Hello. How are you. That’s not a question anymore, so it doesn’t get a question mark. It’s a statement of confusion. How are you, how are we all, still, in this, the hundredth month of the year. How are indeed.
If you’re reading this, we’ve almost made it. Hahahahahahaha! Ha. But it’s true. This, my penultimate newsletter of 2020 (there will be a best-of list on the 29th), marks the halfway point of the final month.
I’ve watched a lot of YouTube this year. I’ve watched more YouTube, I’d wager, than I’ve done any other single thing except sleep. I’ve watched a soft spoken gentleman in Chicago restore paintings and build vacuum heat tables. I’ve watched several people talk about integrated amplifiers and DACs and hi-res streaming services. I’ve watched every single Tiny Desk Concert and probably every Like A Version. I’ve watched multiple covers of Billie Eilish.
YouTube is a terrible platform that has brought me a lot of comfort this year. Enjoying it involves a not insignificant amount of moral and emotional calculus, the kind of life math(s) I’ve been doing since March.
I’m terrible at math(s).
Sometimes I can’t fall asleep, no matter the hour or how tired my body feels. Me: time to get cosy. Brain: what if you need to pee later? When pubs and museums were shut I managed my “exercise” allotment according to how long I could go before really needing to pee. Turns out, it can be a really long time, especially when dehydration is your strategy. (Don’t do it. Stay hydrated.)
Walking, and especially walking without a fixed purpose, is a huge part of my mental health regime. Heck, it’s a huge part of my “reason to exist” regime. I love walking. I love the way it spans time. But without reliable rest stops, and without strangers adding rhythmic interactions to my strolls, the walks took on a practical sheen. And purposeful walks are to pointless walks what sitting in a children’s wading pool is to swimming in the open sea.
When people get excited on social media about things that could happen next year, like concerts and not dying, it attracts the notice of the “reality resetters”. A little bit “well, actually”, a little bit “I think you’ll find”, and a whole lot “Hate to burst your bubble sunshine.”
Mistrust the reality resetters, as if reality is a thing any of us needs resetting right now. The ones who claim to tell it like it is. What an insanely boring thing to aspire to, the telling of a thing as it’s supposed to be.
I have eyes. I can see how things are. If you’re going to take up my time and space, deliver unto me, deliver I say, a new way of seeing something. Give me a newness that shocks my present.
Surprising absolutely no one, I’ve been buying a lot of records this year. When they’re open I go into record stores, which along with bookshops seem like the last bastions of humanity. When they’re closed I buy from Bandcamp, possibly the only music service that doesn’t feel like an algorithmic gas station.
I miss going into stores because I miss developing relationships with the people who work there. Yeah I’m that guy. I like when someone remembers my order, and I really like it when someone recommends an artist to me. The latter almost never happens anymore, but one of my big plans for 2021 is to go to a music store so often the staff addresses me by my first name.
In early 2016 I left my flat and spent over a year with no fixed address. This was part strategy and part “nihilistic hangover from being a repressed teenager”. In October of this year I packed up my things, chucked them into a storage locker, and attempted to travel around the UK. Let’s say that travelling during a global pandemic is an act of purest optimism.
To facilitate this project I started exchanging my belongings for their travel-size equivalents. And let me tell you: all our normal stuff is too damn big. All of it. Next time you’re in the market for something, check if there’s a Japanese camping version. I mean, the Japanese part is super-optional. Or check if there’s a travel version. Or check if there’s someone local who makes a version of the thing you want. And then, after all of that, you may discover that you don’t really need the thing at all and you’ll just give the one you have away.
But if you DO get one travel-sized item, make it an umbrella. Regular-sized umbrellas are absurd. I like this one.
In August one of my favourite restaurants in London closed its doors for good. That same month, one of my favourite beer shops closed as well. A bakery I used to stop by in Peckham shuttered both locations because the landlord refused to, well, be in any way human about anything.
In the Grand Scheme of Things™️, these are not going to make the first 1000 pages of any analysis on how COVID affected life in London, unless, of course, I was writing those thousand pages. But I wouldn’t need a thousand, or even a hundred, or even really one.
I’d only need a paragraph, and most of the paragraph would be a list of my favourite things that don’t exist anymore and the assessment that it sucks a lot when your favourite things disappear forever.
Friendship is absolutely trippy. People in your life who don’t have to be there through any legal requirement or genetic imperative are totally there. I’ve always considered myself a connoisseur of friendship—a deep taster if you will—and this year has had me ordering from the full friendship menu.
What I’m saying is, thank you to all my friends. You’ve been essential in a very literal way. Maybe it had something to do with casual interactions possibly killing people, but this year I’ve been a lot more… intentional with my friendship. Deliberate. I hope it’s not been annoying, but it could certainly track as annoying. I hope, as with most things I do, it came across as supping from the deep friendship trough.
None of those metaphors made an ounce of sense and I’m sticking with them.
I’m going to talk more about Ted Lasso, my favourite show of 2020, in a couple of weeks. A lot of very good things have been written about it. I just want to focus on a single aspect of Ted Lasso’s character, and that is his abundant curiosity.
In an episode late in Season 1, Ted agrees to a game of high-stakes darts against a terrible human being played wonderfully by Rupert Heard. (Heard is so good as a certain type of man of a certain age you can feel your fist connecting with his face.)
As he prepares to throw the penultimate dart, and secure his victory, Ted starts to tell a story about bullying, and like with many things Ted Lasso you wonder where he’s going with it. Thwack goes the dart.
He says people have doubted him his entire life, and those people shared one thing in common. None of them were curious. We’ve heard a lot this year from people who think they have it all figured out. Who think they know everything there is to know. About life. About health. About the economy. About what it does and doesn’t mean to be American. British. Canadian. A man. A woman.
This year has taken so much away from us, but those things were being taken away long before COVID marched into the city walls. In times like these, it’s a reasonable reaction to double-down on what you know. To board up the shop fronts. To bunker down for the long winter.
And yet, one thing that’s happened this year is I’ve become more curious. I’ve wondered why I’ve thought the things I’ve thought. And why I’ve felt the things I’ve felt. I’ve held up my assumptions like objects from a cabinet, gave them a good turn, and asked if they deserved a home inside my head.
I don’t usually make resolutions, but I feel this year one might be appropriate. Heading into 2021 and all the hope and fear it carries with it, I want to do one thing.
Be more curious.