You have probably already observed, or heard someone else observe, that time seemed to flow in a new pattern this year. It's become common for strangers to include statements like “time's not real” in workplace and check-out line banter. I've seen countless jokes about today's date being something like March 288th. Folks joke that this year had pre-pandemic, Marvember, and Christmas, and it feels somehow true.
For me, the badness of 2020 started earlier than for most. Shortly after Christmas last year, my great grandmother got sick. She was in the hospital, then at home on hospice, and then she died after about a month of agonizing decay. When the pandemic hit the US in March, I was still grieving.
My workload at Glitch had been really light for much of the last half of 2019— there was never enough work to go around, it seemed, or not enough agreement on product direction to start on anything even though there were a lot of ideas floating around. In early 2020 that changed. I became a tech lead for at first one project, then several. I worked on managing my time and thought about how best to delegate tasks. The first project I'd been assigned to lead was very big technically, and had an overly aggressive timeline from the beginning even though I had tried to push it back, and I was stressed about getting it done and proving myself worthy of the opportunity and also, still grieving, then coping with the onset of the pandemic.
There were increasingly serious talks about unionizing at Glitch. I had been an early advocate of the idea in backchannel discussions, but ultimately wasn't very active in moving the initiative forward. I had been looking for a new job off and on for months, but put it on hold when my grandmother got sick. Then I got the project leadership opportunities I'd been wanting for so long, at the same time I was rushing to the hospital or my grandmother's home after work, and grieving. The union drive went on, with my passive support and much more excellent leadership and organizing by my coworkers.
The effort to get our union recognized had many ups and downs deserving of a full blog post on its own, but ultimately was successful. I'm proud of the overwhelming support the union had among union-eligible workers, and the negotiating that the core organizing team did with management to ultimately achieve voluntary recognition— that is, our union became an official bargaining unit without the NLRB being brought in for a vote that, if successful, the company would have been forced to recognize.
Then the layoffs came. They weren't really surprising, because much of what made my previous lack of work so stressful was how obvious I felt it was, and the feeling that perhaps half of my team could be laid off at any moment without any real measurable effect on the business, through no fault of their own. Still, when the layoffs came, I was busier than I had ever been at Glitch, doing work on projects that stakeholders assured me were incredibly urgent. I was thankful we had unionized, because since we had, even though we hadn’t negotiated our first new contract, the union was a recognized bargaining unit and the company was obligated to negotiate with it about the layoffs. The union got laid-off workers an additional two weeks of severance over what the company initially offered, and laid-off employees' COBRA premiums and HRA reimbursements were paid by the company through the end of 2020 or our next coverage starting, whatever came first. That was a huge financial burden lifted, and we wouldn't have had it without the union.
Of course, there was also the pandemic, which meant my layoff which had nothing to do with covid happened at the same time as millions of others that did, and that was extra stressful.
The first few months of the pandemic, when I was still working, were probably the hardest. We didn’t know yet that we could meet with friends outdoors relatively safely, and it was very isolating. Remote work for me the last few years had meant many afternoons in coffee shops, often side-by-side with friends who also work remotely. That was no longer an option. I missed seeing friends, but also my casual interactions with strangers and acquaintances I might run into while out and about. One night early on, we ordered pizza delivery. I was in the kitchen so Josh answered the door. And then I cried, realizing I had just missed my best chance for human interaction outside of with Josh for that week.
The pandemic meant giving up sports that had come to form the rhythm of my weeks— tennis, kayak polo, and lifting weights at the gym. It took me a long time to get back to regular exercise, but this fall I started the Couch to 5k running program for maybe the third or fourth time in my life, and surprisingly this time, I'm actually enjoying it and sticking with it! I find myself looking forward to runs, and I've been running outdoors in temps I thought were reserved for super-athletes.
