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A Good, Great Thing

“‘In an emergency,’ the Scarecrow announced, ‘it is always a good thing to pause and reflect. Please excuse me while I pause and reflect.’”

--L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

I didn’t think I’d write an end-of-the-year post. I expected to feel sad about all the cool stuff I did in 2019 I couldn’t do in 2020. But after a little paws (wink) and reflect I decided: Some good things did happen in 2020. Some of them even happened because of 2020. And if the Scarecrow says it’s good to pause and reflect, then I will.

This year I got rid of that TV that didn’t work and--coinciding with quarantine--started online streaming. I know y’all have been at this for years, but for me it was magical. Between Hulu, Netflix, and the library’s two streaming portals, I wanted for nothing. Charade for the millionth time? Why not?! Documentaries on pizza, tequila, LCD Soundsystem, snow leopards, green burials, and Chernobyl? Knowledge is power. Every season of The Office to create “cubemates?” Done! 9 ½ Weeks on a Saturday night? Yes, please. Golden Girls whenever I want, as often as I want? Thank YOU for being a friend.

Once I started to make my home a little more comfortable, I kept going. I got a new sofa, laptop, and finally WiFi. Maybe as a response to my call for comfort, my body answered. Last year, the year before that, and even the year before that I’d been dealing with plantar fasciitis, a common runner’s injury that can take years to heal. I thought mine would never go away. Until last month when I tried to rent skis and instead ended up walking two hours in snow booties without my custom orthotics. I was standing in the silent snow eating a perfect pear when it occurred to me my left foot no longer hurt. I thought about the painless four-mile runs I’d done the past few weeks. My foot had hurt for so long, it hadn’t registered that it didn’t. Maybe it was my new daily yoga practice? However it had healed, the absence of pain became the presence of joy. And just like at the end of 2019, I’m at 30 miles a month. Only now it doesn’t hurt.

Last year I followed a training plan for my bike tour in Provence, maniacal about hitting those mileage and elevation numbers. But this year it was awesome to ride for the pure joy of it. I killed afternoons or entire days just riding around, stopping when I felt like it. Sometimes I had a destination, sometimes not. I pulled over for shaded parks and Little Free Libraries. It was a glorious (but also unemployed and therefore anxiety-ridden) way to pass the days. 2020 was hard enough. Who needed elevation goals?

This year I had a different goal: to get a job. I convinced myself that everything would fall into place “once” I got it. After the job I could get to the “thens.” This theory has been proven to be both true and not. But obviously employment fills many needs. I’m grateful to have it. And now my dreaming heart is available for the “thens.”

That dreaming heart was roused by one special lady: Joan Didion. The Didion class was my first in Quarantine Book Club, followed by Beloved, now Moby Dick, and next To the Lighthouse (join me!). I didn’t expect to feel connected in a weekly Zoom book club with four galleries of strangers, but I do. In 2020 it’s rare to meet new people, so when you can it feels like a miracle. And it’s a welcome break to talk about literature instead of COVID and politics (although Didion’s political essays of the 80’s are insightful). I’m comforted to know my book-clubbers will be there week after week with their cats, plants, fireplaces, and dangling cigarettes. Most of all, it feels really good to do something social and unmasked that you know is 100% safe.

Throughout the book clubs an interesting shift happened in my reading habits: I started reading better writing. After tasting the cake, I no longer wanted the cream. Colorful chick-lit sat rejected on my bedroom floor because better writing is just more interesting. More immersive. Not just better in a boastful “I’m reading Moby Dick” kind of way (although I’m guilty of touting that, too). Reading good writing is fun, and it made me want to be a better writer. At the time I didn’t have a job that included daily writing feedback, so I signed up for two writing classes. The formats and teachers were very different but both teachers praised my work for the same quality. That made me think I was onto something, even if no one would pay me to do it. And because both classes had assignments with word counts, something I don’t put upon my personal writing, I practiced working within limits.

We’ve practiced a lot in limitations, haven’t we? Do more in less space, with less money. With fewer people and greater distance. Photos from this year are not of groups with our arms around each other, but one or two people six feet away. 2020 was the year of outdoors. We got creative in our get-togethers: biking, yes, but kayaking and hula-hooping, too. And we weren’t terrible at it! We set sail two miles from my apartment, dancing into the wind when--for just a moment as “My Sweet Lord” played on--we were back in Belize. In December’s short days I long for these stretched out memories. Languid afternoons in the hammock grove, bicycles propped against a tree, a smattering of beer cans in the shade. Fried chicken and pizza potlucks on a hill. Photos filtered in natural light and easy smiles. At dusk, the bike gang would split off, later if we’d remembered our lights. The next day I’d ride across town. I’d unlatch your gate and call out “Hello!” where a chair waited. You handed me a hot apple cider with cinnamon and a squeeze of real lemon. You offered me a blanket that had just come out of the dryer.

These are the tiny, great gifts I want to remember after the greater good is restored. Because one more good, great thing did come out of 2020: a new president.

Happy New Year.

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