Wrapped: Some Things I Liked in 2020



2020. What a year! So much has happened, and yet it feels like nothing has happened. Did time and space collide, hijack the rollercoaster we were all on, and kept us going through the loops? It's the last day of the year but it doesn't feel like we're getting off the ride just yet. 

But in any case, here is a bunch of things that made me feel less terrible and/or amplified the terrible feelings (in a good, cathartic way) this year.


BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Did this series really end this year? Did we really see the last of BoJack, Diane, Princess Caroline, Todd, and Mr. Peanutbutter? It had its curtain call last January, and it already feels like forever ago. When I first started watching this show, there were only three seasons so far on Netflix. In between waiting for the new seasons, I'd always feel hopeful: maybe this is the season for redemption, for comeuppance but also recovery. And every finale, I'd be punched in the gut at how much sadder and bleaker things seemed for this crazy group of people you couldn't help but root for. Unarguably, the series finale was the most heartbreaking of them all. Why? Because endings are always hard. But also, because the endings that hurt more are the ones we actually saw coming. When we know things cannot turn out any other way. When the inevitability of anguish can be seen from a mile away, and yet we go through with it because that's life. That's just how it is. Sometimes, life's a bitch and you die, right? But sometimes, life's a bitch and you keep on living. And it was nice while it lasted.


Lana Del Rey

No one else makes music that perfectly encapsulates the psychological phenomena of "the call of the void" better than Lana. Going through her entire discography this year felt like wearing different masks. Each time, it's a mask painted in a shade of gloom and foreboding, but it's actually very freeing, almost like escaping to a world where sadness is the catalyst that turns your charcoal feelings into diamonds. Living in the moment is accepting all the highs and lows of life and making beautiful music because of, in spite of, in pursuit of it. She said it best in Norman F*cking Rockwell: happiness is a butterfly, every day is a lullaby, I try to catch it into lightning, I sing it into my music. I just want to dance. 

"Disco sadness"

Speaking of dancing, 2020 was a year of fully surrendering to pop music. I realized that the most powerful songs to cry to are those that force you to move. Why? Because with them, there is no choice other than to dance the pain away. To acquiesce to the pulsating beats, to be consumed by the music - it's both concession and catharsis. (I made a playlist of sad bangers that clocks in at exactly sixty minutes, and which of course include Carly Rae, Jessie Ware, Robyn, and Mark Ronson among others.)


Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys
...Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age

I dove into these two concept albums this year because I felt like the conceit created for each of them was so interesting. Gentrification and media consumption even in outer space, a lunar wedding, a space motel. A vampire that feels frozen in time. The metaphors perfectly bridge the divide between these bands' hard and soft extremes. It all feels so alien, and yet very much familiar. And oddly comforting. (Plus, Dave Grohl returned as the drummer for this QOTSA album!)


Succession (HBO)

Don't be fooled: this is currently HBO's biggest prestige drama. A media mogul is forced to step down from his media conglomerate, but for him, none of his children are ready to inherit his legacy. High stakes, betrayal, money, family, power But damn it, everything about this show is just so, sooo funny. Which isn't a surprise, given that it is produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. It's this fantastic portrait of a powerful family, full of terrible people, making terrible choices. The sad thing is it reflects the reality that our fates - the information we consume, most importantly - rely on the whims of these few entitled brats. They're all trainwrecks in their own way, but it's so hard to look away. 


Jeopardy (Netflix)

There really is no better comfort show than Jeopardy. Okay, coming clean: in grade school and high school, I was always our school's representative for quiz bees, mostly in history and social sciences. (Yeah, I intellectually peaked in high school, haha.) This show just gets me fired up, because it makes wanting to learn fun. One of the phrases (and mindsets) I absolutely hate is "Edi ikaw na madaming alam." It's such a stupid retort that shuts down any discourse. So what if I know things??? Learning is fun!!! Knowing the classics and state capitals is fun!!! Hypothetically winning $20,000 by getting the Final Jeopardy question is fun!!! Alex Trebek will definitely be missed though. Losing him was such a gut-punch in an already horrible year.


A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

Before this book, I didn't really have an opinion on Colin Jost. I don't consider him an SNL great, although I do know he's been writing for it since he graduated from Harvard in 2005. I think he's an okay Weekend Update anchor, I know he's dating ScarJo, aaaand that's pretty much it. But I'm so glad I picked up this book, partly because since he was writing about the era of SNL I mostly grew up with (2005-present), I knew much of what he was talking about. Mostly because it was very self-aware of what people perceive as his own mediocrity. He recognizes his privilege. He acknowledges his weaknesses. But he hustles his way through. He consistently out-works anyone else to show that he may not be the best, but he's really good at what he does anyway. (The chapter about his mom being the chief medical officer of the New York Fire Department during 9/11 also made me cry buckets. She saved so many lives but also lost so many others. It was a great illustration of her tenacity and compassion, which was great of Jost to highlight in his book.)


