If this year taught me anything beyond our rapidly growing inability to understand and hold on to each other's fears, it taught me that we've always had writers. People who look at the world and report on all of it, sometimes even the less-desirable parts. When I hear people talk about how we need art "now more than ever," I laugh. Not because it's entirely untrue. Sure, art now more than ever and the whole nine. But what's more is that we need the world to change its engagement with art. To settle into the sometimes discomfort of it and roll around a bit.

If this year taught me anything beyond our rapidly growing inability to understand and hold on to each other's fears, it taught me that we've always had writers. People who look at the world and report on all of it, sometimes even the less-desirable parts. When I hear people talk about how we need art "now more than ever," I laugh. Not because it's entirely untrue. Sure, art now more than ever and the whole nine. But what's more is that we need the world to change its engagement with art. To settle into the sometimes discomfort of it and roll around a bit.

I mention this first because Lydia Loveless is a writer, one who is directly in touch with the frantic edge between language and emotion. She is several other things beyond a writer, as her album Real, released this past summer, showcased. But what draws me to her work, and has drawn me to it for years now, is her ability to build a world that is not much softer than the one we exist in, but still manages to be inviting. I need, now, or perhaps always, to see heartbreak, sadness, fear, through eyes that aren't only my own.

Real is a triumph of an album. More refined than her past work, with ideas that are more fully realized, it is a true achievement in both concept and execution. But there is something to be said about risk and urgency. If there is anything else that we can demand out of those who still have it in them to make art among the ruins, it is to do it like you might not be able to in the morning. Lydia Loveless runs into the territories of raw emotion like she may never have the chance to again. And that, in a lot of ways, is what makes her work so thrilling.

Distance does a lot for both fondness and envy. I moved away from my beloved Columbus in 2014, the year Loveless' brilliant album Somewhere Else came out. I would play it for my writer friends on the East Coast who hadn't heard of her, or shove it into their bags when they weren't looking. Two years later, in another summer, distant from home, I would sit in bars in L.A. or diners in Jersey and hear people talk about Loveless' new album. That, more than anything, made me feel like I was back in Columbus, with the smoke drifting out of some dive on High Street, talking about the brilliance of Lydia Loveless. Who, I would say then, will make the city proud one day.

The bad news is that I don't think art alone will save us, depending on what saving looks like in the big picture. I'm believing less and less in the universal joy that will sweep in and wash over whatever despair is lingering from 2016, and what despair 2017 might have up its sleeve. But what I do believe in is the artist who is interested, first, in creating work that will save themselves, and seeing what happens in the process. Lydia Loveless writes songs that make me believe in the things that are hardest to believe in. She sings songs like she is entirely certain of their power. I linger, here, on Loveless as a writer, because I know how hard it is to write words that you are confident about and then say them out loud with just as much confidence. What lives at the heart of her songs is a demand, a beckoning, asking a listener to settle down and stay awhile.

There's a line I love in the song "Heaven": "Oh, we're at the mercy of men's fevered dreams." And we are, again. This time the dreams are real and shifting into nightmares right before our eyes. If we are lucky, we will always have musicians like Lydia Loveless. Ones who see the world for what it is and are unafraid to write it as such. To find the small mercy inside that which is otherwise burning, and to stretch it out for as long as it can possibly manage to be stretched. If we are lucky, we'll always have that.