yearender: what if we could do 2020 over?

Manila, 31 December—There’s an essay from the New Yorker that asks this provocative question: What if you could do it all over? Writer Joshua Rothman opens the piece by recounting a former life, one where he was tech founder, and how eventually he found his way into his current life, now married with kids.

We have unlived lives for all sorts of reasons: because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time… This is painful, but it’s an odd kind of pain—hypothetical, paradoxical. Even as we regret who we haven’t become, we value who we are. We seem to find meaning in what’s never happened. Our self-portraits use a lot of negative space.

If anything, 2020 seems like a sort of negative space, containing all of our could-have-beens: Shelved plans, postponed milestones, necessary detours. How many dreams did we have to put on hold this year? How many wants did we have to forego? How many opportunities did we lose? How many of our decisions this year were driven by the realities of the pandemic (and by necessary extension, the ineptness of this government in responding to it?)

2020 felt a lot like trying to get past a really hard level in a video game while you’re on your last life: One had to focus to survive, to get to the next part, and not mind the rest, because when you die, it’s game over anyway. Might as well just get to the objectives and see this through to the very end.

It’s been an exhausting romp, but here we are—we went from Taal, to the early days of the lockdowns, to the ABS-CBN shutdown, to Maria Ressa’s cyberlibel conviction, to the passage of the Anti-Terror Law, to my boss retiring, then to the rest of the last quarter, which was more often than not an incomprehensible blur, because of said retirement.

Truly, standing here and being able to look back is a privilege—survival, that is. We have lost so many. This year’s grief has felt a lot like a heavy blanket, draped over all our months.

And though I have come here to this space to take stock of life week after week—this is my 56th letter this year, can you believe? That’s, like, an extra month—I think it is only from this vantage point, standing at the end of this year, that I can ask: What if we could do 2020 all over? What if we were not playing while on our last lives? Or even better: What if this life were a game with save points and endless re-runs? What if we could go back and decide differently—what if we could retrace our steps and find out how our lives would have played out elsewhere?

In “Oranges are not the only Fruit”, Jeanette Winterson writes: “I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had.”

I think about this a lot, though I would argue that the decisions that have largely shaped my year with COVID-19 were made several years prior: I imagine there must be elseworlds where I’m still with the paper, for example. Or worlds wherein I mustered enough courage to push through studying abroad. (Incidentally, the aunt I would have stayed with—her husband, my uncle, died last week and I attended his online service via Zoom—one of this year’s saddest occasions) Or worlds wherein I got my own way and entered Ateneo instead of UP. Worlds where I shut the fuck up instead of revealing my heart to a girl for the first time. Worlds where I took math more seriously than I did writing. Worlds where I did not color that stupid kindergarten worksheet with nothing but orange.

Back in his New Yorker essay, Rothman writes: “An “unled” life sounds like one we might wish to lead—shoulda, coulda, woulda. But, while I’m conscious of my unlived lives, I don’t wish to have led one. In fact, as the father of a two-year-old, I find the prospect frightening…Thanks to the “butterfly effect,” even minor alterations to our pasts would likely have major effects on our presents. If I’d done things just a little bit differently, my son might not exist. Perhaps, in a different life, I’d have a different wife and child. But I love these particular people; I don’t want alternative ones.”

I suppose, I feel much the same way. More than being a 2020 yearender, this is also a sort of #Year35 yearender, seeing that I’d turned a year older the other day. This year’s celebration was expectedly muted—which says a lot, seeing that I’ve been marking my birthday quietly for years—or, at least, as quietly as I could for a day that is right smack in the middle of two gigantic holidays.

Still, I spent it counting my blessings—which is, honestly, truly the best thing we could do to keep sane. Maddening this world may be, but I like the ‘me’ that’s here now—the one that’s working from home and sending too many emails and hopping from one WIP to the next and eating food prepared in somebody else’s kitchen and doom scrolling angrily before bed and playing Mobile Legends after midnight and oversleeping with my girlfriend on weekends and sitting and writing to you, once a week or so.

A do-over, you say? For now, I guess I’ll just pass.


RESULTS ARE IN: Recs (and more) from the survey

I’d like to thank everyone who gamely supported our Yearend Survey! Sharing with you some recs and answers I garnered:

Read:

  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

  • The Good Enough Job via Refinery29

  • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Watch:

  • Two Set Violin on YouTube

  • PPO In Your Living Room and By Your Bedside

  • The Queen's Gambit

  • She-Ra Season 4

  • The Half of It

  • Extreme Job

  • Kingdom

  • Mindhunter

  • Descendants of the Sun

  • Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (anime series)

  • State of Play

  • Aswang

  • Anything that involves Mister Rogers on Netflix

  • Anne with an E

Music:

  • Beethoven's Symphony No. 7! Beethoven 5 has always been the staple Beethoven piece, but this year, I learned that I like 7 even more.

  • The Slowdown, hosted by Tracy K. Smith, Travis, 10 Songs

  • folklore + evermore (Taylor Swift), BE (BTS), BBIBBI - IU, The Album (BLACKPINK), More Love - Songs from Little Voice (Sara Bareilles), Dedicated Side B (Carly Rae Jepsen), Future Nostalgia (Dua Lipa), Heartbreak Weather (Niall Horan), Pang (Caroline Polachek), Kintsugi (Gabrielle Aplin), Manic (Halsey), Plastic Hearts (Miley Cyrus)

  • Jason Mraz's Look for the Good album

  • Super Evil and The Eve's Drop (podcast)

Buys (rec your budol lol):

  • New phone

  • Laptop stand

  • My Keychron K6 and Tofu65 🙈 also: Baseus Screenbar Light, Ugreen wireless phone charger, incoming VB keycaps hehe, Airpods Pro dupe

  • Ricky Lee's Kulang na Silya + other books (technically my sister's budol on my behalf bec I'm broke, does that count?) [answer: yes it does!]

  • Hand crank, solar-powered survival radio

Best things made this year:

  • Sewed own earsavers and hair scrunchies.

  • Finished the first draft of a short story collection. :)

  • does my tofu65 build count? if not: Presentation templates in Canva hihi

  • A long-overdue online portfolio? A plastic planter I "upgraded" with paint and some scrap rope thingy

  • cleaned my room hahaha

Something that made you laugh:

Something that broke your heart:

  • Death of a loved one

  • Illness in the family/changes in family situation

  • Canceled trips

  • ABS-CBN shutdown

  • Killings

Something you’re proud of this year

  • I've worked harder than I ever have before. Everything had to be done differently this year because we always had to keep the Covid-19 prevention guidelines in mind. So, we couldn't do any of the previous activities we did in our classes, or we had to adjust all those activities for this year. We basically adapted everything we used to do, which isn't much different as going back to zero and doing everything again.

  • I started a mostly regular writing routine and exercised almost every day.

  • Working on Canva Presentations ✊🏼😩 + being under pressure at work and managing it. Building my first mechanical keyboard 🥳

  • Consciously choosing R&R this year

  • I delivered my deliverables? hahaha

Complete the sentence: Once the vaccine gets here, I will:

  • Get one

  • Visit family and friends

  • Wait a bit / Monitor first

  • Get eyebrows done

  • Go back to the office

Maraming salamat for your time and generosity <3 If you haven’t taken the survey, here’s the link:

Answer the survey

Happy New Year! Thank you, as always, for making it this far.

XO,

K

P.S. Of course, a yearend meme: