This was the year

This was the year that I was going to write every day. Just a little, to get into the habit. I failed (as this blog provides clear evidence). In fact, I have written less this year, either for work or my own amusement, than ever before. No, I do not count emails. I end the year continuing to battle what feels like ever-growing writer’s block, an unfinished article mocking me from my drafts file, while my book tantalizes me with exciting ideas that I never manage to get down on paper. I keep reminding myself that the excitement is worth the struggle – to make the time, to think hard, to find the order of words that satisfies. Maybe in the coming year I will find a way to make such reminders a reality.

This was the year I was going to run a bit further than I ran last year. Just a little, maintaining the distance I had achieved over a few more days. I failed, running just over half the distance I covered in 2021. I try to excuse myself by pointing out that I caught Covid, rapidly followed by a truly dreadful non-Covid cold. But it is an excuse; my distance was well down on the previous year by the point I fell ill. A combination of the ridiculous summer temperatures, a return to travel which saw me attend two conferences overseas and visit my family in the US three times and an insanely busy autumn term all conspired to throw me off course. All I can do is try again next year.

This was the year I achieved a significant professional milestone and have come the closest I have ever been to simply walking away from my job. The academic environment is increasingly unpleasant to work in, with the space for the aspects of the job that I love (the research, the writing) ever more squeezed by demands of bureaucracy which take no account of disciplinary norms or the level of expertise that academics bring to the job. For the moment, I am committed to my students, my colleagues, my collaborators. But I am coming to recognize that this is unsustainable for me personally and I need to find an exit strategy in the near-to-medium, rather than the distant future.

This was the year that I swam – in the North Sea, off the south coast, in rivers in Colorado and the Lake District. I swam with friends, with family, on my own. Each swim brought me a moment of solace missing from the rest of my year. I will write about them soon.

This was the year that I read less than I hoped, but what I did read was, more often than not, what I needed. Two series in particular – Sarah Moss’s trilogy of Night Waking, Bodies of Light and Sign for Lost Children, and Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet – spoke to me in the moment that I read them in ways they could have done at no other point in my life. My only sadness is not to have been able to share the joy of Smith’s novels with my mother, a Dickens scholar. She would have loved them. With a to-be-read shelf now topping the 30-book mark, I am determined to make more time for reading. Of all my identities, I have been a reader longest, something I perhaps forgot at points this year. I will try to remember it in the coming year.

This was the year I found the greatest joy in making and creating. Most of my projects are yet to be finished. The quilt for my niece, pieced together at a rate of 10 patchwork blocks a month still remains without its five borders, backing or sashing. A cardigan I have been working on for myself continues to grow but slowly towards the neck and the terrifying challenge of steeking. But I won first prize for both my bread and my marmalade at the village fete this year, undoubtedly my proudest achievement of the 12 months. I will continue to make time for this work in the coming year.

This has been an odd, confusing year of extremes, of weather, of emotion, of accomplishment. I end the year in as hard a place as I have ever been, but there is promise for the future. I do not know what sort of year next year will be. I can only hope there will be more writing, more running, more swimming, more reading, more making.

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year.