The dark side of this post is so much easier to write.
I could spend hours lamenting all the things taken away from me by 2020, by the lockdown, by the weirdness of the global economy. I am not going to do this - instead, this post is a conscious attempt to focus on the positive.
I recognise this: my current position is incredibly privileged. It will become obvious as I start listing the good things, the surprising developments. The baseline - the thing that doesn't change despite this year's upheaval - probably places me in the most fortunate 1% this year.
And yet, this post feels like a burden to write. And yet I think I'll find it hard to come up with as many as ten good changes brought about by 2020. I also recognise that this comes with the privilege: the phrase "first world problems" never rang so true.
Here we go then, with the preambles over - let me try and count the ways in which 2020 actually turned out to be good to me. See if you can agree with any of these.
1. More time
My last commute was in March. I've worked from home since then. There has never been any need for me to get to the office. More on that later.
2020 cut out the need for the commute. Along with this, it gave me at least two extra hours per day. I no longer need to wake early to get to work, and I no longer need to take time after the evening commute to unwind.
This is really unbelievably good. The quality of sleep increased - since it's no longer a problem if I sleep an hour longer to make up for an uneasy night. The evenings are more pleasant - since the commute no longer introduces any unpredictability to it (what if the Tube is on strike, what if it rains as I cycle back, what if...?) And the move from work-time to home-time is lightning quick: I switch off my laptop and proceed to have a nap, and that's usually it :)
2. More money
I've kept 100% of my paycheck. And I haven't had to spend it on the things which central London usually encourages / requires you to buy: Tube tickets, pricey coffees, expensive lunches, and so on.
I didn't need to make many changes to adapt to working from home, either. So the extra money wasn't needed there. Of course, much of it went somewhere else, as other purchases /investments now became possible.
But the basic fact was this: 2020 was the year in which a huge chunk of my expenses simply went away.
So I end up with more cash in my pocket. Again, I realise how lucky I've been.
3. Better conversations
This one is difficult to explain. As my days have become more home-based, and my work more remote, I've seen that the way in which I talk to people has changed. This wasn't good from the start. And still it's far from perfect. But I am noticing the need to have a good conversation, and how much now depends on it - and I am learning to make sure I do what I can to make good talk happen.
At home, the difficulties of navigating the lockdown and the scary pandemic moments meant that we started talking in a frank, clear manner about how we feel, what scares us, what helps us, and what we want to happen. We've been able to make it through a large part of the year with plenty of that happening.
At work, the fact that the context of the office suddenly disappeared has meant that I've needed to change the way I discuss things with my colleagues. And adapting to virtual meetings accelerated - what used to constitute 1/2 of my working day is now, sometimes, well over 90% of it! So I've learned to have better conversations virtually, too.
4. A deeper understanding of my introversion
Before 2020, I sort-of knew that I was "on the introverted side". After 2020, I've learned so much more about this.
I now know that I am definitely, deeply introverted - that I actually am able to do pretty well in a world which doesn't feature a pub crawl or a group activity every weekend. I know that I do not mind being indoors and without others - not as much as other people. I realised, in more detail, how much of an introvert I really am.
At the same time, I understood other things about my introversion, too. I now know that replacing face-to-face social meetings with Zoom just doesn't work for me. I found out that doing my game nights online isn't as fun as in-person game nights used to be. So this is another bit which I now understand better when it comes to being introverted: it is difficult for me to fill the gap where real, flesh-and-blood people used to be.
5. New-found knowledge of my local neighbourhood
There are several gorgeous streets not far from where I live, with houses which look like they could belong on a swanky modernist Portuguese coastal avenue, and gardens full of magnolias, lilac and roses. There is a small park with a great big old oak tree. There's a church with William Morris stained-glass windows.
I know all this because lockdown helped me discover it all. Travelling elsewhere wasn't always possible, and local parks tended to be too crowded for my liking. So we went walking around the neighbourhood - cycling, too. Some of the best memories of this year were actually these spring evenings, when we watched the trees and heard the birds, and everything around us was so quiet, so un-London.
