Okay, enough about politics. For the rest of this list, I'm going to focus on other things. Naturally, the coronavirus still figures in pretty heavily, but these entries aren't specifically about it, and they definitely aren't about anything inherently political.
I Can Go Stir Crazy
Different kind of stir crazy
Until 2020, the concept of "going stir crazy" was fairly foreign to me. I understood it on an intellectual level--I'd even written convincing fictional accounts of it that stand up to scrutiny in hindsight--and I knew that I was unusual for never having experienced it myself. I'm an introvert--a writer, stay-at-home dad, video gamer, and YouTuber--and most of the people I consider friends aren't people I went out of my way to meet; they're just extroverts who "adopted" me, to borrow a meme. Arranging meetings with other people and going out to do things is a painstaking, anxiety-ridden activity for me, and yet, in 2020, I finally learned what it feels like to miss that kind of thing. I found myself getting sick of my own living room, bored of my video games, tired of not being able to get in my car and go somewhere. I started missing my neighbors! It was a bizarre, alien sensation, and one I hope will go away as we slowly make our way out of our collective turtle shells in the coming year, assuming that will be possible.
Parents who Homeschool are Godlike Saints
Because it's always this Norman Rockwell
I'm not a huge fan of public schooling, as an institution, but my son does go to a fantastic public school with my enthusiastic support. It is important to me and his mother that he have a social, relatively normal academic experience, and we are far from wealthy enough to afford a private institution. There was a time, however, when we briefly contemplated the idea of homeschooling, or at least the kind of shared homeschooling experience where a handful of parents swap kids and have mini-schools they run themselves. I'm not going to say I thought homeschooling was easy--my brother and his wife have homeschooled five kids and I genuinely have no idea how they do it without losing their minds--but I never fully appreciated the insanity of it until I was forced to homeschool just one child during the coronavirus shutdowns.
I love my son, and I value the time we're getting to spend with one another. But at the same time, I miss the solace that comes with his being at school, the quiet wherein I am free to write or play scary video games. I kind of wish he'd be ever-so-slightly more independent, to want to spend some time in his room the way I did when I was his age, instead of wanting to spend every waking moment attached to his father's hip. I know I'll miss it when he finishes his metamorphosis into a grumpy teenager who no longer idolizes his daddy, but come on, kid, just give me a little space. Do your homework! Stop making dinosaur noises! Clean up that mess! Chew with your mouth closed! Do your reading! Practice your clarinet in your room! AAAAAAAGH!
Small YouTubers are Cool
Give these guys more subs!
As I reached that magical 1,000 subscribers count on my YouTube channel this year (go subscribe if you haven't already, and hit that bell icon!), I started to discover a couple of different little communities of small-time YouTubers like myself who actually want to engage in constructive discussion, prop each other up, and share ideas. I've found a few channels that I actively support in addition to my own (go check out No Market Media!) and I've found at least one incredibly wholesome community of like-minded geeks of whom I am somehow a founding member (the real founder is this awesome mate named Sylar). I used to automatically dismiss small-time channels with few subscribers, but nowadays, when I browse YouTube idly, I find myself drawn more and more to these kinds of channels, while ignoring the huge million-sub channels I used to binge watch. Don't get me wrong--I'd still love to be a big shot with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and a paycheck I could actually live off of--but it's kind of nice to be around struggling creatives again, the way I used to be long ago when I was in writers associations and such. (Parenthood has made that kind of thing difficult, and coronavirus has made it virtually impossible. I barely have any time to write, much less meet up with other writers to talk about it. At least with YouTube videos, I don't need uninterrupted concentration to get things done.)
Mortality Still Sucks
I lost two close family members this year: my mother-in-law, Patricia, and my grandfather, Herman (Pop). Both were wonderful human beings who will be with me forever, and though neither death was inherently surprising (neither died from COVID), they both still stung pretty hard. As we get older, we accumulate ghosts. They try to comfort us and remind us of happy times, but the loss they represent always comes with them. The world dims in the shadow of their absence, and we have to hold all the tighter to the loved ones who are still around in order to see the light. I came awfully close to losing my own mother to coronavirus this year, and it is straight-up agony that I can't get on a plane, fly down to her, and hug her as hard as I can right now. This year has been a difficult one, and there are those who have lost more than I hope I ever have to experience, but I'd happily go through another year of lockdown, homeschooling, and lousy paychecks if it ensures that we stop even more of these losses in 2021. (Wear a mask.)
