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2023 Holiday Letter

Amy and I have been historically unsuccessful at sending holiday letters, but circumstances have conspired on our behalf this year. Last weekend, we went to a family party that served as a super-spreader event, and I (Ethan) am now quarantined with COVID. Amy somehow has remained COVID free, and we’re spending a very quiet Christmas in isolation. We’ve rescheduled the holiday for December 30th, and will be celebrating with a (much smaller) group of family, before small New Years Eve and New Years parties. It’s a drag to be alone for the holidays – we miss Drew very much – but we are each other’s favorite company, and that’s significant consolation.

Drew, Amy and Xander on the banks of the Green River in Williamstown, MA

We remain in beautiful Lanesboro, MA, roughly an hour’s drive from my parents and my sister in Northampton, MA, and about twenty minutes from Williamstown, where Drew lives during the work week with his mom, Rachel. Our enjoyment of the local environment has been much enhanced by Xander, our rescue greyhound, who’s been with us a year this week. Xander was a racing greyhound in Ireland – as “Corriga Turbo” – and now is enjoying his retirement. He’s rarely excited about running these days, but loves long walks, either in our neighborhood or in downtown Pittsfield, where he has numerous admirers.

Drew turned fourteen this November and is an 8th grader at Mount Greylock in Williamstown. He’s an enthusiastic and talented musician, playing double bass in the orchestra (he made his debut appearance in the district orchestra last year) and piano at his two homes. He continues to be interested in engineering and has been doing calculations to build a “slapophone”, a xylophone made of PVC pipe, in our wood shop this winter. He spent part of the summer at computer camp at UMass Amherst, his first sleepaway camp experience, learning to program 3D printers, and improving his Python skills.

Amy working on Martha

Amy made a career change this past summer. She stopped accepting new clients to her counseling practice and turned her attention to something more concrete: weaving. This fall and winter has seen our house transformed into a weaving shed – as I write, she is winding a warp onto her warping board for her main loom – “Martha” – a 50-inch wide countermarche loom that now dominates our bedroom. Weaving plays to several of Amy’s strengths – she’s inventive and practical, which helps in an art where you need to design and build dozens of tools to simplify the tasks of lining up hundreds of threads in the correct order. She’s also absurdly patient – I’ve watched her spend hours focused on complex, precise tasks that would have caused me to give up in the first few minutes. She’s started to produce beautiful towels and scarfs, and rumors of a shawl have been the subject of conversation between me, the dog and the cat.

It’s my third full year of teaching at UMass Amherst this year – I’ll teach my “Fixing Social Media” graduate course for the fourth time this spring, and I just completed the second year of my undergrad class, “Defending Democracy in a Digital Age”. UMass has begun to feel like home in a way that MIT never did – it may have to do with the western MA versus big city thing, or the particular characteristics of each university. It’s been a great place for me to get new work done, and even as I am losing faith that social media could be a force for a healthy society, I’m very proud of the work my team and I have been creating. MIT Press has bought a book – A Field Guide to Social Media – which is an update of an open source book Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci and I published online, and we plan to turn in the manuscript this summer. I’m starting to work on some new projects, one internet-centered, and one decidedly not: I’m hoping to spend significant time this summer researching post-industrial American cities and their potential for resilience to climate change. I’m also shopping for a campus to visit during an upcoming sabbatical year, possibly in 2026-7.

Amy, Drew and I celebrate our successful escape from a St. John’s, Newfoundland escape room. It did not involve kissing a cod, though we all did that later that day.

In January, Amy and I will head to Mexico City for a bit more than a week, for a delayed honeymoon. We decided years ago that we are not beach people, but instead enjoy museums, walking around unfamiliar neighborhoods and great food – Mexico City seems perfect on all these fronts. Xander will stay with friends who have three retired greyhounds, a house Xander considers to be his very favorite social club. This summer, we visited Newfoundland with Don and Donna, seeing the neighborhood where Donna’s mother, Winnie, grew up – for an unrooted American like myself, it was a wonderful experience to connect with part of my heritage, and great trip with our parents. I had brief trips to Rio for a conference in November, and a quick wander in Germany for a pair of talks in May, but it’s been a remarkably home-based year for me, given my normal traveling pace.

Drew has grown out of his childhood bedroom and is moving into my old office on the third floor, so we will shortly have a proper guest room. If you are comfortable with large dogs, large looms and board games, this would be the perfect time to come and visit us, shortly after we are not infectious.

Hope 2024 is a happy, healthy and rewarding one. Love from all of us.

My niece and nephew Aya and Evan relax with Xander after Thanksgiving dinner