Adventures of the Charmingly Odd

20 Things from 2020

Apparently I only use this blog to do my end of year wrap up. I want to change that in the new year – the best way to start is to reflect on what will be one of the most historic years of this century. I have many unfinished drafts of posts from throughout this year that I never completed – just fragmented moments of despair from February, May, June, July. So here are 20 Things From 2020 that either broke me, saved me, distracted me, or gave me a glimpse of happiness in this truly terrible, terrible year.

1.) First and foremost, I would have lost my mind if it wasn’t for my fellow Book Inc. writing group. I joined a group of strangers ( to me) on a whim a year ago and decided to embark on this crazy journey: we would all write a book from start to finish in 2020. Lots of people applied to this program but I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the 12. Throughout this year we had 3 people drop out – but the remaining nine of us? We fucking DID IT. We wrote entire novels by October 1st, 2020. After that we have a set schedule for reader critiques, time to edit, submit again to our peers and continue this process until we are ready to send out query letters for our polished manuscripts. Out of all the truly horrible things that have happened this year, this incredible group of people cheered me on and wouldn’t let me giving up on my strange but wonderful little novel.

 

 

2.) If that was the happiest things in 2020, the saddest things were the losses we experienced My dearest, darling grandfather whom we called Lolo (Tagalog for grandfather) passed away at the age 80 from COVID-19 on Sunday, July 26th, 2020. His end came way too soon – he was the youngest 80 year old I know. Virgil Fuentes was an immigrant from the Philippines who followed his sweetheart, my Lola, to America when he was 20 years old. They have the most amazing, exciting, bravest love story I have ever known. Over the years I constantly asked them to tell it to me again, because it was the stuff movies are made of. They were married for almost 60 years. He had an immense love of movies, which I obviously inherited. In high school and beyond we would have movie dates, just the two of us. The last movie we saw in theaters togethers was “Rogue One”. He loved it as much as I did. He will never see me get married or hold my published book in his hands. But I know he’s cheering me. The greatest honor I could have received was my grandparents, together, giving Steve my grandmother’s engagement ring, to use to propose to me. They knew how much their love meant to me, and I will wear it for the rest of my life in honor of their adventurous love affair.

3.) Another gut wrenching death was that of our dog Barney on Monday, February 3rd. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might remember that in June 2019 we found out Barney had a 20lb cancerous tumor in his spleen, which was not there at his previous vet visit less than 6 months earlier. We took the risk and Barney had it surgically removed. He fully recovered and back to his old puppy days.

However, on Super Bowl Sunday February 2nd, 2020 Barney suddenly would not eat, vomiting, and lethargic. We took him to the vet the next day and learned that his tumor has grown back to the full size again. My mom & sister raced down to us at the vet in Asbury Park to join us in saying goodbye to our best friend. I’ve written a lot on social media how much he meant to us, especially Steve, so I won’t repeat it here. But just know he was the moved beloved and spoiled dog and loved every day he was with us. Afterwards I was able to raise over $500 for Rawhide Rescue, where Steve had rescued Barney from 7 years ago.

 

4.) I was laid off with most of the country the second week in March 2020. In April I had to cancel our plans to stay in a castle in upstate New York for my 30th birthday. Instead, Steve proposed at home in the most perfect, genuine way. What a crazy two months. To think now that the Spring was only the beginning still of what this year had in store for us.

5.) I re did our downstairs bathroom and turned the guest room into my dream office. On the days I couldn’t write because my head was overwhelmed with anxiety, I threw myself into home renovation projects. Previously I had only upcycled a vintage dresser but with Steve’s wary help, I turned our downstairs bathroom into a victorian haunted looking little room. When we are allowed to go to thrift and antique stores again, I can’t wait to fill it with weird vintage pieces. The gigantic mirror and chandelier were both super cheap finds from Facebook Marketplace.

           

The office was the next huge project! When we bought this house, it had previously been used as a nursery. Steve and I used the room as a guest room with full sized mattress adult bunk beds for our friends and family to crash in when they wanted to visit us at the beach. But since there was a pandemic with no sleepovers in the near future and my working full time on my novel – I jumped at the chance to turn it into my little writing oasis. If someone had told me I wouldn’t be writing my first novel in cafes or bookstores or hotel lobbies, but at home I would have thought you were mad! But thankfully I was able to make over this room for basically free. I had all the furniture already, just gave a few pieces a fresh coat of coat. It was grueling to strip the paint and sand the doorframes and trim but I’m so fucking proud of how everything turned out.

           

 

6.) I held a socially distant wedding in my backyard!

A friend from Drama Club in high school, Erin, and I hadn’t seen each other in almost ten years.We kept touch online but nothing extensive. However, in May when she asked if anyone had a backyard her and her fiancé could get married in – I jumped to offer mine. Turns out Asbury Park was already a special place for Erin & E and within a few days we had a socially distant game plan for a wedding! I notoriously hate weddings so Steve was surprised when I told him but he loved the idea.

We were able to decorate the yard a bit and Steve took some incredible photos of Erin & E. A pure afternoon & evening in an otherwise dumpster fire year.

 

 

7.) Justin Quizon was my pandemic buddy

Justin and I first met in person at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con on the main floor, but we did become Twitter friends before that. We’ve stayed in touch over the years but it wasn’t until March when Justin started calling me to see how the world was in the East Coast. Since then we’ve talked almost every week, for hours, about the insane twists our lives had taken, what we saw individually, and woefully watching the rest of the world.

I have never been a fan of talking on the phone (who is these days?) but I am so gratefully for these check-in sessions with Justin. From politics to movie news, we discussed the highs and lows of 2020. He was a friend that showed the fuck up this year and I want to be more like him.

 

8.) 36 Questions musical podcast

A friend recommended me this musical podcast to me back in July right after my grandfather passed away and I am forever grateful for this music and story that helped heal my soul. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this musical but it immediately gutted my soul and I will love it for as long as I live. It stars Jonathan Groff (most known from Hamilton and Frozen, but I first met him at the stage door when he starred in ‘Spring Awakening’ in 2007) and Jessie Shelton – who is an original cast member for my favorite musical – Hadestown! I cannot express how much this musical means to me and the comfort it’s given me during this horrible year.

 

9.) Desk hammock. No I’m serious

Hey – see where I mentioned that I wrote a book this year? I have spent countless hours at my desk, writing or whining about not being able to write. The best thing I did for myself back in the spring was buy a $28 desk hammock from Amazon.

 

10.) I Became an Amateur Expert on Nikola Tesla

When I started writing my book back in January, I did not expect to have Nikola Tesla as a secondary character, let alone incorporate his inventions or scientific theories into my writing. It’s a perfect example of your writing guiding you – not the other way around. I am someone who always excelled in English and History but struggled in Math and Science. I am an art student to my core! So learning about Tesla’s in depth electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and futurist work was equally compelling and fucking frustrating. However, I now own about dozen books on and by Tesla as well as watched every film and documentary available. (Even that terrible one starring Ethan Hawke).

 

11.) I Learned a Lot About Writing: The Best Books About the Craft

  • “Save the Cat: Writes a Novel” by Jessica Brody
  • “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
  • “Story Genius” by Lisa Cron
  • “The Science of Storytelling” by Will Storr
  • “The Emotional Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
  • “Consider This” by Chuck Palahniuk

                            

 

12.) Fiction Books I Loved

  • “The Flight Girls” by Noelle Salazar
  • “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn
  • “City of Girls” Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “The Masterpiece” by Fiona Davis
  • “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr
  • “Fifty Words for Rain” by Asha Lemmie
  • “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

 

