It’s 7:30 am on New Year’s Day. Morning dawns cold and clear and silver over the snow that still blankets the roads and rooftops in our neighborhood. I am in the nursery, trying to coax a three-month-old human to go back to sleep. My wife has been up half the night with an anxious dog while fireworks and clanging pots and pans tore through the night and I’m trying to give her a break so she can rest. The wriggling little girl in my arms finally stills, her breathing quiet as she drifts off.
The pace of life is different in the fresh hours of 2022. The previous year was a hard one. The world stood on what felt like the brink of collapse, with a virus raging and political strife surrounding us. I tried to keep myself safe and protect my family, holed up in our house, which sometimes times felt like a refuge and other times like a prison.
In the midst of uncertainty, I started a new job after months of not knowing if I would ever find one. We welcomed our daughter into this broken world on the last warm day of autumn — a glimmer of something beautiful in the gathering dark. Becoming a parent is not what I expected. I am not different; only my priorities have changed. I find more joy in simple things: an extra hour of sleep, a smile, a filling meal, and in all the changes wrought in the fires of the outgoing year.
There is nothing inherently special about this day. I choose to find meaning in the turning of the year, even though I know that there’s still going to be a pandemic, climate change, war and shadows of war, hunger and homelessness, division and suffering in 2022, just as there was in 2021. I choose to look ahead with hope despite all of that, because there’s also going to be beauty. My daughter will grow. She’ll learn to sit up on her own, express herself, and notice new things each day.
As morning light fills this tiny room, I am grateful for my family, for four walls and a comfortable rocking chair, for gray hairs, for pandemic projects, for good books and steaming cups of tea, for a small hand wrapped around my finger. And so I enter 2022 humble, weary, restless, grateful, hopeful, and ready to be surprised by the changes in store. Happy new year.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. His new podcast, The Adventures of Captain Radio, is now available to stream wherever you listen to podcasts. His fiction has appeared in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his newsletter for more thoughts and musings.
I wasn’t there, but I will always be there. I was eleven years old when four commercial airplanes were hijacked on the morning of September 11, 2001. Turned into weapons of mass murder, two hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, one was steered into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the final plane, who’s target may have been the U.S. Capitol building, was brought down by passengers in a field in rural Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 people were killed and many thousands more were injured.
Living three time zones away, I didn’t see the destruction live, as many did, but I saw replays over and over again that day and for many weeks afterward. I can close my eyes and see smoke pouring out of a gaping wound in the South Tower, the North Tower crumbling under its own weight as a cloud of dust obscured its collapse, a man plunging headfirst from a burning skyscraper. September 11 was a day of tragedy on a scale I still struggle to comprehend — and a stark dividing line separating the world that existed up to that morning from the dark days that followed.
For those of us who were children on the day of the attack, but still old enough to remember it, the shadow cast by 9/11 is long. It is a part of our collective cultural memory, a moment when the innocence of childhood was pulled out from under us and the horrors of the world were laid bare. I once read that world events which occur in early adolescence have a profound effect on the development of our values, beliefs, and political opinions. I can’t find that article now, but I believe its central argument holds up. My worldview was strongly shaped by that day and by the events which followed: the War on Terror, the era of “See Something, Say Something” paranoia, the rise of the surveillance state, and the unraveling of our country’s civic fabric.
I was a different person after September 11, 2001. We are all different now, moulded by a shared national trauma. Consumed by grief and anger, we inflicted lasting harm on ourselves and the world. Not all of it was intentional and perhaps it could not have been avoided, but the impact of this single day of terror continues to reverberate not only across America, but also in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, caught in the crosshairs of our retribution. I don’t know where that leaves us, but I know it did not bring back those who were lost that day.
The September 11 attacks will probably always define our generation, much as the Kennedy assassination or the Moon landing are forever tied to our parents’ coming of age. I don’t know what that legacy will ultimately be. Twenty years later, the dust is still settling. But I do hope it can spur us to honor the memories of those who died, support those living with the physical and emotional scars of the attack and its aftermath, and work to create a more peaceful world where this cycle of violence is broken once and for all.
