There’s a lot of “happening” happening and frankly I’m sick of it. 

Oh man. Oh jeez. Where do I even begin?

There’s no central narrative to Jim’s 2020, though COVID will dominate. That’s just the A Plot. The B and C Plots for your 2020 were different depending on who you are—maybe you lost your livelihood, or lost your favorite hang out spot, or lost someone you loved, or lost your coping mechanisms. Nobody’s getting out of this year unscathed. Some of us are more scathed than others, but I’m glad to have shared the struggle with you. I’m glad you’re still here. Have some coffee with me.

I don’t want to fail you so
I tell you the awful truth
Everyone faces darkness on their own
As I have done, so will you

Forgive me if I run to the maudlin side of the room so early (that usually happens later). I think everybody deserves to be maudlin sometimes. Hey, it’s 2020. We all need a little extra this year. 

2020 was the year of A Lot of Stuff. The writers of the simulation really packed a lot in, like they had to use up their extra budget on the last episode of the season. 

2020 Was the Year of Letting People Do Things 

It’s 2020, so you should give yourself permission to [whatever]. Be lazy. Eat something you shouldn’t. Play video games in your pajamas. Indulge in something you normally go without. 

2020 Was the Year of Kindness

It’s 2020, so we need to worry about each other more than ever. 

2020 Was the Year of Forgiving Yourself

You probably did something you’re not proud of, or acted selfishly, or hurt somebody’s feelings, whatever. It’s 2020. Give yourself permission to be a flawed person. 

2020 Was the Year We Discovered Everything We Should Have Always Been Doing

Empathy, kindness, sacrifice, mercy, patience, especially for ourselves, is the lesson of 2020. You don’t have permission to be good to yourself because it’s 2020, but because you always had the right to those things. We lost some things we can never get back, people we can never see again. 2020 took a lot out of us. We must give ourselves permission to be ourselves.

The Story of the Year 

On a purely personal level, it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the narrative for Jim’s 2020. 2018 was easy: tumor time! 2019 was a year of collapse, both personally and professionally. So much happened in 2020 yet nothing really happened, too, yet everything actually happened and it’s still happening. It was hard in ways I didn’t expect and nothing was easy, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Fate’s cruel finger never found me.

Using Garbage as an Analogy for Writing

There’s a huge pile of cardboard boxes sitting in my living room. This often happens after the holidays. I have to break this stack down and take it someplace to be recycled. I know every single step. I know what I need to do and how to do it and in what order.

These three things are simultaneously true:

  1. I have decided what I need to do.

  2. I will do it when I’m ready.

  3. I will never be ready.

The fact that there is not a pile of cardboard from last year is evidence that I will do it eventually, before I’m ready. That’s because there is no such thing as “being ready.”

Every fortress falls
It is not the end

If Not Now, When?

I was in therapy, many years ago. I had been working hard on my social anxiety with my therapist, who was helping me toward the goal of being able to talk to strangers without having a panic attack. I had made great progress in his office, I had done my homework every week, and I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to get over my social anxiety.

“So, how did it go?” he asked.

I was speechless. I probably made a face like my favorite emoji: 🧐

I explained that I hadn’t actually done any of the things we had practiced. Why not, he asked. Because I’m not ready. He didn’t quote Hillel the Elder to me, but what he said was a gentle, therapisty way of saying the same thing. I’m paraphrasing, but this is what he said:

“There needs to come a point when this stops being theoretical. You won’t feel ready. You have to take those steps anyway or you’ll never get where you’re going.”

It was such a simple lesson to learn but it has informed every part of my life since I learned it. Like any lesson, I have to remind myself of it periodically. Sometimes, I have to rediscover it, like a book I forgot I owned and bought again.

What does that have to do with writing?

When I think about My Writing Career, it’s like looking at the sun. It’s like thinking about what happens after we die. It’s like moving a giant rock out of my yard so I can plant a garden there. I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t know what I need to do, and I’m not ready. I don’t want to confront it. I don’t want to answer the question lingering at the edge: should I just give it up?

More than once this year, I’ve considered throwing it away. I write every single day for my lensgrinding job, so it’s not as if I’ll stop writing words. But as far as my career as a fiction writer goes, I feel like I’ll always be a person who tried for a while but gave it up.

It ain’t if you fall
But how you rise that says
Who you really are

I Decided to Continue

I decided that I was simply being dramatic, as I often am. Stop being dramatic, I told myself. You’re just having a hard time of it. Save some of that sympathy for yourself.

I rediscovered that lesson I learned in my therapist’s office twenty years ago: I just have to do it. The only way to get through something is to go through it. All those doubts and fears and questions have one answer, a clanging, loud, ringing of a very large bell that says, in the language of bells, “just fucking do it.”

So I will. I’d rather be the dumb schlub who didn’t know he wasn’t any good and kept trying anyway than the person who stopped before he really got started.

Do you hear the bell?

I’ve Been Here Before

My memory is a tattered, unreliable thing. Stories I hear about people and who those people are don’t always converge, so somebody will tell me about something that happened to them and then bring it up later and I’ll have no memory of it, at first, but then they reframe it with a rough outline of what they already told me once instead of whatever signposts they thought were the important signifiers and I’ll remember it (usually).

Somebody might say “it’s like when Guy stole my air conditioner” and I don’t remember the story but then they’ll say “I told you about this, Guy stole my air conditioner on the hottest day of the year and drank all my seltzer, too” and then I’ll remember the story because the signpost that remained with me wasn’t the air conditioner at all but the seltzer. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t.

The point I was trying to make is this: I already wrote about giving up writing. It was over a year ago! Here we are again. I think all creative people can relate to that feeling, so it’s natural that I should experience it again.

Sometimes I Get Lost

I don’t mean literally lost, though that does happen, even in the age of GPS and omnipresent tracking, I mean in my own head. It’s not enough to simply forget things, I also enjoy worrying about forgetting things. Worrying is one of the dumbest things I do. Sometimes it pretends to be “planning” but it’s not.

Dementia lies heavy on my family tree. It doesn’t hit all of us, but when it does it hits hard. Some of us, like my great aunt, lived a very long time and only slightly lost her edge right at the end. Some of us, like the paternal grandfather I barely knew, died from Alzheimer’s. The paternal grandmother I knew very well died of vascular dementia, which is the medical term for a gradual, inexorable atrophy of the brain. People who die of dementia do so usually because their bodies simply forget how to sustain them. It’s an awful, terrible experience for everyone.

If you’re wondering if I’m going to pivot into how I worry that my memory problems stem from early onset dementia (and it would be extremely early, though not impossibly so), then you must be a subscriber.

I don’t have early onset dementia. One of the (few) benefits of having had a brain tumor is that I have a neurosurgeon, a radiologist and an oncologist examine a very detailed MRI scan of my brain once a year. They are specifically looking for bad things. They would have noticed if my brain had atrophied.

This Was Supposed to be About 2020

I wrote a year-end post for 2019 and in reading it again, a year later, I am chagrined. Some of the things I wrote about ended up being far worse than they appeared at the time. Many of those things I was thankful for went away. Such is life. Good fortune, bad fortune, they move in and out like the tide.

2020 is over, and some great things happened for me. I got a job I love during the worst pandemic in a century. I’ll stop there, because even if the last twelve months had good parts for me, I can’t ignore the suffering going on around me.

We are currently living through a massive humanitarian crisis. Even those who haven’t been killed or debilitated by COVID are under enormous threat. I won’t innumerate all of those, either, because if you’re reading this then you’re living through it, too, and I don’t want to be a bummer. For so many people, 2020 is a giant bummer, the worst year of their lives, and my problems shrink in comparison.

The truth is, I’m fine, I’m actually great, and if you’re not, I will help you as much as I can.

2020 can die in a ditch. Even if 2021 isn’t markedly better for you, at least it will be different, and that’s something.

If your fortress is under siege
You can always run to me
If ever your fortress caves
You’re always safe in mine

All the quotes in this newsletter were from a song by Queens of the Stone Age called Fortress, which you can watch and listen to here:

7,194 thoughts on “A Year in Review: 2020