I could sit here trying to come up with something profound and quote-worthy to say about 2020, but it would be a lie. It has not been, “the best of years” nor has it been, universally, “the worst of years.” Maybe it has been one of the most off-kilter of years. For some, the saddest and the scariest. For others, the most unjust and disappointing. For some, it has meant opportunities seized; for others, opportunities glimpsed, from under a warm blanket, as they went flying by. We have all been touched by the pandemic in some way, but the truth of it is, we’ve had different experiences of it — good, bad, and everything in between. “Where were you when the first lockdowns were announced?” will join “Where were you when the Challenger blew up?”
We’re all “in it together, separately.” And that’s okay. But I think enough’s been said about this year to leave it feeling like warm horseshit wrapped in chocolate with a glittering crust of way too much sugar. A nauseating and unnourishing lump of something that’s been rolled downhill more times than a sturdy haggis, slammed into a sand trap by a carrot-topped golfer in dingy gray whites, and spit into the sea by an annoyed alligator stung on the ass by a murder hornet for good measure. And yet…and yet. It’s not been all bad, has it? Not if I’m here to write this and you’re here to read it.
To my friends on the other side of the planet, where it is already 2021, I say “Happy New Year! Treat 2021 kindly, or at least don’t piss it off before we get there to wish it well!” To my Australian friends, in particular: “Please, please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t let the funnel web spiders get drunk and mate with the murder hornets, eh?”
To my friends on the east coast of the USA – look on the bright side: No need to brave slush, snow, and drizzle to join a crowd of a million people in Times Square, this year! Watch the festivities online, where it’s warm and safe. Zoom with friends, and share a toast. Frankly, I’m a little thankful for rain where I live. Not to be a wet blanket on the fireworks thing, but neighbors have been setting them off since Christmas and we could all use a break. Especially those folks on NextDoor who have pets, and the ones who aren’t quite sure whether it’s gunshots, fireworks, really loud champagne corks, domestic violence, or the start of World War III. Let’s let everyone have one good night’s sleep to “ring in the year.”
Please don’t drink and drive. Most hospitals are short-staffed, short on beds, and are doing triage, these days. Triage is where someone runs around a mass casualty and plays, “Duck, duck, go!” only it’s more like, “Right now, next week, dead!” You get your drunk self into an accident, you’ll be lucky if they patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot and post your idiot face on social media. Come to think of it, just don’t get drunk. It’s not going to be fun when the EMTs have to drag you out, feet first, from between the shower and the toilet to patch you up in a Whataburger parking lot before posting your idiot face on social media. Give your local hospitals and healthcare professionals a break, and celebrate responsibly.
No New Year’s Eve ever feels complete without ABBA singing, “Happy New Year.”
New Year’s Eve Aha! Moments
Responding to a comment by a friend, this morning – a friend who was complimenting my writing and calling it “occasionally edgy” – I wrote,
…when my mind’s in a really dark place, my writing isn’t really ‘edgy.’ It’s more like a pathetic little bathtub filled with quicksand, where you can almost imagine me wallowing around, trying to pretend my feet don’t touch the bottom. I get about two paragraphs in, start muttering, ‘Oh, FFS…’ and stop. Take a walk, take a nap, take two aspirin and call my Muse in the morning.
I can’t write drunk, either. I suspect those writers who are notorious for drugs and drink were battling other demons — and trying to silence them long enough to write, not the other way around as so many young writers imagine. I don’t like it when my Muse drinks and falls asleep on me. It’s just boring.
Now that I’ve retired, I’m starting to think that my best writing time is in the morning after a good night’s sleep — which is, frankly, a surprise to me, since mornings have so long been filled with cursing the alarm clock, fixing or eating breakfast, getting the kids ready for school, getting me ready for work, and then commuting to the office. Me, write in the morning? This does not compute! But there we have it — perhaps the only real epiphany of 2020, and it comes on the last day.
And if there is no such thing as “mere coincidence,” then there have been a few noticeable themes that keep popping up lately. To the same friend, who also complimented my artwork and claimed that she “didn’t have that same outlet,” I wrote:
I’m thinking that I am being called to mentor several of my women friends on letting go of other people’s unrealistic expectations and negative opinions of us (or, really, our perceptions of what their expectations and opinions are, since they’re much more likely to be caught on their own mental hamster wheels, worrying what we think of them than they are having any expectations or opinions at all, of us).
I hid my little drawings for the longest time. When I finally worked on some during Inktober, and did them in the living room while watching TV, then got the nerve to post them on Instagram, I was surprised at how many people liked them. I see amateurish efforts that fail to fully express what I “see” in my head. But my husband liked them, and my sister in law said she’d buy them before buying some $750 paintings we saw at an art exhibit, and people whose artwork I really admire followed me on Instagram! I still don’t think of myself as “an artist” in the way I do as a writer. But neither have I – nor likely will I – dedicate the time and effort in practicing art as seriously as I have writing – over decades! So why should I compare myself to those who have? I have no expectations of my artistic skills, nor does anyone else. I still struggle a little with disappointment when the thing on my paper is so far off the thing in my head, but then I remind myself that I have more than 1000 words with which to describe that thing to you, and even if my sketches are worth only a few words, they’re not my only means of self-expression. Just something different to play with.
New Year’s Resolutions
If they don’t work for you, and you don’t believe in making them, that’s fine. I’m hedging all the bets. New Year’s Day dinner will include pork shoulder, black-eyed peas, sauerkraut, fresh salad, and cornbread. The details of my resolutions are unimportant; what matters is that they are written down in my journal and are already in progress. If you make them, put some thought in them and don’t feel a need to share – but do write them down and commit to them. Make them specific and time-bound, and break them into steps. Make each milestone measurable – not “read more” but “read one book each week for 52 weeks.” Put them just slightly out of reach – make them challenging enough not to bore you into abandoning them, but not so challenging that they defeat you at the first setback. Hold yourself accountable, or ask a friend to do that with you. I have asked a couple of friends to hold me accountable for writing something to enter into a writing contest with the deadline of February 1. Last year, I “got busy” and let that slip past unnoticed.
Don’t let 2021 slide by unnoticed. All the things you were unhappy about in 2020? Make a list. Then break that down into “What can I do to FIX this?” or “How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?” The answer may be “Not a whole hell of a lot,” or it may just feel that way at first. But sleep on it. Think about it. Get proactively involved – in your own life, your community, politics, volunteering, letter-writing, job-seeking, friend-making. Or let those things go that you can’t control – because they will just suck up all your time and steal your joy. Focus on what you already have the power to do, or figure out what you need to learn or do to have the power you need.