december 2021

It was great to see my dad and stepmother over Thanksgiving, but it may end up being the last time we see them for a while. In a normal year, we'd head up to North Carolina for a few days between Christmas and New Year's to visit them, my sister, and our nephews. But with all the chaos and disruption in our lives this year, from the house fire to us being ridiculously understaffed in key roles at work, we may just need that week to chill out and prepare for the challenges that await us in the new year.

If we aren't able to go, I'm hoping my parents will be able to visit sometime this summer, and that after that we can get back to a more regular pattern of visits. But it's really difficult to see anything beyond the next week or two from where we are right now.

In May of this year, my longtime operations manager, who oversees a team of five processing team members (a lot of data entry) and configures a lot of our day-to-day use of the system we use for importing application data and documents and then sending them through the workflow where our admission staff can review and make decisions on the files, resigned to attend a graduate program.

He's been in the role for almost the entire time I've been here, and we were also lucky in that he was able to overlap with his predecessor for a year while she moved to part time status and spent most of her final year training and supporting him while he learned the role. So we've never been without a highly competent person in this extremely important role, and I haven't had to know the details of the daily tasks performed by that role.

I was hopeful that we'd be able to quickly rehire the role prior to the start of this admission cycle, but it took a while to get the role approved to rehire and then get it posted (I worked with the main HR person who oversees job descriptions and compensation to get the role properly classified as an IT role and also to move it up a pay grade, both of which increased the salary range I could offer). And then by the time we started to get some applications in August, the fire happened and I had to put everything on the back burner while I tried to rebuild some semblance of stability in my personal life.

I have some good leads now, but my systems manager (someone I've known for 25 years and who has worked for me for the past 12 years) and I have had to each take on aspects of the operations manager job in addition to our already significant normal workload. One of the most important of these tasks: coordinating the release of admission decisions, which includes running audits in two systems, assigned a bewildering array of highly tailored decision release letters, and ensuring that the admitted students have access to multiple systems that let them submit their deposits and other paperwork and also register for events that are only open to admitted students. Needless to say, if there are any issues with this process, it can lead to major scrutiny and consequences, including national news coverage and potential loss of employment for whoever is blamed for the errors.

The first of these decision release dates is coming up in a couple of weeks, and in addition to this being the first time my systems manager and I will have to run this process, it's also one of our most critical releases: it's our first Early Decision round, where we enroll almost half of our incoming first-year students for next fall.

We were very lucky that our operations manager gave us two months of warning before he left, and he spent most of those two months writing incredibly detailed documentation of the most critical tasks, including decision release. And my system manager knows most of our system inside and out, even if he hasn't been hands-on in executing certain tasks before. But even still, it's pretty scary, and we'll be spending most of the next couple of weeks testing an re-testing and looking for any gap in the process that could lead to any kind of failure at the time of decision release.

My latest read was from Mick Houghton, a Brit who started as a music journalist in the Liverpool in the late 70s and stumbled into PR work for many of the bands that were emerging from that scene, like Echo and the Bunnymen and Julian Cope. The book is called Fried and Justified: Hits, Myths, Break-Ups and Breakdowns in the Record Business 1978-98 (Fried was the title of a Julian Cope album; Justified refers to another client, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, who later took the name the KLF), and it's a fascinating and highly personal look into the British music scene across his two decades as a publicist for groups including Spiritualized, Jesus and Mary Chain, the House of Love, Sonic Youth, the Ramones, and many others.

I have particular affection for the era that birthed him, when Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes/Julian Cope were at the nexus of a new Liverpudlian sound, and he spends far longer on that part of his career because that's when he was also finding his footing in the music industry. If you're interested in that period, or British music in the 80s and 90s, or just like reading behind the scenes accounts of the music industry from someone who's simultaneously an insider and an outsider (he was at a lot of parties, tours, and recording sessions, but never a member of the band, and never tied to a single band for his or their entire career), you'll love this book—Houghton has a nice storytelling voice, and his unvarnished honesty about both himself and the groups he represented reminded me a lot of the authentic narratives you get from Peter Hook's books.

Last Saturday I went to see Jeff Rosenstock at the Masquerade, the same place I saw him back before the pandemic in 2019. That was one of the best shows I'd seen in a long time even though Rosenstock was the second band on the three-act bill and had less than an hour on stage.

This time Rosenstock was the headliner, so I was expecting even more. My friend Jeff came with me (he was also with me at the 2019 show), and we got there in time to see the two openers, Oceanator and Slaughter Beach, Dog (originally a side project from two members of Modern Baseball). I liked a few of Oceantor's songs and will have to give her a deeper listen sometime, but I didn't care much for Slaughter Beach, Dog, while Jeff had the opposite reaction—he didn't like Oceantor, but enjoyed Slaughter Beach, Dog.

