On June 1, I got a new house on a whim. It has a giant deck out back, a gorgeous master bedroom retreat upstairs with 30-foot high ceilings of natural wood. The whole house is flooded with LA sunshine. The back house used to be an artist studio, and is large enough to be renovated into a two bedroom guest house.
It was a miracle to even win a bidding war for the place BUUUUUUTTTT it needed new plumbing, electrical, roofing, floors, central HVAC installed, a total kitchen renovation, a new master bath, a complete exterior paint, lots of interior paint jobs and deck staining, termite fumigation with a three-day tenting, and window coverings for its many, many windows.
All of this needed to happen inside of one month, because my former home, the townhouse on Maytime Lane, sold in one day. So I wouldn’t have had a place to live unless the contractors moved fast.
The master bath demolition
Rutilio, who used to just be my electrician back when we lived in the last place, also turned out to be a plumber. Then it turned out he could be a general contractor, too. So he somehow enlisted a team of people to solve the plumbing, electrical, assorted issues plus other dudes to demolish and retile my master bath and install central AC from scratch.
Then, my friends with renovations under their belt introduced me to Jairo the cabinet maker, who built kitchen cabinets inside of a week, and Jorge the counter stone cutter, who was able to cut stone and install inside three days. Rafael my painter came in and worked for a couple weeks straight with his son Ronaldo. They were sometimes managed by my partner Rob because I was away in Seattle for some of this chaos. Rob tried to speak Spanish with Rafael since he’s pretty proud of his Espanol skills but then while I was out of town, Rafael texted me going, “Hey you know he can just use English with me, right?” BURN.
In the frenzy of getting everything done in a month, Rutilio and I ultimately ended up going through the rollercoaster of an intimate relationship — I actually wound up writing him a text one time saying, “Sorry I yelled,” and he got exasperated with me after my uncertainty about how I wanted my shower doors ended up costing him extra money to the glass guy.
But, we made it! Friend Justin came in from Austin for moving weekend to caulk tubs and bolt children’s furniture to the wall and help me move, while Hot Rob brought us food and put together my new furniture. Our family’s longtime helper Yani was the clutch nucleus of the whole operation, making sure everything was packed, and unpacked, and even now she knows where every random thing is (today I needed very particular lightbulbs, for instance, and she remembered the ones we brought back from Korea). It was a gallant team effort. I’m so grateful for every single contribution, every human, who put their sweat into making this place liveable by the moment we moved in, like we were on some episode of an HGTV show, but with a dysfunctional band of misfits.
By the time I sent off Justin at the airport, after a weekend of nonstop fixing and installing things for me, he said, “I want to say it was a fun time,” and then got out of the car. We did it, though! We did it!
Nearly 2,000 participants took part from all over the world, dozens of speakers and performances enchanted, empowered and enlightened us, an endless series of off-campus sessions, dinners and parties forged new connections, re-ignited old ones, and gave a lot of us COVID. I suppose the COVID part was to be expected.
As a TED podcast host, I was in Vancouver to work rather than simply watch and enjoy, so it meant not missing any talks, since we will be featuring them in the weeks and months to come on the podcast. I also conducted a series of behind-the-scenes conversations with this year’s speakers, which we will append to the end of their talks when they’re on the show.
But there was plenty of time open in the schedule for partying and reuniting with friends, too.
This year, my former NPR colleague and life advice guru, Shankar, spoke on something called the illusion of continuity, which is also the subject of one of my favorite TED talks of all time. I was mainly happy just to see Shankar and hang out with him, as well as make a new friend in the former newsman, Dan Harris, who now runs the meditation app, 10 Percent Happier. Dan really crushed it on the TED stage, too.
My man Hot Rob came out to Vancouver to hang out with me and that was a balm, because these giant conferences where you’re surrounded by a sea of humanity have a way of making me feel really alienated and lonely. (I also felt like this when I covered the Olympics in 2018).
So I’m grateful he was there to kick it and make jokes about rich people like Elon Musk, who showed up on the last day. We squeezed in some Vancouver sightseeing, like a freezing cold bike ride along the sea walk and around Stanley Park. If not for the extremely helpful boost from electric bikes, I would not have made it back.
