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On The Guestlist: Goodbye — And Good Riddance — To 2016

Chris Witzke

Subscribe to The Guestlist podcast.
I released the last edition of The Guestlist for 2016 on Monday. The purpose was to say goodbye to the year. That said, I didn’t really know what would come out of my mouth when I hit record. Here’s a lightly edited version of what followed.

It feels like so long ago at this point, but we lost David Bowie at the beginning of 2016. In the days following his death, I created a sound collage tribute to mourn his passing and celebrate his life. Then in April, I turned around and did one for Prince  —  and again in June for Muhammad Ali. At a certain point though, I just couldn’t do any more of them. It seemed like we were losing people too quickly to keep up. That’s continued up until Christmas Day, when we lost George Michael.

The year has been hard. For a lot of people. Myself included. Losing a bunch of amazing musicians and cultural icons is a part of it, but really only a small part for a lot of us. It’s been tough, and I wanted to take a second to say goodbye to 2016.

The problem is…I don’t know if 2017 will be any better. I can hope so. I can dream that maybe it will. I can live as if it will. But we don’t know, and all signs are kind of pointing to the fact that maybe it won’t be.

I don’t know if the arc of history bends toward justice. I hope it does. I don’t know if love wins out over hate and fear. I hope it does. When I think about 2016 and what 2017 might have in store for us, I can’t help but think of this story I read in Smithsonian Magazine about a Russian family who lived in the wilderness for 40 years with absolutely nothing.

The family as a unit survived and, maybe in some ways, thrived. At one point they wearing tree bark as shoes and guarding a single sprout day and night. The tiny budding plant was the literal difference between life and death. The family could handle such an insane existence, because they were so motivated to live and love.

Their story is what makes me think that  —  even though 2016 was bad, and 2017 might be worse  —  individuals, communities, families, and chosen families can survive and even thrive in the face of humanity’s worst tendencies.

It’s hard to maintain hope. It’s been hard for me to do it. I think it’s important to remember that hope exists to spite evil, not despite evil. It’s a giant middle finger to fear and hate. That’s one reason why these people we lost, who I did the tributes for, mean so much to me and so many others. This is the message they put forth, in one form or another.

When you have all these things in the world bearing down on you, the entire weight of history…that’s the thing. As a middle class white cisgender hetero guy, the world’s been relatively good to me. There are others, though, who are saying, “2016 is just a regular year for me.” The hatred, the vitriol, the marginalization  —  it’s par for the course.

That’s what’s important about someone like Muhammad Ali or Prince. They were guys who knew exactly how that weight felt, exactly what it meant. They said, “You know what? F--- it! F--- you! F--- everybody! I’m gonna do what I wanna do. I’m gonna be me. I’m gonna fight for justice whether or not the arc of history bends that way, because it’s what I’ve gotta do to survive.”

If there’s a message we can take from 2016, it’s that. As Beyoncé would say: Middle fingers up. Put them hands high.

Thanks to everyone who’s inspired me over the last year, the last decade, the last 32 years, to be a better person every day. Hopefully for the remainder of the days we have together, I can help do that for you, and you can do that for others.

I’ll be back with a new episode of The Guestlist in a couple of weeks. It feels a little trivial at this point, but we’ll get back into the swing of things in 2017 and put our middle fingers up high.