I have been thinking a lot lately about Uemura Naomi.
Uemura is considered the first person to reach the North Pole by himself, to raft down the Amazon by himself, and to climb Denali by himself.
He was part of a community of adventurers, of climbers, but he did many of his excursions alone. He wrote, in what’s become his most famous quote: “In all the splendor of solitude… it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people.”
Uemura disappeared in 1984 while climbing Denali in the winter. We know he reached the summit, but his radio signal was lost on the descent. Normally a search party would have been sent sooner, but the community of climbers who knew him felt it would be disrespectful to do so. His body has never been found.
I write a post each year on January 1. Sometimes these are personal, but this year, I want to talk about time.
I don’t believe in time itself. What I mean by this is that time is a reference frame and a useful tool, but it isn’t a real thing beyond that. Beginnings and ends are all relative.
As far as ends go, there are countless ways for human beings to go extinct. We could blow ourselves up with nuclear bombs. Climate change could lead to the planet being uninhabitable for humans. A near-Earth supernova could cause a mass extinction event and end human life.
And then what will we be? What will all of our toil, our sorrow, our joy amount to? Nothing. But we always will have been. And maybe that’s something.
Disclaimer: Every year since 2011, I’ve posted a self-reflection on New Year’s Day, looking back and forward. I hope you’ll grant me this self-indulgence once more. It was a rough year.
I’m adaptable. I have to be.
It seems that every one or two years, I pick up, move, and live a totally different life. Since finishing grad school, I have been an editorial assistant, a communications writer, a professor, and an environmental compliance specialist. A Memphian, a Virginian, a Chicagoan.
The Brutalism of Chicago. Credit: Heidi Samuelson
I’m pretty good at rolling with these external changes. I have to be.
This has nothing to do with the post. Looking at the ocean just makes me feel better. Photo by me.
I do this every year. I indulge in the game of time and I reflect on the previous 365 (or 366) days. I don’t think a new year is something to celebrate. For me, it’s a time to reflect.
2016 has been being called a terrible year by many people in my circles—a lot of death, a lot of loss in other forms, what seems like an increase in violence and destruction in the world, a baffling presidential election in my country.
In darker moments, I fear what is to come. I spend too much time thinking about the consequences of capitalism, about war, about bias, about how often it seems people misperceive the shared world around them. I tend to use my intellectual fascination with the ugly aspects of humanity to shield myself in numbness, but in my bleaker moments, I feel that fear and frustration deep down in the pit of my stomach. I fear I’m running out of time.
I wonder sometimes if I live in the same world as other people. I wonder if it’s not the condition of alienation that comes with capitalism, with being defined as a woman, with being a philosophical thinker, but something else. Something active, sinister. I’ve been ignored and silenced and not taken seriously for most of my life, partly by my own doing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Sometimes screaming into the void is all I can do.
But it doesn’t help. So I feel like I’ve started to disappear.
If I had to sum up 2015 in a word, it would be “loss.”
It’s a euphemism for death, and this year seems to have had a lot of it. Former teachers, professors, colleagues, and friends of mine are absent now, and my sphere of existence is dimmer because of it. Stepping outside of my own circles, it’s a fact of our world that death touches everyone–through violence, through disaster, through disease, through happenstance.
“Life and Death have been in love for longer than we have words to describe. Life sends countless gifts to Death, and Death keeps them forever.”
I’m not an alarmist or a fear monger. And I can’t evaluate the world in terms of better or worse, because to pass value judgments is to have an evaluative standard I don’t possess, but sometimes I can’t help but be afraid for myself and for people I love, because of where they live and how others judge their race or their gender or their culture. I don’t like being cynical, but I also can’t fathom feeling particularly hopeful in this chaotic world.
Sons of Anarchy finished its seven-year run this December. I used to love the show, though the last couple seasons seemed needlessly violent and mostly served to make me hate all the characters (except Chuckie and Venus–may Tig and Venus ride off into the sunset together).
At some point last season, I realized that Jax wasn’t going to get a redemption arc. What happened at the end of season 6 was the nail in the coffin. And that’s the thing about human beings that is hard for me to reconcile sometimes. Not everyone gets redemption.
We live, we work, we do shitty things to each other, we might make a few people happy, and then we die. And when I look back on this year, I see a lot of these shitty things, and I can’t help but think.
 In keeping with my annual tradition, I’m sharing with the internet what is on my mind as one Gregorian year closes and another begins.
In some ways, my life changed drastically this year, but in other ways, it did not. It’s those lack of changes that trouble me as 2013 closes. Moving, changing my physical location, my job, did not change me much, because these things are external to me. I’ve always been very good at keeping to myself when the world changes around me.
But, I ask, who am I?
I have spent a lot of time resenting my body — that I I have one at all; that I have to take care of it, cut my hair, exercise, eat; that other people judge me for it, my perceived gender, my size, my clothes; that I don’t like the way it looks; that the older I get the more it seems to hurt and ache.
I feel trapped inside it. I feel weakened by it. It is a limitation and a hindrance.
I prefer to think of myself as filled with gears and lights and wires instead of fragile organs and bones and tissue that will eventually wear down and die. As I start 2014, I am sick with a head cold that has knocked me flat, and I wonder if this is my body’s way of telling me something, telling me that it matters, telling me that resent it all I like, it’s still just as much a part of me as my sense of humor or my intellect or my friendships or the rest of existence reflected in me.