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December 30, 2020

Today I finally heard from the Small Business Administration. The EIDL money Steph and I have been waiting for since June has been approved. I still don't know how much we'll get, but it looks like we'll get something.

On top of which, we're in negotiations with a couple we know about starting a small dog-friendly business next year. We're not sure what kind (we'll be Zooming this weekend to discuss it) but all of us are excited. Like most people, we lost a good amount of money this year, so it'll feel great to build some savings again. If enough of us really are vaccinated by this coming summer, if the new business makes a bit more than it costs to start up, maybe we can even plan a vacation!

The SBA loan will hopefully allow me to finish building a website I started this past August. The contractor has worked hard and I want to reward him as handsomely as he deserves. I also want to snip that thread so I can move onto a new project: a novel I plan to begin writing in January.

For me, and I hope for everyone else, this harrowing year is ending on a hopeful note.

I started this project on March 25, which I referred to in my first essay as "officially day 14 of the pandemic." I must've called it that the media did, or health experts maybe, but we found out later that the virus had been in the U.S. quite a bit longer — December 2019 for sure, possibly before that.

Like everyone else, I had no idea what to expect in late March, but I was keenly aware that 2020 was going to be a year for the record books. I wrote in the first essay of this chronicle,

"I want to do this because I see myself and everyone I know changing. I see my country changing, and I want to set it down while it’s happening instead of afterward when so many of the details will be lost."

We're all changed much more deeply now. For most of us the experience has been more injurious than transformative, at least so far. Many, many of us have lost people. Many have been sick, or isolated, or consumed with worry that we would get sick. Most of us have withstood some economic loss. Many of us, mostly those who could least afford it, have suffered hugely. Bankruptcies, evictions, student loan defaults, applications for public assistance and the use of food banks have skyrocketed, or are expected to do so once the government-implemented moratoriums have ended.

Shamefully, the wealthiest of us have grown wealthier. The stock market has seen many good days, has even soared — which has felt eerie and somehow wrong. More than one of our Congresspeople was been caught moving their own stock around after attending confidential coronavirus meetings on Capitol Hill. One such Congressperson is Kelly Loeffler, who is fighting to hold her Senate seat in the Georgia runoff race on January 5. Another is David Perdue, trying for the other unclaimed seat.

Without both of those seats, Democrats will have very little ability to govern in 2021. This is because it's now understood in America that Republican members of Congress get paid to obstruct, and if they're in the majority, that's what they'll do. That's their full job description. There will not even be a pretense of fair governance, of compromise or of, y'know, earning their paychecks. They'll sit with their arms folded until lunchtime, then come back in the afternoon and do it some more, till it's time to go home.

Mitch McConnell is already hard at it. After Trump gave in and signed the stimulus bill the night before last, Democrats attempted to pass legislation that would have given Americans individual $2,000 checks, as Trump requested. I do understand that his request was a manipulation, intended to make himself look good while spiting the GOP he feels betrayed him by not letting him steal the election from Joe Biden (if he really wanted us to have the money, why did he wait until Christmas week to speak up?). But for once the political gamesmanship would have benefitted average Americans, rather than harming us. So of course Mitch said no. He doesn't care if he's hated; I think he actually kind of likes it. It underscores how helpless we are, that he can exert such perfect control over the entire population and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

In any case, harming us is actually what the GOP wants to do, we're starting to see. We used to believe that we were harmed in a collateral damage kind of way, like the bullet that ricochets against a building in a drive-by shooting and accidentally kills a toddler. Now we see that harming us is the intention.

So yes — we have been changed this year. In many cases for the worse. Whether or not we're political (and more Americans are political in 2020 than ever before in our history, I bet), 2020 left few of us unscathed.

But I am going to go ahead and hope 2021 will be better, not just because I want to believe it will but because I think we may have learned some things we really, really needed to learn. And if we didn't, then I honestly don't know what it would take.

First, I think — I hope — we learned patience. No matter where we live, what jobs we do, or how old we are, we've all had to adapt to a different pace of life this year. I count myself among the most wildly impatient people I know, and this has been super hard for me. I not only want what I want when I want it (so American! I know!), I even want it before I want it sometimes. In other words, as I'm fulfilling a goal or completing a task, I'm already onto the next one.

I'm probably not unusual in this, as we are a hard-driving kind of people. We work hard, we demand a lot, we fight for what we want, and we constantly want more. In my travels, I'm always astounded by how much more patient everyone on earth is — seriously, everyone. It's sort of cool, and also sort of obnoxious, the way we want so much and then push ourselves to figure out how to get it; how inventive we are, how motivated and energized, as well as how grabby and selfish we can be.

This year, no matter how much we wanted to change the conversation, move past the COVID story, get on top of it as PR people say, put it behind us, as the White House kept saying — there it still was.

And here it still is, mightier and more terrifying than ever. We are so sick of it many of us can't even feel the fear we once felt anymore, kind of like on The Walking Dead when, season after season, we'd see a horde of those zombies come around a street corner and finally it wasn't even that horrifying? We'd just munch our popcorn and be halfway looking at our phone? …. But as if to help us with that, now a new strain of COVID has been discovered. Just today we learned that yes, it is in the U.S. Of course it is.

Today there are over 46,000 cases in the county where I live, 470,000 in my state, 19.7 million in the U.S. and 82.3 million worldwide. We are still the global leader in numbers of known infections, by a lot. But we've dropped to #4 in deaths per 100,000/population, which says a lot for our health care system.

But we were warned today that we can probably expect the numbers to get worse, not better, next month and maybe for the next 2-3 months. This is because so many Americans insisted on having a "traditional Christmas" celebration, with all the relatives; it's because some of us who've been cautious are letting down our guard now that there's a vaccine; and it's because a big part of our population still views virus precautions as a threat to their freedom.

