Past Imperfect: 5 Reasons 2020 Wasn’t All Bad

Although plenty of folks are eager to pitch this year into the ash heap, nothing magical is going to happen on January first.  And that doesn’t mean I’m predicting 2021 will be a lousy year, but you can’t expect it to be entirely rosy.  Yet despite all the challenges of 2020, this rotation around the sun wasn’t entirely bad.

Yeah, I know, I need to back up that statement….

On a personal note, 2020 began with the funeral and burial of my mom.  Toward the end of January I was already thinking about how the year was beginning so rough, it could only get better from here.

Yeah, I know, these rank as famous last words….

Yet despite the landing of COVID-19 and the other problems it seemed to exacerbate, some good did arise from all this turmoil.  That’s life – you get good with the bad and vice versa.  Let’s not overlook these nuggets of sunshine:

5: People rediscovered preparedness.

By the time March rolled around, there was a saying floating about that “Everybody is a prepper now.”  Even the panic buyers who went about it all wrong were part of the throng of people who realized they needed to be able to take care of themselves.  Self-sufficiency and independence are good things when you know who you can trust (see #1).

4: People rediscovered food basics.

Even though there was plenty of bread still on the shelves, yeast became hard to find.  Whether it was because folks figured “I’m stuck at home – might as well bake” or they wanted to be able to bake should the bread disappear, it was one example of how home cooking gained in popularity.

But you can take that a step further.  Seeds went flying off the shelves as more people planted gardens.  And I can personally vouch that hatcheries sold chicks as fast they cracked out of their shells.  The work and care involved in such endeavors get folks to better understand that stores are just the middleman.  Food comes from creation, and that leads to our next category.

3: People rediscovered the outdoors.

Although binge-watching programs and unconditional surrender to video games initially took hold, more people began venturing outdoors as the weather improved.  Hiking and fishing and hunting get folks in touch with nature in a way that helps ground them to reality.  And being outside more helps you absorb that vitamin D which bolsters your immune system.

2: People rediscovered their families.

Stories of abuse will always be around, but there are many reports of parents learning new things about their kids, and spouses learning new appreciation for each other (and their kids’ teachers!).  Our families benefited from a little more family time instead of running off in a dozen directions at once.

1: People rediscovered their faith.

Sadly, the rates of depression and suicide have shot up, but there is one group of people who actually reported their emotional health improved over the past year.  Those who regularly attended church services benefited from both social and divine contact.  And for those who were unable to attend in person, worshipping at home has gained in popularity.

So there you have it.  There’s a saying that life imitates art, and in the realm of writing, one can see some truth in that.  The best way to build up characters in a story is subjecting them to hard times.  And although we may not like it, it’s also true hard times help build character.

Yeah, I know, 2020 was an interesting year … but what a story it will be to tell your grandchildren….

Are You Feeling It?

One Christmas Eve a Jewish family decided to eat out, and the only restaurant open that night was a Chinese food joint.  Toward the end of their meal, their waiter gave them little ornaments shaped like angels and mangers.  As they looked them over, one of the older children pointed out how they were stamped Made in India.

The family found the discrepancy amusing – until they looked over and saw Grandpa, who had immigrated from the old country, sitting silently with a tear rolling down his cheek.

“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” they asked with concern.

“Oh, nothing at all.”  He smiled at them.  “I was just marveling at how in America, a Buddhist can give a Jew a Christmas present made by a Hindu.”

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” advice for writing manifests in many ways.  One arena that illustrates this is when emotions come into play.

The anecdote above offers very modest examples.  In the name of brevity it tells us about some of the emotions being experienced:  The family was amused before they became concerned about Grandpa.

But a couple of small illustrations are also thrown in:  The tear silently rolls down his cheek before he smiles.

The trickling tear might be considered a bit clichéd, but one could argue it works here because it denotes joy instead of sorrow.  But if you have a character who gets scared a lot, how many ways could you convey that without resorting to making his knees knock together?

Trembling or choking back a scream or wetting his pants can provide a few options, but it might take a little research on that behavior to remind you that a racing heart or rapid breathing or an overactive imagination can also signal that emotion.

So get in touch with your feelings and write it down.  Emotion is one of those aspects all genres have in common.

An overactive imagination, huh?  I didn’t realize all this writing scares me that much….

Cover Story

News flash:  Books get judged by their covers.

The design on a cover helps to convey information beyond the title.  If the words Bug Out is emblazoned across the page, the imagery can help determine what it’s about.  Are military forces pictured?  Must have something to do with troops relocating.  Do we see shivering insects?  Must have something to do with pest control.

But the design on a cover can also capture a reader’s attention.  If a book entitled Full Moon Tonight only shows – you guessed it – a full moon, a potential reader may pass it over.  If a snarling werewolf is pictured, people looking for that kind of story will be drawn in.  And if we see a werewolf’s derriere, then you can figure the story will be … ahem … quirky….

Getting a good cover designer is important.  And for tightwads like me, getting a good cover at a good price is … priceless.

Lo and behold, the designer I’ve enjoyed working with is running a 20% off sale until December 28.  Her prices are great to begin with, so the sale makes getting a cover even more affordable.  If you’re in the market to get a cover designed, check out her portfolio at VilaDesign, and mention you heard about the sale.

