No. 10 — 🧭 Year in Review 2020
My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9612 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.
“Ends are always followed by beginnings. Something new could start now, right here! There really are so many wonderful things. “
- Tim Walker
For the past six years I’ve written a recollection of the year past. It’s part documentation, part journaling on small and big moments of the year. To make it useful for others, I usually also include links to stories I’ve found interesting and books I’ve read.
Last year I wrote about paying attention. Most of this year felt like a prolonged exercise in attention: the trees in different colors in the neighbouring park, break making, walking the same loop around Helsinki, living on an island in the middle of the city.
I waved and air-kissed a lot. Worked on small, personal projects that gave me joy and prepare me, maybe, if I’m lucky, for something new. Ruby series grew to include a Faroe, Greek, Thai, Turkish and Indian-English versions. I also got a new Chinese publisher and new books were published in Japanese and Italian. Completed my 1000 kilometers a year running goal, but was short two books of the 70 books a year goal.
Found surprising joy amidst a pandemic. Learned to trust.
Changed the year at R. & A.’s making Korean hotdogs and playing Playstation. Walked to my new home, had a drink at the nearby hotel lobby at midnight and decided 2020 was going to be great.
Played Terraforming Mars on several nights. Entertained a lot: friends for tea, lunch, weekend visits, lazy Sundays in bed and book club planning. Loved these moments, especially given how the year would continue.
Last stretches of renovation and the excitement of plumbing, electricity and interior decorations all coming together. My brief for A. was: “Make it look like an English arts club where members have forgotten to pay their dues. Also Grey Gardens meets Queen Elizabeth.”
Made the same sandwich over and over again: Västerbotten cheese, pumpkin relish and sourdough from the nearby bakery. Attended classical music club and scribbled down life advice: when you change the tempo, you change the rendition.
Spent a week in London with E. BETT was massive, V&A’s Tim Walker collection mystical. Saw A’s first exhibition, had breakfast with C. and met with the lovely folks at Wonderbly. And with a wink and a bit of eastwind, my year took a turn into Mary Poppins universe with B. Serious, yet whimsical, lighthearted, yet profound, imaginative, yet practical.
Throughout the year hung for some reason on this Guillermo del Toro interview. The themes would reappear over and over again.
Paperilla Toinen by Emmi-Liia Sjöholm
The Overstory by Richard Powers. Loved this so much.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Haruki Murakami Goes to Meet Hayao Kawai by Hayao Kawai and Haruki Murakami
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy. Gave me my favorite anecdote of the year.
Flew to San Francisco. Mostly worked with H. Read a lot and did yoga with H.&E. and about 70 other people crammed into a tiny room. Enjoyed the cold, sunny days, running in Presidio (“I am dancing, dancing on the edge of the world.” — Rumsen Ohlone Song) and the smell of eucalyptus. Visited Reno for a lovely teaching session at the Nevada Museum of Art.
Thought a lot about Freeman Dyson, who passed away.
Did a quick trip to Dubai at the end of the month. Enjoyed examples of Taiwanese and UK teachers using Ruby materials. Started playing Fortnite after reading many essays from Matthew Ball. Watched Giri/Haji and missed both London and Tokyo. Ate blinis, hunted for furniture from Bukowski, attended several birthday parties, saw Parasite in the movies. So many lasts.
On February 5th a delegation from China was supposed to visit Finland, but they cancelled. This was my first inkling that things would change.
Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford. Can’t believe this was written in 1932 — the historical and cultural background of technology of today.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Another favorite in style, science, spirit and story.
Westend by Suvi Vaarla
Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This grew slowly on me, but at the end I was crying non-stop.
Met baby E. Visited Stockholm and the lovely Tove Jansson Festival. There was already nervousness in the air, a lot of hand sanitisers in use with T. and J., but still went to Junibacken, Millesgård and ordered room service at Nobis. March 11th flew to Copenhagen for the final in-person gig of the year for an empty audience — then, one by one, every single work thing disappearing from my calendar.
Started a long-planned egg freezing process with all of the hormones and injections, but had to abruptly stop because of Covid. Luckily, joy was around the corner and I didn’t have a lot of time to feel sad.
“Drink coffee, write and try not to meet a lot of people.”- Bong Joon-ho. Kale and butternut squash and chickpeas. Coffee and toiletpaper. Cranberry no-knead bread. Blood orange cake.
Loved the pastel aesthetic of old computers. Read several books in Swedish and held story hours on Instagram in the evenings.
Jungfrustigen by Philip Teir
Om Livets Mening by Merete Mazarella
Kuinkas tässä näin kävi by Björn Wahlroos
Vem Dödade Bambi? by Monica Fagerholm
The Writer’s Map by Huw Lewis-Jones. Maps were a recurring theme this year — a good example of how a book bought ages ago can spark new ideas.
Every calamity opens a new seam and for me it was time. It’s been a decade or more since I’ve spent several weeks in one place. Doing “nothing” became a national moral imperative, and as much as I missed my family, and the pandemic scared me, the pause was much needed. (Here I must say Helsinki has had it quite easy compared to many other cities, I don’t have kids of my own and work, even though completely uppended, could continue in some fashion).
Home felt like a remote island, a tiny enchanted diorama. Finished a dream project of building a custom bookshelf. Daffodils grinning on the windowsill. Pancakes becoming a form of meditation. A bench at the nearby park, perfect for reading. Had a patient skateboarding teacher I was learning to trust and enjoyed the Ghibli cloud weather in the evenings.
Turned 34. Had one of the best stay-at-home birthdays ever. Went to a Travis Scott concert — on Fortnite, with 12 million others. Listened to Sofia Coppola’s Quarantine playlist and hours on end of Timothée Chalamet New York mixtape
Wrote the only column of the year for YLE on Fortnite being a place instead of a game. Thought also about nostalgia and childhood and Solitaire. Watched Unorthodox which fit the strange mood perfectly.
A new book buzzing and humming inside of me. Took a Stanford class on narrative non-fiction writing, but failed miserably to work on PST.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Last Things by Jenny Offill
Marimekon yrityskulttuuri by Anneli Karsi
Talking to my daughter about the economy by Yanis Varoufakis
Worked on video productions, math content and a few bigger projects that are not yet out. Had some professional disappointments. Slowly started to believe that the cancellations of international events and teaching might turn out to be a good thing, although at times the spring was financially stressful.
Still had my work with Hive, OP Helsinki and Unesco, so got my share of Zoom-fatigue, but probably to a lesser extent than many. Also, writing life prepared me well for days and weeks without workplace contacts.
Through work at Hive followed discussions around the future of remote-first university and higher-ed and decided to start paying attention again (after the first wave of MOOCs had all but left the edtech world in disillusionment). CS50 was a constant source of joy and inspiration.
Did a joyous Mayday delivery run of pastries for godchildren and met a new group of people I’d grow close to (a feat during a year of social distancing!). Saw B. kitesurfing. Played Peggy Gou instead of being at AfricaBurn.
This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World by Yancey Stickler
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
Infinite in all directions by Freeman Dyson. One of the favorites of the year!
What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz
What it Takes by Stephen A. Schwarzman
Limonov by Emmanuel Carrere
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Shot the Computer Science in 60 seconds videos. Writing scripts was much easier the second time around, and seeing a full production crew after months of being on my own was like returning back to school after a long, lonely summer vacation.
Summer nights, drinks at the newly opened terraces, ice cream on the inner yard of my building. Plans, dreams, babyshowers. Dancing to Drake. Midsummer weekend and the baffled new dad. Daytrip to Hanko with B., A. and R.
In love with my little neighbourhood: on several days went running in the morning and ended with a casual swim.
“Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane.” — Haruki Murakami.
Subscribed to Happy Reader. Had a lot of tabs open — and found potential future upgrades to my bookshelf inspired by St. Gallen. (I want this book!)
