Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 (personal retrospect)

some favorite pictures taken from airplanes this year
by J J Cohen

A great many things happened this year, some of them good, some of them bad (hashtags #mixedbag and #GregoryofTours). It could be last night's insomnia speaking here but as December 31, 2015 trickles to its close I am thinking: the Prosecco is in the fridge. Welcome 2016. Please come quickly.

It's been a sparse year for blogging. Although in general I'm happy with what I did manage to place here, last year's promise to offer more in the way of posts did not quite work out. Still, In the Middle did host some spectacular guest posts: Karina F. Attar and Lynn ShuttersSuzanne Conklin Akbari and Alexandra GillespieLesley S. Curtis and Cord J. Whitaker; Robert McRuer; Arthur Bahr; Sharon O'Dair; and Julian Yates. That seems to me the best of what this shared space can foster. I hope that we will continue to make this space available to all as 2016 progresses. Contact any of the co-bloggers if you have some ideas.

So here is a quick meditation on some of what I did post over the past twelve months, a tradition I've been trying to honor since 2007 (!). I began the year by posting my #MLA15 presentation on teaching Chaucer in the wake of student trauma (especially suicide and sexual assault), and I am ending it eager to return to the GW classroom. I spent my spring semester at the Folger Shakespeare Library here in DC, leading a graduate/postgraduate seminar on The Scale of Catastrophe that became the best teaching experience of my life -- a combination of tremendously good participants and terrific support from the Folger Institute. I was on research leave during the autumn, writing all the time in the way that I do when I don't have a sane schedule of classes and meetings to prevent that borderlessness ... and so I'm looking forward to being back with undergraduates come January. My favorite course, Myths of Britain, begins again in less than two weeks. Also: TWO WEEKS (!!!), holy cow, can it really be starting that soon?

Though 2016 was in general good (professionally, some books published; personally, one child off to college, one child navigating middle school well). Rough patches surfaced frequently over the year though. I lost a cousin and a friend to suicide, and in the aftermath thought a great deal about the ability of teachers to save their troubled students (and without going into further detail I will say that this particular post has been haunting me recently for reasons close to home, since we have an 18 year old recently returned from college and ... well, see what I wrote about insomnia above). My dissertation director Larry Benson died, and I tried to find some gifts in what was a fraught relationship. I put great energy into some capacious projects like the new MLA Environmental Humanities and Ecocriticism Forum (and I love working with Sharon O'Dair, Stephanie LeMenager and Stacy Alaimo on this). I wrote about the ethics of PhD programs and ethics itself as door-opening and door-holding. My frustrations with my university make me count the days sometimes that I have left as MEMSI Director -- but I try to concentrate on the rewards of collaboration despite the soul-grinding mechanisms of institutional bureaucracy that will inevitably work against such efforts at making something communal and new.

I blogged some of my Noah's Arkive project. I travelled to Geneva for a Posthumanism conference and ate fondue in Switzerland late at night while a thunderstorm neared. I revealed a project that I had been working on for about 15 years without really knowing it, an ecological contemplation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by means of a neglected urban park near my house -- a project that is really about the love of life, something I'd like to think more about. I ruminated on Monster Theory now that the book is turning twenty -- and the monster's place in the classroom, wanted or not. I wondered about terror and art, and young people and constricted futures, and hope. I made some new friends and tried some new things. This superb roundtable happened, with contributions so moving I was never able to find the words to blog what unfolded.

My book on Stone was finally published (and this blog post gives you some deep background on why that was a struggle; or look here for a scary glimpse of my writing process). Stone was reviewed very quickly, too: thanks, LARB. Two new books went under contract, Earth (with Lindy-Elkins Tanton) and Veer Ecology (co-edited with Lowell Duckert and featuring an extensive list of contributors). Elemental Ecocriticism is now out, and Earth nearly finished. I am finding such collaborative projects more rewarding than solo endeavors. I wrote two review essays, one with Karl on “Race, Travel, Time, Heritage” and one for GLQ on “Queer Crip Sex and Critical Mattering.” I participated in a review forum on Stuart Elden's wonderful The Birth of Territory and collaborated with Steve Mentz and Allan Mitchell on Oceanic New York. I travelled to Vancouver, Morgantown, Washington PA, Atlanta, Chicago, Cancun (a much needed family break), Kalamazoo, Geneva, London, New Zealand (visiting faculty at University of Auckland, which was superb), Portland (dropping son off for college), Cambridge UK (Indian food and wine in a punt = a lifetime highlight), Vancouver and Tempe. Busy, busy year.

I won't say everything went well personally or professionally. Some dear friends have gone through very difficult things, and I have been trying to help as I can. I learned some good and some bad things about myself, and quite a bit about limits and necessary endings. A great many things will continue to happen, I have no doubt, as 2016 begins. Some of them bad, of course, but here is my hope that for you most of them are good. Happy new year!

1 comment:

Sarah RJ said...

It's been a bad year, as have the last several. And a bad year for blogging. I don't blog. But this is the year I decided to return to work full time and rediscovered 70 % of my work mojo, well maybe 56%. And so much new insight into why I or we work and what we accomplish when or if we do. But leave that for another post. All respect, JJC. Still need to read Stone, but fully intend to, soon. X