My 2016 – Using Words

2016 was in some ways a good year for me. In terms of my academic work it felt as though I leveled up, inching closer to emerging from the cocoon of graduate school. This was, in part, just a matter of time passing, but it also seemed more substantive. I started thinking about my work differently, seeing it differently, and had some successes. I can grow and improve my craft more, without a doubt, but I (finally) felt a substantive difference. On the other hand, I was frequently stymied in every attempt to take the next step, which makes me think that this sense of growth was little more than feeling comfortable within the limits that I had already reached, but I will write more about this in another post.

I also got back to teaching in the fall of 2016, working for Western Civilization (up to 1715). This meant both leading discussion sections and giving a series of guest lectures. There were ways that I could have improved the lectures, of course, but on the whole the teaching went as well as it ever has, and the evaluations bore that out. The improvement came from a variety of sources, including simple practice, but also that I felt more comfortable in my subject expertise than I had in other semesters and that I am getting a good sense for how to craft a through-line for students when teaching new material. This last was important because I taught classes on everything from the Roman Republic to the Hellenistic World, to the Renaissance.

For the most part I also managed to continue playing basketball, lifting weights, and running on a regular basis. I did not manage to push my running distances to any great lengths, but I was pleased that I was able to do it at all. Similarly, I kept up most of my self-improvement goals, including that I started using Duolingo to brush up on my German and to learn Spanish and Dutch; I currently have a 115 day streak.

However, I had one significant problem with 2016: anxiety. I have long had issues with anxiety and depression, and my anxiety issues, manifesting in elevated heart rate, shaky hands, and an inability to focus. Most of these have to do with my work or, more precisely, my ability to continue working past this school year, but certainly events outside of my immediate circumstances are feeding into these issues. Beyond working on applications and doubling down on my work, one of my goals for 2017 is to spend more time doing things like meditating in the hopes of remaining even-keeled.

In reality there was a lot more to 2016, such as moving in August and using almost every available opportunity to travel, but I am all over the place right now, so now for some 2017 resolutions.

The eternal, nebulous, unquantifiable

  • Continue learning to let go of things that are beyond my control. Most things are.
  • Be more patient and charitable with people I know and tolerant of distraction (while working to limit them)
  • Smile more often.
  • Continue to exercise, maintain or improve health and fitness.
  • Take more time for mindfulness exercises

The concrete and quantifiable

  • Write more often, here, there, and beyond. Some specific (but not a complete) list of quantifiable goals:
    • Defend my dissertation and graduate!
    • Finish a draft of my (now begun!) novel
    • Complete and send off (4) articles to academic journals
    • Apply to review (2) academic books
    • Find one non-blog, non-academic site to publish a piece of writing, either fiction or non-fiction
  • Keep up my non-academic reading, but continue to expand my horizons, meaning:
    • Read at least (52) nonacademic books. I have succeeded in this two consecutive years, but between a tendency to read long books and having a lot of other tasks, setting a higher goal would be irresponsible.
    • I read (8) books by women in 2016; in 2017 it should be more than (10).
    • I read (7) non-fiction books (not for academic purposes) in 2016; in 2017 I want to hit (10).
  • Conquering the kitchen: develop (2) of my own bread recipes using flavors or ingredients that I do not usually use.

Best* posts of 2016

I am running a half-step behind all of the other “2016 year in review” posts this year because we had family visiting in the days leading up to the New Year and then I was on the road for a few days. This year I am adding several posts to my Year-End Slate, including one to highlight the posts of 2016 that I think are my best of the year. I am not using any metric for this other than the posts that I think are the best written or most worth revisiting.

Will I feed on Wisdom Like a Dog?

Unjust Logos and the Crowd

The Hearth and the Television

Who Needs Nuance?

Donald Trump and Some Assumptions about Isis

There are a few others posts, but this year I mostly blogged about books I read. I hope to write more posts along these lines in 2017.

My 2016 – By the Numbers

There are any number of numbers that have been used to quantify the experience of 2016, including how much average temperatures rose, stock market tickers, votes cast, emails leaked, amount of money spent by SuperPACs, number of people displaced from Syria, 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, mitzvahs, and the like. Here are some numbers about my year.

