Home > Blogging/Tech/New Media, Musings, Personal > Fare thee well to the Nameless Decade

Fare thee well to the Nameless Decade

Homer: “C’mon, where’s your freak bus
Seth: “I drive a Saturn”
Homer: “A Saturn?”
Munchie: “We used to have a bus. In a way, the sixties ended the day we sold it–December 31, 1969.”
–The Simpsons, AABF02, “Doh-in’ in the Wind”

I know, I know, the decade isn’t officially over. We all heard it at the “not quite” end of the last decade, century and millenium. There was no year zero, A.D. versus B.C., blah blah blah. But let’s face it–a year of 365 days (366 every four years, unless it can be divided by one hundred, unless it…..uh….whatever) beginning on Janurary 1st and ending on December 31st is a Western Convention, one subscribed to by many people. Psychologically that one change in the third digit means a great deal to a good number of people. And so we have a year end flurry of best of/worst of/most important, and every ten years that turns into an orgy as the world’s scribes attempt to give the past ten years some sort of definition that society at-large can agree on.

For a little bit there in early December it seemed as if the media was going to let this one slide. Then Time had to wade into the mess and dub the Oughties, Zeros, double os, whatever “The Decade from Hell.” Perhaps this was a foregone conclusion from the minute the clock struck midnight on Janurary 1st, 2000 and nothing happened, minus an accidental nuclear alert in Japan and a few slot machines going down in Delaware. Total buzzkill after all the lead up to the end of the world. And so wordsmiths were left struggling to dub the decade long hangover. So far, our best lingusitic minds have yet to agree on a standard.

Personally, I’m alright with it going nameless. In many ways it parallels the “lost generation” that came of age following World War One, except we’re still embroiled in conflict. Whatever the case, it was one hell of a tobaggen ride, regardless of your affiliations. Disputed election in the most prominent democracy on Earth, a major terrorist attack on that same nation, an era of ever more shrill political commentators on both sides of the aisle, two conflicts pitting America against the Islamic world, two recessions, massive new technological developments that turned Facebook from a name for a rather obscure type of college publication to a verb, a string of new web ventures that seemingly sound as if they were named by three year olds…..yep, it had it all.

The decade from hell? Not quite. As Adam Sharp points out, there was “some good stuff in the middle.” And I think he’s right–although again, within the realm of politics, “middle” means 2002-2004 for Republicans and 2005-2008 for Democrats. On face value, though, this was a decade of massive yet relatively subtle change. It wasn’t quite the sixties–the sixties was a time when new ideas, the resurrection of old ideologies, and a generational shift gave way to very noticeable and often tragic events.There were no assasinations this decade, not in America at least.

Yet in a very big way, walls came down like never before, most noticeably in the way we communicate with our fellow man. Though the nineties gave us hypertext markup protocol (or the “web” for those of you who can’t remember when the internet was subdivided into very defined protocols, such as telenet, usenet, and IRC), it was in this decade that the web became not only a platform for, well, everything but also a ubiquitous force in our lives. How am I supposed to tell my students that, when I was their age, the only way to log on to the internet was a computer? That no school would have made any mention of banning phones with texting capabilities, because they just didn’t exist? And that this was all only a little more than a decade ago??

For me personally, it was also a decade of ups and downs. I got two diplomas (one from Central High, one from UVA), almost started on a third, getting ready to start for real on a third, thought I had found a career path twice, had some relationships slip, made some amazing new friends, tested some of these to nearly the breaking point, won some awards, and had more than a few “dark nights of the soul.” Strangely, in the course of ten years I managed to end up back exactly where I started–in the field of high school speech and debate. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier. It’s a paradox–we all expect high school debaters to go on and be the next generation of lawyers and politicians. Indeed, I tried that, and I’ll admit–the skills I learned in debate have certainly aided my political efforts quite substantially. I like to think that, in my own little way, I added to the flow of history. Do I cherish every moment? No. Yet, perhaps naively, I like to think that I made some kind of difference for the principles I hold dear.

However, through the loss of both of my grandfathers, a battle with cancer, job loss, emotional and mental struggles, and a nearly fruitless decade long search to get my first kiss (made it by eleven months), a funny thing happened. I lost myself. I didn’t lose my principles, but I got lost in them. I began to think everything was about winning or losing, a zero sum game. I became consumed with politics to a point where I forgot why I was doing it. I had no real outside interests. I first realized this when I found myself dry heaving in the parking lot after Obama was declared the victor in 2008. Not because of my disdain for his politics, but because I had completely given myself up, and we still lost, and had still not made the changes I wanted with the county committee. Still, it took me another year and another spiral to finally do something about it.

So here I sit, I feel, a changed man. I can’t say that I’m completely rid of the political bug. Something, someone will pull me back in a little deeper. For now, though, I am content to help a new generation discover their true potential, to tap deep within themselves in the search for justice and goodness. Because that’s all I’m really after–an honest, truth seeking society that values knowledge. The best way to do that? Find a new platform in which to be an agent of change. I believe I have found it–in the field of education.

So another year passes, and heck if I know what it has in store for me. I know what’s on the immediate horizon, and I know what I want. There is no force outside of me, however, that will make sure that what I envision comes to fruition. It’s up to me. That is, all at once, a truly sobering, frightening, and liberating thought.

That brings me back to my original point. It really doesn’t matter what we call it. The years are all in the eyes and mind of the individual. We are simply in the stream of human existence–an unending, unbroken way. Yes, we are pushed by it, but we are not controlled by it. It is up to us to determine which way we will go.

And so, happy new year, even though I don’t put much stock in such things. May you find yourself some day, if even not tomorrow.

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  1. Ali
    January 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    You’re absolutely right- we close our eyes and wake up every day and 12/31/09 to 1/1/10 was no different except in our personal understanding of it. I think that national retrospectives of the events of a decade are not particularly helpful, and probably harmful to truth in the long-view of history (but what isn’t harmful to truth). Severe incidents (9/11, Tech shootings) have no more relation to one another than they do in any random 10 year period.

    But I think on the individual level, it is the severe but absolutely common events which mean something aggregated by decade. Graduation. First car. Marriage. Kids. Disease. They are unimportant to the world but dramatically important to the people involved.

    I, along with many of my cohort have transitioned from teenager to full fleged married house owning adults in the past 10 years. Folks like you have undergone personal suffering that was once a distant impossibility, and now becoming a distant memory.

    It wasn’t until I read this post that I blinked twice and realized that 10 years ago I hadn’t even graduate from high school (I didn’t even own a car) when the last decade closed out. And you’re right to say it’s not important, and that the stream of time doesn’t push us forward, and it certainly doesn’t define us.

    But I think it’s nice to sit back, and look at all that’s happened, and ponder what I’ll be reflecting on January 4, 2020 (with all the hindsight wisdom the pun implies I’m sure).

    I hope you’re still blogging then. Or maybe you’ll be transmitting your thoughts directly to my cell phone (by which I mean the chip implanted in my brain).

    Happy New Year, Ol’ Top.

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