2020: Taking Stock of a Year of Plague

a sticker on a ratty black surface covered in peeling tape. the sticker has a smiling lizard wearing a pink sweater & a pink sock on its tail & says LOVE NEIGHBORS
I saw this in Hyde Park, because of course.

How does one even take stock of a year like this? Is it in deaths? My neighbor, who was a loving grandfather to the neighborhood, and one of our first losses to COVID? My sweet Siamese, my mother’s baby, claimed too soon by cancer? The hundred or so of my mother’s colleagues who lost their lives to COVID? The coworkers of mine whose lives were lost to the plague? The picture books that got me through the year? The oddity of Twitter as a window to the world? The coming of a little black kitten whose once-broken pelvis means he doesn’t walk like your cat, and who is a ball of pure joy?

This has not been a good year, and December, marked by my cat’s death on the first Saturday of the month, has been a bleak month: an awful month, marked by death and grief and injury, to end out an awful year. There’s not much more to be said for it, except for Elvis the kitten, who is the bright spot in this month, and maybe also in this year. I haven’t seen my extended family for a year, though we were able to have a family Zoom—which, I will say, felt remarkably like being together, as everyone yelled over each other. I haven’t been to a concert since February, and missed all the Beethoven symphonies for which I had tickets when we locked down—after all, though we talk more about restaurants, performing arts venues shut down first, and will remain closed longest. (I’ve written a bit about what this pandemic has done to the arts, and I’ll write about it more—but it’s a catastrophe, and, in this country, performers must struggle more or less alone.)

I met my Goodreads goal this year, unlike a lot of folks—but a great many of those books were picture books, or early chapter books, or short stories. Thirty-one were books of poetry, for the Sealey Challenge. (And I wrote an entry a day, for that challenge—I’ll link those, well below.) My friend T got me in touch with Third Coast Review, and I’ve thus far written four reviews for them: a review of Samira Ahmed’s incredible, multifaceted young adult novel, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know; a review of the Chicago Humanities Festival’s What’s Next: Wealth, Property, and Inequality; a review of the CHF’s Art in the Moment panel; and, finally, a review of CHF’s Neighborhood Check-In: Arts and Urban Development. I’ve taken a series of classes at the always-amazing StoryStudio Chicago, and attended its virtual conference (and live-tweeted it)—and I begin a year-long class this coming Tuesday. (I am so excited, and also terrified: it’s a huge step for me, and pretty incredible to have gotten in.)

This has been an unfair year, a violent year, a reminder that even in times of plague, there is no real equity in this land. No one, I hope, was surprised by the uprisings that came this year—and yet, here we are. I’ve reminded people that a riot is the language of the unheard (and suggested they take up their spitting fury with Dr. King in heaven); I’ve pointed out that structural anti-Blackness is not a thing Irish or Italians or Germans have ever faced. (I’ve fought with a lot of people, this year.) I have been called cold, and logical, and both of those are good descriptors of me—but I also run toward anger, a slow burn, or maybe it’s more a deep freeze.

I’ve been so angry this year, so angry that it can be hard to focus, angry with myself for my difficult body, with myself with my anxious soul, for the unearned privilege of my fair skin; angry with the world, angry with my profession, angry with the city I love, which turns its cops against its own with alacrity. (Raising the bridges was, and forever will be, an act of violence against Chicagoans, particularly South and West Siders.) On the bright side, I guess, I’ve realized that the suburban neighborhood I’ve despised for years has actually turned out all right.

It’s been a hard, bleak year, and this liminal time is a frightening one, a plunge into a year that will bring more plague, even as hope might loom on the horizon. But I’ve finished out the year with CSO Sessions Episode Eight, and with a joyful black kitten bounding around my feet.

Here’s to next year.

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