This is the fifth in a series of yearly summaries (along with my reading list, almost the only thing that makes it to this blog these days). Previous installments: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013. This year I used a quantified-self tool to get a stochastic picture of my daily activities, but as an exercise in humility I’m going to write this entry without looking at its data, then write a follow-up after I’ve had a look at what I was really busy with this year. So in terms of unreliable, sucked-from-the-thumb impressions…
2017 brought more stability, as we settled in to Melissochori: Manu started preschool, we “resolved” the internet situation (by getting on the neighbour’s wifi), the folk at the post office and the grocery store know us. We even made hazelnut butter, with hazelnuts from a friend’s tree. Olga has joined the parents’ association for Manu’s preschool, which is getting us even more involved in village life. Anatolia declined to renew her contract (which otherwise would legally have had to give her a permanent position), which removed a great deal of stress and late night lesson preparation.
Highlights for the family were visits from Nannina from New Zealand in May, and our summer holiday (visiting friends on Evvia and free-camping on Skyros). At the end of the summer I happened on a djembe and dundun lesson, playing exactly the same West African repertoire that I remember from my Dunedin days (and, like our Dunedin group, playing for dance lessons and performances as well): I’ll continue those lessons roughly monthly in 2018, and it’s bringing me great joy.
Another highlight is Manu’s growing musical abilities. We bought a keyboard halfway through the year, and (wary of putting him off by pushing him at it too hard) left him to experiment with it by himself. He’s learned several songs by ear, and is discovering things like parallel octaves, (very) simple left-hand accompaniments, and even the major and minor triads. He goes to music lessons in the weekends now, playing glockenspiel, and is still enthusiastic about his piano time, singing, and drumming. Most likely we’ll get him a drumkit this year: when a 4-year-old spends more than six months consistently wanting the same thing, it seems like an indication that the enthusiasm is worth encouraging.
Yannos is shaping up to be a handful. He’s very energetic and active, and really needs a larger yard than we have to burn off energy in. He’s also, though, much sweeter than Manu at the same age: more aware of others’ emotions, and also more cuddly. He shows no musical aptitude whatsoever, but is nonetheless an enthusiastic singer.
As I do every year, I read a lot of books. This year I picked up lots via Kindle sales and Humble bundles; on balance I think this was not a success, as I’m too much of a snob to consistently enjoy the random-ish selections. I averaged about one book a week, with peak reading rates much higher than that. This is definitely too much, and I should try to scale back my reading to make more space for household and family contributions.
This year my Twitter addiction got noticeably worse, especially fueled by Trump and Brexit anxiety. This side of Twitter, of course, hardly makes me happier, but this year I also discovered a number of graphic artists and folk posting photos of insects, which counterbalances Twitter’s emotional contribution somewhat. Like my reading, though, it’s clear that this takes too much of my time. (The association is no coincidence: I read a lot using the iOS Kindle app, and besides my Twitter addiction I have a clear glowing-touchscreen addiction I need to do something about.) This is one area where I expect to be horrified by the quantified-self results, which will give me an estimate of just how many hours a day I spend, on average, this way.
As in 2016 I didn’t discover much new music. Various people we know or follow put out new albums, but apart from those I spent most of the year with the same old lot on repeat. New CDs I’ve enjoyed this year:
- Ο Βασιλιάς των Πουλιών, (O Vasilias ton Poulion, The King of the Birds) a collection of stories (in Greek) told by Anthi Thanou (Ανθή Θάνου) with music by Alexandros Makris (Αλέξανδρος Μακρής). Both Anthi and Alexis are good friends of ours, and the album even features a song Olga wrote, but despite this connection I think I can semi-objectively say that this is a lovely CD for early-school children (Greek-speaking, of course).
- Eight Winds, Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet. We saw them perform pieces from this album early in the year. At its best it’s beautiful; its less-than-best wobbles towards triteness.
- Esperanto, Dimitris Mistakidis. Each piece is recorded with different musicians and singers; the ones I like I like very much, while some others I dislike enough to skip when they play.
- Frog Trouble and Dog Train by Sandra Boynton. I think these are great fun, but somehow Manu and Yannos weren’t grabbed by them. They might just be a bit too young: we’ll try them again in a year or two.
- Modal4, self-titled. Again this is a bunch of people we know, variously as music teachers and as friends, but I think I can see past that to recommend it to folks who listen to both jazz and modal music (Turkish, Arabic, Indian, etc).
