2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

(Si Si) Je Suis Un Cultist

A childhood friend of mine, Rob Heinsoo, has had a long and successful career as a game designer, including serving as lead designer for the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and as co-designer of the acclaimed 13th Age series. Rob and I were next-door neighbors when I was in sixth grade in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and he and his brother (another Eric) had a stellar collection of board games at the time, which we played regularly. I still have fond memories of playing a particular race car game and a war game based on the historic Battle of Jena-Auerstedt with Rob and Eric. And I was actually among Rob’s first victims when he designed his first dungeon using the famed First Edition Brown Box of D&D, per this interview. I still smile without guile about the school for dragons when reminded of that particular experience.

More recently, Rob has designed a newly-released card game called Wrestlenomicon. Old Gods, kicking ass. What’s not to love? The game’s production was crowd-funded via Kickstarter, and I did my part to support its release. I received my copy in the mail today, and am most pleased to find that I am actually a small part of the game itself, appearing as a Cultist in the card pack, per the photo below (me in the center):

I know I’m somewhat cadaverous looking, but hadn’t realized that could be an asset from a graphic design standpoint when it comes to designing a game like this one. Mad props to brilliant artist Kurt Komoda for his work on the deck. I love my own card, of course, but there are dozens of deliciously, exquisitely, entertainingly horrific images to be found on every other card, making them fascinating as little works of art, independent of the game-play roles and values. I recommend you visit Kurt’s website, here. It’s a dark delight, well worth a trawl, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for new work from him.

If you love gaming (and who doesn’t, really?), I do hope that you’ll click the image above and follow the links to order your own copy of Wrestlenomicon. Be sure to grab the expansion pack of bonus cards, if you’d like to have my not-smiling visage as part of your game nights, once they’re safe to hold again!

Later Edit: Huh! I’m also on the header of the official Wrestlenomicon Facebook Page, here and here. What a hoot!

Me and Sweetman’s Christmas

Me and my friend Sweetman, we was deep in dismal thought,
late at night over whiskey (straight) down at Grumpy’s Drinkin’ Spot.
It was Christmas Eve, yes sir, and our wives, they had done and left,
(though that had been many years ago, we was still a bit bereft).

We was chewin’ on pig feets, the kind you pull out of the jar
that sits next to the pickled eggs and the calves brains behind the bar.
Sweetman burped as we finished, then mumbled “Man, this just ain’t right,
we oughta get us some better grub, for to eat tomorrow night.”

Right then, at that moment, we heard some sleigh bells overhead,
so we stumbled out, looked up, and saw a bright red flyin’ sled,
it was headin’ off southward, behind a dozen head of deer,
so I grabbed me my gun real quick before that meat could disappear.

Like an ace, well, I drew a bead upon the twelve point buck up front,
while my good partner Sweetman, he shut up, like when we hunt.
Then I pulled me the trigger, and saw that buck come tumbling down,
me and Sweetman we walked a bit, and found our dinner on the ground.

Man, I tell you, that Christmas night, we had the best damned supper yet
’cause that deer made a lot of steaks, plus some sausage I can’t forget.
So me and Sweetman we sat there, feelin’ bloated and pleased as swine,
gettin’ drunk on the black-tar hooch, that we’d made from turpentine.

Note: Copyright 2004, JES. It’s the reason for the season . . .

Five Songs You Need to Hear (Baby, Please Come Home)

I’ve written before at length here about how much I hate the mercenary use of Christmas music in public spaces through the shopping season in the weeks-to-months preceding the Great Unwrapping. That said, I don’t hate all Christmas music, especially when it’s deployed sensibly and with sensitivity in the privacy of one’s own home, getting jiggy with the spirit of the season, independent of the need to acquire for acquisition’s sake. So as the big day draws nigh, I return to my periodic series here to present another Five Songs You Need To Hear, all of these with a festive (?) seasonal feel. This is the 21st article in this series, so if these songs hit your sweet spot, you can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article). Happy listening, as always!

#1. COIL, “Christmas Is Now Drawing Nigh”

#2. Half Man Half Biscuit, “All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”

#3. Hljómsveitin Myrká, “Jólakötturinn (The Christmas Cat)”

#4. The Residents, “Christmas Morning Foto”

#5. The Fall, “(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas”

Best of My Web 2020

I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This blog’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces earlier than that, like some digital dinosaur hauling its heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp. While I’ve bailed on social media in recent years, I still do a sizable portion of my reading online, and with a quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the online world.

Being a community-oriented sort, I’m happy to leverage my online explorations to share a roster of the five websites that moved me most in 2020, in the hopes that you might find them engaging and entertaining as well. My own web productivity and traffic both increased significantly this year (I’ll share more about that closer to the end of the year), likely as a combo platter of me having more time to write post-retirement from full-time work, and of other people having more time to read as we were collectively clamped down during this our Anno Virum. I know the websites cited below helped brighten some dark days for me over the past twelve months. Maybe my own website will have done that for you as well in 2020. It would make me happy were that the case. And we all need some extra happy these days, don’t we?

