Monday, January 02, 2017

The Best (and Worst) of 2016: Recapping a Happy/Sad Year*

Except for death and Donald Trump, 2016 was actually a pretty good year.

Yeah, I know that's a pretty big exception. Kind of like saying except for those 13 losses, the Chicago Bears had a really good season.

As has been all too well documented, the 366 days and one extra second of 2016 saw a plethora of remarkably talented and beloved individuals depart the planet.

These include personal favorites--David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Garry Sanders, Joe Garagiola--and myriad other greats & giants like Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, John Glenn, Craig Sager, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Maurice White, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Bernie Worrell, Phife Dawg, Edward Albee, Elie Wiesel, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Florence Henderson, Leon Russell, George Michael, Otis Clay, Pierre Boulez, Patty Duke, Morley Safer, Pat Summit, Alan Thicke, Gwen Ifill, Sharon Jones, George Kennedy, Janet Reno, Robert Vaughn, Doris Roberts, Dan Haggerty, Chyna, Alan Vega, Buckwheat Zydeco, Buddy Ryan, Eddie Einhorn, Johann Cruyff, Lonnie Mack, Alphone Mouzon and more.

Image by @christhebarker; see list of people included here 
While many of the above were older, their legacies well established, tragedy also robbed us of youthful bright lights such as Anton Yelchin, Jose Fernandez, Christina Grimmie and several members of the Chapecoense soccer club.

And it's not like sorrow was reserved for the famous and their loved ones.

Some close friends of mine lost parents; even more sadly a few people I know lost children. There were several other personal losses to rue, and far too many friends & acquaintances suffered from serious illness, depression and/or other hardships.

The city of Chicago recorded 778 murders, and from Brussels to Orlando, Istanbul to Oakland, Lahore to Ankara, Baghdad to Nice, and on and on, massacres and catastrophes were heartbreaking and horrifying, as was unspeakable death and devastation in Aleppo and elsewhere. 

Though I don't wish to devote too much thought or space to him here--and must accept that he was democratically elected, with a little help from his comrades--the campaign, election, insults, tweets, nominations and beliefs (or lack thereof) of Donald Trump were extremely distressing to say the least.

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Those of us concerned about humanity must remain vigilant as Trump assumes the presidency, and work to assure the principles of freedom, equality and respect remain in place throughout the United States...and beyond.

Inarguably, there were many far more harassed, harmed, hurt, disheartened or worse in 2016 than was I, and millions who remain acutely vulnerable.

In no way do I dismiss their tears and fears, and do not mean to minimize the void left by all the losses, whether celebrity, personal or catastrophic.

Along with much else, I rue the evaporation of artistic talent with no seeming revitalization on the horizon. 

But in terms of an unavoidably self-centered self-assessment of 2016, I can't deny--outside several moments of sadness and chagrin--largely enjoying myself.

And being thankful.

Believe me, I appreciate that sports--and entertainment and the arts--are relatively meaningless compared to life & death situations.

And in part it's because two serious surgeries had by people close to me in 2016 went well--with a heart valve replacement and a kidney transplant amazingly keeping loved ones in the hospital for less than a week, combined, with no known complications since--that I was able to truly revel in the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And because I'd been waiting my whole life + 60 years for this to occur, it was a pretty humongous deal...and cause for continued celebration (likely for the rest of my existence on Earth and hopefully then some).

But it wasn't just the Cubs winning the World Series--finally!--that made it so wonderful.

Nor that I was fortunate to go to Games 1&2 of the World Series in Cleveland, Game 5 at Wrigley, plus two other playoff games, after a handful during the season.

Of course, that was special. And the end of Game 7 of the World Series, which I watched on my couch with my mom and sister Allison, was the greatest single moment of my year.

Yet what was truly, extraordinarily wonderful--though rather aggravating at the time--was how the Cubs won.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs had a fun young team with not only many great, but seemingly quite likable, players such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Dexter Fowler and more.

With a literate, articulate and humanistic manager in Joe Maddon.

And after reaching the NLCS in 2015 but losing to the Mets, the Cubs were not only the favorites to win the World Series this year, but clearly the best team in baseball throughout the 162-game regular season.

But in the playoffs, it took a miraculous 9th inning in Game 4 of the NLDS to finish off the Giants without facing a daunting Game 5.

They were down 2-games-to-1 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and looking lousy, before coming back to life--and prompting me to write this piece--en route to their first pennant in 71 years.

And they were down 3-games-to-1 against the Indians in the World Series before Kris Bryant's home run in Game 5--pictured above--started to awaken their bats.

But even in forcing a Game 7 and taking a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th, the lovable new Cubs threatened to break hearts like the cursed old Cubs when the Tribe's Rajai Davis tied the game with a 2-run homer off Aroldis Chapman.

