chocolate birthday cake with candles

The Halfway Point

If we take literally the Bible’s accounting of our days as “threescore and ten,” then today is the halfway point for me: 35. Happy birthday to me. 2020 hasn’t shaken out quite like I expected, but it hasn’t been without its joys and comforts. So here are a few professional-ish things I’m grateful for today.

I accomplished some stuff this year.

Despite everything, I did do some stuff this year. And some of it is, if I may say so, pretty darn good. I’m really proud of it.

  • I signed a contract with Johns Hopkins University Press for my book about the First Barbary War. I still feel a tremendous amount of impostor syndrome about my dissertation work, but one thing that has helped me as I’ve revised it into a book is the advice and mentorship of a senior scholar of naval history (and, in fact, the person who wrote the book that really truly sealed my interest in naval history). He has read all my chapter revisions so far and has given me gracious and incisive comments. I didn’t make my original deadline for delivering the book to the press because of covid, but I will deliver it in 2021.
  • I started a podcast about the history of US consuls. This podcast came out of my work on the Barbary consuls of the First Barbary War, but it has honestly been the most interesting and generative scholarly work I’ve done in a while. Plus, working with the Consolation Prize team has been a tremendous privilege and learning experience.
  • I survived and even learned a lot from teaching online. The emergency shift caused me to overhaul my entire strategy for teaching, and it was really productive for me. A ton of work, uncompensated for the most part, but my teaching is better for it. (Nonetheless I’m ready to be back in the classroom, maybe for fall 2021.)

I learned from a lot of people.

I got the chance to be involved in some pretty fun stuff this year, some of it only possible because of the virtualization of everything due to covid. A few stand out.

  • The podcasting sessions from the VCU+ICA Community Media Center were fantastic for learning more about podcasting and hearing from experts in the field. (I hope there will be more in the spring!)
  • I got to talk about Star Trek and the First Barbary War at NavyCon 2020-A, which was great fun. But I learned much more than I imparted, I’m sure—specifically, I learned the term FICINT, and I look forward to delving more into that in 2021.

It feels like I should have done, or maybe did do, more. But I can’t remember any more things. Hello pandemic year.

I started some things.

These are more personal, I suppose. Though it feels like work has been all-consuming this year, because the amount of time it takes to teach online, shepherd a kid through online school, and do good DH work from home turns out to be astronomical, I’ve also tried to do some things for myself.

  • I started exercising for real. I got an Apple Watch, which has really kept me on track, but I started before that. I’m probably in better shape than I’ve been in ten years (which is a VERY VERY low bar). Mostly I’ve been doing strength and cardio in my bedroom. I started running, but I have had persistent feet problems (some of which predate the running) that have prevented me from getting into a routine. I’m hoping we can get those fully resolved in 2021 so I can get serious about training; I really want to do an adventure race in fall 2021. Have I been watching too much World’s Toughest Race? Yes. I also got a stationary bike for Christmas, so I’ve already been doing some work on that.
  • I started developing a podcast with my daughter. She insists that she loves online school, but it hasn’t been awesome for her. So she and I came up with this podcast idea. Its external goal is to learn about cool stuff out in the world; its internal goal to help her feel enthusiastic about learning in general after a hard year. I’m pretty excited about it. (OH, by the way, we’re launching it today, so please please please go listen and share with your friends!)
  • I listened to a lot of podcasts. I listen to them partially as professional development (both for content and for structure and style), but mostly I just listen because I love learning new things. I feel like I’d lost some of my own joy in learning over the past few years, and podcasts have really brought that joy back for me this year.

Looking at these lists, it seems like a poor accounting for an entire year. But we’ve survived this year. We didn’t get sick; we didn’t have any severe mental health issues; we went to church on YouTube; we went to school on Zoom; we spent a LOT of time together as a family; and we survived. I don’t take any of that for granted. I’m extraordinarily blessed to have had such a boring year, where the only major events were good ones, not terrifying or heart-crushing ones.

So, as I enter the back half, or, as my running app says, “it’s time to turn around and go home,” I’m looking forward to what 2021 will bring. I have hope that, though it will be a long slog out of the turmoil and sorrow of 2020, the arc is bending in the right direction.

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