I’m not going to tell you exactly how many New Year’s Eves I’ve seen, Constant Reader, but I’ve seen enough of them to have figured out how to survive them by now. I’m not talking about staying up late, or watching your alcohol intake, or navigating Times Square when the ball drops. (That last one’s easy – don’t go anywhere near there in the first place.) No, I’m talking about that sense of existential dread that kicks in when you look back over the year that’s concluded, and start wondering about what the heck you accomplished during it. You remind yourself to look forward rather than back, to keep your focus on goals you’re still planning to meet rather than beat yourself over goals not yet achieved, and take the coming year one day at a time. Spend enough years developing this attitude, and December 31st is no longer anything to worry about.
At least, that’s what I thought.
What I’d failed to take into account was that this year, the waning minutes of December will conclude not only the past year, but the past decade. And if the year-in-review mindset is a depressing one in general, it’s straight-up terrifying when it becomes a decade-in-review. When we’re evaluating what we’ve managed to accomplish – if anything – not over the past twelve months, but over the past ten years.
Hell, even if you’re content to just clock in at your nine to five, and then go home to your couch and your television, you’ll find yourself being judged and shamed by every end-of-decade thinkpiece you encounter. The best films of the decade, ranked! The definitive tv moments of the past ten years! The songs that defined a decade! And, if you’re anything like me, a good fraction of those definitive-whatevers-of-the-2010s are things you never got to see, or can’t recall in the first place. Things you missed. Things you failed to experience when you had the chance.
And if it’s that bad if you’re just watching this sort of content, imagine how it feels if you spend your time trying to create it.
I mean, realistically, I should be able to look back on this past decade with some sense of pride. I turned my focus to playwriting, and have a stack of reasonably polished scripts to show for my efforts. They’ve had workshops and readings and been finalists for things. I even have a fancy title – Co-Creative Director for the Tuesdays at Nine reading series. Combine that with the more mundane trappings of life – more money in my bank account, less flab around my midsection – and I should be content, right?
Except that no artist is ever content. Nor should they be. After all, if you’re trying to create new things – be they novels, plays, movies, what have you – it stands to reason you’re unsatisfied with the existing state of those things. Unsatisfied with everything you haven’t accomplished yet. Unsatisfied with what you have accomplished as being unequal to your dreams. It’s a constant balancing act to keep yourself being fueled by this dissatisfaction, without having it overwhelm you with a sense of futility and despair. And at the end of the year – the end of the decade – that balancing act becomes harder and harder to maintain.
Just have to take it one decade at a time, I guess.