I’m not sad to say goodbye to 2013. There were some accomplishments, but also many difficulties that I would rather not have to revisit. Though many of the difficulties won’t magically disappear with the turning of a calendar’s page, the arrival of the new year nevertheless does seem to come with a sense that there could be a fresh start, that perhaps some of the previous year’s failures and disasters can be left behind.
Of course, not all of them can be. But it’s a good time to take stock and start the work of cleaning up the messes. There’s nothing special about the first day of January that makes it so, but come on: it’s not like there’s a bad time to have the messes of the past cleaned up.
In 2013 I got my book started. Though I did not make my word count goal in November, I have a total of 62,000 words written on the project. This is a small fraction of the story but it is a substantial enough chunk that the project itself has a certain inertia. I’ve done too much to quit.
I’ve become involved with cryptographic projects that hopefully will lead to other similar projects. My Bitcoin mining project has taught me not just about cryptocurrencies, but has expanded my knowledge of economics and markets in ways I hadn’t anticipated. And I’ve been able to help others get set up with personal encryption for their own email. This is part of setting the foundation for what I believe will ultimately free the world of oppression.
Not immediately, of course. We have a roller-coaster ride ahead of us. No important change is without painful adjustment. But between the adoption of encryption to keep our personal information safe and decentralized cryptographic currencies like Bitcoin a revolution has begun that inexorably leads the world to freedom. At one point we rejected the idea of private banks controlling the money supply because money was too important to be controlled by a few individuals; now we begin the next stage: money is too important to be controlled by governments.
These things have been accomplished despite crippling isolation and depression. This year I lost my cat Ozzy, who didn’t quite finish out his nineteenth year. You can’t ask for a better way to lose a friend than old age, but it’s impossible not to feel the impact of the loss of a friend who has been living with me since before I moved back to San Francisco, since before I quit drinking and even before I quit smoking. Romantic relationships, friends, jobs, and presidential administrations have all come and go but that gray stripey cat was with me for all that time.
It’s impossible to overstate the effect that my lack of financial well-being has had on me in 2013. At every turn I’ve been scraping even to keep myself fed. I went for two weeks without electricity in my apartment, and at another time went for more than a week without phone or Internet because the bills hadn’t been paid. I don’t need to tell anyone how tough it can be to earn money building websites without electricity. I gave up having a cellphone and don’t know when I’ll have one again.
More damagingly, the money troubles combined with the geographic removal from San Francisco have led to being cut off from friends. I’ve always been temperamentally introverted so it is easy to let isolation go too far. It doesn’t mean I don’t need my friends — to the contrary, they are that much more important to me. Without money for an occasional movie or dinner date, my social connections have largely withered.
But probably the worst of 2013 was the neglect of my medical needs. Because of my failure to earn I’ve stopped taking most of my medications. I know that some people will applaud my going without drugs but lack in this area has compounded the difficulties in every area of my life. Suffering from crippling depression and anxiety months after stopping antidepressants and antianxiety medications suggests that these medications had therapeutic effects beyond what might come from withdrawal. I have been fortunate that I haven’t had a full-blown migraine since I ran out of that medicine as well, but I am having headaches more frequently. And without my asthma medication I’m reliant on the temporary relief of my albuterol inhalers, which fortunately last a long time. Even so, breathing is such an important part of daily health that I know that it affects other aspects of my well-being.
Throughout 2013 I’ve been frequently beset by doubt and self-pity. But right now, less than three hours in to 2014 I have so much hope and pride. The things I’ve accomplished are less than I wish they were, and they are accompanied by some spectacular failures, but what was accomplished was accomplished in the face of adversity. Perhaps I can’t afford to give myself slack for that adversity — no one gets bonus points for life — but I can and must treat each step forward as a victory.
And of course I’m not doing this alone. I’ve received far more support of various kinds than I could ask for. Whatever I’ve said about isolation, it should be noted that’s a relative thing. I wouldn’t be breathing without friends and family that have carried me along at times during this past year.
What’s coming in 2014? Who knows? But the lyric from a Killing Joke song come to mind: survival is my victory. Whatever happens next I have really just one bottom-line test: I have to make it.
There will be changes. Some of those changes have started already. Despite some false starts and hiccups it appears that I will have health insurance in 2014. That ought to help with some of the medical issues, which in turn will help everything else. Am I pleased that thousands of dollars is being funneled from other people’s higher premiums so that I can have a lower premium? No, and I fear that over time the changes we’ve made to the health care system will hurt. But in my specific case I’m happy to take advantage of it and will hope that I’m wrong.
The real changes though, those have to come from living my life unafraid. Adversity is a given; fear is a warning bell. I can’t let that bell ring in my ears. I have to hear it and then turn it off and take the next action. When I stumble I will have to get up, and when I lose my focus I will have to find it again.
The turning of the calendar page doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning but it has whatever meaning we give to it. Arbitrary though it may be, I’m hanging this meaning onto this day: it is the reboot, the fresh start. It all starts now.