Ned Gallagher in Havana.

Ned Gallagher:
What I'm Up To

 

End of Summer/Beginning of Fall 2020 update

 


 

Life During The Plague

Like most folks, I've been dealing with a world that was upended in mid-March and have spent the last six months in “hunker down” mode due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I consider myself lucky: neither I nor anyone in my immediate circle of family and friends has been stricken by the virus (that I know of!). I have a job I have been able to perform remotely. And I live in a state that has some of the most favorable numbers in the efforts to stop the spread of the virus. Moreover, I live on a campus that has been largely empty, so physical distancing has not been a challenge when I head outdoors.

To be honest, living as something of a hermit for much of the past few months has not bothered me much at all. The introverted side of me has appreciated being alone with my thoughts and having time to tackle long-postponed projects. I’ll be happy when all of this is over, of course, and I will try hard to appreciate more deeply the time I’ll get to spend with family and friends, colleagues and students, and folks I am used to seeing in passing during everyday life when things are back to normal—or whatever will approximate that, I guess.

Technology has proved invaluable, both in pursuing my livelihood—my school ran online classes during the spring trimester and during a six-week summer term and I've been able to supplement that with some distance-learning gigs when school has not been in session—and in maintaining some semblance of social connections. I guess I’m in the minority in that I don't mind teaching via Zoom; clearly we all lose something by not sharing the same space, but I’d say most of my classes went roughly as well as they would have in person.

Thankfully my employer has been providing a strong technical infrastructure to enable the delivery of classes remotely. And the school has committed to keeping the faculty and staff employed, all while adhering to pretty strict health and safety protocols for the benefit of all concerned.

Here are a not-so-random handful of observations on pandemic-related developments in my life:

  • My sense of time has seemed “off” for a while now, especially in those weeks when I wasn’t teaching; it’s been hard to keep track of what day it is.
  • Unlike most summers, travel has been virtually non-existent for me: I haven’t left the state since I flew in from the West Coast on March 13. The lockdown wiped out June plans for a Block Island getaway, a West Coast swing to Oregon and California, and a journey to the Ukraine and the Channel Islands and London. A couple of planned long weekends in July and early August were scrapped: a New York City wedding and two trips to Virginia (one for some playgoing and the other for a history conference). And I was slated to visit Cyprus for the first time and then spend a week studying Homer on the Greek island of Chios toward the end of August; those plans evaporated as well. Hopefully some of these adventures will be rescheduled in 2021, assuming the world opens up again.
  • Related to the lack of travel was a slew of cancellations of performances I was looking forward to seeing. The list includes The Minutes and The Lehman Trilogy and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, as well as Shakespeare productions in Ashland, Oregon and Staunton, Virginia, as well as stagings at the Globe and the RSC in the UK. Also was heading to see a Genesis concert at the O2 Arena in London in November, a show that has been postponed to a date that doesn’t work for me.
  • On the flip side, one of the joys of the summer was the chance to do a bit of Shakespearean acting—well, readings of a half-dozen or so plays over Zoom, anyway. I’ve never had the chance to perform the Bard’s work (besides hamming it up while reading the texts in class). I was part of a troupe with an ever-changing cast, made up of some friends I grew up with and an assortment of their friends and family members. We have done seven plays thus far, and it’s been loads of fun. vAnd speaking of reunions, I’ve been very happy to reconnect with people in my life I haven’t seen or talked to in ages: retired colleagues, students from my first year of teaching at Andover, Founders League athletic directors I worked with in my time as an athletic administrator, friends I’ve traveled with, and so on. It’s been a silver lining in this often-very-isolating experience of sheltering in place. Though I’ve noticed as the months have passed, there are fewer video calls with friends and family as people—including me‚—have been spending all day on Zoom or Skype for work and presumably getting fatigued by all that screen time.
  • Since March I’ve been reading more than any time in my life (except for one summer at Stanford, I suppose). Novels, history, non-fiction, beach reads, political books, you name it. Seems I’ve plowed through a bookshelf worth of texts.
  • One reason my reading load has been unusually heavy was my decision to fill my down time this summer by taking a few (five!) online courses. I studied Renaissance art and the Qur’an and Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard with the University of Chicago. And I tackled Greek political thought at Stanford. And I had a seminar with an Amherst College professor on Democracy and Disaster—a timely subject given our current crisis. I was able to spread out the workload across the week pretty comfortably, and it did not feel like a heavy lift at all; in fact, staying busy this way was healthy for my need for intellectual as well as social engagement.
  • All the free time I had without students to take care of on campus—even when I was teaching, there was no coaching nor dorm duty—meant I had the opportunity to do some deep dives into films and TV shows I hadn’t seen before. I had never watched Parks and Recreation, but binged the whole series on Hulu in the spring. More recently I rediscovered 30 Rock on the Peacock service (which I get at no extra cost for me as a Comcast cable subscriber); I thought I had seen a lot of that show, but apparently I hadn’t. Both these comedies have provided me with regular installments of delight. I also discovered John Oliver. I had never seen more than a few brief clips of Last Week Tonight but got into the routine of watching the Sunday night show and now I never miss an episode; it’s brilliant.
  • I have sort of cut the cord on my cable subscription. I am paying half of what I was shelling out to Comcast just a few months ago, as I figured I wasn’t really watching the channels on the premium service tier, and so I downgraded. And I took advantage of special deals for streaming HBO Max, and a Showtime/CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+) package on Apple TV channels and thus was able to drop HBO and Showtime from my cable package as well. I still get the basic offerings piped to my TV, mostly for live news and sports, so I’m not quite ready to cut the cord entirely. But with an Apple TV device and subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+, PBS Passport, Starz, TennisTV, Tennis Channel Everywhere, and probably a few I’m forgetting, it may be the case that my entertainment needs are pretty well covered without cable. And I love how portable the streaming world is: I can sit outside and watch something on my iPad, or keep up with my favorites in a hotel room in another country.
  • Like many people, I’ve rediscovered my kitchen. This has been out of necessity, really, as eating out has not been a viable option for the spring and summer months. I’ll win no culinary prizes, but I’m a bit more competent at throwing together a decent meal now than I was before. I’m also realizing how much money I’m saving by not eating out a bunch of times each week.
  • It’s been tough to watch parts of society seem to crumble during this public health crisis. The medical carnage and ensuing economic damage are bad enough. From the farcical state of our national political scene to the reckonings regarding inequality and racial injustice, to the continuing effects of our climate crisis, one wonders where things are headed. As a political junkie, I am very focused on the November election, particularly the presidential race and the battle for control of the Senate. It’s all too easy to fall into a routine of what they are calling “doomscrolling,” but I’m guardedly optimistic that positive changes are in the wind. I hope I am right about that, as November could prove to be a bruisingly divisive month for our country. At any rate, it’s a heady time to be a teacher of government, politics, and constitutional law!
  • Not unrelated to the previous point, social media seems more problematic than ever. There is far much performative nonsense out there and too many people seem to be shouting at the rain. Conspiracy theories, political trolling, and partisan cheap shots keep pushing me away from screen time, but there are enough genuine connections to be had with far-flung people in my life, and enough thoughtful exchanges of ideas here and there to stop me from throwing in the towel on these platforms altogether. The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma is a pretty searing indictment of what’s underpinning Big Tech’s efforts to command our eyeballs (and wallets and votes) and how vulnerable we all may be to dark forces at work out there in cyberspace. Keeping a close eye on this front, both as an educator and as a citizen.
  • I’ve always been a magazine reader; i was a news nerd from early on, devouring Newsweek and Time and Sports Illustrated from junior high school on. Since I started teaching I’ve been a stalwart fan of publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among many others. But as the media landscape has been thoroughly disrupted by the Internet and the collapse of traditional advertising models, journalists have had to figure out new ways to do their jobs—and figure out how to earn a living doing so. This summer, I started a handful of subscriptions to Substack writers in support of a few voices I enjoy hearing from regularly. I also pay for regular access to Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World, a favorite cartoon. The Internet loves free, but I’ve become convinced good reporting (or cartooning) is worth shelling out a few bucks for as my old pattern of magazine consumption is dropping off due to a paucity of worthwhile options.
  • I moved into a new office in August, and am pretty happy to have a bit more space—perhaps a third more square footage—and the chance to reorganize my work space. It’s only one door down from the office I’ve occupied for the last three years. More important than more room is the ample time I had at summer’s end to curate the space thoroughly: resorting books, reconfiguring technology, and decorating the walls thoughtfully. The last time I changed offices I was mostly in “discard mode” after 21 years and this time around I won’t feel like I’ll be living out of boxes.
  • We have been teaching fall term classes online the last few weeks but life will be changing at school as September gives way to October and most of our boarders return to campus. All sorts of precautions are in place, of course (an initial quarantine, frequent testing, masking and physical distancing requirements). Our classes will be hybrid in nature, with a couple kids "beaming in" while the rest are spaced out in the classroom. I don't know if this qualifies as a "return to normalcy" but it will be a big change from the past six months!

