For me, 2020 has been a year more notable for what I didn’t do than for what I did. In making it through this year alive, well, and employed, I didn’t leave the Seattle metro area at all, didn’t drive a car at all, didn’t board an airplane at all for the first time in about 25 years, and didn’t see any of my immediate family in person for the first time ever. It’s been a year of caution and forbearance motivated by optimism that, in the future, things will get better.
For the most part, my experience with COVID-19 has been one of minor inconveniences. Many people haven’t been so fortunate. As of December 19, over 1.6 million people have died of the disease worldwide, including over 310,000 in the U.S., over 3,100 in Washington, over 990 in King County, and at least 250 in Seattle. Countless others have contracted the disease and will have a long and challenging recovery. Communities in South King County, which have higher representations of essential service workers and persons of color, are also experiencing significantly higher rates of COVID-19.
I’m very fortunate to have enough space to make working from home (WFH) work for me. My house has a second bedroom which I use as a dedicated office with an en suite bathroom — something I’ve never seen below the CEO level in an office building. The dedicated office also makes it possible to close the door on my work at the end of the day so I can return to the “home” part of the house for dinner and entertainment. Some of my coworkers are still working out of the corners of their bedrooms, their living rooms, their kitchen tables, or their laundry rooms. What was cute and scrappy nine months ago is now just something to live with. Rental rates in Seattle have fallen significantly, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Many of our newer apartment buildings cater to techies by offering small living spaces, a short walking commute to the office, and lots of amenities. Now that many offices are closed and most common amenities are still unsafe for tenants to share, why spend top dollar to renew a lease? A smart tenant should renew their lease for a lower rate or move to a place that better suits their WFH lifestyle at least for another year.
Earlier this month I took a week off for the first and only time this year. I had booked flights to visit family in New York in the hope that by traveling after Thanksgiving but before Christmas I could avoid peak crowds and maximize safety. Although Washington’s post-Thanksgiving COVID surge turned out to be less intense than feared, I still cancelled my flights in the interest of protecting my fellow passengers and my family members. All of my trips in 2020 have been cancelled, my only souvenirs a pile of credits and gift cards for future use, but I hadn’t taken the time off for a “staycation” until recently. I’m very glad I did. Even though I still remained home, powering off all my work devices for 9 days left me with only a long list of little things to do around the house: cleaning, maintenance, and lots of cooking. The cycle of finding an interesting recipe, going shopping, cooking the recipe, then finding a new recipe kept me entertained and very well-fed. The short days and rainy weather this December have kept me off my bike on workdays; meanwhile, my home-cooking streak has brought me up to within 7 pounds of my pre-WFH weight. My employer, from the executive level down to my immediate manager, has been advising us all to take days off for our own wellbeing. I only regret that it took me so long to act on that advice and spend a week doing only non-work-related things at home.
I’m normally a pretty introverted person, but in 2020 I’ve spent a lot more time on my own than ever before. Social events of all sorts have been shut down. Every in-person meetup I’ve had since mid-March has been outside. I haven’t seen any of my teammates at work in person since early March. I’ve attended a few virtual going-away events for people who accepted new jobs and, more remarkably, I have new coworkers who have worked with me for most of 2020 without setting foot inside any of our offices. My desk assignment is gone; although I’m nominally assigned to an office building, when I return to one it will function more like a college computer lab where I sit at whatever desk happens to be available. I would still like to do that at least some of the time. I miss seeing people in the hallways and kitchens. I miss impromptu socializing. On some days the only talking I’ve done has been to the Duolingo app on my phone, mainly in Danish.
I used to be pretty cynical about the whole concept of “wellness,” that notion of self-care that straddles the scientific and the pseudoscientific. I haven’t been attending celebrity meditation sessions and I don’t own any essential oil products yet, but there’s a real benefit in being aware of and caring for one’s mental state. My watch, for example, will sometimes notice that my heart rate is elevated while I’m not moving around and advise me to do a breathing exercise. The Calm app on my phone will sometimes guide me through a body scan, slowly focusing attention on different parts of my body. Most of my days now end with a 10-minute Calm session played through earphones with my eyes closed. Meditation has documented health benefits by credible researchers, and even some of my skeptical colleagues and I haven’t found fault in the simple acts of self-care we’re encouraged to do. (Shame on Tamara Levitt of Calm for mispronouncing hygge in the December 18 session, though. Duolingo taught me the right way.)
I don’t want to turn this into a silver-linings article. This has been a rotten year for many reasons. The best thing to say about 2020 is that it’s nearly over. Vaccinations are underway and our most vital neighbors are getting them first. My immunity is my ticket out of my house — to visit family and friends, to have in-person meetings again, to dine inside a restaurant without worry that the employees there are especially vulnerable, to see far-away places and events. People are literally dying to see people in person and we will all come together again, safely, in 2021. I’m already looking forward to my first Seattle Kraken hockey game. Next year will be better.