How was 2020? Looking at the numbers pretty much inline with my predictions from last year. Reading way more books than predicted was the only stat suggesting the past twelve months was in any way unusual. This year we've all had to learn the story behind a multitude of stats - so what was the real narrative behind my figures from 2020?
Year in numbers
Change - Planned and Unplanned
At the end of 2019 I left my job at the Royal Academy of Arts, went to Bali to complete my yoga teacher training and on my return in February started a new job at Wonderbly. A couple of weeks of settling into a new routine and then the pandemic struck.
Like everyone else since then I've been trying to deal with what the pandemic. How to cope with enforced change? The wonderful, messy complexity of life criss-crossed with blunt new rules and restrictions. The balance of dealing with a pandemic and the diverse and varied ways we all live. The stresses, hardships, lost opportunities and health risks. The balance between the individual, community and the State.
By a mixture of luck and privilege, plus some planning and hard work I objectively had a less bad year than many. But still things were tough. The whole range of emotions from relief, guilt, exhaustion, happiness, stress and yes moments of joy too. Plans upended, life unbalanced.
Lots of things led to a less stressful year than others: A home setup with space and a garden; no kids; young enough (I turn 40 next year) to mainly be concerned with others health; old enough to have some stability, savings and experience.
The biggest life saviour was a job and salary - the cherry on top was a company that cared for our well being and was incredibly supportive. That job security was more valuable than any amount of yoga, swimming and reading that I could cram into my schedule.
Contrast to the Past
There was a stark contrast to the friends and colleagues I left behind at the RA who had to deal with reduced pay packets and uncertainty all year. While the news everywhere was horrible my connection to that world made the pain stab deeper.
The events this year also triggered memories of 2007 when I lost my job and with it my American visa - having to move back to the UK. Seeing others go through similar circumstances again made my heart ache.
The world is messy and while some will grow and flourish out of adversity there will be many who will struggle for years.
Dealing with change
Losing my job thirteen years ago had a big impact of my life: it sparked ideas of changing career - it took six years planning and now six years in a new industry to feel fully embedded and settled. In the nine months I was unemployed in 2007 I picked up yoga, reignited my love for running and started noting my activities in a spreadsheet. That sporting diary persists today and is where the stats in this article are still recorded.
Yoga in Jan, new job in Feb and then lockdown. A brief panic thinking I would be unemployed and then settling down to remote work and trying to find balance in an uncertain world: between looking after yourself and others, how much news to read, judging others while trying to understand all the complexities of everyone's situation. Throughout the year trying to work out what was safe given government guidlines, ones own fears and whatever could be gleaned from the web.
My core hobbies were a great foundation to help me survive the year. I try not to be a slave to the stats and to have space for other things in life. Keeping a diary helps me manage routine through uncertainty and allows me to reflect and respond to the ebbs and flows in my mood through the year.
My post all the yoga with All Yoga details the amazing month I spent in Bali completing my 200h teacher training. February brought about new routines - I got to try out a new studio as well as visit my long time regulars. Six weeks later though and all change as lockdown hit. I struggled with online live classes but soon discovered yoga with Adrienne. A daily morning practice through the dull monotomy of April which collapsed in mid May - I couldn't face it any more and took a big break until August when studios opened. As usual when I stopped I got a running injury so was so happy to get back into the flow. In the second half of the year I got better at self practice alongside studio trips when they were open.
As predicted I did more yoga in 2020 but given about forty sessions were in January less than could be expected. The stats don't tell the whole story as I only count sessions over 45 mins which excluded the majority of lockdown sessions.
The year reinforced two things: Firstly don't take breaks as it means getting an injury. Secondly I love being told what to do. The teacher training was to give me the ability to lead my own session. In a normal week I put lots of energy into managing people and this year there was a bigger demand on me to help support the team. After a busy day I just want someone else to tell me what to do for an hour. Next year hopefully more of the same but a more regular home practice.
2019 was a huge year for running and as expected I ran less this year. One of the aims for the year was to inject a bit of speed and try and qualify for the London Marathon which didn't happen due to cancelled events.
Back from Bali I swapped social runs with Techrunners for track and hill sessions with Advent Runners. In mid March I took part in the Surrey half marathon and flew round. The speed work combined with a strong core honed through hours of yoga resulted in one of the best races I've done - the first half felt so calm and easy despite rocketing along as part of the 1h 25min pace group. 5k from the end dropped the hammer and powered off for a storming last quater of the race. Painful by the end but an almost perfect negative split run and best half marathon time for a while.
Lockdown hit, races were cancelled and running became a lifeline to the outside world. April and May I ran with a relentless consistency knocking out a steady 50k each week. As the parks became fuller the center of town became more attractive - a unique experience to run through a deserted central London. Through the year instead of trips abroad there were jogs to see previous offices, artworks, and Christmas lights.
From mid summer trail races were allowed to go ahead - I signed up to loads of events with the expectation some would be cancelled. Missed out on a couple in November but managed to complete a couple of 20+km Maverick runs, the 43km Fox run and a 50km event down in Bournemouth with a group of friends. Amazing work by the organisers to put these on - thank you!
Running gives me lots of things but one I value the most is the stress relief and the time to think. This year that has been especially important. Whatever restrictions come in next year running will always be there to provide a break, the chance to lug your body through the world, through nature and to burn away some of the worries and cares of the day.
Swimming was on and off again through the year - I wrote in much more detail about it in my post, paddling through a pandemic. It's a fantastic balance to the other sports I do and the floating serenity it brings to life is priceless. So many swimming highlights but fresh in my mind was a Christmas Day swim in a chilly West Reservoir.
