navel gazing

cmrb 2021 annual report

First, some words from last year:

“We’re down to the last 48 hours of 2020, and I’m not joining in the chorus of people saying we’re sure to have a better 2021. I’m not sure we will, frankly, and I’m not sure which spheres of existence (personal, social, political, economic) folks are expecting to have that better year in. And better in the eyes of what beholder? I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently… 2020 wasn’t personally that bad in many respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.”

Oy. I’m laughing at myself a bit for the degree to which is this something I could have typed out verbatim sitting here tonight. While I was considering whether or not to try writing this post today, I was thinking about strategies to help remember things that happened before September or so, but as I’ve said many times in other places, the last few months blended together and beat so much out of me in a way that it’s kind of stolen the rest of 2021 from my brain. I’m going to try to persevere despite that.

I remember spending New Year’s at home, playing board games and listening to New Wave New Year on WMBR. I also remember our trip to frozen New Hampshire at the end of January for my birthday. It was below zero and people were driving trucks around on the iced-over lake. We still went in the outdoor hot tub, though. It was a great trip, lots of cake and solitude, plentiful X-Files, and me reading Naomi Klein as I had started working on a paper–the first one I’d ever work on for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal–referencing The Shock Doctrine.

I started co-teaching for a class with a lot of tech criticism and social theory, a.k.a. my dream come true. February is largely a blur. I remember following along with our assigned readings and homework submissions, even for the weeks I wasn’t teaching. It was cold but I know I went for a lot of walks and listened to a ton of Citations Needed and You’re Wrong About. And the Dark Trilogy by The Cure. I kept doing my radio show.

In March, we had early warm days, in particular the days after the shortened spring break. We took our class outside one day, a balmy Friday ensconced with early spring sun, and wrote in erasable marker on the dorm windows, mapping out the social entanglements of race, technology, and education. On the following Sunday night, I learned one of our students, 21, had died between then and that gorgeous Friday morning.

I spoke at a conference right after a memorial service for him, and I should have bailed but I pressed myself to do it anyway. A bunch of people really didn’t like it when I said the word “fuck.”

I saw one of my best friends for the first time in nearly a year and we sat outside on their porch under heated ponchos a few weeks before we got vaccinated. I got my first shot at Fenway Park on the lower concourse. I remember I got an absurd parking spot that day, like literally in front of Boston Beer Works.

We tie-dyed masks at work with the students (outside). I helped another of my best friends move out of the house she’d lived in with her ex-husband, where my friends and I had hung out many times over the years. We helped her do a yard sale. I went to visit my family for the first time since the summer of 2020 and bought the two beautiful Boston ferns that now flank the library doors. We had a Zoom call with Frank the red panda at the Greenville Zoo and had our first in-person library event in over a year, the community weaving workshop. A student designed laser-cut looms and my student workers and I put together a few dozen kits with all of the parts and yarn, and our former colleagues ran it. It was lovely.

The class of 2021 graduated and I got some free petunias for my garden. I took over landscaping for my elderly landlords in May. We met Chris’s parents’ new dog. My student workers helped me save a big dying cactus at work. I helped my aforementioned friend move to Providence and put her bed together before we went out for humongous margs and tacos. I bought a kayak that I managed to get into my Honda Fit. I began working on fixing the lopsided lilac in the backyard.

I went kayaking a bunch in May and June. Mostly, I busted my ass in the front and back gardens. I biked to work most of the time. I had awesome summer student workers who worked with me on an extremely cool space redesign project. We began replacing the library’s furniture and carpet over the summer, a project that I never dreamed would succeed. We said goodbye to many coworkers. I bought a new pair of Tevas at REI and didn’t realize the shoes were two different sizes until I brought them home.

The lunatics at LibraryJournal picked me as a 2021 Mover & Shaker and I got some fancy photos taken and did some interviews. Our new dog friend got bigger and we got a new niece. We went to Maine a lot. We went to the 4th of July fireworks show in Pawtucket, the first time we’d been around crowds in well over a year. In July, my radio show, Outback Witch House, made its way to its new home and time, Wednesday nights from 8-10 on Our vacation was in Provincetown right after Delta and it rained all week, but we watched The Fate of the Furious.

I came back to a very different looking library, a thing that still makes me immensely proud. I got a new co-worker. My friends and I went to the Marshfield Fair and saw prize-winning livestock and an epic demolition derby battle between minivans. The semester started and I resumed teaching the class, in a more central role this time. Things on campus were too emotional and they felt so…idk, fragile. We went on a short trip at the end of September for Chris’s birthday, to the three-season cabin we’d visited the year before.

By the time October was underway, it was clear that this was not going to be an easy, or even coherent, semester for many of us. We got out to Worcester and I set the Tetris records at Free Play, as is my wont. At work, we made a very silly but elaborately designed haunted house in the library. I carved a pumpkin with my friend who’d worn heated ponchos with me in the spring. We watched lots of UFC and ate many chicken wings with our best friends. Thanksgiving break came at a time when things at work felt like they were going to implode. Some problems were specific to our class; some were much larger. I have many thoughts and realizations about these matters that I am choosing to not post on a public blog. Let it be said, though, that Sara Ahmed’s new book COMPLAINT! was a vital partner for making sense of it all.

We went to Thanksgiving in Maine and split the Christmas/New Year’s week between Maine and New York. I started taking Level 1 classes at Improv Asylum in Boston. The journal article I started co-writing in January/February was published after two rounds of peer review in December. I submitted applications to a few PhD programs. I have no idea what the next few weeks will be like. We had a small gathering last night–five people who see each other frequently–and it was fun enough to make me feel some optimism about 2022. But Omicron is a mess, and all levels of the response to it are like, “leadership has left the buildinggggg :)”

I think this is about where we came in.

I have seen and heard far fewer “2022 will be better than 2021”-type statements than I did when it came to the 2020/2021 changeover. I think many of us are too tired and burned out to have the optimism right now. But I will recycle this conclusion I made last year. While I’m not optimistic, I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently… 2020 and 2021 both weren’t that bad in many personal respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.

(see also: my 2021 year-end reading recap and the 2020 annual report)

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