Reflections on another year gone by
I haven’t posted much this year. I didn’t read many books, falling far short of the weekly cadence I’ve maintained for years running. I didn’t go on a single proper holiday, making this the first year in decades in which I had no real break to reset. I tried to keep up with new music releases from the genres and artists I enjoy, but didn’t succeed—my “to listen” list is dozens of albums long. I hardly saw or spoke to friends, didn’t text back, didn’t reach out. In a lot of ways, it feels as though I didn’t do much at all. Even compared with 2020, an intense year by any standard for damn near everyone, I did a poor job of staying on top of the things I usually try to stay on top of.
It’s the end of 2021. My usual stats (countries visited, books read) don’t reflect the year I had, but it’s still a good time for reflection.
So what did I do this year?
I made a lot of functional ceramic art! In all, I made more than 50 new pieces this year, including many bowls, plant pots, some vases, and even a few small plates. I cataloged most of them on a new website. It’s not a completely exhaustive list, since I gave away quite a few before starting the catalog, but I’m excited to have a record of my work to see how it improves over time. I’ve improved my skills a lot, but still have much to learn. I took two pottery courses this year: a four-day intensive wheel-throwing course at Jess Jos studio in Stepney Green, and an 8-week course with Turning Earth using hand-building and throwing techniques. I signed up for a monthly membership at Turning Earth, which allows me to visit the studio near my home and work at my own pace. For me, the experience of working with clay is meditative and relaxing. I like working with my hands, and I think it’s good for my mind (and my eyes!) to spend a few hours a week away from computer screens.
In a similar vein, I spent a lot of time caring for my house plants this year. I attempted some more ambitious gardening projects, planting seeds in the late winter/early spring for a variety of herbs and peppers, and tended them assiduously, but ultimately didn’t have much success. I fought tooth and nail to keep the aphids at bay, but the plants remained small, sickly, spindly, and I only harvested the tiniest handful of peppers at the end of the season. I weeded and refreshed the flower bed outside my front door, planting a whole bed full of ranunculus, lavender, and rosemary but they all disintegrated. Our flat is in a very shady courtyard. I think this experience taught me an important lesson about hubris and acceptance of circumstances, so I won’t make the same mistake next year. I had more luck in propagating the houseplants that have thrived over the past few years, and distributed many monstera, pothos, tradescantia, sansiveria, zz plant, and pilea to pretty much anyone who came through. At one point there were well over 100 plants in this tiny flat. With the winter, I’ve managed to pare down to around 75. It’s still too many.
3. Health, sort of
I kept up regular visits to my gym, doing mostly pilates, yoga, and boxing. I’m pretty sure I caught COVID at the gym. I was lucky to have a mild breakthrough case, to test myself early, and managed to avoid exposing anyone outside my household. That’s really about the best any of us can ask for, I think. My husband, in his eminent wisdom, took a third vaccine dose in the weeks before I was exposed. He remained uninfected, despite not even making a half-hearted attempt to isolate from me during my illness. Our flat is too tiny; it would have been pointless and ineffective. The vaccines work well for those that receive them, which is good news.
I started a new job in January, after taking time off last year to recover from burnout and try to learn to live in a pandemic society. The path to burnout recovery is long, winding, and mostly uphill. I had a few backslides, using holiday time to reset during the lockdowns and to pay an overdue visit to our family in the USA, instead of to take any real holidays. I have a tendency to immerse myself in work as a distraction from the rest of the world, and sometimes this approach isn’t the best for my mental health. Despite this, I did some good work. I was hired as the company was levelling current staff in accordance with a new progression framework, and had my senior level confirmed at my first review, and was promoted to staff engineer six months later. I’m not alone in struggling to find a work/life balance that’s sustainable for pandemic living. Myself, and both of my Platform Engineering teammates, will be moving to a 4-day work-week in 2022 (an 80% contract, not four long days).
I bought a new refrigerator. Not to be all “woo consumerism” but after living with the tiny dorm-style under-counter fridge that’s ubiquitous in London flats, having a real American fridge, even a small, cheap one, has been a huge quality-of-life improvement. With all of the pandemic lockdowns, we spent a lot of time at home this year. Being able to do shopping for more than a couple of days at a time, and to fill the fridge with fresh produce and cold drinks, made a big positive difference for us. It also allowed us to take advantage of some of the great at-home meal kits put together by our favourite London restaurants during the lockdowns.
Just the hits
I did read some books, just not as many as usual. I read a lot of articles and blog posts. I watched a lot of television shows. Some of my favourites:
- Happiness: A novel by Aminata Forna
- Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
- Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
- I’m watching a lot of The Expanse, and it is very good. I haven’t dipped my toe into the extended literary universe yet but it’s probably just a matter of time.
- I’m rewatching Halt and Catch Fire now that I’ve finally convinced Adam to watch it. Still very good.
- The final series of Insecure did not disappoint. One of the best soundtracks of any show on TV too.
- Star Trek: Lower Decks continues to be far better than it has any right to be, the best and most Star Trek of any recent ST series.
- Summer of Soul is maybe the best film I saw all year. I don’t watch a lot of films, but this one is very good, go watch it.
- I use Feedbin + Reeder for most of my internet reading. This year my most-starred blogs were pretty reflective of the work-immersion: Lara Hogan, Julia Evans. I’m enjoying Roxane Gay’s newsletter and Nikesh Shukla’s writing about writing.
Here’s a random sampling of some songs I liked that were released this year, too: