One of my rules for this blog is “no whining unless it’s funny”. It’s taken me a while to write about 2020 without breaking the rule, even though I had it extremely easy compared to so many people.
Before the 1st lockdown I was reading up on cooking while locked down in China. I was worried about access to fresh food. My partner and I didn’t eat bread, pasta or rice at home. We’d fill up on the veg instead; why eat a stew with rice if you can have twice the stew? Anyway, it seemed like the way we ate wasn’t going to be compatible with a pandemic, so I was open to experimenting with pickles etc. as a way to bring flavour in the absence of my usual options.
Even though things never got that bad, I felt inspired to try some new recipes and expand my repertoire of flavours. Anna Jones’s mac and greens became one of our favourites, and I must have made her black eyed beans with chard more times than I can remember.
That thing about not eating bread? My partner learned to make sourdough and I was sold. Turns out I just didn’t like, you know, normal bread. But the stuff that takes 4 days to make? Yes please. He even got me to make a couple of my own loaves. They were perfect.
But let’s face it. Nobody had the time and energy to be constantly cooking. Towards the end of the year I got a subscription to allplants. Having a healthy, light and delicious meal ready to go each evening has been a game-changer. In The Before I cooked maybe twice or three times a week. The rest was lunches, dinners in restaurants or takeout sandwiches scoffed before the evening dance class. Now I cook with about the same frequency, which turns out to be my limit.
I learned the hard way that even if an exfoliating acid product says on the label that it’s fine to use twice a day, it is not fine to use twice a day.
Regardless, the unfortunate overexfoliation incident spurred me to learn more about skincare. For example, I now understand that the post-acne marks left on my face will take months or years to disappear, even with targeted products. It’s disappointing to know there aren’t any quick fixes, but it’s better to have realistic expectations than to wonder what I’m doing wrong.
I discovered a few products I really like. Previously I used stuff that was effective at controlling acne, but joyless. It was a basic necessity. Now I get to enjoy doing my morning and evening routines even though they’re partly functional.
Animal Crossing was my distractions from worrying about the pandemic in the first lockdown. I visited my island at breakfast, then at lunch, then after work. A few times my pals and I organised events where we flew to each other’s islands while having a voice call. Those were pretty good parties. There was always something to do on the island and for a while it kept me from doomscrolling.
The Last of Us Part II
In one of my weeknotes I summarised this game by saying it should have cost at least £500, which would start to represent how much value I got out of the experience.
The things you did and what was done to you forced you to experience the story in a way that made you question your previous assumptions and how you’d felt about your earlier experiences. I don’t think any medium, even interactive, has ever taken me for such an incredible ride.
Imagine Sony deciding to make a 3D Mario game. That’s Astro’s Playroom. It’s too good, too polished, too detailed, and just too fun for a tech demo.
In the game little robots lovingly recreate scenes from various PlayStation games. Finding and recognising them is a separate fun game inside the game.
When your little Astro lands on different types of surfaces it produces different vibrations and resistance in the controller, tricking you into thinking you’re sliding on ice or stomping on mud.
But it’s the care and attention to every detail that blew me away. Who writes such a banger of a song to put in a game, with such perfect lyrics???
Look at the light.
It falls just right.
My shadows they please,
Beneath the trees.
But none of these things happen for free.
Yeah, all that you see, rendered by me.
I synthesise and rasterise immaterial things that I fabricate for you.
Yeah, I tesselate and animate these dancing sprites and sunlit skies for you.
I do it for you.
I’m your GPU.
Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it for you.
Red Dead Redemption 2
I started playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at the beginning of December. I’m writing this in Feb 2021 and I’m still only 69% through the main story. Not because it’s a super long game, but because I’m trying to make it last. I generate my own fun by setting myself random tasks, like, let’s get to the top of that mountain, for no real reason apart from the joy of exploration. There are so many places in the game which remind me of the holidays my partner and I used to take in California.
The honour system which rewards or punishes you for your moral choices is a bit inconsistent with, uh, I guess the law? Pulling a gun on a stranger, even if you don’t shoot: bad. Killing a member of a rival gang: neutral. Killing someone wearing a KKK hood: good. Looting a body of a gang member you just killed: neutral. Looting a body you found rotting on the ground in the wilderness: bad. And so on.
What I like about RDR2 is that I fully control the pace of the game. If I want I can just camp out in the mountains for days, doing my own thing, watching the sun and the weather endlessly create new reasons to admire the beauty of the wilderness.
According to my list of books I’ve read, which goes back to 2014, I have read exactly zero books in 2020. I must have given up on writing down which ones I’ve finished, because I remember reading White Fragility and re-reading it as BLM protests were growing.
Sewing and knitting
I made a jumpsuit, which was fun because it was a challenge. I love the result. It was followed by a couple of overshirts, a pair of trousers I loved so much I wore them out, and of course lots of face masks.
I knitted less than usual, but I finished a long cardigan, a couple of hats and a pink gradient cowl with lovely yarn from New York.
Just before the first lockdown I was averaging 2-4 dance classes a week. As things moved online I tried pre-recorded dance tutorials instead. The nice thing about that was learning from famous teachers outside of London, but eventually I found it depressing to dance to a video.
My mood completely changed when I discovered live Zoom classes. Some weeks I managed 5 of those a week. By stepping up the frequency I finally managed to visibly improve my skills. I got better at responding to rhythm, improved the ability to sync with the music, and expanded the vocabulary of moves I recognise and don’t need to think about as much.
Because I rely on exercise to manage my mood I had to get into the habit of working out every day. I started with pre-recorded FitOn workouts, then added RingFit Adventure on the Switch to mix it up, then Beat Saber on Oculus Quest, then Box VR, Dance Central, Synth Riders, anything to keep me moving. I finally settled on an Apple Fitness+ workout before work, occasionally a VR game at lunch, and a live dance class straight after work.
When things go back to some kind of “normal” I will miss not having to spend any time on getting to and from places. I use this time on hobbies and exercise, at a price of not seeing anyone in person. Cycling is obviously a good compromise, because at least you use the physical distance as an opportunity to squeeze in some cardio, but I don’t find it anywhere near as challenging or fun as dance classes.
Things I want to do in 2021
At the beginning of 2020 I said I wanted to:
- cook more nice food
- find a good workout / cooking / hobbies / friends routine again
Well, I guess I did do those things!
Maybe in 2021 I could:
- have breakfasts with friends
- get shitfaced and take a night bus
- talk to strangers
- have freedom