A look back at 2017…

One year ago today, I sat down to put together a census of sorts, a calling out of things that happened over the course of the year 2016, an assessment of what had come to pass and what might still be. The second paragraph of that post reads:

2016 seems to have been especially hard on so many. The obvious reasons include the divisive and contentious election and seemingly relentless celebrity deaths, but there were abundant natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and domestic riots. It was a year in which, regardless of where one lands on the spectrum, we wondered who on earth those people on the opposite side actually were.

Last year’s New Year’s Eve felt like a momentary pause on a long and exhausting journey, one to which we weren’t exactly thrilled to be party. This year doesn’t feel much different. I could swap out the year in the paragraph above and copy/paste my way into 2018. And I bet I could probably do the same thing in another year. That’s worth noting.

Perhaps our new reality is that our interconnected world is no better nor worse than it’s ever been–only we have more catalysts for anxiety, more open windows to grief and destruction, more gears to this rage machine than we ever knew existed.

It’s troubling to so often end a year mired in dread. I’ve tried not to this year, although one could accuse me of exercising privilege in being able to. Nonetheless, I wanted to look back on 2017 and make a few notes–not so much social commentary as personal observations.

Eleanor, Peter, Maddie, Elizabeth and I cheer for the Wildcats in Madison Square Garden.

In January of this year I changed jobs, leaving Davidson College after nine years of work there and taking on the position of Vice President for Advancement at Mitchell Community College.

My new job put me into a situation I’d never been in before: responsibility for a small office of people whose tasks include fundraising, events, marketing and communications, and alumni and community relations. I’d never had to actively manage an office of people and their budgets. I’d never had to bear sole responsibility for fundraising.

There were a lot of things–and I mean a lot–that I’d never had to do before, and I quickly came to realize that part of this job was learning to manage a much faster work treadmill, one that didn’t quite stop at any given point. There was always a next-thing-to-do: a new tranche of emails to answer, another meeting to go to, a new problem to solve. For the first time in a very long time, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about work. I frequently emailed myself at 3:00 AM, zipping off reminders or ideas. I naively assembled a two-page list of things I wanted to accomplish by summer, and though I didn’t complete the list entirely in the year, I crossed off a majority of those items.

In short, 2017 was a year of hard work for me. The benefit to all of this is a good list of accomplishments that I feel our team can claim as its own, including things its never done before. That’s a good feeling.

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One of the harder adjustments came in acclimating to a very different work environment. At Davidson, I was able to call many of my colleagues friends; we were peers and equals in so many ways, and the collaborative nature of our office ensured we had plenty of time to spend working together. Which is to say we went to lunch or out for a beer with regularity, we occasionally traveled together, we worked events with each other, and so forth.

The administrative nature of my new job rightfully limits the kinds of friendships I have at work. I can insert plenty of applicable office cliches here, but the truth is that it’s sometimes a lonely place in my new role.

My new office is two blocks down from Thomas and Annie’s daycare, and if I lean into the corner windows, I can see them playing on the playground in the mornings. Although it’s not quite feasible with Annie, on the mornings when I only drop off Thomas, we’ll often park at my office (an old, white-board house on Mulberry Street) and walk to school.

I’ve come out of several meetings and popped over to say hello to Thomas as he played outside. Other times I’ve watched, unnoticed, as they went about their free time.

This quality of life measure has been a highlight for me. As has the simply geography of my new job, in which I am able to run home for lunch or supper. The flexibility of my schedule is liberating in ways my Davidson job was limiting. It’s hard to make soccer games when you’re in other states. Or countries.

In February, we lost our old pooch, Zoe. I buried her in the backyard by the playground we built in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the year before. By the end of the summer, we added Otis, a rescue dog from Signal Hill.

Last spring Annie turned one and Julia turned six. They both played a good bit on that backyard playground. With Thomas, they grew more and more into a crew of our kiddos, closer, tighter together, a ring of light shared among them. Our family grew when my brother remarried.

I met the author Lorrie Moore last spring. I gave up Facebook for Lent and was so very happy. The backyard filled in with grass, and a storm blew over a giant oak tree way up the street. Jules started piano lessons, and our house filled with little lines of music rehearsed again and again. Kay Byer died, and our state lost one of its better voices.

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In the turn from winter to spring to summer, I witnessed up close our downtown’s vibrant emergence. I walked to lunch as often as I could, making up excuses to run an errand sometimes and running into someone nearly every trip out. We sponsored the downtown street concert series, and several Friday evenings I’d pitch the college pop-up tent on Broad Street and talk and talk to people. It was fantastic work.

Thomas learned to ride a bicycle, and our common after-supper outing was a trip up and down the greenway. We signed up for another season’s pool membership. We made our annual sojourn to the beach. We paid off our minivan. In August, I turned 36.

We took the kids to Carowinds. I took Thomas to Cullowhee. We watched the summer fade away and the school year begin anew: Julia graduated to first grade, Thomas started preschool for the last time, and Annie started preschool for the first time.

Los Angeles at sunrise from somewhere above the Pacific.

This past fall, I got to add California, Nevada, and Arizona to the list of states I’ve visited. Eleven more continental states to go–thirteen if you add Alaska and Hawaii. In Los Angeles, I got the chance to see the Dodgers play in the first game of the ALCS. They beat the Cubs that night and went on to win the series and face Houston in the World Series, playing them seven games but coming up short.

This past fall I took Julia to the symphony. We did the Balloon Festival. Kel and I went to Las Vegas and drove out to the Grand Canyon in a rented Jaguar. We met Penn and Teller.

We marked five years in our house, and I thought I might start cleaning out all of the things we’d collected over time but didn’t need. I started–and ended–in the office and made it through exactly two closets. But Kelly did hero’s work in divining which toys ought to be kept and which ought to be donated, clearing out space before the holidays filled it back up. The holidays deserve their own post.

At the Carolina Balloon Festival.

In the rush between Thanksgiving and today: caught the Davidson/UNC-Chapel Hill basketball game with my pals Gray and Jay; decorated the house (and the tree house) with holiday lights; watched as downtown was draped with snow; shared some poetry; shopped and shopped. We had two fantastic visits with Alan and Kerri and our darling nephew, Bear, and God willing many more will come in the year ahead.

And here we are. Thomas is five years old. He and Julia are in the downstairs kitchen putting together a Lego set, and listening to them from my desk is more than enough to keep my heart warm.

Although it was a hard year for so many reasons, 2017 was a fantastic year for me and for our family. In another year, Thomas will be halfway through Kindergarten, Annie will be jabbering, and Julia might have her driver’s license. There will be natural disasters and riots and political angst. People we love will leave us, and once more we will stare at others around us, dumbfounded that we can all cohabit this place.

But with enough work and perseverance, perhaps we will end up about as we have started: fortunate to have good things to do, and just hopeful enough that we have what it takes to get it done.