At the end of a normal year, I look through my photos and pick out the ones I like best. The prettiest, in other words.
2020 is different. It was tough to look at this year’s photos, since there’s been so much pain over the past 365 days. I have pictures of protests, military occupation and, above all, loneliness. Lots of photos of empty streets, deserted parks and boarded-up buildings.
I picked one photo from each month of 2020. Not necessarily the prettiest, but the ones that meant the most to me.
The year started out promisingly, as I won the City Paper Fiction Competition for my short story, Apartment 101. The story is about three decades in the life of one apartment. It’s based upon my time living at 15th and Swann NW.
My story appeared in the City Paper and I did a reading with my fellow winners at Eaton DC, a hip hotel on K St. I was worried that no one would show up! Luckily, the room was full when the reading started. My view on crowds would change over the year.
This is the second time I’ve won this competition. I won it a few years ago for Victory Party, which is a dark tale about Election Night 2016.
In the cold depths of winter, there is nothing better than seeing half-naked people running through the streets. Cupid’s Undie Run sends scantily-clad people out on a short fun run for charity.
For 2020, runners gathered their booze and courage at Penn Social, near Gallery Place, and then ran down E Street on a chilly afternoon.
Just before the pandemic restrictions kicked in, saucer magnolias bloomed in Washington. It was the first bit of floral color in months and people flocked to the garden behind the Smithsonian Castle to get a photo.
At the time, the plan was to close the city for a couple of weeks.
With no tourists or commuters, Washington felt abandoned at times, especially around the monuments.
People flocked to see the cherry blossoms but then Mayor Bowser stationed police to keep people away. You were supposed to only go out for exercise or necessities. With everything on the Mall closed, the only people you saw were runners or cyclists.
This is the first time I had seen friends since the start of the pandemic. We gathered for socially-distanced drinks in Meridian Hill Park. My hair is a mess from a DIY haircut.
As we were socializing, a riot was taking place near the White House. This was the night that they burned things and broke windows. Though we were just a mile away, we had no idea. That’s how small the disturbance was in a city as large as Washington, DC.
After the riot, came the military crackdown. A curfew was established and helicopters buzzed low over the city.
On Swann Street, where I used to live (and set my short story Apartment 101), the police “kettled” Black Lives Matter protesters, preventing their escape.
Residents of the street, like Rahul Dubey (center), opened their doors to shield young protesters from the beatings and pepper spray of the police.
I biked up to see the next morning. The police had left and Rahul and the kids were standing around out front. Everyone seemed a little stunned.
After taking this photo, I went to 350 Bakery. That’s what people don’t understand about DC; there can be a demonstration on one block but around the corner, you can grab coffee and a scone.
That week, I saw lots of misinformation from Facebook “friends” informing me that DC had been totally destroyed by rioters; these slurs convinced me that I actually loved DC.
While it was another busy month of Trump atrocities, I was cheered by the appearance of this mural at Thomas Circle.
It’s the Guardians of the Four Directions by MISS CHELOVE. I watched as she put the final touches on this dramatic artwork that adorns the Hotel Zena. That art was being created in a time of so much uncertainty gave me hope. It made me think of the future, when this hotel and DC will be open and filled with people again.
At the start of the pandemic, I had a dozen or so short stories in various stages of construction, most dealing in some form or another with social media. It occurred to me that I could collect them all into a book. A short one for short attention spans.
That book is LIKES.
I had to get away. But where could I go? Where would be safe to go? How would I get there?
You can travel these days without dealing with another person. I rented a car with the Avis app and used a digital key to check into my hotel.
My first stop was Corning, NY, where I visited the Corning Museum of Glass (much recommended). I then drove upstate to check out the Finger Lakes and the Erie Canal, before returning via Pittsburgh. I brought my bike with me and rode bike trails. It was an interesting time to travel, with so few people on the roads.
I did a lot of reading this year. Buying a book from a local bookstore was the patriotic thing to do so I did a lot of shopping at Kramerbooks. As the pandemic began, I picked up Ragtime and ended up reading a lot by E.L. Doctorow.
Months later, I was ready to read a book about a world-ending epidemic. That book was the thoughtful and lyrical Station Eleven. My favorite novel of 2020.
This was the day that the networks announced that Biden had won. Within minutes, Black Lives Matter Plaza was packed with celebrants cheering, singing and drinking champagne. People danced on the spot where Trump had protesters beaten for a photo-op. “We are the champions,” echoed down H St.
I joined the crowds, wondrously and happily drunk.
I didn’t realize how stressed I was until I got to Florida for the holidays. Away from DC, my mind was suddenly calm. I was content to just sit in an Adirondack chair and watch the ocean.
After this past year, I understand the Roaring 20s. Totally get why you’d want to forget everything and go somewhere where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot. Why you’d want to smash existing art forms and start something new. Why you’d want to reject convention and move to Paris.
I think 2020 will be one of those years that everyone agrees to never speak of again.
Let’s move on.