What Does It Mean to End a Year?

For the past few years, especially when saddled beneath Covid’s heaviest weight, I would hear people say things like, “2020 can just f**k itself. I am SO ready to move on to next year.” I feel safe in assuming that at least four of my five readers have expressed similar thoughts. This is how I feel about 2022.

Yesterday, my mother’s flight was cancelled (she and my stepfather come and visit every year at Christmas) and we are all just crushed. Missing one’s mother is a specific, marrow-reaching ache and, even as a “grown man,” I feel it accutely. My children miss their grandmother. All of those things.

Just before this (hopefully) final insult of 2022, I was in a serious car accident a few weeks ago, driving my beloved set of wheels that displayed 199,000 miles on its blessed heart of an odometer. 199,000! I was almost there! I would have pushed the car all way to Wausau by myself if it would have gotten me to 200,000. I had been dreaming of 500,000. Why? I don’t know. But I brought our second daughter home from the hospital in that car and now she’s almost 16. In the moment of the accident I was caught between shock and anger: after the windshield exploded in my face, I seriously considered jumping out of the car, running over to the deer I hit, grabbing it by the neck and yelling, “Who sent you! Who sent you! Was it 2022!?” Then it bit into its cyanide tooth and left me alone in the night.

Beyond that, I am moving out of my current position at work after 6 years because, like my car, I hit a barrier that flesh and blood cannot power through. I am the leader of our university’s largest college and have seen us through a massive and unexpected merger, a massive and unexpected global pandemic, remissioning, siesmic changes to graduation requirements and program array, three chancellors and three provosts, and a ton of other meteors that amounted to constant crisis management while still trying to be a compassionate and real person who was/is working to achieve and create things that make people’s lives better–we succeeded (emphasis on “we”). We grew as both a college and an institution, and our budget is tighter than the plot of the first Star Wars film. But when you run out of creative calories to burn, it is time to move aside. That is what I am doing.

And then, also in December, a close friend of mine died. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, so I am chastizing myself over letting the adjective “close” transform into “far.” We became friends by bonding around music (especially House-style music), and he taught me to be a maker of things where, like the heart, beats per minute matter. Like most of the other things mentioned above, I cried and then began making things in order to remember my friend.

But the real point here, as I look toward 2023, is a real question I have for anyone who reads this: does the end of one year and the beginning of another mean something to you? Whether it is personal or professional: is there a tangible sense of change in your life, work, or business? And I also wonder if this sense of change can be shared, shared among the people in a class, a school, an office, or institution. Or is such a shift merely a highly satisfying myth that loses its high quickly, but was valuable even in its brevity?

So if you read this and want to comment, no need for any condolences or reference to what I wrote above. Tell me in the comments: what does the transition from one year into another mean to you, mentally and/tangibly? Why? Is there an anecdote you can share?

To close out this post, I will continue to play with AI and algorithms: below are the first four images rendered when I pasted the full text of this post into Midjourney:

What? When is this year over? And what kind of dog is that?

In the spirit of 2022, Midjourney gave me the worst results ever, well, at least since I asked it to produce a “self-portrait of Chuck Rybak”…

I will show you fear in a handful of dust: A self-portrait of “Chuck Rybak”

All I can say to Midjourney today is “go to hell, stupid algorithm, if there even is a hell for algorithms!” Well is there? Let me ask our new friend, Chat GPT:

There is no physical place called “hell” for algorithms or other forms of artificial intelligence. Hell is a concept that is typically associated with certain religions and belief systems, and it is typically described as a place of suffering or punishment in the afterlife. These concepts do not apply to algorithms or other forms of artificial intelligence, as they do not have consciousness or the ability to experience suffering or pleasure in the same way that humans do. Algorithms are simply sets of instructions that are designed to perform specific tasks, and they do not have the capacity for spiritual or metaphysical experiences.

ChatGPT, wishful thinker

While we are visiting ChatGPT, which is getting more press than most humans these days, I asked the great and powerful chat, “Can the start of a new year improve someone’s life? You know, like a fresh start?” Of course, the response was better than anything I’ve written here:

It is possible that the start of a new year can serve as a symbolic fresh start for some people and provide them with motivation to make positive changes in their lives. The psychological concept of “fresh start effect” suggests that the perception of a new beginning, such as the start of a new year, can influence people’s motivation and behavior. For example, a person might be more motivated to set goals and make positive changes when they view the start of a new year as a fresh start. However, it is important to note that the start of a new year is just a symbolic milestone and does not inherently have the power to improve someone’s life. The actual changes and improvements that a person experiences in their life will depend on their actions and efforts.

ChatGPT, Sage

The “fresh start effect”? I get that when I open a new can of Pringles.

Well, there you have it. I would love to hear from anyone out there about what it means for you to move from one year to the next. Can you or a group of people truly leave anything behind? Reorient to change and discovery? Or is it something else entirely?

And for the record, my personal algorithm “The Chuckarhythm 2023” returns my self-portait in a much more accurate fashion:

Algorithmic self portrait of “Chuck Rybak”
Midjourney’s response to “Imagine 2023.” That’s more like it.

3 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to End a Year?

  1. Forgot to mention my manual transmission 2006 Toyota Corolla. I gave it to my partner’s niece three years ago with the odometer at approximately 350,000. I write “approximately” because the odometer stopped at 299,999. While I sometimes joke that I have never had a more trusting relationship with another entity, living or nonliving, there is a lot of truth in that sentiment. I miss that car.

  2. Your post and questions were costly for me, Chuck: I just bought annual subscriptions to Chat GPT and Airt. I’d read about them enough, anyway. It was time to dive in.

    Most years December 31 is a fun time for gathering with friends over cocktails, sharing our five favorite pictures from the year and telling the stories behind those photos. (One of us puts all the photos into a PowerPoint.) In COVID years, however, there has been a much stronger emotional connection to these digitally captured moments: more joy in a hike or camping trip, relief we did not lose anyone else close to us from COVID, melancholy over the state of our democracy, a worry that we are not doing enough to plan for the futures we want, a growing desire to live off-grid, gladness to be semi-retired now with lighter responsibilities.

    When December 31 in 2020 and 2021 arrived, I for sure said “F*** you” to those two years. I think we all did. Every single one of those 730 days were like crossing a frozen lake in mid-March: you just kept your head down, pulled forward, and hoped you’d make it across without falling through the thinning ice.

    So, yes: of late the end of one year and beginning of another has taken on greater significance. The typical new year’s resolutions are now more anchored in things we should have been focused on all along: slow down, live smaller, have more fun, find more opportunities for joy, create more meaningful connections with others.

  3. I don’t think a new year qualifies as a new beginning. There isn’t enough of a shift from one year to the next for it to be anything new, much the same as on a birthday you don’t jump to being a year older.

    Maybe I’m just being pessimistic after being told I was let go from my job and then a week later being asked to continue working after the new leader of the marketing team realized how important I actually was. It’ll take more than a new year to regain that trust and reset my work motivation.

    I need more out of a new beginning than just a symbol. Whether it’s as drastic starting a new dnd campaign where you’re a whole new person in a whole new world or starting a whole new job where no one even knows you. A new year is just a continuation of what led up to it.

    That being said, I hope things get better for you and all of us in 2023. And I’ll use you as inspiration to reach out to a close friend or two that are becoming far friends.

    Also, I’m at around 218,000 miles on the car that was first my fathers, and I’m hoping to make it to 300k. I hope your next car takes you past the 200 mark.

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