Partway through last year, I started using a bullet journal.
I know, I know — between lamenting my still-considerable HECS debt, tending to my sourdough starter, and now writing into bullet journals, I seem to be occupying the centre of the Venn diagram where 'milquetoast millennial' and 'basic bitch' overlap (or perhaps it's just a circle), not to mention my growing resentment for boomers who assume I haven't latched on to the property market yet because I eat too much avocado toast.
Every week, I draw myself a grid of helpful habits in which I make some achievable daily goals including 'drink enough water', 'move your body', and 'read something just for fun'. Below that, I write out my week's to-do list and additional expenses, and on the opposite page, there's space for me to jot down something small I've been grateful for each day, my so-called 'shiny moments': a reassuring conversation with my boss, a spontaneous phone call from my dad that isn't just a pocket-dial blooper, a particularly delightful interaction with a barista, any serendipitous opportunity to eat cake.
It feels good to be able to flip back through weeks of entries and see what looks like a vast accumulation of shiny moments, no matter how insignificant they may appear upon closer inspection.
When I look back on the year more generally, I can also discern a faint constellation of shiny experiences, though I don't mean to be falsely enthusiastic or flippant by drawing some of them out in this post.
As Adriana Bucci has commented on Twitter: 'It's OK to call a spade a spade and say that  was a total piece of shit. The pressure to showcase a despite-the-shitstorm accomplishment or to find a silver lining ... doesn't need to be a requirement.'
So, what follows is a list of cool stuff, simply for the sake of joy and posterity.
I had, to be fair, a remarkably gentle ride through 2020 compared with many, many others around the world — I didn't catch COVID, I didn't lose my job, and I didn't grieve a loved one. But I also sense that like so many of us, my experience of home — and my consumption of music, TV, snacks, and other bits and bobs — took on a richer and more pivotal role in my day-to-day life.
So, here we go.
These are some of my best bits from 2020.
This may sound a little overblown, but stumbling on a new song that I can't stop listening to is one of the most hope-injecting experiences I can think of. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly downhearted or stifled, I like to think to myself: 'Just imagine the favourite songs you haven't heard yet.' And it cheers me up immeasurably.
There are two songs I got hooked on in the last 12 months that will probably always remind me of 2020:
Even my partner loves 'People, I've been sad' by Christine and the Queens (for the record, our musical tastes typically diverge, due primarily to the reality that he's cool and I'm definitely not). I can't imagine a sexier song.
E^ST's 'Found somebody' is bittersweet — simultaneously wistful and optimistic. The pace and energy are perfect for short walks around the block.
You think I'm going to say Tiger King, don't you?
My other suggestions are probably just as predictable. Imagine a 2020 Netflix bingo board, and we'll probably find ourselves placing counters on the exact same squares.
One. Sex Education (S2). When I first encountered this series a year before, it didn't strike me as something I'd enjoy. I still wouldn't recommend it to my mum, if you catch my drift, but I enjoyed the way season 2 picked up exactly where the first season left off, with the same nuance, vibrancy, and momentum. Despite its title and YA orientation, Sex Education manages to resist most pedagogical overtones, instead feeling its way through the complexities of adolescent identity and friendship in such a vivid, tender way that I remain 100% onboard. I particularly enjoy the way that the friendship between Otis and Eric defies typical norms around toxic masculinity; it's such a refreshing take. (Also, Gillian Anderson's wardrobe as Dr Jean Milburn is totally up my street. Hello, velvet jumpsuits!)
Two. Derry Girls. We devoured the two available seasons of Derry Girls in the space of only a fortnight (and I absolutely did recommend this one to my mum, who said she laughed herself silly). This show also deals with some of the gut-lurching aspirations and humiliations of adolescence in a very real but generous way, and the characters are all so original and endearing, including (especially?) Sister Michael, Queen of Deadpan Deliveries: 'If anyone is feeling anxious or worried or even if you just want to chat, please, please, do not come crying to me'. Derry Girls is such a nostalgic treat if you grew up in the 90s, and I've heard a third season is in the mix.
Three. The Great. A series that effortlessly fuses historical drama/satire with contemporary comedy, The Great succeeds (in my opinion) where the more recent Bridgerton falls totally short. Nicholas Hoult (the kid from About a Boy who is all grown up) plays the spoilt, macabre king you love to hate and hate to love — and the script is so unexpectedly and unrelentingly funny. We binged this one, too, and I was disappointed when it ended. Apparently, it's been renewed for a second season. Huzzah!
Four. The Queen's Gambit. I can't say anything about this series that so many others have not already said — and much more intelligently. But I was pleasantly surprised by the inventiveness of the characters and storyline, and the way in which the writers resisted cheap tricks and more hackneyed plot twists. Ultimately, this is another narrative that centres firmly on identity and friendship, and the backdrop of competitive chess was freshly compelling, especially in the context of mental illness and gender stereotypes.
Five. Emma. I didn't watch many films last year (I'm generally not much of a movie-goer anyway), but my sister came over on my birthday, and we ate fish tacos and watched the most recent remake of Emma together. This was my first encounter with Anya Taylor-Joy, who is superb in the petulant and meddling titular role, but Bill Nighy as Mr Woodhouse is also delightful.
