So, after a year, I feel like I should have something profound to say about 2020 Vision, the self-directed project that had me posting 800×800 pixel images on here each weekday of the year. After a year, though, it’s become so second nature that profundity feels almost impossible.
The basic idea behind it was that, essentially, improvising a daily image — going in with no plan, no preparation, and no expectation most of all, and just seeing what happened — would become both an exercise in unlocking something in my head creatively and a discipline thing that would get me over the hump in my brain that has made me second-guess any image making intent I’ve had since art school two decades earlier. (They fuck you up, those higher education establishments, they may not mean to, but they do.)
I’m not entirely sure the plan worked out, to be honest. At multiple times, the image making felt more of an obligation than a creative exercise, and something that I resented, or something close to it. I never actually got to the point of disliking the project, but I certainly got close a few times, especially on days where my workload got so heavy that I was all too aware that I had far too many other things that I should be doing instead. Things that would, you know, actually help pay my bills.
Yet I kept going, in part because I said that I would and I didn’t want to back down, and in part because it became a habit through sheer repetition. That felt like a problem in its own right; surely there was something wrong with continuing purely because of momentum and the creative version of muscle memory…? Or perhaps not; this was something I went into purposefully without expectation, so maybe any outcome was the right one.
The end is in sight now; as of Friday, a new year begins and 2020 is done. The project will be over, and I’ll stop making daily images. The question I haven’t really answered for myself yet is, will I keep making and posting them on an irregular basis, just because?
I made a list, at the end of last year, of my favorite TV shows that I’d watched over the past twelve months. It was something that felt remarkably easy, and also comforting in some way that I can’t quite explain; it felt as if I was pulling things into place, or putting them in order. At the start of December this year, I thought of that post and told myself that I should really do it again, having little idea of just how difficult a task that would turn out to be this time around.
The problem, to the surprise of no-one, is 2020. It’s a year that has ruined my memory, seeming at least twice as long as it actually was, and throwing all kinds of recall into disrepair: did that really happen this year? Was that in 2019, or was it just in July? It is, it turns out, hard to think about the last year’s viewing when it’s literally hard to think about the last year in general.
There’s also the problem that lockdown has meant that I’ve watched so much more than usual this year. I wrote earlier this month that my attention for reading abandoned me this year; it instead became a desire to watch things, and to gain entertainment and education that way. I lack any hard information because, basically, why would I keep track of this, but I feel as if my television viewing hours jumped significantly in 2020, because, what else was there to do?
Some favorite shows stick in memory despite everything : Legendary, the HBO Max voguing contest, was everything I wanted in a competition and never realized; The Circus on Showtime was real-time political reporting about an election that fascinated and terrified me in equal measure. After a rocky start, the second season of Doom Patrol came good, even with a final episode left unmade because of COVID.
Like everyone, I was sucked into The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, and also to the novelistic approach to Love Life on HBO Max. (Pure on HBO Max was another great series; that streaming service more than earned its keep for me this year.) Hulu had High Fidelity, the irregular but wonderful New York Times Presents shows, and Taste The Nation, a show that traveled when I couldn’t. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Amber Ruffin’s The Amber Ruffin Show were the comedy late night shows that made me laugh and kept me sane, with the latter being the best reason for anyone to download the Peacock app. Maybe the only reason, really.
There was also deep binge watch dives into Gilmore Girls (still great) and Love Island (not great, yet addictive) that we won’t talk about. Nope.
Television this year felt like a balm, a lifeline. A window into the world when going out felt too scary, or sometimes just too much. This year, perhaps unusually, it felt essential.
It’s not really been about Christmas Day, for me; the whole December 25th of it all has, for decades, felt more and more like an anti-climax than an exciting end to the holiday season, with me mostly wishing that everything could go on for just a little while longer, if only…!
I wasn’t always like this, of course; as a kid, Christmas Day was everything — a bonanza of gifts and goodwill that was worth the countdown, with all the ingredients, from early morning toast and tea while unwrapping your presents to sitting down with the rest of the family for roast beef, roast potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings (and the crackers, the paper hats, and the bad jokes), combining to make something that felt truly special, something worth waiting an entire year for.
When that changed, I’m not entirely sure. The season has always been important to me, but at some point Christmas Day itself faded more and more in any internal ranking of what I loved about it. It was only one day, after all, and the day when the anticipation ended, the Yuletide fever broke. Why look forward to that?
Perhaps it’s that I stopped really getting excited about getting presents. (Now, giving them, that’s another story; I love giving gifts, especially at this time of year.) Perhaps it’s that I moved away from family, and didn’t get to go home each year — something even more impossible since the death of my parents, and the sale of my childhood home, the latter meaning that it’s literally impossible to return there. It could even be that I spent many Christmas Days lacking something that I didn’t realize…!
(Occasionally, I think back to The Worst Christmas Ever, a few years back — a day spent cleaning someone else’s house to prepare for a visit from people I didn’t really care for, with any notion of it being Christmas Day being marked by exhortations to work harder to make other people’s lives better. It was a cartoonishly Cinderella-like experience, and a sign something had to change in my life. Thankfully, many things did.)
All of which is to say: Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, Happy Holidays, to those who don’t. But this one day is not really the focus of things, not at all.
The last few weeks of the year is always crunch time for me, work wise, and I always forget that until I’m in the middle of it, quietly losing my mind through overwork and stress. Every December begins with me making a promise to myself to really embrace the holiday of it all, and by the middle of the month each year, I’m panicking about how I’m going to be able to hit all my deadlines and also find time for Christmas. This has happened on a regular basis for the last few years, and each and every time, I’m somehow surprised by it.
I never learn. I should fix that.
Things this year have been different, in that the pandemic meant that all of the holiday shopping took place online and earlier than usual, which at least shifted stress from I don’t have time to shop, I have three different deadlines to hit before the day’s over to I don’t have time to open these boxes and I can’t even remember what I bought, I have three different deadlines to hit before the end of the day. A change is as good as a rest, according to people who regularly get rests; to everyone else, it’s just regularly exhausting.
What hasn’t been different has been the rush for material, and the juggling of keeping up with the day-to-day workload of news and explainers and op-ed pieces with the traditional year-end content: retrospectives, Best Of lists, and speculation about what lies ahead in any appreciable area. I’d hoped, foolishly, that the lack of a Star Wars movie this year might have eased things, but DC relaunching its superhero comic line and the new Wonder Woman movie on HBO Max put paid to those forlorn hopes.
I’d managed to convince myself that, maybe, maybe I was being melodramatic and things weren’t so busy and stressful this year. And then I told my therapist my recent workload, and she went, “oh boy, that’s a lot. I’m tired just listening to you.” That might be a sign that, all things being equal, I’m a little overwhelmed right now. Tis the season, after all.