I’ve spent the past week or so thinking of how I’m going to write this post. I doubt that “year in review” posts are ever easy for the author. After all, articles or blog posts or whatever are supposed to be thematic, right? Everything that happened within the year controlled within one tight narrative, with one event flowing logically to another. Real life is messier than that; I suppose that’s why the YouTube Rewinds keep flopping year in and year out. How do you easily capture an entire year, the ups and the downs, the struggles and the triumphs? How could I ever do that here?
It’s so tempting to write about 2020 as the year where everything went wrong. Literally everyone else is, so why shouldn’t I? But even then, the truth is more nuanced. Sometimes, this year was great! And sometimes, it really did suck.
For example, I could say that 2020 was the year of staying at home. And for large stretches of the year after March, it was! Day in and day out, until I was sick of sitting in my apartment all the time. For months on end, the most exciting part of my week was playing nine holes out on The Links. Cooped up at home all the time, I found it harder to resist the addictive elements of social media and often found myself walking around the neighborhood with nowhere to be just so I could set my phone down.
But 2020 was also a year of travel. Before the first two weeks of the New Year were out, I had already completed trips back from Vail, where I learned to ski and an entire week at the AMS annual conference in Boston, where I got the WHOLE academic conference experience. I spent most of February traveling to prospective grad schools. Elizabeth and I had our Spring Breaks plans with my parents repeatedly altered and finally cancelled, so we drove up to Michigan to meet them for Spring Break. Over the summer, we camped at Black Mesa State Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and finally in Nashville on the way to spend a few weeks with her family. We just completed the second cross-continental trip to see her family last week. To say that 2020 was the year of staying home would belie the mileage on my odometer.
2020 was a year to be proud academically. I graduated with a 3.79 GPA from OU, despite the stress of taking classes fully online from the middle of March until the end of the semester. Despite finding some difficulty in the technical aspects of my senior Capstone, I felt like my final paper and presentation truly shone. The work I’d put into my Capstone project throughout my senior year directly helped set up my graduate research project. Far from backing down from the challenge of some of the School of Meteorology’s toughest graduate classes, I managed to get straight As in my first semester of grad school, working harder than I’ve ever worked before. Few things in the entire year were more satisfying than studying each day for a few hours and seeing how well I could do academically.
2020 was a year to struggle academically. Fully online lectures made me feel like I wasn’t truly learning anything during class periods. I did really tried to stay caught up during class, and to force myself to pay attention. Sometimes, I was successful. Toward the end of each semester, I was much less so. It was hard to avoid the nagging feeling that I was cheating myself and wasting the time of my professors. Furthermore, I discovered just how far I have to go to be an effective researcher. I am 1/4 of the semesters through my master’s, and legitimately have no idea what to do with my thesis or how to do it. In reality, how I feel about my academic career largely depends on what I’ve accomplished on that particular day.
2020 was a year of great friendships. My classmates and I hung out almost every week early in the year. We explored Boston together during AMS, and spent our weekends drinking in James, Moriah, Bradley and Chandler’s apartment. We met Shrimp, Marisa’s cat, and Oliver, Hannah’s dog. We spent a snow day reliving our childhoods together. All through the spring, there was always a friend or two willing to chase a storm nearby, no matter how marginal the day. Twice a week, we would Zoom into our mesoscale lecture with drinks in hand, playing drinking games made up about our classmates. James and Bradley went so far as to buy a tent and join Elizabeth and me in camping over the summer before Bradley left Oklahoma. The Among Us craze allowed for chances to hang with friends on Discord this fall, while our fantasy football league has remained heated even with its members in diaspora. Nothing was more touching than seeing all of my friends on Zoom for my birthday. Most exciting of all, I made a new friend: man’s best friend.
2020 was a year of horrible social isolation. Adhering to strict social distancing rules, I have not even met some of my current graduate classmates. I have spent time outside of class with a vanishingly small proportion of those classmates. Given that many of them live with or near one another, I feel as though I’ve lost a chance to make the close friendship bonds that I had previously. Elizabeth and I spend days, sometimes weeks, without seeing anyone we really know. That kind of isolation can really bring you into a depressed state without even realizing it. On top of that, the two of us were constantly stuck with one another. I’m home for Christmas right now; this is the first time we’ve been apart for more than a couple of hours since the beginning of March, as best as I can tell. While this has helped our relationship grow much *closer*, that isn’t entirely a good thing – at times, cabin fever sets in and you just need a little while apart.
