on the shovel’s back instead of the intended side, to symbolize how the loss has turned things upside down.
In 2020, the whole world felt upside down. The new year can’t make it okay that so many people were lost, and funerals were impossible. Having a new president won’t undo the evils of the previous administration.
But at the same time, it would be a lie to say it doesn’t matter. It does.
Thinking about Biden and Trump, and wow, there’s so much work. Everything I started to ramble about before is true. There is so much work to do to fix what’s broken in the world. But the fact that people voted against Trump matters. It’s a start. It’s a reason to be optimistic. That doesn’t mean things are instantly or automatically better, but it means enough people want them to improve that we can work together and make it happen.
For the new year, well, I have never been someone who cares all that much about dates. But a date like January 1 is as good an excuse as any to embrace the feeling of a fresh start. We have a whole year ahead of us; why not assume it’s going to be a good one, and do the work to make that hope a reality?
This is actually something I’ve thought about a lot over the last four years. I write speculative fiction, I spend a lot of time living in my imagination. Then I look at the US political landscape, where people have to fight for housing and healthcare and to not be murdered by the police, and the thought I keep coming back to is, Do people realize it doesn’t have to be like this?
I love worldbuilding as a writer. I get to make up entire societies. How they function, how they’re broken, who is trying to fix things. What prejudices they hold, and which ones they don’t. How it all fits together. Then I tell a story.
Here is what I imagine in the real world, though: millions of people waking up one morning and thinking, This isn’t working, and I want things to be better. Thinking, I don’t want anyone to be homeless, and I want everyone to have enough to eat, and access to doctors when they’re sick. Not just in my country, but everywhere. I imagine a world where companies compete to have the most satisfied employees, not the highest profit. And where people who can’t or don’t work are still valued and able to survive and be healthy and satisfied.
If enough people think that, and follow through those thoughts with action, it could be a reality.
But we all also have to live our lives, to pay rent or mortgages, deal with our health, get through the day. It’s hard to daydream about a better world, let alone put in the work of making those daydreams real. But it is possible. Do people realize it doesn’t have to be like this? Plenty do, and are fighting to make that better world a reality. I try to be one of them.
Here’s where I’ve landed for now: there is nothing magic about a new year beginning, or a new administration coming in to power. But those things feel powerful, which means they can be powerful if we decide they are. Like I said: a new year is as good an excuse as any other to start again, to try harder, to do the work of daydreaming, and then the work of making daydreams real.
So when I say happy new year to you all, that’s what I’m celebrating. I think 2021 will be a better year, because we can make it a better year.
Happy new year, friends. Let’s get to work.