Well. It’s really hard to even say anything meaningful about this. I went back and forth on what to write about it and ended up deleting it all. It’s been a year of missing: people, above all, and connection, places, and opportunities. It’s also been among the years of my biggest growth so far, personally and professionally; I learned a lot, and discovered new depths in, and new sides to me. It has changed a lot, and changed me a lot. And having spent the Covid months in isolation and a permanent mode of social distancing has left me worn out and tired. At the same time, I got lucky in that I’m leaving this year knowing my loved ones are healthy and well (I’m down sick right now but this one shall pass); less important, but still noteworthy, it was also a year of great hair for me. There’s a lot that didn’t take place or get done, a lot that was missing, and a lot that’s just going to fade into thin air, but in the end, that’s all that matters. — With all this (and more) in mind, I find it very difficult to write about 2020 and the ambiguities I hold around it all, and write about it on the internet in ways that are meaningful, when there’s also so much that doesn’t belong on the internet. So I will just leave it at this: I made the best of it with what I had and could. All things considered, it was a good year. And at this point, it’s almost over.
January – December
I start going to the gym every day. Spend a week with colleagues; I’ve thought back to this group dinner we had with over 10 people in a crowded restaurant often since. Last trip. Eat tiramisú. Slurp Ramen. Get flowers, Whiskey, and a promotion. Travels, meetings, appointments, regular ways of grocery shopping and being a human in the world: all gets cancelled within a week. I give away a rainbow. See the first crocuses out in the street. Something ends. Outdoors training for the inline-skate marathon starts, along the canal, where the purple flours occupy the hillside. I make supplí, filled rice balls, Rome-style. Sourdough starter procreates and moves out. After many years, I get back into painting after finding an easel in the hallway (if you’re curious, ask me about it sometime, the easel has a mysterious life of its own). Tons of Vietnamese iced coffee. The sun shines a lot, I spend many hours by the water. First ice cream of the year. I cultivate an avocado seed. Table tennis returns (for my non-German friends reading: permanently installed table tennis tables are really common on German playgrounds and in public life; I have lots of theories as to why, but don’t actually know. All I know for certain is that it means table tennis is pretty accessible essentially at all times). The cherries blossom. I start gardening on the balcony and give away some plant cuttings. Long bike rides along the lakes. Waterlilies. Strawberry season. After four months, I’m back to the gym. My cactus blossoms again, for the second time in five years. We sit under paper lanterns. Two swims to lake islands. The avocado seed moves into soil. Find a deflated unicorn by the lake. Got a shirt with a print of an anatomically correct heart. A rainbow on Saturday morning. Sunflowers on the balcony. Great sunsets. Short vacation that I need to cancel halfway through. Worst (and highest number of) mosquito bites of my life. Deer in the forest. Hard decisions. Back to painting after a few months’ break, thanks to a friend’s friendly nudge. Back to piano playing. Learn to trust the process. Finish a painting that I’ve painted over six times already. Leaves fall. The marathon gets cancelled. My birthday sucks. I finally throw way the 2020 yearly planner. Quince season, resulting in quince cheese, jam, poached fruit, and quince apple brown butter pie. A newspaper and and a surprise remote party. Last keynote for the year. Cookie season, 7 boxes get shipped, most arrive somewhat intact. Family portrait, but different. More walks, cookies, and lake time.
Throughout all of this year, I spend endless hours in the park nearby, for weeks on end I go every day, sometimes alone, other times with friends, and at many different times of day and in all sorts of weather condition, going barefoot to wearing wellies. I ride and fix my bike, redo my apartment, buy more books than I read, stare at the night sky, eat raw cookie dough, switch to doing phone calls instead of Zoom chats, think about who I am and who I’m turning into, and miss my friends dearly. I find wonder on a regular Monday morning, on a busy Thursday night in the rain, and on Saturday afternoon beyond the hills in the park. I cry too much, laugh too hard, talk to myself, overall get a bit too weird in isolation, don’t paint as well as I like, start over way too many times, work on myself, and in the end, the year that won’t end is over, after all.
2020 in numbers
(I like numbers)
Traveled in no significant ways: one trip to North America and one short stint to the Baltic Sea, otherwise I spent the year isolating and spending time in nature around Berlin;
spoke at four online events,
wrote not much, really (and as always, I wish it was more),
posted no significant number of Tweets, far too many Instagram stories, no TikToks (though I’ve saved and shared too many),
took more than 4,000 photos,
read 37 books, and 1.8 Mio. words in Pocket,
Bought too many house plants, art supplies,
Saw live: Austin Lucas with L.
