Looking Back: The Best of Ordinary Times In 2020
2020 will be going down as one of the worst years in modern history. And it will go down as that for one simple reason: a creature so tiny that it took use thousands of years to realize it was a creature at all.
But as much as 2020 has sucked1, there were bright spots.
For me personally, one of those was being able to share this platform with so many talented and insightful writers. As I did last year, I asked our editors to nominate a few posts for special recognition for the year. I got nominations for several dozen posts reflecting the work of 23 different authors. And there was not a single one where I didn’t think to myself, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”
There were several series of article this year that drew much attention. Em did a four-part series looking over Amy Comey Barret’s judicial record; Kristin did a long series on prepping that doubled as a series on economizing; Luis did a long series on the movies of each decade. We also had several symposiums (the Best Meal Ever being my favorite). I excluded posts from these series as it was impossible to highlight just one while ignoring the others.
In the end, I had a shortlist of about 40 posts, which we eventually narrowed down to ten. So, without further ado, here are, mostly in my opinion but with big assists from Andrew, Em, Jaybird and Kristin (all of whom were too modest to nominate their own posts) the best posts of 2020.
Honorable Mentions: Avi Wolf wrote about missing prayer; Matthew Stokes wrote about retail experience; Bryan O’Nolan wrote about The Cuisine of Downeast Maine; Eric Cunningham wrote one of our most popular posts about Roy Cooper; I wrote a two-parter on the films of Hayao Miyazaki; Andrew continues his great food-blogging with a post on burnt ends; Tod Kelly did a deep dive into the strange history of Gregory Rigano; Em wrote about the arbitrariness of COVID restrictions; Christopher Bradley wrote about wrestling with allegations against a singer; Kristin wrote about how you can’t housewife your way out of poverty and how there are no better people. K William Huitt wrote about multiculturalism; Saul Degraw reflected on life in quarantine; John David Duke, Jr. wrote about fatherhood; Jaybird wrote about Dystopian Leftism; Russell Michaels wrote about runaway credentialism.
Top Ten, in no particular order:
Attention Must Be Paid: The Electoral Lessons of the Working Class
BY DENNIS SANDERS · NOVEMBER 11, 2020
Dennis Sanders, in the aftermath of Trump’s defeat, wrote about how we shouldn’t lose sight of the reasons he won in the first place:
Trump is President for a reason. (No, the answer is not Russia.) He is the Commander in Chief because both political parties had nothing to offer to the electorate especially among the lower middle and working classes. They were upset and started to look for someone, anyone to listen to them.
Yes, he’s a crook and a liar and a jerk. But he was able to say the right words to get people to vote for him. The problems that elected Donald Trump are still problems. As long as his opponents (and I include myself) don’t attend to those problems with solutions, Trump will continue to be a problem.
Of Poverty, Cancer, Bureaucracy, and Death
BY EM CARPENTER · FEBRUARY 1, 2020
Our friend Em lost her sister this year. She wrote about it and one of her most poignant posts was about the role poverty and bureaucracy played:
This is how a vibrant 50-year-old woman goes from active to death’s threshold in a few weeks’ time. It’s not certain that earlier detection or prompt treatment would have bought her more time. But we will never know, because my sister has been deemed unworthy of health care coverage by the state she lives in. She was working, paying her rent, doing all those things that people who “want handouts” allegedly don’t do, but it wasn’t enough. It all happened faster than the wheels of bureaucracy turn.
The Confederate Flags of Comer’s Store
BY TIM WEBSTER · JULY 2, 2020
Tim Webster, in his first ever OT post, wrote about growing up with confederate symbols and open racial discrimination:
Oddly, in 1960 and for many years after in my mind, that flag had no relationship whatsoever to Blacks living in the dilapidated structures of Kings Mountain’s “colored town” where my dad went to recruit cotton pickers in September. It had no connection in my mind to the obvious discomfort of Black teenagers coming for the first time to use a new high school building with “us” in 1965. As teens during the whole decade of the 60s, most of “us” were utterly unaware of far off events. The bombing of churches in Montgomery seemed like a terrible thing done by individuals we might now call “bad apples” in Alabama, a distant place with a loud governor. For me, it took many years to see how much pain and suffering has been caused by the ideas and ideals of white supremacy.
Old Men in Poorly-Fitting Pants
BY RUFUS F. · JUNE 11, 2020
Rufus wrote a piece on Old Men:
And here’s the thing to remember: to some extent, we all live in obligation to one another. But, after a certain age, living is a responsibility that no one places upon us. We retire from jobs; marriages come to an end; our kids move away and barely see us; we keep going in the absence of any expectation. So, it’s a hard thing not to become a little indifferent to one’s ongoing survival. Who for? You can’t see the ocean in the darkness, but you can hear it lapping at the shores, and in the middle of the night it sounds a little like it might be calling for you. So, why not walk towards it?
Everybody Gets an F
BY WILL TRUMAN · AUGUST 20, 2020
Our Editor-in-Chief Will Truman wrote about the failure of everyone to have a plan for schools. As time has passed, Will’s words have grown only more accurate and prophetic.
This isn’t Disneyland Recess. It’s not a mere bummer that school isn’t going to be starting (in some places, or perhaps not going for very long in any). It’s a disaster that needs to be treated as one. It’s not something you can say “It’s crap but blame them” and clap the dust off your hands. It’s bigger than blame because it’s going to haunt us for some time to come and the less schooling we can do the more it is going to haunt us. Even if things go reasonably well, we’re going to need to figure out exactly how to accommodate for the fact that a lot of kids learned as much as or more than the expected material while other kids learned nothing or even regressed over the year.
Advice From the Other Side of a Homeschooling Journey
BY LAURA GADBERY · APRIL 20, 2020
And, related, Laura Gadbery was among several authors who wrote about homeschooling kids:
You and your kids have spent a lot of time apart most days and now you’re all in the same boat. And some days it’s not a luxury cruise liner. Suddenly not only is there no in-person school, and in some cases no work, but no outside activities. If there is anything to learn from this, it is how important family is. We have had to change rapidly from a culture of busyness to one of a much slower pace. Enjoy having family meals again and just being together, not necessarily “doing” together. Work not only on your kids’ brains during this time, but also their hearts. This is the real work of homeschooling, not just a by-product.
Up The Union
BY ANDREW DONALDSON · DECEMBER 13, 2020
Andrew wrote a number of posts addressing our election and the post-election mess. His patience with the Trump end-gamers finally reached its end in a cris de coeur against so-called secessionist movements:
Anyone, regardless of their prior accomplishments, titles, experiences, or appeals who calls for secession or civil war is not doing so for the good of America. They are not after the peace and prosperity of all, or the rights of all citizens to purse them. They are not “merely asking questions” or being clever or coming up with anything new. It is not quite treason, narrowly defined by the Constitution and the Supreme Court as actually “levying war” against the government or “adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort,” not just talking, conspiring, or hoping for it online or for fundraising. But the same wicked spirit is there, and those skirting that line for personal gain should be seen, marked, and called out for what they are: the unworthy schemers who, far from wanting law and order and freedom, only use such words to entice others into subjugation. Such folks have always been, and always will be.
Paging Dr. Kübler-Ross
BY BURT LIKKO · DECEMBER 23, 2020
And in that vein, Burt Likko also addressed the delusional fantasies that Mike Pence will steal the election:
Talk about a “Pence Card” or other bizarre quasi-legal theories are just Constitutional cosplay. It’s LARPing the law, a political pornography intended to excite and please a particular kind of audience, but which is not in any meaningful way a reflection of the way things actually are. Donald Trump is, at long last, out of saving throws.
Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Revolutionary?
BY D.A. KIRK · SEPTEMBER 28, 2020
And D.A. Kirk looked at revolution from the other end:
At the end of the day, I really just don’t know if I could bring myself to pull that trigger. And even if I could bring myself to do it, I’m not at all sure that I would. I’m also not sure whether I should be proud of my aversion to violence or ashamed of my apparent cowardice. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that some questions are best left unanswered. And it seems to me that this is probably one of those questions.
Sometimes, You Get Burned: A Personal Account of The Whitney Fire
BY KRISTIN DEVINE · SEPTEMBER 19, 2020
There was one post, however, that was on everyone’s list. One post that just jumped from the pack. That was Kristin’s real-life first-person account of the Whitney Fire. There were several points in this account where I had to get up and go for a glass of water or something.
I could see flames approaching from the east and from the south and my daughter whispered, “I love you, Mommy,” and my heart broke in a million pieces. I had her get down on the floor of the car where hopefully the air would be clearer, and she wouldn’t see the horror show that was happening all around us. I had one of the cats in my arms because he wouldn’t go in the crate, so I couldn’t get down with her or he’d be loose in the car, and if anyone opened the door he’d escape. I just put my head down as low as I could. We held towels over our face to help us breathe and since I didn’t know how much of what we were breathing was oxygen, I told her, “If you feel like you want to go to sleep, go to sleep, it’s ok, and maybe I will too” so she wouldn’t be scared just in case the worst happened.
To experience an event like the Whitney Fire is one thing; to write about it in such a way that the rest of can feel that fear and hope and release…well, that was the best article I read this year.