As the blustery bagpipes of time waver upon the doleful melody of destiny, we will soon bid another year farewell with Hogmanic (adj.) spectacle. 2019 is over, as are the 10s. C’est fini. C’est tout. Whether you are lamenting a broken zeitgeist or reflecting gleefully upon the dying decade, we must now beat on.
The 2010s plated up another resplendent and pointless umbrella of brilliance, the 00s part – two for the unabashed pessimists. Whilst I have many a papercut to bemoan (VAR, Cats, people who stand on the left on escalators), betwixtmas reflection should be individual in sort. New Year is an arbitrary time to start pursuing change, we do it because it is neat compartmentalisation of life. If a dog, with an average lifespan of 10-13 years, could understand that the 7 am run they are dragged on, on the first of January, was part of the new you, they would be rightfully horrified. If a poor Labrador can only reinvent himself every cycle of the earth, poor Montague may only be able to attempt the Atkins Diet thirteen times. What are we waiting for? It makes our obsession with base 10 seem morally base too. However, for those who subscribe to this model, it is now time. The roaring 20s have returned.
Looking back, it may feel like everything and nothing has changed, a paradoxically transient and static age – certainly fin de décennie, not fin de siècle. The liberal echo chamber of social media promised revolution, but tomorrow never came. Then again, whilst many social injustices continue, many others have been brought to light; culture, sport, politics, war, it has all been going on (see every newspaper’s decade roundup). We have bettered ourselves too, it was not long ago when I giggled at the pretentious grassy clods that many a Soho eatery would serve upon a slate plate; now, eating greens is the ethical choice to save our planet. We may also want to hang on to the 10s, for many St Andreans it has been the prime of their youth, the 2012 Olympics were great too. But we can’t, we must remember, smile, and move on. Oh, the pitiless impermanence of life.
Like breath on a window it all disappears, condemned to dusty photo albums. You will always be the you of the 10s, especially that haircut, but we are different throughout our lives. Good. Keep moving, causing, shifting, changing, provoking, persuading, seducing, suggesting, travelling, walking, dancing, turning, leaving, and advancing, ad infinitum. You have to keep up. But remember the script you read in the production of 10s.
But what to make of this volta, a clean slate if you are fond of unoriginal, tedious idioms. You decide. This is not a diktat. This is not intended as a how-to; though a good step one might be reading Eddo-Lodge and Tadeo. But I do think it is important to remember this thought, a guiding glow so will-o’-the-wisp that it may be extinguished by the lightest wind of cynicism: craft yourself on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
What do I mean? We are all peppered with flaws. For example, I am English, terrible at languages, so neurotic that Freud could have written volumes about me, jealous, and a tad delusional. But is that who I am, no. It’s not on my CV, it is nowhere but myself and the before sentence. Whilst these are part of us, we need not wear them as badges which demand the sheltering of our sensibilities. I define myself through strengths and successes.
This is something St Andrews does brilliantly, we massage our CVs, embark on great endeavours, and make a fitting name for the rocky outcrop we call home. Whilst some universities consider clapping heretical, and take down paintings to avoid upsetting people, we see the world. We understand that we are not infallible, lots of us have read that same Oxbridge or Ivy League rejection letter. We phlegmatically drink orange juice on the children’s table whilst having a dazzling, rocking time. We respond to criticism when it’s right. Timid flattery is nothing compared to a gory but effective mauling. This has become a lost art. When done properly it might elicit a headbutting (see Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer). You cannot protect yourself from vulnerability without protecting yourself from ideas and success. Do I agree with Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism? No. It’s reductive and harmful, but should we forget what Germaine Greer did for the field before then? Goodness no. Fault and grey is everywhere, we must deal with it. One goal in mind, Art with a capital A.
We should be comfortable with our vulnerabilities but pride ourselves on our strengths. We all seek a myriad of fulfilments. For some, it is to have children and a happy family, which is silly because Pulitzer’s are far more meaningful. The right metric for success is individual. Ultimately, it is much easier to be immortalised on Wikipedia for a killing spree than being at the top of your field. Passion is charming. If you suffer, make something great from it (see Tchaikovsky). Rejection letters are great to polish your shoes on in anticipation for the next opportunity. Yes, you didn’t get that internship, but nobody ever does, you only need another to come along. Van Gogh never got any recognition until he died; though maybe that is, on second thought, poor consolation. Standing out doesn’t matter, and often happens by accident. Don’t be feckless, because in the equation of success, St Andrews puts you in a storming place. In this chaos, your strengths are what shapes the material mould.
Your fears doth protest too much. Write that on the money.
Happy New Year.