WordPress generated a “year in review” post for me around January 1 last year, giving site statistics in a pretty impressively fine-grained way (including the fact that many, maybe most, visitors found my blog via the search terms “Naheed Nenshi gay”), but that’s really just about this blog itself, not about me. I started writing a newsletter that I called, if memory serves, “The John Update” starting Christmas of 1995, when I lived in Mobile, Alabama, as a way to keep my family members (mostly, some friends too) in the know about me and my travels and travails. It was a bizarre interstitial period for me back then, living and working in a place I was desperate to leave so that I could be with Brian permanently. I wish I still had those newsletters. Anyway, starting in 1997 Brian and I began writing a joint newsletter and it was always a labour of love, figuring out how to make it look like a word-packed brochure and experimenting with colour printing. We stopped this tradition a few years ago because it seemed superfluous to us. We both are avid facebookers and so most of the people who matter to us keep up with us through facebook. If you’re my friend and not on facebook then we probably have a connection on linkedin or you might just read this blog. It’s horribly unsentimental to write this, but creating a Christmas newsletter feels like a waste of time.
But it’s still interesting to review a year, and this one is almost behind us. I have precisely two days left on my sabbatical (officially); classes start January 9 and it feels over already, which is fine. The weather isn’t screaming that it’s almost New Year’s Eve but that’s fine too- in fact it’s spectacular and has been the most mild winter, so far, that we’ve had since we moved to Calgary. We haven’t had one single arctic outbreak yet. It reached around -20 a few weeks ago but that snap lasted perhaps a day and a half. We’ve had little snow and day after day of far above-average temperatures- miraculous, staring at January as we are now. But it is indeed December 29; the days have reached and got past their nadir, day-length-wise, but we’re still absolutely in the throes of the darkest part of the year, and weather or no weather this is the time to reflect on the last 12 months.
I haven’t lived like the salesman I sat next to on my flight to Frankfurt on September 27, a man who works for a company that sells shoes to police departments and who will have travelled 250 days in 2011. but I’ve travelled more than I have in my life this year. All told, I spent 75 days outside of Calgary this year and 67 out of the country. My sojourns began with our holiday in Hawaii that saw us return home on January 6. It was a fun time with lots of beach time and excellent- amazing- food, but also some horrible weather (rain that brought closed beaches due to chemical runoff in Maui AND the almost constant threat of jellyfish in Honolulu); I also had the terrifying experience of being sucked underwater by a riptide on Maui’s Big Beach and then getting upended by a violent wave immediately thereafter. That was surreal- I felt oddly calm in the midst of what could have killed me and don’t recall struggling for breath even a tiny bit. Anyway, that happened and it was awful.
In February I spent 8 days over reading week in Vancouver. Vancouver in February is always a gamble: The rainiest days are, on average, behind you (those would be November-January) and I was very, very lucky to see a bit of snow but not one drop of rain amidst cold but sunny conditions. Vancouver is, in the right light, the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited and the light on this trip was perfect. Again, great food, great visit.
Not long after classes ended Brian and I departed this continent for a solid month in South America. I’ve already blogged about this fairly extensively and posted a big photo threat at my Picasa page for it, but I wish I’d done a better job of writing. I really didn’t anticipate what a life-changing experience this trip would be… I saw it as more of an appetizer, the main course being my 29-day trip to Germany in September and October. It was much more than that. The locations we visited were incredibly interesting and, by turns, very beautiful. Buenos Aires has lost some of its charm since our 2004 visit and is a lot more expensive but has also evolved an absolutely spectacular, chill, hip, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood in Palermo Hollywood that I’d love to stay in. I also appreciated much moreso than in 2004 how effectively and beautifully Buenos Aires reveres and treats its beef. We have great product in Alberta but not remotely, not REMOTELY, the parilla culture that BA does. It is not a contest. We have the same predictable handful of steakhouses as in any North American city and not nearly as good a stock of steakhouses as, say, Chicago despite our outstanding local beef. It’s humbling to see how much better they treat it in Argentina; every neighbourhood has its parilla. Nothing at all like here. But as to the other cities: I noted my love for Mendoza and Santiago here; I didn’t post enough details about the trips between them, both on buses and both traversing the only road over the Andes joining the two cities. It was heart-stopping. Magic. I took a few videos of the experience with my iPod touch (so please forgive my thumb) and uploaded them to my Google+ account; here is a link to one that I am very happy with. I urgently recommend this trip to anyone. The ride back from Mendoza was lovely but marred by a 5-hour wait at the border (owing to snow and maybe some bureaucratic nonsense) but what a spot to be stranded.
