The next step
It’s that time of the year again with snowflakes, eggnog, and Spotify Wrapped releases. My Spotify Wrapped said I listened to almost 15 thousand minutes of music consisting of 42 genres, and my top artist was Taylor Swift. Spotify Wrapped announcements mark the beginning of the end, and it was the end of quite a tough year. I don’t want to take this article in the direction of ‘an end means new beginnings’; instead I’d like to take this some other way. 2022 brought with it memories - moments to cherish for a lifetime.
Sometimes, I don’t think I perceive time. At least I don’t like to perceive time. Time is just this concept that keeps going on and on and never stops. It’s the inevitable direction of entropy increase that leads to the eventual heat death of the universe (that was my last physics platitude, I swear). Most of my time is filled with boredom, so I just filter that time out of my memory. But there are some moments when I feel actual emotions (I think I should reassure you here that I’m not Wall-E). And to me, those are the moments worth remembering.
There were different kinds of moments - happy, sad, angry, scary, disgusting, and many more. There was the time I organised an economics fest at school that was proclaimed as ‘the best organised fest in our history’ by our principal. There was the time I received my rejection letter from Columbia University. There was the time I didn’t do as well as I thought I would at the American Math Competition. There was the time I proposed to the girl I liked. And finally, there was the time I tried beer for the first time.
My year was just a string of these moments, making memories that will stay with me forever. Some of them I will hold on to, while some of them I will let go because they aren’t worth remembering forever. The time in between also has some moments, some details that I remember, but I could not summon them to the front of my mind upon request. In my memory, this year was just a haze of countless times like these.
Sometimes, I felt the need to capture a moment as it was, like taking a picture that’ll be framed forever in my mind. It’s those momentous pictures that captured a fleeting moment, long texts that felt like a warm 5-minute long hug, and adorable voice recordings that were music to my longing ears that will keep me company in the days to come.
I also know these moments aren’t the last that are to come, not by a long shot. I might have to purge a part of my memory stick to allow space for new moments to find their place. It’s going to be tough at times, heartbreaking even, but that’s alright. I’m just going to focus on the next moment I have to add to my seemingly infinite string.
My Spotify Wrapped told me I was a Nomad. Let’s see where the next moment takes me.
New Year, Same Me
In fact, I had several ideas to write about for this issue, ranging from “Why cars suck” to “TV shows and mature audiences”. Then, I realised that there's a time and place for these articles, because traffic and the scarring effect of Euphoria are both problems that I have strong opinions upon, but those are for next year. For now, I want to talk about something more personal that I think a lot of you may benefit from hearing. For now, I think I have something more pressing to address, the end of a better year of my life.
Notice I said better and not best, because this year has been defined by that very word. 2022 was my “better” year.
If I wrote a poem about 2022, growth would be a major theme, and it would have a consistently comforting and personal tone. It’d have an atmosphere of change, motifs of “me vs myself”, and a rhyme scheme that involved multiple rhyming couplets. I am a different person from what I was a year ago, and that’s because I learnt from my mistakes and tried to do better for myself and the people around me. I let my hair grow out, unapologetically (ironic, since I got a haircut recently).
I think it is important to realise that it’s unrealistic for things to be “the best”. Going into the next year, I want to learn from this year and work towards being better. I don’t think it's possible to be an “all-round, brand new, completely redesigned person” at the start of a new year because no one can be perfect, but we can strive to be better.
Instead of focusing on making big resolutions and saying old cliches like “new year, new me”, it is more significant to be “New year, working-on-being-better-while-knowing-it's- impossible-to-get -there-immediately- without-making-mistakes” me. That’s what I did this year, and it benefited me greatly. That’s what will reward us as people - we cannot go from point A to point B immediately, there will be speed bumps and a journey on the way. The journey is the growth we should focus on.
This growth is seen more than ever in my writing. If you look at the 13 issues that I have written in this year, I think you can see my writing evolving. I have grown tremendously as a writer, moving away from writing things that aren’t relevant to readers to talking about topics where I had important ideas to bring out. I feel like my writing has acquired more structure and direction than ever. I believe Riot Mag has helped me drastically with this, and I want to thank all my fellow writers and editors from the bottom of my heart for helping me with this growth. Because when looking at issue 15’s “The Meaning of Love” to issue 30’s “Jungle Book and the Burden No One Asked For”, the two seem as different as night and day.
