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.
I’m so sorry to hear about one-less-corgi for you and H., Sunita, but our animal-companions give us unfailing love and joy and good memories when they’re gone.
I echo what you said about teaching, especially as I look at full-time online come Monday and for the foreseeable future. My students, like yours, are plugging along, but the pandemic has made them more anxious, more dependent, and yet more desultory too. I can’t say I’m a bundle of energy either.
But seeing you here has given me a burst of joy and energy, so chuffed with your blog post and I hope to see more of you in the coming months!
P. S. I too did a lot of knitting, mainly toques in ever more complicated patterns, which I can gift at any point and know that, in Canada, they’ll be put to good use. 😉 I made an elaborate wrap, which I never thought I’d get to the end of, but I did, and it’s going to a friend who’s turning 60 in ’22! (Now for the pesky blocking.)
I hope you blog about your knitting, it would be lovely to see photos of your work! I try to keep somewhat current on Ravelry, mostly for my own benefit, so that I can remember what I did.
Oh, I never thought of that, but I will!
LikeLiked by 1 person
We were just notified last night that we’ll be online for the first two weeks of the semester (so through January) and they’ll see after that. My guess is that we’ll be able to go back some time in February if Omicron has the same trajectory for us that it has in South Africa (a Big If). At least I have two weeks to think about how to get the class off to as good a start as possible.
Yes, that was what I calculated too. We’re supposed to be back onsite on Jan. 17. Given what the hospitals are seeing, more likely February. One silver lining for me: we’ll have to miss our annual end-of-Jan ski day…teens, skis, on a bus for hours to reach the slopes, it’s enough to convince a body to retire.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m really sorry about JimiArthur. He impressed me the one time I met him as being a lovely, remarkably friendly and well-behaved dog. I don’t have pets but I know from friends who have had and lost one that it can be devastating, not least because the pet depends on its human for love, care and well-being. ((((HUGS))))
That is an interesting point about how it’s hard to separate promo from commentary when reading reviews. Where is the line between promo and book pimping? I pimp a lot and it’s hard for me to say. When there’s a big hullabaloo about a book it can be infectious. I’ve been putting less emphasis on reading and reviewing current year releases (which I like to do so I can have something to put on my “Best of the Year” list at the end of the year) but I still read a lot of them. That makes it harder for that line not to blur.
Re books-I think that must have been hard, not being able to retreat into the comfort of a book at times. I am glad there was the knitting. And even so, your end-of-year list sounds like a good one.
I read a little more than usual this year and I put it down to having a frozen shoulder. For over half the year I could barely type (speech recognition doesn’t work well with my voice) so I gave myself some slack on reviewing. Typically I try to review every book I read but since that wasn’t feasible, I gave myself permission not to. That made it easier to read more.
Do you anticipate blogging more in 2022? Less? About the same?
Thanks, Janine, and he was just as sweet and friendly in his old age as he was when he was young. Not quite as obedient, but only in an old-man, who-cares way that was kind of adorable.
I don’t think book-pimping (in the sense of telling everyone how much you love a book) is at all the same thing as the book-promo world we live in now. There’s just less and less room for autonomous criticism, and to some extent it’s understandable because books are losing out to movies, TV, games, and even just YouTube/TikTok. We’re all of us in book-land engaged in supporting a creative form. The issue for me is that the marketing centers around a few books even though so many are published, and they suck up all the oxygen in the room. And few professional reviewers can afford to thumb their noses at the promo machine if they want to continue to be read and to get work. So many are freelance now, so it’s a self-reinforcing system: if you don’t review the highly-marketed books, someone else will. Or you have to pitch a review or essay that is about a “hot” book to get the gig.
I should say I’m mostly talking about lit fic, but the genre analogy is all the bookternet people who have ambitions to be successful in the industry. I think it stems from the same place of wanting the genre to succeed and flourish, but it stifles independent criticism. It isn’t a new dilemma, for sure.
I’m so sorry to hear about your shoulder. TheH had a frozen shoulder for a while and it was awful. I hope yours is getting better. It takes so much longer than you expect it to, but eventually it does.
Gah, perhaps I need a dumbphone too, because I totally relate to how the freaking screens do suck away time without you noticing. An hour here, and hour there, and before you know it, you’ve wasted enough hours in a year to learn a new skill or language. Anyway, thanks for sharing, and wishing you all the best for 2022!
It doesn’t work for everyone (depends a lot on what you need your phone for) but it’s much more peaceful!
So marvelous to see a post from you, even if your year was short on reading. Sorry to read that one of your beloved corgis died. I have no pets, but I know from friends and family members that the furry ones are an important part of their lives.
