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maura @ 4:09 pm
Until recently I’ve been lucky enough to not have folks close to me die. Really it had been a big long stretch since my last remaining grandparent passed away in the mid-90s. Since that stretch has broken I am dealing. Things feel different at different ages, of course, and as I get older feelings sometimes seem bigger. But I’m also now navigating all of these feelings post-internet which is its own weird thing (one that I’m sure many academic papers have been and are being written about).
What do you do with the texts of the deceased? Their twitter feed? Photos on your phone? I look at my phone and realize that it’s become this strange device that holds memories, in addition to all of its other uses. Which of course it always was, at least the smart ones, but memories that include people who are now gone are very different memories than those with folks who’re still around.
I sometimes scroll through those texts, the twitter feed, or do a bit of internet searching too. Obituaries are also online, though the extra layer of mediation of the open internet (as opposed to texts and photos on just my phone) can sometimes add a welcome distance. And there are other unanticipated interactions. Friends of those folks, now also followed by me on twitter. They pop up in my feed and I am reminded, no searching required. I don’t want to unfollow those folks in much the same way that I don’t want to delete the texts, it seems like cutting a cord I’m not ready to cut yet (ever?). But it’s surprising nonetheless.
maura @ 9:44 pm
It’s snowing again (well, it was earlier) and I kept wanting to tweet that I am always here for the snow. Always all in. #teamsnowforever #sorryhaters. But we have pals who live in Boston and I can believe that things are awful there, that there’s such a thing as too much snow for an urban infrastructure to deal with, and that the cold and the wind have made things just awful. So I refrained.
I tried to make myself take my skis over to the park, but I was coming off a coffee nap and by the time there was enough new snow that it seemed like there might be enough to cover the old icy stuff that I’m sure is blanketing the long meadow, it was already after 4 and both the light and my resolve was fading. It sometimes seems so far away, even though it’s only a couple of blocks, there’s also the having to pull on fleece-lined tights and longjohns and windpants and sock liners and socks and a turtleneck and a sweater and my parka and hat and mittens, then get my skis and boots out of the closet, then put on my boots which have laces and a zipper and velcro. Then over to the park, where maybe it turns out that the new snow isn’t actually deep enough for skiing, and I’d have to come all the way home.
I love winter, but you can see why the inertia got the best of me.
maura @ 10:32 pm
Today is Lincoln’s Birthday, which longtime readers know is the one day each year when my work is closed but the K-12 schools are open. I call it the One True Day Off. As Gus gets older it’s maybe less of a big deal, but maybe still a big deal in some ways too. Because even though I do get 2 days off each time the weekend rolls around, more often than not those days seem filled with errands, housecleaning, laundry, the stuff there’s no time for during the week. Each year when Lincoln’s Birthday rolls around I argue with myself about what I’m going to do — the pull to do something practical and useful is always strong. Sometimes the practical wins: last year I went shopping for work clothes which was super necessary. But this year I gave myself a break and went with nearly 100% leisure.
And I’m happy to report that it’s been a good day! I started with coffee and the newspaper, reading the entire paper rather than just the first section which I usually do on mornings during the week (and save the other sections for evenings). Then I got a second (!) cup of coffee and finished the last level on the second part of Monument Valley, a beautiful and fun puzzle game on my phone. I answered a few emails from friends and took a quick glance at my RSS feeds, too.
Then Jonathan and I headed out to the Brooklyn Museum. Even though it’s super close we don’t go often because the spawn is not a fan of Art, and when we do go it seems like we only have a chance to see the special exhibits. Because I’m a nerd I love the American collections of furniture and housewares, plus the two partial reconstructions of historic houses, so we spent most of our time on the 4th and 5th floors today. There were some other cool exhibits in the Sackler Center and some neat modern stuff too. Special shout out to the Luce Visible Storage Center, such a great idea that brings much more of the collection into view.
We had lunch at Kimchi Taco, which we order from semi-regularly but have never been to IRL. I had a tofu edamame falafel bowl with kimchi refried beans and kimchi fried rice, and we split kimchi rice balls which are amazing and, as you might expect, much better in the restaurant than via takeout, all warm and cheesy. Gus used to eat some stuff there, the unsauced chicken wings and chicken taco, but lately he won’t so we don’t order it as much as I’d like. I could eat kimchi every day, for serious.
A leisure day’s not complete without legos, so when we got home I put together my lego research scientists. The heads have two faces! That’s new. One side is a sort of calm face and the other is kind of yelling or skeptical or nervous, depending on how you want to interpret it (and each of the 3 minifigs has a different expression). I feel like I should bring them to work but I can’t quite part with them at home yet, so they’re on the shelf for now.
Then a coffee nap! Because a day off’s not a day off without a nap! Then a brisk walk to meet Gus after school. Then dinner.
Then, OMG, Lynda Barry and Matt Groening at BAM! Sitting right there on the stage talking about drawing and writing and teaching and kids and families and friendship and man they are just awesome. They told stories and showed slides and read/acted out a few comics. One of these days I have to figure out a way to get to the University of Wisconsin to take one of the classes that Lynda Barry is teaching. Because I am pretty awful at drawing and handwriting but I totally believe her that it’s good for you even if (when! because?) it’s scary.
It was a good day.
maura @ 7:03 pm
One thing that’s happened in the past just under a year is that with increased stress comes increased reliance on old music rather than new. I’ve been practically unable to listen to any of the music I’ve gotten for my birthday last year or xmas, with the exception of a few gifts that were of music that I’d once owned but no longer do. Usually those are casualties of the cassette tape and the thriftiness of college. We no longer really have an easy way to play cassettes outside of our 18 yr old car, which does have a tape deck, and an old boombox with a cassette and CD player that we used to play the white noise CDs when Gus was a baby. The CD part is broken but I think the tape part still works (though come to think of it I’m no longer quite sure where it is). And the thing about college and my 20s is that between doing a radio show and having roommates I ended up taping lots of music rather than buying the LP or CD. Now that I’m an old lady I wish I could go back and trade in some of the LPs and CDs I did buy for those I just taped, because only some of that music has had staying power with me.
Familiar music has been like a security blanket to me this past year. I guess it always is. Maybe this is just a normal aging thing, but what’s been new is the narrowing down of what I’ve been listening to. Really it’s maybe only a handful of bands:
– For writing/research: It’s still Orbital. Still. As always it’s got the perfect tempo to keep me moving along when I write, and because their music is mostly instrumental there are no words (usually) to distract me. Really it’s practically Pavlovian, like using Word and Times New Roman (which for me = academic writing).
– For working at work when I’m in my office — email, planning, scheduling meetings, the usual: Pipas. Sometimes Amor de Dias, but if I’m feeling blue they can often make me bluer so it depends. I have all of the Pipas records and I make Itunes play them all through alphabetically by album which means it starts with Mental and ends with Sorry Love. And if I’ve still got work to do I start it all over again.
– For doing dishes on some weeknights: Mostly 50 Foot Wave but sometimes Throwing Muses. The former is louder and sometimes seems more productive — the latter, again, can sometimes bring me down. But loud drums + Kristin Hersh singing is often just what I need at the end of the day.
– For doing dishes on other nights, plus anytime I’m feeling particularly stressed: Cocteau Twins, so much Cocteau Twins. For calming it’s usually the Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay EPs; for familiar though not supercalming I’ll do Treasure (still my favorite Cocteau Twins record even after all these years) or Head Over Heels. Plus I’ve had this thing about the song Summerhead from Four Calendar Cafe, sometimes having to listen to that on repeat.
I did have a Janelle Monae and Colourbox interlude in the mid-Fall, but since the holidays it’s been right back to these 4-6 bands. I’m wondering when I’ll pull out of the restricted music phase, no sign of it yet.
maura @ 9:15 pm
It’s not so much that I’ve been writers blocked, exactly. More like an inspiration desert, of sorts — lots of thoughts, but trying to get words onto paper has been difficult. It’s been a very full semester, a full year, really, full of big things both good and bad. And I’m perhaps a bit more tired now at the end of this semester than in years past.
CUNY’s fall semester goes late so I’ve still got 2 more days of work left before break, as does Gus with school. Then it’s 9 days off in a row, which sounds decadent. I have 6 books to read and 2 videogames to play and 2 tv shows to catch up on, woo! And there’s an article idea that’s been kicking around my brain for a while now that I might try to start to draft, too.
Perhaps extra sleep will help me come out on the other end of the inspiration desert. But in the meantime, here are some random recent photos from my phone.
Graffiti from the staircase at work, in one of the classroom buildings. Why indeed?
Graffiti from East Williamsburg across the street from the new gym where Gus does parkour. It’s right near the beginning of the Newtown Creek and is pretty industrial, lots of low warehousy buildings. There must be some kind of understanding with street artists and the building owners because the graffiti is AMAZING, seriously complex and gorgeous. The first time I drove Gus over there I almost crashed the car from all of my neck craning, and I see something new every weekend it seems.
The Lego research scientists set was back in stock for like 1 day, and I got one! Kind of amazing, actually — I just happened to be on twitter in the 10 minutes I had between meetings at exactly the right time, and ordered one up right then and there. Funny, too, as I haven’t been on twitter much lately, just unable to keep up even using my old strategy of scrolling through quickly as I walk between meetings. So many meetings, the mind boggles.
Anyway, not that I need any more stuff in my life, what grown lady does? But women in science toys FTW! And I can always bring it to work to decorate my office, right?
EDITED TO ADD: What slays me is the support strut under the dinosaur skeleton. I mean, that’s not necessary to make the legos structurally sound, but it is totally necessary for a real life dino skeleton in a museum. Swoon.
maura @ 5:17 pm
It’s the last day of November, and I can definitively say that I am ready to put this month behind me. It’s been a hard past few weeks.
A close, longtime friend of ours died suddenly at the beginning of the month. She was our age which, I’d hasten to add, is much too fucking young to die.
