Retrospective

My new year begins on my birthday and not so much New Year’s Day the federal holiday. Part of this is because my birthday is very close to the spring equinox [in the Northern Hemisphere] and spring feels more “new” than two weeks after the winter solstice when we’re all exhausted and it’s too dark to feel really motivated. Part of it is that New Years is for everyone, but my birthday is just for me; there is less of an audience about my birthday resolutions and more of an opportunity for introspection and goal setting.

Of course, this particular trip around the sun for me personally coincides pretty closely with the Covid-19 year. Everyone wanted this to be about the year 2020, but pandemics [and personal cycles] do not really give a shit about the arbitrary nature of ascribing meaning to the the Gregorian Calendar. What this really means is that my last year of thinking about myself is quite wound up in thinking about the pandemic itself and the changes that I [we all] have gone through since roughly this time last year. Which is to say, I didn’t really want to talk about the pandemic itself, but it’s sort of unavoidable, so I will just go with it.

I don’t miss people. Recently I saw a meme on some introverts page that basically said, “when quarantine is over we’ll have to admit to ourselves that we’re not coming out because we don’t really want that drink.” I’m not going to go flood into socializing again once I get my shot. In my state, all people over 16 are eligible beginning April 1, so I will likely be fully vaccinated and ready to mingle with other vaccinated people inside before Memorial Day. This means I could go to a bar an have a drink like it was pre-covid. Probably I will not do this. Bars are loud and stupid. I have sunk a lot of money into our “new” house and I do not think that I will be trading that in to go to a loud place with overpriced alcohol that stresses me out. You might see me have a pint at the brewery while I fill up my growler, but probably only outside in the sun. Instead I am going to have my friends over to my house, because I like it here and I still like them as much now as I did before.

I never want to go to the office again. Turns out: it sucks there every bit as much as I always suspected. There are no fluorescent lights in my house, I don’t have to overhear my coworkers talk about bitcoin and have to restrain my moralizing, I don’t have to consider where I might have a panic attack where no one else will be disturbed/nosy/”helpful,” and [most importantly] I do not have to commute so I don’t have to get up early and pretend I am a morning person. I did wear real pants almost this entire time and I did maintain hygiene to a more acceptable level [fewer showers] and now I can also turn the laundry over during meetings that should be emails. So truly, work-life balance achieved! [This is definitely sarcasm, I am horrific at work-life balance, but I can do a much better job of taking care of myself working from home].

Things I miss a lot:

  • going to the movies
  • eating out with my better half [especially brunch]
  • craft nights
  • book club [we did this over zoom, but it is not as good]
  • church in person
  • my monthly philosophy nights and occasional weekend workshops [they were hard to have outside in winter]
  • meals with friends [things like holidays were a bit difficult this winter]
  • traveling to new cities, staying with long-distance friends and eating out
  • running into acquaintances while walking downtown and remarking on the larger size of our respective children
  • going to the hot springs [we could have done this because it is outside, but so many maskholes]
  • wearing earrings [not compatible with masks]
  • dressing up for special occasions
  • being able to read people’s lips when they talk

Things I do not miss at all:

  • kid birthday parties and school holiday parties [never having my Saturday disrupted by some random kid’s 1:30 party where I have to buy a stranger a gift I can live with; never being a “snack parent” – barf emoji]
  • school performances [can we never do the “winter holiday” performance again?]
  • hugs from over-huggers
  • plucking my eyebrows
  • wearing a real bra [I will try never to do this again]
  • maintaining a professional wardrobe [these are designed to say almost nothing about you as a person and all require real bras]
  • running into acquaintances and having to make small talk
  • people saying “let’s hang out!” who never follow up
  • airports
  • my office and co-workers
  • using all my vacations days to visit my family
  • crowds [my tolerance for this is way down, I can’t even handle standing in line at the hardware store anymore]
  • getting stuck in a conversation with an extrovert/over-sharer with no way to get out
  • people accidentally touching me/being in my space

