Your 15 Favorite Posts on Open Culture This Year–and What a Year It Has Been

So, it’s been a year. For those of us in parts of the world where the pan­dem­ic still rages uncon­tained, it’s going to be an even longer win­ter. It may be utter­ly triv­i­al­iz­ing to speak of sil­ver lin­ings when it comes to clouds this size, but there’s no rea­son not to use our time wise­ly in quar­an­tine, lock­down, cocoon­ing, or what­ev­er we’re call­ing it these days. For all of the enor­mous chal­lenges, out­rages, sor­rows, and hor­rors of 2020, nat­ur­al and man­made, we can be grate­ful for so many oppor­tu­ni­ties for per­son­al growth.

“Those of us who are not sick, are not front­line work­ers, and are not deal­ing with oth­er eco­nom­ic or hous­ing dif­fi­cul­ties” Rebec­ca Sol­nit writes, are giv­en the task “to under­stand this moment, what it might require of us, and what it might make pos­si­ble.” It is a moment, she says (echo­ing Hei­deg­ger’s rumi­na­tions on life after the drop­ping of the atom­ic bombs), in which “the impos­si­ble has already hap­pened.”

Impos­si­bles can be cat­a­stroph­ic and world chang­ing dis­as­ters that “begin sud­den­ly and nev­er real­ly end.” They can also be rad­i­cal respons­es to dis­as­ter that open up pos­si­bil­i­ties we nev­er imag­ined:

A dis­as­ter (which orig­i­nal­ly meant “ill-starred”, or “under a bad star”) changes the world and our view of it. Our focus shifts, and what mat­ters shifts. What is weak breaks under new pres­sure, what is strong holds, and what was hid­den emerges. Change is not only pos­si­ble, we are swept away by it. We our­selves change as our pri­or­i­ties shift, as inten­si­fied aware­ness of mor­tal­i­ty makes us wake up to our own lives and the pre­cious­ness of life. Even our def­i­n­i­tion of “we” might change as we are sep­a­rat­ed from school­mates or co-work­ers, shar­ing this new real­i­ty with strangers. Our sense of self gen­er­al­ly comes from the world around us, and right now, we are find­ing anoth­er ver­sion of who we are.

It is no exag­ger­a­tion to say we have col­lec­tive­ly wit­nessed the world change in a mat­ter of a few months. Since Sol­nit wrote in April, we’ve had many more oppor­tu­ni­ties to meet cir­cum­stances wild­ly beyond our con­trol. We are shaped by events, but how we respond, indi­vid­u­al­ly and togeth­er, also deter­mines the kind of peo­ple we become.

We at Open Cul­ture like to think we’ve con­tributed in some small way to our read­ers’ per­son­al growth in the time of coro­n­avirus, to their view of the world and their sense of who “we” are. Our read­ers respond­ed most to mes­sages of hope, resources for self-improve­ment and self-under­stand­ing, and cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na that have become sources of delight and inspi­ra­tion no mat­ter what’s going on. See our 15 top posts of 2020 below.

  1. Quar­an­tined Ital­ians Send a Mes­sage to Them­selves 10 Days Ago: What They Wish They Knew Then
  2. Down­load Free Col­or­ing Books from 113 Muse­ums
  3. Use Your Time in Iso­la­tion to Learn Every­thing You’ve Always Want­ed To: Free Online Cours­es, Audio Books, eBooks, Movies, Col­or­ing Books & More
  4. Exquis­ite 2300-Year-Old Scythi­an Woman’s Boot Pre­served in the Frozen Ground of the Altai Moun­tains
  5. Hayao Miyazaki’s Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Releas­es Free Back­grounds for Vir­tu­al Meet­ings: Princess Mononoke, Spir­it­ed Away & More
  6. Google Intro­duces 6‑Month Career Cer­tifi­cates, Threat­en­ing to Dis­rupt High­er Edu­ca­tion with “the Equiv­a­lent of a Four-Year Degree”
  7. Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)
  8. The Names of 1.8 Mil­lion Eman­ci­pat­ed Slaves Are Now Search­able in the World’s Largest Genealog­i­cal Data­base, Help­ing African Amer­i­cans Find Lost Ances­tors
  9. Why “The Girl from Ipane­ma”‘ Is a Rich­er & Weird­er Song Than You Ever Real­ized
  10. Watch the Rolling Stones Play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Social Dis­tanc­ing in Quar­an­tine
  11. Bill Mur­ray Explains How He Was Saved by John Prine
  12. The Sto­ry Behind the Icon­ic Pho­to­graph of 11 Con­struc­tion Work­ers Lunch­ing 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)
  13. The Grate­ful Dead’s “Rip­ple” Played By Musi­cians Around the World (with Cameos by David Cros­by, Jim­my Buf­fett & Bill Kreutz­mann)
  14. Watch Joni Mitchell Sing an Immac­u­late Ver­sion of Her Song “Coy­ote,” with Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn & Gor­don Light­foot (1975)
  15. The 150 Best Pod­casts to Enrich Your Mind

Let us know in the com­ments what oth­er posts that did­n’t make the list res­onat­ed with you in this time of sweep­ing change, and why. Per­haps it’s one more cos­mic irony that the night­mar­ish year of 2020 also hap­pens to be the num­ber we use to sym­bol­ize per­fect hind­sight. But also tell us, read­ers, what did you learn this year, and how did you grow and change in ways you might have thought impos­si­ble a year ago?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 150 Best Pod­casts to Enrich Your Mind 

1,500 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties 

Sign Up for Open Culture’s Free Dai­ly Email 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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