Surviving this year isn’t going to be easy
I’ve been looking back over some of the articles I wrote back at the first of last year and while we weren’t overly optimistic about 2016, we were, at least, generally positive. There is no way we could have predicted just how disastrous this year has been. We’ve lost heroes. We’ve lost champions. We’ve seen disasters of unprecedented proportions. At times some of us have felt as though the wheels came completely off the cart and we might go careening into the sun.
I would love to go into 2017 thinking that things are going to get better, that sunny days are ahead and all will be well. We all know better, though, don’t we? We know that not only is 2017 likely to dump more of the same tragedy on us, many circumstances around the world could get worse. Even more frightening is the prospect that we may not be able to stop some of the horrors that we fear the most. We could see friends lose freedoms, people we know might well become marginalized and treated like second-class citizens. We might even have acquaintances who are no longer welcome in this country. Worst of all, you and I could be those people. The outlook is just that grim.
I would like to be encouraging. When we wrote a brief piece on how to survive in 2016, we tried to be practical but did so with an air of positivity. I don’t have that positivity now. I worry. I’m cautious. I’m suspicious. I’m guarded.
2017 is going to be challenging on almost every front. Prices are going to go up, but household income isn’t likely to move in the same direction, and keeping the money one does have is going to be more difficult. The threats to both our national and personal security are pervasive and real. Medical costs are rising and the chances that any one of us might need extensive care is increasing. Where once we had hope, we now have fear, or a severe case of pragmatism.
So, we’ve prepared this survival guide to help get us through this year. I won’t promise that it addresses every conceivable danger we might face, but it will get us through some of the most obvious dangers that lie ahead. Read it. Share it. Print it out, even. You’re going to want to reference this periodically throughout the year. This is going to be a rough one, my friends. We need to be ready.
Believe that you will survive 2017
Don’t ask the cat. The cat doubts your ability to keep food in its bowl, let alone take care of yourself. Cat notoriously doubt that humans can do anything; they’re certain the whole walking on two legs thing is a deformity.
Believing in yourself is old advice, and you’re welcome to go that direction if you think it works for you. However, from where we are right at this moment, the whole believing in yourself thing might be a bit more than some of us can handle. Let’s pare that down a bit to simply believing that we will survive 2017. One year. Twelve months that will pass by incredibly fast. We can do that, right? It’s just twelve months. One trip around the sun. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. That’s not too much to ask.
We will survive this, you and I, together. When you need someone to get you through a rough situation, I’ll be there. When I need someone to have my back, you’ll return the favor. Side by side we’ll stand and face down this year and make it beg for mercy.
Okay, perhaps that whole “beg for mercy” thing might be a bit strong. We don’t want to piss off the entire year before it even gets started. Years have this way of making us pay for stupid statements like that.
Still, we’ve got this, you and I. We may not win every battle. We might come out on the other side weak, bloodied, and bruised, hopefully in a metaphorical sense and not literally. We will survive, though. Don’t you forget it. We’re touch, you and I. We may not handle everything well or wisely, but we will be there when the next December rolls around, ready to throw a middle finger at everything that has gone wrong.
We’re going to survive this. Just watch.
Know that you matter and you make a difference
This is not the year to be a mealy-mouthed wallflower who sits back feeling sorry for themselves. There is no room for the overly popular sentiment that you are just one person and there is nothing you can do. That’s bullshit. Barak Obama is one person. Donal Trump is one person. Bill Gates is one person. One person brightened the world. One person could destroy the world. One person set the world on its ear and ushered in a new era never before imagined. That’s the power one person can have. Don’t give me any crap about you only being one person and that you don’t matter.
What’s important about this year is for you to believe that you matter and make sure that everyone else believes is as well. Stand up and defend what you believe, even if you’re the only one who holds that belief. Don’t be bullied. Don’t let anyone force you to back down. Stand your ground when you know you are right. Let them hurl insults on Twitter. You’re bigger than that. Let them make fun of you at their ridiculous staged rallies. All their lies don’t change your reality. You are just as valid and just as important as any other human being on this planet.