Making Bread's Not So Bad
It's scratch and sniff, so go ahead, scratch your screen
I've always had this thing about yeast. Call it an irrational fear, or maybe irrational disgust would be more accurate. I've amassed quite a bit of culinary skills over the years, especially in the last fifteen of being married, but I've rarely ever done anything with yeast-risen dough, leaving that kind of thing mostly to the wife and others. But, I guess because it was the thing to do this year, I got over it and decided to try my hand at breadmaking in 2020, only to discover that I wasn't half bad at it. Sure, I've got plenty of learning to do, but I've gotten relatively good at making copycat Macaroni Grill rosemary bread and classical French (mini) baguettes. I had planned on making some bread today to share with my neighbors, but instead, I decided to spend my time talking to you. I hope you appreciate it, because when my neighbors scowl at me for not giving them bread, I'm sending them your way.
Happy Endings are Real
A truly good boy
Late last year, around Thanksgiving, I started seeing signs all around the neighborhood and the surrounding streets looking for a lost dog, Walter. Walter's owner had been visiting family for the holiday and Walter, spooked by something, slipped his collar and sprinted into the woods, seemingly never to be seen again. It was a frequent water cooler topic for the local area, and we all genuinely hoped for Walter to be reunited with his owner in the near future. Alas, as the months passed, a particularly brutal winter blew in, and the signs were kept up, it seemed like the odds were not in poor Walter's favor. By the time we were all locked down in 2020 quarantine, we all pretty much assumed the saga of poor Walter ended in silent tragedy. That was, until almost a full year had passed, and the local news broke that Walter had indeed been found alive and healthy in mid-November. For those of us who had followed the story from the beginning, it was a tear-jerkingly heartwarming moment to see Walter and his owner finally reunited. Let that be a lesson to you: happy endings do happen.
You Have to Try Curry Ramen
It's a crime that this is so hard to find here
I've been periodically absorbing Japanese culture for the last few years, with the long-term plan of visiting Japan in the future. (Side note: they will soon have an attraction where you can zipline into Godzilla's mouth and an entire theme park based on Nintendo.) I've been learning the language and the three alphabets (okay, I'm still procrastinating on learning Kanji, but I'll get there); I've been doing some Japanese cooking; and I've been trying to learn a lot about Japanese culture outside of the kaiju movies, video games, and eighties-era anime that used to be my only real window into that world. This year, I even had a KFC Christmas meal. Anyway, if there's one thing I learned in 2020 that has completely changed my life, it is the existence of curry-flavored ramen. If you haven't tried it yet, go find it immediately! It may be one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, especially considering the low price tag.
My Son Absorbed My Scientific Skepticism
These glorious nerds helped
One of the good things about all the homeschooling is that I've been able to take a more hands-on approach to teaching my son science. Don't get me wrong--I've been teaching him a lot over the years, forcing him to listen to science-themed podcasts in the car since he was an infant (especially the SGU--he can name all the Novella brothers), and I always try to reinforce critical thinking lessons whenever the opportunity presents itself--but this year, I've actually seen him approach problems given by his school teachers with the kind of scientific skepticism I would. He has an intuitive understanding of the scientific method, is quick to check his assumptions, is willing to challenge his teachers (maybe a little too much), learns from his mistakes, and is unafraid to ask "stupid" questions that reveal hidden truths. I couldn't be prouder.
Now I Know What a Derecho Is
By the time I heard it was overhead, my Internet was already gone
So on the list of things that tried to kill me this year is the word "derecho" in August. Before then, I'd never once encountered the word and had no idea what it was. I grew up in Florida, the land of hurricanes, sinkholes, and sunburns, and have in more recent years made peace with the fact that I now live in an area where I could get hit with tornados, flash floods, and earthquakes. But nobody told me about the super-intense windstorms that come out of nowhere, fly across the country with insane speed, and destroy nearly everything in their path. You'd think this would be something people would talk about more often, especially here in the Midwest, where they apparently happen every couple of years.
We Can Still Adapt and Overcome
And we can hold hands and hover ominously over the entire planet like creepy overlords
If there's one thing we should all take away from this miserable year is that we got through it. We lost some people along the way, and there has been an incredible amount of stress and heartache keeping us company, but our capacity to endure is not to be underestimated. I'm still here, and even though I can gripe all day about how difficult 2020 has been, I know that there are people who have struggled far more than me and still managed to make it to this New Year's Eve with a smile. No, I don't expect things to dramatically get easier at midnight, but arbitrary milestones like the switching of the calendar are still helpful in proving to us that life goes on, day in and day out, even after we've all been through Hell. Thanks for stopping by and listening to me ramble, and now, as a Dad, I am obligated to say: see you next year!