My 2020 year-end review

Our new/vintage rug — a happy part of this year!

By Caitlin Kelly

As we end 2020 — so glad to see the end of it! — we are still healthy, working and solvent.

We have food and housing and savings.

That is a tremendous amount in a year of unprecedented death, illness, job loss, housing loss.

It’s a powerful reminder that “enough” can be a lot.

It’s been a year of some gains — new clients and appreciative editors.

The bulk of my income came from two sources, a website called the Conversationalist, (there are several, confusing!) created and financed by a single individual, which is both odd and charming. I bumped into it by lucky accident in May and have been writing regularly for them since — essays about each of my parents and reported stories like this one, about fed-up Americans fleeing their home country to live abroad.

I also wrote for, of all places, Mechanical Engineering magazine, on STEM education and on water treatment. Both were challenging, fascinating stories to produce and — of course! — my editor then left the magazine. So we’ll see if there’s more work from them for 2021.

I wrote for The New York Times, with this fun story about listening to non-American radio.

Thanks to Twitter, I was hired by the Lustgarten Foundation to blog about their work funding pancreatic cancer research. I’m not a science writer, so I was happily surprised to be invited to do this. It’s been quite extraordinary interviewing some of the world’s best scientists.

I also Zoomed into eight classes around the U.S. — undergrad college classes in Utah, Philadelphia and Florida and high school journalism classes in Florida, Michigan, California. Ohio and Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed it and the students were engaged and lively. It’s the only bright spot of this isolation — that there’s a need and a hunger for voices like mine in the classroom and there’s a technology that makes it quick and easy.

The year started with the best piece of work I’ve produced since my books — a 5,000 word examination for The American Prospect of how Canadians experience their single-payer healthcare systems. I grew up there and was a medical reporter so this was a perfect fit for me. Jose, my husband, accompanied me for two weeks’ travel around Ontario and shot the images, the first time we had ever worked on a project together.

Here it is.

I plan to submit it to two major awards contests.

Personally, it was a year — as it was for many of us — of social isolation, fear of getting COVID, of not seeing friends or family. Visits with several physicians made clear the urgency of my really losing a lot of weight — 30 to 50 pounds — which basically feels impossible. I started 16/8 intermittent fasting November 1 and plan to keep it up indefinitely. I swim laps for 30 minutes three times a week and am trying (ugh) to add even more exercise.

I don’t mind exercising, per se, but I really hate doing all of it alone.

Probably like many of you, because seeing people face to face is so complicated now, I’ve massively boosted my phone, email and Skype visits with friends — four in one recent week with pals in London, Oregon, California and Missouri. This pandemic-imposed isolation and loneliness is very tough and I’m sure even the strongest and happiest partnerships and marriages are, like ours, feeling claustrophobic by now.

I took a chance and joined something called — which matches you with strangers who share your professional interests for a 45 minute video conversation. My first was with a woman in another state who was half my age — but lively, fun and down to earth. Despite my initial doubts, I enjoyed it. You can sign up for two a week and at times that suit you best, between 9 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET.

In a time of such relentless isolation, why not?

Stuck safely at home, I’ve watched a lot of TV and movies. Favorites, many of which I’ve blogged here, include Borgen, Call My Agent, I May Destroy You, The Undoing, Trapped, Bordertown and DCI Banks.

My mother died in a nursing home in British Columbia — very far from us in New York — on Feb. 15, my best friend’s birthday. She was cremated and at some point I will go up there to spread her ashes and claim two enormous pieces of art she left me. We hadn’t been in touch in a decade, even though I was her only child.

My half-brother who lives in D.C., a five-four drive south, had twins in May, (the only grandchildren my father will ever have from his four children), a boy and girl, but he refuses to accept my overtures to rekindle a relationship — having decided in 2007 he was too angry with me. I was not invited to his wedding and have never met his wife. Estrangement is very familiar within our family.

On a happier note, thanks to a much better year for work, we were able to spark up our apartment a bit — adding a new silver velvet sofa and throw cushions from Svensk Tenn, a vintage kilim bought at auction, new lampshades and framing some art. When you spend 95 percent of your life at home, keeping it tidy and lovely helps a lot with the inevitable cabin fever. The money we’ve saved on not going to ballet/’opera/concerts, let alone commuting (a 10 trip train ticket into Manhattan is $95) or parking in the city (easily $30 to $50 for the day) has been substantial.

We’ve bought almost no clothes or shoes — why?!

