As I start to write this, news from Kentucky has come in, announcing the devastating verdict in the trial for the killing of Breonna Taylor. It is a soul-crushing development that has become characteristically and dreadfully de rigueur for 2020. It arrives just days after the untimely death of American pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her passing spreads across social media with countless sad emojis populating people’s posts and comments about the outstanding legacy of the Supreme Court Justice — a real-life superhero. That announcement comes just weeks after the death of Chadwick Boseman, a man who portrayed a fictional superhero and represented so much to so many. Meanwhile, the air quality in Southern California has finally improved after a week of the worst conditions I have experienced in the two decades I’ve lived in Los Angeles. While a sizable portion of the country is on fire, another is drowning in floods caused by back-to-back hurricanes. All Halloween activities have been cancelled, offering a bleak forecast for November and December festivities. And to top it all off, the COVID-19 death toll in America continues to inch closer to yet another grim milestone as we continue to inch closer to a presidential election so tense, so divisive, its results conjure up images of a potential second civil war…
It would be trite to say that I am over 2020, that it is the Worst Year Ever. True, we still have some days left in the calendar year to receive news that won’t make us completely keel over for the umpteenth time, and depending on which side of the ever-widening aisle you fall on, the results of the 2020 Election have offered a glimmer of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. However, I know I’m not alone when I say that I feel like I’ve already witnessed and experienced a decade’s worth of strife, struggle, and suffering in the past nine months.
2020 was the year that changed everyone’s game. 2020 was the year when it took an invisible enemy to expose not just all of our weaknesses but the ugly fractures in a nation we always believed to be built on solid ground; it opened our eyes, letting (some of) us see that the American Dream has diminished into an American Illusion. It was a year that could very well be looked at, in hindsight, as the eruption of a long-dormant volcano, an inevitable result of years — hell, decades — of social injustice, corrupted politics, a widening socioeconomic gap, and patriarchal micro-aggressions. And because I am not a political scientist, a sociologist, or a historian, I’ll let those experts have their say about these past 365 days. My metaphor is this: 2020 was the season finale of a long-running cable drama rife with antiheroes, too many bad decisions, unbearable heartache, and horrific plot twists that emboldened its main villain.
For the first time in my adult life, I don’t know where the rest of my adult life is heading — not for any specific, personal reasons per se — but because the world as I know it, along with all of its socioeconomic infrastructures and norms, is crumbling at an accelerated rate. We are living through a national existential crisis whether we know it or not.
Of course all of these dark thoughts, sad realizations, and melancholy obsessions are just some of the symptoms of Pandemic Fatigue, a concept that would have been unfathomable at the beginning of March. Most of us have never had this much time on our hands for this kind of self-reflection. But here we are. While a part of me has adjusted to this Age of Isolation, another part refuses to settle into any solitary habits, because I fundamentally know that an end to all of this emotional heaviness will eventually come. Then again, I am a single and childless adult who grew up as an only child, now teetering on the edge of a potential mid-life crisis (whatever that may look like these days), so my independence and thoughts are all that I have right now. But that may be another essay for another day…
While discussing creativity in these quarantined times, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Powers told GQ in June that it’s astonishing to see how rapidly we’ve been forced out of a “commodity-driven mode of life,” one that we’re in most of the time (the having mode of life), and forced into what he calls a being mode of life: “It’s an immense communal gesture we’re undertaking. To think of all these people who now have to stay home after a long time in a culture that says, ‘Be all you can be, go where you want to go, everything is available to you!’ To have that taken away and be rushed into this other mode of being is, in itself, a kind of work of art.” Work, yes, because it requires an enormous effort that can take a mental and physical toll on us. But art? Maybe. Art implies a creative expression, so perhaps how we present ourselves, how we act, and what we do during these times can ultimately reveal who we really are. The above quote is an insightful one and comes from a writer, a profession that already comes with a significant amount of social isolation built in. (Regularly being alone with your thoughts is a writer’s default setting.)
