Reflecting back on 2020 and looking ahead to 2021

Photograph copyright by Denise Ruttan

I always like to reflect on my past year and set new goals for myself for the coming year as an annual personal tradition. This is not to brag about my accomplishments or to compare myself to others; it’s more of an exercise in slowing down and expressing gratitude.

Despite the shit show of 2020 in the external world, I choose instead to be grateful for my personal growth this year. I spent half the year angry at people who selfishly did not want to change their behavior to save other people in a pandemic (something I really did not expect in 2020, the sheer extent of American exceptionalism), and I isolated myself a lot as a result. But I decided to focus on myself instead of the things I could not control, and to work on my self care. I am less angry. I still feel helpless, anxious and all the lot, buzzing in the background, but I am okay. I really am okay.

Because let’s face it, staying home is nothing new to me. I am an introvert who is drained by being around people a lot, although I’m chatty with people I like (I just don’t like many people.) I have lived in very small towns where there was not much to do, and that was when I started adopting my habit of juggling too many hobbies and interests, which can also sabotage myself, at times. I started playing video games, exercising, crafting, just so I wouldn’t get so bored. You have to keep yourself busy somehow. I was never the kind of person who liked going to bars, clubs, concerts, and anything with a crowd, anyway. I do miss playing flute in my community band, and hanging out with my parents. 2020 has taught me what is important to me, and it has shown me a lot about people’s true colors. You learn about people’s integrity in crises.

This year I started writing seriously again, and that alone makes me the most proud. I had more time to write because I got the privilege of working from home, and I have made the most of it, even through some fits and starts. I really started to write again in the latter half of 2019 after a three-year hiatus, but tinkering on things and never finishing anything. I had written professionally as a journalist and gotten completely burnt out, and even thought I’d quit writing altogether. But I used creative writing as a therapeutic exercise in 2020; it became my form of stress relief. We all need creative outlets as self care for our mental health. Despite some dark days – if you were not on some level traumatized by 2020 I don’t think you are human – I was motivated to keep up with my writing by submitting my short stories to literary magazines. I had deadlines again, and purpose, even if they were arbitrary deadlines and submissions mostly ended in rejections. They worked for getting me out of a writing slump.

What really motivated me to keep up with my submissions was deciding to do the Ray Bradbury challenge to write a short story a week. I took a month or two off when I was feeling too anxious to write, but overall I am really pleased with my progress. I submitted all of these stories to lit mags. I signed up for Duotrope and sent them off into the ether. My stats so far this year: 30 submissions, four pending responses, five acceptances. And I even sold a short story to an anthology! I expected all rejections, so I am pretty happy with that first-year ratio. When I first submitted a short story as a college student pursuing a BA in creative writing, I got a rejection and I didn’t try again for years. This year, I have had a way better attitude about rejections. I don’t take them personally any more. More rejections just means you have to submit more. I am in a much better mental place about writing in general, which helps with that too.

In other 2020 reflections, I quit the gym, but I started working out at home, albeit inconsistently lately. I do yoga, I got an exercise bike and dumbbells, and I go on walks. It’s helped me get through the year, and I prefer working out at home. I don’t have to be self conscious about the gym bros any more, and I’m not bodybuilding, so I don’t really need an assisted pull up machine or the lat pull-down machine. I just want more muscle tone and strength, so what I’m doing at home suits my goals. I also bought a guitar in May and I haven’t been very consistent with practice with that either, after the first two months, but I am trying to get back into my studies. I am practicing 10 minutes a day to build up my callouses again.

I also quit drinking (four and a half months sober now), and I stuck with my main New Year’s resolution for 2020: I have not eaten red meat for a year.

So without further ado, here are my resolutions for 2021.

Resolutions for 2021

  • Write a novella
  • Finish a first draft of the steampunk novel
  • Do the Ray Bradbury challenge again, but get to 52 short stories
  • Learn Russian
  • Learn to sew
  • Uplift POC and LGBTQ authors with book reviews
  • Get back into running and run a 5K
  • Meditate more regularly
  • Do photography every weekend; I’ve been enjoying still life shoots in winter, nature when the weather is nice
  • Keep up with exercise and practicing flute and learning guitar; I want to upgrade my flute next year, so I want to be worthy of a new instrument
  • Reduce screen time and social media use
  • Work on being less judgmental of others
  • Survive

Since I always overwhelm myself with resolutions and never really finish any of them, I always pick one from the list as the one I most want to accomplish in 2021 and for me that is the steampunk WIP. But if I just survive, let’s face it, that is an accomplishment too. We have a lot to hope for in 2021 – a new American President, a promising vaccine. But it will still be some time before everything is okay again, and I am ready nevertheless for whatever 2021 has to offer.

Because the number one thing I learned from 2020 is that I am stronger than I think.

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