2014: A Howdy-Do Year in Review

Last January, I didn’t get my 2013 lookback, The Great Eighteen, up until the 20th, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to call this prompt. Efficient. Timely — at least for me! Reflection on accomplishments never comes at a bad time. (Does it? Of course, you ninny! Okay, but — Which doesn’t mean it’s always foolish to look backwards, either. Alright then, so maybe — Just get to it!)

I posted to 93 times last year, which is as productive as I’ve ever been, and that with December nearly ringing up a doughnut. (That’s jock-talk for nada. Zero. Hole in the JZone layer. Nuttin’, honey. I missed that bizarro perfection by one lonely post, so the rest of the year must’ve been excellent.) Starting with my self-conscious blurts in the middle of 2005, now has an archive of 637 posts. That seems like quite a few.

So, I consulted a panel of experts. What were the most meaningful, artistically satisfying and world-changing posts of 2014 on No. I didn’t. I trawled through 2014 and asked myself, “Okay, self, what do you still like and think others might, too?” Oh, I did take my readers into account, based on what got read most, or what found life elsewhere on the ‘Net, but mainly this is me Me ME. So here is a quick skate through some of the things I wrote here last year. It gives a reasonable portrait of what gave my head a shake in 2014. It’s a quick read, and you can click on anything that appeals. Here, then, are the

Fabulous Fifteen!

1. Sequel: The (Not Quite) Christmas (Late) Show* Must Go On (Jan. 2)                 (with Chinese Characteristics)

For the last three years in China, my wife and I taught in the School of International Business, a small college within our university in Dalian. Every December, there was a spangly student SHOW. Here, I reviewed this incredible, excessive, odd, passionate, obligatory celebration of something-or-other. Warning: this is only the second half of the extravaganza, and you may not be able to resist dipping back into December 2013 for the full jaw-dropping effect. It was amazing. (And only occasionally depressing.)

2. Lost in Cambodia  (February 5)

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Better Read Than Never: Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN

Chaney and Meredith, Lennie and George (1939).

Quaid and Blake (1981).








I quoted John Steinbeck recently (in “He Said/She Said”, below right) because I empathize with the fear and inadequacy he felt as a writer. It’s always good to know that heroes are what they are not because they have “no fear” – that great modern lie of the superhero movies and shoe-hawking T-shirts – but precisely because they do fear and it doesn’t stop them. His writerly doubts came as he was struggling with an experimental novel, the classic Of Mice and Men, and I read about them in its introduction. Then I dived, certainly not for the first or second time and (swear to God, hope not to die) likely not for the last, into Steinbeck’s timeless evocation of rural California, sometime early in the 20th century.

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John Steinbeck (On Fear, Self-Doubt and Creativity)

[In writing Of Mice and Men] “the biggest problem is a resolution of the will. The rewards of work are so sickening to me that I do more with the greatest reluctance….It is strange how this goes on. The struggle to get started. Terrible. It always happens….I am afraid. Among other things I feel that I have put some things over. That the little success of mine is cheating. I don’t seem to feel that any of it is any good. All cheating.”

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) had, by this time (1936) broken through as a writer, and the monumental The Grapes of Wrath was also in progress. As I take another tour through Of Mice and Men, it is oddly heartening to hear a Nobel Prize-winner lament his lack of will, and his conviction that his stuff jus’ ain’t what it oughta be. And yet, though he mutters in his journal that he finds it “sickening”, on he plods. This quote comes from the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition by the Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.