But aside from the sights themselves, the most impactful thing for me about our trip down there was how it affected my appreciation for wine. See, I can’t drink many wines; via a process of elimination, I’ve concluded that tanniny reds give me terrible headaches. Some people react badly to sulfites; some to alcohol per se. I have no problems with sulfites (whites, which have far more sulfites, pose little problem for me usually), but give me a tannin-rich red like a Malbec and I suffer. I thought that Argentina and Chile would be chock full of nothing but reds, especially my hated Malbec, but this wasn’t remotely true. In particular I quaffed an amazing Argentinian white that I now covet called Torrontes. I also had stunning Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. I never, ever saw myself as a wine person; I do now. That transformation would never have happened without this trip. It changed me, like all good travel should.
And after returning home on June 5 I was almost immediately back on a plane to Portland for my 25-year Reed College reunion and to celebrate the college’s centennial. It was too short of a visit; the events on campus were magnificent and I loved pretty much all of it, but I saw almost nothing of the rest of the city (despite my staying downtown at the Ace). Air Canada has, for the time being, cancelled the non-stop between YYC and PDX but I think it’ll be back and I’ll have more time to explore more of the city. That said, Reed really, really did something special for this reunion.
And after that, of course, was Germany. I documented this trip extensively with blog posts, pictures and lots of video–I’m proud of the job I did, I can say–and don’t have much to add here except to reiterate that I am SO HAPPY that I made the decision to include Leipzig and, in particular, Dresden on this trip.
I will be travelling somewhere in Canada over this coming reading week (in February) but haven’t settled on where. I had decided to go to Victoria since I’d not been there since my first visit to Canada in 1984, but I am longing to make it back to Toronto for the first time in more than two years (last visit was over Christmas, 2009) and have just about changed my mind to make that happen, but we’ll see. I know for sure that I will be in ENGLAND for the first time in my life March 17-24 for a conference in Loughborough (that’s near Krefeld’s sister city of Leicester, north of London) with two days in London, which won’t suffice, but I’m still looking forward to it of course.
It’s no secret that I’d been pining for my sabbatical (which ran officially from July 1 to December 31) over the 2010-2011 academic year. At the University of Calgary, tenured and tenure-track faculty members have the option of a 6-month sabbatical after three years of service at 80% of salary, a 12-month sabbatical after six years of service at 80% of salary, or a six-month sabbatical after six years at full salary. The people I know who take year sabbaticals have mostly been ones who had had some teaching release in those prior six years, for some heavy administrative load or to partake of Killam or an Institute for the Humanities fellowship, both of which provide full teaching releases for up to a year. I know that professors the world over do work for a full six years, with a full teaching load, prior to a sabbatical and I also know that at other schools, sabbaticals are either funded less generously as are ours (e.g., some professors take a 50% pay cut), are not available to professors until they achieve tenure (not so at U of C) or are even not offered at all, so I have to acknowledge how incredibly blessed I am to work at the U of C: sabbaticals, indexed pension, a really good salary, a really reasonable work load and research expectations that are also very reasonable. But I was still miffed- I can think if much stronger words- to realize, back in late fall of 2009, that the sabbatical that I COULD have claimed based on years of service for Winter 2011 was also one that I forgot to apply for. Unbelievably stupid of me, and so I ended up teaching last winter instead of being on my (earned) sabbatical. That’s why I was so obsessively counting the days to the end of the term. Now there are two upsides, one huger than the other, to my having waited for fall: One is that the fall term is simply the better one to take this leave. One’s pay is higher since CPP and related deductions have all been taken out by June. Fall is also a brilliant time to do as I did and travel around Europe- October is heaven in Germany, for example. The “huger” reason is that I now have time banked for my next sabbatical and only have to teach five semesters until then, Fall 2014. That means a wait of an entire year less than what I put in since my Fall 2007 one. This puts me in a great space psychologically and with respect to what I can plan for then (when I can start planning, I mean) and that’s wonderful.
What did I accomplish this year? Lots, really. I had a very heavy “service” (meaning committees and the like) load last year entailing stints on a couple of work-intensive committees and had my usual 2-2 teaching load with two massive courses (Soci 201 and 325, both of which have around 400 students) and my second attempt at teaching research methods. I was nominated for an SU Teaching Excellence Award- I didn’t get it, but was the only person in my department so nominated (incredibly) and so this was a great honour. I published two articles with what will be 2011 publication dates, which is nice, albeit the more recent one will not actually have come out in print until early 2011 but with a December 2011 press date. I wrote a lot over my sabbatical of course and have three articles under review right now and another in the late stages of completion (this is the piece I’m presenting at the Loughborough conference); two of these manuscripts are reworkings of previously rejected pieces and so my fingers are crossed. I got a very positive performance review (we do these every other year) for my performance report submitted in June and I’d like to keep that ball rolling, am happy that I know that I’ll be in a position to claim at least one refereed article but always hope for more. With respect to research, I’m considering taking on an entirely new project now if the coffee topic doesn’t bear any more fruit for me and it has to do with something more clearly rooted in my training as a conversation analyst and will, I think, entail analyzing conversation among speakers of second languages. I can’t say more than that- I have to protect my ideas- but the surfeit of ESL schools in Calgary, ones catering mostly, among the downtown schools, to Korean clientele might be a place to get a toehold there. There is also the possibility of latching onto a project with somebody affiliated with European Studies at the U of C and I made some exciting observations in this area in Germany. Stay tuned.
