2017: The Year in Review
January 1, 2018

Happy 2018, everyone!

For the past two years, I’ve done a year-in-review post, and this year is no different. Last year, I was surprised at how much had changed in a year. This year, the opposite is true: I’m surprised at how little has changed.

Last year, before Trump’s presidency had begun, I had described how awful I thought that he was and how awful I thought that things would be under his presidency. Over the course of this year, I’ve been shocked and horrified at his behavior and at the behavior of his cronies and of Republicans in general, but not quite surprised; they acted pretty much exactly as I imagined that they would. It has generated in me a deep cynicism about humanity. There are, of course, really good people that have risen up to combat them, but my cynicism revolves around the worry that humanity will always be fundamentally broken in this way, that the powerful will always exploit the weak, that power in general will always corrupt, that even the best political and social systems will not prevent the rise of despots, that inequality will never be undone. It makes me think about the manga / anime From the New World, which examines some of these and related problems, like the lengths to which a society would go to prevent violence and upheaval, and the depths to which they would sink in order to tolerate — and even encourage — oppression. I need to watch that show again. Good stuff.

Anyway, these problems have spurred me to get involved in politics by volunteering for the Hood County Democrats and even running for my first office: precinct chair. But, on the other hand, I’ve become deeply depressed. A conversation from Lord of the Rings comes to mind.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

All right. Enough wallowing. Let’s take a look at some of the other (and more positive) things that happened this past year.

Teaching has been awesome this year. I’ve had so many good conversations with students. And our conversations have frequently included difficult, controversial topics, like abortion or gay rights. (These are controversial, of course, because I live in Texas.) I can tell that the students are genuinely engaged during these conversations, that they’re really thinking hard and trying to find the truth. On my last test of the semester, I asked this question as a bonus: “What’s the most interesting non-math thing you’ve learned in this class this semester?” Many of the responses were silly, but I did find a couple of really great responses. One girl wrote, “[I learned] that you can actually have thoughtful conversations with people who don’t share the same opinions as you and not be immediately bashed for your beliefs.” I could hardly have asked for a better answer. This is exactly what I’ve tried to do: neither to let a view receive punishment for mere expression nor to let a view go unexamined.

Sadly, I’m not sure whether teaching there will be sustainable in the long run. I teach at a homeschool co-op that only meets three days a week. So, I only put in around 15 hours a week there, which means that I have to find other ways to supplement that income. I still teach piano lessons, but the real problem is that I have so much schoolwork to do outside of school that it’s hard for me to devote time to anything else. I put in a lot of hours every week grading and lesson planning, but I’m not getting paid for those hours. If my wife suddenly got a pay raise, then I could probably manage to stay where I am. But my health insurance premiums — which are already stupidly high — will be going up again this year, so it’s looking like I’ll be hard-pressed to continue teaching. I’ve started looking for other jobs, but haven’t had much luck yet.

Let’s see ... what else has happened? I’ve still been working on my book of poems for kids. It’s come along pretty well. I’ve written 25 or 30 poems. Soon, I think, I’m going to start trying to figure out what to do about publishing it (i.e., whether to self-publish or to seek out an agent).

I’ve also been doing a lot of programming. I made a wallpaper manager called Kabegami, a blogging tool for static websites called VF-Blog, a little game called Red for Ludum Dare 39 (though I never actually got to submit it), and a math practice website called Problematic. I don’t think I ever blogged about that last one, which surprises me because it was probably the project on which I spent the greatest amount of time. Long story short: I was tired of grading my students’ work, so I built a website over the summer that would generate random problems for my students to work and then would automatically grade them. Even though I was able to build 95% of the necessary functionality of the website over the summer, I wasn’t able to finish writing all of the problem sets before the year began. Worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep ahead of the students if I tried to write problem sets during the year, I finally put it on hold and have tried to embrace the use of the sucky, old-fashioned textbooks. Anyway, I’ve also done a ton of doodling in DoodleDoo.

Healthwise, the main thing that happened was that I broke two teeth. I wrote about the first one already. The second one happened more recently. I’m still pissed about it. In fact, I’m in denial and still haven’t gone to the dentist, even though it happened a couple months ago. Also, as per usual, I ran a lot over the summer but promptly lost it all when school started. I’m adding that to the list of reasons why it might be a good idea for me to become self-employed, or at least to stop teaching.

Okay. I think that’s about it. Thanks for reading! I hope you have a great year in 2018!