I Am Joe’s Blog:

December 31, 2020 • 2:46 PM

The Obligatory End-of-2020 Post

It’s not like me to write multiple blog posts in a single year, but hey, 2020 has been exceptional for all sorts of reasons. Years ago I had a custom of writing wrap-up posts every December 31, and since I’m going to be procrastinating on real work today anyway, this seems as good a time as any to bring back that practice.

First, a quick update, for those who read my post Not Really OK back in July: basically, nothing has changed. I’m no more OK now than I was then. Still ambulatory, still solvent, still pretty uniformly unhappy, and still incredulous at the number of people around me who reject both common sense and basic human decency, no matter how many others have to to suffer as a result.

Daily life continues to be very, very hard. To be fair, it’s certainly not as hard as it is for people who aren’t ambulatory or solvent, and in that respect, I count my blessings. Even so: hard. Owing to my introverted nature, I don’t mind solitude or the lack of in-person socializing. Indeed, what troubles me most is the fact that, conditions being what they are, I can almost never actually get any peace and quiet, any uninterrupted time to think, work, or relax. For example, as I write this, our six-year-old son is shrieking in the other room several times per minute, ignoring all entreaties by other family members to tone it down. This will likely continue until bedtime. That’s just one of many ongoing irritants that collectively make me feel like I’m locked in a cell and forced to listen to Easy Street blaring all day and night, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of said son: From a certain point of view, he’s handling this whole situation better than I thought he would, given his disabilities. Due primarily to my wife’s heroic efforts, he is in fact managing to learn a few significant skills and is making a nonzero amount of academic progress. He still has not-infrequent meltdowns, but it has been many months since he experienced an actual warp core breach, and that’s a tremendous relief. But he has still lost a tremendous amount of ground compared to his erstwhile progress in a real classroom, with in-person teachers and therapists. A few months ago, we thought things were moving in the direction of him being able to go back to school soon-ish. Now, not so much.

The virus situation here in SoCal right now is Not Good, and even when it was better, the powers that be showed no willingness to accommodate kids with special needs like our son. Although I’ve always been terrible at predictions, my educated guess based on available data to date (and the inevitable spikes in the weeks to come, following people’s dumb behavior over the holidays) is that our kids won’t see the inside of a school at all this school year. (I’d put the odds at maybe 25% for our fifth-grader, and 0% for our disabled first-grader.) As a result, I expect at least the first half of 2021 to be exactly as not-OK as the past nine months have been. Constant distractions and stress, far too little sleep and exercise, and continuing to fall behind in my work.

There have been some bright spots. Against all odds, our business somehow managed to bring in slightly more money in 2020 than in 2019. Assuming I manage to make some headway on this long list of new and updated books, bug fixes, and new features, 2021 should be an even better year. The U.S. presidential election seems to be probably maybe sort of resolved? There’s reason for hope, anyway, that some semblance of sanity and normality will return to the government in the near future. And we’re finally making some much-needed home improvements that should alleviate certain ongoing frustrations and anxieties.

We’ve also set the wheels in motion for a major life change for the family that, if everything goes as we hope, will kick in about a year and a half from now (mid-2022). I can’t really say more about that until machinery that is largely out of my control churns through a good portion of a fairly involved process, but by the middle of 2021 or so, I hope to have enough data to say confidently that The Thing Will Definitely Happen, at which point I can explain what the thing is and how it will make our lives so much better.

Meanwhile, there are big, important things I want/hope/expect to accomplish in the coming year. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to avoid using the meaningless verb plan, because boy oh boy did I plan to do some stuff this past year, and those plans counted for absolutely zilch. As I’ve probably remarked here in past years, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions; notably, resolve is more or less synonymous with plan. Nevertheless there are exciting things on my to-do list that strike me as having greater than 50% likelihood of actually occurring in the next 12 months, and if indeed they do, wow, that’ll be great, and those who follow my exploits will find out about them, in the usual places, in due time.

I have sometimes couched such intentions about the future using qualifiers such as “if the gods are smiling on me” (which, historically, they have tended not to do with any regularity). My grandmother had an expression: “Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” which means roughly the same thing. In any case, strength and circumstances permitting, I will finally polish off this long list of projects, metaphorically clear the slate, and do a Big New Thing or two in 2021. Here’s hoping.

I wish you all a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2021. Unless you’re an anti-masker or anti-vaxxer, in which case I simply wish for you to come to your senses.


  1. January 2nd, 2021 | 5:01 pm

    Joe, this may sound strange coming from someone you barely know but, I think about you & your challenged son now & again. I may be blessed not to know anyone going thru times like these in your situation but, you make me aware. And that’s good. I thank providence or whatever that my daughter is grown & married. Every now & then I wonder how I would have handled this. She was/is extremely bright & self-motivated but, I still have to wonder. I do need to understand the challenges of a troubled child & what it takes to get thru a day. Stay strong & healthy & continue to care for your family. There’s a day out there in the not to distant future when some semblance of normal will return. All we can do is wait for it.