This coming term I start my first stint as Director of Undergraduate Studies in my department, a service post that until the last year or so has always entailed a teaching release, but not for for me- so sucks to be me there, but I won’t have any other committee work, so hooray for me there too. I have no idea what to expect- none.
I’ve become the person I never expected to become in one area: I almost never go to movies anymore. In fact one of our most beloved and important arthouses, the Uptown Stage and Screen (and the Marquee Room, a very cool bar/club adjacent to it) are currently, maybe permanently, shuttered due to issues with their building owner over heat (or a lack of it, apparently) . Of course I hope it’s rescued, but we have made big investments at home into excellent home theatre setups upstairs and down- down is an HD projector and 92″ screen- and really I just love to watch movies at home now. I feel so sucky even writing that but the fact is that the Uptown’s closure in 2002 would have torn me apart. Today? Sad, but oh well.
My favourites for 2011: I’ll list three: Cedar Rapids, Bridesmaids, and Super 8. I loved each of these. And would you like to know something shameful and pathetic about this list? I saw each of these on a plane. I should stop writing about movies.
Music? Well the Calgary Folk Fest was the sort of gem we can always count on even when it’s not blow-me-away perfect as it has been in previous years. The high points for me were seeing the brilliance of Braids, a group comprising a bunch of kids from Calgary (where they were The Neighbourhood Council) who left for university in Montreal, renamed themselves, and hit it big- not as big as they should be, but big. One group that impressed me incredibly and which HASN’T left Calgary was Raleigh. I love cello in just about any context and they have one- played by a former student, which is too cool. The final really breathtaking discovery was a Seattle band called The Head and the Heart who inspired a sort of spontaneous orgasm among all of us at the twilight second stage.
Other than Folk Fest, the only live music event for 2011 that I can recall was a big one: Prince two weeks ago at the Saddledome. We had outstanding, absurdly expensive seats and could take in everything. He’s an inspiration. Only one encore for us poor Calgary folks, sadly, but still: amazing show by a man 6 years older than I am.
Food? Food! What a year for food! On top of Brian’s increasing prowess in the kitchen (Brian makes, among too many good things, the best beef rendang you will ever taste, and has been making great use of a sous vide unit I got him for his birthday in June), we’ve seen an eclectic explosion of good to great new places in Calgary. The best donuts in the country at Jelly Modern Donuts, creative massive poutine at Big Cheese Poutinerie, our already world-beating coffee scene expanding to comprise places like Diventa and Red Bush, and perhaps most important has been the profusion of food trucks that I blogged about in August. Food on travels? Oh, where to begin: Izakaya overload in Honolulu; too many excellent third-wave cafes and Asian paradise in Vancouver and Richmond; milanesas and lomitos and chorillana and that HEAVENLY drink called Mote con Huesillo and ceviche and even interesting regional spins on sushi in Argentina and Chile; food truck nirvana in Portland; foods from around the world, from outstanding udon noodle soup in Dresden to delectable Korean in Leipzig to Turkish everywhere to German specialties like Schnitzel from fine to barroom and the best, the BEST potato salad I have ever eaten and bread, oh Brot Brot Brot that brings tears to my eyes as I write the word… it’s been a good year to be eating.
And so ran my year. Now my friends and family know, and I buried my discussion of this in a long post in September, that I’ve had some interesting health issues over the last while. I have what might be labelled, for lack of a better label, a “non-dominant side peripheral neuropathy.” My non-dominant side is my left side, and what I’ve been experiencing since late July has been fairly constant sensory oddness along it, mostly involving my arm and leg but also my trunk. Hot spots, cold spots, exaggerated sense of hot and cold when I, for example, touch hot or cold water with my left hand, but also numbness in some spots. It’s still there and I’m still learning to live with it as neither I nor my neurologist has any idea when or if it will go away. But as I say, I”m learning to live with it. I was absolutely sure, back in July when this started (I woke up with these symptoms on July 26), that I was going to die, that this was a symptom of a brain tumour or something else horrible. Since then I’ve been reassured to wake up alive every morning… and I’ve come to accept the idea that this might be how my body experiences the world from now on. It’s been more than five months, I made it very happily through a month in Germany with this condition and look forward to the distractions of teaching to get back to feeling normal, even if I don’t and may never again feel normally. I’m alive.
Happy New Year!