I had a very good reading year: My ‘Best of’ list included “Lean Fall Stand” by Jon McGregor, “Matrix” by Lauren Groff, “Underland” by Robert Macfarlane, as well as Susanna Kearsley’s “The Vanished Days”, and Kate Quinn’s “The Rose Code”.
As one whose craftiness was expressed in cross-stitch and quilting (before arthritis did in my fingers), I am impressed by knitters. I tried knitting but it never ‘took’ with me. All that lovely yarn! Sweaters! Scarves! Sigh…
Wishing you a safe, happy, satisfying life in 2022 (and for TheH and the corgis, too)
Hi Barb, lovely to see you! I have the McGregor, Macfarlane, and Kearsley in my TBR and hope to get to them soon.
I am starting to get arthritis in some of my fingers as well, but it’s mild and seems to be helped at this point by the activity. I’m very grateful.
In case you’re looking for more recommendations, Sunita, I want to put in a word for Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. It’s a haunting, diverse, beautifully written SF novel that I think you would like. Not least because it interrogates the found family trope, which I know you have mixed feelings about.
BTW, the ebook of Jon McGregor’s Resevoir 13 is on sale for $1.99 today at Amazon.
LikeLiked by 1 person
So sorry to hear about JimiArthur Sunita. It’s so hard to lose a beloved pet.
Thanks, Kaetrin. I know you know because you have adorable and well-loved dogs too. It’s part of what you sign up for when you get a pet, but that only makes it predictable, not really easier. He was the sweetest dog!
I’m sorry to hear about JimiArthur. It’s probably my imagination, but it seems like this year has not been kind to older members of our pet-families. Wishing you and yours a better 2022!
Thanks, Jennifer. I think you may be right. On the one hand we’re home more, but on the other everyone is a lot more stressed. And our pets always notice. Great to see you and thank you for continuing to post through the pandemic!
Lovely to see a post from you, Sunita. So sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved JimiArthur. Always interesting to read about your productivity experiments. I have always been meaning to try BuJo, but have been put off by the whole decorating industry surrounding it. Hope 2022 will be a better reading year for you.
Thanks Keira. And “decorating industry” is exactly the right term. The worst part of it is that people think that’s the necessary approach, even though it’s the absolute opposite of how Ryder Carroll started. There is a subreddit (r/basicbulletjournals) that bans posts with artsy journals unless they are specifically related to the core issues. It’s small but useful. And I find the original bulletjournal.com videos (they’re on YouTube) to be really helpful as well.
Happy New Year! It’s lovely to hear a bit about what you’re up to. I am sorry to hear about JimiArthur. I am treasuring time with my sweet old Golden, who is living her best life as a beloved neighborhood star who gets lots of pets and treats wherever she goes. Nothing was better for her than 18 months of me working from home. She returned the favor by hooking me into a lovely group of dog people who gather at a local park most mornings and lightened my pandemic isolation.
I too am starting the semester online. I was sure we would have to since we start on the 4th, but we didn’t get the announcement until the 30th (at 6pm!) which was very stressful. At the moment they are saying just the first week is online, which is also what K-12 in the province is doing, but . . . we’ll see. It was great to be back in the classroom in Fall, but a lot of students struggled. I had way more than usual who just vanished at some point, and lots who needed extra support. I was pretty burned out myself. I believe everyone who says that online learning is terrible for youth mental health, but in person pandemic learning was no panacea. My daughter and a good first semester of university and is really not happy that this one is starting online. She’s going to stay home for now, rather than be alone in her apartment. My son’s living with me and working from home for now as well, so it’s a good thing I upgraded the wifi last year!
I bought myself a bunch of lovely William Morris-pattern washi tape and haven’t really figured out what to do with it yet. Maybe you gave me some ideas….
I bought that Clare Keegan book, I think because of someone’s praise is a Guardian article where writers talk about their favorite book of the year. It’s good to get some non-promo praise from you as well. And everyone seems to love Gwendoline Riley. Now to find the focus for reading. I have some resolutions in mind to help with that.
I’m so glad that Lucy is still going strong!
At least we got more than 4 days’ notice of the switch! But it’s so clear that the administrators either aren’t teachers or haven’t taught in forever, because they completely underestimate the effort it takes to change from one format to the other. An email from our Dean assured us that once in person we wouldn’t be following the HyFlex model, where students decide for every class session if they’re coming in-person or not, but 18 months ago HyFlex was supposed to be saving us. I realize they have many divergent issues and pressures to manage, but their unwillingness to decide until they have no choice has real pedagogical implications. No wonder students are furious and faculty and staff are retiring.
I’ve coveted that William Morris washi tape. I used tape with gold dots last year and for this year I found gold and silver stripes. I use them to edge the pages I refer back to the most often.