  2. January 2nd, 2021 | 5:52 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Andy.

  3. January 9th, 2021 | 1:57 pm

    Joe, You are definitely a unique human being I’m glad I met you.

    I totally agreed with a lot of what you share here. I hope the little angels truly are doing better than you… many times we can’t really tell what’s going on inside their little heads.

    Anyway, YAY that your business did better this crazy 2020!!!

    I keep making plans to celebrate my progress so I can invite you guys and other friends to come to my place, but this situation doesn’t seem to get better :(

    I LOVE YOUR last paragraph, it made laugh so hard the smooth way to speak your mind is brilliant, I hope one day I get to have half of your skills :)

    Hi to Morgen, and the little angels!!! I truly hope to see you guys soon, specially if those plans you have and can’t share include moving away (I’m just saying) if that’s the case!

  4. Joe Kissell
    January 9th, 2021 | 2:27 pm

    Thanks, Ruth! We all miss you too.

  5. January 13th, 2021 | 12:52 am

    Joe Not having met you I’m not sure where to start – but here goes. You have covered so much in your ‘End of Year’ post and Friday 8th report. What to add other than ‘Happy Birthday’ belatedly. Aim for having a ‘happier’ Happy Birthday next year. Over the years I have often held you up as a most interesting person who comes alive off the page. Don’t ever change. Always stay ‘off the fence’ I am a nerd and keep all my photos sorted chronologically. Whenever I feel I am not making progress – or whenever I want to see how much progress I have made – I pick today’s date and then pop-back in time year by year. Then I get to see how much things have changed and often improved. I wish you and your family well and look forward to hearing of the ‘The Thing Will Definitely Happen’ Brian

  6. Judy Bubanovich
    January 16th, 2021 | 11:44 am

    Your postings touched me. You clearly expressed yourself. Today it is so valuable that we each try to show where we are, how our circumstances are affecting us, and then to interact with others. Things are not fine. It needs to be said.

    First, a belated birthday from someone who only knows you through your work which my husband has shared with me. Your birthday has fallen into the season where our normal traditions and expectations of life are on pause. The world around us seems so angry. At its core, a birthday is a time to recognize a passage of time in your life journey. Find hope and peace in the quiet of life away from the media. Focus on little things around you. We are exposed to so much negative change right now, but there will be positive change in your life this year. When? Where? Watch for it and hold it dear. We don’t have to know others to care and offer broad community support.

  7. Ellen
    May 20th, 2021 | 1:43 pm

    Dear Joe, I was going to write a very long reply – and did, then deleted it – but in a nutshell, you struck a chord, across the ocean. We know your voice well thanks to ITOTD, and my hope is that, should you ever find a day where you just want to scream, the idea of a group of English teachers in Belgium dancing to your jingle in the back of the room once a week, or telling their students year after year, “Well, if you’d only listen to ITOTD more often …” would be enough to bring a smile to your face, just enough to make it to tomorrow. We used your podcasts for so many years, and so many students, and it was in looking them up tonight for a student in need that I stumbled on this post.

    As a mom with 3 small children, working from home since March 2020, I can empathize, and I can imagine only briefly, only vaguely, what it would take to endure the pandemic in your shoes. Nobody was clapping for the parents and carers of disabled children last year – but they should have been, because at least the first responders usually got to go home at the end of their shift.

    May The Big Thing Happen as you hoped, and may the Deranged Cheeto* be relegated to a dark, dark hole of his own making. I had to laugh (morbidly) when you wrote “There’s reason for hope, anyway, that some semblance of sanity and normality will return to the government in the near future.” Perhaps, today, in the spring of 2021, Things are Finally Looking Up. So, next time you see a Belgian beer – or a Liege waffle from Trader Joe’s – remember that strangers across the seas are rooting for you, Morgen and the boys to find a path where you can breathe a little easier. (*My aunt coined that; I can’t take credit.)

  8. May 21st, 2021 | 12:02 pm

    @Ellen Thanks very much for saying all that! I do miss the old days of the podcast and the jingle. I wish I still had time to keep doing those, or even writing ITotD articles. I’m glad to know they provided so much benefit to you, your students, and other English teachers in Belgium! I had no idea!

    Life here continues to be crazy; in fact, a New Crazy Thing has just popped up in the last few days that is going to introduce still more chaos beyond what we were already expecting. However, I do think the overall trend for the coming months will be toward greater sanity. And the Big Thing is still very likely to occur in roughly a year, if all goes well.

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