My 2021: Resolutions

As is now custom, my year-end series ends with my resolutions for the new year.

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The eternal, nebulous, unquantifiable

  • Continue learning to let go of things that are beyond my control. Most things are.
  • Be more patient and charitable.
  • Smile more often.
  • Exercise to improve health, diet, flexibility and fitness. I made gains on this in 2021, but age, anxiety, and injury gave almost all of it back.
  • Take more time for mindfulness exercises, including both yoga and meditation.

The specific, concrete, actionable

  • Take at least one day each weekend not working, as defined by no work email, no grading, no preparing for courses, and no academic writing. This has been a really important habit for me in recent years.
  • Continue my daily yoga routine that I started back in 2020. Whenever I miss a day I can tell that my equilibrium is off.
  • Start running again and get to the point where I can do (the arbitrarily-set) ten miles in one session.
  • Lose five pounds. I aim to accomplish this both by eating a little less and by gradually increasing my activity levels.
  • Submit the completed manuscript for my first book—due in February.
  • Clear the back-work that I owe. Eep!
  • Draft one (1) chapter for an edited collection due in 2023.
  • Find (1) new academic book to review. I failed in this in 2021, but one book feels to me like the right goal: enough to be engaged and write something; not so much that I spend all of my time writing things that are not appreciated in the academic world.
  • I exceeded my target of reading (12) ancient history or classics books not connected to my research for the second straight year in 2021. I like the practice, so will re-up at at least (12), or one per month. I also have a goal to read more articles but hope to get that off the ground before talking about it.
  • I crushed my goal of 52 other books for 2021 along with most of my diversity markers, but will re-up at the same level:
    • 33% of those books should be by women
    • At least (5) should be by African American authors
    • These books should represent at least (10) different countries and (7) different languages
  • I want to engage in more artistic pursuits this year. Writing is too obvious and measured in other ways and while I would like to do more drawing and/or painting, I don’t have a readily-available target. The obvious direction to take this is, then, is photography. In 2022, I am going to set up a Flickr account and use is to organize and post pictures I have taken over the years. This will also give me motivation to sort through my photograph collections and practice photo editing.

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Finally, to conclude this series a message for readers: thank you for following along. I have some ideas for posts in 2022, but, as usual, content here will reflect my year, what I have the energy to write about, and the fickle fortune of pursuing an academic career.

Whatever I write, I hope you’ll join me. In the meantime, may the coming year be one of warmth and joy for you as we all work to build a better future.

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.

My 2021: Lists of Note

Every year around this time I try to make sense of my year, though I haven’t had quite the motivation for the usual slate of half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek series of posts this year. However, I did a recap of my Best* posts and figured I should at least put out my annual list of recommendations for various media that I enjoyed this past year (and assorted other lists).

6 favorite novels I read this year:

5 favorite non-fiction books I read this year:

5 books I’m looking forward to (maybe) reading in 2022 (three repeats from 2021)

  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine
  • The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki
  • Border, Kapka Kassabova
  • Speaking Bones, Ken Liu

5 Movies and TV shows I enjoyed watching this year

1 Podcast that I added to my regular rotation this year

  • 60 Songs That Explain the 90s

1 Video game I played this year

  • Ghosts of Tsushima

6 songs I listened to quite a lot this year, even as 2021 was mostly a year of listening to old favorites.

  • “Jump on my shoulders,” AWOLNATION
  • “The Pursuit of Happiness,” Honeybucket
  • “The It Girl,” Raye Zaragoza
  • “Put the Gun Down,” ZZ Ward
  • “Bible on the Dash,” Corb Lund and Hayes Carll
  • “Golden Child,” The Honeycutters

Find the past lists here: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

My 2021: Best* Posts

It is time again for my end-of-year series. Previously: Writing Wrap 2021. Next up: my Best* posts from 2021.

I have published 68 posts so far in 2021, totalling more than 62,000 words (average length 921 words), and including some of the most popular posts ever to go up here. The list below consists of posts I look back on fondly and think are worth revisiting.

This year’s selection is eclectic. It includes reflections on pain of the academic job market, expectations, and writing, two entries on teaching, one post about ancient bread, one post about recent media about Anthony Bourdain, and five that directly or indirectly touch on contemporary politics.

Previously: 2020; 2019; 2018; 2017; 2016

Writing Wrap 2021

Every year around this time I kick off a year-end series that starts with a wrap-up of everything that I published that year and sundry project updates. I never really know what to call this post, though, since I am not nearly prolific enough to focus just on publications that came out that year, as I have in past years (2020; 2018).

Once again this year I published very little, but I did take major steps toward a few different pieces:

  1. The manuscript for my first book, Accustomed to Obedience?: Classical Ionia and the Aegean World, 480–294 BCE, received positive feedback from reviewers at University of Michigan Press. I am now working to deliver the revised manuscript early next year. Gulp.
  2. I had an article on Ephesus in the fourth century BCE accepted for publication in Classical Quarterly, pending revisions that I submitted last week.
  3. A chapter I wrote for an edited collection on Athenian orators and the historical memory about the conquest of Samos in 366 BCE passed peer review and the volume The Orators and their Treatment of the Recent Past is moving toward publication with De Gruyter.

I like reviewing books, so I am disappointed that I did not do any this year—the few books I inquired about were already claimed—but I did publish or have a hand in publishing a few other things.

  1. Back in February, I published a piece in The Conversation on assessing and mitigating risk through the lens of ancient Greece. The thrust is that while the Greeks put great stock in divination, prophecy, and making appropriate sacrifices to the gods, none of those ritual actions should let people off the hook for taking adequate precaution. Rather, after taking both types of precaution you just have to accept that risk still exists.
  2. I also interviewed two people, Aven McMaster and Bonnie Rock-McCutcheon, for the Contingent Faculty series of blog posts on the SCS blog. Aven, in particular, highlighted how precarious a career in higher education can be, and I believe that the working conditions for contingent faculty are essential if fields like ancient history and classics are going to continue to exist except as elite antiquarian exercises. I was interviewed for the series in 2020 and wanted to carry the spirit of having difficult conversations forward into these posts. Both interviewees (as well as the two interviewed by my colleagues) spoke candidly about the myriad of challenges facing contingent faculty, and I am really proud of the work that we did to bring these conversations public this year.

Most of my academic work went toward my teaching this year, but I presented two papers at academic conferences. The first applied of post-colonial theory and specifically Third Space Theory to community identity in and around Ionia; the second offered a new interpretation of the so-called proskynesis affair during the reign of Alexander the Great, looking a synthesis between two recent approaches. I don’t have imminent publication plans for either, mostly because there are other things I need to finish first, but hope to come back to one or both next year.

Other projects are moving forward more slowly, but I hope to have big updates next year.

I have a complete list of my publications, with links to everything available online, here. If you are interested in reading any of my work and do not have access to it, contact me for a pdf or off-print.

My 2020: Resolutions

As is now custom, my year-end navel gazing series ends with my resolutions for the new year.

ΔΔΔ

The eternal, nebulous, unquantifiable

  • Continue learning to let go of things that are beyond my control. Most things are.
  • Be more patient and charitable.
  • Smile more often.
  • Exercise to improve health, diet, flexibility and fitness, particularly since my schedule last semester got in the way of these healthy routines.
  • Take more time for mindfulness exercises, something that I have only really come back to at the end of 2020 in the form of daily yoga.

The specific, concrete, actionable

  • Take at least one day each weekend not working, as defined by no work email, no grading, no preparing for courses, and no academic writing. This was a really important habit for me in 2020 and I want to continue into 2021 or even expand it to, gasp, two days off on weekends.
  • I began a daily yoga routine (20+ minutes) at the end of 2020 and will continue that through 2021, as well as taking a daily 10-minute mindfulness/meditation break.
  • Lose ten pounds. I aim to accomplish this both by eating a little less and by gradually increasing my activity levels. I just need to get a new pair of running shoes first.
  • Complete the book manuscript that I’ve been working on based on my dissertation. I wrote this in as a goal in 2020, too, but I have a deadline now and may actually get it done!
  • I completed the two article-length pieces in 2020 even if I didn’t get them out. I want to get both piece out and draft one (1) more, either as a long public-facing piece or an academic article, depending on where it looks like my career is going.
  • Find (1) new academic book to review. This is a repeat from 2020, when I had two book reviews published.
  • Complete the next piece of my research project on bread in ancient Greece. (re-up from 2020)
  • I exceeded my target of reading (12) ancient history or classics books not connected to my research in 2020 even though I fell off dramatically in the second half of the year. I like the practice, so will re-up at at least (12), or one per month even though access might prove as much of an obstacle as time here.
  • I exceeded my goal of 52 other books for 2020 along with all of my diversity markers, but will re-up at the same level:
    • 33% of those books should be by women
    • At least (5) should be by African American authors
    • These books should represent at least (10) different countries and (7) different languages

ΔΔΔ

Finally, to conclude this series a message for readers: thank you for following along. I have some ideas of posts coming down the pipe in 2021, including an annual revision to my list of favorite novels, but, as usual, content here will reflect my year, what I have the energy to write about, and the fickle fortune of pursuing an academic career.

Whatever I write, I hope you’ll join me. In the meantime, may the coming year be one of warmth and joy for you as we all work to build a better future.

My 2020: Using My Words

Wait.

Hold up.

It’s December already?

It’s the end of December already?

As in, tomorrow is January 1, 2021?

I don’t believe you.

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, but the real secret is that time flies when you stay busy. Was 2020 every busy. I got off to a roaring start teaching five different classes at two different institutions while also writing and applying for jobs, and then COVID happened. It took my classes online over a weekend and managed to stay one jump ahead for the rest of the semester, but when I emerged I discovered not only that the sudden contraction of university budgets had axed the jobs I had applied for but also that the places where I had been picking up classes didn’t need my services.

Since there was a pandemic going on and I wasn’t in imminent danger of being cast out on the street, I resolved to give myself a couple weeks to recover and work on writing projects. Pretty soon I had a bead on various other employment: an online class in Australia that ended up falling through, reviewing a manuscript that came with a bit of pay, some freelance editorial work. Then the classes started trickling in: one class for a school I’d previously worked (I ended up not teaching this one), then a community college class, then three courses at a local college. Suddenly I was teaching five classes on three different academic calendars at three institutions. Three of the classes I’d never taught before.

Oh, and I took a six week course on online pedagogy in the middle of the fall semester.

What I’m saying is that I’m still waiting for that part of lockdown where I get bored because I’ve exhausted all of my entertainment options.

My year-end essays each of the past few years have largely echoed each other as I grasped for new words to say the same thing. Increasingly, I wrote about my professional experience—giving in to the gremlin telling me to work harder, my failures on the academic job market, the anxiety and exhaustion that comes with being a very contingent professor—concluding last year that I’ve been experiencing stagnation.

In some ways, 2020 was much the same, only with lower peaks and lower valleys. I was more anxious and more tired than ever, but I am as proud of any of the writing I did this year as anything I have done in the past, inclusive of both the work that came out and the material still working its way toward daylight.

Only in the past few weeks have I started coming to grips with how 2020 was different.

The isolation brought on by the pandemic was more annoying than debilitating at first. I’ve lived too far from most friends and family for regular visits for more than a decade so when restrictions pushed everyone online, it actually brought many loved ones closer to me than they had been for some time. Similarly, I suddenly found myself more able to sleep with neither a commute nor an available gym. (I’m still trying to figure out replacement work outs that work with what I have available, though.) Work took more time, sure, but I find working toward clear goals relaxing, so I could often put my head down and dig in.

Reader, this was neither healthy, nor sustainable.

Our decision to be responsible and stay home for the holidays caused the isolation to crash home anew, balancing whatever physical rest we get by avoiding holiday travel with emotional strain of not seeing family.

Much of my exhaustion can be traced to the usual suspects (work, anxiety, depression), but this year has also brought into relief another source of exhaustion: rage. I spent so much time angry this year, often whipping from one target to another. Any list of triggers would be inadequate, and perhaps the most infuriating part is how few of conditions were actually new. COVID didn’t so much create problems as lay bare the fundamental structures of a society where public infrastructure (let alone any pretense of a social safety net) has been dismantled and sold for parts.

