My 2015 – Using Words

The last of three 2015 reflection pieces I am going to post, this one using the ancient style called “prose” to offer some reflections and thoughts about 2015 and offer some “resolutions” for 2016.

I had my share of struggles in 2015, but they pale in comparison to the massive psychic wounds that openly wept in the US and the world. In general, the year was good to me as an individual. I was able to set a schedule that allowed me to lift weights on a regular basis in the mornings, play in a weekly frisbee league, and play pickup basketball three days a week and, as a result, I lost quite a bit of weight. The opportunities for social interaction decreased somewhat in 2015 for a variety of reasons, including that the friends with whom I was closest are all moved away from Columbia, but I took the opportunity to read more often and, as a result, I finished more books that were not part of my course of study than I have since beginning graduate school. Related, I wrote and published here, averaging more than a post per week–one of the highest rates since I started writing this blog when I was in college in 2008. No one post stands out to me as truly remarkable, but, in general, I am pretty satisfied with the overall quality of the posts.

These situations likely contributed to 2015 being a good year for my mental state, too. There were periods of depression, sadness, and anxiety, which are all natural for me, but there was no extended period where those feelings dominated my existence. Learning to let go of things beyond my control is a continual process for me, but I did better job last year than I usually do. I turn thirty in a month, so maybe this is a sign of becoming an adult, at last.

2015 for me was generally a year of simplification. In addition to the simple pleasures listed above and again learning to embrace the solitude, I cancelled my Netflix subscription and even gave some of my books I no longer wanted away to the local public library. The TV is probably next to go. I also spent more time baking breads, usually throwing together two or three different bakes every week. My signature recipe must be bagels, but I’ve also gotten good at making kaiser rolls, an enriched vienna bread, and croissants, along with other recipes that I make less frequently. I even invented my own recipe for an onion-cheddar-habanero bread that I made into a braided loaf. Toward the end of the year I started branching out with other bakes and made two cheesecakes, though my dessert portfolio remains more limited than my breads. Among my other culinary pursuits were making vodka sauce from scratch and infusing simple syrups, which I used to practice fashioning cocktails.

The inspiration for cocktails came from a bachelor party that took the groom to the Bacardi distillery in San Juan, Puerto Rico in February, and participated in a bartending tutorial. Other than to attend the party, I attended the wedding because I was the one in charge of the ceremony (as the stand-in officiant) for two of my closest friends. The trip was a bit of a whirlwind since, unlike some of the guests, we were unable to extend our stay in Puerto Rico past the weekend, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

On the academic side, I won a dissertation fellowship for the 2015/16 academic year, had my first positive referee report on an article (which was accepted pending revisions), and completed/published two academic book reviews. I also travelled to Boulder to present a paper (which was well received) at a conference, and had papers accepted for upcoming conferences in Omaha and Williamsburg. Of course, my pet elephant in the room is my dissertation, of which I completed an entire first draft and have made strides in turning that sprawling work into a single cohesive thesis. I did not get quite as far as I had hoped, but I still like the project and see it as more important and relevant to big-picture issues than I did at the outset. It still feels like a bit of a chameleon when one asks what exactly it is I am trying to show, but I quite like that part.

There were a myriad of ways large and small that 2015 could have been better, but, in general, 2015 was successful for me. Now for some 2016 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.

The concrete and quantifiable

  • Write more often, here, there, and beyond. Some specific (but not a complete) list of quantifiable goals:
    • Finish the dissertation
    • Write (1) short story and send it off to a literary magazine
    • Complete and send off (2) articles to academic journals
  • Keep up my non-academic reading, but broaden the horizons, meaning:
    • Read at least (52) nonacademic books [note: this includes Infinite Jest].
    • I read (4) books by women in 2015; in 2016 it should be more than (8).
    • I read (7) non-fiction books (not for academic purposes) in 2015; in 2016 that should be more than (10). [Note: I am cutting some slack on the rate increase because I find non-fiction to be harder to read for fun because I have to do so much of it for work]
  • Conquering the kitchen: learn how to make an actual cake from scratch.

Netflix and recapturing time

My personality is such that I am somewhat compulsive and somewhat addictive. I have a thing for completion and tend to get antsy if I feel that I have left something unfinished; Netflix enables these traits with hundreds of hours of shows designed to draw in and keep the viewer tuned in, only, instead of requiring him or her to tune back in next week, the next episode begins to play automatically after just a few seconds–and that is before considering the extensive library of movies and documentaries. Most of the time I use Netflix as background for activities like cleaning, cooking, or grading, but I have also wasted more time than I would like to admit. A lot of this time has been spent watching mediocre or worse shows and a lot of procedurals or semi-procedurals that have familiar rhythms and are easily mainlined. There are a lot of beautiful and truly excellent shows and movies there, too, including some of the Netflix original series, but there is a lot of dreck and a constant barrage of stuff.

I have mixed feelings about the race to develop new original content by every channel or service because of the value of shows that are owned in house, something the Hollywood Prospectus podcast has talked a lot about, but not just because there are too many T.V. shows. The thesis is that the race to produce a large number of these shows quickly has resulted in a lot of really good shows, but few great ones. As someone who primarily uses Netflix, my problem is more that Netflix has a tendency to push their own shows over the rest of the library. In other words, my complaint isn’t with the shows themselves so much as the feeling that they are being forced upon me.

Most of the shows I was committed to seeing through until the end had their series finales last year, but the bigger quirk of consuming these shows through a streaming service is that there is a lag between the air date and their availability online. Sometimes this means a good show will have multiple seasons available immediately, and, other times, it means that good shows only get discovered after they have been cancelled. This dynamic isn’t new, just more pronounced. Streaming services are all about instant gratification, but the only shows that are immediately available from the outset are the original series. I find that this makes it somewhat more difficult to find new shows that I can really become committed to. There are shows I want to see, but none that I feel so excited about that I will go out to pay for them sight unseen and the marketplace for streaming services means that there is no certainty about which one the shows will come to, or when they will arrive. Beyond that, I am increasingly finding that the shows I am most excited about are on or available through PBS, with the main exception being CNN’s Parts Unknown.

I have also reached a tipping point with podcasts and am falling behind on things I want to listen to, and podcasts are more often more informative, less demanding on my attention, and free. If I am going to let one of the two go, the choice is obvious.

The semester is about to start and I have been giving through to what I want my life to look like this year. There have been some recent changes at Mizzou that play into this, but, mostly, I am going on the job market for the first time and coming very close to ending a phase of my life. One of the big conclusions I have come to is that I become too engaged with Netflix and don’t get enough enjoyment in return. Its primary function is distraction and contributes to my anxiety level.

In sum, I’ve decided to cancel my Netflix subscription. If I want to watch something, I will pay for it (not for the whole package) or use my local video store, though I am giving myself a week to pick through my list on Netflix and watch a last few things. The goal here is to be more efficient with the eventual goal of making me happier. I thought similarly when I deleted my Facebook account, albeit for different reasons, and have had very few regrets, most of which boil down to how people use Facebook for social organization rather than my not having an account. Hopefully I will have similar results with this decision.