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Roberto Clemente died at the age of 38 on December 31, 1972.
December 31, 2016.
Seventeen years ago, I wrote these words:
I hear people complain about New Year’s Eve, that it’s always made into a big event that ultimately disappoints, that they feel pressured to have some kind of momentously fun time. These people are sad, really, incredible dullards and whiners. Pressured to have fun? Hey, I’ll take that kind of pressure every time, no problem. I wish I was pressured to have fun every day, rather than pressured to pay the bills, pressured to hold onto my job, pressured to keep my head above water. If you can’t relax and have fun on New Year’s Eve, well, you’ve got more problems than this column can solve.
First off, yikes, you can still go on the Web and find things I wrote 17 years ago. At my 40th birthday party last year, my wife threw a party for me and, as a party favor, had all the guests read lines from my old Life as a Loser columns, all of which were written more than a decade ago and during a time of, well, let’s say “somewhat stunted emotional maturity.” It was a great gag for a 40th birthday party — my ears are still bleeding — but it is actually sort of disturbing how much of the dipshittery of my early 20s is still out there. (It gets worse: Here is a posting on alt.fan.tarantino from 1994.) The curse of the early adopter, I suppose.
Anyway, suffice it to say, my views on New Years Eve have changed quite a bit since then too. What used to be a rebellion against those who fretted about not having enough fun on New Years Eve has settled into a rote, dull, quite comfortable sloth about New Years Eve. I was talking with my SI Pro Football Now colleague Nate Burleson about NYE this week, and he was saying that he and his wife were having trouble gearing themselves up to stay up until midnight; they have two children, they live in the suburbs and he hosts a television show very early in the morning and thus is rarely up past 10 anyway. My response was not, “go for it, power through.” My response was, “why in the hell do you even still even try to make it until midnight? Give up the ghost.” Once you make the decision that it’s no longer important to stay up until midnight on NYE, trust me, that decision becomes a ton easier in the years to come. You’ll never bother again. Once you go 11 p.m., you never go back! If anything, the best gift New Years Eve can give me is an early bedtime without guilt. It’s a night to drink some champagne early, go to sleep early and then have a vaguely groggy, mostly stakes-free New Years Day with no work and no stress. How many nights like that do you get as a parent of two small children? “Pressured to have fun?” Trust me, 24-year-old Leitch, that is as much fun as 41-year-old you could possibly want ... or handle, really.
This is not to say that New Years Eve is not a time worthy of reflection. So much of our lives are a dead sprint through an asteroid field that it’s nice to have one day a year where everyone stops and thinks about where they were that exact day one year ago. We get a finite number of these: Pausing to consider them as they zoom by us is not the worst thing. One year ago, I was preparing to head to Iowa for the caucuses, an opportunity I’d been looking forward to my entire career. I did some fun work down there, profiling Jeb Bush, trying to figure out a Ted Cruz rally, trying to suss out whether Donald Trump really was serious about all this. (Still not sure, to be honest.) But ultimately, Iowa — the most fun place on the planet to cover politics, where you can see some of the most powerful people in the planet speak to a group of 30 freezing farmers and answer whatever question you have, and then you get to do it again with somebody else an hour later — was the peak of my political reporting career. Bloomberg changed, then the campaign changed, then it got grosser and dirtier and more depressing and ultimately f—king horrifying. I’m obviously not the only person who will remember 2016 mostly for the Presidential election, but being closer to it than I’d ever been before mostly just assured me I never wanted to be that close again. I’m glad I did it. But the thing I was most excited for heading into 2016 is the thing I want to be the farthest from in 2017.
I did enjoy drinking with Charlie Pierce, though.
But these external matters, I suspect as the years go along they’ll be less and less what I carry from each year. My older son William started pre-K this year. Look, here he is on his first day!
And Wynn started talking, and walking, and saying things like, “Look, Daddy, this is my new booty dance.”
The things that happen outside our friends and loved ones, as the years go by, become less the life-changing, earth-shaking events we consider them at the time, and more the signposts that remind us what was going on in the background while our actual lives were happening. When my parents think of 1976, they don’t think of Jimmy Carter being elected, or the bi-centennial, or Montreal Olympics. They only think of having an infant and Dad trying to find a better job so they can raise enough money to build a house, and Mom back working at the GE plant far sooner than she wanted to after giving birth. The external events matter, of course, but years later, they’re context rather than the whole text. In the movie, they’re just what the main characters are watching on television before they get back to the plot of their own lives.
New Years is a good reminder that the real story is what’s going on in our own lives, as scary as everything outside it continues to be. A time to take a deep breath, look around you for a second, see what’s different about one year ago, what’s the same, what you want to change, what you want to never let out of your grasp. New Years Eve is always going to be an important holiday for me, but not because of any revelry or celebration or big night out. It’s a night when it slows down, just for a second, so you can see where you were a year ago, where you are now, and where you might be going. Having everything slow down for a second, I’ve got to say, is more than enough of a party for me anymore. It’s the best party I could ask for.
Which is good. Because most parties don’t end at 10 p.m.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. How to Save the World, Deadspin. Not the headline I would have gone with, but I’d be lying if I said my yearly Jamboroo fill-in isn’t one of my favorite things to write every year. It’s a way to hang around the old stomping grounds without stomping on anyone’s feet, it’s a big audience (many of which are now subscribing to this newsletter for this first time), and it’s a way to try out some ideas I don’t have the time, space or urgency to go for the rest of the year. The yearly Jamboroo is just a big-ass yearly swing for the fences. Some stuff works, some stuff doesn’t, but more than anything, it’s way to both challenge myself with something I ordinarily don’t do, and a way to challenge Deadspin’s audience with something it doesn’t usually read. To be honest, I’m already thinking about next year’s.
2. Grierson and Leitch’s Top 10 Films of the Year, The New Republic. You are greatly encouraged not just to read this, but also listen to the podcast embedded at the bottom. Grierson and I have been doing this for 25 years now.
3. The Ten Dumbest Sports Stories of 2016, Sports On Earth. Definitely the most fun, least rote of all the 2016 wrapup stuff of this week and last.
4. Denzel Washington Movies, Ranked, Vulture. We updated our previous rankings with Fences.
5. Here are 100 Predictions for 2016, Sports On Earth. Predicted as quickly as I can type them!
6. Every MLB Team’s Top Highlight for 2016, Sports On Earth. Certainly a filler column, but my kind of filler column: The kind where I get to just watch baseball highlights for a couple of hours and call it “research.”
7. Ten Athletes Who Emerged in 2016, Sports On Earth. The best part about a new year will be the end of reflection columns. I’m excited to write about actually occurrences next week!
As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. Here they are:
Grierson & Leitch, the big massive Top Ten Movies of 2016 podcast, Dorkfest 2016, now in podcast form. It’s not even six hours like I feared it would be.
The Will Leitch Experience, off this week, back with an NFL playoff preview show next week.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, we previewed that Liberty Bowl that Georgia won yesterday. We haven’t had a chance to recap it yet.
A particularly fun Pro Football Now this week, featuring this screenshot, right after someone reminded me that the Cubs won the World Series this year.
Also, fun moment in this week’s show. We usually don’t do live to tape, but this week the show was being aired on Facebook Live, so we just did it all in a row. Which would have been fine except, because I’ve been battling a two-week cold to a draw, I suddenly went into a massive coughing jag halfway through the show. I think there are pieces of my lungs still littered all about their studio.
Have a great New Year, everyone. Here’s to us all surviving until the next one.