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The Things That Got Us Through 2020

This year was awful. Here are just a few of the things that made it more bearable.

Memes also helped. Credit: Sam Taggart, Twitter

You don’t need us to tell you that 2020 was an astoundingly horrible year. A global pandemic, economic turmoil, isolation, mass suffering, an excruciating election cycle, horrifying social injustices, wildfires, murder hornets, and seemingly all of the world’s countless problems simply getting worse instead of better. It’s been hard and devastating to say the least.

But it actually hasn’t all been bad. The lesser of two evils won the election. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers led to worldwide protests and put Black Lives Matter and the movement to defund the police at the forefront of our national conversation for months—contributing, hopefully, to some lasting change for the better. Scientists accidentally discovered that platypus fur glows. We were blessed with two Taylor Swift albums and “WAP.” The term Zoom dick entered the vernacular. Rudy Giuliani’s brain started to melt on live TV.

Through the good and the (mostly) bad, we were lucky enough to find some respite in small, but invaluable ways. These are the ultra-specific things that kept us here at Discourse Blog afloat in this hell year.

Please let us know in the comments what’s helped you get through 2020. Consider this a virtual zen potluck for the holidays, a.k.a a much, much better version of an IRL gift swap.

Birds, submitted by Caitlin Schneider*:

At the very beginning of quarantine, I started making lists of birds and flowers I saw. I’m not entirely sure what motivated me. I think the ritual simply felt like a small and manageable project to undertake for however long the pandemic would last (lol). It encouraged me to get out of the house, and forced me to pause, look around at the world, and consider it, even if briefly. I use the Merlin Bird ID app to help me identify my feathered friends after considering their size and coloring, which has led me down countless research rabbit holes and taught me countless things about my immediate surroundings (for example, why there are so many parrots in my neighborhood) and about nature in general. It’s been a small, inconsequential act that has calmed my nerves like nothing else, and it’s certainly not a coincidence that I’ve focused my attention on creatures that seemed to exist outside of what was happening in the rest of the world. It’s also probably not a coincidence that the mascot of Discourse Blog is a bird (a starling, not a crow). What can I say, nature is healing. Caw caw.

Central Park, submitted by Jack Mirkinson:

The park was first a symbol of dread for me. I would get up very early in the morning and walk, because it felt like if I stayed shut inside my house all day I might fully lose my mind. Every time I saw another human being, or even a dog, I flinched. When they set up a field hospital in the park, the doom seemed to deepen even further. Eventually, though, the park became an almost spiritual haven, a place of stability amid the chaos, a zone where—with certain awful exceptions, like the Amy Cooper incident—people were figuring out how to stay human during the crisis. I could walk and clear my head of everything, and whatever was going on, the park would be there, as steady and sure as ever.

Gaming, submitted by Jack Crosbie:

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time inside this year feeding my already-bloated appetite for videogames. But what I didn’t expect from quarantine is how many new friends I’d make. Through a couple of Twitter DMs and a few Discord communities, I’ve actually gotten to know some people who before all this were acquantances at best, mostly through playing Among Us, Rocket League, and the online version of the board game Diplomacy. Half of these people I’ve never met in real life, but they’re now who I hang out with more than a few nights a week, even if we don’t have a game to play. My second job is mostly at night, so even if I can’t game it’s been such a pleasant surprise to have a voice channel or slack room to pop into and chat — like showing up at the bar and seeing all your friends, even if you only have time for one drink and then you’ve got to run. I’m hoping that once this all goes back to normal we find a way to stay plugged in, because this is one part of pandemic life I don’t really want to lose.

Gilmore Girls, submitted by Katherine Krueger:

Listen, has this show aged perfectly? No. But did it light up all the long-dormant pleasure centers in my brain? Oh god yes. Comfort TV ruled in 2020, a year where I mostly only watched garbage or things I’d seen before. And although in my adolescence this show took up approximately 50% of my brain, I’ve rarely rewatched it since. Why?? Life is too short not to reconnect with all the things that once made you happy to see if they still fit. Showing it to my boyfriend for the first time has also lent a new edge, as he hates everyone on the show. But I love these selfish, domineering women. In a year where every little decision felt global, losing myself in the Gilmores’ petty dramas and fast-talking nonsense was the perfect thing.

Cross stitching, submitted by Sam Grasso:

I picked up cross stitching this summer just as something to do while my boyfriend and I streamed old seasons of various MTV competition shows, and it ended up being the best thing I did for my mental health all year. Especially in that first month when I was feeling so rundown, cross stitching would just wash the entire day from my brain and create some semblance of separation between that day and the next. Ever since “entering the workforce” full time I’ve always had a job where I’d work from home partially if not fully, and not having the ability to compartmentalize the work with an afternoon at a coffee shop, or co-working at a friend’s apartment, or running errands, was wearing on me more than I thought it would. Cross stitching has helped restore that feeling of physical separation to my life, and I’d likely be in a shittier place without it. Runners up: Twitter comedians (primarily Caleb Hearon), my local HEB grocery store, Discourse Blog :’)

Spite, submitted by Rafi Schwartz:

Even in a normal year, a good 35-50% of my daily motivation is spite-based. This year, though? If anything can get me out of bed in the middle of this coupdemic (pandeup?) it’s sticking it to my various enemies, internet nemeses, and meaningless professional rivals, many of whom have no idea I even exist. Their loss. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been cooped up inside for the better part of the year, but I’ve never been more ready to drop whatever I’m doing and pick a pointless fight with an anonymous Twitter ghoul than I have in 2020. It’s not noble, or dignified, or even particularly productive, but it works. What more do you need?

The Sopranos, submitted by Paul Blest:

When the world practically shut down in March, an alarming number of us took that as our cue to watch (or rewatch) with the six-season existential crisis featuring Big T and the gang. After several previous attempts to get into it, my partner and I finally dove in and basically crushed the whole thing in maybe three weeks. It’s hands down the best TV show I’ve ever watched, and its depiction of ambition and depravity in America is as relevant today as it was when it went off the air thirteen years ago, if not more so. My only regret is that I can never watch it for the first time again.

“This Is Beans,” submitted by Aleks Chan:

I do not know the genesis of this video, nor do I care to find out, purely out of concern that if I learn exactly one new detail about this iconic clip, it will be ruined forever. But this video—a perfectly lowbrow, absurdist, and just plain dumb stunt where a prankster fills up a computer tower with beans and then calls a repairman to investigate—landed on my Twitter timeline right when I needed it in June, when New York City had flattened its first curve and we were all going outside more. (Remember feeling hope? I ask under 18 inches of snow.) This clip completely took over my group chats, in large part I think because of its simplicity: The poor computer repairman—who I hope was not too humiliated in the making of this video that I personally have invested an enormous amount of my mental health in—is just so baffled, and rightfully so, to open up a computer and find black beans spilling forth like a Biblical plague of locusts. The prankster gets the assignment just right, egging the repairman on until he explodes with exasperation: “This is FOOD! This is BEANS!” It is food; it is, in fact, beans. It was nice to have something in 2020 make clear, perfect sense. 

OK, your turn: What’s kept you sane/happy/peaceful/stable this year? We want (and need) to know.

*Caitlin adds: “For me, it was honestly a tossup between my three true loves: food, nature, and gossip. In the spirit of the holidays, I went with the most poetic option, but please don’t be fooled: at the end of the day it was gossip that really saved me this year.