So we have come to this: twenty-twelve. That year.
In which the world is supposed to end (as pictured yesterday), the Mayan myth getting some traction here because the future seem pretty bleak in this old and impoverished southern European economy, a feeling opposite to the innocent optimism of the previous apocalypse, during the Y2K Belle Époque. The consensus here is there’s not much to look forward to in 2012, except for inflation, unemployement, crappy digitally-televised Olympics (the analogue TV blackout is due in a couple of weeks), emigration, government and citizens alike being dicks, a slightly higher rate of civil unrest, a slightly lower rate of meals to be had in restaurants, bond market bondage being equated with ‘freedom’: serious problems in the First World, in which percentage points, rather than orders of magnitude, mean the End.
Of course, none of this will go as planned, not even the Euro or Mayan apocalypses (apocalypsii?). So there’s no reason to bother making lists of resolutions or go about planning stuff (suggestion: listen to this). 2011 taught us that: it was the strangest year on record. I won’t even go and repeat last year’s mediocre excercise of reviewing a full 365 days as if they were a record album or a movie to be digested. But if I did, I’d rate 2011 with five stars. Despite having spent the summer in bad health, despite the precarity of my work and the freelancing troubles, despite the illnesses of close relatives and the troubles of close friends, despite the melancholy in the morning and the inadequate relationships and the heartbreaks. Despite the laziness, the many productive hours wasted on crappy computer games, the fear of being sincere in doomed romances, and all the times I didn’t even try. Because I’ll remember little of this as being 2011. What I’ll remember is the sublime, unscripted weirdness. Consider the evening of April 6th, a date I find easy to recall as it is my birthday, as a scale model for all of 2011:
While having dinner with friends in a restaurant downtown, there’s this sudden announcement the IMF is bailing out Portugal. People’s smartphones are produced out of their pockets (we had, and still have, smartphones, get it?), 3G internet used to summon the mobile webpages of newspapers, fact-checking — yes, Portugal is getting ‘help’ from the IMF (in the form of a big loan the economy — meaning us, the working people — won’t be able to pay). The girl I was seeing at the time had to wake up very early the next day and had to leave the restaurant soon after the meal was over (another crazy detail — I was seeing someone at the time), so I left the restaurant for a few minutes to walk her to her car, and as I came back to rejoin my friends I already sensed this palpable but yet-understated hysteria, as if a carnival would start to unfold later that evening. It was a very hot evening — about thirty degrees Celsius, in April! — and, as our party left the restaurant after a couple of drinks and went for further drinks in bars nearby, we all had this shared feeling of “let’s spend all our money today because we’ll all be poor tomorrow”, the drunken circularity of which you have to admire. Walking in the streets, our party wasn’t the only party not minding the sidewalks. It was a Wednesday. Later that night, I met a friend in an equaly advanced state of drunkeness at a club, and I spent a good deal of time listening to his awesome narration of the most disgusting and gory parts in A Serbian Film.
Just consider for a little while the following impressions, all co-existing in space, time and mind: a oral history of Serbian extreme gore, the IMF bailout, the heat (when I took a taxi home at about 5am, I was still in t-shirt, carrying my jacket as a twisted knot in my arm), the binge drinking. And the awareness that the Belle Époque was finally truly over, that job precarity (eg. my not having a contract despite working at the same place for seven years now) was not the past, the present, but the future as well, and that we might as well live that present evening — listening to fragmented accounts, voices like random radio chatter, of what the Finance Minister had said, if the PM had been contradicted & etecetera — and ask for a shot of Bushmills if one could still pay for it.
That day was hyperreal. Anyway, the next day it became pretty obvious things wouldn’t go as expected, either for better or for worse. People’s ways of life didn’t come to a sudden stop as the hot sun rose that morning. There are still dinners in restaurants (fewer — or far fewer) to be had, extravagant gadgets and other toys are still bought and sold, some people lost their jobs while others got raises. I have close friends who were forced to go back to their parents’, while others moved into a bigger apartments with their partners and their kids went to kindergarten. But still, the overall feeling of 2011 is indeed depressive, that injustice and overall stupidity were on the rise in this country. The expectation for 2012 is that the austerity forced from Above will do no good, and may in fact force good people into doing things they are not supposed to in a healthy society: leave the country or fight the power(s).
Then again, consider that week in November: I had been well down in the dumps, counting evey day until that Tuesday when I’d get my first paycheck of the school year. The day before, I was penniless and attending a meeting concerning a play I was going to make video for. As I search my backpack’s pockets for a scrap of paper in which to write a quick note, a 50 euro bill comes out. I had stashed it there for safety before the summer and had completely forgotten about it. I called a close friend and invited her for dinner that night. On me. I had had to share that good fortune, and taste a bit of luxury after weeks on a tight budget. The very next day, as some kind of karmic reward, my paycheck has a significant raise — which I had actually expected last year (as finishing my Master’s degree had brought me to a new carreer position), but after getting no pay increase then I became cynical about it and didn’t expect it in the current ‘austerity’ climate. Feeling pleased about myself (even if you think I’m a shallow person for letting pecuniary rewards influence my self-esteem, the truth is, they did), I invited a girl I had met a few days before to go out with me the next weekend, and she replied she’d be delighted. We started dating but things didn’t last, and we parted ways after a couple of weeks. But despite that, if I could just capture the feeling of hope, the knowing things were going to be all right and that we’d get through these troubled times, the expectant happiness, all the optimism I felt during that week in a bottle, I would take a sip of it every day.
Despite it being 2011. Despite the IMF, the troikas, the precariousness, the expensive rents, the price hikes. Despite the Arab Spring going bad. Despite the populist Eurocrats, despite the US Republicans, despite our new Prime-Minister, the old Prime-Minister, and the people who vote in hate of a candidate. Despite Islamic terrorism, despite right-wing terrorism, and the jornalists and politicians who blame both on immigrants. Despite Obama being a letdown, despite Merkel and Sarkozy. Despite the easily offended and the eagerly offended. Despite censorship. Despite the thieves, despite the police, despite the politicians who blame everything on authority and the politicians who blame eveything on the poor. Despite earthquakes, despite floods, despite the heat and the freezing cold. Despite oil, coal and gas, despite nuclear power, despite the villages flooded by dams and the birds killed by wind farms, despite solar power and the exotic materials, toxic chemicals and the energy wasted in building batteries and panels. Despite the infinitely regressive ecologists who will never be satisfied. Despite anxiety, despite fear, despite suspictions. Despite fashion, despite technolust, despite gluttony. Despite the hypocrites and despite those who are bad at simple math:
When you feel you are worth something, this all goes away. This is something all leaders and managers must know; this is something all lovers and friends must know.
For 2012, I expect the unexpected: the truly unexpected.