Reflecting on 2020

In my first post of 2020, I talked about all the things I hoped to accomplish, both in my academic work and in my life outside of scholarly efforts. As I wrote that list, I told myself to be reasonable in terms of ambitions, that whatever I wrote needed to be things I could accomplish without completely overwhelming myself in terms of time or energy. I can’t help but laugh a little when I read that list now. Knowing what a disaster 2020 ultimately became globally, goals like traveling more or getting better acquainted with neighboring cities like Richmond seem laughably naive now. But in all fairness, I had no idea when I wrote it that we’d spend the year navigating a pandemic.

And yet to simply write off 2020 as a wasted year is to disregard all the very real labor countless people did, whether they were working on the frontlines in hospitals, protesting racial inequality, parenting, going to school, making art, creating music, or any of the other jobs and activities that sustain and enrich our society. The pandemic made life more difficult for a lot of people, but it didn’t stop the world completely. Today then, as we get ready to bid 2020 adieu, I’d like to reflect on how my past year has been in terms of the good, the bad, and the infuriating.

Publishing an article on the war drawings of Howard Cook was one of my accomplishments this year.

In terms of my academic work, I actually did manage to accomplish a lot of the tasks I had set out to do, even if it didn’t feel like I was doing much a lot of the time. I passed my comprehensive exams, arguably the most significant milestone in my program to date. My prospectus is still a work in progress, but I am working on it consistently. In terms of publications, I not only identified several potential journals for future articles but managed to publish my first peer-reviewed article, which counts for something. In terms of conferencing, I presented new papers at two virtual events, SECAC2020 and “Museum Exhibition Design: Histories and Futures.” About the only thing I didn’t do was start my digital project on art centers in earnest, but I least presented a lightning talk on it, so that’s better than nothing. I’ve also started new projects or opportunities that I hadn’t anticipated. The most notable of these is the exhibition I’ll be curating on robots with the Barry Art Museum, an experience that will enable me to connect with curators, artists, and other professionals in the Chesapeake area and beyond. Even if I felt like I spent most of my time at home envying my cats’ napping prowess, I have been working.

Brandon has also been keeping busy. As I mentioned in my previous post on his work, if anything, he was busier than usual in the spring because he had to install a lot of new gallery spaces alone to maintain social distancing. His work dropped off in the summer, as it usually does, but he’s had more assignments recently due to seasonal changes and year-end donations.

Overall, we feel grateful for our respective situations, especially from a financial perspective. While my summer teaching gig with Keio got cancelled, picking up the Barry exhibition will more than compensate for the lost income while providing new opportunities to network. Brandon has also seen his wages remain the same, thanks to Colonial Williamsburg taking a top-down approach to pay cuts and having its top earners bear the brunt of reduced salaries. We’re both extremely thankful for that decision, as a universal 10% or 20% cut to all salaries would have made it more difficult for us to meet our expenses. As far as this year goes, we managed to maintain a holding pattern: we didn’t necessarily gain more income, but we didn’t lose it either.

We’re also grateful for our health. So far, neither of us has contracted the virus, and our respective families have also stayed healthy. Overall, we know that we’ve had an easier time living through the pandemic than a lot of people, and that largely stems from our privilege as white people with reasonable economic means and ready access to the various sources we need to live.

All that said, I’m not going to pretend that this year has been easy emotionally. My anxiety remains manageable but has increased since the onset of the pandemic. My sense of time has become distorted, and in terms of travel I rarely move beyond the square mile or two around my house. I’ve become more anxious around crowds in particular, which I find disconcerting. When I think back to the time I spent in Chicago as an undergraduate, or abroad in London, it saddens me to know that the crowds that once brought me a sense of excitement now bring apprehension, and I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable around large groups of people again. I’ve also become worse at staying in touch with friends, as I tend to withdraw when I feel down. There are times when just writing an email or a text to set up a time to talk feels exhausting, as I know I don’t have much to say. This makes me all the more grateful for having Brandon and the cats in my life. Especially with Brandon, it makes all the difference knowing that he’ll be there to talk to, to hold, or to simply share space.

Drawing facemasks such as this one has helped me think through some of my pandemic-related anxieties.

And it’s not like I haven’t found ways to cope with the anxiety. Admittedly I didn’t make a lot of art this year due to a bout of tendonitis, but once that healed I did complete a digital project on facemasks that allowed me to work through some of my pandemic-related feelings. I’ve also managed to maintain a consistent exercise regimen, and have been playing more flute more consistently, all goals that I had set out to do.

Perhaps my proudest accomplishment, academic or otherwise, is my decision to take up knitting. I’ve wanted to learn how to do this for years, but had hesitated for one reason or another. I had even listed it as one of my goals in my initial 2020 post, but removed it before publishing because I didn’t know if I’d have time for it. Before the pandemic lockdowns started in earnest though, I finally ordered a basic learning kit from a company called KnitPicks, as I figured I would be spending a lot of time at home in the near future. During the pandemic I’ve learned to make scarves, hats, cowls, and even stockings with stranded colorwork, virtually taking care of my entire Christmas list in terms of gifts. I’m so glad I got over my hesitation to take up this craft, and look forward to making wearable things for myself and others for years to come.

All that said, I am more than ready to see this year go, and to resume life at some point that isn’t defined primarily through pandemic parameters. Here’s to saying goodbye to 2020, and to ringing in a hopefully less trying 2021.

2 Replies to “Reflecting on 2020”

  1. Beautifully said Sara!
    The items that you knit 🧶 are really well done. I love the stockings.
    Happy New Year to you and to Brandon.
    Virginia

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