Sesame Street Unpaved: Scripts, Stories, Secrets and Songs by David Borgenicht
Snabba cash by Jens Lapidus. Summer Scandi Noir habit might go Swedish.
The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming. Wish there were two editions of this book.
Onko maallamme malttia vaurastua? by Urho Kekkonen
Summer plans changed quite suddenly and I was alone for most of July, with a slight summertime ennui and endless loops of Taylor Swift. But did enjoy a trip to Lonna island, a walk to Way bakery which felt like a trip to Berlin, as well as making of special signs (“Do not trample the bugs”).
Watched Babysitters Club with A. and enjoyed a wonderful exhibition by M. and C. Watched I May Destroy You in awe. Hung out a lot with my goddaughter, literally stopping to smell the flowers and visited the cabins of two friends. Summer felt at times almost normal.
Did a talk for CSTA and got quite excited about all the possibilities virtual events offered (and wrote about my thoughts a bit). After a quiet and simmering spring, I was feeling ready to start working in the new normal. Ordered a documentary camera and rolled my sleeves. A typology of dumplings.
Something about the lack of touch this year, our focus on wobbly heads on the screen, has made me notice more the connections of movement, language and technology. If language began in the hands, why did it ever leave?
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Iiris Lempivaaran levoton ja painava sydän by Riikka Pulkkinen
Olipa kerran äiti by Helmi Kekkonen
Life in Code by Ellen Ullman
Man tar vanliga ord: att läsa om Astrid Lindgren by Lena Törnqvist
The Future is Asian by Parag Khanna
Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook
Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith
China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
C and K came to Helsinki. Spent time at our summer house and attended H’s tiny engagement party. B. came back. Had a magical night at Savoy. Went to the Moomin exhibition at National Museum three times and organised a Moomin & pancaked themed 2-year party for A and a graduation party for C. All the time the tingling sensation that this too, was ending.
Photographed a ton of electrical boxes to start my outdoors mural project.
Started a newsletter, after years of postponing. Wrote about digital pocket treasures and was glad to have a writing rhythm after slacking on the column writing in the spring. Was curious about Walden Pond.
Throughout fall joined as many online events as I could: seminars, theater, festivals, exhibitions, Netflix parties, Discord meetups, small classes, concerts, book clubs, Twitch writing sessions, parties on Google Docs, and tried to take notes of every experience. Felt like I was back in school, but instead of paying tuition to someone I was getting paid to learn in public. And all this might become something.. new?
Month of big life changes — bonjour l’avenir!
A Winter Book by Tove Jansson
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Korkeintaan vähän väsynyt by Eeva Kolu
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Wrote about the Internet, walking around the city and noticing. Painted my electricity box with joy, drama and exuberance.
Helsingin Sanomat did a story on my career so far and did a Talouselämä podcast. (I didn’t have much to say in either of them, but maybe it’s a good thing. Still a little puzzled as to what to do with press/tv requests). Thai versions of Ruby came out.
Did talks in Sweden, Iceland and South-East Asia. Realised that preparing for virtual events resembles more shooting tv or movies with the very detailed scripts and camera-angles. E. and I had a walk of wild ideas, one of which caught a bit of momentum.
Listened over and over to this Mary Oliver interview.
Started growing out the platinum blond hair color and took French lessons online. Ate twice at Aki, a new pop-up restaurant by T. Fall walking in Suomenlinna, determined and heavy few weeks, seven time capsules.
Had a lot of luck on stockmarket(ytd % was 92%!), betting on technology companies I’ve known and loved, but at the same time having some doubts to the morals of this.
Favorite question of the month: What are things that are more magical the more you know about them?
Hengittämisen taito by Joel Haahtela
Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver.
Started teaching a group of Helsinki University education students. Loved working on the syllabus of the course and prototyping some ideas with a small group. Realised it was the longer timespan that made it meaningful. Obsessed over the syllabus as a concept and was thankful for work of Shannon Mattern and Taeyoon Choi.
