Friday, January 1, 2021

The Word was “Learn”

I’ve been choosing a yearly theme word for about a decade now. Sometimes I forget about it by February. Sometimes it becomes the star of the year. 2020 worked my theme word hard. The word was LEARN.

I started out in January by taking a course at the Journalism School at UC Berkeley on film editing. The instructor - Maxim Jago (yes he looked and sounded exactly like his name) - taught us many things, though the real nuts and bolts of the matter didn’t come round til the last day of class... it was quite a learning experience. 

I started taking Spanish at the local adult school. Every Tuesday night I walked over and we sang songs and talked at kindergarten language with 28 other people hoping to grasp the language that more than half of CA already speaks. It was a fun addition to my Duolingo app studies and I thought I might actually be getting somewhere

In March I voted in the Presidential Primary hoping for an Elizabeth Warren win. But she lost, and I learned, once again, that America is not ready for a woman president no matter how smart or qualified she may be. Then COVID-19 arrived and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about viruses and how they pass from human to human and - more importantly - how to avoid letting that happen. Just like all of you, I learned about “social distancing”, “pods”, “remote learning”, and Zoom. Everything was cancelled. My kid came home from college. All public schools closed and I stopped going to Spanish class. I walked around the neighborhood crying while taking photos of flowers. I didn’t sleep or eat. I lost ten pounds.

In April I learned that the level of anxiety I was experiencing was abnormal and I needed help which was provided to me by my doctor in the form of Ativan. It worked. As did TIME - time to come to a “new normal.” Suddenly they told us that it would be good to wear masks so I learned how to sew one. It took a long time and several patterns and ultimately I decided it would be best to just purchase them. Our family’s ZOOM Passover Seder was not terribly successful. We hadn’t quite learned how to use the platform yet and it was not at all spiritual and actually slightly chaotic.

Summer came and there were protests - Black Lives Matter - too many police killing too many black people. I posted signs and cheered loudly from my home - too afraid to be part of such a large crowd during this pandemic. Say their names: Ahmad Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd are only a few. I’m learning about the perversity of white privilege and how to be a good ally. I don’t think that learning here will ever be done.

The season felt long. My daughter took a job as a counselor in a day camp. I worried constantly.

Finally Fall, and the schools my kids attended decided to remain closed but we decided it would be best for my son to live near his university in San Diego with peers. So he went off and my daughter continued her studies from the computer on her desk at either mine or her dad’s house. That’s when the fires started and I learned why all post apocalyptic movies look so dusty. When smoke covers the sun the air becomes thick. Like soup. Scary and surreal. We were all shocked by it’s eeriness.

Around this time I found a caterpillar on a plant in the front yard. Turns out, my neighbors had planted tons of milkweed in hopes of attracting Monarchs and it worked. Another neighbor lent me a little butterfly tent and I set about raising caterpillars. When the first one turned into a chrysalis - seemingly in a blink of an eye - I was stunned and smitten. I learned all about monarch caterpillars and butterflies and what happens in between. I learned the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon, and what signs to watch for at each stage of the transformation. Beautiful.

This was the month I started growing some cannabis plants (ultimately somewhat unsuccessfully - learning that time:money ratio made it cheaper to buy) and a friend gave me a garbage bag full of trim. What to do? I learned to make cannabis butter. There were so many different theories on what works best, how to and how long to decarb (decarb??), cook, and the best recipes to bake. I gave a lot away and was grateful for the opportunity to help friends with anxiety and sleeplessness.

Somehow, sometime in early October, I got it into my head that I needed to get back on a schedule (what month was it?) and I started waking early, enjoying my coffee in bed, and heading out the door with Sam the dog by 7:30 for a walk round the neighborhood while listening to “The Daily” podcast. Whoa - this was life changing. And not just for Sam. Unlike running (which had somehow lost its luster no matter how many times I tried to resurrect it) the no-pressure approach to exercise (no special shoes, or clothes) worked for me and I started logging more miles than last year (according to my trusty iPhone that measured my steps). It’s a constitution I intend to enjoy for many years to come. I’ve learned how important it is to my wellbeing.

TikTok finally sucked me in around October and I somehow ended up in a roller skating loop - people were cruising on old-style quad-wheeled skates. Like from when I was a kid. They were so smooth, looked so cool and made it seem so easy. Many days, on those morning walks, I’d pass by a completely empty North Berkeley BART station parking lot - seemed like a great place to roll around... SO I went on Amazon and bought the cheapest skates I could find ($65) along with all the safety equipment because - let’s face it, I’m old and will break easily - and put them on in my living room, falling immediately. 

That’s ok. I started skating at the parking lot. Back and forth. Back and forth. I fell. I got up. At the end of November I downloaded an online skate course and I’m a couple of weeks into that. And I found a better place to skate - at the community center down the block. The concrete is smoother. I’m learning a lot and by the end of 2021 I’m hoping to cruise like the gals on TikTok.

Here it is the last day of the year and I keep learning. I feel like “learn” could be my word again for 2021 but that’s boring - my word should be fresh and mindful. I was thinking “gratitude” because if there is one very important thing I learned from this year, it’s to be grateful for the things I have - the back yard space has been essential during lockdowns and I can’t imagine what we’d do if we were in an apartment; work - and the fact that the pandemic didn’t change it much - in fact, I’ve had a really good year; and of course, our health - I’m lucky my kids and parents are on the same page regarding the masks, lockdown, social distancing, and safety. So far nobody close to me has had a case requiring hospitalization <knock on wood>.

Alternately I’m thinking about a word that challenges me to move outside my comfort zone (will definitely need to do this for skating). Is the word RISK? Or is it DARE? Or is it something similar but totally different? Whichever word, it will result in growth - because the only way to get better is to do what you’re afraid will fail. Hmm.

Happy New Year.