Well, that sucked.
A “year” is just a piece of human imagination. In fact, an actual “year” as defined as planet Earth rotating completely around the sun takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds1.
Even the year, 2020, is a Western invention. We also live in the Islamic year of 1442, or the Hindu year of 1942. Buddhists believe this is 2563, and the Chinese are in the year 4718. The Assyrians go way back. This is the year 6770.
Thus, the power that we give to 2020 is a narrative of human invention. Academically, this is the Common Era, whereas previous to this, was a murky Before Common Era that adds real complication to our understanding of history. Perhaps you imagine that civilization began after the last ice age. From there, maybe we are really living in something like the year 12,020.
A number is just a number, but to our modern understanding, we organize our lives on an imprecise 365 day calendar from January 1 to December 31.
Even our concept of a day is flawed, as a solar “day” is different in September than it is in December, and so forth. Counting a sidereal day, the full motion of Earth’s rotation, is actually about 23 hours, 56 minutes, 2.4 seconds. So again, even the counting of 365 days requires human invention.
I bring all of this detail up because through all the stress and pandemic-related problems that have defined our year 2020, the one thing I found striking were the moments when I was able to exist outside of time. The sun was up, or it was down, or perhaps it was twilight out. These were times when I surrendered to existence, and with the lock-downs and travel orders, I focused on just being. So in that sense, the COVID-19 pandemic made me grow a part of my mind that has rarely been at peace.
You have heard the corporate-speak by now: This is a “year like no other.” A “challenging year.” An “extraordinary year.” Attach all adjectives, they cannot be refuted!
The title of this blog post, of course, is a joke. But I have found a very real diversion in how extroverts and introverts have handled the pandemic.
Despite the difficulty of travel, the very real lock-downs that were necessary for public health, and changes in my own behavior to make a very real attempt at avoiding COVID-19, I was productive.
In 2019, I made a total of 99 landscape “picks.” This year, despite all of the difficulties getting out, I still made 76. That number will undoubtedly grow as well as I continue looking for images to process. That isn’t bad!
I read more than I have done since I graduated from college. I got back into drawing, something I haven’t messed around with in over 20 years. I also re-focused on my writing, both in this blog and some of my creating writing.
The pandemic has slowed me down, and made me stayed concerned with what is really important. So much of life isn’t. Yes, we can’t throw it all away. I need to work to finance my life, and I need to do other household tasks I would rather not do. But I am not chasing very many things that aren’t important. That waste time. That don’t advance my sense of being. 2020 has wrought all kinds of death, destruction, and hate between fellow humans. But 2020 has also enabled a stronger focal compass for my life.
Everything in life has a paradox. For me, it was the realization that this forced social distancing and isolation was good for me. Gone were the events that people cajoled you to attend. Social expectations were largely out of the way. I was finally able to work from home, and I thrived in that environment. As people were writing of extreme loneliness, I couldn’t help but feel a renewed sense of purpose and energy from the same type of isolation.
My friend Bill offered a good joke about my predilection for being alone, pandemic or not:
Advisory: Everyone has to stay six feet away from each other.
Tracy Schultze: Why so close?
Introversion made a big comeback in 2020. The world just seemed less busy, less noisy, and much less distracting. Staying off social media helped. While I deactivated my Facebook account long ago, I also turned off Twitter, which might be an even worse platform. Instagram, which is really just a haven for influencers and bots, was the last to go. I occasionally post to my personal account for some family and a few friends. I pretty much saw no use for my “landscape” account. Chasing Likes that do nothing for one’s bottom line seemed an empty pursuit. I think I am okay missing everybody’s take on sunset.
2020 Recap – Focusing On What Is Truly Important
In 2020, I wrote more, I drew more, and I listened to a lot more music. I had more time to reflect. Stillness came back to me in a way I haven’t known in decades. But the desire for such reflection goes back to my early years.
My Mother has often told me of stories of me as a baby and toddler, when she could leave my room and I was content to play alone for hours on end 2.
At school, I distinctly remember our teacher covering all of the qualities of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, perhaps the world’s most famous avian introvert. Days later, the same teacher criticized me for not socializing with my classmates 3. Just like Jonathan, I really didn’t have much use for the flock.
I remember an extended family member at a holiday event condescendingly calling me “Mr. Personality.” That person, vapid as can be, was surely clueless to the fact that I didn’t find a single thing interesting in them – I really had no need to impress them 4.
People, and when I say people, I definitely mean, extroverts, don’t really understand the quiet sorts. I am a bit of a loner, yes, but some interpersonal relationships are very important to me. There is a misapplied conflation of being shy with seeking quiet. I am not shy – sometimes I just don’t want to talk.
I get this from know-it-alls all the time 5…they have seen me interact with a person or persons and they are SURE I can’t be an introvert. Those people don’t even know what that mindset is. I sense that their quest to invalidate me as an introvert is their insecure quest to validate themselves as an extrovert. But only one of us needs another human being to bring us energy. Hint – it’s not me.
As one example in many, I have no fear of public speaking. I have seen extroverts who nearly hyperventilate giving a talk to their own friends. That just doesn’t compute for me. Perhaps because I process a group of people differently, it is easier for me to set aside any concerns over what the audience thinks of me, or how competent a performance I will give, that it enables me to just talk.
I am in no way a Toastmaster-level speaker, far from it. But I am not intimidated by the task. I think back to all of the work, accomplishments, and ladders I climbed as a youth and adult in the Scouting program. I didn’t win elections or receive appointments because of my shiny outward personality. I succeeded largely because I was capable of laser-focusing on the task at hand. If an event required extensive logistics, my quiet time gave me the energy to think through what levers of action needed to happen in what order to make the task a success. I did this over and over again. And it was quiet and contemplation that made me get it done, not endless meetings and conference calls and focus groups.
2021 Will Be Better (But Maybe Not Much Better…)
2021 is going to be a challenging year. COVID-19 vaccines will be rolled out, but most of us will likely go the majority of the year without them. The same conditions that made 2020 so tough will still exist throughout much of 2021. In fact, post-Christmas holiday, we may begin seeing the worst COVID numbers of the entire pandemic. As people couldn’t help themselves and couldn’t bear the thought of Thanksgiving alone, the same is likely holding true for Christmas and related December holidays. The economy will still be an issue, and will take years to bring back.
There will be no going “back to normal.” We are functionally changed, as beings. We will interact differently. We will gather, but not as much. We will shop online more, not less. Some of us will continue to work from home permanently. Major parts of the economy, like services and tourism, will shrink, perhaps forever.
We must embrace change. We must allow something like a pandemic to modify us. If our lives are but a collection of experiences, than we must accept how we are shaped by a vast collection of those moments. Per capita, I have on average 33 years left as a sentient being. Fighting change is a losing battle. Accepting life as a present moment from a collection of past moments eliminates that battle.
Your mind will push you to fight this acceptance. It is normal to want more, to need more, to desire what one does not have. Yet, if you accept yourself for who you are, and embrace how you arrived at the very minute point of presence, you can find peace in all of the uneasiness and worry about life.
For my 2020 recap, I want to note that so much of what happened this year were things I had no control over. I could control how I reacted to them. I did change, perhaps permanently. Was this easier for one particular introvert occupying a very small space in life and on the internet? Most likely. But if you surrender to what you can’t control, and embrace what you can, you can carry forward feeling much better as we, theoretically, exit the COVID-19 pandemic.
As always, thank you for reading my 2020 recap, and I hope you have a much better 2021.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.