On balance, 2018 has been a crap year for the Hanwell clan (British slang for those interested). For me it was bad on a personal and professional level, although on both levels there were some highs and lows. It ended on a real low in both respects too, and like an iceberg most people only see the tip. It reminds me of the proverb “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, nothing in isolation was huge but the combination adds up to what feels like an absolutely awful year (a few were pretty big too). Very much looking forward to it being over, and trying to start afresh with renewed hope next year! Not quite broken, but definitely worse for wear.
I am not even going to try to order events, or be overly descriptive, and I am leaving a bunch out so as to (at least hopefully) avoid upsetting anyone, over share on the details, or protect the privacy of others. This isn’t meant to be a pity fest, we got through it, and I have hard worse years in my life but this one is probably the worst of the eleven we have lived in the US. People love sharing all the best bits, but I will give you a glimpse into some of the less great bits of my life in the hopes that next year we can contrast it with a much better year! Always aware it could also be so much worse, and I can remember some far worse years.
I was trying to eat healthily and felt that unmistakable feeling of a piece of my tooth breaking away a day before leaving for a week-long business trip to the other side of the continent. I got to spend a week eating on the other side of my mouth, come back to have a temporary crown, which fell off the evening of the day it was installed, and then felt so much pain the next day as it was reattached. After weeks the permanent crown was ready, my first ever dental crown. I went in for my normal check up a week later, the X-ray revealed a gap, and some pretty bad cold sensitivity the following day. Went back in, had my first crown removed, and then another temporary before getting my second crown (same tooth). Did I mention I really don’t like dental work at the best of times?!?
We went on holiday to Aruba, having looked forward to a proper beach holiday on an island for years. It was set to be the perfect Father’s day, but in the middle of the night my wife awoke to someone sneaking in our room. They ran off, managing to steal all of our cash, credit cards, IDs, one of our phones, my glasses, headphones, and some other bits. The crappy hotel left us in the room until I went to the front desk the next morning, didn’t sleep a wink, went out searching, managed to find my glasses, not much else. Got home in the end, but suffice to say that Father’s day was more trying to salvage a little fun while figuring out how we can get home without any money, credit cards, and only our passports (thankfully they didn’t get them).
One day I was at work as my wife was out and about running errands in our car. She called me, sounding upset. The hand brake had slipped off in the car, and it had crashed through our garage door destroying it. Spent some time trying to figure out how we might get it fixed, drove to the local Lowe’s in the pouring rain to buy some wooden boards when it became clear replacement doors would take months to order and install. An unexpected repair, and random accident that put a real dampener on my daughter’s birthday (this happened that very same day).
My company was moving offices after a number of massive delays, we actually delayed getting our car inspected to ensure we had the car the day I could move equipment to the new building on the Monday. Saturday my wife called while out shopping, the clutch had gone, and she needed to get it towed to the local garage. The garage proceeded to not even look at it on the Monday, but eventually on Tuesday told us a number of things in addition to the clutch needed to be fixed. It didn’t look viable to fix the nine year old car with over 120,000 miles on the clock, and it was so cold/icy I couldn’t use my motorbike to get around.
On the professional side I will stay nice and vague, but there are many and varied frustrations/setbacks including a proposal not even being reviewed due to administrative issues, another missing mainly due to other minor mistakes, delays in contracting, the building move resulting in a smaller, noisier, darker office despite leaving a couple of sweet offices vacant for future hires at a higher level than me, various administrivia, and more I will not go into as it isn’t mine to share.
Then there are the general issues of life, like people in the neighborhood telling us our kids can’t enter their pagoda without being escorted by someone on their little estate. The insular, protectionist nature of some of the American suburban towns. People forgetting I am an immigrant, and telling me how awful immigrants are. The current administration has emboldened so many people who so often claim to be religious to really express their intolerance of all that is different.
An acquaintance told me I had to move here as my country of origin (the UK) had no opportunities, at first I clarified he in fact knew where I came from, and was stupified by how idiotic and xenophobic some people can be even when they fully acknowledge they have never been to my country and know nothing about it… Needless to say I go to great lengths to avoid further interactions with that level of stupid! It also made me take a long hard look at just how tolerant I should be of intolerance, especially in my own time when I am supposed to be relaxing.
Personal and professional aspects of life certainly weren’t all bad. We naturalized as US citizens, which felt very bittersweet due to the current administration here, but it was a huge milestone for us. We were able to vote for the first time since moving here, and felt more permanent without the need to report our address, etc to the government anymore. I won a big SBIR grant I had been chasing for years to work on some really exciting software with collaborators I love working with, and won a few other long shots including direct funding with with two agencies with my collaborators. We also got some direct projects resulting from the hard work I put into other projects, and I got some recognition for the work I put in at my company.
Through all the tough times we also saw how great our friends are. As a Yorkshire man it is hard to ask for help, but when we asked our friends and adopted family over here were amazing and we were so grateful to all of them. They got us out of some tight corners, and offered far more than I would have ever asked. Work colleagues and collaborators have been the same too, really doing more than I could expect or ask. We also had family visit, went on some great family trips, and I enjoyed some good business trips around the country.
My wife and I can’t wait for this year to be over quite frankly. Reading through all I wrote, and realizing there is so much I am leaving out in addition to what is written above a depressing. We got through it though, still have our health, a much smaller financial buffer, and our friends and family. I think next year is going to be a great year personally and professionally. I am determined to be bolder, and more willing to take bigger risks to get what I want. At the end of the day we make our own opportunities, and then roll the dice hoping our luck is in.
This year was not our year, but it was not my worst year. In many ways I have already achieved more than I ever dreamed I could, but have also grown my ambitions along the way. Looking back over the last twenty years we have been so lucky by the many opportunities, friends, family, and acquaintances but have also been subject to so many horrible events as many people are. You try to get through it, help out those you can, and hope for some help in return when you need it. None of us our perfect, and few of us have perfect lives without issues, bumps, and curves.
Keep your fingers crossed for an awesome 2019, if things seem bleak hang on in there. Hopefully this glimpse at my bad year offers others some perspective, real connections are real nice, a lot of the online stuff less so. If you catch someone in an awful mood, as people may have caught me, always remember there is a whole tonne of stuff you likely know nothing about, and try to cut them a break! I will be coming out in 2019 full of hope, even if 2018 takes a few more swipes at me before it is out!