I don’t know about you, but these days, I’m numb. Numb to the rising tide of this unending pandemic. Numb to the suffering of people in Afghanistan. Numb to the wildfires ravaging communities across the West. Numb to the tearing of country’s social fabric and the partisan screaming all around. I don’t know if it’s a result of exhaustion from years of living with national, global, and existential crises or if the fact that most of my human interactions are mediated by a screen have made it harder to put myself in other people’s shoes.
And it’s not just me. Last fall, social psychologists Judith Hall and Mark Leary wrote an article for Scientific American declaring that America as a whole has “an empathy deficit.” We are losing our ability to care about others, especially those who don’t look, think, or act like us. We no longer believe we owe anything to each other, or that other perspectives are worth hearing. We are cold, indifferent, and isolated. I know I am.
These are books that deal with difficult subjects, like climate change, racial justice, and the queer experience. They’ve challenged me, they’ve broken my heart, and they are slowly wearing down my callouses. I think reading beyond our comfort zone is necessary now more than ever. If we don’t relearn how to feel what a stranger feels, then we’re in deep trouble. But if we can rediscover something buried in the pages of a book that can remind us that we are part of the world instead of separate from it, then maybe there’s hope for the future.
This week, temperatures in Tacoma were upward of 105 degrees—34 degrees above the average high for June—and stayed in the triple digits for three consecutive days. In a region where less than half the population lives in air conditioned homes, people suffered and as many as 100 people in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia died due to a heat wave unlike anything seen in the Pacific Northwest for as long as weather records have been kept.
Our climate is changing in ways both subtle and profound, causing incremental disruptions in global weather patterns as well as sudden, extreme weather events like heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and deluges. This round of dangerous heat is over, but it is part of a larger shift that imperils people and ecosystems in every corner the world. More is coming.
As I look forward to the birth of our first child, I find myself increasingly worried about the world our child will grow up in and the multitude of social and environmental sins they will inherit. Will my child be able to go outside to play in the summer? Will there be unburned forests to enjoy?
There are things we can do. We can acknowledge and share the scientific consensus that climate change is real and that humans are driving it. We can take responsibility for our personal actions and take steps to reduce our carbon usage. More substantively, we make our voices heard at the ballot box to demand measures to curb the devastating impacts of the climate crisis and reign in the industries and nations who continue to put profits ahead of preservation.
There is no time to wait. We got ourselves into this mess; now we need to be the solution.
If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a year, you know I love to travel. When COVID-19 shut down all non-essential travel in 2020, we were forced to cancel our planned Hawaiian vacation and postpone any and all of our travel plans for the foreseeable future. We’ve done our best to be safe and follow health authority guidelines and we’ve been lucky not to get sick thus far. Earlier this year, we decided we were ready to go on our long-delayed trip to Maui, but we knew we couldn’t travel the same way we did in the before times. We were itching to get out of the house, but at the same time, we wanted to do what we could to minimize the risk to ourselves and the people around us. It was a tricky balancing act. Here’s how we did it:
Understand the Risks and Take Appropriate Precautions
One reason why I felt more comfortable traveling now than I would’ve a year ago is because of how far our understanding of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has evolved. We now know that the virus spreads primarily through airborne particles. We know that masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of those particles and protect those around you. We also know that most super-spreader events occur indoors in poorly ventilated conditions. With this information in mind, we were able to decide on some parameters for our trip to keep ourselves and others safe.
Choose the Right Location and Method of Transportation
We chose to pursue our cancelled visit to the island of Maui in no small part because we were unable to get refunds for most of our trip expenses, just vouchers for later use. Still, there were a few factors that made it easy to get there while prioritizing safety.
The first thing that makes Hawaii a great choice right now is that its case numbers are low compared to most states. Hawaii has been requiring out-of-state arrivals test negative for COVID-19 to bypass a mandatory quarantine, (and has since added an extra rapid test upon landing), so we felt reasonably assured that most of the people on our flight would not be carrying the virus.
The second mark in Hawaii’s favor is evidence showing that ventilation and air filtration on commercial airplanes is actually quite good, offering an extra layer of security should someone on our flight contract COVID in the narrow window between receiving their negative test result and boarding the aircraft.
