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Greetings, good friends and family members!

I hope your Decembers are going well and you have many good things to look forward to in 2023. 😊

This year I have decided to embrace my inner Boomer and write an annual / round-robin letter, after a friend shared their father’s in the pub one evening during our last Christmas spell. In typical John style, I have embraced my virtues of laziness and forgetfulness, and am only just writing this on Christmas Day, as the onions for our gravy are reducing on the stove.

2022 has been a rather good year for me. The first adjectives which come to mind include ‘successful’, ‘productive’, and ‘busy’. Life under capitalism changes our culture to emphasise the importance of work and of our roles as material producers, and so it is somewhat expected that the first thing I should talk about is my job. I’ve executed a quite reasonable career shift over the last 12 to 15 months. In October 2021 I started a PhD in public health and ob*sity1 prevention, which I carried out part-time while I moved to a part-time Technical Project Management role at the company I was working for. In January this year I applied for an Analyst job in the Ministry of Justice, and have now achieved one of my lifelong aspirations of becoming a Civil Servant. My transition to the new job was aided by being very abruptly laid off by my former employer, which led to me writing a rather long and somewhat scathing open letter (about-wednesday). I’m now over a year into my PhD and have nicely hit the first milestone of throwing away my initial approach and redesigning my project. Towards the start of my PhD journey, my friend Olu pointed me towards fat liberation perspectives, and so now I am trying to create space in my project for exploring issues beyond health, and to share control of and power over the project with people with lived experience. Somewhat ironically, I find myself slipping back into a project management role, as I now have to assemble a research team, secure funding, and support other people to carry out their roles as researchers. Nonetheless, I am very excited to continue with my research in 2023.

It feels like work has consumed a lot of my life over the past couple of months, and I feel like I’ve slipped into a routine and mundane existence in my non-work time. Earlier in the year I did get back into reading fiction again, rekindling my love of sci-fi and cyberpunk in particular. Octavia Butler’s anthology Bloodchild contained some chilling and visceral short stories, and I was struck by how vivid and realistic her characters are. Parable of the Sower spoke to me on a deep level, with its themes of ecological collapse and my desire to connect to some kind of ‘secular spirituality’. Bloodchild got me more interested in short stories, and the other stand-out book for me this year was Ken Liu’s Invisible Planets, a collection of 13 sci-fi shorts from a selection of Chinese authors, all translated by Liu. Every story in that anthology is superb and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fiction, and sci-fi in particular. On the other hand, when I started reading Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, I found his verse so insipid and cloying that I had to put it down and I hadn’t picked up another book until yesterday, now being finished with work and suddenly having more time than I know what to do with!

One of my resolves for 2023 is to spend more time talking with my friends and family. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget to nurture relationships with people who are not physically present on a regular basis. I was recalling to some of my high school friends just the other day, how I miss those years, because we would see each other every day. Now, I am lucky to have relationships with people sown throughout Lancashire (which includes Manchester!), London, and Scotland, and reaching as far as California, but those long-distance relationships need intentional care and effort to maintain, nurture, and grow. I was fortunate to see many of my good friends this year in London, when I visited during the July heatwave. It was immensely beautiful to spend time again with Joe, Kati, Suzanne, Stuart, Elliot, Sam, Olu, Jordan, Carnun, Alex, Anthony, Elle, and to meet important people in their lives. Perhaps I should spend more time travelling and visiting people in 2023, in addition to calling and writing more often.

During that visit, I also enjoyed the scorching weather, unlike anything I have experienced before in the UK. It’s been several years since I’ve needed to wear sunscreen, and I was glad to find it less greasy and horrible than I remember: I never enjoyed having to wear it when I was younger. By contrast, the December cold snap was horrible and impacted my mental health more than I could have anticipated. The ice and cold made me extremely irritable, and I’m grateful that, at least in the UK, we are back to our usual overcast and rainy climate.

As I write this, I’m starting to feel quite self-centered, talking about my own life so much, so I will give you a little update on my partner. Alwyn is continuing with his Readerly and Vergerly duties at Church, and delivered the Christmas sermon this year. In September 2021, St. Ambrose got a new vicar, Fr. Paul, who we both get along with smashingly, and Alwyn enjoys working with him. We are still waiting for the Director of Ordinands to get in touch so that Alwyn can begin his training to become a priest. Unfortunately the gears of the Church turn very slowly, but Alwyn is being very patient. This year his collecting habits have continued to slip towards the musical, and we now share the house with several ukuleles and nearly two dozen recorders! We are continuing with our long walks at the weekends, weather permitting, and recently we discovered a new route into Chorley, along the canal.

There are plenty more things I could talk about, but I am at risk of rambling and so I will draw this letter to a close. I would like to apologise to everyone for not being as in touch as I could have been this year, and I promise to talk more next year. I hope you all have a pleasant and rejuvenating Christmas break, and have a good start to 2023. Please do write back with some of your own news from this year!

Much love,
John (they/them)

  1. Fat activists reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a neutral descriptor, in the same way the LGBTQ+ community has re-appropriated ‘queer’. By contrast, they criticise the term ‘obesity’ because it pathologises the fat body and its etymological roots imply that fat people overeat and lack self control. It’s common in fat activist literature to see the word surrounded in ‘scare quotes’ or partially asterisked as I have done so here. For a great introduction to alternative perspectives on fat, I’d recommend the fantastic article by Michael Hobbes in The Huffington Post which Olu shared with me last year: https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong/