2020 has been a terrible year in so, so many ways for so, so many people. At the very least, the Covid-19 pandemic has stolen a year from us all. I would say most of us have gone through a personal and collective trauma this year.
I do not believe this year will be a turning point for us as a society. I don't think this will be the moment people stopped flying transatlantic for a 2pm lunch meeting in LA. In 2025 people in offices are going to be just as much a victim of presenteeism as they are now. We're not going to value our independent artists or our local pubs any more, we're going to frequent franchises and chains. We're not going to pay healthcare staff more and politicians less. We're not going to have a meritocracy in government and purely data-led policy. We're not going to learn all the lessons we need to learn to stop anything like this from ever happening again - because our collective memory is short, and because our minds are excellent at rationalising our actions to ourselves.
I do believe that this is going to be a cornerstone in the life of everyone over the age of 14. This will be a comparison point for every freedom of movement we make, even if it's a fleeting memory as we board a plane or check into a hotel in 2050. We will remember the impact of distance in our relationships, and recognise the luxury of being inattentive to them. We will justify ordering aperitifs and dessert at restaurants. We will remember not being able to leave the house before we bid on a house with barely a fist full of dirt, or which is distant form our loved ones. We will consider it as we walk home, head-fizzy-drunk, from a friend's dinner party. The muscle memory in our hands and fingers will surface countless washings after getting home from any shop.
As individuals we are going to remember this year, and a culture we are going to try and move on from it.
How are we going to write about, and talk about this year in 2022?
Other than the inevitable trend of clinical and popular postmortems and retrospectives; of memoir from political and healthcare staff; in coded language from press-releases (due to the global health situation) - how do we relay what this year is and has been? Are we going to want to pretend it never happened, or will it crop up in books, plays, music, movies, or series? Will it be examined, blamed or credited, or will it become kind of harmless shorthand which takes the sting out of the year?
What are the analogies and comparisons you can draw on to explain this year? I have never experienced anything so physically and mentally stifling. There is no analogy for the drawn out uncertainty, the frustration, and the limited personal freedom, the conjuring of temporary hope and imagined futures almost solely to get us through a now which extends certainly backwards and hazily forwards.
I think I'm leaving the year stronger than I came into it, but there was a real dip in the middle there where things could have gone either way. Despite being better off, there is space left in my life from the friends and family I haven't seen in a year, by the art I haven't witnessed, the meals I haven't eaten, the texts I haven't artfully crafted or "accidentally" ignored, the wine I haven't drunk, the music I haven't heard crammed into tiny spaces with bustling strangers and distorted speakers, the sunsets I haven't seen, the taxis I didn't take, the impulse purchases I didn't make, the hands I didn't shake and the embraces I missed.
If you're lucky, the horrific scenes of crammed hospitals, overflowing wards, and people dying alone were fed to us through the screen or told to us by others. If we are not, we have lived them, or love someone who has lived them.
I have lost no one I know and I have managed to find and maintain fulfilling employment. I have been lucky, but I mourn the passing of this year from my life in a way that I don't know how to vocalise. I do not think I have regressed as a whole, but parts of my life have.
Doesn't every mental struggle feel like this, though? As though it could not be pinned down and showcased in words? In my experience, the feeling of being in a storm and then describing it afterwards are two very different skills. Once you're far enough way from something you can see the shape of it, its limits and reaches, with more clarity.
I can't do that for 2020 yet. I can't write a eulogy for this year which I desperately want buried and refunded. I am too close, and the loss feels too fresh and not yet finished - it is December 2020 as I write this and I know more will be taken from me, and more still demanded.
How long will it take for us to feel finally, firmly, like we can judge our vantage point far away enough to have some kind of valid, or at least semi-unused, criticism? Something other than a reaction.
I feel as though maybe in the last two or three weeks we have broken the back of the Covid pandemic. With three vaccines approaching, or already reaching, approval.
But perhaps the thing I have had to learn, and have seen us all trying to learn, over and again from this year is how little we can grasp time, or how poor we are at understanding and processing problems of this scale. That's not to speak of the people who make no allowance for the collective good, only for hedonistic and short-term impulses.
How often we have been six weeks away form this all being over? How the creation, approval, distribution, administration of a vaccine will solve anything - when in truth each is a herculean effort of knowledge, logistics, and finances. The world is going to have to produce billions of doses of vaccines. Billions. Each of which as to get into a person's bloodstream, and administered during a pandemic.
This year has felt entirely like waiting just that little bit longer. Like hanging on until the daily deaths and cases get below a set limit. Like things aren't good now, but we'll accept it because they will be.
How are we going to write about that feeling and that uncertainty? How can words do justice to successive realisations that both the problem and the solutions are so much more complicated than anyone was saying - because nobody wanted to be the one to say them, to reduce the substance of our hopes.
This has been a year of loss and trauma. We don't understand the full limit of either of those things, and how are we going to talk about it afterwards? Because there will be an afterwards.
How long will it take for these things to seep into our cultural and personal narratives? And how will we, in the future, draw from them? Will they become like war poems we read once a year, and become synonymous with charities and remembrance services? Or will they become briefly loved and adopted as a way for us to make sense, or something good, from all this?
I am very interested in how future us will write about this once it's passed.