2016: Reflecting on a year of loss

I think everyone will agree – and you've heard it a million times by now – that 2016 was a complete and utter shit-show. From the loss of beloved artists to the horror of the presidential election, it was a divisive, frustrating, jaw-dropping waste of 366 days (it was a Leap Year).

There was an inkling early on of just what a terrible year this was going to be when David Bowie died on Jan. 10. I had listened to his brilliant Blackstar album all weekend, thrilled that it was a record as good as anything he'd ever recorded, and then woke up on that Monday morning to learn he was gone. I'm still not over it.

But Bowie's departure seemed to open a floodgate: Prince, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to name just a few of the greats we lost this year. Carrie Fisher's death was a crushing bookend to Bowie's. I've been in love with her since I was 7-years-old, since my parents made me go see Star Wars instead of Smokey and the Bandit. Princess Leia is one of my touchstones, and Fisher's books helped inspire the acerbic, no-fucks-to-give dialogue from Diane in my own Venus Trilogy. I simply cannot wrap my head around the fact that she's gone, and for her legendary mother to be taken one day later is simply 2016 giving us the final middle finger.

Horrific terror attacks continued to play out on almost daily somewhere in the world, including the airport bombing in Brussels, the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the Bastille Day celebration in Nice and the truck attack on the Christmas market in Berlin. Those are just a few.

It was also a year of more white police officers shooting unarmed black men and protesters taking to the streets. The Black Lives Matter movement rose to prominence even as white supremacists labeled the group a terrorist organization.

Speaking of white supremacy, I also cannot believe that Trump is going to be president. It's like I've woken up in an episode of Fringe (if a TV show ever needed to make a comeback it's that one!) in an alternate universe. Trump is the living, breathing embodiment of the "ugly American" and he's surrounded himself with bigots, racists and homophobes hell-bent on stripping citizens of their civl and human rights. It's going to be a long four years of constant resistance. If you aren't part of the rebel alliance already, get with the program.

Of course, we can't blame the actual year 2016 for all of this loss, but it will be remembered as the year tragedy piled on until we were almost at the breaking point. I don't think I've ever been more exhausted in my life.

On the personal front, the final novel in The Venus Trilogy – Leaving Paris – was released in the spring and I was able to launch it at the AWP Conference in Los Angeles followed by readings in Denver, New York and back here in Atlanta. Shortly afterwards, I was hospitalized with a major throat infection and also discovered I was diabetic. I weighted a shocking 309 pounds, my A1C level was 8.1 (5.7 is the norm) and I had a host of aches and ills I'd been ignoring far too long.

Fast forward to Dec. 31 and I've lost 60 pounds, my A1C level is at 5.2 (putting my diabetes in remission), I've become an avid walker and completely changed my diet. I did this quietly and with no commentary on social media. This was something I wanted to do privately for myself. I lost my father to complications from diabetes and I didn't want to follow in his footsteps. I feel great and have  so much more energy. I want to lose another 50 pounds by spring, and that's my only New Year's resolution.

I was also delighted by the response to my New Poetry Project here at Modern Confessional and across my social media. I published eight new poems from September to December and thousands of people read them. I was especially gratified by the comments, likes, loves and shares on Instagram and Facebook. More people read those eight poems in four months than have read any of my books or work published in online or print journals. Thank you!

So what comes next? New poetry is forthcoming in The Cortland Review and two anthologies: If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration (Sibling Rivalry Press) and Reading Queer, edited by Maureen Seaton and Neil de la Flor (Anhinga Press). I've put together a chapbook and submitted it to a couple of open submissions and contests (fingers crossed) and I'm also working on a full-length collection. I've also written the first few chapters in a new novel.

I have a sense that most of 2017 is going to be spent in resistance to the incoming regime and its attempts to send America back to the dark days of the 1950s. I'm ready to devote as much time as necessary. If you are an artist and have an ounce of empathy, you should be ready too. I'm hoping it will be a better year, but I have my doubts. I want to be cautiously optimistic, but 2016 has left such a sour taste, it's hard to cleanse the palate.

Thank you to everyone who has kept up with me here and on social media. And thank you to all the readers who have purchased my books and reached out to tell me how much they enjoyed them. That was the true bright spot of 2016.

Comments

I can't help but note that almost all the "bad things" you cite are events which are beyond your control [deaths, politics, etc.] but that you have made wonderful decisions with resulting accomplishments on the personal level that are outstanding -- your writing and health. It is actually inspirational and I look forward to following your achievements in 2017.
Maureen said…
Wishing you many more good things in the coming New Year, Collin.
Christine said…
Thank you for giving some perspective on this annus horribilis, Collin. On a personal level, you have achieved so much! But the emotional wear and tear of so much loss an chaos has certainly been hard on us all. Looking forward to reading more of your poems! wishing you continued good health. If you ever want a walking companion, let me know! Poetry and long walks go hand in hand, don't you think?
Dave Bonta said…
What Richard said. I'm impressed by your judicious use of social media both to share and, when necessary, withhold. Congratulations on your acquisition of new habits. I recommitted myself to daily walking over the past three months as well, and I'm pretty sure my writing has improved as a result. Happy New Year.
teabird said…
I'm with you on "Fringe" ... wishing you all good things, including maintaining all the good work you did in getting healthy!
Collin Kelley said…
Thanks, y'all! :)

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