I’m up early, this last day of 2020 and the second day of my 48th year, thinking back on this most incredible of years. Because my birthday is so close to the end of the year and the start of the next, it has an extra weighty feeling of closure and beginning. It always has. And I have always fought a bit with some melancholy around it because of its proximity to all the hoopla tied to New Year’s Eve and Day.
Last year, for the first time, I intentionally looked back at the calendar year. I assessed 2019 from the lens of some questions I had found that I was particularly keen on. They were great questions, and I invite you to join me, again or for the first time, in thinking through and answering these questions for yourself in response to 2020.
What makes this year unforgettable?
COVID. It encompasses absolutely everything about this year, including the fact that Dr Marry and I both contracted it over Christmas break. COVID is responsible for global despair. It took so many people far too soon and disrupted the world’s economy. It further polarized our political schism and widened the gap between the haves and the have nots. It pushed the nonprofit sector to a dangerous edge of a deep cliff; my fear is that 2021 will see the arts sub-sector, in particular, tumble right over that edge into a terrifying free fall that many will not survive.
The murder of George Floyd. For some reason, this moment in May became a tipping point for our nation and other parts of the world. I don’t know why his death spurred people to a different level of action, but it did, and the Black Lives Matter movement has firmly taken root—a very good thing and one that is already showing signs of making actual progress and change. It’s hard to fathom the very real racial inequities of my country from my very privileged perch, but I am working to be much more educated and aware of my role in it all.
My two-week writing retreat in September. There’s no way to succinctly wrap up that experience except to say it changed the way I think about myself and move through the world. It pushed me, personally and professionally, and I will be filled with gratitude for it for the rest of my life.
What did you enjoy doing this year?
Beyond the devastation (and our late in the year diagnosis), COVID was a gift for Dr Marry and me. I closed down my offices in March and have been working from home ever since. That means Dr Marry and I had all spring and summer and much of the fall together since his job was also a hybrid of in-person and virtual teaching. We walked and biked more than we ever have. I baked copious amounts of bread and went back to my pre-full time job delight of searching for and trying fun new recipes.
We did manage to take one trip in February to England to celebrate Dr Marry turning 50. I had planned that trip for 53 weeks, so I am beyond grateful that his birthday happened before the world turned upside down.
What/who is the one thing/person you’re grateful for?
I am grateful for lots of people in my life, but this year, during this months-long period of sheltering at home, I am most profoundly grateful for Dr Marry’s sobriety. I can’t fathom what this would have been like to live through had he still been drinking. He talks often of the fact that he didn’t drink at work. Those hours were sandwiched between drinking in the mornings and evenings at home. If he hadn’t been sober before this all started, he would have had all day, for months at a time, to drink. I am quite certain that had he not died four years ago, this would have done it. And these months, which for us were a delightful time of connection, would have been a truly terrible time of merely existing in the same home at best, fighting all the time at worst.
What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year?
Funnily enough, COVID kind of wiped out my interest in reading. The last day our public library was open, I checked out a number of books, hoping against hope that they would sustain me until the library opened again. When it finally did, months later, I found that I hadn’t even read everything I checked out. My attention span was drifty through much of this year, and reading was just not something I could stay focused on.
I did, however, manage to read some:
- The Choice by Dr Edith Eva Eger
- Life is in the Transitions by Bruce Feiler
- The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, my Christmas present from Dr Marry
- And Then, We Laughed by Delaine Shay
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer
- The Jane Austen Diet by Jane Austen and Brian Kozlowski
- Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry
- Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
- Don’t Keep Your Day Job by Cathy Heller
- A Woman Makes a Plan by May Musk
- Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro
- Devotion by Dani Shapiro
- Creative Careers by B. Jeffrey Madoff
- Stand Out by Dori Clark
- Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley, by birthday present from Dr Marry
What was your biggest regret and why?
I don’t have any regrets for this year. I wish we had been able to travel more. We had some fabulous trips planned, but the exchange was enjoying being in our very pretty back yard, biking to ice cream and taking copious walks throughout our neighborhood.
I wish we had been able to see Quinn more. It was hard to not have him home for Thanksgiving or Christmas because it wasn’t safe to travel, but we did see him twice, and he has stayed healthy and employed throughout all of this, so I am filled with way more gratitude than regret.
What’s one thing that changed about yourself?
I stopped apologizing or being ashamed of proclaiming what I really want out of my life. Thanks to the time and the work I did during my writing retreat, I am about to offer my second (virtual) Personal Systems Disruption weekend retreat, and I am clearer about the direction I want to move than I ever have been.
What surprised you the most this year?
I was surprised at how easily I let go of my long-held habits and embraced the uncertainty.
The whirlwind of a demanding day job just slipped away to reveal the essence of why we do arts advocacy. By removing the extraneous “stuff” of my day job, we actually made a more significant impact on the sector. We pivoted time after time to provide important programming virtually and resources to artists and the arts nonprofits. I’m incredibly proud of the way we have not only survived through COVID but thrived through it.
While there were aspects of being social I missed, mostly I relished the time to myself and to my marriage. I spent every day in the sunroom or in the back yard all spring, summer and fall long. I gardened and baked and explored our neighborhood with Dr Marry. We were so much more intentional about moving our bodies and choosing where to spend our money. I enjoyed the seasons and was conscious of the day to day changes of nature in ways that I hadn’t been for years.
Mostly, I was present. Period. My calendar and clock did not rule my life, and I actually enjoyed time to pursue many things I wanted to pursue. I am loathe to give that up.
If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?
Trust your instincts. You’re going to be so much more than fine. You’re going to start down some paths you kind of know about but can’t yet articulate. Keep taking steps forward, and enjoy the uncertainty. Celebrate that you are creative enough to take it all in, process it and turn it into something meaningful, for yourself and for others.