When I went into my own being mode this year, like most people, I tried to make the best of…nothing. I went for long walks. I used FaceTime more often. I didn’t make my own bread, contrary to popular trends; the only thing I baked was a box of Betty Crocker yellow cake I consumed within four days. I turned 40, hunched over my laptop while looking at boxes of smiling faces of people I loved, one of the first birthdays to be celebrated during this new normal. I watched celebrities get together for cast reunions on Zoom. I sank deeper into the comforts of watching TV shows from my childhood and adolescence, riding high on nostalgia. *FYI: the second half of the second season of the original Melrose Place is simply [chef’s kiss]. I went on long, solo drives to get out of the city. I put together a pile of books I was determined to read. I promised my agent I’d get started on a new novel (Ha!). I moved into a new 1-bedroom apartment; I was one of many who participated in what seemed to be The Great Pandemic Population Shuffle. I downloaded meditation apps and learned how to breathe during times when it was difficult to do so. I signed up for therapy through my healthcare provider. I re-trained myself to practice gratitude every week because I realized how privileged I am to still have healthcare enabled by a full-time job I still have. Subsequently, I’ve used the abbreviation “WFH” one too many times on my Instagram posts.
But as we settle into these final, scary days of 2020, I feel compelled to do the obligatory look-back to see where this year went and how I managed through it all. A monthly snapshot, if you will, that my future self can revisit when we’re all in a better place…
MARCH: Home Office Sweet Home Office
The 13th falls on a Friday. Somewhat fitting. Another serendipitous calendar date that usually inspires movie nights featuring a certain hockey-masked slasher. (I am an unabashed horror fan.) But Friday, March 13, 2020 represents a different kind of killer, one that wipes out the social calendars of a global population. Today is my last day working from an office, physically sitting next to other human bodies in staff meetings, and enjoying my normal commute down Olympic Boulevard. From here on out, I have to transform the corner of my bedroom into a private office and grow accustomed to a home life that now includes late-night work calls, Slack pings, and never-ending Zoom sessions.
APRIL: OK Zoomer
Speaking of Zoom, my relationship with these video calls goes something like this: it starts out as an awkward courtship. Yes, I’ve been guilty of speaking while muted. Soon thereafter, my tolerance for videoconferencing is so low, I can’t stand to look at another friendly face on screen for another minute (and there is a scientific explanation for this). This prompts me to turn down some non-work-related invitations from friends who organize fun virtual game nights. I realize this is probably a sign of depression as well. Elsewhere, I feel the pressure to be creative and productive during what is going to be a long haul. I feel the pressure to remain physically active. I occasionally pick up and curl a 12-pound kettlebell. I soak up the entirety of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and listen to other love songs that trigger my inner hopeless romantic — not helpful for someone who experienced heartbreak right before going into quarantine.
MAY: My Two Diets
There has been a surge in potato chip consumption. Pizza deliveries have become more frequent. (Hooray for Papa John’s Rewards!) And despite upping my protein shake game, I invest in two liters of vodka, some Maker’s Mark, and a few bottles of merlot. As for my media diet, The Golden Girls is a constant companion. I attempt to binge series I never finished (Hello, Dexter and This Is Us). I scroll through thirst traps, silently cursing their defiant displays of skin while the world around them suffers. And by the end of the month, I am fortunate enough to escape the city for the first time, driving to the desert to spend Memorial Day weekend by a private pool and gaze at the stars in Joshua Tree.