13.) Favorite Non-fiction Books I Loved

  • “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shinning Women” by Kate Moore
  • “The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul” by Eleanor Herman
  • “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and The Race to Electrify the World” by Jill Jones
  • “When the Dancing Stopped: The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster and It’s Disaster Wake” by Brian Hicks
  • The Creative Destruction of Manhattan” by Max Pace
  • “Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940” by Chad Heap
  • “Bobbed Hair & Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties” by Marion Meade
  • “Opium: A History” by Martin Booth
  • “My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla”

     

 

14.) My Favorite Albums Released This Year

  • “Local Honey” by Brian Fallon
  • “Every Feeling I’ve Ever Had” by Ellen Winter
  • “Folklore” and “Evermore” by Taylor Swift (a first!! I’ve never liked TS until these albums!)

15.) Movies of the Year

Honestly, I can’t think of new movies I saw that blew me away this year besides Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7”. Maybe my brain is fried but the only new release I remembered I purchased from home was “Bill & Ted Face The Music”. My favorite piece of film I saw this year was actually Dave Chappelle’s “8:46”. 

 

16.) TV Shows of the Year 

The shows with * were rewatches but ones that brought us great joy during quarantine

  • Poldark
  • Parks and Recreation*
  • Schitt’s Creek*
  • The West Wing*
  • The Queen’s Gambit
  • The Mandalorian
  • Kim’s Convenience
  • Dickinson
  • Bridgerton
  • The Alieniest

                   

 

17.) My Favorite Self Care Items:

      

18.) New Tattoos!

Thank goodness for my amazing tattoo artist, Karissa Anne – she is a germaphobe and I knew I could trust her to be super clean. I had my Freddie Mercury tattoos touched up as well as the red flower from ‘Hadestown’. I’m working towards turning right arm into a 3/4 sleeve instead of just random tattoos hahaha.

Karissa then referred me to another artist, Rich Cahill, who specializes in finger and delicate tattoos. He did an incredible job and I’m so in love with how beautiful my hand looks.

 

19.) Friends

I have never been so grateful for Twitter. In isolation, I was able to stay in touch with my friends from around the world while not having to specifically call or text them. Justin, my best friend Leah, and my parents were the only ones I had the mental energy to call on a regular basis but thanks to Twitter I also was able to see the world from my friends points of view during the (hopefully) most dramatic year of our lives. The riots, the pandemic lines at stores, the quarantine lives we settled into. I lost my job, my vibrant city notorious for live music was silenced, and my world didn’t extend far outside my house. But thanks to Twitter I could share all the ups (writing! advocacy! tv shows!) and downs (the lives lost due to COVID or police brutality) and I’m grateful for having such a strong community online.

20.) Steve

Now where would I be if I didn’t have Steve this year? Honestly – probably in a psych ward. My anxiety and panic disorders flourish in the unknown so 2020 was the perfect breeding ground for my brain chemicals to go fucking crazy. Throw in loosing Barney and my grandfather? AND writing my first novel? Holy mother of god, I had many meltdowns. But Steve was always here with a loving and steady place to fall into. We don’t care much for weddings or titles but we have been together for 6 and a half years, lived in this house for 3 and a half years, and got engaged 8 months ago. I knew from our first Tinder date he was the one for me and I wouldn’t have wanted to do this INSANE year without him.

 

Now, excuse me while I quietly slip into the New Year with no frills or fuss. If we are carefully, maybe 2020 won’t have noticed we left at all.

Day Dreams

Today is August 12th, 2018. It’s a Sunday. Steve and I woke before 8am and quickly dressed to go to our favorite breakfast spot, The Buttered Biscuit. It’s currently prime tourist season here on the Jersey Shore, and we have to get to the Biscuit before the “weekend locals” come flooding in.