Forget a lockdown, many places in the United States didn’t put in place a mask ordinance. There is a restaurant in Jefferson City, MO, about twenty miles south of me, that only started requiring masks a month ago, and then only from 3–5 PM as special “COVID-safe” hours.

I am numb at the fact that hundreds of thousands of Americans have died and millions more could have long-term health complications—maybe now a dreaded pre-existing condition, who knows!—with millions more out of work or with limited income and yet so many people seem to have simply given up anything more than token efforts. Not to let a good crisis go to waste, the profits of billionaires have soared, the families of congresspeople engaged in what seems like blatant insider-trading, and the people in charge of overseeing a pandemic response either treated a deadly disease like a hoax or a PR-stunt. If the stock market doesn’t crash and the carnage is confined to your political opponents, then everything is fine, right? We could feed people and stimulate the economy, but have you considered the deficit? It has been a full year since COVID started and nine months since it started racing through the United States and just today I read reports about doses of the COVID vaccine spoiling because its rollout has been so haphazard that the clinic didn’t have “eligible” recipients.

I can feel the bile rising writing the preceding paragraphs, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s the thing: none of things is going to change with the calendar flipping to 2021. Sure, a Biden administration will help a little given enough time to straighten out the official response and to take the mean edge off of some policies. But setting the goal at normalcy is tantamount to wanting to sweep everything that happened this year under the rug so that you don’t have to think about it anymore.

This is the point I keep coming back to as new year approaches. I have long maintained that teaching is what I can do to help make the world a better place, but my surety of that has been shaken over the past year. Doubts that began pre-COVID given the nature of contingent faculty work have only accelerated once the pandemic hit because it is almost impossible to do the sort of teaching I want to do while everyone involved was also coping with the pandemic. This may entail a career change, but I thought as much last year, too, so who knows.

If all of this sounds bleak, that is because I’ve spent my days recently cycling through rage and resignation. Compared to many people this year, I’m fine. I’m exhausted and little heavier than I’d like to be, but that’s what happens when you lose access to a gym and spend a lot of the year expanding your repertoire of baked goods. I am healthy, as are those closest to me, and I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. But this year has also made clear that we should not take these basic necessities for granted.

I might be ready to leave 2020 behind, but I have no intention of forgetting it anytime soon.

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This is the penultimate entry in my end-of-year wrap up series. The rest of the 2020 series includes: Best* Posts, By the Numbers, Lists of Note, and will be followed by resolutions.

Past essays in this series: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

My 2020: Lists of Note


Every year around this time I try to make sense of my year that was. The series kicked off with a collection of the Best* posts, followed by a set of numbers that described my year. Today is a set of seven lists that look backward and one that looks forward.

Five favorite novels I read this year:

Seven favorite non-fiction books I read this year:

Five novels I’m looking forward to (maybe) reading in 2020 (no repeats from last year!):

  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine
  • Last Train to Istanbul, Ayse Kulin
  • The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke

Eight TV shows I was watching this year:

  • The Mandalorian
  • The Sopranos
  • The Vow
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • The Last Dance
  • Briarpatch
  • Narcos
  • High Fidelity

Four movies I saw for the first time that were totally worth the price of admission a streaming platform

  • Fargo (1996)
  • The Breadwinner (2017)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
  • Porco Rosso (1992)

Three video games I enjoyed getting lost in:

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • Final Fantasy VII: Remastered
  • Path of Exile

Three podcasts that I filled the hours I spent walking this year:

While I mostly listen to singles, I found myself particularly listening to these albums in 2020:

  • “Harlem River Blues,” Justin Townes Earle (2010, RIP)
  • “Alone Together Sessions,” Hayes Carll (2020)
  • “New Miserable Experience,” Gin Blossoms (1992)
  • Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies

Find the past lists here: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

My 2020: By the Numbers

In the spirit of routines and trying to buck some of the frustration that comes with this season, I am again putting out a series of reflection and planning posts, that started with a list of best* posts of the year. Today is a list of numbers, data that somehow defines my year.