Overall, this year I spent more time outdoors than I probably ever have in my life. I've always thought of myself as more of an indoor enthusiast, but this year I spent countless hours on walks around my neighborhood or at Spring Creek Prairie, using the time to catch up with a friend over the phone or practice my budding skills at native plant identification.
I learned the names of so many plants this year, from weeds to a variety of native plants. I spent many evenings with plant guides, paging through pictures as I grew too tired to do anything else, and learned so much that way. I did hands-on learning, too, in a never-ending battle to maintain the front yard garden. It was our first year with it, and there's a saying about native plants: in the first year they sleep; in the second, they creep; and finally in the third year, they leap. Our sleepy native installation this year resulted in some bare patches we didn't yet know how to manage, and so weeding was a constant battle. Next year, we'll be better prepared, and be ready with more annuals to mix in to serve as a living mulch. We’ve added more plants in general, too.
All that to say, I am really happy with how the garden looked this year. We had a great patch of black-eyed Susans, and I loved the fluffy waving heads of the tall sideoats grama on the little hill leading down to the sidewalk. It established enough that I won't spend this winter shoveling dirt from the sidewalk back onto the hill like last winter, so that's definitely a win.
This fall, friends from a mutual aid group helped us clean up the garden to prepare for winter, as well as install a mulched path through the yard. I was so thankful for the help and the feeling of camaraderie, of accomplishing a shared task together, outdoors and in our masks, was so powerful after so many months of spending time with others only seated, or maybe on occasional walks, but rarely engaging in a shared activity. The path was something I wanted for the garden from the beginning, because our yard saw a lot of foot traffic when it was just grass, connecting people who parked their cars on the street to the apartment building next door. It brings me so much joy to have a yard become a living part of the neighborhood again, even if it’s mainly just the mailman or a stray cat or fox (twice! so cool) who uses the path most days.
Community organizing looked different this year than it has in previous years, but it continued to play an important part in my life. I got involved with the aforementioned mutual aid group, a solidarity network during the racial justice uprising of early summer, and an abolition study group. I volunteered at the courthouse to support folks facing eviction, and delivered groceries to community members of the local Asian Cultural & Community Center. All of these opened my eyes to new ideas and new ways of being in the world, and enabled me to create or deepen relationships with others. I am so grateful to the people I organized alongside, to the people who taught me to see the world in a new way, and to the leaders in my community and across the country who led the demands for change this year.
Besides the layoff, I had a few other job-related transitions this year. I worked briefly at Twilio, but the team I was on had a culture that was much different than I was expecting (and different, I think, than Twilio as a whole) and I decided to renew my job search. I landed a great new position at Unabridged Software, where I’m working now. Unabridged Software is in the consulting space, which is new to me, and works largely in Ruby on Rails, though I’ve been doing React Native primarily since I started. The company follows a 35-hour workweek, and tries to take its commitment to work-life balance very seriously. So far, I’ve found it to be an incredibly supportive environment, and I’m very glad to have made the switch.
I put a lot of time this year into making my home more comfortable. I did a lot of deep cleaning tasks, set up new shelving and organizational systems to reduce clutter and get things off the floor, and got more intentional about interior decorating.
My home isn’t the only thing I have customized this year to make it more ‘me’— I’ve also changed up my appearance, by cutting my hair and dyeing it fun colors like pink and blue. I’ve found clothes that suit me really well, too. (I would like to live in overalls and/or corduroy & velvet plz thx)
With all that cleaning and organizing out of the way, and my job situation stable and comfortable for the first time in a very long time, I’ve unlocked a lot of creativity in the last month of the year. I’ve been writing poems, creating miniature sculptures and jewelry with polymer clay, and even creating digital drawings in Procreate. This creativity is something I’d really like to carry with me in to 2021, but at the same time, I can see how I had to first clear away some of the major stressors in my life in order to get to this creative place.
There’s a lot more to say—how can one sum up an entire year in a single post?— but this is getting long so let’s call it good for now.
May all of our 2021s be infinitely better than our 2020s.