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Daniel Knowlton

Top Ten Ways 2O17 Made Me A New Person

In my own personal life, 2017 has been the first year in a long while that hasn’t included any major life changes. I didn’t move, and neither my wife nor I changed jobs. We’re still married with no kids (our cat is just fine, thank you very much). And I didn’t have even one surprise Crohn’s Disease related emergency room visit or surgery. In another point in history, 2017 could have been the kind of year for keeping my head down, getting some good work done, and maybe, finally, making my novel less of an “in-progress” thing. But as we all know, 2017 has been the year where, every day, we wake to a world utterly engulfed in flames, and staring into the fire has changed my perspective on a number of things:

1. Reading

I can’t read anything by white male authors anymore. I have a number of perfectly good, award-winning, unread books in my house by white dudes, but here in 2017, when I think about reading one of those books, I feel a tired kind of revulsion. Not now, I think. Maybe later. Why don’t you just stay on the shelf? In 2017, the voices of white men have grown louder and louder and angrier and angrier. It’s not as if those loud, angry voices are authors (far from it!), but I need an antidote to the white noise. I read Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany for the first time in 2017, and they led me toward other afrofuturist writers, and now it’s the only genre I want to read. Black authors imagining a future that’s not so whitewashed? Yes, please. This brings me to an awkward point: I, too, am a white dude. So should you stop reading this? Sure. I would.

2. Previously innocuous outdoor decorations that now fill me with rage

Tiki torches.

3. Me… too?

In the wake of all the sexual harassment and assault charges brought against white men, I’ve been having some helpful discussions with my best friend (also a white dude). Neither of us have had secret stories to share of abuse given or received, but we’re asking each other those questions. Were there times when we’ve said or done something crass that made women around us feel awful? Were they unable to say so because of how risky it felt for them to speak? Apparently these news stories are making a lot of white men nervous, but that’s just not the right reaction. It’s a good thing for us to better understand the kind of everyday fear and anger that gets baked in to woman’s existence in this country. For everyone’s sakes, these stories need to continue and women need to keep speaking out until the normalized behavior of men is made at least a little less horrific.  

4. Previously drawn lines in the sand which I didn’t think people could cross

Allowing a child molester to run for a seat in the US Senate and feeling like he could still win.

5. Fears

As a kid who grew up in the whitest of white towns in New Hampshire, even with a liberal upbringing, I couldn’t avoid that passive kind of racism that seeps in from the culture at large. When I first moved to DC almost 10 years ago, I was always annoyed at myself when I felt uncomfortable passing by a black person, but that is what happens when you grow up with minorities as the “other,” the “unknown.” Now, in 2017, I catch myself feeling angry or uncomfortable when a white guy gets on to the train or walks past me on the street. They are, after all, of the same race and gender of those who have been mass murdering Americans with assault rifles, ending our health care, bankrupting students, and harassing women. And it feels petty to admit this because I know it’s only one tiny, miniscule fraction of the real, warranted fear that many minorities feel every day, but if it helps me understand others and helps me do better, I’ll take it.

6. Previously innocuous words that now make me cringe

“Huge,” “sad” (when used as a “complete” sentence), “losers.”

7. Cooking is therapy

I’ve always somewhat enjoyed cooking, but this year it has become more like therapy than a chore. With all the messes carrying on endlessly in the news, it’s nice to have a discrete task that you can finish in one sitting and then share with friends and loved ones. There have been many times in 2017 when food has easily been the highlight of my day. It also helps that I’ve gotten dang good at it. My brunch game is on point, and I can put on a mean vegan Thanksgiving.  

8. Previously “unimportant” political contests that now feel like a life-or-death battle

Every single election for every publicly elected official at every single level of government in every corner of the country for ever and ever, amen.

9. D&D is cool again

On a lighter note, D&D is cool again! Okay, maybe it’s not “cool,” but it’s at least not so nerdy, right? No? Whatever, I’m having fun. Maybe it was helped along by cameos in Stranger Things and a slew of popular podcasts, but plenty more people, adults even, are playing Dungeons & Dragons again. Of all the ways to seek out escapism, this is a good one. Especially for writers. We typically work in solitude, but playing D&D with friends is like telling a collaborative story in real time mixed with improv comedy. And you can do it all without any screens, and you can use real, tactile things like pencils and paper and dice, and you can spend actual time looking actual humans in the face. You should try it!

10. Writing is resistance

I’ve only previously thought of writing as a resistance in my own life, not as part of a larger resistance. It has felt at times like my own way of resisting the numbing down of a 9-to-5 life. But in 2017, writers I admire kept encouraging people to keep writing, and they kept insisting that writing and art is a resistance. Eventually, I believed them. It does feel like resistance to put faith in this strange thing we do, to imbue your work with importance by virtue of the time and energy you put into it, to say, with all the shit going on out there, that it’s especially important now for people to read, to think, to feel. So please, everyone, write on.

Daniel is the author of the LF story, “Dive,” an apocalyptic, sci-fi tinged, deeply emotive story that — attention: any producers / rights buyers reading this — I’ve always thought would make for a pretty great movie. If you haven’t read it yet, fire up some popcorn and enjoy the brief retreat from 2017.

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