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How I Spent 2021
Excuse me while I disappear up my own ass for a minute
2020 was a hell of a year. Death lurked around every corner, nobody knew what was going on, there were riots: say what you will about it, but 2020 was a non-stop thrill ride of horrors and indignities. 2021, on the other hand, felt like a movie studio trying to capitalize on a movie’s surprise success by rushing out a half-assed sequel. But if the saying is true and bad things happen in threes, then 2021 was just part two of a trilogy. And since the final chapter in a trilogy usually goes out with a bang, there’s a good chance we’ll have a whole new batch of nightmares to wade through in 2022. Isn’t that wonderful for us?
Before the new year comes to kick us in the teeth, I’m going to take this opportunity to spotlight what I think are the best things I wrote in 2021. Egotistical? Oh yeah. But some of these got way fewer views than they deserved, so really it’s kinda your fault for not reading them the first time. Let this be a lesson to you.
When DMX died in April, I was a little dismayed to see him eulogized in so many outlets. Not that he didn’t deserve it (he absolutely did), but because it felt like the people writing those tributes didn’t really care about him all that much.
Most of the write-ups read like someone took the bullet points on DMX’s résumé and turned them into full sentences. The Ringer’s obituary of DMX at least took the time to explain why DMX was such an important part of hip-hop, but it still reads like a music critic offering a career retrospective of an artist’s work, padded out with a few stray observations from his autobiography.
There was so much more to DMX than his music. Even if the writers cranking out fill-in-the-blanks obituaries didn’t understand that, the millions who loved him—including me—did. Maybe that’s all that matters in the end.
In May 2020 when the COVID-19 shutdowns were in full swing, I wrote that we were dangerously close to letting our best chance at stopping the pandemic slip through our fingers:
Once states reopen for business, we’ll have decided as a nation that a pandemic is no excuse not to go to work. We’ll have decided that we cannot, must not let a little thing like mass death keep us from our obligation to create value for shareholders. Americans dying in numbers equaling that of 9/11 every two days will just be how things are now. A necessary sacrifice to the gods of capitalism.
I knew we were already fucked when I wrote that. I don’t know why I suggested otherwise; the outcome was a fait accompli. What I didn’t expect was that the equivalent of 9/11 every two days would become an aspirational figure. By December of 2020, we were exceeding that total every day. On February 12th of this year, we hit 5,463 deaths in a single day, missing the vaunted “double 9/11” achievement by the slimmest of margins. Despite the sheer scale of death and misery the pandemic has visited upon us in the past two years, we are no closer to pulling together to end this thing once and for all. If anything, we’re further away from that point than we were a year ago.
Humans—and Americans in particular—respond to tragedy in an illogical and inconsistent fashion. When a big bad thing happens all at once, it would be reasonable to wait, assess the damage, and determine whether disaster is likely to strike again in the future or if it was just an aberration before taking any major action. Conversely, if a disaster is unfolding in stages, the logical response is to get ahead of it and, if we can, prevent the longer-term worst-case scenario from coming to pass. But we do not do these things.
When the tragedy is sudden and unexpected, we violently course-correct and make big, sweeping changes; we don’t even try to understand what happened, we just react. Yet in the face of a slow-moving calamity, we barely react at all. We simply resign ourselves to the worst possible outcome, even when it is well within our power to change it. Joe Biden went from this…
…to telling state governors last week that “there is no federal solution. [COVID] gets solved at the state level.” Because as we all know, the only thing better than one person taking 100% responsibility is 49 people jockeying to make somebody else take responsibility, and also Ron DeSantis.
Speaking of slow-moving calamities…
The ocean hasn’t caught on fire since I wrote this. Or maybe it has and we just stopped giving a shit. What I do know is that it’s December 31st, 2021, and it’s 50 degrees outside in New York City. The good news is, when the permafrost in Russia fully melts and unleashes Pithovirus on the world, we’ll have had so much practice with pandemics that we should be able to handle that and the Kappa-Epsilon strain of COVID-19, no problem.
The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades. (Literally. Do not venture out into the wasteland without your shades, even if it’s just a quick trip to the next camp to scavenge for water or canned food; the sun will melt your eyelids.)
Finally, I wrote about the need for medical respite shelter for the homeless for Luke O’Neil’s Welcome to Hell World. Unlike the other articles, this one is paywalled; while I didn’t specifically reference it in my recent screed about paywalls, I do have a few thoughts on this one.
First and foremost, I’m incredibly grateful to Luke for running the piece in his newsletter. I could have posted it here at any point in the last two years, but given how vitally important this topic is, I believed it deserved a bigger audience than my newsletter could provide, and Welcome to Hell World certainly fits that bill.
That said, I am a little bummed that it’s only available to paid subscribers of Luke’s newsletter. And honestly, if I had known beforehand that that would be the case, I would have gladly written the article for free if it meant making it available to everyone who wanted to read it.
I completely understand why Luke put this one behind a paywall, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for him and his work; I’d consider myself lucky if my newsletter ends up being half as successful as his. But, like I said, it’s just kind of a bummer to think that there are people out there who want to read the article and aren’t able to do so. The lack of medical respite for unhoused people is a major gap in the system: a single new medical respite shelter has a greater positive impact on the unhoused population than 10 traditional shelters, but too few people even know medical respite exists. Understanding the problem is the first step on a long road towards fixing it; that’s what I wanted to achieve with this piece, and I think I did that.
Anyway, if you’re interested in reading it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the full text.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got for 2021. Will 2022 be the year I finally make good on my promise to publish things more regularly? I doubt it, but stay tuned!