It’s inevitable that we are confronted by the beginning of the year. Confronted by the realization that our long journey though this one has ended and the looming presence of the next. That all the complications and difficulties we found in this life will follow us. These are Marley’s chains and Linus’s blanket, weights trailing behind a life wherever we may go until time collapses in on itself.
There is a kind of cynicism adopted at the onset of a year. Every end of December faux In and Out lists become popular meme formats on social media platforms, people joke about not setting any goals for the new year and only trying to sleep through it. We joke about survival. Endless personalities that we posture and pose and display as veneers of our hearts desires.
This is something I completely understand. It’s the easiest thing in the world, to distance ourselves from being perceived as a body in motion that desires more of this. It’s like the continue screen in Street Fighter 2 after you’ve lost to M. Bison for the 211th time. We are battered and bruised in all of our difficult places. It’s hard, it is so easy to see how hard it is, to imagine going forward.
Permit me a second opportunity to stand on my soapbox about “A Long December”' by The Counting Crows.
I wrote about this song once already, in SPIN Magazine in 2021. To my great surprise, it was an essay warmly received. Rob Harvilla read a section from it on his excellent podcast 60 Songs That Explain The 90s. I got a nice email from someone who worked on the video who sent me a photo from the shoot that holds a dear place in my heart. I read this essay on stage last year at The Basement Revue, a reading and music series that takes place every December in Toronto run by Toronto musician Jason Collett, with readers curated by my friend and incredible talent Emma Healey. I cried on stage reading it, some in the audience did too. I had never read to a sold-out theater before, and I had never cried in front of so many people but for a moment all of my postures were relaxed and the veneer was gone and I let go.
It felt nice to let go.
I’m going back to the well on this one because this song is a ritual for me, like it is for so many people I know. It’s the last song played at the end of the year, or the first one played at the onset of the new one. I’ve talked about rituals in the past too, because they are important to me. They feed this addict part of my brain that craves a system. That needs something to soothe my anxieties and give them structure, structure that is known, structure that makes sense. Structure that is consistent. Consistency releases dopamine. Without it, I notice my mental health changes. I become sharper, I become harder. I retreat into corners of the mind where I am worse versions of myself. Shift behind the veneer.
A Long December might be cringe. In fact, it most certainly is. It is the best part of it. The Counting Crows as a whole are painfully earnest. Taken into context of their emergence into popular culture in 1993 with “Mr Jones” it feels earned. That same year we had Nirvana In Utero, the Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, Mazzy Star So Tonight That I Might See, Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.
I would say, and you are welcome to disagree in your own time but do not @ me, that these are all artists of painful earnestness. Earnestness of different flavors, but all of them heartfelt and built of great passion.
“A Long December” is so endearingly, painfully earnest. Because it desires, and because it yearns. And it asks for it, or at least it asks for something. It asks for permission to feel. It asks us to still keep our hearts beating despite how much they may bleed. The video only adds to this shared spirit. I called it “Perfect” in my SPIN essay. I am quoted in the wiki of the music video as such.
I am feeling self-referential today because these are all little victories that only came from allowing myself to let go. Allowing myself to recapture this same earnestness that was so important to me in 1993 when I was young and full of desire. Young and seeking a future.
I wanted something for myself, even when I was sad and even when I felt broken and even at my most self-destructive. I still wanted something. I immolated only to see what might be born in the ashes. Over time and through abuse of substance and mental health I think I lost that too. There is the easy lie that because I knew I was trans when I was very young, well before I had the language or the support to announce it, it ruined me and that is only partly true. I looked forward to every new year as one more that provided a new opportunity to look for answers. It’s only that as I got older those answers got harder, and I turned a sharp blade toward myself as life became more burdensome. I stopped looking forward with desire, started looking inward as a product of some perceived failure.
I think it is also so easy to become particularly fractured in the present age. All of our lives have moved online and into these places where we place cardboard standees of ourselves on display with quotes and photos. We came to rely on the monolithic internet to support us, to support a need to feel seen in just the right way at just the right time that it might create a world of possibility for us that will take us away from this same soil we yearn to grow from. Twitter as this monolith has changed into something dramatically different in the last year, looking back at the year that was and trying to remember passwords to platforms that promised to feel the same but be something different and none of them were. Posting jokes and quotes that worked so well before on Twitter in hopes they catch fire elsewhere and provide a new opportunity to feel alive the exact same way somewhere new that feels like something old and familiar.
