Month: December 2019

2019 in Review: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly, Kinda

Happy holidays to everyone and may all your New Year’s resolutions come true!

2019 has been an anemic year here on the blog mostly because it’s been a somewhat anemic year in real life.

In the fall 2018, the departure of Eldest to college hit me hard. Even though husband and I aren’t empty nesters yet and won’t be awhile, Eldest leaving really triggered what I presume is a severe bout of acute midlife crisis. This general mood has persisted throughout 2019 and caused plenty of internal turmoil.

Middle Boy started middle school in the fall 2018 and, while he’s doing fine, he’s lukewarm about academics. He is focused on his friends and, to a lesser extent, sports, and generally does what he has to, but absolutely not more than that. He’s simply not (and never has been) someone who’s motivated by pleasing parents or teachers; he doesn’t get in trouble, but otherwise has a mind of his own and does what he wants. I feel a lot of anxiety about his future; on the one hand, it’s his life, and he should feel relaxed and supported at home and not dreading it as a place where he’s misunderstood or forced to do things he hates; on the other hand, I don’t want him to underachieve so badly that he can’t get into college, because even lower-tier public schools require pretty high GPAs these days. Job prospects seem bleak even with college degrees and young people everywhere face long-term uncertainty in all facets of life. I also don’t understand the lack of passion for academics because I was a super nerd and still am. I enjoyed all subjects in school, even the ones I didn’t love, and I still get such a thrill from learning new things, so I don’t relate to being blasé about school. Anyway, Middle Boy and his antics have consistently been among the top three causes of my tension headaches this year.

The last of an unusually productive group of graduate students finished in early 2019, and I remain with a new crop that turned out not to be anywhere nearly as motivated or talented as what’s needed to do the work. I also made some suboptimal more senior hires. Overall, these unfortunate hiring choices have caused me a lot of headache in 2019. I think I have managed to dig the group out from underneath the clout of expensive underperformance with minimal scathing to everyone involved, but it has left me beyond exhausted and disillusioned. Next year’s annual report will show fewer papers by my group than any year before, even years when I had babies, but it is what it is. At least now I am confident that the team I do have is able to do the work that will result in some nice publications and we will remain competitive for future funding. Removing the big personnel and financial worries has also enabled me to extend my commitment to the best people and we now have new opportunities for collaboration and papers; 2020 might end up being a great publication year.

I recently received news that I’d won a major university-level teaching award that requires strong support from students and colleagues. This recognition means a great deal to me because I put a lot of effort and care into my teaching. Moreover, the award comes with a nice chunk of money, which might help fund taking Middle Boy (if his grades are good) with me to a conference held in a desirable location.

On the creative front, I wrote plenty of new fiction — not as much as in my first year, when the floodgates opened and pieces just flowed out of me — and I received some nice acceptances and publications, even made some money. I placed in some contests and a few print anthologies. I have yet to crack a pro-paying speculative market for flash or short stories, but I’ve sold some drabbles (100 words) at pro rates and made several great semipro sales, including one to my favorite semipro zine. Once this piece is published, I will be eligible to join Horror Writers Association. I’ve had pieces shortlisted (held past the slush-reading round and into higher rounds of elimination) at several pro markets and a few competitive contests, which probably means that I can, in fact, write at or near the level needed for pro publications. I also had my first poem published (!) and wrote a short screenplay. I received a lot of compliments on several of my short stories, and a creative nonfiction piece I wrote resonated with a lot of people.

I also volunteered as a slush reader (i.e., first reader) at a pro-paying speculative fiction venue this summer. It was a great learning experience (I wrote an analysis of it on my fiction blog).

Overall, most of my fiction comes out dark or weird, occasionally funny and often disturbing. I am very comfortable among the horror community, which is wonderfully welcoming and full of people passionate about the genre. The vibe is much different from that of the literary fiction community and even science fiction and fantasy.

The teaching award and me apparently writing horror more often than not are two manifestations of the same overarching insight (excuse the cheese, please):

You have no idea where a path leads, even a path you’re sure you understand well. You have no idea what you will need in order to navigate it even though you are certain that you do. You might not even be aware that your success will stem not from the traits you think are your strengths, but from those you dismiss, neglect, or ignore. You might be better matched with the people and actions on that path than you realize because of the traits you never even knew you possessed. You need to be your whole self, always, because there are no throwaway parts of you. 

I started out my career as a professor at an R1 focused on research, hearing loudly and clearly from all sides that teaching should be good, but must not detract from research. Now, fifteen years in, I carry many battle scars from countless rejected grants, scathing panel comments, dismissive referee reports on manuscripts, doors being shut in my face because I am always, and will always be, suspected of incompetence and encroachment. In contrast, teaching is often the most rewarding part of the job, a part where what I put in pays great dividends through my students’ learning and success, a part where I can be my whole self. I can be goofy, make stupid ‘dad jokes’, draw for my students, and generally convey the fun of science and learning. Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have guessed this would be true.

Along the similar lines, when I started writing fiction in 2017, I would not have guessed that so much of what naturally comes to me falls under dark speculative fiction or outright horror, and that the community would be welcoming, full of nice people, and that I would be so comfortable in it.

Overall, 2019 was a year of of challenges, professional and personal, none of which were grand or insurmountable, but all of which contributed to the exhaustion I am currently feeling.

As for the state of the blog, I am not going anywhere. I am here and will post, as before, when I have something to say, and the time and energy to say it. There will be another delurkpalooza the first week of January, as we’ve done in the past. You are always welcome to leave a comment, email me, or say ‘hi’ on Twitter @xykademiqz (although I am not too active under that pseud). If you want more of xykademiqz, the archives are here and always free to read, or you could go for “The Best of” collection and treat yourself to a copy of Academaze.

Finally, without further ado, here are the most read posts of 2019, based on WordPress stats. See you all in 2020!