It would be an understatement to say 2020 was a tough year, and in many ways it feels like a gift just to be alive, well, and safe heading into this very unusual holiday season. But even in a time of somewhat muted celebrations, the holidays are a welcome reminder that we deserve to make room for more than simply surviving—creating space for peace, pleasure, and joy in all its forms is as important as ever. To inspire you to do just that, the Prism team put together a list of the indulgences we’ve leaned on to make it through this year. From food to books, sitcom rewatches and more, dig into these “gifts,” and find new ways to be generous with yourself in the days ahead.
Tamar Sarai Davis, staff reporter
Living Single (now streaming on Hulu)
In a recent episode of the podcast, Therapy for Black Girls, guest Dr. Alicia Little Hodge offered an explanation for why so many have been using the nostalgia of old TV shows and films to help manage their anxiety. “Because the times are so uncertain it can be nice to revisit something that gave us fond memories, good feelings … just the warmth of it.”
Premiering in August 1993, Living Single came out just a little over a year before I was born, making nostalgia perhaps the wrong word to describe my relationship to it. Nevertheless, in recent years I’ve watched the series multiple times over and so returning to it in 2020 has brought familiar laughs and storylines that I can lean into when the stress of my personal and political world becomes too overwhelming and unpredictable.
While the premise of six 20-something year old friends managing to afford to live in the same Brooklyn brownstone apartment could be considered escapist fantasy, so much of the show is an honest depiction of young relationships and a refreshing departure from many other sitcoms of its time and the present day. Living Single featured real friendships with people who (generally) shared love and affection and who didn’t just derive laughs from one another’s humiliation. It showed ambitious women who pursued sex and love but had full lives outside of their romantic relationships, and it told stories about the interior lives of Black characters—not just how they showed up around white people or for white audiences. In a year that’s required me and so many others to explain and fiercely protect every aspect of Black existence while simultaneously processing new levels of solitude and grief, it’s been a gift and simple pleasure to turn on my TV and welcome into my apartment old friends who bring to life some of the things I most hope to return to in 2021 and beyond.
Tina Vasquez, senior reporter
Cookbooks, including Chicano Eats by Esteban Castillo
The gift I’ve given myself this year is the same gift I give myself every year: time and space to cook and continue fueling my passion for food. Navigating the pandemic as a person and a journalist has really beat me down and diminished my intellectual curiosity about—well, almost everything. But not food and cooking, which I remain fascinated and overwhelmingly interested in. I’d be lying if I said that cooking hasn’t lost some of its joyfulness. Before the pandemic, dinner was an event, creative labor I looked forward to after a long day reporting. Dinner is now sometimes a sad grocery store sandwich or fried eggs topped with Fly By Jing chili crisp. But on good days, cooking allows me to funnel my nervous energy into something tangible and tasty; something that allows me to forget my troubles as I pick herbs from my garden, dice vegetables, season a protein, and pull tidbits from my pantry, pulling it all together in an act of sacred alchemy.
I’m endlessly grateful for cookbooks that have given me some semblance of normalcy and joy in the hellscape that has been 2020. Special shoutout to Esteban Castillo’s Chicano Eats, my favorite cookbook published this year. Like many Americans, I will not be going home this holiday season. This is the longest I have gone without seeing my father or roaming the streets of my beloved Southeast Los Angeles. Tonight, I’ll make Castillo’s tacos de papa, a recipe passed down from his grandmother. These tacos remind me of home and how food allows us to travel across time and space, serving as a beautiful expression of resilience.
Ashton Lattimore, editor-in-chief
Family Matters (now streaming on Hulu)
TV rewatches are a common pastime for me in any year, and 2020 has been no exception. What’s been different this year is how much my binge-watching choices have been a clear reflection of—or a reaction to—what’s been going on in the real world. In the fall, as the presidential election loomed and the specter of foreign interference, postal service shenanigans, voter suppression, and a coup loomed, I returned to the only stolen White House drama that could compete with reality for my attention: Scandal.
And now, with the holidays approaching, like Tamar, this year I’ve sought refuge in the warm embrace of a 1990s sitcom. For me, that sitcom is Family Matters. As a Black mother to two kids, and who’s recently taken to living with in-laws and extended family while we wait out the pandemic, Harriet and Carl Winslow’s crowded but loving home feels like a mirror of my own. (That’s true even though they admittedly had three kids for a while, before their youngest daughter Judy went upstairs one day in season four and inexplicably never came back down. Ever.) Even some 30 years later, the show’s humor holds up, and seeing the warm, light, and loving ways the elder Winslows raise their children and manage their quirks has taken on added resonance for me now that I’m a parent, too. But more than that, after the chaos of 2020, the sheer predictability and low stakes of it have been a balm—there’s a lot of comfort to be found in whiling away the hours with a Black family whose problems can always be solved within 22 minutes.
