Let me start by asking, did anyone have the year they thought they would? Was anyone able to find peace in the year they ended up with?
Would it surprise you to hear that while I didn’t have the year I had planned for, I still very much felt at peace with the past year? It’s true on so many levels. I’ve thought a lot about what it is that made me ready for a year that brought on so much anxiety, fear, and division. In the end, I am happy with what I was able to accomplish despite the world.
I’d be ignoring the state of the world if I didn’t address the pandemic outright. In so many ways, it reshaped our lives this past year. Who else remembers March when people were sent to work at home wherever possible “for the next couple of weeks” or similar? Anyone else out there, like me, that is still at home nearly 24/7 with no end to it in sight? I’d be surprised of the word of the year is anything but pandemic.
This year I learned more about a global health crisis than I ever wanted. Do you know what shocked me the most about it? The people who have and continue to deny that it is happening. To all of those people I say this: go completely to hell. You’re the reason this thing is as bad as it is, no matter how much you might blame everything else, you selfish children.
Now that I have that off my chest, let me say in many ways the restrictions put in place all over the city, state, and country played into the hand I always wanted. For the past year, I had undeniable excuses to not do things and not go anywhere unnecessary and it was a relief. I have always known that I’m a homebody that prefers solitude and working with my hands on projects than running about, meeting with people. Public orders to do so were welcome.
If I had to guess, my time serving in Peace Corps prepared me for this year unlike many Americans. During that time, I had a great deal of solitude and learned to fill those voids by myself. As a result, I was able to focus and maybe too much. Ellie and I flew through the projects we had on our list and we are now staring down a winter without goals. If only the threat of a pandemic had been handled appropriately and maturely, by all parties.
Amid all that has had to been dealt with in life this past year, we have fared well. Both Ellie and I maintained our jobs, cut our spending, and focused on what we’ve needed to. Health, wealth, and happiness.
As mentioned, in March my office shifted to remote work and it seems we will be here through the first quarter of 2021 at the earliest. It has been an adjustment. In the early days, we all needed to learn how to be effective and still keep things moving along. At that time, I really just wanted to be back in the office. Since then, I’ve settled into this desk and chair and I’m not really looking forward to being back in the office, whenever that may be.
The freedom that comes from working at home is not fully realized until you’re able to do it. The ominous supervisor walking around the office is not there to “motivate you” on the days where you cannot focus. The distraction of coworkers is not there. The snacks in the breakroom are not there. The commute, the grind, the atmosphere are all not there. And yet, the same work was done. I would strongly argue that the same work was done with a happier Danny doing it.
The amount of work came and went with my job as I oversee 30+ state agency websites who needed assistance adjusting to new rules and regulations with the onslaught of the pandemic. There was one day, early on, where we pulled together the official site for the Wisconsin response to the pandemic in 8 hours on a Sunday. It was an emergency that demanded the quick response. That site has gone on to win an award but more importantly it has been a central hub for the everchanging bureaucratic approach to a pandemic.
Aside from emergency projects like that, much of the year has been spent training the newest member to my team. After going nearly six months with a promotion and no backfill (thus doing the work of two), I convinced my boss that I was not able to continue without support. This has slowly lifted the burden of work on my plate and I’ve been able to shift to higher level work as a result. And it has all been done through a remote office.
Since I’ve been at home for work, I’ve had a chance to pursue things that I would not have been able to do if I had been in an office with the ever watching eye of a supervisor. If I’m not feeling motivated or I need a break, I’ll pull up YouTube to watch something. In the summer, I’d work outside and walk away from my computer to pull weeds in my garden. I spent a good portion of the year not only completing the retrofit of my CNC engraver but also learning how to use it and learning how to design projects for it using FreeCAD. All of these are skills and desires I would never have had a chance to improve myself with had we not had a pandemic that forced us home.
I’m not sure where else this might fit, but since it started as a work from home joke, it might as well be in the work related section. I grew a beard and history should not forget it. Back in March, I decided to grow a beard until we returned to the office. March ran into April, April, into May, summer into fall. The beard grew and grew.
You know what you learn when you grow a beard for the first time? You learn what that looks like on you. You learn the good and bad about how your face has decided to grow. But also, you learn what other people think of it because the moment they see it for the first time (and often after), they make their unsolicited opinion known. For me, it was rarely kind. But I still grew it.
