Ned Gallagher in Havana.

Ned Gallagher:
What I’m Up To


Advent 2020 update



Life During The Plague, continued

We have arrived at the Winter Solstice as of this writing, and the crisis of the pandemic has reached a pretty grim peak here in America. But just as the hours of daylight will now gradually lengthen with each passing day, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines offers hope that 2021 will see this horror show abate in the weeks and months ahead. I've been tested for the virus at work 1–2 times a week the past few months and feel blessed to have escaped the scourge of this nasty disease. The few people I know who have been affected have, thankfully, weathered exposure with generally mild symptoms. But Thanksgiving, one my favorite holidays (the other being Memorial Day) and now Christmas have become much quieter and more isolated affairs than usual. I dearly miss the chance to connect with my family, and the few gatherings I've had with friends have been small and physically distanced (or on Zoom!). So the traditions associated with these annual holidays have been put on hold this time around. But seeing how the pandemic has affected so many around the world—and often brutally—I can't spend a minute feeling sorry for myself, knowing it's been so much worse for so many others.

A few observations on life the past few months:

  • The fall term at school is now in the rear-view mirror, and it felt like at least a partial return to normalcy in terms of the teaching and coaching and house advising routine. Students returned to campus at the end of September and had a brief quarantine for the better part of two weeks. Masks were ubiquitous, as was physical distancing, and biweekly COVID testing for all made the situation feasible. The majority of my students shared the classroom space with me in person, while others beamed in via Zoom. Harkness tables were swapped out for individual desks spaced apart. In terms of preventing the spread of the virus, the school's experiment was quite successful: though there were some cases in the community, there were no transmissions on campus. To be honest, I was afraid we all would be disappointed that this "new normal" would be such a pale reflection of what we had come to expect from the boarding school experience. The conventional wisdom is that it went far better than expected. I confess to responding to plenty of greetings on the path without knowing whom I was addressing the past few months (due to facial coverings) but there was at least a semblance of routine interactions with kids and colleagues on campus. Even an athletic program with no scheduled contests had some meaning; my fall team (cross-country running) could approximate a competitive schedule with a series of time trials on our home course, such that athletes were motivated to improve their times through the abbreviated autumn season. We started the new term after Thanksgiving break with classes entirely online, and the expected return to Wallingford has been pushed back to the end of January.
  • I continued my immersion in lifelong learning opportunities in the fall, too, with the third year of my Great Books immersion at the University of Chicago, as well as a handful of briefer courses in democracy (also at Chicago), art history, the plays of Euripedes, and nutrition and genetic expression (all at Stanford) as well as a short exploration of utopian novels (Wesleyan). And through the fall I participated in an online seminar run out of the University of Colorado; the topic was modern Japanese history—which I happened to be teaching an elective in this past term—and I am fortunate to have been selected to continue in Part II of the seminar in the New Year. I also dabbled in some online art courses, courtesy of the Domestika platform.
  • Many were bracing for a tumultuous Election Day experience in November, especially in the wake of the racial reckoning the nation has been grappling with this year. In many ways, the election was a fairly straightforward event, despite a few lingering days of uncertainty (and ongoing issues with some who cannot accept the overwhelming evidence that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president). Both major parties had disappointments and successes. Happily, we haven't seen an outbreak of violence in the streets, and I am assuming the transition of executive power will take place as it historically has, despite some prominent temper tantrums. It was an interesting term to be a teacher of politics & government classes!
  • I treated myself to a couple of technology upgrades this fall: a Product (RED) Apple Watch, Series 6 and a shiny new iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Okay, that's all for now. Next update will be early in the New Year.



What I’m Reading

Working On Now:

  • Barack Obama, The Promised Land
  • David Paul Kuhn, The Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution
  • Brian O'Doherty, The Deposition of Father McGreevy
  • Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville
  • Aljean Harmetz, Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of "Casablanca"—Bogart, Bergman, and World War II

Recently Finished:

  • Thomas More, Utopia
  • H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia
  • George Orwell, Animal Farm

On Deck:

  • Tana French, The Searcher
  • Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism
  • Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age
  • Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes: The Way to the White House
  • Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
  • Jon Meachum, His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope
  • Danny Fingeroth, A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee

For Courses I’m Teaching This Winter:

  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • Adam Gopnik, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism



What I’m Watching


  • Your Honor (Showtime)
  • Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3 (CBS All Access)
  • Normal People (Hulu)
  • His Dark Materials, Season 2 (HBO Max)

Recently Finished—Television:

  • The Mandalorian, Season 2 (Disney+)
  • Schitt's Creek, Seasons 1–6 (Netflix)
  • The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)
  • Ted Lasso, Season 1 (Apple TV+)
  • The Crown, Season 4 (Netflix)
  • We Are Who We Are, Season 1 (HBO Max)
  • Alex Rider, Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO Max)
  • Derry Girls, Season 1 (Netflix)

Recently Finished—Films:

  • Mank (Netflix, d. David Fincher, 2020)
  • The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (HBO, d. Frank Marshall, 2020)
  • The Fifth Element (d. Luc Besson, 1997)
  • Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score (Netflix, d. Matías Gueilburt, 2020)
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime, d. Jason Woliner, 2020)
  • Dads (Apple TV+, d. Bryce Dallas Howard, 2020)
  • Do The Right Thing (d. Spike Lee, 1989)
  • Doctor Zhivago (d. David Lean, 1965)



What I’m Listening To


  • The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin
  • Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
  • Cantus Vocum Chamber Choir, Cantus Vocum Christmas
  • Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Nine Lessons and Carols
  • Chet Baker, Chet Baker Sings
  • Wings, Venus and Mars
  • James Taylor, Over The Rainbow: The American Standard [EP]

Audiobooks/Radio Drama:

  • Neil Gaiman, The Sandman (Audible)
  • Billie Jean King, The Dollar Rebellion (Audible)
  • David Sedaris, Themes and Variations (Audible)



What I’m Looking Forward To

  • a haircut (still)
  • eating in restaurants
  • seeing my family


Thanks to Derek Sivers for his concept of the /now page.
Revised: 21 December 2020