Year In Review: 2020

Such a lofty title for an essay/post that I have started several times with no real forward progress. I do not feel like much can be said at an individual level regarding a year that resulted in so much disruption and pain for so many people. The genesis of this is actually Maria Popova’s list of her favorite books of 2020. She has 20 of them and I’m largely in awe of that number in any year but it seems especially amazing this year. Judging oneself against another is fraught with tribulation given that the circumstances of each life is so different but I’m envious of that much reading.

As someone who once was a vociferous reader, I have started to realize that I spend too much time on what is essentially the simple carbs of the information society (Twitter and slack) and too little time on things that are actually healthy for my mind and attention. Of course, the coming of a New Year seems to bring up compulsions for change that given the past years of no change are silly but I do feel like I’d like to read more in the coming year.

In 2020, I read seven books and started several more. Right off the bat, we have an attention problem. I finished three of those fairly early in the year: Barzun’s The Culture We Deserve, The Barbell Prescription, and How To Read A Book. Of the three, I got the most out of The Barbell Prescription as for the first time in probably 8 years, I stuck to a reasonable workout schedule all year. There were ebbs and flows but at the end of the year, I have increased my squat, dead lift and press significantly from Jan 2020 and my 2000m time on the rower is near my all time best. Even during the worst doldrums of the pandemic, I was working out and that is certainly a highlight of 2020.

My favorite book of 2020 was Walking The Llano. A year of pandemic isolated in a townhome with no yard caused me to long for the natural world. This book is a memoir of one woman’s experiences with her family farm in the Texas Panhandle. Having grown up in Amarillo, I’m reasonably familiar with the area of Vega that the author writes about and I’m envious of her experiences walking the ranches in the Canadian Breaks. One thing I’d like to focus on in 2021 is more time outside, more time taking Wobbles for walks and hikes. Honestly, I want to buy a piece of land somewhere that we can retreat to during times that are normal and times that are not. This book brought home the connection that the human spirit can have to nature. I’m currently reading The Gulf and a major part of it is the contrast between the Gulf region natives’ view of nature and the Spanish explorers. The former saw the estuarine nature of the Gulf as a provider, a source of fish and shellfish that enabled them to survive and thrive well. The latter couldn’t see the providence provided at all and many times, that lack of vision resulted in starvation.

European descended people have a generally less sensitive understanding of nature. It’s more rational and technocratic. Native Americans were in tune with the land. That is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as we likely are living through a climatic disaster. The youth of today are greatly in tune with the need to save the planet or the climate but the irony is that so few of them have ever actually BEEN in nature. They don’t camp, they don’t fish, they don’t hunt. They have no real understanding of what nature is or how our interactions with it alter and work with it.

I read two technical books this year, Thinking in Systems and The Phoenix Project. Both have started to sink in and fundamentally alter how I think about writing software and designing systems. They probably both deserve much longer more detailed treatments than this paragraph.

Other than the books, 2020 was a lot of family time. We bought an RV which was unexpected but has been a great release from the tedium of living in a pandemic. It’s nothing particularly special but provides an easy way for us to get out and away from townhome living.

I’m thankful no one in my immediate family got COVID. Both my parents go vaccinated this week which is a relief though certainly no guarantee of safety. We’ve been especially careful this year since we both have older parents. However, we’ve visited both regularly because like so many things in life, often a calculated risk is worth it.

No grand goals for 2021 other than to be more focused. I’m planning to treat everything as a pomodoro which seems odd but I realize that I spend an inordinate amount of time in 5-10 minute intervals doing things that are meaningless. I think if I get into a habit of focusing for 25-30 minute stretches, there will be more progress on things that are meaningful like playing the guitar or learning Spanish or writing blog posts. Maybe then, I won’t need to have friends set Slack reminders to remind me to write them. 🙂