Yet even amid unbearable bleakness, small wonders and commonplaces give life its sparkle

Okay. Hello. Is this thing on? Just kidding; it's just us here, and Albert, the dog, who is right now standing across the room just staring at me, waiting for something.

Anyway, I'm writing this from December to you in the new year just beyond here. I always love New Year's Eve, when anything seems possible no matter how many times you've been disappointed to find yourself just hungover but otherwise the same on New Year's Day. Even knowing that, there's the lingering notion that it could feel different, that though of course you cannot be less yourself, maybe you could be more, a definable shape.

Here are some lines from a poem I love by Hera Lindsay Bird:

I love to feel this bad because it reminds me of being human

I love this life too

Every day something new happens and I think

so this is the way things are now

I was telling Jade about it last year in the nascent hours of the new year, which turned into this terrible one. We were sitting in an inflatable hot tub in the backyard of my childhood home, and all night I'd been radiant and tipsy — sitting at the bar eating french fries, dancing with my sister, following Halle through the crowd to the bathroom — and how could I not keep my little palmful of hope that this rightness might tip into the next day and beyond? My gold top left sparkles on all my friends' arms.

I'm supposed to be looking forward here, not back, I know, I'm sorry. My mom has been telling me to stay positive — what delights you? she asked the other day. There are things, of course. Maybe you also drink coffee every morning and underline words in books and have one or two friends you can text about tax evasion and HPV and how hard and sad it is sometimes to just do all the regular things life requires of you.

click to enlarge Albert, the dog
Albert, the dog

It's been a terrible year, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing it go, though it feels precarious — now that we've witnessed such astonishing levels of cruelty, I fear it may be bottomless. Back in March, I thought the government couldn't possibly just stand by while millions of people lost their jobs and health care and homes, and then it happened and it's still happening. It can't get much worse than this! I said at the end of bad years past, but now I know it can in previously unimaginable and irreparable ways, so I'm not saying that anymore.

I'm sorry, I meant to tell you something good. Here's something: Albert is asleep now, and he's sprawled across the living room floor. Every once in a while, deep in some irretrievable dream, his tiny little paws start twitching and he lets out a few halfhearted sleep barks. I wish you could see it. I've never had a dog before, and I've been surprised by how fully and overwhelmingly and embarrassingly I love this dumb creature who always has gunk in the corners of his eyes.

Kim Addonizio's poem "New Year's Day" is also good. Near the end, after she's meditated for several lines about where the girls she went to school with might be now, she backtracks on all those careful imaginings, and claims,

............... I don't care

where those girls are now.

Whatever they've made of it

they can have. Today I want

to resolve nothing.

Both Addonizio and Bird share a vaguely defiant, humorous tone, each seemingly dedicated to a half-ironic pessimism — Bird's speaker is resigned to the day's ordinary and obnoxious temerity; Addonizio's doesn't care. Theirs is a feigned nihilism, though, as mine is: I've repeated Bird's line to myself throughout the last year often, increasingly desperate to convince myself it was true, but I do love this life. I loved it on the first day of the year, buying three Gatorades at WinCo with last night's mascara still smudged on my face, and I love it now in the silent apartment in the city I hate, where I'm convinced I'll live forever, typing my miserable little numbers into my miserable little spreadsheets or serving bad lasagna to strangers at the corny Italian restaurant.

Are you still there? I'll try to wrap this up: It's all hopeless and awful and absolutely terrifying.

That's not the end, but it could be. It's hopeless and awful and absolutely terrifying in more dire ways than I can even imagine here on my tiny throne sturdily constructed by my various configurations of privilege. I've hardly left my house this whole year, and it's too late for me to be an Olympic gymnast or the world's youngest billionaire, so we can delete those from the Things To Look Forward To list. All the future tense could be taken away at a moment's notice, and anyway it's not appealing to me, this manufactured replica of a vague imagined joy when I can say f—- you! and get a version — albeit miniature, albeit fleeting, but when is it ever not? — of the real thing just by saying it. "Sometimes we have to be tricked, not pressured, into happiness," writes Charlotte Shane in a recent issue of Bookforum.

Don't you hate it when people say, "If you're not mad, you're not paying attention!"? I do, even though I actually believe it; still, I don't want anyone telling me the kind of response I should have to the vast and varied worlds to which I might devote my attention. I don't want anyone telling me what I should or shouldn't do, unless they're going to tell me exactly how to do it, exactly how to live, such that I never have to wonder if I'm doing it right again.

It's just that, if you're paying any attention at all to some of the things I'm paying attention to, in addition to being mad, I don't see how you could feel any semblance of hope for the future, at least not large-scale hope for a large-scale future. But for me there is a lightness just in saying it — then you get to make a little joke or something, ha ha, or you just get to keep living your dumb little life, walking blindly into that hopelessness alongside trees and public bathrooms and gas fireplaces you ignite with the flip of a switch.

Addonizio's poem ends:

I only want to walk

a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,

and lift my face to it.

In Heather Christle's poem "Advent," the speaker right away gives in to despair but moves and then just keeps going: "It's hopeless, the stars, the books / about stars, they can't help themselves / and how could you not love them for it..." The futility of it all is dizzying in such a way that it blurs together with the overwhelm of everything else — hopelessness punctuated by the daily hope or near-hope of the normal world ("this mess, this season, all that / is lost and tickets and strangers") pressing warily on. That nothing is good is accepted here as undeniable fact, except for, of course, everything that is and the "holy tumult" of it all breathlessly tumbling over itself.

The future is bleak, folks! I'm so sad and mad and scared all the time, and I wish everyone was kinder and more taken care of and less, just, bereft. And yet. "I want this world / to remain with me," Christle writes. I don't always know why I do, exactly, though sometimes it's obvious: "you, friends, spectacular driveways, / an orange." Potato chips, rabbits, a few words in the right order, a stranger arranging a giant inflatable penguin in his snowless yard. Just more things, you know? That's what I'm looking forward to: more reasons to say, "so this is the way things are now," and saying it. ♦

Emily Alexander is a writer and poet from Idaho, currently in Boise. Her work has been published in Hobart Pulp, Pouch Magazine and New Ohio Review.