Since life is nuanced and binaries only exist in like, circuitry and coding (probably? just go with it), there was a survivalist need for us to find things to love about last year, to make such a hamster wheel of a year spin in slightly more interesting ways. I say this of course acknowledging the immense good fortune I’ve had this year in terms of stability.
That my life was more akin to a depressed hamster rather than a medical professional putting themselves and their family at risk, or other essential workers and people who weren’t able to work from home or work at all. I don’t take that lightly.
But instead of lamenting, I wanted to have my own little bit of levity celebrating the small things that meant more than usual this year.
I’m stealing this list outline from a YouTuber I occasionally watch, Rowena Tsai.
5 Physical Things
🕯Candles: I’ve always been a candles person, but this year especially I treated myself to some nice soy-based candles and handmade candlestick holders. I quickly associated certain scents and certain placements with certain times of day and tasks, and it was a nice little ritual I take joy in. Also I’m pretty sure if you’re Latina, candles and altars (secular or otherwise) are a genetic trait.
📚Library: While my library has been closed to visitors, wildly throwing off my normal work from home routines, it has remained open with curbside pickup the entire year and I am extremely grateful for that.
🧋Homemade Thai Tea Boba: For a few weeks this year, our regular boba place was being renovated, and on top of just not wanting to go out as much, my husband started buying loose leaf Thai tea and tapioca bubbles to brew from scratch. He’ll make a weeks worth at a time and cook bubbles fresh the day-of and it’s been a lovely treat.
🥔🥓🍳Potato Hash: Craving our usual IHOP order, I was craving homemade stovetop potatoes. Experimenting with spices, I found a meal that I love so much I make it every Saturday. With the potatoes we also make sunny side up eggs and bacon—super simple. I haven’t gotten to experiment with cooking like I was doing pre-pandemic, and never quite got on the baking bandwagon, at most we’ve gotten Blue Apron twice, but this hash was a simple new thing that leaves us so freaking satisfied.
📱iPad: While I’ve only had it since Thanksgiving, my iPad has become a huge part of my workflow and personal life. With the pencil I’m experimenting a lot more with note-taking, mind-mapping, drawing, designing. I don’t usually like dragging my laptop into bed with me, but the iPad is a nice size and I’m less prone to get side-tracked with 100 tabs so it’s great to really focus on one thing be it writing, drawing, reading a book, watching a show, etc.
5 New Experiences
🎎Married Life Locked Down: The husband and I used to joke that if we as a couple could survive my graduate thesis project, we could certainly handle marriage. And then we got married and halfway through our first year of being married we were stuck together, like all day errday for almost a full year. And it’s been nice. While this year hasn’t been the kindest to me mentally, having him nearby all the time has been a rare and special treat.
📨✅Making Freelance Somewhat Work: This was the year I was going to start trying to get some sort of freelance writing career off the ground. I graduated last year and this year was expected to be a building year with little to no results. But then I was offered a teaching job (to be fair, that happened last fall), and then some other opportunities came my way and I was actually putting out somewhat consistent work. There’ve been ups and downs to that, largely thanks to the pandemic itself, but it’s been reassuring and educational for sure and I’m very grateful to it.
🍎Teaching: Like I said, I started teaching at university last fall. Exactly halfway through the spring semester, we turned to remote work. At the time, the pandemic was a much bigger unknown, so I think everyone tried to embrace remote learning a bit more. I thought going into this fall semester knowing the whole semester was going to be online, I’d be better prepared for it mentally. I thought it might even be easier without a commute. But teaching remotely was such a unique challenge. I felt so bad for my students having to have a semester like that, even for a class like mine that was pretty zoom-friendly, but more-so I was sad and worried about their mental health the whole time. Same for next semester. I love teaching and helping my students, but remote teaching is a whole other beast.
⏳🌈Therapy: Last year featured A Complete and Total Mental Breakdown on the Micro and Macro Levels and Everywhere In Between™️. This year it felt like you couldn’t walk two feet without there being something new to worry about. On a macro level we had the pandemic of course, Black Lives Matter protests, rising hate crimes against Chinese-Americans, wildfires in California, our ineffective government, abortion protests in Poland, climate change, billionaires existing, and many of those things that affect me personally or people I know and love. Then scaled down to the micro, to my own personal struggles this year–standards like imposter syndrome, worrying about money and future plans, anxiety about everything, guilt about everything, feeling guilty for dumping MY shit on my therapist when they are going through this pandemic as well. It’s been challenging for sure, and I’m lucky to have someone as patient, loving, and emotionally intelligent as he is, as well as having a therapist I trust and value so much.
⏱🎨New Anime: Kind of silly compared to the previous one, but I’ve found some shows this year that I know I’ll be rewatching forever. The two main ones I’m referring to are Keep Your Hands of Eizouken!, which is a show about three girls who start an animation club at school. It’s by acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa whose work I actively seek out and look forward to. This show is absolutely magical and if you love art books and production design give it a watch–it’s only 12 episodes. The second is called Laid-Back Camp, and it’s about five girls who love camping. It’s super slow paced, slice of life, and my husband appreciates how true to life it is (especially after we tried to watch a rock-climbing anime where an newbie climber hit a 5.11 on her first try). Laid-Back Camp has us missing car camping (for the record I love camping but dislike hiking/backpacking) and it’s given us inspiration for meals and places we want to visit during our future trip to Japan.