- Tatavla by Trio Tatavla. Some years ago Olga followed an accordion seminar given by Dimos Vougioukas, and later that year we travelled to Brussels (to hear some other friends play rebetika) and visited him at his apartment. That day he was hosting Tcha Limburger and Benjamin Clement, and they played a number of songs while we sat spellbound. I thought they were preparing for a concert, and was utterly amazed to hear that this was the first time they had played together. This album (which Olga put under our Christmas tree) grew out of that session, and is a truly wonderful gift to finish the year with.
I played a bunch of computer games this year. I’m still working my way through XCOM 2 (mostly on my Amsterdam visits), and I guess at some point I’ll probably get War of the Chosen and replay it. Late in the year I picked up 80 Days, which was enjoyable enough but I’ve managed to avoid getting hooked on it (I can see how one could replay an incredible number of times, trying to get more juice out of the storylines that didn’t complete, or didn’t complete satisfactorily, in any given play-through). Also a late arrival was Gorogoa which I loved unreservedly.
Media production and creativity
I finished the year on a bit of a downer, but looking back over my twitter feed for the year (yes really) I did manage to create one or two things.
Early in the year I discovered Tracery and Cheap Bots Done Quick, and with their help produced two Twitter bots: Tiny marginalia (a completely trivial, and very small, Tracery grammar), and Tiny knotwork (a relatively trivial Tracery grammar until you reach the terminals, which are an awful mishmash of SVG). Googling Celtic knotwork pattern algorithms lead me to Chaz Boston Baden’s page, where he does it much better, and I started playing with those, with encouraging results. (This happened to land during Train Jam, and I suspect a whole carriage of generative-systems geeks might have passed it around, judging by the surprising number of likes that tweet got.) This got as far as an app I run on my iPhone, but not as far as something I would put into the world. (Like many of my iOS side projects, it’s stuck on my lack of UX chops.)
I fixed the handle on our coffeepot (again, this time somewhat more permanently) which reminded me how much I love working with wood. Also I finished my first wooden head (carved from a piece of firewood, started summer 2016) and started my second (started summer 2017, still not even close to finished). They’re both terribly ugly, but mostly very fun to work on, and they’ve made me pay attention to facial anatomy in a way I never had before.
On the musical side I’ve gotten significantly better on mandolin, which I find somewhat surprising since I have the feeling my practise sessions were few and far between. (Perhaps the quantified self data will surprise me, I don’t know.) I learned one movement of a Bach cello suite on my (almost-)mandocello, but most of my effort went into the standard mandolin. (Incidentally I’m now more-or-less definite that the next instrument I acquire ought to be a mandola. Which means it will be a long time coming, as they are far from cheap.) As well as the Bach (which plays equally sweetly on the mandolin) I’ve learned songs by John Reischman (from a set of excellent transcriptions), David Benedict, and Janos Koolen & Lucas Beukers (the Koolen half of whom gave me some mandolin lessons when I lived in Amsterdam), and various Greek stuff (including, with great enjoyment, a piece from Tatavla just this last week). I’m (ever so slowly) building a repertoire that I can play well, nestled in the circle of pieces I can manage, themselves a subset of the pieces I can fumble through if someone else gives me reminders at crucial moments (where most of my rebetika repertoire lives these days).
And finally, I wrote something for this blog, the first time for about two years that I’ve put something here that wasn’t pure navel-gazing. While extremely satisfying, that little project brings into sharp focus the essential uselessness of this blog. It will stick around for a while yet (if nothing else I find these yearly exercises useful for me) but long-term it should really either metamorphose into something useful or complete the transition into quietude.
What I worried about
- Greek taxes. Always.
- The rise of fascism in the Western world (still) and the shadowy forces promoting and enabling it.
- The household division of labour, which is far and away tilted in my favour.
- My slowly sagging physical and mental health.
What’s coming up?
As the boys get older we’re slowly clawing back some time for ourselves. Hopefully this will be the year we get to play some music together again. I get so much joy from woodworking, I’d like to do more of that (including, at least, finishing last year’s carving). And I’ve got a long-running interest in generative art, which never quite gets off the ground because with each new idea I’m starting from zero in terms of tooling. Comparing that speedbump to the ease with which I can throw together an iOS app (for ideas which live naturally in my pocket), it’s probably worth my investing some time in getting comfortable with some particular toolset, so I can start straight in with an idea, instead of worrying about how to get points and lines displaying and animating.
That’s all somewhat self-indulgent. Two more significant projects for the new year are to start exercising regularly, and to start contributing properly to the running of our household. These are both in the “I know I oughta… maybe tomorrow” bucket, but if there’s anything the promotion of an arbitrary point in our planetary orbit is good for it’s allowing the illusion of instantaneous change: 2018 will be better, because I will make it so.