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There are any number of numbers that have been used to quantify the experience of 2020, including the people who contracted or died from COVID-19, votes cast, dollars spent on political advertising, false political claims made on Twitter by a sitting US president, wealth increased by the wealthiest billionaires, degrees the average temperatures rose, fires in Brazil and Africa, stock market tickers, shady phone calls, total human population on Earth, instances and casualties of mass- and police-shootings—plus happier statistics that aren’t necessarily kept such as weddings, child-births, mitzvoth, or trivialities like cups of coffee, diapers, or speeding tickets.

Here are some numbers about my year:

  • 10 – classes taught (across 2 semesters)
    • 4 – schools taught at
    • 4 – modes of instruction
    • 5 – classes taught for the first time
    • 2 – self-paced online classes for which I was the instructor of record
    • 143 – students (excluding the self-paced students)
    • 5 – courses scheduled so far for 2021
    • 1 – reference letter written
  • 7 – Job applications
    • 2 – interviews
    • 2 – jobs I applied for cancelled because of COVID
  • 215.26 – Hours spent writing or editing academic work (YtD)
    • 2 – book reviews published
    • 0 – articles published
    • 1 – article-length pieces drafted
    • 1 – book contract signed
    • 1 – manuscript reviewed
    • 2 – interviews given
  • 53 – Books Read (YtD; not counting academic reading)
    • 18,858 – total pages
    • 355.8 – average pages per book
    • 15 – non-fiction books
    • 21 – books by women
    • 6 – books by African or African-American authors
    • 12 – Original languages
    • 15 – countries of origin
    • 2 – Graphic novels
  • 52 – Blog Posts (YtD)
    • 44,912 – words written
    • 864– average words per post
  • 4,128 – site visitors (up, roughly 35%)
  • 5,593 – site views (up, roughly 39%)
  • 5 – states visited
  • 1 – trips cancelled because of COVID
  • 2735 – Tweets (YtD)
    • 227.9 – average Tweets per month
    • 1,887,100 – Twitter impressions, per Twitter analytics
    • 1 –viral tweet (on December 12, it had 322,165 impressions)
  • 77 – miles run
  • 443.65 – miles walked (since mid-August, YtD)
  • 40,594 – pushups pushed (YtD)

As usual, these numbers mean nothing, anything, and everything. There are other metrics, but they are proprietary of NUDEan-inc, a private analytics organization. A NUDEan spokesperson is cagey when asked to share the areas of life quantified while keeping the actual numbers secret, leading one to speculate that the data is only being haphazardly recorded. Whether this situation is a product of gross incompetence or because many aspects of human life cannot or should not be quantified is unknown.

ΔΔΔ

Previous installments: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

My 2020: Best* Posts

It is time again for a series of posts that I use to reflect on the year that was. First up, I want to highlight some of my favorite posts to this point in the year. These are not necessarily the best or the best-trafficked, but rather things I wrote that I look back on fondly and think are worth revisiting.

For many reasons I did not write here as much as I have in the past (2020 marked the lowest number of total posts since 2011), but writing about non-academic books I’ve read bore the brunt of this change—whether because that writing felt frivolous or because I didn’t have anything to say when I finished a book. My more substantive output didn’t change all that much and the posts I did write were, on balance, longer than in past years. The result is one of the longest Best* posts wrap-up since I started doing this end of year series.

Previously: 2019; 2018; 2017; 2016

As in past years, I’ve written a bunch about teaching and writing in an academic context:

What Would I Write
Evidence, Please
Academic Style
Notes from Corona Campus
First Day Fragments: reflections on ZoomU 2.0

I also wrote a little bit about history and ancient history:

What Does It Mean to Learn From History
Bring Back Dokimasia
The Impossibility of Alexander
Thearion: The Paul Hollywood of Ancient Athens

One of my favorite pieces I wrote was about baking, in response to a sudden shortage of yeast after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Help! I’m Out of Yeast!

Finally, I wrote two pieces about pop culture that I particularly like, an exceptionally silly review of the best books I read this year and a reflection on my connection to Star Wars written in response to The Rise of Skywalker:

Day of the Oprichnik
Star Wars and I