Third, Hawaii’s tropical climate and wide array of outdoor activities and dining options allowed us to spend very little time indoors with other people. We purposefully chose takeout and outdoor dining options whenever we could, stayed in a small bed and breakfast instead of a busy resort (which was also way cheaper), rented a car to explore on our own rather than joining a group tour, found quiet beaches away from crowds, and wore our masks whenever we couldn’t physically distance (this was only ever really a problem in the airport, where we chose to double-mask).
Prioritize Getting Outside
Maui was made for adventure. Whether you’re driving the winding road to Hana, standing above the crater of Haleakala, or laying on the beach with a good book, it’s easy to find things to do outside on the island and easy to avoid crowded, indoor spaces. Sunny skies and warm weather make it an easy place to physically distance and enjoy a break from reality. Even if you’re not planning a trip to Hawaii, this is the kind of vacation I’d recommend during the pandemic. Instead of worrying about all the things you can’t do, now is an opportunity to embrace all the activities you can do safely right now. I’ve been so grateful for the ability to get out for my daily walks to keep my sanity this past year and our visit to Maui offered new and exciting ways to experience the beauty of nature.
Guidelines for Traveling Mindfully
Being able to travel is a privilege, now more than ever. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic which has upended the lives of nearly everyone, so expect that things will be different — and you will also have to act differently. If you’re in the position to be able to travel right now, keep these guiding principles in mind:
You Are Responsible for the Health of Everyone Around You
When traveling to an isolated area, remember that you can have an outsized impact on the community you’re entering. Places like Hawaii have limited medical facilities that can be easily overwhelmed. They may not have the resources to care for you if you become ill or if you infect others. We all have a responsibility to care for one another, so don’t go if you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. You may also want to reconsider your plans if there’s a sudden surge in positive cases in your community or the community you’re visiting. A stranger’s health may depend on your choices and that’s something you have to take seriously. If you’re not going to follow mask guidelines and basic hygiene practices, don’t travel right now.
Be Patient and Generous
The tourism, food service, and hospitality industries have all taken a beating this year and many low-wage workers have struggled to provide for their families and keep themselves safe. Travel is only just starting up again, so it’s important to be patient and understanding. Prices are high, supply chain disruptions have caused shortages, hours for many businesses are in flux, and staffing is limited even as demand is surging. If you aren’t going to be patient and respectful in your interactions with staff, supportive of local businesses, flexible when circumstances change, and as generous with your tips as you can be, don’t travel right now.
Put In the Extra Effort
Maui was breathtaking and I’m glad we went. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected and COVID-19 forced us to change plans several times, but we were able to unplug and treat ourselves to some much-needed relaxation while also helping the local economy. Only you can decide if traveling right now is worth the risk for you and there are many more factors to keep in mind than I’ve gone into here. Also, I’m not a medical professional, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But, if you’ve got the itch to see more of the world than the inside of your home and you’re willing to put in a little extra effort to do so mindfully and safely, I think you should definitely consider booking your trip.
Have tips for traveling in the age of COVID-19? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!
It feels weird to say it, but ten years ago, I started this blog. At the time, I didn’t know why I wanted to start a blog or what I was going to do with it. I just knew that I was serious about writing. So, I did what any aspiring writer in 2011 would do if they wanted to reach a large audience — I set up a WordPress site, I shelled out for a fancy domain and I forgot about the whole thing for several months. Then, in the fall of 2011, I came back around to the project and started a posting frenzy. Within a year, I had posted a staggering 76 blogs.
My output has slowed significantly since those wild, experimental early days when I would post literally anything that was on my mind. I wrote about my writing process, about my struggles with motivation and procrastination, about major milestones in my life, and the minutiae of daily existence. No topic was too broad or too small to avoid being beaten over the head with a hackneyed metaphor (okay, I still do that). It wasn’t earth-shattering, but I was having fun with it.
A few people commented. A handful of people subscribed. Everything was going well.
Then, in the spring of 2012, I returned from a weeklong trip to Guatemala. My post about the experience, Guatemala in the Rear View Mirror, was selected by WordPress for its Freshly Pressed feature on their homepage, which brought thousands of people to my site. That single post was viewed more than 3,600 times and as a result, hundreds of people subscribed (and many of them stuck around, much to my amazement). I was surprised and elated.
