As this is serving in place of an annual Christmas letter, I will try to make this some sort of 1999 wrap-up/highlight film here. In order to not unduly stretch my creative powers, I'll at least start with the headings that Zoe has in her section, and see where things go from there.
What do I do?
I'm blessed to not have this be a problem for me. In fact, I can't remember the last time I didn't have something (or, in fact, multiple things) to do . Of course, this does not mean that I am always doing them, but I'm never wanting for something to do should I choose to be responsible and find them. Nonetheless, looking back on the year the list of things I've actually done seems quite short.
But, first on the list (both because it happened early in the year and because it was very exiciting for me) is something that I did while I should have been doing other things: I learned how to juggle. This had always been an activity that completely mystified me, but Zoe's brother Alan bought some juggling balls (admittedly, they were for Soren), and upon seeing them, the secret was somehow revealed to me. Now, I haven't worked up to any great level of difficulty or anything, but if you give me three relatively compact, small, and non-sharp objects, I can keep them in the air for a fair while.
Everything else pales in comparison to that, but other (more or less) notable firsts for this year include:
--Going to Maine for the first time (on a trip to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary)
--Co-authoring my first web page (with Zoe, for our ward. Low tech, but fairly decent looking).
--Joining a fantasy basketball league for the first time (I am not exactly proud of this, but for a statistics geek like me, it's pretty entertaining).
--Practiced the harmonica once or twice (I' m determined to learn how to play a musical instrument at some point in time. And what better than the harmonica? Apart from its shiny-silver elegance, its compact size means you can have your music with you wherever you go--a distinct advantage over more unwieldy instruments like the bassoon or harpsichord.)
But, mostly I do other stuff, like attend school,
read for school, write papers for school, play with Soren, hang out with
Zoe, go to Church, and make some attempt to overcome my natural tendencies
and be social. But, I will talk more about those in the following sections.
"Student"is what I still get to put into any forms that ask for my occupation. While I watch my friends do things like buy houses, have weekends, and become managers of entire cities, I--just like when I was five years old--go to school. If it weren't for the fact that I generally enjoy my studies, I would be more depressesd about not having progressed materially in the past 23 years. If I had to take classes in penmanship, spelling, and trigonometry, then I'd undoubtedly be much less happy (which isn't to say that studying those subjects wouldn't be of great benefit to me).
Anyway, since many people (including my parents, siblings, and grandparents) have at various points in time been unsure what I'm studying, I'll try to give a brief description here. My bachelors degree was in economics, which , understandably, has led some people to think that I am studying business. However, my interests lie more in things like the study of poverty, inequality, ethnicity, education, etc., so in 1997 I started a masters degree in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Economics also happens to be important in this field, since it is a primary tool of policy analysis. So, for the past two years I've been studying and doing research on things like long-term unemployment, racial attitudes, determinants of college attendance, and (the topic of my masters thesis) education finance. I basically finished up my coursework last spring, although I have one incomplete to remedy before I can graduate. Hopefully I'll have finished up the work for that in the next few days. In the meantime, I began a PhD in sociology and social policy this Fall (also at Harvard) , so I will be in school for another handfull of years.
I'm currently doing some research on issues such as family formation and differences in educational attainment between males and females across ethnic groups. In addition, I'm also doing some other research for a professor, Christopher Jencks, on cross-national relationships between economic inequality and health.
And, as I'm starting to move into more independent
research, and less coursework, I'm enjoying school more. Another plus in
this field, as opposed to particle physics or chinese literature or something,
is that you can have a discussion with almost anyone about it. Of course,
this can also be the negative since some people might say, "Why are you
studying that, I already know the answers to these questions?"
An area where I know I don't know the answers. Soren is a complex fellow, a mystery within a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, one might say. A beautiful, charming, delightful puzzle, but a puzzle nonetheless. Well, much of the behavior is predictable, like, for example, every morning about six o'clock he's going to come to my bedside and say, "Paka, I want cereal." Unless, by some strange chance, I happen to be up before him, in which case he'll come wandering to wherever I am and say, "Paka, I want some cereal." But the reasons behind the behavior, like why he'll refuse to do something that he really does want to do, until it's just barely too late to do it, continue to be mysterious. Let me know if you have any insights into the psychology involved here.
I have now determined that three year-olds (and, from the way things have looked, four year-olds as well) set rules for playing that are far too restrictive. Well, maybe not too restrictive for them, since they can change them at will, but far too restrictive for the adults who are playing with them. In any event, I have learned that I am maybe not so good about playing with three year-olds, at least if it's make-believe type playing, not something more physically active. I'd much prefer reading to Soren, than play with the Brio trains (at least as long as he'll let me use whatever silly voices I choose, which he sometimes objects to also, as does Zoe). But, he still likes to have us play with him a lot, which I am grateful for.
As mentioned previously, Zoe and I fortunately
do generally get to hang out together a fair bit. I don't know if it's
old age, but we seem to spend a lot of time rubbing each other: legs after
running, necks and heads after looking at the computer screen too long,
feet after walking, and sinuses during colds. But, having someone to help
you take care of your creaky, worn-out body is one of the definite advantages
of cohabitation over living alone. One of the many, as I continue to learn
from Zoe about being conscientious of others, always having your mind productively
engaged, the value of introspection, etc. Of course, there are also the
difficult misunderstandings and miscommunications that come along with
two people living together who have very different ways of expressing themselves,
and, in turn, different interpretations of what those expressions mean.
But, this is also a beneficial, if exerting, process.
Zoe and I spent much of the year as members of and later co-chairs of the Community Relations Committee in our ward. This was a calling specifically geared toward preparations for the soon-to-be completed temple here in the Boston area (only about a five or ten minute drive away from us, actually). The aforementioned web page was constructed as part of that calling.
We're getting used to a much smaller ward
since it split in October. It had been a huge congregation previously,
which makes cohesion somewhat difficult since the ward is primarily composed
of students, who are, of course a very transient bunch. When one-third
of the ward population turns over every year, its tough to keep track of
a large number of folks. Of course, the larger fraction of the people that
we were close to ended up in the other ward, but we (and particularly I)
are trying to be more social with the members of the new unit.
And that leads into this next part. I historically
have so little to write here that I don't know why I actually have this
section. Between school, family, and my naturally in-going (as opposed
to "outgoing") nature, my cultivation of friendships and other social acquaintances
has been pretty deficient. But, I have had the pleasure of meeting some
excellent people through school and church this past year, for which I
am grateful. And it's also been fun, on the occasion of my tenth high school
reunion, to have gotten in touch with a few old high school classmates
who I greatly admire and had not talked to in many years. We've also had
some visits from friends and family members, like Zoe's father Glen and
my sister and brother-in-law, Shannon and Marc Turner. And, of course,
Zoe's brother Alan was here with us for about seven months before leaving
for a mission in California. We did actually manage to make a couple of
trips out of New England to see family this year, Zoe and Soren to Utah
in April, and myself to Maryland in May. And, I have made some attempt,
however inconsistent, to keep in touch with various other friends and family
members, and have and continue to appreciate hearing from many of you.
Thank you for everything. Best wishes for the coming year, and God bless.