One of the much-remarked on psychological phenomena of this year has been the flattening of time. The lack of traditional breaks or transitions, whether holiday breaks or normal celebrations, has made it harder to mark the passage of time in the ways that make it feel as though we’re moving through it intentionally. Instead many people, occasionally including myself, feel like we’re not living so much as existing.
I recognize that this is a privileged position to be in and that we’ve been spared the personal tragedies (thus far) that have demarcated this year for so many, but thinking about how I’ve spent the vast majority of a year in a single desk chair is staggering tome. I try to remember what happened this year (Australian wildfires, anyone? Holy hell, Tiger King was THIS year?) and stuff sort of blurs together into a messy collage rather than a timeline.
2020, the year that wasn’t. But also, horribly was. We have the collective casualties to show for it.
Trying to look ahead is also difficult. We seem so desperate for change that we look to future deadlines as though they are going to be some kind of magical reset button. January 1, 2021–as though a global pandemic and all its satellite disruptions is going to magically vanish. Brexit on the same day, as though it’s going to reset British and European politics to something more healthy and serviceable. A new US presidential administration as though the climate and policy impact of the last four years will simply vanish into smoke instead of requiring years of lived impact. A vaccine delivery–as though we haven’t been told time and again that the roll out will take months.
I’ve been trying to visualize the new year in some sort of intentional way, and it keeps slipping through my grasp. Setting goals for it is hard – professional and financial risks abound, most of them utterly beyond my control. Preparing for possible dangers is hard – on the one hand what could top this year, and on the other, let’s be real a LOT of bad shit could. Trying to identify motivations is hard – most of the things that incentivize me like travel are still frustratingly dangerous and out of reach, and more humble motivations for day to day life and health feel burdensome and sloggish. Partially due to a bout of depression which seems to land this time of year like clockwork, but mostly due to the General State of Things.
Trying to come to terms with a year steeped in tragedy, even if most of it is experienced at a distance, is rough. At work I’ve been responsible for helping to draft and distribute the words that tell people their jobs are at risk–horribly grateful to not be among them yet, and deeply conscious of the fact that I may be soon. We had to cancel a trip to see Jeff’s family, meaning he hasn’t seen them in person in two years, something that I know weighs on him differently than it does me. Reading the updates every day for two countries about death tolls, lockdowns, economic impact…just like time, my brain struggles with the sheer scale of it all.
This isn’t the part where I wrap up with some sappy insight into myself or the wider culture, and it certainly isn’t where I get some breakthrough or personal clarity, the wisdom of which I’m able to distil. I’m struggling. I’m a person who thrives on change and forward momentum, trying to process a year of being stuck in a time loop like a twisted Groundhog Day and failing. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one.