2020 was a crappy year to chase storms. After a reasonably active start to the year in the swamps of the Southeast, we went through a historic tornado drought during the Plains months of May and June. Most of the western part of Oklahoma and Kansas was literally never under a tornado watch. It seemed endless during the spring – some sort of MCS would bring an outflow boundary through the target area in the morning, thus wiping out yet another promising-looking day. We couldn’t buy a decent trough for anything. Because of ongoing covid precautions, I didn’t want to take any trips beyond the southern Plains where I could be back by the end of the evening. Even by the minimal standards of the late 2010s, it was a horrible year.
2020 was an awesome year for me chasing-wise. Freed from having to worry about any events on the fringes of my range, I focused exclusively on the plains of Oklahoma and north Texas. With a distinct lack of tornado days in that area, there was almost never anything to complain about. The one tornado outbreak we got in the area was the day of one of my slickest moves ever, making it back to campus in time for a 7:00 meeting with a tornado in hand. I learned to appreciate different parts of the storm – the backlit sunset anvil, the big hail, the beautiful shelves, or even something as simple as a moment spent with friends before the storm begins. This year had a simple pureness that I’d imagine can only come from being truly committed to not worrying about what everyone else is seeing or doing, and just focusing on enjoying your own experience.
The truth is that most people will portray 2020 as bad. Those same people portrayed 2016 as bad, 2017 as bad, 2018 as bad, and 2019 as bad. And you can come up with a convincing argument for those statements – when you have a whole year to help your narrative, it isn’t hard. This isn’t to say that 2020 didn’t suck – by pretty much any standard, it did, and in ways that previous years could never measure up to. But inside that cesspool of suck there were some truly great moments, little flowers spreading beauty and providing sanity to everyone caught inside the giant, sprawling, Wall-E-sized pile of garbage this year provided. And I’m a “focus on the flowers” kind of guy.
Some things about this year were undeniable. For one, we were at the mercy of the news and political events of the year far more than ever before. As early as January, Elizabeth’s brother was in Morocco when the United States became embroiled in a conflict in the Middle East. We were worried that the escalation of tensions would impact his travel back into the United States. Fortunately, that was not the case. Meanwhile, most of our political attention was focused on the impeachment trial of Donald Trump – one that would fizzle out and be forgotten within months, but drew the battle lines for the year.
The most obvious example of 2020 being dominated by current events was of course the coronavirus pandemic. I first became aware of it early in the year as reports filtered out from China of a virulent new disease. I remember reading articles of cities in lockdown, overcrowded hospitals, and people going everywhere in masks… and not being able to comprehend what that kind of disruption would be like to daily life. For a while, coronavirus jokes were like the peak of college comedy. My camera roll from January and February of 2020 looks like a vault into a completely different world – selfies at crowded OU basketball games, pictures from date nights, snapshots of myself hammocking with classmates. But, as cases slowly started to filter in to the United States, I started to become worried what that would mean. On March 4, before panic-shopping had become mainstream, I took Elizabeth to Target and bought $100 of nonperishable goods and cleaning supplies. (Some of these turned out to be useless, some of them quite useful in the supply disruptions that followed). Regretfully, after endless discussion with our Spring Break cruise less than a week away, I told my mom, dad, and Elizabeth that we couldn’t risk it on a cruise ship (cruise ships were briefly considered the virus epicenter). The stock market gyrated wildly, but its trend was always down, down, down.
And then came the night of March 11. My parents were still planning on flying down to see me for the Spring Break period, which was now just a few days away. Elizabeth and I were at Chuy’s for one of our many dinner dates when word came out that the Thunder game, just a few dozen miles down the road, was not starting on time. Speculation and chaos reigned. Suddenly, the court was evacuated. Then the entire stadium. And just like that, Rudy Goebert’s positive covid test had shut down the NBA. Tom Hanks, all the way down in Australia, wasn’t far behind.
