2023 Review – The Year Of Savour
Is any year normal anymore? 2023 was an odd year that seemed to pass in a flash. My theme was “Savour”, and 2023 certainly felt like a spicy dish of a year.
Every essay I post on this site is accompanied by an image. I take a photo from my library, then edit and resize it to fit the dimensions required for this layout.
Sometimes I forget those dimensions, and so I have to find the small digital style guide that has all the important information about how this site is formatted. Looking for that recently, I stumbled on something I wrote in February: my Social Media Strategy for 2023.
I created this 11-page document to help me pitch a new book idea to agents and publishers. It outlined the way I used different kinds of social media, my goals for being online, and how I thought strategically about all that in relation to my personal sense of purpose, my character strengths, existing public image, and the changing social media landscape.
It’s an earnest statement that feels so dated now it could’ve been written 10 years ago. So much has changed so quickly. Twitter? Does it even exist anymore?
What was also interesting about the Social Media Strategy for 2023 was how many times I managed to include my yearly theme for 2023: Savour. It was on every page.
Clearly, I was enthusiastic about this theme. So was it useful? Did I manage to savour 2023?
A yearly theme is different from a new year’s resolution. It’s not a goal. It’s not a test you pass or fail. A good theme is something more poetic. A hope you can keep returning to. A simple tool you can use to guide every decision you make, big or small.
When I wrote about choosing savour as a theme, I said 2022 had been a “a sad, exhausting year” and that “I felt rushed, stressed, focused on what could go wrong”. Savour was a way to slow down, enjoy each moment, be more thankful for the good things in life and appreciate the joys of pursuing good taste.
Yesterday, I was skiing. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, so I stopped to have a coffee and look out over the valley before making my way back down to the car. Stopping to buy some groceries on the way home, I took a moment to just enjoy the colours of all the fresh things in the produce aisle. It was a beautiful sunset later on the way home, so I stopped by the side of the road to take a photo.
2023 was full of moments like that. No great epiphanies. No major transformative changes in life. Just a slower, easier, and more delightful way of moving through the world.
2023 gave me the chance to catch up with friends. I chose ways of meeting that maximised the chance to savour that time together. Walks instead of events. Quiet locations instead of fashionable or crowded ones.
I attended three excellent online workshops this year: Writing What Refuses to be Written, with Sabrina Orah Mark; Granta Writing Memoir, with Dr Midge Gillies; and Japanese Sensibility in Photographic Practice, with George Nobechi. They were all great learning experiences. They also introduced me to amazing creative people. Savour as a theme reminded me to take a little longer to get to know people and appreciate what their work had to teach me.
During 2023, I continued to “choose people” wherever possible. Taking the cashier aisle instead of self-checkout, for example. It’s so easy to assume we’re too busy to make small talk, thank our barista, or ask the taxi driver how their day is going. But every conversation is another window into understanding the world.
2023 was the year of Taylor Swift. I’m cool with that, having long believed she is the biggest pop star in the world and a generational songwriting talent. You have to admire someone who, at her age, has enough top shelf material to fill a three-hour concert and is willing to sing the whole setlist on a treadmill for months to build up the stamina to perform.
I attended my first concerts since the start of the pandemic: Mamamoo in Baltimore, and IVE in Yokohama. Both were great and the fan culture of K-pop is so vibrant. K-pop is the global pop music genre at the moment. The fandom spreads around the world. The music is inventive and rich, and draws from so many genres. It’s a magnet for many of the best young songwriters and producers. The production values are so high. And the album packaging is another level.
I probably watched too much TV in 2023. But in my defence, there is a vast pool of very watchable streaming shows at the moment. My picks for the best three I saw are The Bear; Yosi, the Regretful Spy; and Nothing (Nada). The latter felt particularly pertinent to the theme of savouring: an aging food writer, a pedantic gourmand, who has to adapt to a changing world while still holding onto what makes him interesting and likeable.
In 2023, I enjoyed exhibitions again. It was great to take in the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year, at the South Australian Museum; Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image; and the Pierre Bonnard retrospective designed by India Mahdavi at the National Gallery of Victoria, both in Melbourne. There was Stefan Sagmeister’s Now is Better, at the Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo. And most moving of all was Robert Houle: Red Is Beautiful, at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.
And in cinema, there was one big question – and the answer was that Barbie was a much better film than Oppenheimer. Past Lives was better than both.
In early 2022, Allison P. Davis wrote A Vibe Shift Is Coming. Will Any of Us Survive It? in New York Magazine. The idea was that as we emerged from enforced pandemic isolation, we’d be confronted with a different cultural landscape that might be hard to navigate.
Popular culture in 2023 certainly feels very different from how it did in 2018.
The reasons for this might have less to do with the pandemic and more to do with the natural shift from one generation to another. Grunge seemed to come out of nowhere in the ʼ90s, but really it was the culmination of changes that had been developing for some time. Same with the hipster movement in the early 2000s.
A lot is being made of Gen Z humour at the moment. Savanah Moss’s skits, and thekittyandrea’s cat morphing meme are great examples of “anything can be anything” absurdity. It’s like digital Dadaism, sure. But consider this video about buying fish. It’s not all that funny until you start reading the comments (I bet you can’t scroll to the end of them).
We’ve reached the apogee of humour made for and shaped by social media.
All this at a time when there is a crisis in the creator economy. YouTube is no longer the stable source of revenue it once was for many creators. Creator funds made to support original work on many platforms have been discontinued. Spotify continues to be a terrible deal for most musicians. And Twitter’s final demise is leading to increased fragmentation of audiences and conversations.
Savour While You Can
I turned 55 this year. Most days I don’t feel old. But I’m reminded constantly that society sees me as old. If you live in Australia or the UK, it’s pretty easy to feel like once you’ve turned 40 you are worthless unless you’re wealthy or famous.
I sometimes wonder what this means for us, especially as politics and cultural discourse become more fraught. A lot of the things that make our society richer – agriculture, art, craft, design, ecology, film, literature, music – rely on experience and wisdom, the passing on of shared knowledge and understanding. A healthy culture has a vibrant dialogue between the new and the old.
That said, one thing no one tells you about being in your fifties is that, if you do it right, you seem to naturally become happier. Apparently it’s common. Most people’s happiness goes down in mid-adulthood. Perhaps that’s not surprising given those years are marked by the struggle to accumulate wealth and a place in the world, the responsibility of building a family and making a long-term relationship work and the battle to make some kind of mark on your chosen profession.
But for a lot of people, once they get into their mid-fifties their happiness goes up. Maybe their kids enter adulthood. Or they have found contentment with their place in the working world. They’ve probably decided on the kind of people they want (and don’t want) in their social world. And they make peace with the body they have and the fact that younger generations now make the popular culture they inhabit. For many, their happiness stays high well into their seventies.
I think about that a lot. This window of time I find myself in, where life consists mostly of enjoying what I already have and passing on what I’ve learnt. This isn’t the time to accumulate. It’s the time to share.
And to savour.
Savour as a yearly theme helped me course-correct my mid-fifties back towards enjoying what this stage of life has to offer. It still felt like I had too many chores and too much travel. But there was a lot more laughter and joy, a lot of enjoying the salt of meeting people and delighting in close relationships, and many moments of just appreciating the fine details of a work of art, a great piece of design, a wonderful solo in a jazz tune, or a beautiful flower that will radiate its colourful glory for only a few days before fading forever.