“It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.”
― Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat
The end of December has arrived and with it the end of one of the longest and most horrific years in my memory. Thinking back to this time last year, it’s shocking to mark the number of changes. I hardly recognize myself or the world around me. I can hardly believe how much has changed, how much has been lost, and how much we have to gain back.
The official winter season has only just started here in the northern hemisphere, but we are already halfway toward the next summer, my favorite season of all. The dark days and the deep cold will be with us for a long while more, but it helps to know that slowly, slowly the sun will start setting later and the number of days above freezing will steadily increase.
Twenty-twenty has been quite a year, one none of else will soon forget. We’re living through a time of unprecedented uncertainty and grief. The pandemic is still ravishing communities here in the US and though, like Spring, the vaccine is bringing an end in sight, there will still be many more dark days to survive.
Still, there have been some small victories, and plenty of lessons learned. I’ve never felt more connected to my local community and have found a sense of trust and pride in state officials and local business and leaders. I’ve had more time than i have ever had—or will ever have again—to rest, to read, to write, and to learn about myself.
Besides the fear and anxiety brought on by the pandemic raging around me, inside I was also experiencing what would turn out to be the longest and most severe flare up of my ulcerative colitis symptoms since my diagnosis. This disease took so much from me in 2020, but it also gave me something back. It showed me how strong I am. It showed me the power of the human body, of my body, for both good and bad. It brought me back to my meditation practice and reacquainted me with the calm of early mornings. It taught me it is possible to overcome yourself, and it taught me gratitude.
I’m ready to take these lessons and many, many more that this dumpster fire of a year taught me into the next. Though I know that things can always be worse, from here, looking on the innocent potential of the New Year, I can only see how good things are finally going to get. The world has a vaccine. The US has a new President. I have a new medication. I am healing. We are all healing.
As with every norm and tradition, making New Year’s resolutions just doesn’t feel the same this year. What used to be important has become trivial and forgettable, and what used to feel unimportant is now vital.
This year I’m setting very few large goals and instead focusing almost entirely on self-care. The biggest lesson I’m taking with me into the new month and year is that I must build and continually rebuild emotional endurance and resilience. This year I am putting I have to put my health and my well-being before all else because it turns out I am vulnerable in many more ways than I knew, but before I do, here’s what I am currently:
Writing from a new place in my home. The old creativity room had to be converted back into a bedroom this year, and I was left without a place to call my own. For weeks I wandered through the house from couch to bed to counter to floor, and nothing felt right until the idea struck to clear the cluttered dining table and claim a corner of the kitchen for writing alone. I’ve got my old office chair and all my notebooks here, the only essentials I need. I will have an office again eventually, but for now this will do.
Making this house a home. My wife and I are notorious for procrastinating on needed house projects and repair, but with reduced hours at work due to the pandemic, boredom has pushed us to complete project after project just to have something to do. My wife has taken the lead and going forward I have a feeling my role will be regulated to simply approving or disapproving plans but that’s ok. Slowly and steadily these ugly fixtures, bare walls, and outdated decor are being transformed into something personal, something more livable.
Planning and tracking each day of 2021. In preparation for the coming year and upon reflection of the last, I thought it might be a good idea to move back toward an all analog system of allocating my hours. I have long been a fan of author Austin Keons system of note taking and logging and have tweaked it somewhat to include to-go lists and goals. I have a new, and quite plain just the way I like it, Moleskine daily planner to my habits and schedule. I have a Journal to record the day’s moods and thoughts,
Reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. Many of Beauvoir’s ideas are now outdated since the advancement of science and the understanding of gender, but her writing style is wonderfully unique and her power to inform and impassion is inspiring. I haven’t technically started Poor People’s Movements, but it has moved to the top of my TBR since I, on impulse, joined a book club that is meeting virtually in just a few weeks to discuss the introduction and chapter one.
