Wednesday, January 01, 2020

End of year, end of decade

My decades do run from 0 to 9 currently.

2010-2019? A decade of unrelenting losses.

The first and worst was Brent's beloved sister Wendy. It put us into a downward spiral of Ottawa eldercare worries, adding a third country and a huge amount of added stress to our already somewhat strenuous two-country life.

Brent's dad Chuck died in 2014. My mother's dear husband Jim was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma at the end of 2014 and died a few months later after some brutal weeks in the ICU (here was my eulogy for him). Implausibly, my father died suddenly about two weeks later, and it was a "dog ate my homework situation" when for the second time that month I told my powerlifting coach that I had to go to Philadelphia in the aftermath of the death of someone very close to me. I wrote too many eulogies that year.

Time with our beloved step-grandfather Gene was always a gift, but it was tough watching him go, slowly, over the final six months of congestive heart failure. I wrote his obituary too: it's a little more than two years ago now and we are only just starting to regroup in the wake of his loss. Gene also left money that has put me in a position of financial security that I did not think I would ever achieve: I retain humility in the face of it and am very happy to be in a position now to fulfill the dream of my twenties, which was to pick up the restaurant tab for a table of friends or students without worrying about how much it costs!

Brent's mother had a series of strokes that took away first independence then movement and speech; she died in June of this year. Brent is still handling various estate business, but as a consequence of her death, he was able to spend his first Christmas at home in Cayman since he moved here in 2005.

At the same time - 2010-2019? A decade of rich simulating writing and fitness and friendship and family - a decade of enormous pleasures and privileges.

I wrote and published three books - a novel (I need to write another one of those soon or I will lose the thread!), a literary-critical memoir of my life as a reader, a short book about Jane Austen. I drafted another book that's close to done now and I had a surprise bonus book project fall into my lap as well: after Gene died, I got his and his wife's literary manuscripts, Margaret's novel The Duchess of Angus turned out to be an unsung masterpiece and will be published in a few months by Trinity University Press. See you at the San Antonio book festival in April!

I was still in the grip of triathlon at the start of the decade, had to back off training for my first Ironman the summer Wendy died, tried for it again the next summer but got horrible bronchitis after my peak training weekend and took a DNS, had a year off to regroup and then finally did really pull it off: completing IMWI in 2013 remains my proudest and most unlikely achievement!

Back problems started in a big way in 2011 and have plagued me on and off ever since; I am currently on a mix of running, yoga and swimming and am bent on continuing to regain mobility and running with less discomfort in 2020. My run coach is a voice for sanity and joy in my life, and I am extremely grateful for him and the community he has created.

I had amazing stints at the American Academy in Rome, at Balliol College, Oxford and at Reid Hall in Paris. I made friends in all three places and continue to pick up funny nice friends everywhere I go. Specially precious friends are Darren and Jane, who cared for Gene and Christine respectively in their final months. We could not have done all this without them.

Teaching continued to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life, and it was in this decade that it belatedly sunk in that the work I do as an educator is pretty certainly more important than the work I do as a writer. I was a reluctant leader in various institutional capacities, and there is a good chance I will be elected to chair the committee in 2020 that has most been driving me crazy and wiping me out over the last four months! (If I am chair I have more control over how it goes....)

I started teaching at Columbia in 2000 which means that I'm coming up on year twenty; from a professional point of view, I saw more change in the conditions of my work life from 2000 to 2009 than I did from 2010 to 2019, but really I've just been doing the same thing pretty happily since I started grad school in the mid-90s. The thought of two more decades in the same job is a little daunting, but the job changes as you age and grow, so I trust it will remain stimulating and sufficiently challenging!

I am at an interesting juncture in my professional life: there is a constant tug towards administration, but I believe that my temperament truly better fits me for quiet time alone, reading and writing and exercising and cuddling with cats. WHICH WAY WILL IT GO? Even I don't really know, though I am pretty sure that if I get the chance to back off significantly, I will take it. (But if someone asked me to be the dean of the graduate school, I would also find it hard to say no....)

My specific goals for the coming year: more consistent PT exercises, yoga and mobility work to improve baseline back functionality; work less, rest more. I really think my most important agenda for the year is to write much, much less - between fall of 2016 and now I have essentially written two books, a host of essays and introductions as well as the normal slew of work-related documents (tenure and promotion letters especially), and my brain needs a recovery period.

Brent and I will continue to live in two different countries - neither of us is movable, and having two separate establishments suits us both in many ways - but I believe we will be able to spend more time together (fostering cats while I'm in Cayman turned out to be the last piece of the puzzle, everything is better about being here now that I have lovely cats!). My own cats continue to delight me - Jose had a health scare this summer and every day I get with him now is precious.

I am certain that the new year will bring me more joy than sadness, and what else could I wish for?