Wrote about childhood animism and later about attention. Got really excited about fungal computers and ordered John Cage: A Mycological Foray. Applied on a whim to an arts residency, and got accepted. El Pais did a profile of my work and I started to see the collective lack of knowledge of the history of technology as one of the key ideas for my upcoming work.
Drank wine under a blanket in the October cold. Made this sheet-pan plum chicken recipe several times. Obsessed over browned butter, butternut squash and pistachios in all forms. Watched Queen’s Gambit and read on Reliance. Ran Bodom Trail, the only running competition of the year.
All progress turns to maintenance rang very true as I was working on fixes for the Hello Ruby books and the reprints. Kept coming back to this Marge Piercy piece (“The work of the world is common as mud.”). Did some of my more meaningful work with Hive.
On National Cinnamon Bun day, did a delivery service inspired by Kiki. Went to Nuuksio, visited Hylkysaari. Loved our annual running club’s foliage trip to east Helsinki. H. got married and had all the feels over Zoom.
Tritonus by Kjell Westö. Read Westö for the first time in his original Swedish!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Hetken Pariisi on meidän by Pihla Hintikka
Luster by Raven Leilani
The Weil Conjectures by Karen Olsson. One of the favourites of the year.
Kaikki on hyvin — Riippumatta siitä miten kaikki on by Saku Tuominen
Celebrated my first year in Ullanlinna! Did a keynote to Singapore, Sweden, Faroe islands, Estonia and Pori, all virtually. Bought a ring light, that also doubled as a bright light in the darkening Helsinki.
Walks in Seurasaari and anxiously waiting for Uunisaari bridge to come back. Purple brussels sprouts. New routine of Sunday breakfasts. Seeing baby I. for the first time on a walk. Father’s day dinner.
Enjoyed seeing the work of my Chinese publisher (hope I can share more next year!) and the new Faroese versions of Hello Ruby. Wrote about math and later about drawing. Started an online Reggio Emilia course, something that wouldn’t have been possible before. Read A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future by Seymour Papert
A worsening Covid situation and general November-ness were starting to get to me. Tried to find wisdom from Moominvalley in November. R’s and A’s small wedding was a source of much joy: participated in bachelor and bachelorette party and the wedding itself. Ebitdad returns.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. “My viny-hivey elfworld, as you say, versus your techy-mechy dystopia. We both know it’s nothing so simple, any more than a letter’s reply is its opposite. But which egg preceded what platypus? The ends don’t always resemble our means.” If I could write this poetic-love-story-across-stars-science-fiction, I would.
The Unreality of Memory: Essays by Elisa Gabbert
Polta nämä kirjeet by Alex Schulman
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Came up with 24 computing and craft ideas for the holiday countdown. Finished with my teaching and felt very happy with where I was and how to get better. Watched a children’s screenwriting workshop from New York, a concert from Paris Philharmonics and participated in early childhood workshop in Italy, all in a week. Got lovely letters from Korean children. Have a few exciting projects lined-up for next year and a lot of trust that whatever happens, I’ll be ok.
Watched The Crown. Ordered a Christmas tree that will get replanted in January. Did a virtual quiz night on Kardashian’s and physics with my extended family on Independence Day. Obsessed over the trees at Tähtitorninmäki and planned a lantern walk with friends children. Went to Christmas Porvoo and had cinnamon buns and coffee on a terrace. Inside the Secret Math Society Known Simply as Nicolas Bourbaki.
A family member passed away, and due to Covid restrictions couldn’t attend the funeral. Grief is still hanging, waiting for exhalation, which might come next summer, who knows.
After self-quarantining spent Christmas with my close family, and visited B’s relatives. Started a knitting project and watched Little Women. Played Among Us.
Obsessed over antilibraries, so a few books I didn’t read: Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art and Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake. Loved this!
What Kind of Woman: Poems by Kate Baer
Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar
Notes on My Dunce Cap by Jesse Ball
Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence by George Dyson
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
I : Six Nonlectures by e.e. Cummings