2016 was a hard year for a lot of people, myself included, but despite the general wailing and gnashing of teeth out there in the interverse, I can’t help but feel that 2016 was, on the whole, no better or worse than 2015.
To be fair, 2015 was a pretty bad year for me. About as bad as they come. Emotionally, I am in a much better place now than I was one year ago, and for that I am very grateful.
2016 also saw some important personal successes. After recovering my rights from Hadley Rille Books, I was able to roll out the first two novels of The Silver Web trilogy on my own. This was no small task, and while credit goes to Thomas Vandenberg for his stunning cover art, everything else was on my back.
Both novels have received stellar reviews, including praise from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Apex Reviews. I’m very excited about releasing the third and final Silver Web novel this spring. Whenever the larger events of 2016 start to drag me down, I try to remember this and other small but meaningful achievements.
Although all of us can point to some good things that happened, a lot of my friends are anxious to boot 2016 out the door, having set their hopes for a brighter future on 2017.
I don’t count myself among their number. I don’t see any evidence that the new year will be better than the old one. On the contrary, I’m bracing myself, because I know so much of what I believe in and have worked for all my life is going to be under assault. I know I will have to retool – perhaps on a daily or monthly basis – as I decide the best course of action going forward.
Last night, I had an odd dream: I was discussing how to teach statistical analyses with a fellow professor. As part of that conversation, I mentioned that one of the most difficult challenges for me, when teaching the scientific method, is to help my students respect their data even when the experiment doesn’t turn out the way it’s “supposed to.”
More often than not, if the outcome of an experiment does not agree with my students’ predictions, they automatically assume they did something wrong. Granted, once in a while the experimental design isn’t appropriate, or the sample size is too small, or something else gets messed up, and all of this can affect the data.
But the first rule of any good scientist is to look data in the eye and accept its truth, even if that truth contradicts our expectations.
When I woke up, I laughed at myself for having had such a geek dream. I mean seriously, debating statistical tests in my sleep? But on deeper reflection, I realized there was an important message here:
Just because things don’t turn out the way you expected doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
Sometimes all the variables aren’t under our control. Sometimes our initial prediction is based on a misguided understanding of how nature (and therefore, the world) works.
When this happens, rather than assume we screwed up, we have to look the data in the eye and listen to what it’s trying to tell us. This is not an easy thing to do, not in science and less so, sometimes, in life.
During this final week of 2016, with the passing of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Vera Rubin, and George Michael, I’ve realized that through all the lives it took, 2016 taught me something very important:
I have lived in a time of giants.
I was born on the cusp of an age of transformation; and I grew up as part of a generation that has pushed for positive change over decades.
The heroes we worshiped as children and adults – pop stars, actors and actresses, news anchors, astronauts, scientists, and so many others – represented the best aspects of that transformation. Their loss is deeply felt, because without their example and leadership, we feel set adrift. More so with the turning of the political tide, which threatens to roll back so many of the hard won achievements of recent years.
So for 2017, this is my prayer:
Let us look truth in the eye without flinching, but also, without berating ourselves for faults we did not commit.
Let us allow that truth to reshape the nature of our understanding so that we can act accordingly.
Let us celebrate the good even as we struggle to overcome the bad.
Most of all, let us remember we have lived in a time of giants; and let us honor their legacy with the choices we make and the lives we lead.
Peace to you all. I look forward to seeing you on the other side of midnight.