We have eaten out, usually once a week locally, and if the restaurant is large and empty, will do so indoors.

We only took two very brief breaks: in July two nights at a friend’s home in upstate New York and two nights’ hotel in Woodstock, NY. It was very much appreciated!

I tried in late October to take a solo respite at a small inn in rural Pennsylvania — and ended up deep in Trump country. It wasn’t my style at all and I left two days earlier than planned.

I’ve tried to read more books, not very successfully.

Here are two I did read and really enjoyed.

And I started re-reading my own work, my first book, Blown Away, published in 2004. It holds up! Now a 2021 goal is finding a new publisher to re-issue it and financing the time it will take me to update and revise it.

How was your 2020?

What are some of your goals, hopes and dreams for 2021?

29 thoughts on “My 2020 year-end review

  1. You know, despite all that went down in 2020, it’s been a good year for me. I wrote two novels and edited two more, as well as wrote several shorter stories; I didn’t get any publication acceptances, but I did sell a few books; I expanded my audience on my various platforms; and I even got to do some traveling, going to places I’d never been before like Iowa and South Carolina. I’ve also lost weight and have made strides about being healthier. And I’ve made some new friends with whom I can laugh and talk about writing with.
    As for next year, obviously I want to get a few stories published. I want to travel if possible. And I plan to move out of my apartment by the end of my lease and into a bigger space, so hopefully that goes well. If that goes well, I’ll also adopt a couple of cats, something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have enough space for.
    And I would like to see the country get back to some form of stability. Fingers crossed, right?

  2. Caitlin, I enjoy reading your posts but don’t know why. Informative? Revealing? Creative? I think I am still learning to write – as a baby boomer – with soooo many writing projects in front of me. Your blog gives me pause to see written topics, with format and substance…in small eatable bites.

    2020 was crazy for my family, friends and of course the nation. I can handle change (having been trained and 30+ years working in real life emergency management). But trying to market our YA book, CHILE TOWN, published in February (the start of the pandemic) was beyond my social media skills & abilities. But I like the challenge.

    I’ve always reminded my adult children (6) and peers that the recipe for success is one part preparation, one part action and one part opportunity and we control the first two! So I am living my success recipe…one day at a time! Looking forward to your blog in 2021.

    1. Thanks for the kinds words….maybe all three?!

      I do arrive with a distinct advantage — writing for a living for decades. Writing LOOKS easy (hit keys, hit send) but terrific writing is not at all simple or easy. Rather, it IS easy for me but having done it my whole life may help.

      I love your recipe!

      My motto is having Plans A-J…never only a Plan B. I like to have LOTS of backup. And savings….I also remind our “kids” (younger friends in their 20s and 30s) that things take TIME! I sometimes wonder if Boomers (with WAY too much competition for good jobs due to our enormous numbers) are better at being patient or pivoting…

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, It sounds like you’ve had a pretty good year, all things considered.
    I always enjoy your comments and photos about how you’ve decorated your home.
    My immediate family is not estranged, merely dead – awful but true. Being single doesn’t help. I have, however, made an effort to get back in touch with various people I had not talked to in a long time. I had a great talk with a long-lost cousin; we’ve vowed to keep in touch much more often. I tried to get back in touch with some of my late mother’s friends, people who were an enormous help to us near the end of her life, 4 years ago. I was surprised and disappointed that they didn’t get back to me. But who knows what could be going on with their families? I try not to take it personally.
    One unexpected pleasure is that my love of intellectual discussions prompted me to join various MeetUp groups; they meet now on Zoom but they’re all based in NYC or Philly – far enough away that I probably wouldn’t make the drive, but due to Zoom, they’re easy to “attend.” In an average week I attend 5 or 6 of these. As I’m pretty much retired, this gives my mind some much-needed stimulation. I read a lot, but too much of that is the news, which is depressing.
    I also need to lose weight, and if I weighed just a few pounds more I would consider bariatric surgery. I attended a seminar on the topic at the medical center and I learned that it’s far more effective in keeping weight off, long term. Apparently lifestyle changes aren’t enough … something about our set point. The surgery doesn’t just mean your stomach ends up smaller – it actually changes your metabolism. I almost wish I weighed 10 pounds more so I’d be a candidate. But my doctor said it’s not for me. Oh, well.
    Caitlin, thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and I also enjoy reading all the comments.

    1. These groups sound great! Good for you.

      It might be worth trying intermittent fasting. I know my body is smaller than it was when I started 6 weeks ago….but I won’t get on a scale til late February at the MD. I need to NOT be demotivated if the progress is too slow.

