Everyone seems to be saying it—2016 wasn’t the best.

It's like the one thing we're all willing to agree on. I’m not sure whether we’ve latched onto the sentiment as one last ditch effort to find something unifying during a time that’s been admittedly divisive, or whether there truly was enough crap to go around for everyone this year. I can only say that for me, these past twelve months have indeed been particularly difficult—for both societal and personal reasons that need not be totally unpacked here.

But to sum it all up, all of the woes of 2016 seemed to find me laced with calls to action. I found myself not simply asking how I was going to recover from them, but what I was going to do about things afterward. Because of this, my plans for 2017 began to take startlingly clear form, and I can say with both excitement and nervousness that I’m launching into this year more resolutely than perhaps any year before.

So, I guess, thanks for all that crap, 2016. It really lit a fire in me.

Here are 3 things you can expect from me in 2017:

 

1. "The Present Tense" Release

On Jan. 20, my new record drops. It’s a project that’s taken me two-and-a-half years, showcasing 13 songs written about the life stories of 13 friends. In a year that felt lonely and isolating at times, I hope that this record helps remind us how vital community is. I realize recent years has also been unkind to the word “community”—turning it into a buzzword with an increasingly vague definition. But I’m talking about those people we call in emergencies, those who shepherd our secrets, those who’ve been around us long enough to grow bored with us and yet refuse to abandon us for others more temporarily exciting.

Cheers to 2017 being a year where you find your people and wrap your soul around them.

 

2. New Novel - "The Lark Descending"

 

Since the unexpected success of Little Mountain in 2012, the question I’ve been asked more than any other is whether or not I’ve got another memoir in the works. The answer is no—and I sincerely hope my memoir-writing days are behind me. But that’s not to say I haven’t been writing.

Over the last four years, I’ve been hard at work on a series of four young adult science fiction novels. They are finished, and if all goes according to plan, 2017 will be the year Book 1 gets published.

From what I can tell, another reason we hated 2016 was because it took people from us. Every year does, of course, but this year seemed especially merciless, stealing away friends, families, and beloved celebrities alike. You were lucky if you made it to this point without feeling death in the room. 

Coincidentally (or not), my series’ central theme explores death and what we are to do with it. The story is set in a world where everyone’s days are numbered and a person’s passing never surprises anyone, so the world’s population has naturally become inoculated to grief. Loss is neither good nor bad—it simply is. And that’s all well and good, except for the fact that one twelve-year-old boy does feel bad. He feels scared. And angry. And he doesn’t understand why he’s the only one feeling all of it, so he steals his parents’ vehicle and heads to the heart of the city for answers. Along the way, he must eventually confront the central question: is death an enemy, or a friend? Is it worth a good fight?

Cheers to 2017 being a year where we’re unafraid to live, not only by thriving, but by grieving our losses. Sadness is simply an acknowledgement that what is gone was good. May it be a year we push back against the darkness.

 

3. Record #2 + Documentary

 

Yep, you read that right.

After wrapping up The Present Tense this fall, I began thinking about what to do next. I’m not usually as eager (a word which here means “irresponsible”) to start in on a second project so soon after the first, but I suppose one of 2016’s many qualities it bestowed upon me was a sense of urgency. It brought out my fighting spirit. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so resolved at the outset of any project before—not even The Present Tense. And that’s a good thing; this one’s going to be a lot bigger.

I’ll lay my cards out: this year I’ve become yet more aware of so many insidious forms of injustice happening within myself and within the world I reside in. Those around me struggle to talk about these injustices. We lack good tools to do so, and we lack the practice. We shout, and shout, and keep shouting, perhaps because we're afraid to listen to the important conversations happening around us.

I want to engage those conversations.

In 2017, I will be getting together with friends and acquaintances whose lives have been marked by injustice because of either their race, gender, orientation, religion, or disability. I will sit and be with football players, with musicians, with teachers, with unemployed and homeless, with pastors, with bartenders—people I’ve talked to, but haven’t really talked to. As a member of the privileged class, my first concern is to ask how I’ve contributed to the injustices in their lives. What things have I turned my ear from? What things have I remained obstinately blind to? My hope is to swap stories, and like with The Present Tense, turn those stories into songs that communicate the paradox of sharing deeply in our humanity while owning very different experiences. We will work together to do so.

My friend SueAnn Shiah (documentary filmmaker/activist/incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, and talented human) will be recording the journey to later craft into a documentary. I have no doubt this will end up being a delicate undertaking, wrought with pitfalls. But there are few people I trust more than SueAnn to be sensitive to them, and to have clear vision in all of my many blind spots. I expect to say the wrong thing, and I expect to make mistakes, but in a way, that’s the point. We want to remain open to critique and we value feedback.

I think that, in my older years, I’ll remember 2016 as the Loud Year. The Year of Shouting—the year we truly took up talking like our tweeting, nursing grand perceptions of worldwide audiences while transcending the importance of having accountability for our words. The Year of Word Abuse. The Year of Ear Neglect.

But cheers to 2017 being a year of listening and perspective-taking. Of reconciliation. May there be new peace treaties between friends and new war charges against oppressors. May it be the Quiet Year—though not silent, not void of activity, but quiet the way a voice sounds when it says, “I’m sorry,” and means it.