JUNE: No Justice, No Peace
What is supposed to be a month of Pride turns into something else entirely. I realize there is a movement bigger than anything I’ve ever experienced. I witness a communal rage I’ve never seen before as I drive through the streets of Los Angeles. Several acquaintances of mine are among the peaceful protesters who are shot at with rubber bullets by local police. Meanwhile, on one of my walks, I see the National Guard roll through my neighborhood, the streets now lined with boarded-up storefronts and graffitied messages wishing George Floyd to rest in power, disturbing scenes from a dystopian society. Soon thereafter I march several miles with tens of thousands of masked strangers in solidarity. I listen to passionate speeches that end in emotional rallying cries. I make attempts to #ShareBlackStories and then educate myself on an American history that was and is never taught in classrooms. For the rest of the month I find myself flinching at the sound of any siren, helicopter, or roaring engine at any given hour.
JULY: How I Spent My Summer Pandemic
At this point, I have logged about 35 hours of B-grade horror films with my weekly Saturday night Zoom group. A co-viewing of titles like Hell Night, Cheerleader Camp, and Slumber Party Massacre II are accompanied by comments and GIF reactions in our WhatsApp group chat. Someone makes an obvious joke about 2020 being a horror movie in itself. Next, I go to my first-ever drive-in movie (The Rental, Dave Franco’s directorial debut). The outdoor big-screen experience and the taste of buttery popcorn make me yearn to go back to multiplexes with my moviegoing friends. God I miss movie theaters…
AUGUST: New Address, Who Dis?
The inevitable arrives. After more than thirteen years of residing on LA’s west side, I head east to the neighborhood of Los Feliz and settle into a place of my own for the first time in a long time. Redecorating, purchasing new furniture, and online shopping provide temporary distraction from the dreadful news of the world.
SEPTEMBER: Back to Drool
My moods tend to shift between “Finding Solace in Gratitude” and “Quietly Drowning in Despair.” My sleep patterns are off. I scold myself for doomscrolling on my phone and exposing myself to a barrage of horrific headlines. My heart aches for families going through unprecedented (God I hate that word) turmoil. Yet I have to count my blessings while my family, on the other side of the country, continues to be safe and well.
OCTOBER: Tricked and Treated
The driver side window of my Civic is shattered. Mine is one of three cars vandalized in the gated garage of my new home. Apparently “robbing season” has kicked off early this year (luckily, nothing was taken). Two weeks later, I am fortunate enough to have the ability and means to escape the city once again and find refuge up in the mountains for two days. I get tested for coronavirus for the second time this year — the results are negative.
NOVEMBER: Autumn Chill Pill
One night I hear my neighbor singing Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” a song that would send anyone into a downward spiral of depression. It’s a whole 2020 mood that I am not ready to listen to. However, after a four-day delay, the historic results of the election come in. It is sweet relief. I cruise down Santa Monica Boulevard on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon to witness masked Angelenos dancing in the streets, waving flags and blaring music. Finally, I think, we can take to the streets for something good this year. And finally, something to be thankful for when I sit down with two friends for a quiet turkey feast. But to see the number of people who voted for D****d T***p for a second term crushes my soul. I am sickened by the willful ignorance that has become the cancer of America. This inspires me to write a reactionary blog post titled “I Am No Longer Proud to Be An American.”
DECEMBER: Season’s Fleeting
’Tis the season for some yuletide distractions, this time in the form of syrupy-sweet holiday TV-movies about single white women being entranced by the wonders of small-town life and the chaste attraction to blandly handsome men who haven’t met a flannel shirt they didn’t like…
And right now? I am attempting to reverse the effects of my Pandemic Fatigue. This means letting in some hope, as much as that word has been thrown around lately. Hope for a return to relative normalcy in 2021, whatever that will be. Hope for the world, especially Americans, to learn from this experience and carry that lesson with them well into the rest of their lives. Hope for all of us to heal from the collective trauma that was this year. The long-term effects of this global crisis are still unknown, and while I could spew out a few more clichéd sentiments to make you and me feel warm and cozy at the end of this long-winded review, the realist in me chooses to be cautiously optimistic as we continue to move ahead. Peppermint hot chocolate helps too.
Which leaves us with the age-old question that is always asked around this time of year: Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never be brought to mind?
When it comes to 2020, it should never be forgotten.