You matter. Feelings are irrelevant in this conversation. You might feel sad, or feel lonely, or feel depressed and those are all valid emotions we all may experience throughout the year. However, none of those emotions, nor any others, changes the fact that you matter.
Over the next 12 months, there will be some people who will try to marginalize you, put you in a box, make you conform to an unreasonable identity that conflicts with who you are. Don’t listen to them. Resist them. Fight them. They are fools.
Yes, this is totally a mental game. Yet, so is much of the war being waged against you. There are people doing their best to psych you out, make you feel inferior, tell you that you’re sad, or unworthy, or that you don’t matter. Sorry, but Twitter doesn’t get to define reality. Ignore those voices and fire right back. You matter. Every day.
Plan to win
One of the champions we lost this year was Muhammad Ali. Through all the boxing matches that defined his life and his legacy, Ali always planned to win. He never entered the ring but what he was confident in the knowledge he was going to emerge victoriously. Of course, he wasn’t always correct. As he became older, defending his title became more difficult. Yet, he never let go of that constant mantra, “I am the greatest!”
Not only do we need that same attitude toward 2017, we need the same confidence in our plan to get us through. Sure, Ali was confident in the ring, but a large part of that confidence came from the fact Ali knew he had trained well and was in the best shape possible. He was confident in the strategy he used and sure that his implementation of that strategy would be precise. He was confident that the people around him had done their jobs well, too, had given him the best advice, and that he had all the information he needed to succeed.
We need that same sort of confidence in our approach to 2017. We need to know we have a plan that will work, a plant that is well strategized, and a plan based on accurate information.
Don’t forget to actually make a plan
Running through life all willy nilly is great fun until someone steps in your way and ruins it all. That someone is 2017. Without a plan for getting through this year, you are setting yourself up to be a victim. As much as it may be against your nature to do so, you need some plan of some sort if you are going to survive.
What kind of plan, you ask? I would suggest starting with something that removes you as far from government contact as possible. There’s no telling what the government is going to try to do this year and to the effect they control the flow of things like gasoline and electricity, we’re all a little at risk. So, a plan that involves buying a bicycle and riding it might not be a bad idea. Learning how to start a fire from scratch might not be a bad move, either. You might want to consider adding a self-defense class in there, especially if you’re female or a person of color.
Create a plan that allows you to be dependent only on you, no matter where you might find yourself. These aren’t bad skills to have even under normal circumstances, mind you. It’s just that for the next year or so they could possibly save your life.
Add to your group of like-minded friends
Remember that Beatles’ song, I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends? That is going to be a critical component of getting through this year. Even if you have a lot of friends, or think you have a lot of friends already, all of us could use an extra hand to hold, shoulder on which to cry, or just someone who appreciates the struggle.
What’s important, though, is that they be like-minded. This is a time when you need allies, people you can trust, not someone who is going to work against you. There are times when we can be friends with people whose ideologies are different from ours. Facebook is a good place for those friends, but keep them there. Don’t let someone into your real life who cannot be 100% supportive. They’re not good for you and, ultimately, you’re not going to be a good fit for them, either. You need friends you can trust with your life if necessary.
For some, adding close friends is a real challenge, especially if you’re the kind of person who keeps to themselves most the time anyway. Yet, right now, this year, you may need to take the risk of letting someone into your life. Yes, I understand how incredibly terrifying that is, but you don’t want to go through this year alone.
This really shouldn’t be any different from any other year when it comes to learning something new. We should always be learning, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Learning is just one of those things that enhance our lives from beginning to end. What you learn might be the difference this year, though. Consider what you already know and do well, then start filling in the gaps.
For example, I know several people whose lives are going to be much better if they learn to cook. You don’t have to be extravagant or become a culinary wizard. Just learn to chop up veggies and make a simple soup, or learn to read and follow the instructions in a cookbook.I know some other people who would benefit from learning to wash their own clothes. You’re never too young to start with that kind of stuff, as long as you can reach the buttons. Others might need to learn something more advanced, like first aid for trauma patients or how to help an asthmatic person who’s been sprayed with tear gas.
Consider where you are, the situation you’re in, and learn the things that help you help yourself and those immediately around you. When anything is possible, one has to be prepared for anything. Learning new stuff helps make that possible.
Take security seriously
Hackers to the right of us, hackers to the left of us, this has been the year when almost everyone was the victim of hacking at one point or another. Don’t believe for one second that the expulsion of a bunch of diplomats or sanctions against certain agencies is going to make your information any easier. We all have to take the security of our personal data much more seriously if we’re going to survive this coming year. There’s no picking sides on this one. We’re all under attack.
Where we make one of our biggest mistakes is using the same password for multiple accounts. This allows hackers who penetrate one system to gain access to other information as well. We also should probably stop letting our browsers remember all those passwords for us. Sure, it makes life a lot more simple, but it leaves us vulnerable at the same time. Changing our passwords on sites such as Facebook and Yahoo! is never a bad idea, and those revolving accounts that just keep billing your account month after month are just asking for trouble. One a hacker has that information, you’re screwed.
If, at any time, you feel your information has been compromised, even if you’re just being paranoid, take action.Change your email address. Ask your bank for a new ATM card. Change your PIN on everything. Oh, and stop using live video. You’re telling everyone where you are and what you have in your home. C’mon, are you crazy?
Take more pictures
I’m not saying this just because I’m a photographer. As much fun as it might be, I can’t be with everyone all the time. You’re going to have to take some pictures for yourself. You have a cell phone. You can do this. Take pictures of where you are, who you’re with, what you’re wearing. Take them every day. Make it a fun adventure!
What you don’t necessarily want to do is share all those pictures. You want the pictures for documentation as much as memories. If you’re doing something super cool, then yeah, maybe you can share that one. Avoid over-sharing this year, though. We give away a lot of personal information we probably don’t want to spread around with all the pictures we share. Being selective about the pictures you share also makes them mean more. People become much less interested in our pictures when we share more than one or two at a time.
More than anything, pictures help give us a record of what we’ve done this year. They are proof that we are alive another day, doing whatever it is we do. Whether silly or funny or just another picture of your beautiful face, the images mean that you are here. Now. And that’s a good thing to know.
Go more places
We all need to get out of the house and travel a bit more. I’m not necessarily talking big, exotic vacations. If you afford those, then by all means, go for it. But consider shorter day trips inside your own state as well. Each state has a plethora of interesting places that are worth visiting and most of us don’t have a clue what’s right around us. Just get in the car and drive. You’re going to find someplace interesting every time you leave home.
Traveling gives us a sense of adventure, which is always fun. Learning new things about new places is always exciting as well. Most importantly for this year’s survival, we’re learning about the things that are right around us. Where are some close camp sights? Where could you find reasonably fresh water? From where does your city draw power? What is the closest city just over the state line in any direction? Should this year just turn itself complete sideways, those are pieces of information that could come in handy. Even if everything turns out okay, you’ve still had a good time getting to know the things around you!
Life has a funny way of surprising us with unexpected challenges. We’ve had several this year and there may be more looming on the horizon. Knowing the geography of places and terrain around us helps us guard against those surprises. Don’t be all doom and gloom about it, though. Have fun!
Stretch your boundaries
Americans are among some of the most uptight people on the freakin’ planet. We have imposed upon ourselves and everyone around us an antiquated sense of morality that didn’t make any sense in the 13th century and makes even less sense now. If we are going to survive this year, we need to be more open. We need to drop some of our silly prohibitions and let ourselves experience things that are new and different.