As the months of owning and operating a beard grew on, I learned what I didn’t like about the beard. I changed my end date from back in the office to, November. Why? No idea. It just needed to be done.
The beard is gone for now, but that doesn’t mean it is gone forever. While it grew on me, it also grew on Ellie. She was not happy to see it go. If I grow it back again, I’ll certainly have my barber give it a trim so I can better see its potential (something I was unable to do this year due to masks).
At some point last year, I decided I was going to read more. I never set an official goal, but I just wanted to enrich myself through books. In the days before COVID, I had a 20-minute commute to work and back each day as well as an hour-long walk at lunch. Normally, I’d spend this time listening to podcasts which are fine but aren’t always factual or even great stories. Instead, I resolved to listen to audiobooks because I learned that our local library system had hundreds available for virtual checkout/download via an app.
Once getting my library card, I quickly dove into “reading” I had nearly 10 dedicated hours a week to listen to the books, all for free. I quickly set up a list of books to get cracking at and dove in.
Cut to pandemic which through all those plans out the door. I lost my commute and my lunch hours changed (more on that below). I lost my focus on reading books that I had eagerly embraced.
In the first few months of the year, I flew through six books. Some long, some not so much. The best one I read was “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” and if you’re able to stomach non-fiction I strongly and highly recommend this one.
More recently, I’ve swapped my podcasts again for books and I’ve added two more to my tally for the year. At the pace I’m able to finish them, I expect to get through 2-3 more by the end of 2020. Not nearly the number I was on pace to finish earlier this year, but far, far better than I had done in any of the previous years.
Somehow, despite a pandemic, I made health a focus of my 32nd year. I needed to keep my sanity and I needed to while away the hours that were suddenly staring me down.
Let me start out with the bad parts of my health in the past year. The list is short, but still painful.
At the end of 2019, I chipped a molar and subsequently had a crown placed on it. It was the worst dental experience I have ever been through. The procedure was long and unpleasant. After it was done, my mouth was numb and I had no idea if it fit properly. It didn’t. I went back in for adjustment after adjustment. It kept hurting because it had a high spot they couldn’t knock down. The pain was quite bad and resulted in a root canal, though that still didn’t fix the high spots right away and it needed to be adjusted further. Then, a month ago, the crown chipped and cracked in half while I was eating a pretzel. This brought me back into the dental chair to have it removed and a temporary crown put in place while they had the lab make a more durable one (apparently the root canal likely weakened the crown alongside all of the adjustments). While I was waiting for the new crown to be made, the temporary one fell off two days before I would be done with it. I finally received the replacement crown, had it fit perfectly and haven’t had an issue since. But that was a long, painful year to get to this point.
The other bad bit of health came from a motorcycle trip to my parents house in late summer. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but over the course of the hour-long trip, something happened to my back. When I arrived, I swung my leg over the seat and nearly collapsed in pain. My best guess is that there was a bump that caused it to move the wrong way or since it was my first prolonged ride of the season, I was not in shape for such a ride and fatigue got the better of me. Ultimately, it was a weekend on my back playing video games and a slow recovery after. Given the time I’ve put in before with physical therapy, this time around I knew what I needed to do to get back into shape. I was off my daily routine for a little over a week before I could slowly ease back into things. To this day, I still wake up with a stiff back but I know, with time, this will go away. It is a curse of old age, coupled with the wisdom of experience.
Now on to the more pleasant aspects of my health. In the past 15 years, I have never been in better shape than I am now. The pandemic can be credited for such. Before we were sent home, there was a plan among my coworkers to begin a group effort to get into shape, but that never materialized as we planned as we were waiting for the weather to favor our efforts.
But as the ennui of stay at home orders settled upon me, I felt a greater need to get out and about. I started running again. I started biking again. I alternated days where I would spend my lunch hour running and biking and it can largely be attributed to my sustained mental health during this time.
In both biking and running, I started out small and slowly eased my way into it. I don’t know how long it took but I currently run 4.5 miles one day and bike 9.5 the next. I take the same routes daily to better plan when I’ll be back in time for meetings. I don’t mind as it helps me focus on improving my times over the previous.
