2014 had a bad feeling. I wasn’t expecting it.
It started when I went to Santa Fe in January. I enjoyed the trip, but a vague and unsettled melancholy hovered around the edges of it. At the time, I didn’t focus too much on it, attributing it to what I often feel is the inherent vague and unsettling melancholy of the desert.
Sunshine is associated with happiness and cheerfulness, but – especially in the desert – it can sometimes be as oppressive as the gray clouds of Seattle. My friend Heather (who also grew up in Phoenix) and I use the beach scene in Camus’ “The Stranger” to each other as shorthand for that sort of disorienting, inescapable, obliterating brightness.
“The light seemed thudding in my head and I couldn’t face the effort needed to go up the steps and make myself amiable…the heat was so great that it was just as bad staying where I was, under that flood of blinding light falling from the sky. To stay, or to make a move—it came to much the same.”
I left Santa Fe and put the bad feeling out of my head. I had no reason to suspect it was indicative of anything about the year as a whole, and I certainly wouldn’t have been receptive to that idea anyway.
The badness drifted back down on me again during an April trip to Los Angeles. Sunshine again, but, I would have thought, ostensibly less external bleakness, all those palm trees to block that thudding light. Nevertheless, I came back rattled.
The feeling kept running in the background during my regular life, like a mild but menacing rumble in Lynchian sound design. The volume turned up when I traveled.
At the end of May, I took a trip out to Grand Coulee. More unrelenting brightness. I sat in my camp chair at the campground near Lake Roosevelt. I tried to read a book in the sunshine. I thought I was hearing an electrical hum at my campsite, then realized the tree above me was buzzing with thousands of insects. Fighter jets ripped across the sky during periodic training runs. I was disquieted.
By summer, I saw it wasn’t just some sunshine allergy with a strong half-life infecting my life. A camping trip at the end of June brought the badness to the fore in a way I could no longer ignore, and that trip took place in the middle of torrentially rainy weekend.
The year was bad, there was no other conclusion. It had gone off, gone sour, grown mold, failed to thrive, become structurally unsound. At that point, I was only halfway through it, but it seemed like I had to face what 2014 was turning out to be, despite my resistance.