Even after the Cubs re-took the lead in the top of the 10th--after a weirdly brief rain delay that seemed to serve the purpose of ginger when eating sushi--the Indians' last out was made with the winning run at the plate.

I feel fortunate to have lived through it--literally--and with the rest of the city of Chicago (save for parochial White Sox fans, who had their turn in 2005) celebrated like it was 1908 for days & weeks (and months) to come.

The Cubs' championship parade & rally supposedly drew 5 million people, one of the largest gatherings  in the history of mankind.

And especially metaphorically, given much that happened in 2016, I (now) love that the Cubs overcame considerable adversity to win their title.

Few great occurrences rarely come easily. 

But for me, 2016 provided considerable delights beyond the Cubs winning it all, and the joys of their entire season.

As this blog exists largely to convey, I love entertainment and culture, and the past 12 months have been tremendously enriching in this regard.

Over the past two weeks, I've posted year-end lists citing my favorite  concerts, albums, songs, musicals, plays and movies, so I won't much reiterate here, but any year in which I see Bruce Springsteen five times, Pearl Jam twice, Paul McCartney, dozens of other enjoyable concerts, tons of great theater such as Hamilton, Cabaret, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and more, is bound to feel pretty special and invigorating.

I didn't do a ton of traveling as I blew my budget on three World Series games, but toured the White House and Independence Hall, visited many great museums and ate at some terrific places, both near home and further away. (See my Best of 2016 recaps covering museums, meals and sights seen.)

In late November, I briefly got to meet my hero, the Boss, when he was in Chicago on a book tour. Not too surprisingly, though I haven't finished it yet, Springsteen's Born to Run autobiography was my favorite book of 2016.

In addition to my favorite entertainer, I also shook hands with my favorite contemporary author, Harlan Coben--after a great speech by him at my hometown Skokie Public Library.

Among numerous creative explorations--some simply through headphones or Netflix--I came to better appreciate the music of late Chicago legend Curtis Mayfield, including at a tribute concert where I met his son Todd, author of a new biography on his dad. 

And though I let Allison--an even bigger Blackhawks fan than me--get a photo with Coach Q rather than take one myself, it was pretty cool to meet him at an event at Arlington Park race course.

2016 was also quite rewarding for me in ways not so glamorous or noteworthy, but no less important.

I worked a 6-month assignment as an Editor in a very welcoming environment where I renewed some great old friendships and developed some new ones.

Though I was only a contractor, my stay was extended, I was told they wished they could keep me longer and I was thrown potluck celebrations for my birthday and my last day, separately though both fell in the same week.

I recently had what seemed like a promising job interview, and am currently doing some off-site freelance work for both a copywriting client and a proofreading client.

This blog continued to be a labor of love, where 140 new posts--and over a thousand old ones--drew nearly 150,000 yearly visitors, including a 2016 high-water mark of 23,575 in December.

Megalomaniacally, one of my favorite blog pieces was an interview I conducted...with myself. 

I enjoyed many great meals and other occasions with family and friends, visited my nephew at college, attended the wedding of the son of one of my closest friends, was taken to a Cubs playoff game by another great friend, hosted a couple delightful movie nights, just attended a magnificent New Year's Eve party, developed new & maintained old friendships--online and off--and celebrated 43 years of ongoing friendship with my best pal since kindergarten.

New Yorker cartoon by Emily Flake
While I didn't fall in love, I knew it--not only from family & friends referenced above but also a beautiful woman who happens to be stunning--and far more than not, I enjoyed life.

Of course, there were many days of frustrations and sorrows.

I'm not particularly religious or even spiritual--though appreciate the uplifting outcomes (not of baseball games) the few times I did pray--yet genuinely believe the passing of Bowie, Prince, Ali and so many more erased something from our ether.

That one of my best friends just lost his mom breaks my heart; the physical and/or mental challenges of many dear to me will be a cause of ongoing concern; I'm certainly far too heavy and at risk; I believe in climate change far too much not to be gravely worried; and I find it hard to grasp that good people continue to be denounced and derided simply because of the color of their skin, the god to which they pray, their gender and/or that of their lover, or simply their desire to pee in public without being beaten.

Love trumps hate, and, let's hope, good times supersede (or follow) bad.

Here's to a wonderful 2017, with thanks for making 2016 pretty good.

And I don't just mean the Cubs.

*The reference to "Happy/Sad" in my blog title references some dialogue from the movie Sing Street, one of my favorites of 2016. It's now streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend it.

I've been a great David Bowie fan since I came to learn of him, likely in the late 1970s, and have owned most of his albums, even lesser ones. But it wasn't until after he passed on Jan. 10, 2016 that I came to know the following two songs, which I now relish. I think they make a nice summation for the year that was...and life ahead. 

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