Why am I reflecting? Well, if you didn’t know, Riot Mag is going on a hiatus after Issue 32, and for a good while. We are losing almost all of our core teams as they prepare for college, and I’ll be working with my peers to figure out a new direction for the magazine. Remember those article ideas I mentioned at the beginning? Those are articles in the same direction in which my column has been moving in, and that is where I want to see Killer Queen go. More political and relevant articles to the world as a whole can potentially inform and benefit readers. I cannot wait to be back after the hiatus, but at the same time, I am also dreading it.
Before all that though, I’d like to look back and thank you, my readers, the people who read my articles this year, everyone who helped me grow this year, and who supported and loved me this year. I look forward to a “better” 2023 with every one of you. Not in comparison to 2022, of course, but simply better. I will see all of you next year, when I am a little bit taller, a little better writer, with a little longer hair. Everything will be great (as long as I don’t have “stop drinking soda” as a resolution). This year changed me for the better and the next one will continue on the same path, I hope. For the next year, let's not plan to change everything about ourselves, but instead, take the positives from 2022 and build on them. Because growth will happen naturally, we just need to give the hair some time.
I’ll see you all in three weeks when I will undoubtedly be crying my eyes out when Riot says “We’ll be back, better, after this short break”. And for the sake of callbacks, let’s bring back the memes shall we :)
Same Year, New Me
It is 5:56 right now, and we’re not going to start writing this article. Instead, we’re going to wait and start at 6:00, because it’s a nice, round, satisfying time.
Never mind - we procrastinated too much, and it’s now 8:00. We’re hopelessly behind on all our tasks. And yet, somehow, it’s better than if we had started at an unround time like... *shudders* 7:37.
Now, take this scenario and replace “writing this article” with “learning to play the banjo” or “reading 70 books” (fuck you, Goodreads) and “6:00” with “January 1st”, and boom: we’ve arrived at the concept of a New Year’s resolution. In fact, it was actually our New Year’s resolution to write this article.
Our lives are filled with examples of us waiting until a given time or date to start something new. In fact, it's such a popular occurrence that psychologists give it a name: the "fresh start effect", and it usually comes into play when a new period of time is about to start, be it an hour or a year.
The reasoning behind the fresh start effect involves yet another psychology term: the "clean-slate effect" (no, this term does not refer to our brains right before Hindi exams). The clean-slate effect says that we see monumental occasions in time as new beginnings, because they feel as though an era of our life is ending. And that makes sense - since we measure our lifespan in years, we see each year as a distinct unit of time, and each New Year's Day as the start of something new. Naturally, it just feels so right to change who we are for the better. With all this motivation and determination, we trigger the fresh start effect.
But there are problems that come with waiting for specific times to improve yourself.
For example, three years ago, I (Shravan) was overcome with a sudden interest in European history, and I decided that starting January 1st, 2020, I was going to start learning Russian. For the first week, I was impeccably consistent. Everyday, I got on Duolingo and did three times the number of exercises I was meant to (and the green owl was happier than ever). A week in, however, I fell sick and skipped my daily practice, losing my streak and consequently my motivation. In my head, I heard the owl hooting the angriest "dasvidaniya" he could muster. And I couldn’t just restart the next day; it had to be February 1st, by which time I had forgotten about it. So, I never learned Russian - quite shamefully, I lost several GeoGuessr rounds in the coming few months due to insufficient knowledge of Cyrillic lettering.
I, Ananya, happen to be my orthodontist’s greatest nightmare; forgetting to wear my Invisalign, and being reprimanded by the poor man on every visit, I promise myself every week that I will be extra careful. Every week, I forget for a second or two - and then, I’m back to square one. There was nothing stopping me from putting them on then and there, but it simply seemed right to do it on a momentous occasion like a Monday.
Although it feels like we absolutely have to begin simple tasks when it feels like we have a fresh start, I think we all bear the consequences of what happens when we delay work to a day looming in the future. More often than not, starting at the ‘right’ time ends up feeling horribly wrong because of the guilt and worry of procrastination now weighing on us.
And who decided that a fresh start needed to be in an ‘x’ increment of time? If you think about it, the next second is also a fresh start - it’s a new second! Although you don’t celebrate it by dropping a ball into New York, it could very well have the same effect, the same ‘new beginning’ as the beginning of even a new century.