Okay, enough rambling. Maybe I should return to regular blogging?! This probably qualifies for a “tl;dr” hashtag.

 


 

What I'm Reading

Working On Now:

  • Bob Woodward, Rage
  • Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind
  • Katy Simpson Smith, The Everlasting: A Novel
  • Shoshana Zuboff, The The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
  • Charlie Gilmour, Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie
  • Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

Recently Finished:

  • Jeffrey Toobin, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump
  • Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
  • Paulo Lemos Horta, Aladdin: A New Translation
  • Stephen Mitchell, Gilgamesh: A New English Version
  • Michael Schmidt, Gilgamesh: The Life of a Poem
  • Garry Wills, What the Qur'an Meant: And Why It Matters
  • Tom Scioli, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics
  • Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  • George Orwell, 1984
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason
  • Mark Edmundson, Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game
  • Philip Pullman, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  • Stephen Holmes, The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy
  • John Hodgman, Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms
  • Scott Galloway, The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning
  • David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

For Courses I'm Teaching This Fall:

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
  • English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Andrew Gordon, A Modern History Of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

For Courses I'm Taking This Fall:

  • Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Aristotle, Physics
  • Lucretius, The Nature of Things
  • Isaac Newton, Principia
  • Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
  • Euripedes, Medea
  • Euripedes, Hippolytus
  • Euripedes, The Bacchae
  • Michael Levey, From Giotto to Cezanne: A Concise History of Painting

On Deck:

  • Frederik Logevall, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917–1956
  • Matt Taibbi, Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another
  • Derek Walcott, Omeros
  • Maggie O'Farrell, Hamnet
  • Adam Cohen, Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America
  • Colum McCann, Apeirogon: A Novel
  • Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451
  • Steve Flink, Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited
  • Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Family, Fatherhood, and Rethinking Race: Unlearning Race

 


 

What I'm Watching

Ongoing—Television:

  • 30 Rock, Seasons 1–7 (Peacock)
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO Max)
  • The Circus: Inside the Craziest Political Campaign on Earth, Season 5 (Showtime)
  • Raised By Wolves (HBO Max)
  • Long Way Up (Apple TV+)
  • The Boys, Season 2 (Amazon)

Recently Finished—Television:

  • Utopia, Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
  • The Umbrella Academy, Seasons 1–2 (Netflix)
  • Mrs. America (Hulu)
  • Dark, Seasons 1–3 (Netflix)
  • Devs (Hulu)
  • Defending Jacob (Apple TV+)
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Seasons 1–7 (Disney+)

Recently Finished—Films:

  • 12 Monkeys (d. Terry Gilliam)
  • The Old Guard (Netflix, d. Gina Prince-Bythewood)
  • The Leopard (d. Luchino Visconti)
  • Judgment at Nuremberg (d. Stanley Kramer)
  • The Sweet Hereafter (d. Atom Egoyan)
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew (d. Pier Paolo Pasolini)
  • The Belly of An Architect (d. Peter Greenaway)
  • The Third Man (d. Carol Reed)
  • and a bunch of movies directed by John Ford:
    • Stagecoach
    • The Seacrhers
    • Young Mr. Lincoln
    • The Informer
    • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
and of course nothing in an actual cinema in many months!

 


 

What I'm Listening To

Music:

  • Prince, Purple Rain [Deluxe Exanded Edition]
  • J.S. Bach, Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince
  • Sarah Vaughan, The Divine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years: 1949–1953

Podcasts:

  • The New Yorker: Politics and More
  • Pivot
  • Advantage Connors
  • The Prof G Show
  • The Ezra Klein Show
  • PBS News Hour: Shields & Brooks
  • Here's The Thing
  • Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend

 


 

What I'm Looking Forward To

  • a haricut
  • season 2 of The Mandalorian
  • eating in restaurants
  • getting on an airplane
  • once in a while sleeping in a bed other than my own
  • trips to New York City
  • going to the cinema, theater, concerts, and sporting events
  • social time in between classes with my colleagues
  • coaching interscholastic sports
  • seeing my family

 


Thanks to Derek Sivers for his concept of the /now page.
Revised September 29, 2020