Yesterday afternoon my family and I took a drive around Sussex County, NJ, where we live. Lots of scenery—bare trees covering low and high mountains, farms with horses eating hay and drinking from a pond, a half-frozen reservoir where we stopped for a bit to stretch our legs at the edge of the mildly choppy water. And in the middle of nowhere, some construction company or other with a signboard out front that read:
The first rule of 2021
Don’t talk about 2020
Which made me laugh quite a lot. I love Fight Club, and I love random sayings on business signboards. And I even kind of love “2020 was so awful” jokes. Because it was awful in many ways, almost comically so at times. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any shittier, a new low reared its ugly head. Nothing was too rock bottom for 2020. You gotta at least admire its commitment to sucking so bad.
Of course, there has been the pandemic, and that’s no joke; in my house, it’s a constant source of anxiety and fear and sadness. We don’t go out much, and we rarely let anyone into our home, and it’s been that way since March 2020, when my job sent me to work at home for three weeks that has turned into eight months and counting. My nine-year-old son (well, he’ll be ten in a few days) hasn’t seen another child in person in that long either, except from afar on occasion as we take our walks around the neighborhood. We are essentially hermits. In my mind, it beats the alternative.
But to be honest, being at home so much has been pretty good for me. Despite all the misery in the world, I have managed to carve out a little bright spot for myself—which I feel bad saying, because how dare I feel good when so many others are suffering? I still watch CNN and doom scroll Twitter and take in all the stress-inducing news of the world; I’m not oblivious to what’s happening. And I definitely feel the horror and futility of what’s going on outside while I’m holed up in my cozy little house. Still. In 2020, I managed to feel a glimmer of something I hadn’t felt for a long, long time: happiness.
If you know me, you know my mental health is not always stable. There are bad times and times that are better, but in recent years it’s been mostly difficult. My mindset has become so negative; I expect everything to go wrong and worry endlessly about everything going wrong and spiral downward when something does go wrong (though what I anticipate—everything going wrong—never actually happens). And in the last year, somehow, I have managed to escape this vicious cycle. I have felt contentment; I have felt true joy. Mostly in the mundane moments of life: walking around the rooms of my house, which we moved into only a year and a half ago. Watching what we call “sad shows” (our favorites are Hoarders and My 600-lb. Life) on TV every night after dinner with my husband and son. Looking out the kitchen window while making coffee, hoping to see some of our resident deer family meandering through the woods. Maybe it is because of the state of the world these days, but I’ve found myself feeling so grateful for ordinary things. I don’t want to take any of it for granted.
A large part of this happiness, I know, has come from working at home. I am an anxious introvert, so not being in a crowded office with an open floor plan for 45+ hours per week has been a nice change. Some people complain about video calls and chat apps, but I could (and do) happily run my team of six copyeditors completely virtually. And I could do it indefinitely. I also don’t miss the hour-plus commute to the office. Morning traffic on Route 80 is as close to literal Hell as I ever hope to get. I’m saving miles on my car and the cost of gas; I can sleep an hour and a half later in the morning than when I was commuting. I get more time with my family. Even my job gets more out of me—I often spend the time I’d otherwise be driving home on my laptop. It’s really a win all around. And it’s taken a lot of constant, heavy weight off of my shoulders. Is it any wonder I’m feeling metaphorically lighter?
But as Vicky asked me during one of the college-roommate Zoom calls she mentioned in her top 100 list, what am I doing with all this good mood? Well, unfortunately, a whole lot of nothing. I’ve come to appreciate laziness in a way I never have before. Sitting around and doing nothing has always made me feel incredibly anxious—I always had to be doing something, usually working. If I wasn’t producing something in some way, I considered my time wasted. Now, I am quite content to watch TV and nap on the sofa every Saturday afternoon. In a way it’s good—I am really learning how to relax. In a way not, because I am getting nothing done. Nothing creative, anyway. I have sewing and crocheting projects I could be working on, blog posts I could be writing, bookbinding to do, a novel outline to flesh out. I’m doing none of it. And let’s not even talk about all the reading I’m not doing. I listen to an audiobook every once in a while when I’m cooking or loading the dishwasher, but even those I’m having trouble finishing.
At least, that’s how it was in 2020. But I’m ready for this sluggishness to come to an end in the coming year. If I have to be confined to my home, I want to come out of it at the end with something more to show than how many bad reality shows I binge watched. I need to work on that book outline. I have got to finish that blanket I started a year ago. And I definitely need to keep up with my Goodreads Reading Challenge (I won’t even mention how pitifully I did on it last year). In fact I have a long list of resolutions for 2021, some of which pertain to the topics of this blog, some that don’t. But all of them revolve around one thing: I need to do more. So that is going to be my word for the coming year: more. Whereas last year I might spend an hour once or twice a month writing, in 2021 I will make it a regular semi-weekly practice (I’d like to say daily, but I’m also trying to be realistic). Last year, I used the excuse that I worked so much as a reason to do nothing but veg out in my time off. This year, I will continue my commitment to my work and spend my free time pursuing other accomplishments. I will do more. Less time snoozing on the sofa, more time creating in my office/craft room. I know I have more to give to this world than working and sleeping. This is the year I will prove that to myself.