Less this all sound glib, I realize that the last year has been very hard on almost everyone, and I understand that a lot of that is a real [REAL] tragedy. I have lost people too [it was all an avoidable waste]. Because of the horror of my 9-to-5 [not really pandemic specific] I did not get to do that whole “slow living” thing a lot of people did. I didn’t get more quality time with family where I could pick up a new hobby or experiment with leisure time. I know I am supposed to be grateful that I still have a job because so many people lost theirs, but truly I am pissed off that we didn’t learn a valuable lesson about the stupidity of wage labor and productivism. For everyone I know who got to keep their job working from home another job could have been carved out of it based on the new productivity expectations employers seem to have now that there is no divide between home and work life. And don’t get me started on what has happened to women…

I had wanted to spend the last year of my life trying to find some way to work 40 hours a week without losing my soul, but instead that got worse. It has been very nice to be affluent enough in my “new” job to afford things like solar panels and deer-fencing and garden beds, but I am still struggling with the overall costs on my body and mental health. Now I am on the precipice of another year and I feel as though I didn’t have the space to learn about myself what I really needed last year. Like the 38th year of my life was this bizarre-o parallel universe where there was not a single milestone to mark the passage of time but I managed to get exactly zero rest. Sort of like anti-Groundhog Day because every day certainly counted and I couldn’t just learn to play classical piano or become a truly self-actualized person, but there was nothing to tell the days apart other than the advancement of days on my toolbar.

I learned a lot about the people my kids are this year and some of it was hard. My oldest kid is widely considered to be the ubermensch [sort of a joke, but a depressing one] but without the structure of normal life around him he has no idea what to do with his time or what motivates him to grow. This makes me sad and a little fearful for his future, because all meaning in adult life happens without anyone to tell you that you’ve done a good job or that you’re even doing it right. My youngest kid, who I thought was destined to suffer a life of comparison to her “golden” older brother, is a miraculous person who is remarkably helpful and intrinsically motivated, and is going to be so good at being an adult human I wish I could be her when I grow up. Granted, my children are real people and not archetypes so they need real things from their mother, and truly she didn’t have much for them this year. Also, they’re not done being who they are going to be; this is a stupid year to snapshot to say anything about who anyone is on the inside.

I have spent this year being profoundly grateful that we bought our house in 2019 before the world went crazy. My heart hurts for all the people with insecure housing and all the people for whom the last year was not just a endless string of days that blurred together without meaning, but also an endless string of days wondering where they were going to live or how they were going to feed their family. And I have been grateful in my choice of partner: no matter how hard this year was or could have been I didn’t have to do anything alone or without someone else to share it with. Several times I have been breathless thinking of all the people trapped in terrible marriages who were now literally trapped in their houses. The psychological warfare of that terrifies me. People definitely need college debt forgiveness and a suspension of evictions, but I also wish that we could give people some free divorces and transitional housing.

Unrelated to the pandemic, this year I was able to realize a lot of life goals [that I felt like I didn’t have the ability to truly enjoy]. We really do have the beginnings of the urban homestead that we had been working towards. All that saving money and researching is paying off. We got chickens and a dog [the cat was not in the plan and she’s ridiculous, but we love her]. Because of stimulus checks, we got to put a lot of money back into the local economy very deliberately. I can feel good about the way that we enriched our own lives and our community.

It was not a good year. I enjoyed very little of it, truly. But because of a lot of work [and rather a bit of luck as well] it was the best possible worst year. That isn’t some toxic positivity nonsense. I’m not saying it was the best possible worst year because other people had a worse year, or because it could have been worse for me personally. More of what I mean is that I have had a handful of truly shitty years in my life, but this is the one that I think I had the reserve to weather the best. Instead of being devastating or traumatic, this year was actually affirming. Sometimes life is horrible for no reason [for many reasons] and all you can do is get through it alive and minimally scarred. Success.

Rather than think to myself [and proclaim here], “this year is our year! It’s going to be great!” I think I know better. It’s just going to be a year. I would like to write more, consume more responsibly and live a life more in line with my principles, which as far as resolutions go is barely new. Sure I would like to not spend this next year losing my faith in humanity, or working 14 hours days, or having a horrific [expensive] emergency to have to cope with, but also if I have to do that I know that I can.

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