5 Shared Moments
💃Lots of Dancing: We’ve always been a family of dancers and car singers, but being stuck home and often going days not even wanting to go out for a walk, these little moments mean that much more to me. He can always get me to dance with him in the kitchen or living room. Or I can always distract him from work or chores. Or we distract ourselves trying to figure out choreo neither of us are skilled enough for.
🎙Pod Sing Se: It had been a struggle for me and some of my college friends who are still pretty local to meet up monthly for board games or karaoke or movies or whatever, but earlier this year I asked if they wanted to be on an Avatar: The Last Airbender podcast with me and now I chat with them weekly! It’s definitely not the same as hanging out and doing nothing, but we always find time to chat either before or after our recordings. I’m sort of shit when it comes to socializing so this routine has been one of the things I appreciate the most out of this nightmare year.
🏠🐶Family Pod: I’m lucky that I still live pretty close to my parents, and have been able to see them a few times this year through careful quarantining. None of us go anywhere else or visit anyone else so our little pod has been the one reprieve we’ve had from our apartment this year. That and being around my parents’ dog always makes us both really happy. His silly little face is the tab icon for this site, FYI. 🤣👆
🏰🐭Disney World: Prior to quarantining, we managed one trip this year to Disney World with two of our best buds, and holy shit am I grateful that they had insisted we go sooner than later. While we were there the first cases were reported in NY, so we flew back, did a Costco run and were in the thick of it. So my Before Times certainly ended on a wonderful note. It was a great trip and we did so much!! And ate so much good food!
🥮✨Interviewing Glen Keane: This year I had a chance to talk with an artist I’ve admired for a very long time, and the interview went live recently. I was able to interview Glen Keane, and have a conversation with him about his feature film, Over the Moon, which came out earlier this year. I was absolutely floored when the opportunity came my way, and I had anxiety the whole week leading up to it because I was so excited. I’ve had a few opportunities to interview artists I’ve admired and learn about new ones, but getting a chance to talk to Glen was something I know would have had younger Jen’s heart soaring.
5 Moments with Myself
🎞✂️Editing: This year with freelance work and my Avatar podcast, I’ve spent way more time than usual in editing mode. While it can be impossible to get me to start editing, I’m happy to report that once I’ve started and am able to move past my anxiety, I get really fucking into it and that’s a nice discovery.
📝Writing Back to My Friend: Maybe this doesn’t count as a solo activity since I’m replying to a friend, but the time I take to reflect and write back is always a moment I have to actively put everything else aside to do because they deserve that. This friend and I exchange like, massively long texts with each other. There’s an argument to switch to emails, but I like the text format because otherwise with email I feel it would be too easy to fall off the wagon. Gotta fight off human nature lol. But I always look forward to their replies and miss them so much.
👀🧠More Mindful Consuming: This year I had to heavily alter my usual patterns when it comes to content–social media, movies, tv, youtube, books, podcasts, news. I’ve known since 2016 that I needed to back off the news or else live in a perpetual spiral of dread…which sort of happened anyway. But this year I’ve taken more steps to block and mute things, isolate specific accounts for specific types of stuff, stop using certain apps, ban things from the bedroom so they aren’t the first thing and last thing I check each day. I’m really mindful of what apps just fling things at me vs actively seeking out specific things to not be blindsided by retweets or news or other random things I didn’t ask for. I’ve also been a lot more judgemental of stuff, where I’ve stopped throwing on a random video in the background. It needs to be something I actually want to watch. It was never a challenge for me to get through a movie or show without checking my phone, but this year I found myself doing that with movies I’d never do that with had I been watching at a cinema. I’d find myself mindlessly reaching during something and being so frustrated with myself. This is also in addition to struggling to find motivation or enjoyment out of things I normally want to watch… So putting my energy into more curated stuff is worth it.
💡✏️Drawing Again: I’ve had a strange relationship with drawing. Like, hashing it out for months in therapy kind of relationship. At this point, it’s been like nine years since I seriously picked up a pencil (or similar) and gave it an honest go. I fuck around with simpler, loose drawings, thumbnail storyboards. But I’m talking like, drawing something in my style. I don’t even know what my style is anymore. But this year I started drawing again, just a little bit. Drawing characters from art books or photos. I took a simple intro to animation workshop with Aaron Blaise with my friend because it was only $5. And since getting the iPad I’ve drawn a bit more digitally as well, and done some very simple animation exercises in there. But this is something I want to return to.
🗝🧸Rest: This year was one of immense loss in a lot of ways. If you’re lucky, at most you lost temporary things like good sleep, peace of mind, restfulness, faith in the justice system. Things that could theoretically be restored with patience and work. I had to force myself to be nicer to myself this year, to accept there were times I had to disconnect, call it a loss. Times I couldn’t focus on anything, or on anything but the news. Times I couldn’t sleep and was up most nights super late. So I let myself rest when I could. Knowing how none of this is normal, that “normal” itself is/was a sham, that humans weren’t built to bear this all. I stole rest in pockets I could, and I took it blatantly as needed. It went against my nature which made it all the more important knowing the events of 2020 were decades in the making and will take n immense amount of work to course correct.
I hope you’ve been letting yourself rest as well.