Past year-end columns tended to deal with things I’ve learned or cataloguing what I did. This year I thought it would be fun to talk about the ordinary and mundane discoveries I made in the past twelve months that have led me to enjoy myself and just plain keep my sanity…
First of all I discovered that all anyone in any workplace wants is the opportunity to contribute, if even in a small way. The workplaces where the people in charge take that feeling, that hope, away are not worth being a part of—those workplaces crush your soul. That was a painful discovery. One I’m still working through, in many respects.
I discovered that the second most soul-crushing thing to encounter is a job search. I applied for around 200 jobs over a ten month period—t hat’s not including applications to government postings through employment agencies. I was called for 16 or so interviews out of those. My great discovery, though, in the midst of all this is that you need to have the discipline to keep applying, keep going, because that’s how you wind up eventually connecting with something. I have my wife to thank for that, by the way—which led to my real discovery of being unemployed: I’m so lucky to be married to someone so wonderful and so patient.
To my delight, I discovered I love going to movies. That discovery that came out of my new year’s resolution from last year, which was to see a new movie every Friday night. It was designed as a tactic to survive a winter in Ottawa but it stuck even after winter ended (and I spent increasingly more time outside of Ottawa). I didn’t quite make every Friday, but I managed to see at least 52 new movies this year, probably more (which is partially due to the best discovery of the first half of this year: Ottawa’s art house cinema scene totally rocks). I had sort of given up on seeing movies first run—it was something I loved doing in my twenties but I got out of the habit. I’m really glad I got into the habit this year—and what a great year with films like Cairo Time, Moon, Up In The Air and One Week. Even mass-market stuff like Avatar. Star Trek, The Blind Side and Julie and Julia were really enjoyable.
Going to the movies led to one of the more surprising discoveries of the year. First of all, it is possible to have a decent adaptation from an Alan Moore graphic novel. From Hell, The League of Gentlemen and V for Vendetta led me to be convinced that this wasn’t possible, but I loved Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen. Given that I went in expecting the best I was going to get was an adaptation that was passable, this is an epic win. Was it the Watchmen movie I would have made? No—I would have elected for a slightly older cast, but then again I thought Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Billy Crudup were excellent. I probably would have played up more of the street-level horror of the climax of the graphic novel, but I was impressed with the sheer cleverness that took the biggest obstacle of adapting the graphic novel and made it work. I don’t think it’s perfect—Zack Snyder is not exactly conversant with the idea of restraint, and did we really need Leonard Cohen’s “Hallellujah” during the love scene?—but I thought it was a great film. I now understand what my friends were feeling when the Lord of the Rings movies were made—it’s a movie about an Ur text of my geekdom that’s about as faithfully done as it can be and it’s exciting to see it on screen.
I don’t think the Watchmen film contributed to my other great discovery this year but it probably helped: I found that I actually wanted to collect comic books again. I had switched over to buying trade paperback collections years ago, but this summer I started buying single issues. DC Comics’ weekly summer anthology series Wednesday Comics, which featured full-page strips featuring a variety of DC characters, is to blame, but I then re-discovered the joy of getting, taking home and reading monthly installments of most of the Batman books . I’m still only buying 3-4 books a month, but I’m enjoying the thrill of collecting contemporary comics again and I might start collecting a couple of more titles.
Comics weren’t the only thing I discovered I loved getting every month. This year, I became a huge fan of Wired magazine. I don’t know why—it’s the combination of no-boundaries graphic design and stunning editorial breadth as well as articles written with brilliant hooks. It’s brain candy of the highest order.
Not all my discoveries were quite so positive. I watched with horror this year as my favourite British soap, The Bill, had the last vestiges of its soapyness taken away and was relaunched as just another dumb post-watershed crime procedural complete with non-descript background score, lousy titles and sanding down of anything that might be considered edgy and different. I haven’t watched an episode since August.
Meanwhile, I discovered my loyalty to Mad Men continues to increase by leaps and bounds. It’s easily the best TV program on the air today. The final three episodes comprised three of the most intense weeks of television I’ve experienced in ages. The last two episodes I told my friend Hindy how I would write them beforehand and was graphically shown how idiotic my ideas were. There isn’t a show on television with as great a combination of scripting and cast. (Speaking of which, Mad Men, and the also superb Damages led to another neat discovery—my dream cast for a Superman movie: Jon Hamm as Superman/Clark Kent, Rose Byrne as Lois Lane, Emile Hirsch as Jimmy Olsen, Hugh Laurie as Lex Luthor and Ving Rhames as Perry White. Warner Brothers, are you listening!?).
The other great discovery in TV this year was that there is no show on network television more gripping and insanely addictive than Medium. The final season on NBC kept pulling out the stops with episodes making you scream with frustration and delight at the twists they pulled. The latest season, on CBS isn’t quite as intensely fascinating but it’s still exceedingly well acted and always superior entertainment. And is there not a better family on television than the DuBois clan? The answer, my friends, is no. On the Canadian side of TV, watching the second season of Being Erica’s turned out to be not just a discovery, but a revelation: I’ve never seen a TV series so sure of its central concept that it proceeded to push the limits of it every week.
I discovered while I was unemployed I could watch the Vancouver version of City-TV’s of Breakfast Television in Vancouver thanks to Rogers cable. Last summer I became obsessed with it. And I’m sure that co-host Dawn Chubai had nothing to do with that. Oh no.
I discovered a great job is worth travelling far away to have.
I discovered that there is no better survival tactic than floating in a pool on a pool noodle while drinking wine with friends.
I discovered Ottawa is an awesome place to have a bicycle in the summer.
I discovered the best way to turn 40 is to dress up like James Bond and hold a great party.
I discovered that co-editing a book can be a fun experience.
And I discovered that I can go home again, or at least home page, and start a new website.
I think the best discovery of all was realizing how great my friends and my wife are. But that wasn’t really a discovery—I knew that already.
The great thing about life is that there’s always new things to find out, new things to learn, new people to meet, new lives to interact with. 2009 gave me a lot of that. I only hope 2010 gives me more.