Like any 15 minutes of fame, my time in the spotlight didn’t last long. It was an experience I may never repeat, but it taught me that people were hungry for the kinds of things I write about, so I kept it up. Even with that early boost, over time, I found myself blogging less and less. By 2018, I was only averaging four or five posts a year. Now, I feel like I’m back in the swing of things. I’m more confident in my writing and more established in my writing career. Much of that success is thanks to the countless hours I’ve spent posting on this blog and to the encouragement of my readers.
I don’t think I’ll ever stick to a schedule as rigorous as the two or three posts a week I used to write on this site. I simply don’t have the time or the energy (and I’m sure my subscribers appreciate not being bombarded with dozens of notifications each month). However, I still find the practice of blogging to be beneficial. It gives me an excuse to flex my creative muscles and I still feel a twinge of excitement whenever I hit the publish button, knowing my words are reaching my small but mighty audience around the world.
Here are a few of the most popular posts from the past 10 years (most of them from the early days of the blog):
I expect to be here in another decade, toasting to twenty glorious years of writing on this blog. I hope you’ll stick around for more thoughts on writing, travelogues, and whatever is interesting to me at the moment. Thanks for reading!
Against all odds, for the first time since I started making birthday resolutions well over a decade ago, I accomplished all of my goals last year. To be sure, most of them were pretty vague: take better care of my body, write more short fiction, and read to expand my horizons. My thirtieth year of life did not go as planned, but despite the many personal, professional and existential crises that threatened to derail me, I accidentally did everything I set out to do in 2020.
When the pandemic shut everything down, I found solace in my daily walks around the neighborhood. And when Jura, our puppy, came to live with us, those walks became longer and more frequent. At one point in the fall, I was averaging almost four miles a day and feeling better, stronger, more energetic.
After a months-long creative rut (during the aforementioned existential crisis of living through a global pandemic), I started writing. My output this year was more than it has been in years. I published three short stories and one article in various journals and periodicals, which still feels like an incredible feat. I also dove into a long-neglected project of editing a collection of linked short stories I wrote with some friends back in our high school and early college days. In it’s final, printed form, it will be over 500 pages long and will commemorate a wonderfully formative and creative time in our lives.
Finally, I set myself the challenge to read and learn more. Just one week before COVID-19 upended the world, I completed my Strategic Communications and Public Relations certificate. Throughout the year, I read heaps of books — over 4,000 pages worth of fiction and nonfiction. Along the way, I learned a lot from journalists and academics by reading probably hundreds of articles throughout the year touching on subjects as diverse as systemic racism, geopolitics, history, and quantum mechanics. This year, I was reminded of why I love books so much and how much comfort the written world can provide during times of stress and uncertainty — whether it’s through new information or pure escapism.
So, how do I plan to top those birthday resolutions this year? It won’t be easy. But I hope to use the momentum of last year to catapult myself to new heights in the year to come. Because what is the past if not a booster rocket, lifting us into a higher orbit in the future? Here’s what I’m resolving for 2021:
This is a tough one for me. Last year was personally difficult. I lost my job, lost out on vacations and events and seeing friends. Even though I’m an extroverted introvert by nature and don’t mind spending time along at home, there were times when I was so worried about the future that I couldn’t imagine a scenario where anything got better, ever. I realized that I wasn’t taking very good care of myself. I may have been attending to my physical needs — sleeping, eating, exercising — but I was neglecting my mental well-being. Things eventually did get better, but I know that I need to do a better job of caring for my whole self, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That will mean knowing when to stop doomscrolling, when I need to talk to my spouse, and setting healthy boundaries for myself. 2020 was a wake-up call I intend to answer.
Follow My Creative Whims
Last year, I wrote a lot and broke out of my shell a bit more as a writer. I started to incorporate more speculative elements in my fiction and people seemed to enjoy that aspect of my work. In the past, I’ve often kept my pieces intended for publication rather grounded, but letting go of reality (or at least, loosening its grip on my creative freedom) allowed me to follow my instincts in exciting and unexpected directions. I also experimented more with stories that comment on timely issues, like the pandemic and climate change. This year, I resolve to trust my writerly intuition; to worry less about what someone else might define as “literary” and worry more about what kinds of narratives make me want to keep reading. If I enjoy writing it, chances are someone will enjoy reading it.
