This is a little like the dreaded Christmas letter you get every year from the relatives/friends/acquaintances you only ever hear from at Christmas, in which they tell you (boastfully) about all the wonderful accomplishments their family has racked up since their last Christmas letter:
“Johnny is enjoying Grade 4. In October, he surprised us when he came home from school with his very own Nobel Peace Prize. Alicia, meanwhile, had her debut solo violin performance with the Berlin Symphony at Carnegie Hall during a brief stopover in New York this summer on her way to the Olympics in Rio, where she captured two gold and three silver medals in the pool. Carole enjoyed another rewarding, eventful year as president of the local chapter of the League of Women Who Don’t Have to Work, and hosted an intimate cash-for-access dinner with the Prime Minister in November, to which nobody from the Globe and Mail was invited. Jim, meanwhile, continues to work at the accounting firm, putting off his dreamed-of retirement for another year because somebody has to pay for all this.”
2016 has been a wild and unpredictable year, personally and planetarially. I think I just made up a word, but if Trump can do it, I figure we can too. Indeed, 2016 has been — what’s the word I’m seeking? I’ve got it — unpresidented!
Between now and the end of the year, you will be inundated with year-in-review features, commentary and think pieces attempting to answer the three big questions being asked:
- Was this really as awful a year as we think?
- Why did 2016 take so many of our best musical artists?
- How the hell will the media fill all these pages/this airtime/this screen time when there’s hardly any real news to report between Christmas and New Years?
Okay, question 3 explains why you’re inundated with all that year-in-review crap at the end of every year. The media have to come up with something to fill the space between ads.
Question 2 is also relatively easily answered. 2016 took so many of our “best” musical artists because they were mostly boomers from the earliest years of the baby boom, which makes them — actuarily — old enough to start dying pretty regularly. I’ll go out on a limb here and make a bold prediction that legendary musicians from the Classic Rock era are going to keep dying on us for a number of years to come. Except for Keith Richard. I think it’s time we all started talking about what kind of world we’re leaving for Keith Richard.
Now, as for question 1:
Determining how awful 2016 has been will require the benefit of hindsight — on a global scale, at any rate. In ten years, we’ll know whether Donald Trump actually turned out to be an evil fascist or an incompetent buffoon. We’ll know whether Putin was contained; whether the European Union survived; whether the world learned to embrace refugees or whether the refugee crisis overwhelmed us all; whether Canadians were able to withstand the ill winds of paranoia, xenophobia, homophobia, racism and misogyny from around the world that seem to be rattling our doors and windows. If humanity is still here in 2026, we’ll be able to answer the question. And if not, then 2016 was a very awful year indeed.
Closer to home, I present the following incomplete list without comment as to their relative degrees of awfulness (or not), but I think these are a few events that took us at least somewhat by surprise:
- the Fort McMurray wildfire in May
- the fentanyl crisis
- Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis and his response to it, including the Tragically Hip farewell tour and “The Secret Path”, his effort to tell the story and honour the memory of Chanie Wenjack, the 12 year old Ojibway boy who died trying to find his way home from a residential school
- Calgary City Council’s vote, by a wide margin, to make the downtown cycle tracks permanent, despite the concerted efforts of a special interest group I will hereby christen CANE — Conservatives Against Nearly Everything — to convince you that allowing bicycles to encroach on the paved land God gave to people who commute into the core from the suburbs, all by themselves in their Cadillac Enchiladas, is an Unnatural Act on a par with electing an NDP Government! (to paraphrase George Orwell in “Animal Farm”, “Four wheels, good. Two wheels, baaaaad.”)
Forgive me if that last bullet point seems somewhat not in keeping with the more sombre tone of the first three, but I decided to include it for a reason. This year, like every year, has brought its share of truly awful events — and yes, it has seemed at times as though this year has brought more than its share — along with the happy, the positive, the offbeat and the bizarre, and the occasional evidence of true human progress. But I cannot recall another year when people with no justifiable axe to grind have put so much effort into trying to convince you and me that everything is broken, everything is terrible, and that it is all somebody else’s fault.
And here’s where I guess this Christmas letter becomes a little more personal. The Taylor family’s lives took some unexpected turns this year as well — none for the worse, thankfully. And between now and New Years, while our son, his girlfriend, and our daughter are home for Christmas and assorted other members of the extended family visit, if I can grab a few minutes I’ll write a little more about them.
For now, though, I want to relate one unexpected turn. In April, I had the opportunity to go back on the radio and present a special program called “Adapting in Alberta” on News Talk 770. Its goal — without minimizing the pain of job loss or the stress of financial insecurity — was to put our economic troubles into perspective. To look at life — and career — after oil. To discuss retooling and refocusing careers and priorities. To offer some hope, encouragement, and options both with respect to the listeners’ future and that of their city and province.
We got some incredible feedback about the show. It was clear that we’d made a difference to a lot of people. Just as it’s clear that people are busy making a difference in the lives of their fellow Calgarians everyday, just about every place you go. A lot of good people make a lot of good things happen in this city, collaborate to solve problems, and lend a hand. Everyday in Calgary, a whole lot of things go right.
Yet I am sad to say that when we opened up the phones to take calls during the last hour of “Adapting in Alberta”, many callers were absolutely unwilling to adapt, to even consider retooling or refocusing, and they were angry at us for even suggesting it. They were fully subscribed to feeling sorry for themselves.
As I left the studio, pondering what would make someone commit to anger and negativity in the face of hope, I discovered my reservoirs of empathy, interest, and patience for the “dashboard pounders” had run completely dry. I have grown tired of people who demand that everything remain exactly as they want it and who, like a toddler throwing a tantrum, refuse to lift a finger to adapt themselves to the changing world around them. Their anger and their constant squawking make a mockery of the many, many Calgarians who are busting their butts to retool and adapt and make things better for themselves, their loved ones and their community.
“Adapting in Alberta” was the last of my occasional, post-retirement special reports. I suppose those radio specials allowed me to go gently into retirement as opposed to waking up one morning and asking, “Now what?” — which I think might have been a natural reaction from a guy who’d had a long career in radio, loved it, and felt that his side trip into politics had actually interrupted his career somehow.
Here’s my unexpected turn: as I left the studio that April afternoon, I knew I’d had enough.
In a few days I’ll write about some delightful unexpected turns. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and — in keeping with the grievance I’ve just aired — the Best of Festivus to you and yours!