Look, it's been a weird year.
You don't need me to tell you that. I guess I could talk about the general weirdness, but the world doesn't need another article about 2016.
Instead, here are six things that helped me make it through the year.
“If you want to see what this nation is all about, I always say, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you'll find the true face of America.' He slapped the wall of the boxcar as a signal. The train lurched forward.”
Colson Whitehead is one of my personal favorite authors. This book is one of his best. He masterfully weaves together the horror of our past with the horrors of our present. It's not a happy book. But, it is a good book.
"At this moment, all over the world...the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along."
Zadie Smith speaks to the tension of life in days like these. If there was ever a time for us to play a better song, it would be now.
3. Clint Smith
"The world was built, and thus can be rebuilt to be something better."
One of my favorite discoveries of 2016 has been the work of Clint Smith. From powerful TED talks, to Counting Descent, to the twitter feed I always check in on, Smith inspires me as an educator, but more importantly, as a human being. The poem below is one of his most powerful.
"But you only ever really have to be good at one thing: Making sure your students know that you absolutely, no question, no doubt, for sure, 100 percent want to be in that particular classroom with those particular kids. If you do that, shit usually works out."
I love The Ringer (like I once loved Grantland, RIP). And I love Shea Serrano. Like I actively and aggressively seek out everything he writes from tweets, to articles about disrespectful dunks to The Rap Yearbook. His writings cover music, sports and pop culture with a wit that makes me jealous. Also, I just started teaching this year, so this article was topical.
"...Like Nat King, I’m doing the dad thing/I speak of wondrous unfamiliar lessons from childhood/Make you remember how to smile good,"
No one makes me smile as much as Chance. At every turn this year, I've been blown away by his artistry, wisdom and joy. Life is worth smiling about.
"There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
Then push away the unimaginable..."
2016 was, in the end, the year of Hamilton in our house. In February, we drove home from a weekend in Washington DC and listened to the soundtrack, end to end. I would be lying to say there weren't tears by the time we got to "It's Quiet Uptown." My kids sing songs from the show nearly every day.
Hamilton was unavoidable. As such, usually something I'd intentionally avoid. But from PBS documentaries, to the book, to Lin-Manuel freestyling on Fallon, I couldn't get enough. It is simply a perfect piece of art. It is at equal times reverent and subversive. It captures life in its wonder, pain, failure and success.
In November, I found myself playing parts of it over and over, grappling with America. What kind of world are we giving our children? There is a genius in our fabric, but it is tempered by threads of hatred and bigotry. America has always been a paradox for me. There's something in the voices of Hamilton, however, that give me hope for a more perfect union. When I think about my kids, that's what I have, hope. Hope that they'll take our shortcomings and they'll spin their own story, much better than the one we've told.
'If we lay a strong enough foundation, we'll pass it on to you...and you'll blow us all away..."