I’ve been pondering how to do a review post for a year that I essentially took off from blogging, and the best I can come up with is to shrug and explain that I’ve been focused on lots of other things. Also there’s a toll that you incur when you watch day-to-day life change so radically in the span of a few months. There was a moment last year, right around this time, when I was thinking about how much I appreciate the work of recording my perspective. Even though this space has lain fallow for most of the year, I’ve still enjoyed the occasional jump back into my own writing and thoughts from the past. I don’t think I write with any particular skill or insight that makes this stuff interesting to other folks, but it’s nice to have a way to remind myself of who I was or what I cared about.
That project’s largely obscured for the year of 2020, but only in the sense that I haven’t done as much writing. I did a lot of thinking this year (had a whole round of therapy sessions over the summer even!) and also just put my energy towards other pursuits. Blogging, journaling, writing an online diary, whatever you want to call this particular pastime, took a backseat to doing things like writing and playing games with friends (I have an aborted homebrew D&D campaign that occupied about three months of my life, and I’m continually grateful to my friends who let me bumble my way through the experience of DMing that much original content) and studying art more seriously. After a solid year of lusting after digital art tools, I finally bought myself an iPad over the summer, and I’ve spent the last four months using it to produce art almost daily. I wouldn’t call myself good, but I know a lot more now than I did when 2020 started. Just before I settled in to write this post, I put together a thread pointing out most of the work I’ve done in the last third of the year, and it’s wild to see the progress I’ve made in that short amount of time. The truism that artists hate looking at their older work because they can only see the flaws holds up, but I’m trying to embrace the reality that when we cringe at things we’ve done in the past, it just means that we’ve grown and learned since then.
Professionally speaking, I’ve been doing okay, all things considered. Distance learning sucks lemons; it is unequivocally bad for almost everyone who has to do it. The only thing that really recommends it over in-person is that the chance of turning schools into outbreak centers for the pandemic is virtually zero when everyone involved stays home. Having said that, I feel mostly okay with my job. My first decade in education has been pretty turbulent, but this year has felt like the first where I’ve experienced some peace about what I do for a living. I am perpetually grouchy about the systemic flaws in the way we do schooling in America, but the fact that I work in special education no longer galls me the way it did when I was younger. Perhaps I’ve finally had enough practical experience that I no longer feel like I’m completely floundering in a job that I wasn’t fully trained for; maybe I’ve finally had enough experience in an ELA classroom to know what that job looks like and understand what I do and don’t like about it; maybe I’m just learning to take a more holistic view of my quality of life and not sweat the fact that my job is merely good rather than what I’ve dreamed of doing for years. I’m eager to get vaccinated whenever that becomes a possibility so that I can go back to work in person. I miss seeing my students, even if they are raging disease monsters.
If we take the pandemic and all of its impacts and put them in brackets, the year has been a strangely good one on a personal level. The suspension of student loan payments for the last six months along with our stable government jobs has created an unexpected windfall. When Rachael and I reviewed our finances and realized that we were saving so much faster because we suddenly didn’t have a thousand dollars going out to debt payments each month, it really clicked for us how absurd and self-defeating student debt is. We’re anxiously waiting to see if the Biden administration follows through on its plan to forgive a chunk of federal student debt; such a move would be positively life changing for a lot of people, and I can see only societal benefits from its execution. Cabin fever has only been a mild concern for us, largely because we are already very introverted people and we had the inordinate good fortune to move into a house back in the fall of 2019. We deeply miss some experiences that just can’t be recreated at home, but we’re comfortable and engaged in our creative endeavors. Adopting the mindful practice of focusing on the realities of today instead of anxiously forecasting about the future has helped a lot in that respect.
Really, we know a lot of things have worked in our favor this year. It makes it easy to overlook how we’re coping with a society-wide ongoing trauma in the form of the pandemic and the larger destabilizing forces that have exacerbated it. I try to spend less time thinking about the news these days because I find that impotent rage does no one any good. It’s enough to focus on monitoring how people I know are coping and trying to be supportive in the ways that are available to me. It’s not much, but it fits with what’s sustainable at this moment. Really, sustainability is something I’ve gradually come to appreciate over the last four years. There’s an irony to seeing how all the anxiety of 2016 replayed this year but magnified and expanded to affect even more people than before. I feel like this sort of destabilizing and waves of mass anxiety are simply an enduring symptom of the ways we’ve built our global culture over the last few decades. I’m more firmly convinced than ever that social media’s a net harm for us on a societal level, and we are going to have to figure out how to collectively manage it and the internet as a whole in the next few decades or we’re going to kill ourselves. The great paradox of this attitude is that there’s very little an individual can do besides screaming into the same void that’s trying to swallow us. The more I ponder this problem, the more I think the solution that can work for most people is to try to disengage from the noise machine. I can still be a progressive grump without amplifying the anxieties fellow progressives feel, and I get the added benefit of not being in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. We’re at our worst when we live in our lizard brains, and the perverse incentives of our social structure encourage us all to stay there. As individual citizens with limited capacity to affect change, we’re probably better served to focus on what’s immediately in front of us.
Altogether, I’m glad to see 2020 move into the past. Regardless of any personal good fortune, it was a hard year made all the harder by having to see everyone struggle through it. I hope that 2021 will be a year of changing directions and renewed optimism tempered by the experience of some very harsh realities. We’ll see how that turns out.