Let me be transparent here:  I’m not getting any special kickbacks for mentioning this.  My only benefit is it gave me a topic to ramble about this week….

Writer or reader or both, think about what covers popped out at you.  It is an art form to be appreciated, even adding to reading enjoyment.

Now on to other stories….

Standing on the Shore

Ita strode into the medical ward.  Choking back tightness in her throat only seemed to push it down to her chest, and the sight of half a dozen terminal patients lying in beds on either side of the room increased the sensation.  Most were accompanied by monitoring equipment.

The only other person present was an elderly nun in a light blue habit.  She looked up from an emaciated girl whose hand she grasped, then murmured something to the patient before stepping toward Ita.

“How may I help you?”  Her voice was thin yet warm, like a shawl offering comfort on a cool summer evening.

“I’ve come to see Oswald Taggart.”  As her eyes swept across the room, Ita spied her grandfather on a bed near the far wall.

The nun nodded as her gaze matched.  “He’s weak, but coherent.  The priest has already been here.  Unless there’s something you’ll need, I’ll leave you be so you can visit.”

“Thank you.”  The significance of the nun’s presence flashed into her conscience.  Mere hours ago the evacuation to the space ships began.  People all over the world discovered there was an escape plan, a last-ditch effort to elude once and for all the enemy that had hounded them for decades.

But the plan also had to address the reality there would be individuals too weak to embark upon such a journey.  Volunteers stepped up to minister to the dying, and to remain behind to ultimately die with them.

Why now?

No sooner had the evacuation begun than Ita received word her grandfather had collapsed.  Leaving her own duties in capable hands, she sped across a quarter of the globe to reach him.  It was probable none of her aunts, uncles, and cousins had time to visit Oswald in his final hours.  They had to escape quickly … before the enemy Elite caught up.

The blankets failed to disguise how he looked thinner than the last time she saw him around three months ago.  Work on this project, a job he’d handed over to her, had kept her away for too long.  If only she had been better about staying in touch….

“What brings you here?”  His eyes opened upon her approach, and he smiled.

Only then did she notice the audio sensor attached near his ear.  Oswald had been deaf for over a decade, but he must have consented to using this device in order to artificially hear what others needed to say to him.

Ita sat on the bed’s edge and grasped his hand.  “I came as soon as I found out, Grandpa.”

“It seems our journeys will be separate now.”  His voice was weaker, but his speaking still had the flat tone that developed after he became deaf.

“No, we’re supposed to travel into space together.”  Ita leaned closer to him.  As the youngest child of his youngest child, she always remembered him with gray hair, but until now he’d always been strong.  It was difficult to see him this way now.

But the glint of oil on his forehead suggested the priest had been here more recently than she’d assumed, offering an incomprehensible consolation.  Its shimmer was subtle, a reminder that humility was a potent charm and strength surged far beneath the surface.

“I always wanted to see the stars in their own element.”  Oswald closed his eyes, but his smile deepened.  “Though it seems I have other business to attend to.  And where I hope to head now will be even more spectacular.”  His eyes opened.  “When we see each other again, which I pray we will, you can tell me all about it.”

Her own eyes burned as she squeezed his hand.  “It won’t be the same without you.”

“Just pretend that Deuce is me.”  His gaze locked on her face, and his smile grew crooked.  “You have refrained from shooting him, haven’t you?”

She couldn’t resist smiling back.  “I nearly did, once.  But since then….”  She hesitated.  Oswald didn’t know about the bomb Deuce insisted be implanted in his chest.  The Elite had gotten wind of their evacuation plans, and in order to keep the project protected, he had to insure they never captured him and discover information that would bring ruin to everyone.

The willingness to sacrifice himself began altering Ita’s perception of him.  He once numbered among their enemy, and she considered him to be only a cold-blooded killer.  But lately she started admitting he exhibited appealing qualities, like discipline and humility, she’d hitherto ignored.  In fact, if he didn’t have his hands full with overseeing security to encourage success in launching the ships, he’d be here with her.

She decided to not worry Oswald about Deuce’s predicament.  “I forgave him.”

“And that right there is proof that miracles do happen.”  His eyes closed again, and his next breath staggered a bit.  When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse.  “Ita.”

“I’m still here, Grandpa.”

His eyes opened, and she could have sworn they blazed with the wonder of a child on Christmas morning.  His smile matched, and the decades seemed to slough off as though he were a young man again, the fullness of life ahead of him.

“Don’t be afraid … we are surrounded by light.”

She was so focused on his smile that she didn’t notice the radiance of his eyes dim until realizing his hand no longer clasped hers.  Ita felt her own breath shudder as her eyes began burning again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”  The nun’s warm voice must have come from behind her, but it seemed to travel from every corner of the room.  “I’m aware of your grandfather’s work, how it will save all these people.  He’s brought great blessing to us all.”

Ita glanced at the woman destined to die with this remnant, and nodded.  As her attention returned to him, she appreciated his peaceful expression, and noticed again the oil on his forehead.

The chrism continued to shine.


So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round was Charm.  With a word like that, there’s bound to be some delightful stories, so be sure to check them out!

If you’re new to this serialization of short stories I’m compiling in a novella, you can find the previous installments on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.

Charm … such a nice word to end an interesting year on…