2020: Get out of my life. Voices readers share their experiences under the pandemic

By Joe Livernois

When Stephen King or the ghost of George Romero create the long-awaited obituary following  the merciful passing of 2020, it should be noted that the plucky souls who read Voices of Monterey Bay used their shelter-in-place time wisely, except when they weren’t.

Voices readers learned to get comfortable with their inner id during 2020, unless they were too busy massaging their outer ego. Most of them were able to find some silver lining through the metaphorical dark clouds, until actual dark clouds showed up. They caught up on their reading, their sleep and their day drinking (anyone up for a quarantini?). They learned to live with fogged-up glasses and foggier brains.

A goodly chunk of our readers shared their deep thoughts and their inner screams about 2020 through a survey we devised. Their responses spanned the range of emotions, expressing everything from deep loss to self-discovery to mordant comedy. We created the survey mostly to occupy some of the ample spare time we’ve had on our hands this year. But we are also genuinely curious about how we all managed to survive this bloody year.

Many of our readers firmly established that 2020 was a time of deep sorrow.

“My wife died unexpectedly in March,” reported one reader, Robert, who said it pained him that he was “unable to have a life service for her.” Another reader, Robin, also lost a spouse this year. She reported that having him in the hospital during COVID-19 was ‘the worst. It (was) literally a drive-by event.” As a harbinger for what was ahead for the year, Robin reported that carpenter ants took up residence in her bedroom. “The pest control man was the first ‘non-we’ person to enter our house during SIP.”

And another friend of Voices, Esther, reported that she had to “bury a longtime beloved pet unexpectedly” early in the pandemic. “That was a preview of what was coming at our country in the following months,” she said.

For other readers, the events and the self-exile caused by the pandemic provided some time for self-discovery. One Monterey County resident, Wendy, told Voices that she was able to self-diagnose her ADHD while her husband got sober. Another reader, Alexis, said he picked up meditation “and used SIP to reflect on myself and my self-improvement.”

Claudia told us that she came across a meme, early in the pandemic, that declared that “the earth just sent us all to our room to think about what we’ve done.” She said she started to rethink the bromide that the earth giveth and the earth taketh away. “Nature has the ability to take it all from us, just as it has the ability to give it all,” Claudia said. “So I started taking comfort on whatever earth was giving us: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the Canada geese raising goslings in my lake, the comet Neowise, Jupiter and Saturn. The delicious vegetables (grown by essential Latinos). And music. And my family and the friends I kept in my bubble.”

What We Missed Most 

Voices asked readers what the one thing they were able to do in 2019 that they missed most in 2020.  A great number mentioned how much they missed seeing their family, they missed seeing live music, they missed traveling.

Betsy said she misses “sitting down to a meal with our kids, our grandkids, our friends, even strangers sitting at the next table in a restaurant.” And she also said she longs for days of serendipity.

A couple of others, obviously laid off during the pandemic, said they miss their jobs.

Gary, who is deep into local theater, said he missed performing before live audiences. He said he was in the middle of directing “a brilliant cast of young, talented women — and it was canceled before we got to dress rehearsal.”

Katharine said she missed hanging out at the library. “Overdrive/ebooks are great, but (they) cannot supplant libraries.”

And, finally, Wendy was downright plaintive about what she missed: “Hugs,” she wrote. “I miss hugging people SO much.”

The Year, in Summary

Voices asked folks to name the one event or thing that perfectly summarized the year 2020 for them. Lots of them went political, mentioning Trump and the election. Others were more comedic and personal. Two readers, Jenny and Michael, even combined the political with the comedy, telling us that the Four Seasons Total Landscaping debacle involving Rudy Giuliani perfectly describes the stupidity of 2020.

“The railing on an outside stair railing fell off due to dry rot and termite damage,” wrote Robert. And, yes, that does seem about right.

“Forgetting a mask and having to wear a shield,” wrote Peter.

Kate, who pays close attention to wildfires, mentioned that the River, the Carmel and the Dolan fires summarized what 2020 was all about. And Kristal tells us that when she looks back at 2020 from the safe distance of more time, she’ll remember “video conferencing.”

Penny, a bookkeeper, said it felt like tax season never seemed to end in 2020.

And M, dear M, delivered the perfect one-word description of 2020: “Stasis.”

Coping Mechanisms?

And how did Voices readers cope through the Year of the Pandemic? What kept them happy and sane in 2020? Did they pick up any healthy (or unhealthy) new habits along the way? From the looks of it, there seemed to be a lot of drinking and eating going on this year. And canoodling with loved ones.

M didn’t beat around the bush. “Drugs and alcohol,” she responded. She wrote that she also “got fat, enjoyed staying in bed all day. Crying became a normal daily occurrence so I made it a habit.” Jenny admitted to “drinking more often and baking too much.”

Claudia said her “consumption of cheese grew exponentially,” but she’s not sure if that’s healthy or not. And Kate, who spent so much of her time tracking wildfires and the elections, said she spent her time “obsessing on the news and day drinking.” And she also got a new dog, so that helped.

Another reader, Claire, went mystic on us, revealing that she immersed herself in Kirtan, and especially the live online performances she was able to watch featuring Deva Premal, Krishna Das, etc.

Friends, exercise, Zoom and internet availability seemed to help many others. Bernard also mentioned that he managed to get into the habit of washing his hands. Maintaining personal health was high on many lists.

With tongue in cheek, Crystal told us that her husband kept her sane. “Wait,” she wrote. “I read that as insane.” In any case, she did stop “biting my nails. Because, you know … COVID.”

Mabelle said she “lost my exercise discipline” because all the gyms were closed. But she did manage to keep her brain active by taking Gentrain classes through Monterey Peninsula College that she otherwise would not have had time for.

Helga said she stayed healthy by focusing on exercise and diet, focusing on the positive. It helped, she said, that she “stopped reading, listening to and watching everything put out by the mainstream media.”

Robert was among those who developed a new healthy and philanthropic habit, volunteering at the local food bank three days each week. We’re not sure if this is healthy or not, but he said he also got through the year by “trying all the new treats at Trader Joe’s.” Speaking of Trader Joe’s, Wendy shared that she got addicted to the market’s peanut butter cups during the pandemic.

And Katharine noted that “the anxiety of the election caused me to eat far too many Cheezits.”

Clark spent a lot of his time outdoors, “hiking and playing disc golf,” all the benefits of which were reversed by his new habit of “eating take-out meals in my car.” Joelle said she kept herself busy “uber gardening … and the pain and the suffering that comes with it.” Oh, and by the way, Joelle was also fortunate this year to find “new love.”

Others learned that old habits were rather silly. “Keeping my kitchen table cluttered never was my style, it’s a catch-all now for everything but eating on it,” wrote Esther.

“People gained precious TIME!,” wrote Kristi. “Time to reflect, catch up on personal business, plan, enjoy our families, and just revel in being alive in this beautiful world.”

Can We Set Up a Call?

Finally, we asked readers if they were sick of Zoom yet. From their responses, it appears that our new-found love affair with Zoom remains strong. Our readers responded favorably to the distance meeting tool by a 3-to-1 margin.

Indeed, it was through Zoom that so many of us stayed connected with family and friends, with the outside world.

In fact, Claire noted that she “fell in love via Zoom.” Sharon tells us that Zoom kept her happy and sane in 2020. But Crystal admitted that she only used Zoom once during the pandemic, “and I’m pretty sure I did it wrong.”

Wishes for 2021

And when this is all over and life returns to normal, let’s be sure to hug one another. Especially Wendy.

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter or leave a comment below.



Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.