4 – article submissions
—3 article rejections
—1 requested revise and resubmit
—3 articles queued for edits and submission in early 2017
2 – academic papers presented based on my dissertation research
2 – abstracts accepted for conference papers
—1 abstract under review
136 – pages in my dissertation’s narrative section, which is effectively in its final form
1 – novels started
15 – jobs applied for in 2016
—0 – job interviews received
— 12 – job applications due in January
9 – states visited [drive-throughs not counted]
3 – ultimate frisbee leagues participated in
59 – books read above and beyond an immediate academic purpose [+6]
—12 – original languages
—7 – non-fiction books
—8 – books by female authors [+4 from 2015]
99 – blog posts published
— 60 – book reviews
— 6 – posts about politics
— 2 – posts about Aristophanes
42 – Instagram posts
—11 – baking/cooking pictures
—8 – cat pictures

As usual, these numbers mean nothing, anything, and everything. There are other metrics, but they are proprietary of NUDEAN-inc, a private analytics company. 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 a judgement left to the reader.

My 2016 – Listicle

My slate of year-end posts has been delayed because of holiday family and travel, but will be rolling out over the next several days. 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, including this listicle, a reflective essay on 2016, by the numbers, best of 2016, and a new one that will be strictly dedicated to writing and academia.

Getting back into the swing of things Last Year’s list.

Lists for 2016/2017:

Three international news stories I’m following going into this year

  • Trump’s impending Presidency and the global ripple effect
  • Ongoing crises in Turkey, including terrorist attacks, the war in Syria, and centralization of power
  • Refugee crisis, particularly with the rest of Europe sending refugees back to Greece.

5 Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading [To my shame, there are three repeats from 2016, as I only managed to hit two of the books last time]

  • Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
  • Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • 1493, Charles A. Mann
  • Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig
  • Silent House, Orhan Pamuk

Two books I once started, but didn’t finish…that I’d like to give another shot in 2016 [I knocked two books off this list, plus War and Peace in 2016]

  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Seven Favorite Books I read in 2016

  • Seven Madmen, Roberto Arlt
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Samurai’s Garden, Gail Tsukiyama
  • Basti, Intizar Husain
  • The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Post Office Girl, Stefan Zweig
  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  • Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Three new-to-me music groups I found in 2016

  • Dessa
  • The Honeycutters
  • The Dustbowl Revival

Letter Writing

There are reasons that a person would not like getting mail. For one, there may be an overwhelming anxiety because of a obligation to respond, which takes planning, time, and money. For another there may be a sense of doom because the box is chock-full of hate mail and spam adverts or, worse yet, bills. There was a time when I wrote at least several letters a month, something I enjoyed for its intimacy and privacy, but gave up for a variety of reasons. Now I mostly write intermittently to a few friends and to my great aunt who serves as my primary postal correspondent since she writes back.

I am going to go back to writing letters more regularly, hopefully composing at least one or two every week for the year. In part this means that people who I know in person and whose addresses I have are going to be bombarded by folded paper, but it doesn’t need to be restricted to them. As such, if you want to receive one or more letters this year, send your mailing address to jpnudell@gmail.com. I am willing to mail letters anywhere the USPS lets me.

If you give me an address…

  1. I promise to sent you at least one letter in 2016.
  2. The letter might be irreverent about society based on my own opinion, but will never be vulgar, crass, lewd or threatening.
  3. You are under no obligation to reply, but I would of course welcome letters back.
  4. I prefer that you give me your own address, but if you give me someone else’s you must also give me their name so I can make a proper salutation and I will be sure to let the recipient know who inflicted this upon them.

Hypothetical FAQ:

Why do this?
Consider it a sort of New Year’s Resolution. I want to write letters because correspondences fascinate me, particularly from yesteryear when letter correspondences were published. (I guess we just have email leaks and/or dumps so publishing letters in an edited collection isn’t necessary anymore.) This fascination also expands to handwriting and the topics people choose to write about. I also save letters I receive from people and have, at less busy times in my life, gone back to read them. I have no expectations, but am curious to see what will happen.

What will you write about?
I honestly don’t know and it will likely vary widely depending on how well I know the recipient. Anticipated topics include: the weather, universities, sports, history, books I’ve been reading, the election cycle, baking, or whatever else is on my mind. One of the things I might do is something of an “analog twitter” where I compose two-sentence observations or thoughts and mail a short collection of those. Or maybe I’ll doodle marginalia. The rewards for this project are almost entirely internal so I am going to have some fun with it.

Can I control the form or content that the content takes?
If you express a preference for topic, I will take that under advisement, but make no promises.