Ideas I’m excited about spreading: Universal basic services instead of universal basic income, a proper accounting of the climate benefitting labor that whales and elephants and other creatures do just by existing (so that they can be considered worth more alive than dead), and the work of the choreographer and animator Nina McNeely, whose stage production mesmerized us.
“It felt vaguely like being forced to live in a building splintered by a wrecking ball before the rebuilding had begun. Quarantine didn’t just take things away; it revealed — with a harsh, unrelenting clarity — what had already been lost.”
This year forced us to our knees. Like so many others, I found myself disoriented and trapped inside, falling to my emotional nadir. We lost Kobe Bryant. John Lewis. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And some 300,000 Americans to the plague. We yearned for the days when the rule of law was a given. America as we know it came apart at the seams. Even our best efforts to bridge differences won’t work by themselves, they require that the digital platforms shattering reality in the name of “consumer choice” will have to dramatically change or be regulated into doing so.
I experienced COVID year primarily as a loss of innocence — the year I finally, finally had to grow up. At one point this summer, we were under stay-at-home orders (for rioting) in the midst of stay-at-home orders (for coronavirus). Did we ever think we’d miss each other like this, that we’d yearn for the joy of company and coincidence, serendipity and surprise, the magic of sharing poorly ventilated spaces with strangers? Grief, loss and identity shift defined 2020, both in the universal sense, and in a personal one.
Despite a year of radical change, I write this post feeling privileged and contented. The threat of the virus took away so much — loved ones, freedom, hugs, travel, an entire way of life I took for granted. But it gave, too. A return to nature. A stillness in which, egad, we could be alone with our thoughts. Time for introspection! And for me, a real deepening of my relationships. Because there were no longer the “friends” you just run into at a drop-off, or at conferences, you had to be intentional about how you spent your time and who you reached out to check-in on. I was more deliberate with my friendships than ever, and I felt that intention among the loved ones who supported me.
I’m also fortunate to be surrounded (more than ever, since they aren’t in school) by my loud, vibrant, healthy kids who remind us how adaptable humanity is at its essence. To borrow from Des’ree’s anthem from my millennial coming-of-age, we gotta be a little bit badder, a little bit bolder, a little bit wiser, harder, tougher.
Moments of Unadulterated Joy:This gas station in LA, the day the networks finally called the election for Joe Biden. These kids, experiencing the drum solo in “In the Air Tonight”
MVP New Friends: Jenn and Drew, who are the parents of my daughter Eva’s good friend Leif. They were rocks as we made Sunday pool time a regular thing to get through this hell year. Sarah Svoboda, who is my producer at VICE, became one of my closest girlfriends overnight. Rob, with whom I’d split giant breakfast burritos after five mile runs. I am now simultaneously fatter and in better cardiovascular shape.
MVP Snack:Brown sugar boba popsicles saved my 2020. I became an accidental boba pop influencer! My only other influencing was for the Saved by the Bell pop-up in West Hollywood, which was a special treat.
The Energy To Bring To All Things: It’s what I call the Michaela Coel energy, after reading this landmark profile of the singular artist who brought us Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You. We say this, from here on out: ‘This is what I need. Are you good enough to give it to me?’ Not ‘Am I good enough to deserve the kind of treatment that I want?’
Regrets: Never did learn how to play the ukulele. Barely made progress on my book, which was supposed to be mostly done by now, in a parallel universe. My relationships felt very COVID-blocked, to different degrees.
My Gamechanger: Jungian depth psychology with a dream analyst. This is the most woo-woo I’ve ever sounded, I realize. But after dipping in and out of traditional, more conventional cognitive behavioral therapy for most my adult life, Friend Jenn told me about her dream analyst and I started seeing him over Zoom and I have never had a clearer and deeper understanding of my inner life. I feel more whole and more grounded in an organizing philosophy for meaning than, well, ever. I credit it with keeping me contented through the crucible that was 2020.
Also this year, in no particular order, and an admittedly incomplete list: