This year has been a beast—a test of staying sane in the United States despite politics, pandemic, racism, and riots.
For someone who built his life and career around travel the last 14 years, it's been hard to stay home and ride the waves of anxiety without the usual social outlets such as seeing friends, meeting people, and going to events.
That said, I did my best to find the silver linings in a year without travel.
I continued to take improv classes online, re-connected with my Buddhism practice, began attending Undoing White Supremacy in Austin Zoom events as I confronted my white privilege in the wake of George Floyd's murder, discovered the global consciousness and tantra communities, improved my diet, and committed to consuming 52 books (I'm on #45 with 15 days to go).
I began buying fresh flowers and houseplants for my small indoor garden, a habit I imagine I'll stick with the rest of my life (much like washing my hands frequently).
And the whole experience has reaffirmed my appreciation for family, friends, and science-based public health policy.
When I recently reflected on how long it has been since my last calendar year without an international trip, I got as far back as 2004.
I'm extremely grateful that I've taken at least one international trip every year for the past 15 years. It took a global pandemic to stop me.
The takeaway was that if we frame difficult situations in our lives as challenges to overcome and survive, we can marshal our inner resources to get through them with integrity.
That's been my approach in 2020, and as tough as it's been, several highly-effective vaccines are now being approved and distributed.
If all goes well, over 100 million other US citizens and I will be vaccinated by late spring. Not to mention the millions more in other countries.
Therefore, while lonely days await as I prepare to celebrate Christmas and New Year's on my own in Austin, I see a brighter 2021 on the other side.
I won't be the same person in the new year. I'm not even the same person I was three months ago. I feel like I've matured a decade in 10 months.
Highlights from Austin
I may not have left Austin, Texas this year as I'd planned, but I did have some fun in my home town.
I began the year by doing something I've long thought about — improv!
This was new territory for me; however, my anxiety about performing quickly gave way to lots of laughter.
When the lockdown hit Austin and classes moved online with Zoom, I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did.
Teachers and students adapted to the new reality, and the learning and laughter continued.
My two-hour improv classes have been a highlight of every week for the past 12 months.
January was also a month of going out to eat a lot, including a memorable dinner on an urban farm in South Austin, a brewery crawls, and the Women's March on the Texas Capitol Building.
In February, I visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, a stately building with many interesting exhibits, at the University of Texas – Austin.
Highlights included LBJ's former presidential limo, a mock-up of The Oval Office as he occupied it, and an incredibly lifelike robotic LBJ delivering a speech.
This was my first time visiting a presidential library, and perhaps fittingly, I ended the year listening to my first presidential memoir, A Promised Land by Barack Obama.
I also walked through the UT campus, which I like to do whenever I'm in the area for an event.
Doing so brings back memories of my experience at Colgate University in upstate New York.
The restaurant meals and brewery crawls continued in earnest as I furthered my local knowledge in the service of Feastio.com.
March began with my best restaurant meal of the year at Hestia and ended with Austin under lockdown.
I only left my apartment for a daily 30-minute walk around my neighborhood, where I became hyperfocused on the spring flowers and street art.
And I began ordering flowers from H-E-B along with my groceries.
In April, I began wearing a mask. I remember the first time or two wearing it out on my walks felt strange.
But, the self-consciousness quickly faded, and it became my new normal when leaving home.
I did my best to support local restaurants, and pastry chefs when they offered to hand-deliver their home creations.
The writing was on the wall about my own business, though, so I kept the ordering out to special occasions and mostly cooked for myself.
As spring continued, I tried to get over to the Hike and Bike Trail around Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin.
It felt good to escape my industrial/residential neighborhood for the greenery around the lake.
The Thunderbirds' flyover to honor healthcare workers (and which also counted as training) was worth checking out in person.
I went out to eat at a restaurant for the first time in months to celebrate my friend Nick's birthday (we ate on a spacious patio).
And I continued to try and find the link between staying safe and maintaining my mental health by getting out of the apartment.
I was deeply affected by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and committed to doing the work to acknowledge and understand my white privilege and how today's institutional racism is based on slavery.
June, July, and August
My summer was spent learning about racism and writing new stories for Go Backpacking and Feastio.
This was the low point, at least in terms of revenue I need to support the sites and myself. Thankfully, I'd applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan a few months earlier, and it finally came through.
I also began to experience more pain and nerve problems from my sciatica, which then caused my anxiety to spike. I had to stop going for daily walks, which I missed immediately.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome also began to flare up as I was spending so much time at home on my computer and phone.
The pain and numbness in my hands forced me to slow down, which made me feel less productive. This was a challenge for me throughout my mid-to-late-twenties when I worked in cubicles.
After a lot of trial and error, I found the best thing I could do for myself was respect a break timer on my laptop, do daily stretching exercises, and create boundaries around not working nights and weekends.
Quitting my job in November 2007 to take a trip around the world ultimately gave my body a break it needed to work relatively symptom-free through my thirties and early forties.
Highlights from September include moving into a new apartment in the same building, buying more houseplants, and celebrating my 44th birthday with a few good friends at Justine's, a French restaurant in East Austin.
It felt good, dare I even say normal, to be out on a patio enjoying the warm weather and cool vibes.
I devoured a steak and mountain of French fries, and we ordered all the desserts to try.
In October, I voted early in the US election at a local library. It took me just 22 minutes from standing in line to voting for Biden and Harris.
The appreciation I have for anyone who stood in line longer, up to 12 hours in some states, is great. It shouldn't be so hard to vote in free and fair elections.
For Halloween, I ordered Halloween pastries from a local chef and ate them while watching a live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (on Zoom). Good times!
The first part of November was consumed by election news, and I'm so happy Biden and Harris won.
It was such a relief I cried to release the tension and stress that'd been locked up in my body since 2016.
I continued to connect with friends for coffee or lunch when possible and stocked up on Thanksgiving foods from Whole Foods to celebrate the holiday.
I connected with my parents and brother via Zoom on T-day.
I'll be spending the Christmas holiday as I did Thanksgiving, stocking up on food from the grocery store and connecting with family via Zoom.
Between Biden's victory and the FDA approval of two highly-effective COVID-19 vaccines, I'm feeling more optimistic heading into 2021.
I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm going to keep my head down and stay safe until I can get vaccinated.
If you've made it this far, I hope you also have a healthy and safe holiday season. Thank you for reading!