It was insane. You couldn’t *stop* watching Twitter because you knew you were seeing history occur in real time. Elizabeth and I quickly got the check, drove to the nearby Wal-Mart, and bought more panic groceries (with a lot of alcohol). I called my parents and insisted they not come visit me. Across the country, the reality that this could happen to use too was sinking in.
Since then, that reality has sunk in so hard that it’s sunk right through people. Just getting people to do the basic task of putting on a cloth face mask has proven to be impossible for a large chunk of America’s population. If you ever stop and think seriously about it, you get really mad. So I try not to think seriously, and instead only consider the greater world around me ironically as a self-defense mechanism. I guess it works. For a lot of people, though, it’s a fight between the liberals who are trying to control us and the morons who are ignoring 300,000 (and rapidly rising) Americans dead. The good news: I’ve found out who the clowns are.
While the pandemic has never been far from our view, 2020 was also dominated by the presidential election. Democrats were determined all year to not commit the same mistakes that they did in 2016 and lose to a bumblefuck moron like Donald Trump again. In doing so, they nominated a clearly past-his-prime Joe Biden, who had limped to a 4th place in the Iowa caucuses and a 5th place in the New Hampshire primary. After a big win in South Carolina over Bernie Sanders, and a resounding win on Super Tuesday just as the world was shutting down, Biden coasted to the Democratic nomination. And then, refusing to campaign among the pandemic, Biden settled in to let Trump self-destruct. Throughout the summer of 2020 (especially after George Floyd was killed and the following protests), Biden had a lead in national popular vote polling that often approached double-digits. Liberals were terrified to say, but by all accounts he was the clear and maybe even heavy favorite.
As the election drew closer, it consumed everything, even covid news. Everything that happened was a reflection of the election, and every piece of election news reflected itself in life. I spent hours each day looking at a special election tweetdeck I’d created to get all the politics news as rapidly as possible. Everybody became experts in obscure polling firms. You knew who everyone was voting for, and hated the opposing side with a passion.
In the end, Biden won a much narrower victory than anticipated, but a victory it was. But the impacts of political polarization were amplified to an insane degree in 2020 and I have no idea if America will ever recover from it.
Does it seem weird that a giant chunk of my year-in-review post focused on those two events? Well, it seemed fitting, because those two events truly dominated the year. Elizabeth and I vacationed in Hot Springs for a weekend to get away from the election noise, just a week and a half before election day. We were instead treated to an hour-long Trump parade in downtown followed by a small Biden rally. Everywhere I went in 2020, I always found myself checking to see who was wearing masks and who needed to be avoided. A key survival skill was knowing how to let people down easy instead of visiting them because you wanted to adhere to social distancing rules.
That’s why I found comfort in so many little things. I picked up running as a habit shortly after moving into our new apartment – the first time I’ve consistently run since leaving high school. Elizabeth and I went golfing weekly during the late summer and early fall, and I expect we’ll take advantage of the free golf at our apartment complex to get back on it in the spring. So many state and national parks and recreation areas proved to be places to unwind, experience nature, and pitch a tent and find out what horrible thing was going to ruin our camping trip this time. Nowadays, I find comfort in the day-to-day worry about what Scipio is going to destroy next.
Living as we did in a year where each day threatened to be a day that would live in infamy for the rest of your life (doomscrolling became a word this year for a reason), it’s insane to think that some days were just… mundane! But there were, and they seemed to be directly correlated to days I was smart enough to stay off of social media. My guilty pleasure lately has been looking through pictures from before covid began and thinking about life getting back to that. Of course, it probably never will get exactly back. Many of the friends from those pictures have moved away. Even though the covid vaccine is just now beginning to be distributed, I’m probably months away from getting it, and possibly longer still before I can eat out with Elizabeth again. Different public health precautions may keep us from ever living exactly the way we did before. But, hopefully when I write this year in review post in 2021, Elizabeth and I will be able to eat inside Chuy’s again. I’ll be able to tailgate OU football games, and go inside Applebee’s with my grad classmates for $1 drinks on Friday nights.
Really, if I can do that, 2021 may just lay claim to a few more roses in the landfill than 2020.