Reflections on 2020

What a year, what a year! 2020 has been a shock to the system, all systems. It goes without saying at this point that it has a been a terrible, rotten, no-good year for most people. A lot of people didn’t make it to the end, and I think very few people made it to the end of the year unscathed. For me, this was going to be a year or traveling, continuing to explore New England and build my social circles in the area, go on dates and maybe find a relationship. None of that happened. Instead of spending a year being outgoing and social, it turned out to be year of turning inwards, and rebuilding my inner life.

To be honest, the last twelve months have been a bit of blur, and making myself sit down and reflect on the past year is making me wonder: what the hell just happened? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is kind of a lot. February 23, would be the last time I wrote outside the apartment: a Sunday Selection post from the excellent Andala Coffee House in Central Square, which I sincerely hope stays afloat. Barely three weeks later, in early March, I started writing a daily log about my social distancing adventures. March turned out to be the most prolific month ever on this blog, all the way back to when I started in 2006 (!!!). I managed to keep this series going until I realized that I was repeating the same day over and over. I suspect, the mind-numbing sameness of the last year has been a large part of why it’s been so taxing.

By the time we got around to April, the days had taken the shape they would retain for the rest of the year. A basic sameness to each day, at least an hour of Zoom calls most days, nowhere to go and nothing much to do. I had made some amount of peace with not being able to do all the things I had wanted this year. Luckily, Massachusetts managed to get the first wave of the virus fairly under control during the summer. Also by this time we had realized that outdoor, sufficiently spaced activities were relatively safe. Summer turned out to be a much-needed reprieve. There were long walks outside, and a good amount of distanced outdoor dining. For a couple of good weeks, I took the mostly empty subway downtown to the Boston Athenaeum, spending lunches sitting around the Boston Commons. It was good to get a break from spending most of the day, everyday, in the same room. This was around the same time that to maintain some semblance of a social life I started playing video games. This was the first time I’d really played since high school and the first time in my life that I played online with and against other people. I even invested in a fancy GPU so that I could do so with better-than-minimal graphics.

In August, my housemates and I moved from our swanky modern apartment to an older house in the suburbs. We have a much larger, somewhat cheaper space, with a backyard, good neighbors and lots of space for the cats. It’s not as nice as the apartment, but it’s definitely the better choice for what looks like almost another year that we’ll be stuck mostly at home. We each have our own workspace, a spare room for plants and exercising, and separate living room, dining room and kitchen. If we’re going to be home all the time, we at least have a number of different spaces to live and move around in.

By the Fall, a lot of the shock of initial pandemic-induced isolation had worn off. I managed to turn some psychological energy into making progress, rather than just existing. Professionally, the Fall has been a good time. I made some progress on my main research projects and joined in on two new projects. I also taught the undergraduate compilers class at Tufts University. It was my first time teaching a class on my own, and though I regret not being able to do it in a proper classroom, it was definitely an enlightening and enriching experience. All of this has been tiring and more than a little stressful, especially in the absence of traditional Fall Break. But on the other hand, it has been good to make progress in some ways, when so much else seems to be on pause.

I’m trying not to look back on this year with rose-tinted glasses. But I’m also recognizing that I’ve had it easier than most. I’ve been lucky to have stable employment that transitioned pretty seamlessly to remote work (I already had a good setup at home, so didn’t need to scramble to buy equipment). My housemates have been wonderful and taken on most of the outside-the-home tasks like grocery shopping. I was lucky to live somewhere that got the virus under control for most of the time we had good weather outside. My parents and most of my extended family have been safe and virus-free. The cats have been generally well-behaved and affectionate (a couple of puking incidents aside). And though I haven’t traveled at all, I have managed to eat quite a few new foods this year (and a lot of interesting cocktails).

All that being said, this has definitely been a year where I have simply existed, instead of lived. At the same time, all the various tribulations have made thrown my personal growth into overdrive. I have learned about what is important to me, what the needs, wants and nice-to-haves in my life are. I have also learned to do without a lot of the things I thought I needed. At the end of the year, I know myself better than when I started, and perhaps for the first time in my life have been able to just sit with my emotions and thoughts and let them be, rather than trying to avoid them or get carried away by them. I also reevaluated some of my relationships (and the lack thereof), my expectations surrounding them, and managed to let go of some things that I have been holding on to far too long. Hopefully this clears some headspace to allow in better things in the future. Of course, none of this would have been possible without a very good therapist and a meditation group that has been meeting remotely all year. As I said at the beginning of this post, I had to turn inwards, and ended up making a fair bit of progress (though not without a good amount of pain and discomfort along the way).

As I’m writing this, the COVID vaccines are rolling out, though slowly and wastefully (in the US at least). But it will probably be many months until I get the vaccine myself and the greater part of the year until we get back to some semblance of normalcy. I am hoping that lessons I’ve learned this year and the growth I’ve done makes it possible to actually live next year, rather than just exist. But that’s a topic for another post.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on 2020

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