Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He is also in charge of gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways and passages. It is a big job for which he gets much recognition, especially at this time of year.
He got a whole month named after him. January is far more important than National Bacon Day (many would differ with my assessment) or National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, both of which are being wildly celebrated as I write this story.
Janus is depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.
Years can be remembered for different reasons – births, deaths, marriages, job changes or external events like elections, international episodes or even wars. Years can be forgotten if nothing especially good or bad happened, hence most years are.
Late December brings the sound of rawhide to the air as newspaper and magazine editors bullwhip their writers into churning out look back and prediction stories.
Today, I will take the bait and do one of each, but the look back is personal, and the prediction might be too broad to be measured for accuracy.
The trick to these stories is coming up with something nobody else is saying, lest your words descend into the muck of blah, blah, blah.
Looking backward, 2019 was a year of transition from writing only about politics, which had become “unfulfilling” to writing “less politics and more everything else,” which is off to a promising start. Much thanks for the nudge in the new direction to Mina Mitby, whose nudge began several years earlier.
“Unfulfilling” is a euphemism for “crashing bore.” My father reserved the word “crashing” only for the very worst sort of bore. The phrase persists because it deserves to. Bores live on and the all-stars in the category are still the crashing ones.
Politics and politicians (don’t forget their handlers) dominate the crashing bore category, while at the same time doing much harm. Achieving excellence in both boring and harming is rarely achieved.
I began 2019 as LibertyPell (mostly not cracked) and ended as The Pundificator. There was much good in the old website’s name but the political connotation, especially thanks to the right-wing association with the otherwise perfectly good word “liberty” added too many rocks to my backpack.
It had an eight-year run and taught me a lot about politics and websitery. Thank you to the always wise and amusing Charlie Scribner for coming up with it.
The Pundificator was a self-deprecating mash up of pundit and pontificate that arose along the way. Rebranding seemed to widen the field of topics to think and write about. The goal, however, remains the same to be “mostly not cracked” though it might be best not to get too ambitious on that front.
The rebranding and web redesign took the better part of 2019. Without the guidance of Catherine Richards of 1338 Creative, Pamela Southerling, who fills many roles and has since 2006, Brian Richards (on-line-ista, mail champ maven and Catherine’s husband) and Matt Hodges, WordPress maestro, it would have taken far longer and achieved far less. I was able to stay in the conversations thanks to what I had learned from Armand Gilbert, the web designer for LibertyPell.
It was also the year in which I branched out from words on paper to podcasting with Frazer Rice, Michael Farr, David Greene and Bill Walton.
For me, 2019 was the year of the Pundificator.
Looking forward, I am going to nominate a phrase of the year for 2020 and perhaps for the entire third decade of the 21st-century, though I hope not.
The phrase that I expect to dominate in any number of fields is “attention getting.” Since much of the attention getting will be unhelpful to those whose attention is being gotten, perhaps the more pejorative “showing off” would serve as a proxy.
The biggest problem for attention junkies is other attention junkies. Each competitor in this crowded field has to ramp up his spotlight-grabbing efforts to surpass his adversaries. Few seem to have the judgment to determine when the stunts are too far over the top to change minds, especially in whatever direction is preferred.
The biggest problem for the suppliers of the attention that fuels the habits of the junkies is that attention getters have forgotten the words “make yourself useful.” More often than not, attention getters are trend followers seeking clicks by riding popularity waves rather than thought leaders sharing something insightful.
Unsurprisingly, attention getting will manifest itself in politics. There will be countless opportunities provided by the next steps in the impeachment process, the primaries, the nominations and finally the race to November. Most of it will be meaningless and useless but nearly all of it will be served up breathlessly. I am not optimistic.
Thought exercise: try to recognize attention-getting — showing off, even – by the political team you prefer. Ask yourself if it is it adding or detracting. Now try it again honestly, perhaps by asking how you’d react if the other team said or did the same thing.
Politicians and their handlers enjoy no monopoly on attention getting. In the unmediated world of self-promotion where everyone can be his own newspaper (blogs), radio station (podcasts), and TV station (YouTube), the world of attention getting (yes, guilty as charged) seems likely to annoy more than enlighten. Either way, I expect it to dominate 2020.
On Sunday, Frazer Rice and I recorded a podcast in which each of us made some predictions.
Here is one of them.
The things we don’t hear about or read about will be more important to overall global well-being than the things we do hear about and read about.
Much thanks to Steven Pinker (Enlightenment Now) and Gregg Easterbrook (It’s Better Than it Looks) for that idea.
All best wishes for the year and the decade ahead.