Epic year for book reading - with so much staring at a screen during work hours I was looking for respite during the rest of the day. Books came to the rescue. Pages of Hackney was my saviour providing not just books but friendly chats too!
You can see a list of all the books and stats in my books project. Mainly fiction with the odd biography thrown in. I read more than twice as many female authors as male and one by a trans author. In response to the BLM protests I analysed my reading habits in the post accidental racist. Overall this year 30% of the books I've read have been from ethnically contrasting voices.
Favourite books? The Ali Smith Seasonal Quartet is an amazing mix of current politics, art, coupled with the magical. Fantastic writing - very much of the moment including the coronavirus.
There were so many other aventures - visits to a kaleidoscope of lives and places - happy to share the books that took me there if you are interested.
Blogging and side projects
A couple of tech blog posts and side projects at the start of the year including my first attempt at recording a coding session. Soon online fatigue hit and the need to be away from the computer. Blog posts in the second of the year were around anything but tech!
No talks this year but a podcast I'd recorded got released. I was part of two panels with General Assembly aimed at those looking to get into tech - one in February in the offices and one on Zoom. Lots of people contemplating careers changes and was happy to have follow up questions and help people make decisions on their future.
One aim for this year was to mentor again - the pandemic meant I didn't do anything to make that happen. Fortunately near the end of the year two different friends approached me to mentor people on their team. Have done a couple of sessions with each mentee which have gone well so far and the aim is to continue into the new year.
The Art World
The last few years being at the RA I've been to a huge amount of exhibitions and was curious if that was just a new habit or something related to the job. I was looking forward to going back to the RA and getting friends there to sneak me into the latest exhibitions - in March I popped by to see the Picasso exhibition. Since then galleries have been opening and shutting - devastated for the impact the uncertainty has had on my friends and old colleagues across the whole sector.
Visited galleries when they were open with trips to the RA for Gaugin, Spillaert and the Summer/Winter exhibition. There was a fantastic day out to the Tate and Southbank to see Among The Trees and Warhol and a trip to the Garden Museum to see Derek Jarman's hut. Managed to also venture outside of London with a couple of trips to Hauser and Wirth and a visit to the Turner Contemporary to see Art and Resistance in the American south. As with everything else there were cancelled plans and trips - have already littered next year's calendar with hopeful bookings - let's see what's possible while managing the pandmic.
Even when the world was locked down there was plenty going on - statues were getting pulled down across the world but here in London some were going up - from Thomas J Price's statue of a black woman to a shiny cloud of controversy. It was also amazing to see friends producing art from curating east London billboards, crafting pottery and a whole range of other creative pursuits. Worth the stress of furlough? Absolutely not - but shows that universal basic income could create a way for talented people to make life around us better.
Cultural highlights of the year? Among the trees was a close contender but had two standalone favourites. First Far Away - a play by Caryl Chruchill. It was on at the Donmar Theatre and is a short but incredibly powerful play. It's an old piece but felt incredible relevant and prescient of what was to come in 2020. Huge power and emotions generated from a small cast and set. My other favourite was the Emin/Munch exhibition at the RA. There was pain and anger but also a huge bubbling up of life and vitality. Framed against this year it seemed to sum up the swirling complexity, joy and pain of life.
What else for the year? Switched from Radio 2 to Radio 6, less Spotify but started enjoying YouTube especially epic socially distant sets. Not much TV as had enough of screens - Last Dance the best thing I did watch. Social Media really came into it's own this year - discovered Instagram stories and loved catching up with what my yoga cohort was doing. Twitter is the messy everything of life and all the more valuable for it - highlights have been discovering new groups (hi copywriting twitter!) and sharing swimming pics. Most of my close friends though were a call or Whatsapp away or available for tinnies in the park. There was an increased joy from gardening. Rented an exercise bike from a friend and joined the Zwift revolution.
So many other small parts of life that gave joy and structure to a year where big events were curtailed. Thanks to everyone who messaged, called or sent, shared thoughts and recommendations and generally helped bring some light to the year.
Usually shop local but even more so this year, cancelled Amazon Prime, cashless makes sense but ensured I took money out each month to give to the local homeless. Donated more money this year than for a long time. Volunteered as a vaccine administrator but wasn't needed. Tried to balance energy for talking to friends and family with time for myself. Tried to manage the news, have empathy for everything and everyone but being overwhelmed and feeling helpless too. A new job and managing people took up lots of energy - thankful for the support and welcome I was given and proud of the support we've been able to give to the team.
Love being around people and enjoy being on my own but never too much of either. Remote work went well but enjoyed the days in the office when allowed. The rest of life away from a pandemic continued - so many areas such as BLM, climate change and a myriad of other imbalances in life to keep abreast of.
What a year - thankful for the stability of a job, friends and family around and many other small joys. A tough and exhausting year. One with huge demands on us which we were all in together but often further apart than ever.
This post is part of making sense of it all, mainly a post for me but the commitment to publish something pushing me to think, reflect and process much of what has happened. There are many other reasons to write - a distraction, a reminder of what we could do, because I like writing.
Next year? It feels like large parts of 2021 will be equally impacted as we have this year. No targets beyond continuing to deal with the pandemic. I'd expect numbers similar to this year but the threat of infection and resultant tiredness, long covid or even death could all put a dent into any plans. The one resolution I'd like to pursue is to do more writing - specifically creative writing.
Whatever happens this year shows that even with reduced horizons many things are possible. My heart goes out to everyone struggling and hope we can all have a better 2021.