The show was everything I could have hoped for. I love Rosenstock's music, but his live show goes so far beyond just playing the songs. His joy at being on stage, playing music with his friends, and being in a room with his fans is obvious and infectious. His shows are the communal experience that all of us hope for when we go see a band live, and although my sample size is small, I have a feeling this is what every show he puts on is like.

I would love to have a new album from him sometime soon—his last album of new material came out in May 2020—but I'm hoping Covid remains at bay so he can tour more frequently. I don't want there to be another three years between this show and the next time I get to see him in concert.

The Ravens have had some heartbreaking losses this season (including last Sunday, when they lost by one point when an attempted two point conversion failed), but given how many devastating injuries they've had to their starters on both sides of the ball this year (starting in the preseason before they even played a real game, and continuing almost weekly since then), their record is about as good as could be hoped for.

This next month will be a brutal stretch, however, with three division games and non-division games against the Rams and the Packers, both of whom seem playoff-bound. Lamar Jackson is an incredible player whose heroics are almost solely responsible for some of their biggest wins. But even a player as dynamic as he is can only carry the team on his back (especially a team that is increasingly reaching far down the depth chart just to field a team) for so long.

I won't be shocked if they still end up in the playoffs this year—it seems like 2-3 more wins would get them in—-but I also won't be surprised if they don't make it, or if they get knocked out in the first round even if they do make it. I hate to start thinking about next season when there's still nearly a third of the season to play, but with their continuing bad luck from the injury standpoint, it's hard to see them fielding a competitive team against the best teams in the playoffs.

Kirby Smart seems to produce a better team every year he remains in charge of the UGA football program, but there's one team we have not beat during his tenure: SEC rival Alabama, which is also the school Kirby Smart worked for before taking over Georgia's program.

The most heartbreaking loss so far was in the National Championship game in 2018 when UGA had a two-score lead going into the second half, but then Nick Saban changed quarterbacks from Jalen Hurts to Tua Tagovailoa, who then proceeded to lead the Crimson Tide to a tie, which Alabama then won in overtime.

This most recent loss in the SEC Championship game on Sunday wasn't as devastating—Georgia will still make it into the four-team playoffs (along with Alabama) because that game was their only loss of the season—but it wasn't any less frustrating than any of the other losses over the past decade plus (the last time Georgia beat Alabama was way back in 2007).

There's a good chance that Georgia and Alabama will face each other again in a few weeks in another National Championship game—I don't think Georgia will have a problem beating Michigan, and I would be shocked if Alabama doesn't roll right over Cincinnati. And if that happens, that will either be the biggest rivalry vindication game of the past two decades, or yet another demoralizing defeat for UGA that will increase the weight of the Saban albatross around Kirby Smart's neck.

I've still got more than a week to go before I start my time off for the Christmas/New Year's holidays this year, but I'm ready to be done today. This has been a brutal cycle so far, and we're not even in the most intense part of it yet—we're down a key person on my team, and also down staff members on other teams in the office.

But I'm not really ready for all the stuff that comes along with Christmas either—even though we likely won't travel for the holidays this year. I just need a week (or two, or three) with zero responsibilities—no work email, no appointments, no family obligations, no nothing.

I won't get that, but hopefully I'll get some reprieve. There will still be family stuff to do, and Christmas activities, and there will also be some work things I need to keep tabs on, but if I don't get a reasonable amount of unstructured downtime before January, I honestly don't know how I'm going to get through the next several months at work.

After reading Mick Houghton's Fried and Justified, I turned to another insider account of the music industry, this one called Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life In The Music Business by Miles Copeland. You might recognize that last name: his brother Stewart was the drummer for the Police, and his other brother Ian Copeland founded the FBI management agency, which represented acts like the Cure, Simple Minds, the Go-Go's, Let's Active, R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, and many others (including, of course, the Police and Sting).

For his part, Miles managed the Police, and then springboarded from that success to creating the I.R.S. record label, which signed many of the acts that Ian represented. In many ways Miles' book is an American parallel to the Mick Houghton book, covering approximately the same time period from the late 70s to the late 90s and giving that same insider/outsider perspective that comes from being up close and personal with many of the best-known acts of those years without ever actually being in a band. But while Houghton had the British tendency to be a little self-deprecating, Copeland at times seems to insist on his own importance. And while his impact is undeniable, there's something a little gauche about needing to state it so emphatically and so often.

Still a great read, especially if you're interested in that period of American music (there's a lot of overlap between this book and Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life—both cover the rise of the alternative/college rock scene from playing small clubs in the 80s to dominating the music industry in the 90s). And again, a nice companion piece with Mick Houghton's book—if you like one, you'll like the other, and they play off each other very nicely.

We're still being very Covid-cautious with the recent Delta wave and the emergence of Omicron, but we decided to risk an outing with Will to the Fox Theater to see the the musical Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They were no longer requiring proof of vaccination, but they were still requiring everyone to be masked (and even if they weren't, we've gotten more comfortable with the risk level of indoor events if we're wearing our masks even if not many other people are).

