I feel like writing something before 2020 ends. Since this has been a special year, I will write two versions of it.
This has been a special year because everybody said that it was bad. The COVID pandemic suddenly exploded and completely changed our way of living. People may still remember that this is the same year when Kobe Bryant died from an accident, but it feels like this happened an eternity ago — as with everything else that happened before lockdown.
The pandemic seemed “inevitable” in hindsight. For decades people like Nassim Taleb and Bill Gates had been warning about such an event as being a necessary outcome of our world getting ever more connected. Yet, when it finally happened, it has hit us so quickly and strongly that nobody was prepared. Early on, many people wishfully thought that it would just disappear quickly and magically somehow; then people thought that it might only last for a few months; eventually, people are disappointed to find out that we end up practicing the lockdown lifestyle for the rest of 2020 and may well be doing it for a good part of 2021. Currently, the first wave of vaccines arrived and are being produced and distributed; however, a second wave of outbreak is also hitting hard on the US, Europe, and many other places in the world. The virus has mutated and we still don’t see a clear way out of this extended battle.
This is the mainstream and social media’s version of “This has been a special year.” Everybody has been living an extraordinarily bad year according to this narrative. We are under the constant bombardment of bad news.
I would like to take a break for a moment, and remind myself that nobody’s life is the same. After all, we are individuals living our own life and having our own experience. It is true that everybody was hit by the pandemic one way or another, but it cannot be true that we all have the same experience and feelings.
We can’t control what comes at us, but we can decide how we perceive and respond to those events. (And it is probably wise to cut oneself off from the media most of the time, too.)
So I would like to write a second version of “This has been a special year” that is particular to myself, because surely everybody has their own special year.
This has been a special year for me, because it is meaningful to myself in many ways.
- I began this year traveling to New Orleans and Houston. This has been my first road trip in the south since I came to Austin, and I liked the culture and history of those places.
- After the lockdown in March, I was able to entirely focus on my research projects. Luckily, I had made some important breakthroughs, which turned into one of the most meaningful and rewarding experience in my life. I realized being an academic is a previlage during the pandemic and I am very grateful for that.
- I had been in a long distance relationship. But because of the pandemic, I get to spend most of this year living with my girlfriend. Her emotional support has been vital during this time. I am truly grateful for all the precious time and memories we had together so far.
- I used to swim 5 to 6 times a week before the pandemic. But since March, I stopped exercising completely and stayed this way for the past 9 months. I was clearly feeling worse with my body and realizing that I had been taking my health for granted. So finally this month, I decided to return to the habit of daily exercise. So far, I am enjoying running outside everyday while listening to podcasts — I know this would have been much harder if I were still in Michigan’s cold winter!
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, my parents from China were very worried about my situation in the US. I assured them that I was fine and had things to be busy with; I remember I explicitly told my parents: “This pandemic will one day come to an end and become a past memory. I don’t want to wake up that day just to realize that I have wasted my time in the entire year of 2020, doing nothing but doomscrolling through bad news all day long.” I would like to thank my past self for delivering this powerful message and staying focused on the more important and meaningful things.
To be fair though, I did take the COVID seriously from early on (maybe even a little paranoid). Back in January when everything was unclear about the disease, and when people in China were still planning to celebrate the Lunar New Year, I already bought my parents some masks and told them to stay away from crowds and wash hands. I recall that just a few days after I bought those masks for my parents, all the masks were sold out on Taobao or any other Chinese e-commerce platforms. No joke, it was frightening. After the pandemic hit the US, “don’t let my parents worry for me” had been one of my biggest motivations to stay healthy. I very much hope that the situation would end soon in 2021 that I can be meeting with my family and friends and traveling again.
I have not updated my blog for a year now and I would like to get back to writing a little more often. I originally planned to start writing after the New Year. But the lockdown experience made it clear to me that many concepts (such as the “new year”) are merely human constructs — they can be sometimes a mental obstruction when you want to start something new. So, to break the “wait after the new year” mantra, I decided to start writing before the new year, making this a part of 2020 as well. (I am sure my future self will thank me for this decision.) I hope that in 2021, I can become a better writer, which also means a better thinker.