It was announced today that Republican Senator Josh Hawley will be objecting to the certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6, forcing Congress to vote publicly on whether to reject the election results as Trump wants to to proceed to Joe Biden's inauguration later in the month. The vote tally from November's contest has been the most examined and contested in the history of the U.S., with more than 60 lawsuits brought by the Trump administration and numerous state recounts.


Although several minor instances of fraud have been found, all were committed by Republicans.

I have to reiterate here that there definitely were irregularities in this election, all of them committed by the President and his followers. The influence of our overseas adversary, Russia, has yet to be calculated. While we know our government was hacked recently by that nation, in an attack considered the worst of its kind in U.S. history, we don't know how they got into our systems, or indeed if they were allowed in — perhaps in exchange for providing election assistance?

Normally these would be wild claims that would never even occur to me, but in 2020, all bets are off. We already know our President took numerous vote-suppressing actions, starting with installing a crony to head the Post Office, because he did it all right out in the open.

We know the GOP sat and watched him do it. We know he cried "fraud!" long before the election and is still crying now, long after it. We know they have been so complicit throughout that it isn't a stretch to think many of them — especially Republicans who shockingly won election despite low poll numbers (Mitch McConnell being the best example of all) — may have used some of the same tactics in their own races.

Trump has shown us all that whatever he's accusing others of, he's doing himself, so we can pretty safely assume that yes, the 2020 election was rigged. But not by the Democrats. And I am curious about whether, with all the mess he has to clean up, and with as little help as he may get from the opposing party, Joe Biden will ever have the time or inclination to look into what took place behind the scenes in Trump's term — vis a vis the election, and a whole lot of other things.

But these are problems for 2021.

I'd like to use this space to predict that after this year, we will never again be held hostage by our government the way we have been. As much as it appears today that many of us (too many) haven't learned much from this brutal pandemic, I actually think we have. We are still learning, but the changes this era will bring are already roiling under the surface.

Our precious Millennials, who have gotten an uncommonly hard deal in their short lifetimes, are watching all of this and saying, "No more." I don't know this know this, but I know it. They see the insanity in a government that exists in perpetual gridlock. They see the baked-in corruption, the self-serving, the smugness and complacency at the very top of the chain. They see the decades of chilling racism, the indifference to our climate disaster, the xenophobia, the brutal gender and class wars, the greed, and the obstinance — all the deadly infections in our society that have made us unable to respond intelligently when an actual deadly infection arrived.

We can clearly see that it's past time for the old guard to go. The moment for the Millennial generation to take the reins is this one.

They can start by relieving themselves of their crushing college debt, and making college more affordable for future generations, so America can be globally competitive, especially in STEM.

We're heading into an era of technological innovation never before seen on earth, and the young adults among us now, the 20- and 30-somethings, will be the ones to get the ball rolling.

I do end this year hopeful about the future. I believe we can survive this virus, though not with the low numbers we might have if we had fought it more, and each other less.

I think we'ill come together again in the future, maybe not as we once were, but who knows, maybe better. Maybe we will really see the change so many of us showed we want this year, with the thousands of marchers for racial justice, for a new style of authority that is cleaner and worthy of this nation. Wouldn't it be great if that started to happen soon … Or maybe it did start to happen this summer. Maybe that was the beginning of change that will go much deeper and will continue into the coming generations.

I believe that without a President who seeks to make enemies of us, We, the People, will remember we're countrymen and natural allies. I believe without a terrifying virus in our population, with an economy in recovery, America will settle down. I think all of that will start to happen in 2021, though the first few months may still be really rough, especially for those who lost the most in 2020.

I really I hope I'm right. I love my country. I pray for the people who died and are still dying, for the sick, for the ones who will recover fully and the ones who will be left with damage. We may have shown ourselves and each other how much we had to learn this year, but no one deserved to get this awful virus. It's not too late to find compassion for one another — and for ourselves, whatever we've been through since COVID came.

Illustration: G. Koterba for

I feel lucky because I haven't gotten sick (hopefully will not), am not homeless or hungry, and live in a peaceful and loving home where months of quarantine are not hellish. In some ways I have even relished this time. I loved the quiet this spring, the different kinds of birds I never noticed before. I loved not waking up to an alarm in the morning, and driving down streets not choked with traffic, and making lovely, careful, complicated meals I'd normally never have the time to make.

My cooking definitely improved in 2020. Stephanie now says she doesn't like restaurant food as much as mine. (But do we look forward to having dinner out again? OMG. Words cannot convey.)

I learned to meditate, after years of trying and failing. I finally finished decorating my office, which I fully inhabit now, and will never give up again for any reason.

The puppies are trained … kind of.

Maybe best of all, I got to do this. I'm not an essay writer (now you know!) and I don't really like writing about myself at all. I never have. I'm a novelist, and I CAN'T WAIT to start my new work of fiction, make that masterpiece, ahem, a few days from now. I've already been planning it for months.

But however hard this essay collection was for me — and a few times it was so hard I had to stop completely, especially after George Floyd — I'm clear now: it was worthwhile. Even if no one ever sees it.

I'm not sure what I plan to do with it. I may self-publish it on Amazon or elsewhere, or try to get it published conventionally. I may donate some or all of it to a museum (several are already asking the public for "artifacts"). It may help readers in the future be able to imagine what it was like living through this strange and terrible and deeply moving year. (Less than a year! Amazing!). That was why I wrote it, after all.

Tomorrow I'll pop online and wish you all a Happy New Year. And then I'll guzzle champagne like I've never guzzled before.

We got through it! We got through it! Go, us!

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