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The 1 Train, NYC Subway, January 5, 2011, Screen Shot. Donald Earl Collins

Every year that’s ended in “1” has been an interesting one for me, and I’m hoping that this year’s no different, at least in a positive way. The number 1 may be the loneliest number of all. But for me, the years that have ended in that number have been good, bad, ugly and complicated.


’71: I was a toddler, so only a few fragments of memory here. Still, my mom and my dad married that year, only to break up five years later and divorce in ’78. It was a good year, but it led to a lot of bad ones for my mother and father, and indirectly, for me and my older brother Darren.

’81: Now this is where things for me became really complicated. I started the year a straight-A student in sixth grade, finished second in a writing contest, managed to get into the Humanities Program, and had good friends. But becoming a Hebrew-Israelite and having a head the size of Jupiter with my early successes made the last four months of ’81 about as miserable for me as being naked in a blizzard. It took until ’89 to recover from all of the problems that started at home and at school that year.

’91: What a pivotal year! The year began with me having high hopes of getting into grad school, not knowing whether I’d be in Pittsburgh, DC, New York or even Berkeley in eight months. I hadn’t dated in so long that I figured I’d finished my master’s degree before I started going out again. But the year turned that May, between getting money to go to grad school at Pitt and me moving on from a brief crush on one of my best friends. I finally decided to start dating again, nearly a year before I finished my master’s. It turned out that this sense of hope and acting on hope was the theme for the rest of my decade.

’01: The hope and optimism that I took with me from the ’90s remained. Yet the pessimism of working in the real world and real world events would temper that youthful sense that everything I wanted in life was possible simply because I had the talent, faith and drive to make them all happen. Between working as assistant director for the New Voices Fellowship Program at AED and 9/11, though, I learned that so much in my and our lives was well beyond my control. And with that, that people can do me harm even when my only crime is being myself. That yin and yang reality shaped the stagnation that was this decade, with marriage, Noah and Fear of a “Black” America among the highlights of an up-and-down ten years.

What will ’11 bring? I honestly have no idea. The only thing I do know is that I can’t afford to sit back and wait for something good to happen. This much I learned in ’81, ’91, and ’01. As Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, I need to “get busy living, or get busy dying. That’s g__damn right.”