A parking spot right out front. Two empty seats at the counter, our preferred place to sit. A western omelet for me, the eggs Benedict for him, coffee for both always. We return back to our home in Asbury Park, NJ by 10am. I tidy up the living room and kitchen a bit. Steve comes over to me wearing his motorcycle jacket, holding his helmet in hand. He kisses me goodbye and then, without fail, says a goodbye to each of our two pups. I mentally send warning signs to Steve’s father, Ric, and one of Ric’s father’s best friends, a gentleman named Ward. These men passed away well before their time. It’s because of them that Steve has a love for riding. I remind Ward of the deal we made, when I touched his hand for the last time before he was buried beneath the ground.

If Ward and Ric had to leave, cheating Steve of the time he deserved to have with them – then Ric and Ward would have to watch over him. “I swear to god you two,” I think. “You left him too soon and it was unfair but you will make it right by looking out for him and making sure nobody hurts him while out riding that motorcycle.”

An hour or so later Steve comes back in one piece, grinning and smelling of my favorite mixture of earth and exhaust. I kiss him, but then pause. He sets his helmet on the counter behind him and I take his face in my hands to kiss him deeper. Soon my cherry dress is discarded to the kitchen floor with other various items of clothing.

Sunday afternoons. Lazy in bed. My hair smells like coffee, and Steve is lightly sleeping next to me.

Five years ago I would day dream of days like this: a day of quiet, fiercely loyal love. When I was living in Manhattan in a shit relationship and trapped in a dreadful situation I didn’t know how to get out of – I would day dream.

I would lay in bed, curled up in the fetal position, and make a deal with future me. I imagined that I had made a pact with the me who was older, far away, and living an effortlessly happy life. That this older me told the Universe, “I will give up one day here and give it to 23 year old me. I will switch places with her, to let her escape for a bit, and to let her know of the happiness that awaits her.”

I imagined that one day I wouldn’t wake up in my New York City apartment with an abusive ex boyfriend, but in a bedroom in a home foreign to me. A plush bed with sunlight pouring through the curtains. Two dressers, one for me and one for him. I would get out of bed, walk down the stairs, and find a handsome man sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper. When he saw me, his face would light up with genuine excitement.

He’d get up, kiss me, and pour me a cup of coffee. I would have a slight look of lostness about me and then he would know: today was the day.

“You don’t know where you are, do you?” He would ask.

“…No.”

He’d set the coffee down on the counter and take my hand.

“It is 2018, five years from where you are now. The you I know is 28 and you are living with me, this is our home. You don’t know me, but I love you.”

We sit down and he explains that 2018 Zoë had told him long ago about the pact she had made, and that one day I wouldn’t recognize him for 24 hours and that his job would be to take care of me and reassure me that my life would be so much better than where I was now.

“But can I ask you,” he would say. “If she safe? The Zoë I know? Will today be very…bad for her?”

I’d think for a moment.

“No. Today is a Wednesday, I’d be working at the cat hospital from 7am to 7pm right now. She’ll go for a walk after work I assume; the bookstore is open until 11pm. If she remembers what it’s like, she’ll be at work before he wakes up and will get home after he’s already asleep.”

This stranger would sigh out of relief.

“You will get through this,” this stranger of my future would assure me. “That life will all be over soon and I’m right around the corner, I promise.” He gestures to the rest of the house. “This is yours, I am yours. Just hang on for a little while longer.”

I know I’d be crying. But he smiles and says, “I’ll call out of work, I’ll text your boss that you’re sick. And let’s go have a really, really good day.”

It’s corny and sentimental and ridiculous. However, this scenario would play in my head countless times and I knew it by heart. Today, this quiet Sunday, was one of those perfect days I’d day dream about with someone who loved me, and whom I loved in return.

And if it was magically possible, the me of today would give anything to give 23 year me a day in my shoes.

I write this because, if you are currently in a bad place in your life – be it a bad relationship, a bout of depression, or just a truly fucking awful point in your life – you will get through this. There’s a whole different lifetime awaiting you and it’s closer than you think. Hang in there.

And until you get there, its okay to pretend. ❤️