I knew from the beginning that 2021 would be different. I graduated from The University of Winchester in 2014 without any plan for my life, and spent seven years living moment-to-moment as I wondered what, if anything, I was capable of. Then, during the height of the pandemic, I found a plan. Move to London, undertake a Master’s Degree, and break into the publishing industry. It would be challenging, but the plan felt solid, coherent, and achievable. So I entered into 2021 knowing that, whatever happened, the pattern would be broken. For the first time a structure lay before me with clear targets to be met.
I was fortunate enough to remain on furlough until I moved to London in September. The pandemic had warped my sense of time to the point that my life at the pub felt impossibly distant. It seemed like the monotonous confines of my room were all I had ever known. I was desperate to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and luckily I was able to get both jabs before I left for London. Luckier still, I didn’t (and still haven’t) contracted the virus myself, which I guess isn’t too surprising seeing as how I lived in a small town and barely left the house. I went on walks with my brother now and then but that was it. Most of my time I spent at my desk trying to be productive. I had long video calls with Aaron and Anne-Marie, who helped me to prepare for KU. I tried to write as much as possible, knowing that I wouldn’t have as much time once university started. I sent my novel out to literary agents, I sent stories out to competitions, and I tried to inject new life into this blog.
I also published the odd article in a few online magazines too. In the summer I wrote a piece for History of Yesterday about the historical meanings of modern everyday words, which ended up being the most-viewed thing I’ve ever written. You can catch it here if you’re interested.
Up until September my year was defined by my writing targets and the productivity schedule I set for myself. I wasn’t really making memories or doing anything super exciting with my time. I knew that what would end up defining my 2021 would be the last four months of the year. But there were 3 big events that made 2021 very special for me personally, and which stand out to me as my happiest memories:
- In May, Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time in their history. It’s the biggest and most prestigious trophy in professional football, and my favorite team winning it was made all the sweeter by the fact that they weren’t considered favorites at all that season. But they went on an incredible run with a very likable group of young players to win the competition in stylish fashion. I’ll never forget Kai Havertz’s iconic goal and feeling it gave me for as long as I live.
- In July, the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals for the second time in their history. I know, right. First my favorite soccer team and then my favorite basketball team. I was so happy for the Bucks to get their chip, because I was afraid that this group of players would keep brushing up on the fringes of glory without ever cementing their place in history. This team deserved it more than anyone, and seeing them dig deep to take their game to the next level was very satisfying to watch. I think that given what Giannis has done for this team, having stayed loyal all these years, dominating on both ends of the court, and having performed how he did in the finals, entitles him to the mantle of being considered the greatest Buck ever.
- In September, we witnessed the biggest Age of Empires 2 tournament ever in Red Bull Wololo V. It had a whopping $100,000 prize pool, which I think is technically the second highest in the game’s tournament history, but it wasn’t the prize pool that made the tourney what it was. It was the overall production value, for which Red Bull seemingly spared no expense. The tournament was held in a real medieval castle in Heidelberg, Germany, with stunning views. All of the staff, including the casters and presenters, were dressed in medieval costumes. There was a physical draft table for the players to select their civs and maps. Beautifully-illustrated banners were designed for each of the 14 players. Between sets there were high-quality interviews, funny skits, and well-produced features on the players to help audiences get to know them better, including a touching video message from Mr. Yo (the winner of Red Bull Wololo I) who couldn’t make it due to China’s COVID-19 travel restrictions. The whole event lasted a week, and watching it was all I did that week. I’d never seen anything like it before- and I honestly wonder if I’ll ever witness anything like it again. It was so exciting, and you couldn’t have asked for a better Grand Finals matchup. The Viper vs. Liereyy; the former being the greatest of all time and the latter being the greatest right now. We had the two best players in the world playing at their best. The series (a best of 7) went right up to the 7th game, which ended up being one of the craziest, most dramatic, back-and-forth matches I’ve seen in competitive AoE2 history. Teutons vs. Berbers on Land Madness, a map notorious for its aggressive games. Ultimately the The Viper took the win, proving to the world that he was by no means washed-up, and finally winning the one trophy that’s eluded him throughout his illustrious career. I actually got chills the moment he won and his girlfriend and teammates all rushed the stage to hug him. It’s something I will remember as vividly as Kai Havertz’s goal vs Manchester City or Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tears of joy after defeating the Suns in Game 6.
Of course, what I will remember most about 2021 is moving to London and beginning my journey here at KU. In many ways it was quite jarring adapting to the fast pace of life that comes with being a Master’s student in a big city, but I think I managed it quite well. Unlike my 2021 pre-September, in which the only pressure was that which I imposed on myself, my time post-September saw me constantly challenged. Not just academically, but socially too. I didn’t just make new connections, I made new types of connections, all the while trying to be my authentic self and eschew ingrained habits rooted in longstanding insecurities. It’s one thing to identify areas for improvement, but quite another to put improvements into practice. All of this was made easier by the fact that the people I’ve met here at KU have been very accepting and tolerant. I’m not sure if it’s a London thing, a cultural shift that’s taken place over the past ten years, or if it’s me that’s changed.
It might be all three, since my perception of people 10 years ago was definitely warped through the filter of my anxiety. I made a lot of negative assumptions at Winchester and my impression of people was informed very much along the lines of high school dynamics. Nonetheless, I do think 2021 is a different world to 2011, which is when I started my Bachelor’s Degree. The friends I’ve met here are a lot more open, confessional, and emotional than I expected. They’re unembarrassed about topics such as sex or mental health, and have interesting things to say about them. The freshmen I’ve met aren’t at all like the freshmen I remember 10 years ago. Everyone seems a lot more articulate and well-informed. People seem more comfortable being themselves. No one seems to expect anything of me. It’s nice, and I don’t feel like I have to think too much about what I say or that I have to maintain some curated image in order to fit in.
Perhaps the best thing to happen to me in 2021 came right at the end of the year. On December 29th I went for a walk with my parents, my brother, and my brother’s fiancée to Ashton Court, which is a huge manor estate just outside of Bristol. We walked directly from my brother’s house in Long Ashton to the estate via some countryside paths, and as we did, I got an email that read “Congratulations!” in the subject line. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I knew based on the fact that the subject was “Congratulations!” and who it was from, what it meant, but I couldn’t yet allow myself to believe it. With my heart racing I opened the email and discovered that I’d come third place in a short story competition hosted by Writer’s Playground. It’s a competition that means a lot to me. They send you a selection of prompts to choose from and you have a week to write a story using them. I chose “child of divorce” for my character, “forest” for my setting, and “horseshoe” as a thing I had to incorporate into the narrative. Getting third place was a massive confidence boost that came at a time when I really needed one. The winning stories were published on New Year’s Day on the Writer’s Playground website, which you can find here if you’re interested.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and Happy New Year!