Will really enjoyed it—he loves any kind of spectacle, whether it's a theater performance, a sporting event, or a concert—and while the stage show was a big, flashy production, the quality was lower than many of the other musicals we've seen there. They added a lot of extraneous stuff to the story to justify additional musical numbers, most of which were nowhere near as good as the classic songs you remember from the iconic 60s animated version of this story.

Still, it was nice to get out and do something, and it helped get us more in the mood for the quickly approaching holiday season that's going to feel so different for us this year. All of our Christmas tree ornaments, many of which came from our childhood or from our earliest days as a couple, were destroyed in the fire (they were in the attic, which is the part of our house that actually burned; all our other possessions were rendered unsalvageable due to smoke and water damage), and they were a big part of our holiday tradition.

However, Julie put out a call to our friends and neighbors, letting them know about the destruction of our ornaments, and asking that people send us new ones that are symbolic of our relationships with them or of time we've spent together, and the response has been overwhelming—we might have more ornaments now than we did before, and although nothing will replace things like an ornament I made for my mom when I was in kindergarten that she later gave back to me, it's nice to still have memories associated with the ornaments on our tree, even if they aren't the same memories we had before.

Here's my top 10 albums list from 2021. It's not in ranked order, but the ones I liked more are towards the top:

Tyler, the Creator—Call Me If You Get Lost
Modest Mouse—The Golden Casket
Home Is Where—I Became Birds
Sleigh Bells—Texis
Origami Angel—Gami Gang
Pom Poko—Cheater
Remember Sports—Like a Stone
The Go! Team—Get Up Sequences Part One
Nation of Language—A Way Forward
Lande Hekt—Going to Hell

The Home Is Where record is one that I've only recently discovered, and I'm completely obsessed with it. It hardly counts as an album—it's only six songs and it's not even twenty minutes long—but it's one of the best debuts I've heard from a band in a very long time.

Today was our big Early Decision I decision release day, our first real test of the coordinated process of letting a couple thousand students know about their admission status without either the operations manager or the communications director who have handled the bulk of this process for the past five plus years.

It was nerve-wracking, because there are so many little things to keep track of and so many things that can go wrong, but we seem to have come through it pretty successfully. There are technically a couple of days left before winter break starts, but for my part, I'm able to finally take a deep breath and relax a bit. I'll use the rest of the week to clean up my inbox and finalized a couple of reports, but after that, I'm planning to disconnect from any work-related issues for a couple of weeks.

I finally got my booster shot, coincidentally on the same day that my institution mandated that all employees get one by mid-January. I had been intending to get one for a while, but just never made the appointment. A couple of people who are closer to the decision-makers than I am let me know this was coming, so that served as the impetus to make my appointment before there the appointments at the pharmacies adjacent to campus filled up.

We were hoping to attend a family get-together in the north Georgia mountains this weekend—my uncle raised his family there, and one of his daughters still lives there while the other lives across town from us in Atlanta. But as we started to understand the size of the gathering, the high probability of several people in the group being unvaccinated, and the cold weather which would keep everyone inside together, we decided it was beyond our risk tolerance. As much as we'd love to see everyone, we wouldn't be able to wear our masks because the whole point is to sit down at a table and share a meal together, and we just don't feel safe doing that with a larger number of people, a significant percentage of whom won't be vaccinated.

I did, however, meet up with a colleague who I haven't seen in person in a while. We met early at a nearby tavern with high ceilings and good air circulation and got a table in the corner that minimized our proximity to others, even as the bar started to fill up as the evening wore on. That might be the last time I do that for a while though—the early data on Omicron is discouraging, both in terms of its infectiousness and its ability to evade the antibodies produced by the current vaccines, and I have a feeling this winter will see another big surge.

I thought 2021 would have to be better than 2020, but instead it was yet another reinforcement of the truism that things can always get worse. Our country was nearly overthrown by white supremacist insurrectionists who may never face any legal consequences for their criminal acts, and who will continue to threaten our democracy for many years. My mom has been in and out of the hospital for multiple surgeries and spent months away from her home, either in a hospital bed or in a rehab facility where we couldn't see her in person. And of course, our house burned down and we're likely at least a year from being able to rebuild and move back to our home, and we still don't know how much the insurance will cover even though it's clearly a total loss.

To add to that, we just found out that my sister and brother in law (both of whom have co-morbid conditions) just caught Covid, and one of my coworkers was murdered by her husband last week. I honestly don't know how much more I can take.

I know this is a time of year when our culture tells us to put the past behind us and look for better days ahead with the turning of the calendar to a new year, but after 2021 turned out the way it did, it's harder for me to look ahead to 2022 and believe that things will just get better because it's a different year. I'm going to need to see it to believe it. Until then, I'll just keep getting by day by day like we all do, but I realistically don't see how we get through the current state of things without it all getting worse (maybe a lot worse) before it can start to get better.

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