A daily ritual that I have observed for several years now is to begin each day by reading from selected philosophical and theological texts. Last year, alongside revisiting the Stoics, I managed to give myself a grounding in Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. I supplemented these with some early Christian monasticism and the maxims of the 17th Century philosopher Baltasar Gracián.1
Gracián, Baltasar: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence
Mascaro, Juan: The Dhammapada
Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (r)
Tzu, Lao: Tao Te Ching
Walker, Brian Browne: Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu
Ward, Benedicta: The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
I have begun 2021 with fewer texts, covering a wider range of subjects and ideas. Alongside Aurelius and Seneca, I am going to re-read specific sections of the bible; take a broader look at Western philosophy3; and also read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ which has been sitting unread in my Kindle Library for over a year. Not a philosophical text per se, but one that I hope will go some way to helping me achieve one of my goals for 2021.
I feel that I have a firm understanding of Stoicism. And from sixteen years of teaching A-Level Literature and Media Studies, a sound understanding of more modern philosophies, particularly romanticism, modernism and post-modernism. My knowledge of various religions is good and I have a reasonable grounding in Eastern philosophies and theology but there are significant gaps in my understanding of Western philosophy. I hope that Bertrand Russell’s much lauded (and criticised) book can help begin to plug those gaps.[↩]
I also made some changes to my daily and weekly reviews that kept me better organised.
avoiding difficult / time-consuming tasks
I did well with this as well, in part due to the improvements I made to my organisation as noted above. In particular, I started using the ‘forecast tag’ in OmniFocus for these tasks and also scheduled time in my calendar for when I would work on them. This meant that they were always visible and would not be missed in my daily review. Scheduling time in my calendar meant that progress was made on them each day until they were done. Incremental progress FTW!
trying new foods and recipes
Jennifer and I are always exploring new recipes but we did even better this year building a wide range of new meals into each month. And like 2019, we struck a healthy balance between meat-based dishes and vegetarian ones.
rediscovering old music
I immersed myself in Jazz, exploring a wide range of styles (hard-bop, modal, avant-garde…) and musicians. I improved my knowledge of the genre’s development and discovered a number pieces that entered into regular rotation. My top three tunes for the year are:
Having spent a lot of time over the years listening to the more avant-garde and challenging work of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I was surprised to see how much I leaned toward smooth and modal Jazz over the course of the year. Red Garland, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (all pianists) featured prominently. Maybe I am mellowing out!?
In addition to this, I also revisited a lot of music from my youth (80s/90s). According to Spotify, my most listened to artists this year were: Queen, Radiohead and Nick Cave.
I spent some time listening to classical music too; mostly Beethoven, Chopin, and Fauré, so the piano featured prominently there as well. Maybe I should learn to play the piano in 2021?
I made a number of new playlists in Spotify and updated some of my existing ones. They can all be found via my Spotify profile.
visiting new places
This did not happen for obvious reasons. Instead we made the most of our local area while doing all that we could to keep ourselves and other safe. The time spent here at home was not wasted though, I read more books than I have done in a long time.
mobility exercises and yoga
I failed miserably with this one unfortunately, and I haven’t done as well with my running over the last three months of the year either. Exercise has to be a habit and requires commitment. I will be re-committing to this in 2021 and ensuring that I can forge good habits to get back on track.
In terms of writing, I never truly found my mojo. That said, I did publish 24 full blog posts (20 more than 2019 ). Two blog posts per month is not what I was aiming for at the start of the year. As with exercise, writing has to become a habit. I will be committing to working towards this in 2021 as well.
(cont.) looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me (still trying to make this stick!)
I finally made some headway with this in 2020. I took to leaving my phone on the coffee table or even in a different room and this helped. Still, I can do even better so this item will graduate to the ‘Less’ section for 2021.
saying yes to projects or ideas that will only have short-term or limited impact (aiming for a year of quality not quantity)
When faced with a pandemic, partial school closures and a constantly changing set of guidelines and rules, it has been hard not to have to work on projects that were about ‘short-term’ impact. Sometimes you simply have to adapt to the needs in front of you and I feel that alongside my colleagues, I did a good job in helping to keep the school going under very challenging circumstances.
‘Reading more’ was not one of my goals for 2020, yet it was my best year for reading in a long time. I’m sure the lockdown contributed to this but I am pleased that I maintained my momentum once I returned to a fully open school in September. On top of the 41 books listed below, I also read over 1,500 articles from The Guardian, as well as countless blog posts and articles from across the web. A good year all round, and one that at least from this point of view, I feel much richer for.
Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (r1)
Adams, Douglas: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (r)
Adams, Douglas: Life, the Universe and Everything (r)
Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations (r)
Confucius: The Analects
Dexter, Colin: Last Bus to Woodstock
Dexter, Colin: Last Seen Wearing
Dexter, Colin: The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn
Dexter, Colin: Service of All the Dead
Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol (r)
Epictetus: Discourses and Selected Writings (r)
Gracián, Baltasar: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence
This completed my first reading of the entire ‘Earthsea Cycle‘. I read the first three novels in 2019 and took a break but I was very happy to rejoin Ged and Tenar; not least due to the revisioning Le Guin undertook returning to Earthsea eighteen years after ’The Farthest Shore.‘ Her exploration of womanhood and female empowerment from ’Tehanu‘; through ’The Finder‘ and ’Dragonfly‘; culminating in ’The Other Wind‘ was deeply gratifying. I admire Le Guin’s bravery in returning to a world she had firmly established and to then completely redefine it.[↩]
It was very satisfying to immerse myself in such a tightly constructed sequence of crime novels; and interesting to read the series that established nordic–noir as a genre.[↩]
As Covid-19 continues its spread across the land, we are embracing our new existence; only going out when necessary; supporting friends and family in any way we can; doing our part to stay safe and save lives.
Jennifer has spent the last few days cooking meals to freeze; ensuring we will continue to eat healthy nutritious food over the coming weeks.
With schools closing (or, in my case, remaining open for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers) I’ve been editing my calendar for the next four weeks. It is now relatively blank, save for the days that I will be in school. It’s amazing how so many things that were deemed so important have been put on hold or cancelled out right. Now is not the time, but the ‘merits of using external exams as a way to measure learning’ debate should definitely be given its due when things return to normal1
I have set my self a daily schedule for the days I will be working from home and taken the opportunity to reorganise my OmniFocus projects. I have promoted a number of tasks that were on pause until the next school holiday came around.
Also, with a bit of extra time on my hands, I am going to take the opportunity to:
Run outside once per day. Over the last five months, my schedule has unfortunately inhibited me from running as regularly as I would like. If anything good can come of all this, I can get back to where I was in September – running further and faster than ever!
Finish some longer blog posts that have been sitting half written in Drafts.
Most importantly, I am going to use this opportunity to spend time with my wife… cooking and breaking bread together; drinking lots of tea and putting the world to rights; listening to music and playing Scrabble; watching old films; and appreciating how lucky we are to have each other.
What is normal? Will things ever be the same again? Given the current state of things, these questions seem alarmingly prescient yet seemingly trivial at the same time. As Nick Cave put it yesterday: “Eventually these questions will become of acute significance, but they are not for now.”[↩]