Work: Got promoted, overall exciting year at work. Missed seeing my team; I used to work from home before All This, but it’s been a big change not seeing them at least a few times a year.
Coffee: Anything between months without and too many cups a day; overall much more tea.
Listened to 7,804 songs by 4,851 artists, and over 89,000 hours of music.
Throughout 2020, the general rule was, when I wasn’t working or outside or on TikTok, I was watching tv, and I regret nothing. Here are the reasons why, my
- Schitt’s Creek (again)
- Ted Lasso
- Living with yourself (somewhat ironically prophetic)
- Sex Education
- The Queen’s Gambit
- Somebody Feed Phil
I’d planned to read 50 books at a time when I was unknowing; ending up at 37 was an accomplishment in itself, I frequently just had not much brain for reading. But there were a few really extraordinary reads and
- Christian Baron: Ein Mann seiner Klasse. Phänomenales Buch, mir fehlen immer noch die Worte.
- Mariana Leky: Was man von hier aus sehen kann. Eine Geschichte vom Tod und der Liebe, nicht mehr und nicht weniger.
- Jenny Offill: Weather. If you like language, you may enjoy this.
- Lulu Miller: Why fish don’t exist. If you look at the intersection of science / biology, history, and autobiography, find this book and let yourself be amazed.
- Sarah Kay: No Matter the Wreckage. I haven’t read much new poetry this year but this is a book I’ve kept coming back to.
- Lynsey Addario: It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. Truly impressive book and great reflection on a life’s work. I’d already read “In extremeis” last year, Marie Colvin’s biography, very much recommend both.
- Samantha Irby: Wow, no thank you. Irby’s writing is fantastic, and this book is another case of that excellence out in the wild.
- Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. Just really, really good, you should go see for yourself.
- Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman: Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. A very timely book in a year that made me think a lot and hard about how to remain close to people.
- Jill Heinerth: Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver. I’d learned about Heinerth on a podcast, and her stories are breathtaking.
There was a lot of eating plain bread, potatoes with butter, and tons of fresh pineapple, persimmons, berries, and grapes (I just love fresh fruit so much). Unfortunately, I’d just gotten an NYT Cooking subscription in December 2019 which I didn’t want to let go to waste. So, from the times when I managed to pull myself together and cook, often motivated by meeting friends for outdoors picknicks, here are some
- The Cookies
- Olive oil cake
- Dan Dan Noodles
- Coconut buttermilk pound cake (replace the buttermilk with coconut milk and a little vinegar for extra coconuttiness)
- Coconut-Miso Salmon Curry
- Linzer Cookies (sorry Grandma, I don’t have your recipe right now)
- Bean Soup
- Joshua McFadden’s Kale and Mushroom Lasagna (from “Six Seasons”). Not going to lie, I only made this last night, but it’s among the best things I’ve eaten all year.
Listening to human voices is not exactly the same as being around humans, but you know what, it’s still really comforting, so here are my
- Every little thing
- Home Cooking
- Wind of Change
- The Dave Chang Show
- The Sporkful
- Death Sex & Money
- This is love
- reply all
- science vs
Ah yes, music. All over the place this year, and here are
The 11 songs I listened to the most:
- Kishi Bashi: A song for you
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Let It Go – From “Frozen”
- Metric: Dark Saturday
- Ava Max: Kings & Queens
- P?jaro Sunrise: Better leave
- Ásgeir: Eventide
- Celebration: Don’t stop dreaming
- Ben Folds: The luckiest
- Caamp: Strawberries
- Dan Reeder: Young at heart
- Pupkulies & Rebecca: The Beginning
- Glass Animals: It’s All So Incredibly Loud
- Austin Lucas: Run around
- Kassel Jaeger: Zauberberg
There’s more to say, but that’s for another place and another time, so I’ll leave you with a poem that I read exactly a year ago today, by German poet Hilde Domin:
Nicht müde werden
sondern dem Wunder
wie einem Vogel
die Hand hinhalten.
Not getting tired
extending the hand
like to a bird.
(I apologise for the clumsy translation which isn’t doing the beauty and lightness of the original justice.)
May 2021 be a gentle year of wonder, quiet, and hope for you. And if you need some inspiration, here’s the creature that fared by far the best during this extraordinary year: