Today in Tedium: This year sucked more than a single year could possibly suck. But it’s just about over, and given that it’s our last issue of the year and OH MY GOD DID YOU EXPERIENCE THIS YEAR, I hope that another message in your inbox reminding you that 2020 is over is met not with derision but an opportunity for reflection as to what has passed and what is coming. At the end of last year, we were hopeful. Of course, I’m not sure what to say about what just happened these last 12 months, but hope perhaps wasn’t one of the emotions elicited. Let’s look back at what happened this year, look ahead, and think about the state of our Tedium during a year when heaping helpings of tedium were all over the place. — Ernie @ Tedium
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Five signs 2021 will be better than 2020
- If you live in New York, you can protect your image from commercial use for 40 years after you die. That’s according to a new law that takes effect in May. (One might call the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, quite famously a New York resident, a forerunner of this law.) There appear to be fewer new weird laws than usual to highlight this year, a likely result of the pandemic putting attention on things that actually matter.
- Public Domain Day is coming back strong. If you’re a fan of The Great Gatsby, this year’s Public Domain Day, a holiday celebrating the new works to leave the confines of copyright on January 1, will be a treat for you. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s landmark work is the headline item this time around. (The 2013 Baz Luhrmann film still has 87 years to go.) Curious what else is out of copyright? Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a list of prominent works. (Fittingly, one of the works hitting the public domain on Friday is the silent film Lovers in Quarantine.)
- You can import some weird European cars from the ’90s. So, one legal quirk I was recently made aware of is the fact that after 25 years on the market, differing emissions and safety rules that would prevent the import of European cars into the U.S. no longer count against the vehicles. Which means that any car produced in Europe in 1996 can now be imported to the U.S., according to Motor1. One problem with those imports: travel restrictions because of the pandemic! Shoot, getting a Ford Ka over here might be tougher than I thought.
- Startup culture is getting creative again, and a clear sign of that is in its naming nomenclatures—as Inc. notes, branding has adapted to the times and is going for something more creative and clever rather than taking a more boring approach. Anything to take our mind off the hellscape that is this year.
- It is no longer 2020, and there is a vaccine.
Do wall calendars still matter now that time is a cosmic joke and all dates blend together?
As you may or may not know, I’ve hemmed and hawed on the purpose of wall calendars every single year since Tedium started. In our very first issue, I complained about how terrible and useless they were.
“We predict that 2015 is the year the calendar cabal gets disrupted once and for all,” we wrote, clearly not understanding the attacks I would face for this controversial stance.
Personally, I’m deeply in the “what’s the point” phase of wall calendars, but wall calendar creators continue to try, and this year, they’ve created some freaking masterpieces.
The most notable entry on this list is clearly the “Nice Jewish Guys” 2021 calendar, which features one of the most compelling conceits I’ve ever seen for a wall calendar in my six years of running Tedium. A dozen photos of friendly Jewish guys eating bagels, hiking, sitting in bookstores, and playing music. Speaking to the New York Post, creator Adam Cohen says that they’re just 12 of more than 1,000 men to submit photos to the calendar annually—some of whom aren’t even Jewish.
“I have guys who keep submitting year after year,” he explained. “I have a number of guys who submit pictures of themselves eating a bagel or wearing a yarmulke.”
Meanwhile, the 80-year-old face of British rebellion-turned-establishment, Cliff Richard, is laying down in the other direction from the nice Jewish guy, ensuring we have natural symmetry with our wall calendars. (And if you don’t like that one, there are six others. That’s right, Amazon sells seven Cliff Richard wall calendars.) Richard, who has had four Christmas Number 1 singles in the U.K., is basically who Bill Nighy’s character is parodying in Love Actually, except way lamer.
On a completely different note, there are lots of weird calendars nowadays, and many of them are fascinating to consider. For example, this one on Taxidermy Disasters probably seems up the alley of many of our readers. (On a side note: Amazon seems to have a lot of animals doing their business in wall calendar form. Gross, yet somehow better than the Cliff Richard calendar.)
But honestly, the thing I’m most surprised about is that there aren’t more timely calendars about how awful 2020 was. It seems like a prime opportunity for social commentary about the year we just left in a year that we hope might be a little better. (Perhaps we didn’t want to draw attention to how awful the prior year was out of fear the next one would be worse?) But there were calendars about key news stories of the year, including a single-page Black Lives Matter poster in which the months are shaped like a fist. A notable bestseller is a wall calendar about how great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, which seems like one thing I’d like to take away from 2020, personally.
But ultimately, these calendars, nice as they are, are simple reminders that we live in a world where time is constructed around us and we will lose nothing if we lose track of it for a week. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
The year of calendar you can reuse in 2021 as a one-to-one match, according to WTHR, in case you feel like living in a different time after 2020 is done for. (The secret: Since the New Year starts on a Friday, it allows for easy repeats.) Other years you could relive: 1999 and 1993, which were two pretty good years for music!
The state of our Tedium in 2021 is defined by how we work around the things we can’t do
To put a positive spin on 2020, the year was a big win for the MacGyvers of the world.
It forced a lot of creativity that wasn’t necessarily easy to come by in other forms, as we basically found ourselves trying to work around the things we couldn’t do in service of the things that we could.
To offer a small, perfectly tedious example from my own personal life: Not long after the pandemic began, I started having problems with my office chair. The back started to fall back because the arms on the side had disconnected from the screws in the seat. Not a good time for that to happen, right? Well, I was eventually able to get a replacement shipped on warranty, which meant that I got a new chair out of it in the end. But that took time; I had to email the factory, which had stopped operating in the meantime. When it finally did get back online, it took probably a week or two to get the chair sent after that.
In the meanwhile, the way I ensured the old chair remained usable involved the use of a long, thick piece of string, some tape, and a couple of Command strips with hooks on the end. The arms were the weak point that was falling apart. The string held the arms in place, while the Command strips and hook held the whole thing in place and the tape reinforced the chair.
It was not elegant. Far from it. It looked hacky, and if I leaned too far back, the whole mechanism broke and I would have to spend 20 minutes rebuilding it. But repairing the chair itself wasn’t an option, because it would have required me to remove the seat cover, which would be hard to reapply. Nonetheless, it got me by for a little while until I was able to get a more permanent solution at my desk—and even proves an able backup solution whenever I want to write in a more focused way in my attic (as I’m doing now).
In many ways, I had no choice. I suddenly found myself using the chair every single day.
This is the very kind of thing that was happening at scale throughout the pandemic in ways large and small, with far more impact than my stupid chair ever saw.
Zoom is a great example; we embraced that right away, in numerous ways we had never anticipated—like family get-togethers, concerts, classrooms, and holiday parties. Sure, it had security problems, but it also had the ability to keep us connected in a relatively human way. I actually grew to like Zoom to some degree by the end of the year, even if I found myself investing in a better webcam than I originally owned.
Companies that previously wouldn’t dare put their employees in a remote environment ended up having to do so with the weight of force … and you know what? That part of the equation turned out OK. (Perhaps I knew this was coming: I had started working on a piece about the challenges of videoconferencing back in February, only to find the piece had gained surprising relevance by the time it actually published in March.)
Was it perfect? No way. But it allowed us to have a semblance of something normal during a weird time. Sure, for a while, we lost things like laugh tracks and faced shortages of certain byproducts because of manufacturing challenges, but ultimately, many of us muddled through.
One of my favorite Adam Schlesinger compositions. (He’s the bassist, not the singer.)
Not everyone did. This pandemic started in the U.S. with the deaths of some musical heavyweights to COVID-19—folk-country icon John Prime, whose legacy looms large over popular music even today; power-pop songwriting genius Adam Schlesinger, whose immensely catchy songcraft with Fountains of Wayne was somehow overshadowed by his Emmy-winning work in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the Oscar-nominated theme song to That Thing You Do; and Hal Willner, the decades-long musical director of Saturday Night Live and the only man brave enough to see the potential of Conway Twitty and The Residents sharing a stage. If Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson getting COVID-19 didn’t get your attention, the loss of these creative icons hopefully did.
Since then, they’ve been joined by hundreds of thousands of others in the U.S. alone—and closing in on 2 million globally. Not all of them were famous or even globally notable according to Wikipedia. Many were simply cared for by their families and friends.
In that light, I must emphasize that I am a fortunate, privileged soul if I get to spend my pandemic sitting inside my house, complaining about my chair and the fact that I had to come up with a hacky solution to fix it. There are people who don’t get that ability right now. My wife Cat, for example, has never been able to work remote during this pandemic, though she fortunately works in an office by herself, so she mostly gets to avoid the crappy parts of working in an office during a pandemic.
Others still don’t get that benefit. There were a lot of people on the front lines—grocery store and restaurant employees, the medical workers, the people working in factories and retail stores just trying to get by.
I greatly miss working out of coffee shops, but if my staying inside means that myself and others are protected, I can live with that.
Who is to blame for all of this? I’m sure a lot of folks reading this have strong opinions on that question. I admit that a lot of this is a failure of vision on the part of people in political power. But on the other hand, this crisis seems to have destroyed the resolve of even those that were incredibly well-prepared.
This is a time of MacGyver-style hackery. We are keeping things together with hooks and twine. Let’s hope that it doesn’t fall apart in the year ahead.
Look, there is a lot of arbitrariness to the calendar and the date cycle, but nonetheless, it still feels good to put this particular year in the past.
And the thing is, there is no reason the calendar has to look the way it does. In 1902, a British accountant named Moses B. Cotsworth made the case for a change in the way we put together our calendars. Rather than splitting it up into 12 months of uneven length, Cotsworth made the case for splitting the year into 13 months of 28 days each … along with one extra outlier day during the last week of every year that wouldn’t fit along the seven-day calendar. (The 13th month, called “Sol,” would fit between June and July, in case you were wondering.)
Cotsworth, who worked at the North Eastern Railway Company when formulating the idea, made the case on a pure efficiency front. Because of the uneven amount of days in a month, it was harder to measure results week after week. The International Fixed Calendar, as it came to be called, was the kind of thing a businessperson could love, and after it was selected at a conference for calendar reform as the best possible choice, at least one high-profile one did: George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, who implemented it at his company, where it was in use between 1928 and 1989.
“Implementing the 13-month calendar on a national or global scale never seemed worth the disruption to people outside the worlds of industry and commerce,” CityLab contributor Mark Byrnes wrote in 2014. “It still doesn’t.”
The fight against the pandemic, in many ways, might have benefited from the mindset of efficiency and logistical congruency that drove the International Fixed Calendar into existence. But as humans, we are inherently inefficient and broken in ways that an organizational method just can’t resolve. We complain a lot. We curse. We fight back.
The problem is, our systems are busted right now, and have failed to take reasonable steps to even allow for this efficiency. And as humans, that has perhaps broken many of us further this year than we might have expected.
As a human race facing a difficult time unlike anything we’ve felt on a global level in more than a century, we need things to just work right now. The pandemic, and the situations that made it as bad as it currently is, is a reflection of the fact that they are not working.
I hope that changes in 2021—and hope we don’t need a new calendar to get us back on track.
Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! Have a Happy New Year!