It’s Been a Year

March 29, 2021

Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

It’s been about a year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. And it’s also been a year, if you know what I mean. In addition to a pandemic, so many other awful things happened—or were revealed—during 2020. I’ve been trying to come up with some thoughts to mark the occasion, but the document for this post has been open on my computer for two weeks! The Year That Must Not Be Named has left me speechless.

Well, almost. Here are a few thoughts…

Surviving, not thriving

Most of us have experienced a year of isolation, confusion, frustration, fear, and sorrow. But if we’ve been lucky, it’s also been a year of small pleasures, slowing down, and deep thankfulness. Pretty much the same as any year, but much more intense. Anyone who lived through 2020 has likely been changed forever in some way. Think about what you were looking forward to at the start of last year, the things that took up much of your attention. How have they changed? What has become more important to you, or less so?

I’m disappointed that I didn’t produce any brilliant work, make sourdough bread, or learn a new skill (I did complete a year of French practice on Duolingo. Je regrette to say I’m nowhere near being skillful, let alone fluent). But I did keep our household stocked with food and other essentials (including toilet paper) and we all survived, even my husband who actually had COVID. For me, 2020 was about surviving. Some seasons of life are just about surviving, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that. 2021 has not been much different yet, but there are signs that things are slowly changing.

A shot in the arm

Last week I got my first dose of vaccine against COVID. My planner is starting to fill up again, with a haircut here, and an outdoors coffee date there. I’m taking a Florida road trip with my friend Kerri. And while I haven’t reserved the ticket yet, I’m tentatively planning a trip to visit my mom in California sometime later this year. Provided it seems relatively safe to do so.

And while last year was mostly a long, slow nightmare, no experience is wasted—even the pandemic ones. As we stumble toward a new normal (should we call it “nermal” with apologies to Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis?), ask yourself, “What have I learned about myself this past year? How has it changed me? Have I made changes I want to bring forward into the future? 

I still feel like I’m picking up the pieces of my life and trying to fit them into a new pattern. Nothing gets put back in without scrutiny. Does it belong here? Or here? Or maybe it doesn’t fit at all anymore. This is going to take some time.

I hope that 2020 brought you some gifts along with all its trauma. I hope that 2021 is objectively a much more positive year. I hope that we don’t forget how at the beginning of all this, we tried so hard to be positive and help each other.

That’s what I’d like to see carry over into the future.  


Do You Feel Like You’re “Flunking” the Pandemic?*

May 22, 2020

I’ve been feeling disappointed in myself lately, that I haven’t “achieved” more during our stay-at-home order. I haven’t taken this time to think deeply about my life and determine what, if anything, I want to change going forward. I haven’t reorganized my bookshelves. I haven’t made sourdough bread starter, or even caught up on TV shows I want to see. And my first (and so far, only) attempt at mask making was a sad failure. I don’t appear to be doing anything other than just my normal stuff.

Am I flunking the pandemic?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of “10 Craft Projects to Do During Lockdown,” and “How to Write Your Novel While Sheltering in Place,” not to mention, “Get Your Body in Bikini-Shape While the World Ends All Around You.” I understand the urge to make the most of our time and not to wish it away, but more and more often when I read headlines like the above, my response is: barf.

(Note: You really shouldn’t ask people terrified of losing their jobs, getting sick or even dying to be bikini ready by June.)

Is it only Americans who turn a worldwide pandemic into a chance to do more, hustle more, sculpt our clearly inferior selves into something shiny and new, emerging like a butterfly from one of the most stressful and frightening times in our nation’s history?

What is wrong with us?

I admit that during the past couple of months of staying home I thought I’d:

  • Spend hours reading
  • Bake a lot
  • Tidy, organize, and purge

I was surprised to find that I didn’t spend any more time than I normally would have doing those things. I did make brownies once, and I’m in an ongoing wrestling match with papers in my office, but after the closet, not much else has gotten cleaned.

No, I haven’t organized my home library.
No, I haven’t made artisan bread.
No, I haven’t learned a second language, written my book, painted the woodwork in my bathroom, or binge watched all of Netflix. I’ve listened to *one * podcast.

I think my way of coping is staying within my normal routine as much as possible.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong if you have been productive during quarantine. I have one friend who’s been tackling home improvement chores and another one who’s made thirteen quilts. We all handle stress and time on our hands in different ways.

If you made the equivalent of thirteen quilts, that’s awesome. I hope you enjoyed the process and found it soothing.

If you watched thirteen straight hours of Harry Potter movies while eating popcorn from a bowl on your chest, I hope that kept the anxiety at bay until you could cope with it.

My point, and I do have one, is that whatever form your self-care and coping comes in, it’s OK. Just because you’re not going to your 9-to-5 job every day doesn’t mean you must replace that with a long list of self or home improvement tasks. You don’t always have to be doing, improving. You can just be. Really. Sometimes, it’s better to soften

Bless you if you’ve been helping your neighbors or continuing to work in your normal job. Bless you if you’ve been keeping the rest of us fed, medicated, clothed, and otherwise stumbling along. But also bless you if it’s been all you can do to take a shower and get dressed, or make yourself and your family something to eat. Bless you if you spent two hours watching funny animal videos instead of cleaning the garage.

And please be kind, especially to yourself. You’re not flunking the pandemic, and neither am I. We’re surviving.

*This post inspired by Cathy Guisewite’s Instagram post.