Watching The Stand on CBS and old episodes of Veep on HBO. Some of my favorite shows this year include The Mandalorian, Raised by Wolves, The Queen’s Gambit, and Lovecraft Country. I have tried these past months to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of the TV, and largely I feel I have been successful. Unfortunately, Disney recently announced a slew of new Star Wars shows coming to their streaming app, and I suspect my couch time will significantly increase as a result.
Learning about Social Psychology. I’m two weeks into the course and while I find the material interesting, I’m having a hard time progressing due to time constraints. This course requires has quite a bit more reading than the previous courses I’ve taken. Still, I’m excited to get through it, not for the subject alone but for the courses I have lined up to take after. On a whim last month, I enrolled in four new Coursera courses—the certificates were being offered for free, I couldn’t resist!—and to keep from overwhelming myself, I’m only allowing myself to take them one at a time.
Anticipating a return to a normal schedule and routine. All through autumn I had wished and wished for my district to go fully remote, but when we finally did it wasn’t at all what I expected. Unlike the last shutdown I have still been expected to come in and without the kids, there has been very little to do. At first the quiet, easy days were nice, but experiencing boredom and isolation both at home and at work has proved detrimental to my mental health in ways I couldn’t imagine. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but actually I’m ready for more work, for more coworkers, and to see the kids smiling again.
Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic. There is no doubt that this year will be a defining one for all of us. It will be one of those times in which there is a great before stretching back through our lives and along after the is laid out long after our lifetimes. We’d all be fools not to spend some time taking in all the ways the spread of this virus has shaped and reshaped our new world and in turn shaped and reshaped who are. I know I’m not the same person I was just last March and I don’t think any one of us is, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Fearing things will get worse before they get better. The vaccine is here and already the most vulnerable are being inoculated, but it will be a long while before the reports of record-breaking sickness and death are behind us. Now that the worst of winter is upon us and the cold is driving us indoors, now that we are desperate for community and connection, now that we have grown weary and stupid, the virus has grown more contagious and we are all the more vulnerable now. My fear is the worst is yet to come, for me and for all of us together.
Hating how little empathy and care is being shown to the American people by their own government. I’m thrilled to know that in just a few short weeks the office of the presidency will be handed over to the Democratic party, but I have little hope Biden or the Democrats who hold a majority in the House of Representatives will be able to do any good there. The Republicans will more than likely hold the Senate, and majority leader Mitch McConnell will go on blocking compassionate legislation and allowing the most vulnerable among us to go on suffering.
Loving this sense of community I feel everywhere I go. Whether I’m at home, at work, in the grocery store, on the internet, or watching TV, I feel part of something. It’s the neighborhood, the city, the state, the country, the world, we are all in something together and though I wish it hadn’t taken so much fear and anguish to bring us together, I’m happy we’ve pulled together to pull through it. We more united than ever. We are more like mind and like hearted than we’ve ever been. This is one thing I hope will never go back to “the way things were”.
Needing to see my friends again. I have spent some time with family throughout the year and that has been a great salve to my mental woes and lonely heart, but I have had no time with my friends and I miss them all very much. I miss dinner and drinks. I miss brunch. I miss movies and house parties. I miss our laughter and our talks. My family has been great, but I miss being around people who are under no obligation to like or even tolerate me.
Hoping that 2021 will be a little kinder to us all and if it isn’t I hope we all have learned how to care for ourselves and go on living and loving despite our fears and failures. I hope that we conquer this virus and we learn how to prevent such great losses when the next one—perhaps even more virulent and deadly than this—rises and spreads. I hope we have learned what it means to be species, united in our struggle to survive. I hope we have learned the meaning of humanity.
I hope we will never be the same again.
So, yeah, all in all, December, like all of 2020, has been fraught with both fear and hope. Better days always felt near and yet never quite arrived. I begin the new year in much the same place, still just on the horizon of a new world and way of living.
But what about you? How has the month, and the year itself for that matter, treated you? How have you learned to cope, and how will you go on coping when the world begins its next revolution around the sun? How will you celebrate tonight and who, if anyone, will you celebrate with?
Let me know in the comments.
The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love
Photo by Valeriia Miller on Unsplash