Reading during the first half of the year was virtually impossible for me, once the teaching semester kicked off (and blew up). But I decided mid-year that I wanted to reintroduce the practice of regular reading, particularly before bed, even if I ended up reading only a couple of pages at a time. Among some other books that I pushed myself through — Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu and Porochista Kkakpour's Sick, off the top of my head — a couple were real standouts for me:
One. Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Death and Grief in Brisbane, by Elspeth Muir, explores Australia's problematic drinking culture, embedded within the intimate personal narrative of losing a sibling in an alcohol-related incident. Candid, literary, and infused with the sub-tropical character of southeast Queensland, Wasted holds broader appeal as a study of family, loss, and the pervasive role that alcohol often plays in so many relationships. As an almost-tee-totaller, I was fascinated by Elspeth's account of her own experiences with drinking, and the familiarity of the setting — Brisbane in the 2010s — felt uncomfortably close but also strangely exciting (Brisbane is often considered too gauche for serious airtime in Australian writing). Elspeth was an HDR student in my school around the same time I was working on my thesis, albeit in the creative writing stream. She also happens to be married to an old friend of mine from uni who now works in the same government department. Brisbane is a small town. One degree of separation aside, I can see myself returning to this book as an exemplar of really precise, powerful life writing.
Two. Education, by Tara Westover, is another captivating memoir that hinges on family but unfolds in a completely different setting: rural Idaho. Tara holds postgraduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, yet she grew up without any access to formal education — or basic medical care — among a survivalist Mormon family. In interviews, Tara has explained that she wanted to write predominantly about her experiences of higher education, but the book turned into something much more expansive, deep, and troubling as she explored the abuse she endured as a teenager and the events that eventually led to her becoming estranged from her parents. I immediately lent this book to my father when I'd finished reading it, and he returned it to me, read from cover to cover, within less than a week. I can't recommend it highly enough.
I'm not particularly funny about dairy, but the thought of drinking a whole cup of cow's milk really creeps me out these days. This dilemma has long inflected my otherwise sincere enjoyment of an 8oz cappuccino before work. But in 2020, I finally discovered OAT MILK (you know, two years after everybody else on the Internet). More robust and creamy than almond milk — and less vegetable-y in flavour than soy — oat milk means I don't miss regular dairy in my coffee. At all. My favourite variety to use at home is currently Sanitarium's prebiotic oat milk, not for any health-related reason; I simply prefer the taste and texture.
Speaking of coffee, I too got sucked into the TikTok vortex of dalgona coffee when I first started working from home back in March. Although it's made using instant coffee granules, when stirred into a glass of gently clinking ice cubes and a few centimetres of your milk of choice, the fluffy clouds are oddly addictive. Unfortunately, dalgona coffee holds its peaks only when you use a metric shit-tonne of sugar. I like to make it with crystallised monkfruit sweetener instead, but it's quite a lot of faff and mess for what's essentially a 'fancy' and tooth-achingly sweet instant coffee. Perhaps it was also the ritual of making it after my brisk morning walk that drew me in.
Lastly, they say you don't make friends with salad, but it feels as though we made a riff on Nigella's green salad with lardons approximately 490784537 times in 2020. A friend indeed... My partner's version is rather different now (and we always serve it as a side, not as a thing in itself), but we affectionately call it 'Nigella's salad' nonetheless because we love her so much.
Do you hate winter? Does your body hurt but respond well to warmth? Do you find it irritating that your heatwheat or hot water bottle stays hot for approximately seven minutes only? You need a Hotpod! These babies are EPIC. My father (an electrician) patiently explained how/why a fluid-filled pouch can be electrically charged to stay warm for hours, but I neither understood nor remember this careful explanation. I can't wait to crack out my little red Hotpod again once summer finally effs off.
Affectionately called my 'off-road sandals', my Doc Marten 'Blaire'... clodhoppers? hooves? were so worth the money. I bought them on sale as the weather was warming up again, and I just love how they look, combined with the squishy 'bouncing' sole for which Docs are famous. I just have to keep them away from my cat, Wilbur, who's developed an inconveniently potent shoe fetish and has destroyed three sets of boots so far.
neoliberal life advice (@lifeadvicebot) could probably get a book deal.
If you want to scratch the surface on Instagram posing/physical performance, @danaemercer is one place to start. Danae does a great job of showing and celebrating non-photoshopped skin and 'unflattering' angles, reminding me of Cindy Crawford's famous admission that 'even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford'.
I post this recommendation with a caveat, however. Although Danae's account is a useful starting point, I probably need to point out the limits of looking to a conventionally attractive woman in an 'acceptably' thin body to expose diet culture, fat-shaming, and the pursuit of bodily perfection in all their pernicious permutations. If you can suck your tummy in or fundamentally alter your body shape merely by wearing leggings or tilting your hip just so, you're most likely not living in the type of body that others actively judge. BUT I DIGRESS. I've learnt a lot from this account and am consciously trying to follow others that showcase more diverse women and body types.
Sam Dylan Finch (@samdylanfinch) is your self-described 'queer mental health pal'. I discovered their account only quite recently, having read another post that mentioned their take on 'therapy lingo & abuse'. Instagram can be chock-full of sweet nothings ostensibly relating to mental health/wellbeing while not offering much food for thought or practical advice; Sam's posts are gently informative, pragmatic, and reassuring — like a fist-bump through the ether. With homework.
I developed a a routine of watching influencer garbage on YouTube while I was still studying — as a cognitively vegetative activity that took me far, far away from the realm of qualitative research and academic writing. I've unsubscribed from most of those channels now, but Patricia from A Small Wardrobe remains a firm favourite. Her good-humoured reflections on minimalism as an ongoing goal or journey prompt me to reflect on my own thickets of stuff and how I can live a leaner, simpler, more spacious life. With cats, of course. (Bonus points for Gary Jeffries. What a guy.)
What were the best bits of your 2020?