We are so desperate to know that the personalities we have put online for sale still hold value when the marketplace changes where it stands. I am guilty of this too. Because I know it will feel good, even for just a little while. The dopamine will hit, the rush will come. I am an addict, I know this feeling. It’s the desire born of a lighter burning the face of a cigarette, it is the sound of ice clicking together in brown liquor as it slowly dies. It is the promise hidden in the ashes of the flames of desire.
What I am arriving at with my return to “A Long December” is the spirit of its painful earnestness.
Maybe this year will be better than the last.
It can be true. You can make this true. We can shed our need to be so dismissive of desire that we only post snidely about our goals and our dreams. At the onset of the year I like to write an intentional list of intentional things. Dreams and desires. Goals. Milestones. Needs. Changes. I don’t show it to anyone, I don’t post it. It isn’t content, only it is right now as I write this. It’s something only for me. Something I can do to keep my hands on the wheel and to consider the road ahead.
This is something I have done for a long time as someone who has spent an adult life passively suicidal. I think about death a lot. My own often. Others too, the losses that haunt me. I think about what it means to be gone from this place. When I was younger, I used to tell myself that I couldn’t go until I was able to do something benign. I couldn’t go until I had heard the new Dinosaur Jr record. I can’t go yet, there’s a new Final Fantasy game dropping later in the year I want to try.
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself, To hold on to these moments as they pass
I wrote my essay about this song in SPIN around loss. About a former partner who died of cancer far too young. She didn’t even get to see her entire 20s. When she died I got my first tattoo, her initials hand-drawn by someone I used to know, a tattoo I got in memory but not just of her. A memory carved into my skin that there is a great gift in being able to see the years turn over again.
Sometimes, oftentimes, I forget this. The tattoo is old and the ink is faded and I can so easily forget the desire I had to find a way to hold on. It is a daunting and terrible task to consider the new year as an opportunity to find some new light in corners that have felt dark for so long. It is easy to be dismissive of the new year as it hits us. As we write the wrong date on rent cheques and laugh about not knowing what day of the week it even is anymore.
I hope we hold onto desire for something new this year. Desire as the heart of all things. It is desire, this need to hold on, that makes this life feel alive. I think about desire as a person who critiques culture. It is desire that leads us to ask questions, it is desire that leads us to find flaws and faults amidst the triumphs of a piece of film, a song, a poem, a perfect novel. It is desire that allows us to question. All of this work is born of desire. It is desire that sits me in a chair to write and to think about what possibility might be left in this world and how can I write about it.
It is desire that makes us posture about the exhaustion of a new year. We want so badly to not feel hurt by the ceaseless march of time.
“A Long December” is that same desire born of exhaustion to hold on. I am choosing desire again this year, even though it is hard and even though it will feel like a tremendous weight, one of my goals is to live more openly with an earnest heart. To let go, and to feel safe being perceived as letting go.
I want to do this because it feels like I get to be in control. If all fails, if things crumble and fall to bitter pieces, I can know that it was my hand on the wheel when we crashed. And I can know I did only what I could, and sometimes things fall apart. It does not mean everything is broken, it’s just that there are pieces of possibility we need to clean up so we can move on.
This is my first post of the year, and my last newsletter at Substack. This week I am migrating to Ghost. It will require nothing from you, the changes will happen by magic. But I wanted to let you know that I appreciate every single person who reads and subscribes and comments. Even when I forget to reply. I like to believe we are all creatures of earnest desire looking for this life to cut our hearts so they bleed. My friend and queen of all podcasting Yasi Salek (if you do not already listen to Bandsplain, you have so much waiting for you to discover) has said that we are cringe but we are free.
This is my energy moving into 2024. I hope we all feel free this year. Maybe this year will be better than the last, and if it isn’t, we will lead into the year that follows this one with the same earnest desire.