Things I Learned In 2020

I am extraordinarily lucky to live with people I like.

People-watching isn’t just an idle hobby for me. It’s emotional sustenance. It’s story fodder. It’s basic spiritual maintenance. I miss it more than anything else “normal.”

Our government isn’t based on rules, but on poorly-defined agreements that can be violated at any time without consequence. Like much of the world, I read a bio of Alexander Hamilton this year, and learned most of the founders of the US genuinely believed in honorable men (always men) who would keep their words. They believed if you owned a business and owned land you were a decent person, because otherwise you wouldn’t have been successful. We’ve carried that erroneous idea forward, and it’s destroying us. Maybe destroyed us. It’s too soon to tell.

Cats do not care about your mood, or your cabin fever, or anything beyond getting fed on time. They are entirely pleased to have you, a heated mattress, around when they want you. Pandemic Life is exactly what the universe should be for them. Except dammit, you need to be feeding them more often.

It’s infinitely valuable to have something that reminds you it needs looking after.

Art is critical to survival at times like this. I’ve watched movies from excellent to silly, read and re-read books I’ve loved, tried games I never would have tried. I’ve bought from artists and woodworkers, supported Kickstarters, taken a crack at learning to draw, picked up just a bit of rudimentary Korean. And music. Music has kept me going. Small things. At times like this, small things are not small.

I sidestep rage. It’s there, waiting for a safe moment: rage at our government, that won’t protect its people; rage at fellow citizens who won’t protect each other; rage for the workers who are forced to risk their lives just to keep themselves housed and fed. I feel, sometimes, like I’m numb to the numbers, but that’s not it at all. That rage is there. It will come out. And I haven’t the faintest idea what I’ll do with it.

I still have stories in me. Writing is…different. Harder, sometimes. I have a lot more trouble these days pushing through the “ugh this is awful” stage, but when I do, I still end up with something I like and can work with.

I can play the same video game over and over. And over. Because I keep trying for a happier ending that doesn’t exist.

I underestimated the effect the government has on me. When That Orange Person lost the election, something inside of me…loosened. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still a big OCD stress ball. But my OCD has retreated to familiar, smaller concerns. That said, I hope I never make the mistake of ignoring politics. We didn’t end up here for some mysterious reason, and one election doesn’t end the fight.

Having time on my hands doesn’t make me productive. Having said that, though…I revised a novel a couple of times this year, and it’s as finished as it’s going to get, at least for now. I won NaNoWriMo again, and have about half a new book, including the ending. I compiled and published a book of short stories. And I’m still working on Book 4, and may actually have reached a point psychologically where I can finish it. I’ve done stuff. It just doesn’t feel like stuff.

I would like to say I’m better at accepting the things I cannot change. Certainly this pandemic has drawn a bright line. There’s only so much I can do for my parents from a distance. All the guilt and desire in the world doesn’t change the fact that it’s not safe for me to see them, and so I’m stuck. It’s awful. And…maybe I’m learning? A little?

Still want to fix everything, though. Still want force of will to be enough. It’s never been enough, but I’ve been able to delude myself until now.

None of this has made me a different person, better or worse. It’s exposed some cracks, but really, at my age none of them were a surprise. It’s shown me some strengths–also not surprising, but given that my strengths are unprofound things such as “figure out how to optimize errands so I can do everything in one trip,” I’m pleased they turned out to be useful.

It’s made me realize my unexciting life was actually quite wonderful. I miss all the unexciting things. I miss my parents, even though they haven’t been themselves in a long time. I miss traveling–and I never liked traveling as much as I liked coming home afterward and remembering.

I miss the mundane, I suppose.

I am lucky in so many ways. I am lucky my immediate family has remained healthy. I am lucky The Kid’s friends have so far escaped unscathed. I’m lucky my parents’ assisted living facility has managed to escape a bad outbreak. Hell, I’m lucky pretty much everyone I know recognizes the vital importance of basic safety precautions.

I know not everyone has been so lucky. In addition to all the rage that’s waiting for me, there’s sorrow. The numbers are unfathomable. People I know have lost people they love. Rage doesn’t help. Sorrow doesn’t, either. Both reactions are appropriate.

I wish for all of us we learn how to properly protect each other next time. And that we listen to the people who’ve helped rather than the people who’ve hurt.

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