  4. I’ve had a very busy year. More work than I could handle but have a great staff, mostly in their late 20s. Everyone’s covid weary, however, and we’ve been under quarantine conditions in NWT since March. From a financial perspective, we are doing well. Like you, not much spending. I’m exhausted, though, and it’s deep down. If I can pull it off, I may retire earlier than planned (July 2022).

    My blood pressure was really high and it’s unstable, but I’ve lost weight, switched to mostly veggies, avoided wine; essentially, done the right things to get it down and have been successful. I have to watch it almost every day, though.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts (and your Yuletide shopping suggestions, natch). We’ll get back to a more “normal” routine but I think that will take much longer than anticipated.

    1. Jan Jasper

      Lynette, I agree with you that it’s going to take longer than we’d like to get back to anything approaching normal. Geez, I had to give up wine, well…I don’t even want to think about that. Caitlyn, the intermittent fasting idea intrigues me, but I’ve read some research lately that casts some doubt on the effectiveness. I’ve been a vegetarian for decades, but with a junk food habit – think blue corn chips. What I need to do is just not snack incessantly in the evenings, and of course keep up the exercise. I’ve been to doing pretty good with exercise. I bought some home gym equipment just before the New Jersey governor said that gyms could reopen. I expect they will be closed again before long, so I will be ready to exercise at home. And in a few months spring will be arriving which means walking outdoors will be appealing again.

      1. I have 2 friends who have done well with IF, so that’s what made me start….and for now I do see a difference in my size and shape (after 6 weeks.) So I plan to continue because standard “dieting” just makes me too miserable — endless measuring every mouthful and eating a lot of cold wet salad.

        I hate a lot of “healthy” foods liker quinoa and kale and leafy greens so that’s my challenge. And, I, too, like chips.

      2. Jan Jasper

        Caitlin, Your and your friends’ experiences with IF are very intriguing. I know you wrote about this some time ago – if you wouldn’t mind sharing the link to that blog entry, I’d be much obliged. I know there are different versions of IF. I agree with you, counting every morsel consumed is miserable. So maybe I’m ready to try something new.

      3. The IF I tried and blogged about was 5/2 (eating normally five days and 500-800 calories the other two.) It didn’t really work for me in terms of weight loss.

        Now I am trying 16/8…There’s quite a bit about it on the Internet.

      4. I didn’t give up wine completely. I’m not that disciplined. 😉 I didn’t give up meat completely, either. I’m just trying to hit something that works for me and still allows me to enjoy a steak and glass of wine occasionally.
        Yup, it going to take a while, I think. For starters, we’re going to have to deal with the people who choose not to get vaccinated. Will airlines have rules around that, for instance? It’s going to be interesting (and controversial).

    2. Thanks…

      So sorry about the high blood pressure!

      Mine is also terrible and I am now on BP meds. I REALLY want to get off it so am trying harder than ever before to get weight off and off the meds as well. In addition to the swimming, I now do a day a week at the gym and plan to add another…so 5 days/week exercise will be the most I have ever done in my life.

      I also think that 2020 is likely the worst possible year for anyone’s blood pressure! SO much anxiety every damn day.

      1. Yes, I’m on meds now, too. I’ve been told that I will likely have to have them in the background permanently (take them if the bp goes up, and that means constant monitoring). Unexpected fatal heart attacks, strokes and aneurisms are a big thing in my family, so I’m happy to have the bp under relative control.

  5. what a year of ups and downs for you, with some wonderful ups, and i love your rug! this has been a challenging year on my end, in person teaching preschool, along with teaching a student online, and with a few weeks here and there online with my whole class, as far as social, i am trying to online date during a pandemic, which is an interesting experience, and limiting family and friend visits to safe experiences. next year, i long to teach in person, safely and without all the protocols, to travel again, to really date again, and be free to spend time with family as friends in a spontaneous and more natural way.

  6. I need to move in spring; I’d hoped to in October, but between the pandemic and my health issues, I managed to negotiate a lease extension until April. Most of my energy will be centered around putting together the resources for a positive move, and then I’m going to redefine my career. Or I’ll redefine it as I’m putting together the resources. The Cape Cod experiment is over. Time for me to move on with mylife.

    1. This sounds great — we are SO ready for a better 2021!

      I really admire anyone making such major changes. Inertia, fear, income, health — so many potential obstacles. Wishing you the best with all of it!

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