I really liked the Keegan. It’s very much in the Irish literary tradition of great short stories that combine sadness and hopefulness and where every word counts. It’s a real Christmas story, too. She’s a wonderful writer and now I want to go find her backlist.
It’s lovely to hear from you. During this endless pandemic, I always worry when friends and acquaintances go quiet.
Claire Keegan and Penelope Fitzgerald, both always a pleasure. My single favorite non-fiction of 2021 was Doireann Ní Ghoríofa’s remarkable “A Ghost in the Throat”, part poetry, part memoir, part history, part ode to her family and child-raising. Another non-fiction stand-out was Mayukh Sen’s “Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America,” which will especially appeal to any long-time cookbook readers. Of the several pandemic novels, Sarah Hall’s “Burntcoat” and Gary Shteyngart’s “Our Country Friends” were my favorites. Of the hyped novels, Le Tellier’s “The Anomaly” was a pleasant surprise, Damon Galgut’s “The Promise” is among his best, and Groff’s “Matrix” and Franzen’s “Crossroads” disappointed. If you ever dreamed of analysis or study with Laing or Winnicott or eagerly awaited the next issue of Radical Therapist, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s “Case Study” is great fun.
Losing a dog always feels so sad, whatever their ages (and we’ve lost both young and old dogs). Gaining a dog never replaces the lost dog, whatever wonderful qualities the newcomer may have. We lost a blind, geriatric dog in 2020 and we brought home a puppy in 2021. I hesitated on the new dog due to our age, but I’m delighted that I ultimately was brought around: she’s overall a delight, especially so because she loves little children and to be given treats by the toddlers at the preschool next to our home.
2021 was brutal for me in some ways, hopeful in others. Yes, 2022 must, just must, be better.
Hi Dan, great to see you! I’ve been eyeing Ghost in the Throad for a while, the reviews make it sound so compelling. And I have The Anomaly on my list too. Oh, and the Burnet is on my Kobo wishlist. I really liked his two Maigret homages.
Puppies are so much work! But they are worth it. We still miss our old dogs but the new ones are just as wonderful in different ways. I guess our hearts really do have infinite capacity for attachment and affection. The old dog love doesn’t go away, it just moves over to make space for the new.
Sunita, my wife wanted me t tell you how much she, as well as I, appreciated your thoughts about dogs and their mortality. Incidentally, I regret not having asked about your and your husband’s health. I hope that you are both well, as well as the hearty parents-in-law (I hope that I remember correctly). I eagerly await your returning to your walks in England: I so enjoyed your posts. Finally, I quite enjoyed Klara, and apropos Silverview, I’m now making my way through Le Carre, reading some for the first time, rereading others, enjoying them all.
Thanks so much, Dan, we are both healthy and trying to stave off the inevitable old-age stuff. We did really well keeping active in the first year of Covid but were much worse this past year. We did a bit of hiking when we went to Alaska to see family in Summer 2021, but the fall was not good. Except for walking to/from work and taking public transit when we didn’t, I was pretty sedentary. But I’m trying to get back to moving more and being active. Having a young dog definitely helps!
My in-laws have passed away (separately), but they lived extremely rich and fulfilling lives well into their 80s (my father-in-law didn’t really slow down until 90) so they are still an inspiration. Enjoy your le Carre revisit; I reread the first half-dozen over the last few years and it was wonderful. I skipped The Naive and Sentimental Lover, because no thank you. But the books between Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker Tailor were wonderful to rediscover.
I’m so glad to see this post from you!
2022 was a rollercoaster for me–lost my job, learned how to code, had a better job fall into my lap, was only in the hospital twice and my health is significantly improved. I read a ton of books and knit a Celestarium. Lost the Hugo (as expected), said a stupid thing on Twitter after having my first g&t in 3 years and got viciously dogpiled, so went private and purged my followers and now I’m trying blog again but without comments because I need to have better boundaries.
I’m so sorry about JimiArthur, it’s hard losing our animal companions even when it’s the right thing to do.
I have some of that William Morris washi tape–I use it to seal envelopes.
Natalie, I’m so glad to hear your health is better! You have had a lifetime of bad health luck rolled into the last few years. And yay on the coding.
Is that Celestarium on the front page of your website? It is gorgeous and you look gorgeous in it!
It is! That’s my official Hugo Finalist picture. I am using it for everything because it is the Best Picture Ever Taken of Me Ever Ever Ever.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh Sunita, how wonderful to see you blogging again! I’ve thought about through this last year. I’m sorry about JimiArthur’s transition. Hugs to you and your husband and your other furry friends. May 2022 lighten your burdens and light up more of your joys.
Hi Juhi, great to see you too! I hope you and your family are doing well.