Looking back on 2020, it's hard to see anything but the unmitigated horror that was COVID-19. What else is there to say? Our generation got to witness the world's worst pandemic since 1918; it's been rough, and we stayed home a lot. But to quote Leonard Cohen, "there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." We're all a bit broken, but sometimes the shards give way to insights we wouldn't have otherwise had. Here, MTV Australia's writers share the flecks of wisdom that the year kicked up.
The beauty of boredom
Staying at home doesn't come naturally to me. Or rather, it didn't, pre-COVID lockdown. Before restrictions, I was a travel writer, always on the move, or, even if I was at home in Sydney, always out. Fast forward to now, nearly 10 months after the start of lockdown (God, where did the time go?), and I'm a no-plans convert. These days, I couldn't think of anything better than a weekend with zero commitments.
Of course, some of that was a natural part of getting older; embracing a been-there-done-that attitude. But a major contributing factor was lockdown. Because finally, finally I got the chance to be free of FOMO. I wasn't wondering what everyone else was up to. I wasn't itching to be out, joining them. I could finally stay at home in peace. And that's when I discovered how much I actually loved it. How nice it was to read a book on a Friday evening. Or soak in a bubble bath on a Sunday morning. And, when the restrictions eased up, to cook dinner for friends at home. Or go to one of their houses for a wine night.
So that's what 2020 gave me: the chance to unshackle myself from FOMO and learn how much I enjoyed simplicity. I learnt that I didn't need to be everywhere all the time, doing all the things. I didn't need to be constantly worrying I'd be missing out. From lockdown, I learnt I could just be.
- Sangeeta Kocharekar
It pains me to admit it, but this year I learnt the value in staying put. For years I've had a (maybe problematic) addiction to flinging myself overseas, to the extent I became incapable of enjoying Australia. Why shuffle around the land that time forgot when I could be in Buenos Aires? Montreal? NYC? Places where I felt I could move and breathe; places that made me feel brand new?
Recently I came across a Rebecca Solnit quote on social media. "The color of... distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not."
But my desire to be elsewhere is more than just a romantic projection. Yes, there's an element of fantasy at play, but I don't want to disavow my long-time impulse to run. For women of colour, Australia can be tiring; running can produce real, tangible relief. But as it became clear the pandemic was here to stay, I was forced to do something I'd never done: stay put, and reckon with my relationship to home. Nine months ago, I was sure I'd be gone for good; now all that certainty has come undone. Could there still be a place for me here? Maybe now I'll find out.
- Reena Gupta
Lower your expectations
To put it plainly, what I learned in 2020 was – no matter what you think – it can always get worse. And oftentimes, it will.
I kicked off 2020 on a high. I saw Lizzo perform live twice in the first week – the peak of the year. But, as time went on, things began to deteriorate. I spent two days in the UK before hopping on a flight home as Australia had closed its borders. After two weeks in quarantine, I jumped right back into work – and the workload just built and built and built. Suddenly, I found myself working up to 16 hours a day – something I still do.
I moved out into an apartment by myself for some more freedom, but only to be locked in and locked down. I began to feel freer in my body, and then I was abused by a random man on the street for my weight as I walked to the shops. Now, my best mate is struggling to find pants for me to wear as his groomsman that fit me. I'd planned a little getaway in Brisbane for NYE and my birthday – the only time off I've had in months – and now the resurgence of COVID-19 in Sydney is on the cusp of leaving that in tatters.
I'm grateful to have not had my life terribly impacted by the pandemic. I'm lucky to be receiving any sort of employment income. I'm lucky that police aren't killing me in broad daylight because of the colour of my skin.
But I've learned that you can do all the right things. Take all the right medication; see all the right doctors. But nothing is going to prevent things from getting worse if the universe wants it that way. That's what I learned in 2020.
- Jackson Langford
Say where you're at
At the start of the year, I joked about how COVID was the perfect excuse for a last-minute bail. "My housemate has a cough and we're a bit nervy!" (I'm in bed watching Law & Order: SVU). "I need to go stock up on TP" (I'm deeply excited to cuddle my dog alone all day). I realised I was using pandemic excuses to get out of plans I didn't have the energy for in the first place. Throughout the year, I learnt to be more honest with myself and my pals about where I was at and what my capacity was. Instead of throwing my phone under my couch and hoping nobody contacted me, I've learned to let people know if I'm struggling to keep up with socialising, or need extra support.
A year of fluctuating isolation and mental health has taught me how to not stretch myself too thin; to be honest with, and kind to myself about what I'm up for – and communicate that to pals openly. I also learned the word 'daddy' is used a LOT in season 1 and 2 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I made a zine about it.
- Dani Leever
Going out is not the meaning of life, but people might be
I didn't really crave a night out this year. Even now, as we piecemeal receive elements of our pre-pandemic lives again – eating at restaurants, live music and the cinema – the only thing I've really savoured is the people I'm able to see again. This year's major deprivation of physical meeting has given every newly lawful rendezvous an awkward dramatic weight – created by the feeling that it must be a meaningful interaction because it might be months before I can do it again. But this, contrary to how melodramatic this may sound, is a good thing.
I shed acquaintances from the first two months of 2020 after neglecting to go through the motions of a burgeoning friendship online – "Haha, how's your lockdown?" – and stuck to the friends I actually want to lean on when the quarantine fog got too thick. In the depths of Melbourne's Stage four restrictions, a 60 minute park chat to a mate became a lifelong memory when the sound of a fucking Mr Whippy van emerged from the virus-infested fever dream to serve us both a cone – for the eventless days afterwards, I thought about it almost constantly.
It recalibrated what I want from my social life: a good chat, when you can get it.
- Josh Martin
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