The pandemic year ended on a high note for me. I didn’t want 2020 to end because I succeeded at my goal of playing and laughing every day of December. The holiday season made it easy for me to find the gift of laughter in something new each day. I danced to Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” every time it was played on the radio no matter what I was doing. I played games and watched “Frosty the Snowman” and “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” with my husband. In the process of doing something enjoyable each day, I really reconnected with my humorous side and am somewhat fearful I’ll lose it again once I get into the rhythm of a new year with some kind of normalcy that might distract me from having fun.
I’m surprised that there’s anything about 2020 that I want to hang on to. At first glance, it’s a year I should be applying my finely honed denial skills to so I can pretend it never existed. There are a lot of people who have truly suffered this past year and I feel guilty about having a good time while someone else isn’t. I’m thankful that I have the luxury of self-isolating at home and living off my husband’s income while I think and write about life. As a fiction writer, I excel at creating and living in imaginary worlds where I simply delete any parts that don’t sit well with me. As a realist, I make note of what happens in real time—literally, I have lots of notebooks filled with documentation of life as I see it. What I’ve noted over the past year isn’t pretty. And American history from the past four years should most appropriately be written with crayons or magic markers because it was so ridiculous. In this year’s presidential election, over 70 million Americans cast their support for a corrupt autocrat to run the country, and Covid-19 killed over 340,000 of mostly the wrong people. But 2020 is actually a keeper for me because I discovered new ways of existing each month of the pandemic to keep from going stir-crazy and because of valuable lessons that were forced on me as I had a lot of time to take note.
Valuable Lesson #1: If you’re an American, there are no consequences for your actions
—unless you’re black, or brown, or relatively poor. The more wealthy and white you are, the less you will be held accountable for the choices you make. The white men of America, uneducated white women, and evangelical white sheep who live to follow are responsible for electing the p****-grabbing president we had the past four years—and they made Jesus cry. But despite their immoral choices, they all seemed to thrive and have fun at large, unmasked parties with guns, loud trucks, and chants involving some variation of “lock her—or him—up” while healthily passing the deadly form of Covid to vulnerable people who were trying to practice safe pandemic behavior. Because it was such a good experience for comfortable white people the first time around, they voted for the Putin-loving president a second time and recruited their children who became old enough to vote for what matters—hanging on to wealth and forcing unwanted babies to be born into a world of Republicans who refuse to give one cent to help meet that child’s needs in its post-fetus state.
Valuable Lesson #2: There’s a critical thinking deficit in America.
In the voice of my Barbie doll: “Learning is hard for Americans.” Over a trillion brain cells were unaccounted for during this past presidential election. This fact is really tough for me to process because when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, even though I was kind to everyone, I had a gift for seeing dumb people and was thankful that I wasn’t one of them. But in the 1990s a new movement where “everyone’s a winner” and “we’re all the same” revealed that if you’re dumb, then I am too. So now I feel responsible for the collective American intellect. I have sincerely tried to respect those who were pulling for another Trump victory, but I simply can’t because I don’t understand why everyone didn’t choose to vote for a new leader who can speak in complete sentences. After the past four political years and the way my country has behaved during the pandemic, I freely admit to my international friends that I’m a dumb American. There’s simply no other way to perceive Americans right now. If any of us really are smart, we’ll figure out how to teach critical thinking to our children from the beginning. I did it with my two kids, so I know it’s possible. I wish I could adopt and raise everyone in this country who lacks critical thinking skills. If your family abandons you on my doorstep after reading this, please wear a mask.
Valuable Lesson #3: The term “Friend” on Facebook doesn’t actually mean friend.
If I could have access to Mark Zuckerberg’s ear, I would suggest creating a new category for pandemic-era Facebook that would really aid users like me who interpret everything literally. I expect my “friends” to be in agreement with me on certain matters—like avoiding doing things during a pandemic that could kill other people. But I have a lot of “Friends” on Facebook who are still refusing to wear a mask while partying with large crowds, traveling, and having a great time while helping spread coronavirus. Since I have a compromised immune system and I have to stay in hiding because of people like that, I don’t think they’re actually my friends. I think Facebook should identify them as “Covid’s Friend.”
Valuable Lesson #4: My atheist friends are way more Christ-like than a lot of Christians I know.
My atheist friends thoughtfully stayed home when they could, social-distanced, and wore masks from the get go to help protect other people and slow the spread of Covid until a vaccine was developed—just like Jesus would do. I can’t say the same for many of the Christians I know.
Valuable Lesson #5: If you want to know what people in your life are really like, publish a book (or three) during a pandemic when it’s vital that the people you know gladly help spread the word.
Many people I know have been wonderfully supportive. But I’ve also been abandoned and verbally abused by some friends and family members this past year. Some were clearly jealous of my writing accomplishment and refused to celebrate me in any way. Some are simply mean-spirited people who will hurt anyone who is vulnerable. Some were uncomfortable with the political and religious satire woven into my fiction. I’m only writing what I know. Some didn’t like the relatively small smattering of cursing in my books. All I can say to that is “F*** you for being a word Nazi and possibly other forms of Nazi.” To replace the people I lost, or lost respect for, the past year brought some better people into my social realm, who I’m sure will be life-long friends. They were acquaintances and strangers to me but reached out after reading my books. They said they felt a connection and identified with what I wrote and fell in love with my characters. And they’re looking forward to sequels and spin-offs. I couldn’t ask for a more flattering assessment of my writing than to have people make the effort to tell me I positively affected their existence with my words. And their kind words positively affected me. That’s what I call being a decent human being—and a real friend.
Valuable Lesson #6: “Together” in America has a different meaning during a pandemic than it does in other countries.
In America “together” means everyone doing at the same time whatever they want to individually do that makes them feel comfortable. “We’re all in this together” was a statement used frequently that affected me like fingernails on a chalkboard. Honestly, I don’t want to be in this pandemic “together” with Americans who are reckless and face no consequence for their actions while vulnerable people suffer as a result. I want those people to experience dire consequences together. This pandemic isn’t a social media game where you should ignore science and strive to look cool to your Facebook bros. This is a pandemic where everyone’s actions have real life or death consequences for other people.
I actually already knew all the previous stuff I just listed prior to 2020. But the thoughts that were reflected back at me from the racquet ball court walls of my captive mind this past year resulted in a dramatic shift in the way I’m going to deal with people in my life going forward. The gaslight voice that I learned from most of the males I encountered in the 1970s and 80s when I was growing up that says what I’m seeing isn’t real, and the prissy magic-wand voice that has wished we could all be friends, died during the pandemic. It’s the best thing that happened to me in 2020 while I was forced to spend countless conversations discussing what really matters to me, myself, and I during self-isolation. What really matters to me is always striving to improve the quality of life for others, making the most of every moment, and surviving a pandemic by having some kind of fun. That means not wasting time on people who are toxic or contribute to hurting other people. I’ve known for a long time that a lot of Americans suck (sorry, fragile readers, if you wish asterisks had been inserted there). But because I don’t know if Covid or one of its mutations might someday take my compromised immune system down, I’m not going to waste any more words on wishful thinking or spreading ideas about what we could be “together” as a nation.
I already miss the good times I had in 2020, but as 2021 begins, I’m determined to do what I can to grow as a decent person and make the most of every moment. I hope to keep reminding myself to laugh on occasion and find happiness despite the dark reality of pandemic life, and I hope you have the opportunity to do that too.
© 2021 by Julie A. Ryan. All rights reserved.
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