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.

ΔΔΔ

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.

ΔΔΔ

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

Publication Wrap 2020

I had a slow-ish publishing year in 2020, making this a second consecutive year of big plans and limited outcomes, but at least this year I had an excuse!

That is not to say that I didn’t have any progress; quite the opposite, in fact.

I had four short pieces come out this year. Two of these were book reviews:

  1. of Rosalind Thomas’ Polis Histories, which came out in CJ-Reviews online over the summer and was chosen to appear in the print version of the journal.
  2. of a recent translation of Jacqueline de Romilly’s Alcibiades, which came out in The New England Classical Journal this fall.

Two more were interview pieces:

  1. I talked about an inscription thanking immigrants to Athens for their service fighting against a tyrannical government in Athens for the Comfort Classics series run by Cora Beth Knowles.
  2. For the Society for Classical Studies blog I wrote about being a contingent faculty member in higher education and how the current situation is unsustainable.

I didn’t have any original research come out, but I did make headway on several projects. I effectively finished a chapter on the Athenian conquest of the island of Samos in 366 BCE for inclusion in a volume on the Athenian orators and their use of recent history and completed an article on fourth century Ephesus and its relationship to Alexander the Great for which I am looking for a home.

I also buried the lede to this post.

Back in October, I signed an advance contract with University of Michigan Press to publish a book tentatively titled Accustomed to Obedience?: Classical Ionia and the Aegean World, 480–294 BCE. This book is a heavily revised version of my dissertation so while I have quite a lot of work between now and when I’m supposed to submit the manuscript, let alone see the book come out, I am also very excited to have taken a very real step toward one of my professional ambitions.

For a full list of my publications, with links to everything available online, visit this page. If you are interested in reading any of my work and do not have access to it, please contact me.

My 2019: Resolutions

As is custom (starting last year), my year-end navel gazing series ends with my resolutions for the new year, a little delayed because my iPad keyboard died while I was on the road.

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 started off doing well in 2019 but had largely stopped by the end of the year and intend to do more regularly in 2020.

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.
  • Take ten minutes every afternoon for quiet meditation and reflection.
  • Complete the book manuscript that I’ve been working on based on my dissertation.
  • Complete the (2) article-length pieces that I didn’t quite finish in 2019 and draft (1) new one.
  • Find (1) new book to review.
  • Complete the next piece of my research project on bread in ancient Greece.
  • I have gotten away from reading academic books for reasons other than class or research, and I want to get back to reading for professional development. My target for this is at least (12), or one per month.
  • I didn’t quite hit my reading goal of 52 books for 2019, 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 2020, including a revised list of my 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.

Recapping My 2019: best* posts; by-the-numbers; listicle; using words.

My 2019: Using Words

Judging solely on the resolutions I made for 2019, this was a year of best intentions come up short. At least two failures mirrored even minor successes, and, on the cusp of 2020, I mostly feel exhausted.

However, this assessment is colored by the fatigue I still feel from a particularly grueling semester. This year was broadly similar to the last, which was broadly similar to the one before that and the one before that. I had a few more professional successes in the past years, but I also had significantly fewer teaching responsibilities and more research support. Plus ça change.

Add in that I have now been in Columbia, MO for a decade and am currently without prospects for a permanent job in the area, and what I am feeling might be more appropriately described as stagnation.

All the same, I managed to deliver a paper on bread baking in ancient Greece last spring at the CAMWS meeting in Lincoln, NE, wrote a book review, and drafted two article-length pieces, one for an edited collection, and one I want to submit to a journal. Frustratingly, only the conference paper saw the light of day this year and I was once again unable to complete my first book manuscript (though I did make progress on it). I need to remember that this hardly counts for nothing when also teaching seven classes of my own (five new), picking up additional grading to make ends meet, and applying for academic jobs, all while also setting ambitious reading and exercise goals, and aiming to maintain a healthy relationship

I wrote last year about my recent struggles with anxiety and again earlier this year about struggling to write while depressed. These two emotional states dominated my year to the point that I tried to find a therapist in early September before the semester spun out of control. I received an initial evaluation and was prepared to spend quite a lot of money before my insurance would cover visits, but ended up not following through after being told the wait for start appointments.

