“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” –C. JoyBell C.
I felt like a 90-year-old who couldn’t figure out how to get the remote control to play the movie. I was on the phone with the Apple guy, stressed out and flummoxed, trying to learn how I could get my CDs to play in the new laptop I was considering buying. “Why in the world wouldn’t it come with a disc drive? How will I load all of my CDs into iTunes? How will I burn the next album I rent from the library? Surely I’m not alone here, am I, young genius person? How else will I listen to my precious music????” “Umm, well sir, you could just stream it.” “Pay for music? No way! No….well, how would that work?”
Suspicious but intrigued by this sorcery he was explaining, I hung up the phone and called a couple of my friends who actually live in the modern world. When one told me that he subscribes to Spotify Premium, I asked him how he plays all of his CDs that were the soundtrack of our many cross-country roadtrips a few decades ago (you know, when CDs were the newest, coolest technology). “I sold them all on eBay,” he said, crushing my soul in one sentence. How could you just dispose of those priceless archives of your life??? So, I called my other modern-yet-more-nostalgic friend. She guided me through my fears, starting with a cost analysis: the cost of Apple Music for a month is the same as the cost of one CD. But how do I get new albums when they are released? I still need to buy them, right? “They’re free. They just show up on the release date.” I didn’t believe her. “Okay, name me a new album you would want?” Indigo Girls: Look Long. She looked it up: “Yep, it’s there. I can listen to it right now if I want. And anything else I want. Anything.”
I was like a living, breathing version of the “Mind Blown” emoji. I was stupefied by this new reality. No CDs? My whole world felt like it was coming apart. But that stupor only lasted for a few minutes, the part when I was intellectualizing it all, thinking through plan options and credit card numbers. After that, when I actually activated the free trial, well, then my whole world felt like it was opening up. Wide! All of this blessed inspiration was suddenly right at my fingertips. I couldn’t get it in my ears fast enough. Before the day was over, I had created several new playlists and downloaded hundreds of albums. I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. Honestly, as someone who is absolutely nutty about music, it felt like the discovery of a lifetime. I was in Heaven! Just so cool.
That day, lying on that hammock with my headphones on and my devices all aglow, with that music filling up my entire soul, was a total game-changer. It was mid-2020—the height of the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest over racial injustice, and a crumbling economy—but all of those things that have become the year’s headlines suddenly had to share space in my heart and mind with something new and beautiful and, well, cool. I don’t think a day has passed in the ensuing months that I haven’t been on Apple Music, granting myself that little space to both escape from this world and to be inspired to build a better one. It is one of the things I will always remember 2020 for, and probably the one for which I will always be most grateful.
But it’s definitely not the only cool thing I learned or tried this year. It’s not even the only eye-opener for me in the world of technology and media. No, I got even further out of my old man mode when we finally cut the cable cord at my house. My wife had been cursing the cable company for years. I always watched the least amount of anything in my family, so I had no opinions. However, when we got Netflix and Prime Video a couple years ago, I was intrigued by this streaming thing but just never found much time to watch anything. When doing my cardio workouts in the gym, I always read books on my tablet. However, when the gyms closed in March and my workouts moved home, watching Netflix as I rode the treadmill became my new thing. I loved it. Later, when we finally cut ties with the cable company and took on Hulu, Sling, Disney+, ESPN+, and Apple TV+, I was in the mode of wanting more material for my workout hours. It was a revelation! Bravo, streaming services!
There is really some wonderful stuff out there. The artists are clearly in full bloom with all of these new outlets. I have found that I love documentaries. I have watched several good ones on different topics—from Bill Gates to Greta Thunberg–but find that I keep coming back to films that cover music and musicians, particularly those who were involved in the revolution of the 1960s. I just finished two fascinating ones about The Band—Once Were Brothers and The Last Waltz—but have also been captivated by pieces about Keith Richards, the artists who lived in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the sixties, and Sam Cooke, among others. I have dozens more on my watchlists.
Of the non-documentary things I have watched, a few of my favorites from this year are When They See Us, Schitt’s Creek, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7. There are so many more that intrigue me, but I know my chances of getting to them are slim. I am grateful for what I have seen, and grateful to 2020 for opening my eyes to so many wonderful works of art.
Whenever I watch a movie or TV show, though, it comes with a measure of guilt that I am ignoring the many brilliant books in the world. I did, however, find one released this Autumn that has stayed with me in the weeks since I have finished it. It is Greenlights, by the actor Matthew McConaughey. I was drawn to it because I learned that, like me, he has kept journals for all of his adult life, and the book used many of the insights he gained in writing them over the years. I have never been particularly drawn to McConaughey as an actor and so was otherwise skeptical going in, but I found myself captivated by his tales and the wisdom he drew from them. It is my favorite literary discovery of this year.
While I doubt I will ever be anyone’s favorite literary discovery, I did have a Journal of You highlight this Summer, albeit coming not from something I wish I had to write about. By many times over, more people than ever showed up to read and share my piece called “But I’m Not a Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better. It came on the heels of the George Floyd murder, as the protests were getting into full swing. I certainly appreciated the positive feedback and was glad I could contribute to something so important.
