TGIF and the end of 2021
Well hello there. It’s been a while. Except for a quick post back in April, I haven’t blogged since January. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I didn’t want to add to the online cacophony and I’ve been trying to live my life offline as much as possible. Looking back, I realized that I’ve blogged less than a dozen times since May 2020.
But I miss blogging in a number of ways:
- I miss my regular visitors and knowing how they are.
- I miss writing; no, that’s not accurate because I write quite a bit in other venues. But I miss the kind of writing blogging is, the musing out loud and then having it go out into the world. Despite not wanting to participate in the online world much, I missed this kind of participating. Social media is so different from the old blog world.
- I miss documenting my existence in a way that isn’t entirely self-referential. I still journal semi-regularly, but that’s just for me. The in-between of expressing oneself in public in an informal way isn’t really captured elsewhere, at least not that I have access to.
- I like end of the year posts!
Having been away so long, it’s hard to know what to write. Year-end format to the rescue!
I read less fiction this year than I have in decades. A grand total of 18 books. There were a couple of months where I didn’t finish a single novel. And I only got to 18 because I read a handful of really short books, barely novella-length. I can’t tell you why I read so little this year because I don’t know. There was the Euro not-2020 tournament in the summer, but that’s not stopped me before. And I’ve been reading for work without any trouble. Ah well, I just hope 2021 was a one-off, because I missed reading even when I couldn’t manage it.
- Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald
- First Love by Gwendoline Riley
- The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
- Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
- Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
- Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
- How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
Others that I valued and/or enjoyed but which ranked a bit below: John le Carré’s posthumous Silverview, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund, The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Really, everything I read was fine, but the recent releases rarely lived up to the hype machines that surrounded them. I’ve found myself staying further and further away from the publishing-hype-fueled discussions because it’s hard to get a good assessment of what the books are like as novels. As a product of the publishing machine? Sure. But as an actual text, separated from their place in the literary industrial complex? Much harder. There are still plenty of good critics out there, but excising their promo take (which all of them wind up having to participate in to some extent) from their sense of the novel as a novel can be difficult at times. Again, Not All Critics. But the way the overall discourse operates is pushing me to read books that aren’t much discussed in the moment, either because they’re older or because they didn’t get a big publicity budget.
It was an interesting year in terms of how I managed my planner and journaling world. I started with Bullet Journaling in the Hobonichi but abandoned that by mid-February for a real Bullet Journal setup. It took me a few months to fully figure it out, but by the fall I had an effective system in place and I’m really enjoying the way it works. My BuJo hews very closely to the original method developed by Ryder Carroll. I use washi tape to mark out the monthly spread pages (calendar + task list) as well as various “collections” that I refer back to, but other than that I don’t do any decoration and I just use one ink color (mostly black with the occasional blueish ink when I’m tired of black). I felt bad abandoning the Hobonichi but I really like having something that is an all-in-one repository of tasks, notes to myself, and appointments.
I journal semi-regularly in a small notebook. I don’t do 750 words and I don’t write every day, but I use it for when I have something stuck in my head that I need to work out. I also use the notebook for meeting notes and for weekly spreads when I need to be able to see my appointments for the week all at once (I tried to do a weekly in my BuJo but didn’t like having it there).
I use an Outlook Calendar for work appointments because that’s the default and it collects all my Zoom and other meeting info in one place. But that’s only for work.
My second big productivity-related acquisition was a Remarkable tablet, which is an e-ink tablet that you can write on and use for annotating pdfs and epubs. A colleague had a different e-ink tablet and I’d been considering one for years, but they’re expensive for a piece of electronics that only does a couple of things. Nevertheless, in May I bit the bullet and ordered one, and I am so glad I did. I don’t use it for extensive notetaking (although I do take it to seminars), but I use it for all my grading, article reviewing, and other types of work where I edit and/or make marginal notes. I taught a writing in the major class this semester and I used it to read, mark up, and grade all the students’ assignments. It was terrific. I still use the computer for certain types of collaborative documents, but for almost everything else I do it on the Remarkable. It’s really changed my workflow for the better.
My third productivity change this year was to switch from an Android smartphone to a dumbphone. Yes, a dumbphone. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a long time know that I’ve used a dumbphone/featurephone before, but this time it’s not for research, just for me. While smartphones can be very useful while traveling (and I appreciated having it on our walking holidays), for everyday life in the Pandemic Era I found that combining telephone/text functions with internet access meant that I spent a lot of time surfing on my phone. One of the hardest things about being so (literally) shut down for the past 20 months has been avoiding filling the time with online distractions. Especially since reading wasn’t working for me, the internet became more of a default, even without social media accounts. I just read more news and news-adjacent stuff. So I switched to an old-style flip phone with no email or browser and turned my smartphone into nothing but the tiny computer that it is. I check email less and when I’m spending a lot of time online it’s really obvious because I’m generally in front of a full-fledged laptop. I come to my senses and go pick up something tangible, like a magazine or a newspaper or a piece of knitting. Sometimes even a book!
Speaking of knitting, I spent the summer making scarves and shawls. It was very soothing. I slacked off in the fall because I was working long hours and also my work-in-progress was a lace shawl in dark yarn, which doesn’t do well when I’m tired in the evenings. But I’m back at knitting since we’ve been on break. I’m making TheHusband an angora wrap thing which, if I work at it steadily, just might be done before the cold weather ends.
Work has been work. Teaching under these conditions continues to be difficult and frustrating, although I’m better off than a lot of professors and much, much more fortunate than elementary and secondary school teachers. The students are mostly OK, but I have talked to deans about student issues more this year than in the previous half-dozen years combined. During a small group session I heard one student say to his peers about online learning “it was easier to do OK work but much harder to do really good work.” That sums it up for all of us.
Research has been slow but steady. Some projects are still parked or have needed to be redesigned because of pandemic-related obstacles. But stuff is getting done, eventually.
We had to say goodbye to our oldest Corgi, JimiArthur. He was almost 16 and his arthritis and back issues just became too painful. It was hard but he had a good life and we were lucky to have him as long as we did. Winnie, who is now referred to as the Dowager Corgi, felt his loss keenly but Ziggy’s unstinting attentions kept her from retreating too much. They get along very well. Ziggy continues a little terror but she deigns to listen to us occasionally. She is still fearless and extremely intelligent. We try to keep up.
Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2022 not be worse than 2021.