As a result of all of the biking and running, I’ve lost weight. It wasn’t intentional but it was bound to happen. Depending on the day I’m down anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds from earlier this year. It feels great. I was not overweight, but I was squishy here and there. Now, I am lean. More importantly, I have a better sense of how my weight fluctuates from day to day and even from morning to noon to night.
And on a final note, in the second half of the past year, I started picking up a pair of 20 pound dumbbells each morning. I do six quick exercises and I’m done in less than 5 minutes. It has been a slow process, but there are noticeable, resting gains. Without flexing, I can see the muscles in my arms and in my back. It is odd to think that the once scrawny and squishy boy has changed so much so fast.
In the past year, my mental health has had its ups and downs. The stress of the world has weighed heavily on me and it has been hard to remove myself from it. In some way, we all were affected by the gaslighter-in-chief. His brand of hateful politics wore me down. But, as history will show, he was clearly defeated in a record-breaking election. The day a couple weeks back it was announced, I felt a weight off my shoulders and a lightness I hadn’t felt in years.
What’s worse to come out of this year is the knowledge of how close to home ignorance and selfishness can prevail. Countless stories of coworkers and friends learning which side of the line their relatives stand on. I too learned more than I wanted to. That knowledge dragged me down and will continue to drag me down because to know it is to recognize that someone you know closely can have such hatred and ignorance and selfishness in light of suffering.
You know what unexpectedly helped me this year when the lows of the world came knocking at my door? Routine in the form of phone calls to my mom. I didn’t ever really decide to do this, but I found myself calling my mom every other week this year. Call logs will show that I’ve called her more this year than the past five combined. She had things to talk about, and so did I. Having someone to vent to and to explain things to helps. Someone who is there to listen if you’re there to listen to them. Maybe it isn’t your mom for you, but maybe find someone to call regularly. It helped me get through this year, maybe it will help you get through the next.
I almost didn’t think to include a paragraph about the woman who has been so much a part of my life this year, more than anyone else and more than ever. She has been such a constant for me that telling you my store felt like I was telling you hers.
She has sat five feet away from me all day every work day for the better part of the last year. We have known each other, and really only each other for the better part of the last year. She and I walked the same route with the dog daily. Sat at the same table together twice daily. Fell asleep next to each other and woken up next to each other day in and day out this year. This year of all years and that says something. If a pandemic is a trying experience, no one and nothing is spared. Indisputably, the two of us have survived and thrived through it. We are better together than we were a year ago despite the world.
My lovely partner in crime has completed her certificate program. She has continued to work. She has continued to split the duties around the house. She has continued to push me to think outside my world. She has taken on extra work while seeking a new career amid a pandemic. She has persevered more so than many have so it pains me to see her not get the success she deserves. She has worked harder and wanted it more than anyone else I know.
This year there have been many heart to hearts with the woman I love so dearly. There have been tense moments and a handful of arguments. But can you blame us? I challenge you to find any couple that could 100% keep the stress of the past year out of their lives.
We have discussed our future, near and far, and I’m looking forward to what it will bring.
So what of the year to come? How does one bounce back from such a unplanned year? For me, I’m going to continue my focus on improving myself. I’ve identified three areas where I want to learn and build a better me in the coming year.
I want to stretch more. Like, daily. The flare up in my back from the single motorcycle ride reminded me that my body is not as invincible as I’ve always known it to be. Age sets in. It is best to counteract that age with every measure at my disposal. So, for a stiff back I prescribe myself a daily dose of stretching. It doesn’t have to be much, five minutes should be sufficient if my experience with lifting is any indicator. Every limb is on the table and needs to be nimble a year from now.
I want to write more. I think I say this every year, but I’m still trying to figure out what that means at this point in my life. I don’t need to live publicly, I just feel the call to record that I have lived. I’m going to try journaling. Short descriptions of the day that was to give me a record. In addition, I will continue with my plan to recall the Peace Corps. I think about the goal I set for myself daily, I just have trouble organizing all of these thoughts into something that is worth writing and reading. The work, however, it deeply important to me and thus it must be done.
Finally, I want to build more things. I am and will continue to be a woodworker. I enjoy it. It is the hobby that I picked up from my father and I hope to continue for a long time. Each day, I feel as though I get better and better in my approach to building things. This coming year, I want to build one or two spectacular things. Stay tuned for those.