It’s actually highly unlikely that starting at a momentous occasion creates any more of a conducive environment to our productivity rather than the very moment we decide we want to - it’s more effective to grasp at the opportunities we get and start doing something whenever we’re feeling it. If not, that opportunity might just slip away.
If we hold off on changing ourselves for the better until the metaphorical stars align, we take the responsibility of changing ourselves and give some of it to something else (or ourselves in the future), making it harder for us to grow in the present.
So start that book (the one you’ve been putting off for some time); learn a new language; and for your dentist’s sake, put on your Invisalign. Pick up the banjo that’s collecting dust in your almirah. Don’t wait any longer.
And now, the two of us will start our next (and last) articles at 9:37 instead of 9:45.
Because that’s okay.
- Shravan and Ananya
The next article I write will be my last. The year is about to end. This magazine, as we know it, is about to end. By all rights, I should be writing about endings right now.
But I just did that in the last article. And, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about what’s to come.
I feel saddest when I think I know exactly how my life will play out. Knowing the future, even a good, ideal future, makes me feel empty. I think this is true for everyone; if you know what’s coming, it might as well have already happened. I know it’s counterintuitive to let go of control, but it might just help to let life give you what it wants to. Last year’s new year’s article urged you to let the year treat you well, and I hope it has. Don’t worry about this year. Isn’t it beautifully freeing to dive into it head first?
1 January 1965 by Joseph Brodsky, translated by George L. Kline
Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky was reviled and persecuted by officials in his native Soviet Union, but the Western literary establishment lauded him as one of that country’s finest poets. His verses were characterized by ironic wit and a spirit of fiery independence. Brodsky’s poetry bears the marks of his confrontations with the Russian authorities. (Poetry Foundation)
To the New Year by W. S. Merwin
William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and raised in New Jersey and Scranton, Pennsylvania, the son of a Presbyterian minister. For the entirety of his writing career, he explored a sense of wonder and celebrated the power of language, while serving as a staunch anti-war activist and advocate for the environment. He won nearly every award available to an American poet, and he was named U.S. poet laureate twice. (Poetry Foundation)
After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa by Robert Hass
In addition to his success as a poet, Robert Hass is also recognized as a leading critic and translator, notably of the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz and Japanese haiku masters Basho, Buson, and Issa. Critics celebrate Hass’s own poetry for its clarity of expression, its concision, and its imagery, often drawn from everyday life. Hass is Distinguished Professor in Poetry and Poetics at the University of California, Berkeley. (Poetry Foundation)
I love furniture shops and the way furniture pieces have been arranged to create their own little rooms. I love seeing other people’s representation of what a home looks like. And I love how when people shop for furniture, they’re essentially looking at someone’s idea of a home and picking pieces of that to fit into the mosaic that will be their new home.
I feel like furniture shopping accompanies a lot of fresh starts, like shifting houses or rooms, or something bigger, like moving out. And that’s why I rarely see people shopping for furniture alone, because fresh starts are one of the most terrifying things in the world. I see siblings fight over which of the race-car beds is better. I see future roommates argue over which rug would look better in their hostel room. I see grandparents carefully testing out the rocking chairs to see which one is most comfortable.
And there’s nothing scarier than starting something all alone. This is why there’s something special about New Year’s Day and resolutions: it reminds you that you’re not going through this alone. It’s like a collective fresh start for everyone on the planet.
This year holds a lot of fresh starts for me, and I expect to walk into furniture stores multiple times in the near future, pretending like each little home is my own. I know that I’ll probably be sitting on the colourful sofa set, playing board games with my overly-competitive family. Or jumping on the beds with my brother, trying to see who can go the highest without breaking anything. Perhaps even sprawled on bean bags and hammocks, telling my friends about my day.
No matter what piece of furniture I go to, or which furniture shop I’m in, whenever I visualise home, it’s always the people who come to mind first. The colour of the sofa or the patterns on it don’t matter to me if I have no one who’ll sit on it and talk to me.
I like to see fresh starts, not just as they are, but also as what they could be. Rugs that friends sit on to have a midnight feast of spicy noodles, or to play a game of truth or dare. Chairs whose wooden legs will inevitably get scratched by cats. A shelf that will sag with the weight of photo frames and trinkets.