Bake the Perfect Loaf of Bread
A few years ago, probably as a result of binge-watching the Great British Baking Show, I started to learn how to bake bread. I made some progress and had a few good bakes, but this year, I want to take it to the next level. Not to merely bake something adequate, but to create a flavorful, crusty masterpiece to rival the best bread I could buy at my local bakery. I declare this the year of pre-ferments, long rises, kitchen scales, proofing baskets, and steam-filled dutch ovens. This year, I shall bake the perfect loaf of bread. So say we all.
For the first time in a long time, I have no preconceived ideas about what this next year of life will bring me. Last year has taught me that the status quo can change in an instant. The year ahead is filled with challenges I can’t begin to anticipate, but I hope to face each one with courage, determination, and a sense of wonder.
There is a phenomenon in psychology called “hindsight bias.” It’s the tendency for humans to believe in retrospect that events were more predictable than they actually were. It’s the feeling we’ve all had that we could have done something differently if only we knew then what we understand now. This bias isn’t always a bad thing. It allows us to derive lessons from the challenges we face in our lives and prepares us mentally and emotionally to tackle similar challenges in the future. But in a year like 2020, when normal life was upended, it can cause us to oversimplify reality.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, that when we look back, things will seem clear. This year, that sentiment couldn’t feel farther from the truth. 2020 feels like a constant upheaval, a never-ending tidal wave of change. At times, I felt like I was being swept away with the current and no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach the shore. When COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head in Washington, I stocked up on canned goods and sealed myself inside my house, afraid that I might be unknowingly spreading the virus. When my workplace was closed for six months, I lost my job and feared that I would never get back on my feet. When Black men and women were killed by police and people took to the streets to demand justice, I felt helpless to combat the plague of white supremacy and the entrenched racism that tilts the scales in my favor. When attempts were made to undermine our nation’s democratic process, I wondered if we’d ever recover from the blow. Looking back, it’s hard to see how any of these things could have been predicted or how I could have done anything differently. So much was out my control and the waves of change are still washing ashore.
And yet, despite the fear, the anger, and the uncertainty, there was beauty. There was stillness and peace. Not since I was a child have I spent so many sunny hours outside as I did this summer. I read books on the back patio. I tried to rid the lawn of creeping buttercup. I mulched and graveled and weeded. I went on long, meandering walks through the neighborhood. I refinished a staircase and my writing desk. I wrote short stories and audio drama scripts and worked on my novel. We adopted a dog — the best dog there ever was. When she was still small, she would chew on sticks in the backyard while I stretched out between two lawn chairs and let the sun bake me while I read. When she was tired, she’d curl up in my lap and take a nap.
My world for much of the year was small. I observed the turning of the seasons. I felt the warmth of summer fade into cool autumn breezes. I watched the leaves change color in real time out my window. I baked bread. I did the shopping and made dinner. I listened to podcasts while I hammered out resumes. I started a freelancing business. Sometimes, I did nothing but sit in stunned silence and fret about the dystopian state of the world. In those moments, I felt trapped, but grateful for the relative safety of my own four walls.
In hindsight, would I have acted any differently? Would I have tried to go on our cancelled vacation before the shutdown? Perhaps. Would I have slept in more before bringing a puppy home? Definitely. Would I give up the time I was gifted for house projects, writing, cooking, and reflection? Not a chance.
As I try to remember dimly the events of 2020, the burden of hindsight is too heavy to carry into next year. If there are lessons to learn, they are so simple that I’m embarrassed it took a pandemic to bring them to light: Let go of the need to be in control. Be kind. Put the needs of others before yourself. Slow down.
2020 was bewildering and heartbreaking and quietly breathtaking. I don’t think we’re out of the storm yet. Not by a long shot. Together, we depart 2020 a little shaken, but (hopefully) not broken, and with a steadfast intention to make things better in 2021. Here’s to that new year. Sláinte!