2017 has been a terrible year, that is to say a year full of terrifying events and greater dangers still. This has been a year of endless demoralizing Trump Republican atrocities of course. The racists and queer bashing bigots I escaped from Indiana and then from Georgia in my move to build a life in California are now demolishing professional and ethical and policy norms left and right across the country, abolishing regulations and social programs, destroying evidence and evidence-based policy-making, implementing obscene bigotry in immigration, healthcare, foreign aid, policing, escalating all the ongoing conflicts in our ongoing wartime occupations and undeclared conflicts while exacerbating new conflicts elsewhere, undermining every even notionally progressive advance from the Obama turning of the post-Reagan tide (and yeah, Snidely Whiplash, it was hardly utopia before, we all noticed that already). While the Resistance has been more effective than I feared it would, the Trump administration and straight white America has been exactly as bad as I feared it would. Also, this year Eric and I lost our cherished adorababy kitty Sarah.
Now, you may recall from last year's report that I spent much of that year in recovery from a life-threatening medical condition that continues to make its demands on me. As part of that recovery, I made a huge number of changes in my life, discontinued alcohol and most pain killers and sleep aids (which exacerbate my platelet condition), took up yoga and long walks with Eric, changed my diet, and so on. The brutal insomnia I have battled most of my life got much worse last year -- world and work anxieties and the loss of sleep-aids were a devastating one-two punch, for which medical cannabis is providing something a saving grace (while introducing a host of new issues with which I still grapple, from uneven effectiveness to muzzy-headed hangovers to worries about dependency). The results of all my efforts have been fairly amazing, and they have made this truly terrible year (for all the obvious reasons) not only terrible for me after all. On January 1st, 2017, I weighed 272 pounds, and on January 1st, 2018, I weighed 182 pounds. Yes, I lost nearly a hundred pounds this year -- a hundred pounds, a foot off of my waist, t-shirts from XL to M, and an ass on city buses transformed from clumsy wide-load to unobtrusive slim-fit. Whatever else I can say about this superannuated frame, I am a much less achy, slow-moving, hard-breathing mass now than I was last year, and in every way feel better, and occupy space more comfortably and less awkwardly than for years before.
All this has made such a difference for me. And while I have not been writing in public in my blog very much, this is not to say that I have relinquished my writing practice altogether -- on the contrary, I have rekindled important friendships through epistolary correspondence this year, confessing the distress and effort of these last months and working my way to a better place through it all. Again, this has been a year of pain and fear and loss -- and yet, the connections I have strengthened and the practices I have undertaken to cope have yielded up a crop of insights, and care, and sunlit days in loving company.
I have found teaching especially difficult in the midst of this distress. My students rightly fear for their futures and I wonder about the true value of what I strive so diligently to teach them: The insights of critical theory provided the material out of which I reinvented myself into a liveably queer version of myself and resist a world I would rewrite in the image of the queer equities ecologies and democracies I value, but does the language of critical theory really help everybody as it does and did me? Does it not alienate others, fetishize particular models of clarity and practice at the cost of other valuable ways of thinking and communicating? While critical theory can provide language for testimony to distress and to facilitate coalition building in the face of difference, it may also rationalize complacency, justify elitism, undermine pragmatism, create divisions. Are my art students doing theory when they are doing art, not just when they are talking about art? If so, shouldn't that change how I teach theory -- and not just to my art students?
In a post yesterday, I mentioned my personal resolution for the new year, "Where I am now fearful, I will strive instead to be more grateful or more helpful until the fear is gone." This is above all else a resolution about my teaching practice -- a resolution about making my teaching better for my students but also about making my life better through my teaching with my students. As a person struggling with depression and anxiety I have discovered that beyond the indispensability of self-care in the face of the demands of the world that other-regard facilitates self-care most of all, in turning from the text of my personal distress to the texts I explicate for my students, in turning from my fears that I will be unclear or forgetful or uninspiring to the actual needs and performance of my students I find I turn from the self-regard that threatens to inter me in my anxiety and despondency to no good purpose at all. Of course, as I mentioned earlier on in the year, after years of organizing, bargaining, negotiating, SFAI ratified a contract with my union, and I just secured a promotion, raise, and some welcome benefits as a result. For the first time in many years I feel a measure of recognition and support for the work I am doing in my institution, and it is in this context that I mean to devote myself ever more to my teaching practice as a practice of ongoing self-creation as well as the place I help others make progressive and expressive change in the world. Trump and Republicans and bigotry and greedheadedness will continue to make their blind bloody way this year, and I will continue to rant and rail and resist onward to what I hope is a restorative mid-term without still more new wars and greenhouse storms to derange history further utterly beyond hope of healing.