Thoughts before daylight on Christmas Day

I cannot say not a creature is stirring. A hard-working Hispanic woman is seeing to breakfast, and an aged custodian is taking care of the grounds here at our lodgings in Fort Worth; but neither Dr. Kelley nor the Ladies have roused as yet. After some sodden days, Christmas Day is dawning clear. And I have coffee. I’m feeling a little loggy from the pimiento cheeseburgers at Kincaid’s yesterday, followed by a family graze with some New Zealand sav, so maybe I’ll push some weights this morning to get moving.

There is good news this morning, as long as I stay away from cable news. First, Dr. Kelley is enjoying a swift recovery from her cataract surgery of the past week and reporting a wonderful improvement in her vision. Which was needed, as I played out on the driving from North Dakota to Texas, and she took over.

Second–and when I sensed this, I made thankful note–I’m feeling a recharge taking hold. The latter half of 2023 has been hard, with medical matters in the family, sickness at home (for man and beast alike), loss of some old friends, a demanding work schedule, and rigorous travel all taking toll. Relaxing in the timbered lobby of Lied Lodge the first night of this expedition, however, I opened my Chromebook (because we never really go off duty) and, instead of checking communications, commenced thinking about the way ahead. I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions. I’m talking about assessment and re-assessment, resolve, and forging on in the eighth decade of life, with a loyal and true companion alongside me (and sometimes behind me, pushing).

So there at the lodge I closed down the Willow Creek Folk School for 2023 and immediately re-opened it for 2024, with a calendar full of sessions on Friday nights. I’ve gotten some wisdom and encouragement from my wife and from our old friend Ben Kubichta about this and will attend more thoughtfully to the storytelling aspect of the enterprise. At the same time, the canonization implicit in the venture, the establishment of a field of inquiry, is leaping ahead. During snow days last spring, using research done for the folk school, I touched up three article manuscripts detailing the origins of some classic ballads of the Great Plains and sent them out to scholarly journals for review. The response was swift and positive. Two already are in print, and I read proofs on the third before we left home. In the coming year I intend to submit as many or more manuscripts into what I am now referring to as the Genesis Series. The term has a double meaning–dealing with the specific genesis of regional ballads and balladry, and also with the establishment of a twenty-first-century field of inquiry. Stay tuned, friends.

Then, during slack time here in Fort Worth I opened up the course management system, activated my spring term courses, and, believe it or not, commenced work on syllabi! Now, we all know the old jokes about historians and their yellowed lecture notes and their hidebound ways. I take it as a good sign that, in my seventy-second year of life, and entering my fiftieth year in college teaching, I am implementing structural and substantial reforms in the courses. Some of this is reactive–if you have a pulse, you have to respond to the challenges of generative AI–but more of it is a matter of teaching and learning about teaching and learning. Yes, the neoliberal disturbances in education are destructive, and yes, we have to do a lot more with less resources and less respect, and yes, the chickens in the roost are doing too much clucking and not enough laying, but at this point in my life and career, I know what good teaching is, and I’m going to do it. So there. I actually feel good working on course design. Go figure.

These things are gifts. May this Christmas bring you, if not every thing you want, every thing you need, and situate you for a blessed year in 2024.

From Lied Lodge

Night 1 of the annual Christmas expedition. Our family is strung out from Texas across Oklahoma and into Kansas, my native state. Nobody wants to visit us at Fargo in winter–go figure. So this time of year we drive south to spend Christmas in Texas, then work our way north for New Year’s in Kansas. This involves a deer hunt in Barton County just before heading home. Angie the History Dog and Willa the Book Beagle are with us–they are great travelers, especially Angie. Tonight we’re at Lied Lodge, Nebraska City, our favorite port of call on the Missouri River. We got here later than we hoped, but in time to have a splendid supper in the lounge and to spend some time writing and editing in the lobby before the massive stone fireplace. The Ladies are sleeping in the truck.

We never really leave work behind, but on this expedition, it defers to family and restorative time. Tomorrow we drive on to Fort Worth. I’m doing most of the driving so far, as Dr. K is on the rebound from cataract surgery this week (which seems to have been successful, thanks).

Blessed holidays to all.