6. A car, and a new driving license
For a really long time, this was a bad idea in London. I used to have a company car, and things were groovy - never had to pay a penny for maintenance, tax, insurance and so on! Then I stopped driving for work, and for many years, I was a happy car-less Londoner.
2020 came along and changed all that. Cycling was still fun, but we understood that having a car would make us feel safer, and would let us do things which we still weren't comfortable doing on public transport.
And so I exchanged my driving license and once it arrived, I bought a used car. It's been with us for a while now, and we enjoyed the day trips to the coast and to the woods - even a longer break in the summer. It's a pricey thing to have, compared to my bike - but I don't think I'll regret buying it.
7. A stronger focus on my priorities
This, for many, was probably felt much more keenly this year. Again, I've been lucky: there were no genuinely scary moments, no sudden catastrophes in my 2020. It's been just as unpleasant and surprising as everyone else's year - but no more.
And yet, I think this was enough. I now know - in my guts - how urgent it is to do things which are true to myself. I know how wasteful I can be with my time, how tempting it is to wait for "the opportune moment". 2020 lit a fire under my quarantined ass, and I've felt its heat ever since.
As a result, I have been able to combine this new-found motivation with the sudden emptiness of my year - and start really focusing on the few things which matter to me. I've worked on a few projects and launched them. I've kept training and preparing for my sports events (even though they all got postponed to 2021, at least).
8. The discovery of a negotiable reality
This is difficult to explain, so bear with me here.
2020 showed me that I was wrong about so many things. Education. Office politics. Careers. Print publishing. Market economy. Productivity. Expectations. Caffeine. Experts and their competence. Leadership. Availability of stuffed cheese crust on my pizza.
I am not the only one who can now look at their list of 2020 resolutions and laugh bitterly, though. We're in this together, as the saying goes - which means we're all experiencing our "Matrix" moments. There are probably hundreds of things which we used to do in 2019 without questioning whether they're needed, or reasonable, or sustainable. Now they're gone. Many of them are missed; some are not.
So when it's all over, I think I'll be a lot more critical of anyone who tries to get me to do something because "that's how we've always done it." And that's a good thing, especially in view of 7 above, and 9 below.
9. The definite evidence that politics and economy is broken
I'll spare you the details, because we've probably shared a planet for the past few months. I'll just summarise my whole train of thought in one sentence for you.
A supposedly "world-leading" country of over 50 million people thought it was OK to use Excel to store all its Covid-19 test results.
And again, I know I am still comparatively lucky. There are places where staying away from the virus is much harder, and getting infected is probably worse news.
But my point is this: I have now lived through a year which showed me that the governments and the corporate entities of this country do not give a hoot about whether I live or die. And I've also lived through a year which helped me see the helplessness of so many governments, so many companies. Suddenly the lies were that much more visible, the ignorance and incompetence laid bare.
It's always been there, and 2020 made it crystal clear for me. Your mileage may vary; if you're reading this in New Zealand, can I come over and live with you?
10. Patience to deal with myself
This one's a doozy. Have you met me?
I used to be less pre-occupied with myself when there were plenty of other people around, and when 2019 was generally busy throwing distractions in my way. But in many respects, 2020 is a slower, more inward-looking year. So I've come to spend a lot more time in my company.
It's not been one long honeymoon, let me tell you. I think for many of us, discovering things about ourselves was a weird process this year. And with so many things taken away from me, I've felt restless, impatient, sulky.
But the year went on, and so did the pandemic. I am now writing this in October, and our circumstances mean that we (as a household) still decide to play it very carefully, and to keep doing what we've been doing since March - waiting it out. Not much has really changed since lockdown kicked in, for us.
So I think I just had to develop patience for myself, and to learn to guide me through the good and bad moments. I am still learning this careful maintenance: conserving my energy in the good moments, steering myself gently through the emotional and physical wobbles. I've learned to live with the lockdown me, the work-from-home me, the sober me, the decaff me.
And I still like the guy.