In 2019, I spent a cumulative three months at home. And I wrote about it here on this blog. It’s a big part of the reason I started writing here. That year was incredibly trying. I was constantly isolated and moving around. I wasn’t able to form new relationships and I was constantly in new places. I was often living in a single room by myself without a real kitchen and I had a very small budget for food. When I wasn’t working, I was binging CosTube and BreadTube, learning to crochet, and playing video games. I could only interact with most of the people I knew, including my infant children, through phone calls and videos. That year, it turned out, was a rehearsal.
This is how a lot of us spent 2020. For me, at least, the main difference was that I wasn’t completely alone. I got to hole up with my family. Everyone in academia was in the same boat, so we attended conferences, talks, and meetings virtually. For all that the change and the isolation were different from what we’re used to, for those of us whose livelihoods weren’t affected, we need to consider that this year really wasn’t that bad.
In a weird way, 2020 showed us where we’ve been heading, a world where everything is virtual. A few years ago I played the excellent game Talos Principle, in which it is gradually revealed through message board posts that the entire world has had their consciousness uploaded to the internet. That idea stuck with me, even though it’s not really the point of the game. The more online we are, the harder it is to remember why we aren’t. No one needs to be convinced at the end of 2020 that it’s important to sign off, go for a walk, and see a friend in person.
At the same time, we don’t need to have learned anything personal from this experience. We should absolutely take away lessons about public health at just about every level. But this doesn’t need to be a year of personal growth. At the end of 2019, I was just glad to be done. The loneliness and struggle were real things I had experienced, but they were only a part of that year. While I was feeling lonely, I was also living. And throughout, I recognized that the loneliness was a function of my circumstances. It wasn’t something I needed to learn or grow from. That’s the hardest thing about 2020 for those of us who have made it through relatively unscathed: some bad experiences are just bad, they’re not lessons.
Leading up to 2021, I’m embracing some end of year cleaning. I don’t normally feel the turn of the year so strongly. I tend to live by the academic calendar, and that new year is more of a ramping up than a clean slate. Around August I tend to get one new item of nice clothing – something high-quality that I can wear often. I make sure I have my workspace in shape. But that’s pretty much the extent of my ritual. The new calendar year is even less noteworthy, which maybe is even more surprising given that my birthday is in January. But I’m just not one for rituals, apart from afternoon tea. This year, though, I have this itch to move and effect change on my environment, since the whole year has been so stationary. I, like many others, have had spurts of this impulse throughout the year, especially during the protests over the summer. Here at the end of the year, I just want to clean my house top to bottom and try to wash out the dust of 2020. It’s a symbolic gesture, since not much is going to change for a while. We’ll still be staying at home for quite a few more weeks. But new beginnings are poetic, so why not get a bit swept up in them?