Thoughts On The Dead: Once again the best of the best to these eyes and ears. I learn a lot, laugh a lot, and love it a lot. Still. And again. The always and aggressively anonymous author has had a tough year in 2020, but he’s continued to write, brilliantly and consistently, and I’ve continued to read, gladly, thankfully, giddily and giggly. While knowledge of the Grateful Dead might help a bit on certain posts, it’s certainly not a hard prerequisite, as there’s a whole lot of cultural and musical and political turf covered herein, semi-fictionally. As a reminder, TotD’s got book-length work out there, too, if you want a deeper read. I recommend that, strongly. Bonus Points: He’s largely nocturnal, so I almost always have something new to read over my coffee every morning. Winning!

Going Medieval: Deep history, social conscience and significant snark from the UK’s Dr Eleanor Janega, knit together into a thoroughly brilliant whole. I’ve danced around the academic study of history in my own educational adventures, and I really, truly appreciate writers and researchers who can explain our todays and tomorrows through their deep understanding of our yesterdays — especially when such explications are offered with mad high-level story-telling skillZ that make the ancient timely, and the long-since-forgotten topical. This site has it all going on, every post a winner, guaranteed to make you smile and laugh as you (gasp!) actually learn something.

Daily Abstract Thoughts: Mostly short, thoughtful reflections from “Orcas Laird,” a native Scot living and writing from a gorgeous island in Washington State. As a gentleman of a certain age, I most appreciate this other similarly aged gentleman’s observations on topics sublime and mundane. He’s an astute and keen web philosopher in his ability to make the boundaries between those sublime and mundane bits blurry. We see big things when we look at little ones, sometimes. He’s very, very good at that, and is also an objectively fine writer, capable of terse elegance, which often eludes me in my wordy ways.

Messy Nessy Chic: A gorgeous and deeply entertaining site, one where you can gawp at beautiful things, learn about arcane topics, and enthuse about the ephemera that exists at the outer edges of Web World. Nessy’s weekly “13 Things I Found on the Internet Today” series is always a delight, and it’s rare that it doesn’t take me down some totally time-wasting online rabbit hole. Which is a good thing, if that’s not clear. I’m happy to be deeply distractable, and even happier to have such a good portal for distractions readily updated and available for my frittering about.

Ramblin’ With Roger: Roger Green and I shared blog space years ago at a newspaper website whose name I shall not utter, because things there ended poorly for me, and for many others. Roger was always one of my favorite writers on that commercial media site, writing well about many things that interested me, and/or about which I cared deeply on both intellectual and emotional bases. Even back in those blog farm days, Roger was running his own highly-prolific web gig, which is now up to 15+ years of consistent daily posting. And I do read him every day, just because I know I’m going to see something new and interesting, whenever I do. You can, and should, too!

Did you know that The Jubalaires were arguably the first recorded rap artists, in the 1930s? I didn’t either, until Messy Nessy turned me on to them, along with loads of other happy time-wasting arcana.

The Roads Not Taken

As I’ve done here for the past several years, I post my 2020 travel map below, presuming that nothing unexpected is going to happen in the next two weeks to add any paths or routes of substance:

We welcomed 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while doing exploratory work into cities where we might like to spend our retirement. We plan to end 2020 in our new home in the Village of Oak Creek, Arizona, having settled on this as our expected long-term residence after completing those visits and evaluations. We’re very happy with our choice thus far.

Our plan had been to travel heavily in 2020, with trips scheduled to Costa Rica, Iceland, Sweden, and various domestic locations. Obviously, COVID kibboshed all of those plans. In looking at this final map, I’m struck by the fact that I spent less than 15 nights sleeping east of the Mississippi River in 2020, most of them in the Tampa Bay area just as COVID was breaking bad, with a few nights later in the year spent in Galena, Illinois. As a native Southerner and long-time Easterner, that’s a significant and fundamental change of sea state for me. I hope I’m able to visit family in the Carolinas in 2021, but barring that, I’m not sure that I’ll cross over the Big Muddy much this year either. Westward ho, y’all. We done it. Who’da thunk?

While this map looks light-weight to me (I only visited 18 states, and never left the country, yeesh!), compared to my travels in recent years as an integral part of my work with TREE Fund, I do recognize that we managed to cover a lot more turf than most folks did in 2020. Much of that travel was harrowing, frankly, and we did our best to be safe and remain healthy while planning and executing a nearly-cross-country move in the midst of a pandemic. Thankfully, we did what we did without contracting anything life-altering. Here’s hoping that remains the case until we’re able to get vaccinated for the virus, likely (and rightfully) very late in the process given our health, work status, and ages. I’ve gotten accustomed to wearing my mask everywhere, at any rate, and won’t mind continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.

We’re not actively planning any trips for 2021, yet, but I do hope that things improve to the point where we’re able to safely visit a variety of Western American destinations of interest, and to return to our usual regimen of international travel. Fingers crossed those things happen sooner rather than later. I’m cautiously optimistic, as much as that is not normally the case for me, given my “presume the worst” personal tendencies. But fingers crossed that when I post this report twelve months from now, all of our lives will be a little bit more “normal” (whatever that might be), and a little bit less scary. And who knows, perhaps our paths will cross in the year ahead, somewhere, sometime. If your own (safe) travels bring you to Sedona and its environs, do be sure to holla in my direction!