Religious prohibitions should probably be among the first to go. Rules set in place some 5,000 ago don’t necessarily apply to who and what we are today and trying to make them fit just makes our lives that much more miserable. Do we really need anything making our lives more miserable? No, we don’t. We need to dance, because dancing is good for the body and the soul. We need to try different foods, because there’s very little on the planet that’s actually bad for us if prepared properly. We need to drink and experience the feeling of doing so to excess. Okay, so you can’t drive when you do that, but experiencing the feeling for yourself makes us more understanding of others.
Now, one has to use some common sense here. If you’re diabetic, lay off the fucking sugar. If you have a nut allergy, don’t put yourself into shock. C’mon, this is supposed to be about finding new things we like, not killing ourselves. There are a lot of rules we have, though, that we don’t need. Drop ’em and enjoy your own life.
Know your worth
We’re not talking about finances here because you may not have a dime to your name and can still be one of the most incredibly valuable people on the planet. What matters is how you contribute to your society. Not necessarily all of society, but what you do that makes the lives of those around you more rich and enjoyable. Here, let me see if I can help.
When Kat is at the salon, she is more than just a cosmetologist and an employee. She’s a sounding board, someone people can talk to without being judged or dismissed. She’s someone who helps others look their best and feel confident about their own appearance. Her value is high because of the ways in which she helps others, not just because she has certain skills.Someone else might make people around them feel happy with the songs they sing. Another person may have that ability to change a person’s mood with a smile or kind word. All of those things make people valuable.
And we’re all valuable whether we feel like it at any given point or not. If you’re not sure of your worth, then look around. How and when do you interact with people? Or maybe it’s a pet who would be homeless and hungry without you. You are valuable just being whoever and whatever you are. Dial in on that and make the most of it.
Get more comfortable with your body
This is a huge one because the number of people who are comfortable looking at themselves naked in a mirror is extremely low and I’m one of them. There’s a quick and easy solution to that: stop looking in the mirror. There’s a lot to surviving a trying time that involves not only knowing ourselves from an intellectual and emotional perspective, but understanding who are are physically and being okay with that.
Here’s the thing, we are all so very different from one another that few of us actually know what’s going on with our body at any given time. Take, for example, the day I was shocked to discover that I had back hair. My former wife was quick to inform me that it had been there for quite some time. I also didn’t know for a very long time that my spine does some funny things. There is so much about our bodies that we don’t learn from a biology textbook. We’re constantly changing as well and some of those changes can be extremely imporant, especially if any of them involve the sudden appearance of a lump where a lump shouldn’t be.
This isn’t about vanity or beauty or trying to look good. We need to be comfortable with our bodies so that we are aware of any changes. As we grow older, and especially during periods of extreme stress, our bodies send us signals when something’s wrong or out of whack long before you start feeling bad. Know your body and learn to watch for those signs. You’ll have a better year if you do.
Spend less time connected to electronics
One of the most frightening aspects of our national security situation is realizing how dependent we are on electricity and electronic products. While the national power grid is relatively secure, it remains extremely possible that a terrorist attack could take out a regional power grid, potentially leaving several million people without power for a long time. No, we don’t like to think of this, but the vulnerability is real enough that a single terrorist could disrupt service for thousands of people.
I know, this isn’t one of those things we like to talk about. Yet, consider how you communicate. Let something happen to your local power grid and your cell phone is worthless. The Internet is worthless. Your appliances are worthless. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario, but we can prepare and know what to do should this threat becomes real. We can find ways to temporarily store food and water without using power. We can keep a hard copy list of utilities and emergency phone numbers in case power is out but phones still work for a time. We can learn how to actually talk with each other.
Our electronics have spoiled us. We assume that when we flip a light switch, a bulb brightens the space in some fashion. The people who lived in Aleppo once made the same assumptions. I promise you, none of them make those assumptions now.