Beyond simply the anxiety of the semester, I was (and am) particularly concerned about my career. The academic job market is the stuff of campfire horror stories for many reasons, but the long and the short of it is that most universities remain under regimes of austerity and those that aren’t are not generally not investing in full-time ancient historians. Add in a decade’s worth of accumulated PhDs and you have a recipe for, in some cases, hundreds of applicants and dozens of perfectly qualified candidates for every open position.

Nothing about these realities softens the notification that the job went to someone else.

My application materials are competitive and I have been receiving interviews, but I can’t help but wonder whether this will be the last year I get to do this job that I genuinely love, which, in turn, creates a negative feedback loop on my academic projects. For the work that I have been doing recently, this lack of stability is at least as much of an impediment as is the lack of research support. I have a long and growing list of things I want to do, but I have found myself in a position where I am disinclined to aggressively pursue the most ambitious ones without some promise of stability on the other side because the emotional toll and the cost to my personal relationships is too great. Perhaps I should take more risks, perhaps it wouldn’t matter. But, when combined with the significant amount time spent securing employment, often semester by semester, these issues create a contingent faculty Catch-22.

Professional anxiety was omnipresent last year, but it is worth remembering that there is more to life than this. I was able to reconnect with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, I spent time learning how bake things like croissants, and I remain in a long-term committed relationship with an amazing woman who helps keep me grounded.

I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me, but the new year is upon us so I guess I am about to find out.

ΔΔΔ

My year-in-review series is running behind, but this essay trying to make sense of my year is the penultimate entry. It follows a collection of my best* posts, a list of statistics, and a listicle.

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

My 2019: 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, and continued with a series of lists. Today is a list of numbers, data that somehow defines my year.

ΔΔΔ

There are any number of numbers that have been used to quantify the experience of 2019, including how much average temperatures rose, fires in Brazil and Africa, stock market tickers, shady phone calls, dollars spent on political advertising and for national defense, body counts from Yemen, 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.

  • 7 – classes taught (across 2 semesters)
    • 5 – classes taught for the first time
    • 2 – self-paced online classes for which I was the instructor of record
    • 162 – students (excluding the online classes)
    • 5 – courses scheduled so far for 2020
    • 2 – letters of recommendation written
  • 16 – Job applications
    • 2 – interviews
    • 1 – interviews scheduled for 2020
    • 2 – campus interviews
  • 111.5 – Hours spent writing or editing academic work (YtD)
    • 1 – papers delivered
    • 1 – book reviews written
    • 0 – articles published
    • 2 – article-length pieces drafted
  • 52 – Books Read (YtD; not counting academic reading)
    • 17,462 – total pages
    • 342.39 – average pages per book
    • 21 – non-fiction books
    • 19 – books by women
    • 6 – books by African or African-American authors
    • 5 – Original languages
    • 2 – Graphic novels
  • 60 – Blog Posts (YtD)
    • 48,853 – words written
    • 814 – average words per post
    • 34 – book reviews
  • 3008 – site visitors
  • 3975 – site views
  • 8 – states visited
  • 2505 – Tweets (YtD)
    • 208.75 – average Tweets per month
    • 977,800 – Twitter impressions, per Twitter analytics
  • 173.8 – miles run
  • 1 – video game system purchased

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: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

My 2019: 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 series of lists that double as recommendations from this past year.

Six favorite novels I read this year:

Seven favorite non-fiction books I read this year:

Books I’m looking forward to (maybe) reading in 2020:

  • The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
  • The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
  • Sugar Street, Naguib Mahfouz

TV shows I loved watching this year

  • Elementary
  • Watchmen
  • Killing Eve (season 1)
  • The Good Place

Movies that were totally worth the price of admission:

  • Knives Out

Video games I enjoyed getting lost in:

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

While I mostly listen to singles, these albums dominated my listening:

  • “Chime,” Dessa (2018)
  • “Old Time Reverie,” Mipso (2015)
  • “Dark Holler Pop,” Mipso (2013)
  • “Me Oh My,” The Honeycutters (2015)
  • “Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World,” Johnny Clegg and Savuka (1989)

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