It's January 2nd. I'm required by law to reflect on the last year. Where does one begin.
It's been raining for a week and my garden is covered in wet leaves. I still hear birdsong. It's 46 degrees, my family is alive, we are in the winter surge of the pandemic, and the world hasn't quite ended yet.
A key obstacle to my goal of maintaining positivity is that this (air quotes) practice I've put together for MAXIMUM SELF-CARE eats too much time. It starts at 9pm, when I begin the process of falling asleep. I get out of bed no earlier than 6am, complete my Noom exercises while having a cup of coffee, shower, dress, meditate, prepare and log my breakfast, and then exercise for 15-30 minutes. It absolutely works, I feel great. But then I look at the clock and it's 10am. Being on the west coast as it is, I can't start my workday so late without inconveniencing other people. So, unsurprisingly, this only works when I'm on vacation.
You'd think "start earlier" but the cornerstone of the whole thing is sleep. I've been working my way back to 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and it's the foundation. Non-negotiable. You'd think "do the healthy stuff in the afternoon"—which frankly may be where I land with all this—but, as everyone knows, the later the day, the lower the motivation. I'll need to experiment. My gut says that I need maximum sharpness and engagement, which I have in the mornings now, for work. It may be that with this practice, my sharpness and motivation will last longer, in which case I could just move my meetings and shift my day out later. Still, in a distributed tri-timezone workplace, that's a big ask.
Things I learned about myself in 2020 include: I have a razor thin amount of energy to invest in relationships. When I invest it well, it's fantastic and meaningful to the point of transcendental. Perhaps that reservoir is something I can exercise in order to expand, but it's pointless to struggle against your introversion and sacrifice your health; it's better to embrace and optimize what you do have to affect the most good. These lockdowns played to my strengths and, because they play to my strengths, I was able to help and support a substantial number of people, which was a bit of a revelation. I learned how to tithe. I developed a theory that my critical thinking skills are at the root of what prevents me from understanding religiosity and, like everything that has served me well, those skills are difficult to turn away from, even for a moment. I made jam, I baked a variety of cookies (some well), I grew corn. I ended up with more dahlias than I started with, and I started hydrangeas and lavender from cuttings. I set up a hummingbird feeder, which has been discovered. I planted two Japanese maples. I replaced two electrical outlets without dying. I learned that I can't get used to some things, like bad faith arguments and political partisanship, but I can get used to other things like lockdowns and tithing and wearing masks in public. I lost whatever joy I ever got in judging others for recreation. While other people miss movie theaters and going out to dinner, I miss driving to Canada (so much).
Social media platforms threw everyone in the same room without any warning or education, and everyone who has a different perspective or priors find themselves very uncomfortable and unsure how (or even whether) to engage with other people. It tends to go poorly. This discomfort is why we have cliques and castes and classes and clubs and support groups and friends. We're watching a generation learn how to fabricate a "personal brand" to earn a living being themselves, and they won't stop learning the hard way how difficult that is. I think it's admirable and corrosive and probably necessary. I was lucky, in that I discovered that there's no validation to be found on the internet, not even for free, and I learned it before the punishments got too bad. I still stick my foot in my mouth and (hi!) still publish things I should leave in my journal, but I rely on the fact that I'm too boring to get into too much trouble.
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- Correspondence, Wednesday, December 30, 2020, 11:29PM
I spent so much money and gained so much weight in 2020. I also funneled so much money to food banks and local farmers, and grew food to share. Everything had a desperate twin.
My extra weight doesn't make me feel lousy about myself, not this time. Maybe it's because I've gone through the process of transforming from fat to (I'm told) "a little bit too thin" already, but I think the weight gain is just a thing I need to take care of, like getting a mammogram and cervical cancer screening (also due). I carry all my extra weight in my bust and belly, so when I say that being fit feels better to be slim, I'm being very literal. This is like carrying a backpack, reversed, all the time. It's fine, but I also hate it and am constantly reminded of it.
Success means doing a thing for honest reasons. When I got to "a little too thin," I was disappointed not to be treated like royalty. Embarrassing but true. I had spent most of my adulthood overweight, and had talked with and been talked to by women who were overweight, and there was a perception I formed (rightly or wrongly) that overweight women had to overcome discrimination and the judgement of others. So when I lost all the weight and wore the expensive clothes and got highlights in my hair, etc etc, I really thought that people, particularly men, would behave differently. What I found (in my experience) was that they did not. There was no difference at all. My love life didn't improve, my professional life didn't improve, my friends and family didn't change beyond telling me I looked good but was perhaps getting "a little too thin." The (very gentle and well-intentioned) policing continued, and there was a lot of amateur therapy swirling around the topic. Nothing substantive changed. To be honest, I found that fact a little comforting. The only genuine difference for me—and this is no small thing—was that I wasn't carrying a backpack. That is the only problem it solves.
I'm grateful to have had that experience, so as to confirm exactly what my weight does and doesn't entail. As a side benefit, I have that much more additional appreciation and gratitude for my friends, colleagues, and family, too—they're good people who love me for me. No, you need to tend to yourself for the sake of your health and convenience. And, in 2021, I want to get rid of the backpack again, catch up with all my medical and dental checks, and end the year transformed and optimized to what I want, and how I want to live. Cliché but there it is. It's a selfish resolution maybe, in a world so broken, and any other year I'd say that was a crazy resolution that's doomed to fail. But we all need to work through 2020, each in our own way, and my way is to keep the tithing but lose the weight. Also, I want to drive to Canada on Labor Day weekend again (so much), fates be willing.
After 9/11, people said the world would never be the same.
I always felt that was a bit of hyperbole, more an expression of how angry the speaker was, rather than an objective observation of fact. It may have been a necessary precondition to all that's has happened since, perhaps... what Doctor Who would call a "fixed point in time." Whereas I've no doubt in my mind that the world will never be the same coming out of 2020. No one admits it yet, but math says we'll have lost half a million people by the end of this thing. Work has changed and will stay changed. The retail sector is at risk of going the way of manufacturing. A significant minority of Americans are in a state of mass hysteria that borders on religious fervor. We have destabilized our government and reformed it to serve the radical wings of both parties. Journalism is clinging to life by whipping up frenzy. Isolated people with misguided beliefs are bringing guns to street brawls and attempting to sabotage our national communication network by suicide bomb. We have gaping holes where ethics should be in organizations that manage law enforcement and develop technology. It scares the bejeezus out of a lot of people, including me, but being scared won't prevent tomorrow. It's okay. In the sense that Ram Dass put it, "Don't be afraid of the next thing."
There are even more people who want to start healing. Step one is getting comfortable, being in the room. Support and comfort others who are trying their best. Assume positive intent. Make room for divergence. Breathe.