My 2021: Using My Words

I don’t know what to write in these end-of-year posts anymore.

I’ve written in the past about the various struggles with depression and anxiety. Those are both still features of my life. The struggles of trying to forge an academic career are a recurring theme. Last year, I wrote at length about the pandemic and explained my skepticism at the idea that the Biden administration would be the magic bullet. That is not a prediction worth taking a victory-lap through the Omicron-haunted streets for, and I was hardly alone in making it.

Add in that pandemic generally contracted the number of activities I do and that I find my attempts at sincerity turn out saccharine, and I find myself flailing about for words.

For as much as 2021 passed in a blur, it was a big year for me.

I started a new job. I moved into a house in a new city. I took major steps toward publishing my first book. I accepted several positions within academic organizations. I started to travel a little bit again. While ultimately premature, these trips gave me a little hope for a trip abroad in the near future, which is both something I want to do and something that could help jump-start a few different writing projects I have in mind.

And with all of this going on I eclipsed 75 books read, the largest number since before I entered graduate school more than a decade ago, and generally managed to meet most of my fitness goals.

My personal journey over the past several years, starting even before COVID-19 plunged the world into a seemingly-perpetual state of emergency, has been one of coming to grips with my own limitations. Some of this has been the simple realization that I am now in my mid-30s and with the aches to prove it, but the larger part has been learning to accept the absurdity of trying to pursue a career as both a scholar and a teacher at the university level.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I might have started graduate school in equal parts because I graduated college at the height of the Great Recession and because I wanted to become someone who got to write history books, but, by the time I finished, I had resolved that I would do everything in my power to become an excellent teacher. (I have my strengths, but this is still a work in progress.) I love wrestling with ideas to put them on the page, provided that I am not pressed too much for time and I get as much satisfaction working with students.

But none of this changes the fundamental absurdity of it all. Sometimes that absurdity is comic. Sometimes it is tragic. Sometimes it is satyric.

Wait. Scratch that. I’m getting my typology of academic absurdity crossed with the genres of Attic drama.

The point is that I spent several years making peace with the possibility that an academic career might be something I wouldn’t never achieve, no matter what I did. I would be able to keep writing, of course, but there were just too many factors beyond my control to pin my hopes on it as a source of income. After all, when 2021 opened, I was in my fourth year of cobbling together part-time employment, barely being part of any department, rarely knowing what I would teach more than a month before the semester started. Only once in eight semesters had I been considered a full-time employee and only one other time did the aggregate employment add up to something approximating a full-time salary.

Nothing is guaranteed, even now, but that journey also makes appreciate my current job all the more. There were growing pains that came with starting a new job, of course, and the fifth consecutive pandemic semester made everything harder. But I am also part of a department where my work goes toward a larger program and I am encouraged to think past the current semester. This sort of support goes a long way toward offsetting the grind of a long semester.

Everything I had going on this year also meant that I had less time to focus on the world at large, for better and for worse. After the Trump era I also had less bandwidth to engage with the outrage. I couldn’t stop myself from following along online and remain deeply frustrated by the state of the world for pandemic reasons and in general, but I had to opt out of engaging.

In short, I am entering 2022 in as good as a place as could reasonably be expected. I am healthy, gainfully employed, and in a place to make meaningful strides on both my teaching and writing. Yes, the cumulative effects of the past few years are still present and I am still prone to bouts of anxiety, but I have a sense of optimism about what the year might bring, at least on a personal level. That is quite a privilege indeed.

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This is the penultimate post in my year-end series, following a roundup of my writing, best posts, and lists.

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