2016 was an important year. This is my personal take on it, but, as we know, personal is social and political.
1. My first comment is about public life. To be honest 2016 is the first year in which I became worried about the future. I suppose the central bit is Brexit. This is because Brexit is not an event ‘out there’ in the political sphere, distant and irrelevant. In fact, it is anything but. It has touched my life, as I wrote earlier – the referendum was about me.
I am not able to offer anything new and original about Brexit, the electoral win of Donald Trump, also this is probably not the context in which to write about what I see as slow dismantling of Polish democracy.
As a child of communism (you can take the man out of communism, but you can’t take communism of the man, so to say – there is a blog in it!), I suppose I am a bit calmer about all this than many. I experienced much worse and after living in the aftermath of Stalinism, Brexit really does look like a doddle, while Donald Trump and Jaroslaw Kaczynski (toutes proportions gardées) can only muster, shall I say, ‘doddlism’. And yet, I am worried about the future. I’m not old enough to simply say that it all doesn’t matter, still, I suppose I am much more worried about the world in which my children are entering adult life.
As I said above, personal is social and political. That’s one of the common mantras of the social sciences. Here I would like to remind us that public is also private. I wish more people understood that their public choices impact daily lives of real, individual people.
2. But let me talk about personal which is also social. I was ill for almost half of 2016. Since the summer every day I have been in pain. As much as it has made me live in some discomfort (sometimes considerable discomfort), it has also been a fascinating experience (yes, I would give it up in a heartbeat). I have written about illness experience for some time, but I have never experienced any serious discomfort illness can provide. The last 5 months have really focused my mind.
Let me put it like that. It’s the first time I started wondering about the relationship between lived experience and research in a way beyond methodological considerations. I haven’t got any answers, yet, but I guess, I feel more unease when talking or writing about people’s experiences. I am starting to take a step back, to pause a bit before writing anything.
But what this experience has given me is insight into things I have written about from the other side. It’s something I have thought about quite often, for example when I wrote about psychosis. As I have never had any psychotic experience, I really don’t know what it means, for example, ‘to have insight’ or not to have it. Similarly, I have for some time been interested in pain, but apart from the odd headache, I have never experienced it really. It will be different now.
To be honest, I don’t exactly know what difference these experiences will make, but I know they will. I will need to come back to it at some point, at the moment my thoughts are ‘inchoate’. 2016 has taken me into the world I had not known, and it has already showed me how simplistic and shallow my thinking has been. At first sight, it’s a world of nuance, spectra, rather than 0-1 distinctions. This is how the ‘personal’ gets to be social, narrated and made sense of in society. I will write a book about it, I think. But only after I have written my next one.
But this experience has reinforced the nonsense of easy slogans like ‘It’s OK to talk’. I don’t want to bloody talk, I want it to stop hurting!
3. 2016 is also the year in which I wrote my eighth research monograph. I’m chuffed. It is probably the most difficult book I have ever written – reading letters people wrote just before they killed themselves is hard, very hard. But it’s done. It makes 2016 special. It also will mean that 2017 is the year in which Discourses of Men’s Suicide Notes will be published.
So in June I shall start living with another book, which will be assessed, perhaps reviewed, hopefully praised and never taken apart. As we live with so many failures, I hope this book will be a success.
When I was younger, I never thought about my professors in terms of failures, worries of rejections. I saw the professorial title. I tell my students and colleagues at the beginning of their academic that behind it is a messy world full of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ (and a bit of luck!).
4. Finally, in 2016 I also started writing this blog. I am not certain why. When I was thinking about it, I told myself it would be a way in which my (hypothetical and future – someone calling me ‘granddad Darek’ is way outside the universe which I currently inhabit) grandchildren could meet their granddad. But I quickly stopped asking myself the question of why I write it. I have always loved writing and for one reason or another it’s always been very easy. I know many people for whom writing is an ordeal, for me writing is pure pleasure. I just wish I had started writing it earlier.
There is of course the other side of public writing, particularly a blog, I suppose. A blog is a medium which can test the writing very severely. It can be ignored, trashed, praised… A blog, particularly an academic blog, means exposing yourself, your thoughts, your writing. Every time I wonder how boring/interesting the new post might be. Still, I think it’s been worth the risk. Probably.
Once again, I would like to thank all my readers who have taken the time to read my writing. I especially grateful to all those who commented under the posts and to those who, as subscribers, tolerate the (usually) twice-weekly mails informing them of a new post. Thank you very much. It’s much appreciated.
So, my future grandchild, 2016 was difficult, I would probably even say it was bloody difficult. It was difficult because the public sphere had pushed itself into the private much harder than before. And it has pushed itself with aggression, intolerance, nationalism, some even say: fascism. It has made the lives of millions of people (real people), including me, much harder. So, I hope very much that by the time you read it, 2016 will have been long consigned to history (probably its dark pages).
It was also a difficult year for me personally. But apparently what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger. So, 2017 will be a year of hope. For exploring new worlds where no one has gone before (well, perhaps a few people did, but what’s an important post without Star Trek reference?).