Have more sex
You would think that I wouldn’t have to list this one at all, but prevailing evidence says that we all need reminders every once in a while, especially those who are in long time relationships. Quite often, it’s not that we’re opposed to having more sex, we are just so busy that we don’t think about or too tired that we don’t think to initiate it. When the year gets stressful, though, we benefit from that intimacy even if we’re not in a relationship with our partner.
Here’s the thing: sex gives us a physical connection with another person, something we need a lot more often than we realize. Hugs are nice. Kisses are wonderful. What our bodies really need, though, is intimate, penetrating, sexual contact that lasts more than ten minutes. The more stress we’re experiencing, the more often we need that kind of contact. Now, you might think that it is the intimacy of someone you really care about that makes the difference. Nope, not the case. The physical and emotional benefits of sex are pretty much the same whether one if in a relationship with their partner or not. Your partner might appreciate the sex more if you’re in a relationship, but the benefits for you remain the same either way.
Sex is wonderful. We know that. We just need to stop fighting against it, finding excuses for not having it, and let it help us out. You want to be safe, of course. We don’t need 2017 to be the year of rampant sexual disease. Still, the one thing we can all do to make 2017 a better year is to quite literally fuck it up.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask The Big Questions
“What needs to happen for me to get a raise?”
“Do you love me?”
“Why are you so mean?”
No one really seems to like being confrontational, but the questions we don’t ask are the ones that never get answered, the matters that hold us back and keep us from moving on with our lives. We already have enough uncertainty with political and world events. Do we really need the same level of uncertainty in the rest of our lives? Of course not.
2017 is the year we need to grow a spine. Stop worrying so much about what might be polite or what is politically correct and ask the questions you need answered. If you don’t like the direction something is going, ask how to change it. If you’re unsure of where your partner stands on an issue critical to your life, ask them. Don’t play around with trying to guess or assume that everything is going to work out all right. You did that last year, remember? And how did that work out for you? Yeah, pretty lousy. Let’s not repeat that same mistake again. Ask the damn questions.
Declutter like a Mofo
Almost none of us have too little stuff. Okay, there might be an exception if you experienced a fire last year or some other tragedy. The rest of us, though, are notorious hoarders and we need to get rid of all sorts of things so that we can fill our lives with new things. Yes, this is frightening because it means you need to actually part with things that have been in your life for years. But that pair of size 0 jeans that you’ve had since you were 14? Yeah, you’re not getting back into those. Ever. And all those concert t-shirts from bands that broke up immediately after the show would be better served as dust cloths.
What we have to realize here, though, is that decluttering isn’t just about tossing old clothes. We need to toss out old ideas, old habits, and quite possibly even some old relationships. With everything, we need to ask an important question: Is this benefitting me in any way? If the answer is no, then get rid of it. Toss it out. Say goodbye.
No, this isn’t going to be easy, especially if we’re letting go of people to whom we were once very close. If you’ve not talked to them at all in five years, though, not even on Facebook, then do you really know them at all anymore? Make a decision: either revive the friendship and make it meaningful, or move on. Same applies to old habits and old ideas. If they’re not making your life better, if they’re causing you any amount of pain, it’s time to toss them.
Seek out beauty
Last year was fucking ugly and so were many of the people in it. No, we’re not necessarily judging people by their looks, even though too much spray tan and a bad haircut might indicate some serious lack of reasoning skill. Rather, we’re talking about the way people behave and the general condition of the world as it existed in 2016. There was just a lot of ugly everywhere we looked.
So, how do we get through another year of the same old bullshit? We look for the things, and the people, that are beautiful. We look for flowers that are blooming where flowers aren’t supposed to bloom. We look for art in places where art doesn’t normally exist. We look for smiles on faces that don’t have any reason to smile. We look for people who make an effort to not be jackasses even though they almost certainly have every right to be.
