“Life goes irrelevantly on”: some things I want to say about 2017

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Hello from 2017, everyone. Aren’t you glad everything’s all better now?

One of my professors, a member of the American Dialect Society, recently traveled to a conference where she voted on the ADS’s Word of the Year. The 2016 winner? “Dumpster fire.” “Dumpster fire” is used “as a metaphor for a situation that is out of control or poorly handled,” said the organization’s press release, quoted in a Time article about words of the year. That same article notes that other Words of the Year, chosen by other language resources based on factors like increased usage and frequency of searches, were things like “post-truth,” and “xenophobia,” and that these words were emblematic of “how the year will be remembered, as a time of turmoil and disbelief.”

Hmm. Yes, 2016 was a bad year for many, personally and politically, but the cutesy “fuck you, 2016” attitudes that phrases like “dumpster fire” and all of those New Years videos seem to suggest are troubling to me for several reasons:

  1. The fire is still burning, hotter and scarier every day. It didn’t flame out because we clinked our glasses and halfheartedly blew into some noisemakers.
  2. 2016 wasn’t all bad. 2016 gave birth to some beautiful, heartbreaking works of art, from people like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Beyonce and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 2016 saw the nomination of a female presidential candidate in a major political party for the first time in history. For every voice of hatred and intolerance, I, for one, heard a chorus of opposition, of radical love. There had to be.

But this article isn’t really about 2016. It’s about 2017, and beyond, sort of. There are a couple things I want to say, as I sit here typing and watching President Obama’s farewell address:

  1. don’t despair, and
  2. please don’t dismiss 2016 as a dumpster fire and move on.

My literary idol, Nora Ephron, once wrote about an experience she had on during a radio interview. She was about to begin speaking about Helen Gurley Brown (editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 32 years) and another guest interrupted her to say: “I can’t believe we’re talking about Helen Gurley Brown when there’s a war going on in Vietnam.” Ephron wrote: “Well, I care that there’s a war in Indochina, and I demonstrate against it; and I care that there’s a women’s liberation movement, and I demonstrate for it. But I also go to the movies incessantly, and have my hair done once a week, and cook dinner every night, and spend hours in front of the mirror trying to make my eyes look symmetrical, and I care about those things, too. Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events.” This why they tell you that in college you have to kill your darlings: I disagree with Nora Ephron here.

I don’t disagree that we have to let our lives go on. We have to do the things that make us happy, and we have to engage in self-care wherever possible. It’s more that I disagree with the idea that there is demonstrating, and there is your irrelevant life, and they are two disparate worlds. I believe, maybe now more than I ever have, that there has to be a way to marry them. That for a lot of people, these things are already inextricable. Here’s what I think, taking Ephron’s things she likes to do:

  1. Go to the movies, but make a special effort to support independent films written, directed by, and starring women and people of color and trans folks and every person struggling to get their narrative projected on the big screen. Go to movies that challenge you to think about our country’s past, and our country’s future. Go to movies that make you uncomfortable. Go to movies, and donate to crowdfunding campaigns so that more movies can be made.
  2. Cook dinner every night, but try to eat vegetarian a couple nights a week. Research sustainable farming; buy local ingredients. Educate yourself about how to cook in a way that is kind to your body and our planet.
  3. Maybe don’t spend hours in front of the mirror. Maybe spend a little less time every day, if being in front of the mirror causes you to catalogue your flaws or asymmetricalities. Instead, hold a mirror up to your inner self: where have you faltered in your activism? When didn’t you listen to someone who needed your ear? When were you unwilling to acknowledge your own privilege? When didn’t you use your voice to speak, or your platform to amplify the voices of others? When were you wrong?

In 2017, I am determined that my life not go “irrelevantly” on. I want my life to be relevant, in the small ways and the big ways. I want to graduate college. I want to really try my hand at this writing thing. I want to call my representatives in Congress and let them know what I think. I want to vote in every election, however seemingly minor. I want to go to sleep at the end of each day knowing that after I put my makeup on, I did some good.

Will I fail? Definitely. But will I succumb to the “turmoil and disbelief” that plagued me – plagued everyone –last year? I hope not.

I really, really hope not.


Hannah Engler

Editor-in-Chief, What the F Magazine

Art by Paige Wilson, Assistant Art Director, What the F Magazine

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