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: 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

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: 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

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.

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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: 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.

This was a down-year for me in terms of output mostly because heavy teaching loads left me too little time to write. Unsurprisingly, most of the substantial writing I did here were related to teaching, academia, or related topics:

I didn’t write much about current events or politics this year, but I did write about the Salute to America event this past summer, reflecting on commemoration, ceremony, and identity:

Finally, I published one long post about the reception of Sherlock Holmes:

See also Best* of 2018, 2017 and 2016.

My 2018 – using words

This is the penultimate post of my year-in-review series, an essay trying to make sense of my year that was. It follows a collection of my best* posts, a list of statistics, and a listicle. A post containing 2019 resolutions concludes the series tomorrow.

Past entries in this series: 2017, 2016, 2015.

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On the precipice of 2019 I am in a good place. By definition this should mean that I had a good 2018, and, compared to many, that is true. I had some measure of professional success; I published two articles, submitted a book proposal to an academic press (along with five revised chapters), taught five classes, and scored multiple interviews in the cutthroat arena of the academic job market. In a bonus victory, each of the academic successes brought me closer to articulating my larger research agenda. 2018 passed me as a blur of activity with steady, but not stable employment and whirlwind travel, but I was not burdened by toxic relationships or flattened by the trauma of loss.

Just writing these words twisted my stomach into knots.

Reading over the past versions of this essay, I realize that I have written something to this effect each of the past three years. In this sense, 2018 was more of the same, except that the highs were higher and the lows lower.

This year marked the first time in my adult life where I suffered health complications worse than the flu that were not sports injuries. All of them were related to anxiety. Last spring I experienced the first round, which included GERD and at one point breaking out in hives. The digestive issues meant that I had to give up first chocolate and then coffee. By the end of the fall semester a new wave of symptoms developed that, thankfully, have largely disappeared after I gave myself several days entirely off over the holiday.

I have coped with anxiety in various forms for quite a few years now, but an overlapping series of issues have caused the symptoms to grow progressively worse.

One is the brutal academic job market, where there are dozens or hundreds of qualified candidates for every open position and the number of positions overall in decline because of cuts to education funding. For me this meant working on short-term contracts to teach individual courses without the security of knowing whether I would teach again the following term and, simultaneously, feeling pressure to research and publish without compensation in the hope that someday it will be part of my job.

Teaching history at the college level is something I deeply believe in. There are other career paths out there and graduate study in history should do a better job of creating pathways for students to get those jobs, but when I look at myself in the mirror it is hard to give up on this dream that I have now spent almost a decade pursuing.

Another issue is the gremlin who has long sat on my shoulder telling me that I should be working harder. When I was young I could ignore him, perhaps too well, but in the crucible of academia he has grown strong indeed.

I gave in to that gremlin more often than not in 2018, sacrificing my weekends, my evenings, and much of the time that would have been spent just being outdoors, much to my detriment. By the end of the year, my partner started saying that even my hobbies started to look like work.

Self-care taken to its extreme becomes hedonism, but self-care itself is necessary. My much belated revelation at the end of 2018 is that things like self-care that I admire and encourage in others are also things that I need to allow myself.

But, like I stated at the outset, 2018 was a successful year by many metrics. I remain in a healthy relationship with an amazing woman and read a lot of breathtaking books. I was a little bit ambitious in my writing goals, which always ends up going slower than intended. Teaching new courses (four of the five I taught for the first time) consumes more time than I estimate, and most of my writing time was given over to “old” work, between editing chapters to submit with my book proposal and rounds of edits and proofs. Still, I am pleased with how my courses went for the most part and am pleased with the work that I put out into the world in 2018. I also saw progress in the long-term process of self-improvement, which provided hope even in bad moments.

As much as my year was defined by struggles with anxiety, I want to take time to reflect on those things that were good.

My universal resolutions every year revolve around mindfulness and happiness. Anecdotally and superficially, at least, I smiled more and laughed more easily in 2018 than I did in past years, but also with the impression that this was grim laughter going out into unrelenting darkness.

My 2018 – listicle

Every year around this time I try to make sense of my year that was. On Wednesday I posted the zero post in this series, my Best* posts of 2018 list and yesterday I posted the first entry, my annual By the Numbers. Today’s post is a listicle that serves as a vehicle for thinking about things I liked or did in the past year.

Getting back into the swing of things, here are the past lists: 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Three international news stories I’m following going into 2019

  • The ongoing war in Yemen
  • The changing responses to the refugee crisis in Europe
  • The fallout from US involvement and disengagement with the rest of the world

Seven favorite novels that I read

Five Nonfiction Books I particularly loved

Two Books about Teaching I particularly liked

Five Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading in 2019 [two repeats from 2018]

  • Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck
  • Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig
  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Sugar Street, Naguib Mahfouz

Four movies I saw in theaters that were totally worth the price of admission

  • The Death of Stalin
  • Black Panther
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  • Annihilation

Four TV Shows I have been watching

  • The Good Place
  • The Wire
  • The Great British Baking Show
  • Forged in Fire

Two music groups I listened to for the first time

  • Josh Ritter
  • Mipso

My 2018 – 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. Previous installments: 2017, 2016, 2015.

There are any number of numbers that have been used to quantify the experience of 2018, including how much average temperatures rose, stock market tickers, voters suppressed, emails leaked, dollars spent on political advertising, number of people who died in California wildfires, body count 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.

  • 5 classes taught
    • 4 courses taught for the first time
    • 1 course repeated from a prior iteration
    • 114 students enrolled in my classes
    • 2 courses scheduled for 2019 (so far)
    • 4 letters of recommendation written
    • 1 committee served on
  • 20 jobs applied for
    • 2 interviews
    • 2 interviews set for 2019
  • 151.43 hours spent writing or editing academic work (YtD)
  • 1 book proposal submitted to a press
  • 2 articles published
  • 1 book review published
  • 2 academic papers presented
    • 1 abstracts accepted for a conference in 2019
  • 52 books read (YtD; not counting academic reading)
  • 16,889 pages
    • 9 original languages
    • 17 by women
    • 13 nonfiction
  • 63 blog posts published (YtD)
    • 37 book reviews
    • 11 posts about teaching
    • 5 posts about politics
    • 1652 visitors
    • 2371 site views
  • 20 states visited
  • 1 Canadian provinces visited
  • 3 ultimate frisbee leagues participated in
  • 2 Sourdough starters kept active
  • 1255 Tweets sent (YtD)
    • 104.58 Average Tweets per month
    • 340.1K Twitter impressions, per Twitter analytics

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.