I never know when something I write will resonate, but that moment in American history seemed to sweep so many of us up with it, and rightly so. In addition to writing a couple of pieces on it, the George Floyd murder brought me to another significant first in my life: my first real protest. I wasn’t in the throngs of people downtown getting teargassed or anything so dramatic, but I did bring my children to a local event where we got to lift our signs and our voices in a show of solidarity with our community against police violence and racial injustice. It was moving for me and hopefully something of a precursor for more social activism, both for me in my later years and for my children for the rest of their long and precious lives.
I spent more of 2020 than any other year on the seat of a bicycle. That seems a strange record, but it is true. With fewer “play” options for my kids, we took so many more rides on the streets of our town. I also got more into mountain biking at local trails; that was tremendously invigorating. Then, as Fate would have it, I sustained an injury that would not allow me to walk, run, or play sports. That would normally drive me to the nuthouse, but in a stroke of luck, I discovered that I was still able to ride a bicycle. Early mornings in Summer and Autumn were spent pedaling out the miles on the quiet streets in the surrounding towns. It was a delightful release to drink in that fresh air and still be able to sweat amidst my other physical limitations. When the days shortened and chilled, I got myself an indoor bike to sweat away the Winter. While I miss the fresh air and the lakes and trees, the workout is fantastic and much-needed. Perhaps I won’t need the riding so much in other years when my body is more cooperative, but I am so grateful to have found it and made it a big part of my life.
Speaking of that fresh air and those lakes and trees, my last, best discovery of this year was about spending time outside and having more adventures. Maybe this one qualifies more as a re-covery, since I have had it and lost it more than once in my many years on this planet. I feel like the year has left me more committed than ever to design my remaining years around being outdoors and exploring the beauty of Mother Earth. Most of my social media scrolling this year has been on the pages of National Parks and travel sites. I don’t think a single day has gone by when I haven’t added to my itinerary and fantasies for my next trip to Glacier country in Northwest Montana, and I have plotted adventures all across the American West, from Utah’s “Mighty Five” parks to the Sierra Nevadas of California and the Cascade Range in the Northwest. I have developed plans for overnights and weekends near home as well, with lots of hiking and sleeping in the pine-fresh air to the sounds of the forest and rippling streams.
Even as much of a Winter-hater as I am, my Christmas gifts this week included new snowshoes, trekking poles, fleeces, and a backpack (and I am even planning my next car and its necessary adventure accessories). I am more determined than ever to be an active participant in the outdoor activities of every season. Maybe I was coming to that anyway in my life’s evolution, or maybe 2020’s message of “Stay Home & Cover Your Breath” only served to stir up my natural resistance to being contained, or maybe it is some combination of the two. In any case, I now know in a deeper place that being in Nature is one of my greatest inspirations and an absolutely necessary fuel to get me through the rest of the world’s obligations and nonsense. It is both my escape and my spiritual home. I am relieved to know that so clearly now.
I guess most discoveries and favorites are like that: something outside of us—music, books, blogs, bicycles, and mountain streams—lights up something inside of us. They give our existence meaning and value. They buoy us against the storms of Life and make historically bad years seem pretty darn good after all. They are the source of our Gratitude and thus our Happiness. I am deeply grateful that there are so many of these points of light in my life, no matter the year. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I want to do 2020 all over again! But I know that it brought me many gifts, and I refuse to look past them just because they arrived on the same train as COVID, racism, and political folly. I am grateful for this year and the many new things I know and love because I lived through it.
How about you? What are the coolest things you learned or tried in 2020? Open up your journal and your spirit and expose what the light let in this year. First, what new things did you learn? If you had extra time in the house, did you pick up any home improvement skills (e.g. Marie Kondo organizing, carpentry, plumbing)? How about personal improvement skills, like learning a language or a musical instrument? Did you learn how to be a teacher? Did you learn some new technology tricks, like how to Zoom? Did anything blow your mind? What did you try for the first time this year? New foods? New fitness routines? Online grocery shopping? Something outdoorsy? Did you do anything social justice-related this year that you had never previously been so moved to do, like a protest or a sign in your yard? How about with politics: did the extreme divisions among this year’s election issues and candidates spur you to participate in ways that you hadn’t before? Were most of the new things you tried in 2020 related to things specific to this year—being on lockdown, COVID, Trump drama, etc.—or were they more random and could have happened any year? Which of them will you continue with even when things return to whatever “normal” looks like to you? Now to the Arts. What musical styles or artists did you discover this year, whether they were new or just new to you? What was the best thing you watched on television? What were your favorite 2020 movies? Books? Did you try anything unique to get Art in unconventional ways, like attending a virtual theatre performance, concert, or museum tour? What else did you love? Did you have any personal bests this year? Did you excel at anything at your work? Did you improve upon a hobby or passion project? Were you a better friend, sibling, parent, co-worker, or ally? Did you find you were great at the self-care this year demanded? Finally, what did you discover about yourself this year? What issue or passion might you have had only a hint at before this year but now have a clear position on? Do you have a core belief that has changed? Do you know what you want to do more of (and less of) going forward? Are you clear that there are some people in your life who you need to distance yourself from? Are there others you would like to cultivate a deeper relationship with? How have you grown in the last year? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the coolest things you have done and discovered in 2020?
Seek out the light,
P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s chase the bright spots together!
P.P.S. If this way of reflection and introspection appeals to your way of being, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.