The last day of 2020

Looking back

Not sure that there is much more to say. Especially now, it feels like everyone has grappled for some new take on everything – some visionary look at all that has happened, or some clever tweet.

How to turn a year of extremes and emotions into some secondary school genre exercise – do you mention the politics of self-inflicted disaster, like normalizing food shortages for a knee-jerk nationalistic exercise, designed to fool those without the tools to reflect, while earning those at the top yet more money? War profiteers, in a battle against the people. But more people have noticed what is wrong, and more importantly, have tried to fix it. The EU star is projected onto the white cliffs of Dover by Led by Donkeys – keep it for us, it says. Phone banks, food banks, protests – and most importantly – votes – on this side of the stormy pond.

In the not united states, the Civil War is being replayed, against a background of cuts to education and social support. A never-ending parade of videos of violence and ignorance, people displaying a dangerous mix of mental illness and prejudice, amplified by internet propaganda.  A newly elected senator wants to contest the election – but not his own. Another Ivy League graduate shows what he has really learned there – how to protect his tenuous grip on the upper middle class. Georgia has an important election – yet the fact that one of the senators running profited from insider trading and invested in companies that manufacture PPE and body bags, while selling off shares in travel companies – doesn’t seem to hurt her chances as much as it should. The legacy of the sorry excuse for a human being, whose presidency is a parasitic bite on the news cycle, who has shirked all semblance of leadership, while promoting a culture of graft, corruption, and nepotism, won’t go away as soon as it should. But at least it is going away. TikTok provides mini movies of humanity that help to dispel the darkness, providing energy for the continuing battle against the internal war.

And then there is the personal view, from the unthinkable to the disturbingly petty. The losses that friends and co-workers have suffered, the sadness and emptiness. The daft insistence from some on the absurdity of caution, continual pressure instead to go meet up, go out, defy the rules. Like the damage Brexit caused to relationships, the response to the pandemic illuminates cracks in the surface. Caution becomes weakness. The risk of daily activities becomes your fault. Following the guidelines or willfully ignoring them. Incomprehension or worse, resentment. Don’t you think everyone wants to go out, to do things? Thinking of others shouldn’t be this hard.

Through it all, learning to hold on. This year has been a lesson in boundaries. What might have once called selfishness is now self-preservation.

And NYC. Watching the moving trucks. Listening to stories of the people who described buying their second house first, and leaving – for now. Their calm sense of entitlement, their unwavering security in being able to return, their conviction that owning two houses is their birthright. But – in the way that enemies can teach – could they be right – is it time to go? An archeological dig through boxes and emails, looking back at the years here. Proof of the daily barrage of indifference, of the damage caused by being worn down by a continuous round of meaningless comparisons and corrections. Survival meant adapting, agreeing, learning to swallow words and ideas, to follow protocol. Learning to remain silent in order to live, to protect those too young to fend for themselves. A place to come home to at the end of the day, the dream of a different future for them. Trying to look up above the fire escapes and rooftops. Is there still a what’s next?

As Oscar Wilde said, “All of us are in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Hopefully there can be an end to finding pleasure in cruelty and power.  The race to be number one has left us last.

The long winter embraces, the afternoons grey and silver, before the sunset tints the clouds red, an echo above the neon signs. A smile you can still see under a mask, as dogs still sniff at trees and squirrels still climb to the top of skinny, barren trees. Even now, every day has some moment of beauty or unexpected connection. Is that one of many lessons? Here are two that keep turning up: noticing the moments, before they dissolve into a time we don’t fully understand, and becoming insistent on protecting each other. This year, everyone has gone mad in their own way and needs care, not conformity.

Thank you to everyone who read one of the books. I hope you found a moment there to hold on to.

Happy New Year to all.

Alice xx

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