I see every new start haunted by the ghosts of future memories. Though ghosts usually terrify me, I find that when I’m close to the people I love, I’m not scared at all.
NEW YEAR'S DAY
there’s glitter on the floor after the party. the disco-ball is hanging there, limp, one sway away from crashing onto the ground. you’re there too, in the aftermath, ears still ringing, heart still pounding, eyes still wide open. the countdown is still running in your head.
you sit there, in the quiet. but it’s not quiet, not really. solitude isn’t a prerequisite to silence, you’ve found. here, it’s just you and your thoughts. you recount the year that’s passed, marked by the cacophonous sound of broken promises. you think about all the hands you’ve held and all the words you wish you’d said.
the burden of your hopes isn’t gone yet. it’s just shifted to a different spot on the calendar. you don’t know if that will ever change.
change. it’s a funny word when you think about it.
everything changes. you see it in the beeping of the clock that everyone was gathered around mere minutes ago. you see it in the lines on your face and the age in your voice and the metamorphosis of your dreams.
but this scene: you, staring blankly into space, alone, ten minutes into a new year?
you find solace in the fact that some things never change.
WE DIDN'T CHOOSE TO BE THE CHANGE
New Year’s gives us the illusion that we’re entering a brand new era, that time isn’t a free-flowing continuum, but instead, a cycle of beginnings and endings. That this year, things are going to be different. But we don’t see that the opportunity to start over, to make change, is always there, and all New Year’s Day really does is bring it to light. And I think it’s one of the most delightful constructs we’ve come up with as humans.
Being a teenager means that each year brings with it inevitable change. As young people, we are agents of change, even if we didn’t choose to be, which means that as time passes and we begin to comprise more volume in the human population, older people start looking at us for solutions to problems that we didn’t create, but will need to fix, such as climate change or equity. Every year, millions of people, young people, turn 18. It’s a very important age because when people turn 18, in a huge part of the world, they can vote. They have a voice that legally needs to be heard. A survey found that only about 22% of Gen Z was in support of Trump as the President of the US, as compared to the 57% of the oldest generation. In the 2020 US presidential election, about 65% of people between the ages of 18 to 24, voted for Biden. That’s an alarmingly large number when compared to other generations. The generational gap, in terms of individualistic or collectivistic ideologies, or faith, is blatant when we look at voting proportions.
In India too, the youth is increasingly unhappy with the government we have. And it is, of course, incredibly important for young people to question their government. It’s heartbreaking that this dissatisfaction in the government doesn’t always translate into votes. I’ve heard too many 18 year olds say they wouldn’t vote because their one singular vote doesn’t make a difference. But in some states, in the 2019 election, many more young voters voted for the CPI than they did for BJP (which got about a fifth of votes from young people). But they were outnumbered greatly by votes from older people. As young people in India, we have internalised that our voices don’t matter as much as those of our elders. It’s age discriminatory, and we don’t realise the power and value in our presence and participation in the world. But in recent times, we’ve been encouraging each other to understand our value.
We are a product of recent times and modern thought. We’re big on individualism and defining ourselves the way we want. These ideologies are slowly manifesting in the way the world runs. In the past few decades, jobs have turned from means of income and living, into ‘calling’, ‘dream’ and ‘purpose’, and so, recently, people have been saying on Twitter that they ‘don’t dream of labour’. Global wealth has tripled over the past two decades, which only means that people have been encouraged to work harder and harder. We know that we’re going to be thrust into this system as soon as we can earn. This is why people saying they don’t dream of labour, has been considered an individualistic rebellion against hustle and achievement culture. Workplaces are changing because every year, more young people need to start working. Although things are genuinely difficult for young people in the working class, they do have more power than they think. Young people are bringing slow change into the world. Even during unpredictable times, we often find ourselves at the forefront of this change.
The past three years were nothing like anything anyone could’ve forecasted, but that doesn't mean they couldn’t have been handled better. The unpredictability of everything entirely dismantled any faith we ever had in seeing into the future. The truth is that as we grow as a generation, we will have to go with the wind where it blows, but I like to believe that everyday, we are getting better at handling things that come our way. Every year counts because we’re moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction. That things are better now than they ever were before, for a larger variety of people than ever before. And they will continue to get better. Happy New Year.