2020 Reflections and Perspective for Next Year

Year in review articles can be pretty corny, and I’ll be the first to admit that months, dates, years are arbitrary. There’s no real reason to start a habit on January first, and the current state of the world is absolutely not going to fix itself the moment the clock strikes midnight tonight.

Still, with all the madness that 2020 has brought to bear, and my own need to decide what the hell I’m doing with this blog, here’s a post about this bizarro year, what I’ve learned, and what we can all do moving forward.

Time Warp

A common topic of conversation has been the strange passage of time. It feels like March was a few weeks ago, and a thousand years ago. It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a year since Flexadecibel was on stage, that we canceled a little tour, missed an album release show… That by rough estimate, I would’ve had 90 gigs between then and now.

By contrast, the hundreds of days in my apartment have blended together into one long stint of ambulating from my bed to my computer to my drums and back. There has been some variety, sure, but much of it has been the same – day in, day out.

These experiences serve as reminder about perception, that how we feel about the passage of time has to do with how we spend it. When we don’t have events to look forward to, time seems to stand still (Viktor Frankl has some great insight on that note), but when we’re in some kind of flow (even if it’s just at home), the hours can fly by, days can blend together. I’ve encountered both in spades over the course of this year.

I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with my musical cohorts, and even the gaps between our sessions are a blur. Was it a week? Two? Months?

And yet, for all this weirdness and squishy sense of time, it has indeed been a whole year, and a year’s worth of stuff has happened whether we’ve been paying attention or not.

Don’t Forget the Tragedies

Even if I’m looking at 2020 through my own lens, the larger realities cannot, and should not, be ignored. More than a million people have died from COVID, entire industries are struggling to survive, massive disruption, political unrest, and on and on…

I’m not even going to dive into any of that stuff in depth, but it’s the backdrop for the year. On a personal level, whether or not we’ve been directly affected by the things listed above, it creates a cloud that any empathetic person can’t help but contend with. Even if we’ve been good little boys and girls, continuing to pursue our goals and look for upsides, the reality takes a toll.

Not to at all diminish those most affected, but even those of us that have made it through this year relatively unscathed are fighting with mental health, cabin fever, lack of interpersonal connection, uncertainty, and plenty else. I’m not sure it’s been easy for anyone, and suffering is not a contest.

I think it’s important, no matter how much we’re looking forward to new chapters, to pause and acknowledge that it has been a traumatic 9+ months, and that it’s going to take a long time to recover… And perhaps most importantly, that it’s going to take effort, compassion, and the support of one another to move forward – no matter how this past year has impacted your life.

Silver Linings

Okay, some good things… A great many of us (especially the busier musicians I know) have had a chance to press pause on a lifestyle that had us running ourselves ragged. Even though it’s all labor of love, burning the candle at both ends was the default setting for a lot of us, and this has been a chance to reconnect with hobbies, spend time with ourselves not in hustle mode, and generally reflect on gigging, traveling, and taking stock of our attitudes toward chasing the next thing.

ZERO gigs is certainly not ideal, but I know I’ve had a little bit of a change of heart about playing as many shows as possible, taking stuff I maybe shouldn’t, and well, working too hard.

On the flip side, all this time at home has mean lots of practice, writing fiction and poetry (and a little bit here, but not as much as I’d like), exploring all this loop/synth/sample stuff for drum videos, getting involved with a new trio (and recording an album), reading books, spending time with my lady, starting to learn ukulele, and a whole bunch of other things I would’ve barely even considered if last year’s go-go-go mentality was still at the forefront.

It’s not just me either. Some of these sentiments have been echoed by folks I know both inside and outside of creative fields. When the world pulled the emergency brake, it created an opportunity to actually examine how we’ve been spending our time and functioning in society. Hopefully we’ll take those reflections with us into the years to come.

Mindset

On the topic of reflection, perhaps the biggest takeaway from this shitshow year is about mindset. Mine has been all over the place in the day to day, but from under the chaos has emerged some Stoic lessons about focusing on what’s within your control. And it helps.

While the world outside is scary and uncertain, I can’t really do anything about it. I can’t cure COVID or save all the venues. I can’t heal political and racial divides singlehandedly, nor can I control the behavior of others any more than I can control the weather.

What I can do, though, is look after myself. I can choose to practice, to learn, to grow for the sake of growth, spurred on by nothing but my own interests and efforts. Disconnected from basically everything else, I can still make progress – but it all starts with mindset.

I choose to see this gigless era as an opportunity to practice my ass off. I choose to see a lack of rehearsals as the chance to try new things. I choose to spend this weird time not bemoaning what I can’t control, but discovering and honing what I can.

I’m not perfect by any means, but it’s the attitude that matters. If I can come back to those choices after a slump or a backslide, I’m still on a path of my own design, and no one controls that but me.

Moving Forward

The only thing that changes at midnight is the number at the end of the date. The pandemic will still be here, and the tension, and the fear, and the anger, and the loneliness.

I don’t have big answers, but I’ve learned (and confirmed) that I can still make daily strides. As we tumble into 2021 with all the baggage we’ve picked up this year, that’s going to be the theme. Small actions stack up – and even with a world in turmoil, we can all do our part to make the little corner of the universe we inhabit just a bit better. Maybe that’s doing your part to keep your friends and family safe and healthy. Maybe that’s recommitting to putting creative work out into the world. Maybe it’s taking the time to check in on loved ones and offer whatever kind of support you can…

It could simply be taking care of yourself, finding your own fulfillment, and giving yourself the necessary progress to feel enthusiastic (which will hopefully spread to those around you).

Maybe it’s all of those things and more. All I know is that it’s each of our actions, on an individual level, that are going to carry us into the uncertain future with any kind of grace.

It’s not going to be easy. I’m sure I’ll still have listless days where I don’t want to do anything productive, anxious days where I feel like I can’t possibly do all the things I want to, focused days that feel great and full of creativity, and everything in between.

Still: ACTION, ACTION, ACTION.

I’ll keep climbing back on the horse and encouraging you do the same. The alternative seems worse than anything 2020 had to throw at us.

Let me know how I can help you. Let’s inspire and support each other despite what the next year may bring. Let’s continue to use all of this trouble as fuel to persevere, and keep picking each other up (from a safe distance) as best we can.

I don’t care if it’s a cliche: we’re all in this together.

And that’s going to be more important than ever in 2021.

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