Saturday Night Live

Aside from Jost's memoir, I read another book about SNL this year, "Saturday Night Live and American TV." I also started rewatching old episodes on Peacock (on VPN). And I binge-watched "Creating Saturday Night Live" behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube. Like I've said before, I've always secretly dreamt of becoming a screenwriter for a comedy show. When people ask me about my "what if" - this is one of mine. And SNL will always be that unexplored, unattainable playground. 


In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller

Another "what if." This book is unarguably one of my favorite memoirs from this year. Adrienne Miller lived out what every creative writing and literature major could only dream of: become the literary editor of Esquire. This meant she got to meet, mingle with, and critique some of the best writers of her generation. But this also meant learning how to navigate the very elitist, often classist, and sometimes misogynistic world of the modern-day literati. Her tenuous relationship with David Foster Wallace was the highlight of the book, and while I'm an ardent admirer of the man (I still mourn his passing), I felt that it was only fitting that she wrote about the difficult aspects of being his friend/former flame. Some parts of her story felt emotionally crushing, but it was a necessary story to tell, and I'm glad she shared it with the world. 


Big Mouth (Netflix)

I wish I had this show in my adolescence. It would have made me feel less bad about feeling certain things - emotionally and sexually. The premise of this show may seem dumb and wacky (okay, it is), but it's so refreshingly honest and simple. Puberty brings about so many changes. And it's okay to feel worried, anxious, or angry about it. The important thing is to accept that it's all normal. Our body shouldn't define us, but understanding it certainly leads to clarity about who we are. (Connie the Hormone Monster is my absolute favorite! I actually cried when Jessi had her first period because everything Connie said about it was true: it makes you want to listen to Lana del Rey while cutting your hair and screaming at your mom.)


Positions by Ariana Grande

She's my most played artist this 2020. I'm in the 0.1% of her listeners. Need I say more? Much of Ariana's music and disposition mirrors my own struggles. There is something so compelling about a figure who has gone through so many traumatic experiences in such a short time and managed to emerge stronger, kinder, and more self-deprecating even in her vulnerability. It was certainly not easy surviving a terrorist attack, losing your fans, losing your ex, breaking off an engagement. But she manages to distill her feelings of fear, longing, and acceptance into such great pop songs. They're so fun to sing to, to cry to. To find comfort in. To borrow from Pitchfork: "Sweetener dazzled because its joy was defiant. thank u, next caromed through phases of glee and grief, moving from pink champagne bravado into stark confessions. Positions searches for peace. It traces the quiet work of piecing yourself together, the terror of re-learning how to trust." This is Ariana's power for me: the ability to take tangible pain and make something from it, to feel whole again. 


Teaching (and putting studying on hold)

I started teaching at a public, city-funded university's law school this year. It was certainly one of the nice detours this year brought. I applied last year given the university's proximity to my office, but at the time there were no openings available. Enter 2020, and an opportunity opened up for Legal Philosophy. Trying to teach my students about justice, fairness, and due process was especially very difficult this year. Considering this government's incompetence and moral bankruptcy, it was challenging to reconcile theory with reality. But it's also comforting to know that this crop of students are compassionate and intelligent, able to see where our institutions fail and how they should navigate their future place in the profession. In many ways, this teaching gig was a welcome detour. If the pandemic didn't happen, I'd probably be abroad, finishing my LLM under a scholarship. I got admitted to three schools this year, but I had to put that dream on hold, but to be honest, I also feel relieved. The country is in such a mess. It's exhausting and it feels unending. But being forced to stay here made me put things into perspective. What is it that I want to do for this place? Is it a dream worth pursuing? And the answer, every day, despite the gaslighting and the emotional abuse our leaders are putting us through, is yes. Our institutions deserve better. We can do better. And we can do our part when we find it in ourselves to point our goals towards that direction: progress. 


*

The truth was I almost didn't want to write anything about 2020 anymore. I've already done that several times this year. But maybe that's a good thing. While this year may have been hard to process, I grabbed every opportunity to reflect and to write as soon as I felt it necessary. (Not always in this blog, but in my private notebooks, at least.) If anything, 2020 forced me to face my fears head on. I had no other choice. I was stuck in one place, so I had to deal with things right away. And deal with it, I did, with this list of things  being just as crucial in taking the edge off as the love of friends and family with whom I've grown closer in many ways this year.

I wish 2021 will be kinder. But even if it isn't, at the very least, after this shitshow of a year, I hope we all are. 2020 was tiresome. I hope we never forget the lessons it taught us: kindness, patience, compassion. 

And the fervent hope that things will, should, and can get better. Because what else is there to help carry us through? 


"The culture is lit and if this is it, I had a ball
I guess that I'm burned out after all."

The greatest, Lana Del Rey


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