Carolyn Copeland, staff reporter & copy editor
Romance novel book club
I’ve always been a social person and avid reader, so this year, I combined the two and joined a book club. Pandemic aside, I’m in an awkward stage in my life where close friends have been moving away, going off to grad school, or busy with kids. So, to branch out and meet new people in my area—especially at a time when people are confined to their homes—I knew I needed to be proactive. I hunted around on MeetUp.com to find a group. After a brief search, I found a group for “romance readers” in my area. I’m a hopeless romantic and adore cheesy love stories, but at that time, I couldn’t remember the last time I read a romance novel. At that moment, I knew it was the group for me.
In the five months I’ve been part of the club, I’ve picked up books I never would have read on my own. Some have been beautifully-written, silly love stories like the Bridgerton series, and others have been hilariously bad (one of them was a short story about a merman king with a poorly thought-out backstory).
So far, I’ve only met the group on Zoom, but once the pandemic is over, we’ll be resuming the normal meet-up in person. Usually, the first 30 minutes revolve around the book, but the rest of it is just the group talking and joking around.
I never saw myself as the type of person who would join a book club, but it has given me something to look forward to throughout the pandemic. It takes away the energy of having to figure out what to read next, and I got to meet some really nice people.
Michi Trota, senior editor
Sarah Kuhn’s novels
Usually I find trying new things to be energizing, but nothing about the last year has been remotely normal, and it’s been exhausting just keeping my head above water. So instead, I’ve been giving myself permission to return to favorite stories—to my surprise, knowing the ending makes the re-read/re-watch an easy comfort rather than boring or predictable. I’ve spent the last year binge-watching favorite TV shows and movies like The Good Place, Leverage, Lilo & Stitch, and Sneakers, and it’s like catching up with old friends.
The books I’ve found myself returning to consistently over the last year have been Sarah Kuhn’s novels, particularly her Heroine series. Kuhn’s stories manage to balance action, excitement, romance, friendship, and center Asian American women. It’s not often that I get to read an entire series of books where I can see facets of myself reflected in three distinctly different main characters, all of whom are Asian American women. Bonus: They’re all superheroes (one of them even controls fire, which I have a particular fondness for as a fire performance artist myself), and there are adventures involving demon-possessed cupcakes, cursed wedding dresses, and haunted karaoke—it’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with heroines of color who thrive without having to choose between heroism and love. I’ve read the first three books in the series at least twice, and just bought myself the fourth, Haunted Heroine, to read over the holidays. And Kuhn’s I Love You So Mochi, while not speculative fiction, made me cry (in a good way!) over the truth and insight about what it can be like to be a child of the diaspora searching for your own identity and connection to one’s distant family and culture.
Amidst the unpredictability and instability of 2020, the comfort and familiarity of my favorite stories, like Kuhn’s books, have been an anchor and a reminder that it’s still possible to find meaning and inspiration in the things we love, especially when we see ourselves reflected back in them.
Saba Keramati, operations coordinator
PEN15 (now streaming on Hulu)
In a year devoid of physical friendship, I found myself turning to an admittedly absurd show, one whose title and premise initially stopped me from watching it. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, two of the show’s creators, star as Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone, 13-year-old versions of their now-33-year-old selves. All of their middle school classmates are played by actual teenagers. What first struck me as bizarre ultimately moved me to tears, of laughter and of genuine emotion.
What I forgot about middle school, that Erskine and Konkle so expertly weave into their show, was the profound loneliness that comes with the beginning of teenagedom. This year, we have all been lonely. We all, like teenagers, are overwhelmed with emotions we haven’t experienced before. I, like Maya and Anna, often forget that others are going through the exact same thing. I’ve bottled up emotions that I then realized all my friends understood. PEN15 didn’t end up being escapist fantasy for me, but a push towards introspection and compassion for my loved ones.
What I love most about PEN15 is that Anna and Maya, through all their experiences (parental divorce, getting one’s first period, one’s first understanding of snide comments as racism, and more), have each other. They hold hands. They hug. They even share a thong. PEN15 made me cringe, made me nostalgic, made me miss my mom, and was the closest I got to feeling like there was a friend sitting beside me.