There is beauty here. It has never gone away. The problem is that the ugliness of the world becomes so garish, we see only tainted water, corrupt politicians, conspiracy theorists, and fake medicine. If we’re going to survive the year, we have to seek out the beauty and embrace it. Hold it dear. Visit it often. Make it our friend. We need to always be reminded that life itself is beautiful and that no one can take that from us.
Do your own thing
To hell with trying to fit into someone else’s mold or pattern. 2017 has to be the year of fierce individuality and independence. Create your own style. Open your own business. Be your own person. Don’t allow some ill-fitting standard or antiquated morality tell you how to dress, how to talk, or what music to play. This is the year when you not only have to stand up, you have to stand out and that’s not going to happen if you look and act just like everyone else on the planet.
Let’s face it, we spend wayyyy too much of our time being what other people expect us to be. “Good parents don’t …” “The best people wear …” “No one in this company has ever …” “Good Christians don’t …” You can fill in the blanks. You’ve been there. You know the restrictions and the limits that other people have put on you in the past. 2017 is the time to break free from all the bullshit.
2017 is the year to wear what you want, when you want, where you want. This is the year to explore your curiosity. Now is the time to let no one else define you but you. There are no wrong answers here. You are whoever and whatever you want to be. If that means you’re standing in the middle of Times Square wearing nothing but a diaper and strumming a guitar, go for it. Just make sure you have some mean riffs that will impress the cops.
Protesting has been a part of the American reality pretty much from the moment folks stepped off the Mayflower. Even then, not everyone was onboard with the plan set by those in authority. That hasn’t changed and 2017 presents us with greater challenges than we have ever experienced before. More than 75 million people voted against the person who is supposedly taking charge on January 20. That’s 75 million people, at the very least, who already disagree with whatever the new administration is going to do. We’re jackasses if we just roll over and take it.
This is the year you have to be in contact with your elected officials. Most people in the US have never done that and those elected officials fully expect to be able to do whatever they want with your vote. Don’t let them. Be very clear, be very aggressive, in letting them know how you expect them to vote on the dangerous issues facing us such as health care, the environment, and the economy. Make sure they know you’re not afraid to march, whether in Washington or right here at home.
Our politicians have fallen into this all-too-comfortable position of thinking that the only time they have to pay attention to us is during an election year. In 2017, they need the carpet yanked out from under them. They need to be scared for their jobs every second of every day. They need to know that we’re watching and we’ll vote their asses out if they don’t respect us. This is how we make them pay for the nonsense they inflicted on us last year. Defy authority. Strongly.
Give people a reason to smile
2016 left us with dour expressions and a feeling of hopelessness. Too many people have forgotten how to smile and how to laugh. Cheerfulness has been lost in too many places. Even the words “Good morning” are growled at us now. We have to be tough and perhaps sometimes even mean if we are going to survive this year, but we also need to be aware that there are people around us who are not to blame for all the horrors of last year. There are innocent people are, like you, merely trying to survive as they pour your coffee, ring up your sale, or try to help you with a problem. They struggle just as you do. You can ease their pain by giving them a reason to smile.
And what is the best way to give someone a smile? In many cases, it is as simple as smiling yourself. Maybe say something nice or complimentary during your encounter. “Thank you,” often catches people by surprise and causes them to smile. So does the word “please.” Not being the asshole who bites off someone’s head for some reason totally unrelated can sometimes work as well. There are enough options that you shouldn’t have any difficulty developing an arsenal.
For some people, such as myself, this can also mean watching the amount of sarcasm we use. There are times we say things sarcastically not intending to hurt anyone but still inflicting pain because the other person didn’t understand why we said what we did. Current conditions make it difficult to hold in the sarcasm, but consider your audience before letting the barbs fly. Not everyone is in on the joke.
And there you go. That’s our guide for surviving 2017. We can’t promise that any of us will make it all the way through, of course. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get caught in the machinery, chewed up and spit out the other end. I hope that doesn’t happen to either of us, though, and following the precepts established in this guide should definitely help. Take heed, Take care. Be well.