It is difficult to imagine any year ever being worse than 2020. All sense of normalcy was suddenly and seemingly permanently pulled out from under us. The indefinite shutdowns and mask mandates were infringing and isolating – the most sweeping intrusion of government into our daily lives while simultaneously separating us from friends and acquaintances, keeping them out of our lives. But in spite of such, it was a personally profitable year for me work-wise, and more importantly, somewhat successful romantically. Despite – or perhaps because of – the apocalypse, it was never lonely.
In many ways 2021 was equally as bad a year for mostly the opposite reasons. Though society has started – in fits and spurts and sudden backslides – to somewhat reopen and return to some small semblance of normalcy, finally being able to dine and drink sans the chin dippers around the late spring, it was exactly at that time that life began to grow more – not less – lonely. In an effort to make up for the time stolen the year prior, I more and more often turned to my Jungian Shadow and alter ego, The Cowboy. But The Cowboy is not, as per my prior analogies, the Superman to my mild-mannered Clark Kent; he’s the Hulk to my Bruce Banner. I’m capable of so much more when I put on the hat, but it comes at the cost of not always being myself and not always being in control, and that lack of control caught up with me more than once. Since reverse-carpet bagging back up to Jersey nearly a decade ago, I’ve been deliberate not to burn bridges as I so often did in my youth, but I’m starting to smell smoke coming from some of them these days and fearful of flames about to ignite.
Professionally, after parting ways with Wisecrack right around the time that Jared likewise left, I’m still in search of my next project. I penned several scripts for Today I Found Out and Highlight History, but the mere presentation of facts without analysis, critique, or a thesis didn’t satisfy my need for a creative outlet. While not as prolific as past years, my poetry proceeded into hitherto unexplored topics. “Infelix Culpa et Non Posse Non Peccare” is an apology, lamentation, and self-flagellation dressed in religious symbolism. “Nero Did Fiddle” is a pointed political ballad and scathing indictment of the current administration, particularly its gross mishandling of the Afghanistan War, written in real time while the ruinous withdrawal was happening, some stanzas penned mere minutes after the events they describe. It is arguably my best work to date, surprising for a subject and genre into which I’d never waded.
My resolution for the year fell far short of my original ambitions. Aiming to finish fifty books over the course of fifty-two weeks, I currently stand, with a week left, at a mere twenty-nine, probably on pace to finish thirty altogether. Seven of those were by Asimov. Having finished his Foundation and Robot series the year prior, I finally got around to tackling his Galactic Empire trilogy and several of his unaffiliated works of fiction. I read twelve (primarily posthumous) publications of Tolkien’s, focusing on material outside his Legendarium, including Beowulf, The Monster and the Critics, Finn & Hengest, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, and The Story of Kullervo. I’m all too quickly approaching the point of finishing his major published works and having to mine “new” material from scholarly journals. Other notable reads were Marc Morris’ history of the Anglo-Saxons (a fitting compliment to my Tolkien studies), Dominion by Tom Holland, and the Saga of the Völsungs. I’m hoping to tackle many more classics in the vein of the later in 2022 and finally, nearly a decade and a half since getting a degree, move from being semi-literate to literate (though either is sadly all too rare in our overwhelmingly illiterate society).
2021 was such an underwhelming year for games and cinema that a synopsis of my engagement with individual pieces in each medium barely merits mentioning, but more importantly, since moving on from Hub City Review and Wisecrack, my relationship to popular culture and commercial art has changed. I’m still critically engaged with what I watch and play, but having not publicly opined those critics over the past year makes me disinclined to undertake that task here at the year’s end. Doing so briefly would do a disservice to the works, but doing so properly would be a herculean effort on par with holding up the heavens for Atlas.
Looking ahead to 2022, it’s tempting to revamp the Hub City Review; the freedom to say exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, certainly resulted in some of my best writing, though it came at the expense of a much more miniscule audience. My worst performing video for Wisecrack received in an hour upon upload more views than the entire site of Hub City Review in all the years I wrote for it. But the greater expense is the opportunity cost. Focusing on film and other reviews would come at the cost of penning poetry, of finally finishing some longform fiction, or doing a deep dive into a subject for which I’m particularly passionate – or even just enjoying art and life without the pressure to perform. Though even that comes with the cost of burying a Talent which I’m expected to invest and return to Him with interest.
My resolutions for 2022 are several. Firstly, after many years away, I’m looking to find a church to attend fairly regularly. If the Cowboy is going to be burning bridges, then mild-mannered Matthew ought to begin building a few. Secondly, instead of just going for sheer volume with respect to my reading, I want to tackle much more of the Western Canon, or at least those entries I deem most essential, without which one cannot be called a truly free man, per the mean of a “liberal education” founded in the “liberal arts.” Among those I’ve not previously read, some examples include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, Augustine’s Confessions and The City of God, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, several of Shakespeare’s plays, and MacDonald’s Lilith, to start with. All in addition to my usual pleasure reading of Tolkien, Catherynne M. Valente, and narrative histories. Thirdly, I want to find my next project as a writer, whatever that may be. And finally, and most importantly, is the resolution I won’t make, given how often I’ve failed at my previous pledges over the years and how urgent and imperative it is that with this one I succeed.