We all first met in our first round of grad school, just over 25 (!) years ago. She was fun and smart and kind and funny. We lived through some of those early tough times in archaeology grad school together, then she switched to new media. During my break from grad school when I worked in new media too, a bunch of us went to a web conference in New Orleans (paid by our jobs!) which was delightful. We watched Buffy together and played Magic together and ate Japanese food together and she always talked to Gus like a person and he liked talking to her about the videogames she was playing (which were often the same ones we were playing). She came to Thanksgiving dinner at my family’s once in the ’90s which was a literal trip, and since we were here for Thanksgiving this year we’d planned to ask her if she wanted to come over for a casual Thanksgiving, NBD, Jonathan’s making 3 desserts and spatchcocking the turkey, want to stop by?
And now she is gone and it’s hard. Hard to drive by the Japanese restaurant where we took her for a belated birthday dinner in September, which was delicious, chicken hearts on a skewer and all. Hard to see a preview for the recent dumb Godzilla remake at the beginning of some other movie we Netflixed that I can’t remember right now, because it reminded me about the fun we had on that hot hot day 2 summers ago when we got Japanese dinner and saw Pacific Rim at the IMAX on the Upper West Side which was awesome. Harder still to see ads for Mockingjay, because we’d seen the last 2 Hunger Games movies with her at the Ziegfeld because the screen is hyoooooooge and now we can’t see this one with her because she’s gone.
She’d lived in NYC for as long as we’d known her, as long as we’ve been here, and her family’s in the South. We’ve been helping as much as we can with arrangements and dealing with her apartment, such a small thing to do for so many years of friendship. I wish I could do more. We’ve had Twitter and email conversations with her other friends, friends we don’t know, and some of her neighbors too. We’re still not on Facebook but of course there’s conversation there as well that we’ve heard second hand. She was well-loved, and it is lovely to see these tributes.
But I’m sad, still sad.
maura @ 7:13 pm
Wow, October, where’d you go? Busy is an understatement for me right now — with the (big!) job + high school process + basic person/family/home/cats maintenance I don’t really have any cycles to spare, as the cyberfolks say. Unfortunately the cats show no interest in maintaining themselves, lazy gits. I’ve let not one but two ebooks expire from my phone, because I haven’t had time to read them. The RSS feeds are clogged + unwieldy, the New Yorkers stacked high. And don’t even ask me about the paper paper.
When it gets this busy it’s easy to collapse everything down to actual and perceived necessities like sleep + food + finishing all the stuff on the to do list, and to let other things drift out to the edges. But that’s not always a good plan, because as much as sleep is very necessary so are other things. Things that shouldn’t be left to the edges, because they too are good for you.
In the past week I’ve hung out with 3 different friends, one pre-planned and two surprises. These are good friends, longtime friends, friends we used to see much more than we do now. We’re all busy, everyone’s got lots to do, there’s no blame here. But in that true way of letting the now things crowd out the longtime things I’d forgotten how good it is to see these friends, to talk and eat and hang out and walk and talk. They know things about me and my life, I know things about them and theirs. And knowing those things means that it’s easy to talk about all kinds of things: frivolous things and sad things and important things.
I need to try and remember this week. Because it was a busy week otherwise — too much working in the evenings for my taste, and I’m pretty much never getting enough sleep recently. But the time with friends was energizing in much the same way that a full night’s sleep is. I felt clearer and calmer and happier. That’s time worth spending, even if I have to leave the occasional item un-crossed-off on the to do list.
Future me, listen to present me: I know you’re tired, but don’t forget to make time for friends. You’ll thank me, I promise.
maura @ 9:09 pm
It’s been quiet around here lately, though there’ve been some changes in non-virtual maurawebland. I bought not one, but two (2!) new pairs of fancyish/workish shoes, and got new glasses, too. The latter is not quite a complete change yet — they’re a bit loose so I haven’t been wearing them, but tomorrow I get them fitted and we’ll be good to go.
And I have a new job, too, which is a rather more biggish change. The former Chief Librarian at the college where I work has retired, and I’m now the new Chief Librarian.
It’s been a fast and slow change, sometimes simultaneously. Securing all of the proper university approvals took some time, mostly during the slowish summer months. It was nice to have that time to settle in a bit and start wrapping my head around my new responsibilities. There was lots of physical movement in the library, too — several folks changed offices (myself included), walls were painted, and we did a general cleanup and removal of furniture and other stuff that had outlived its usefulness. Another colleague retired and we secured permission to hire additional tech staff, so I worked on getting those jobs posted and thinking toward the search process. The college does offer courses over the summer, though not nearly as many as during the academic year, and the smaller number of students in the library was helpful as the moving and maintenance was going on. I never lacked for things to do, but the pace wasn’t appreciably different from what I was used to in my former position as Instruction Coordinator.
Since the semester began it’s been fast fast fast. My new responsibilities include a new suite of meetings, both at the college and at the university. I’m learning about our budget and facilities, and getting acclimated to my role of Department Chair too (the library is an academic department at the college, and we go through the same tenure and promotion process as other departments do). Our job searches are progressing. I’m wearing my fancy shoes more often.
Of course there are things I miss about my old job. Teaching has started, both our three-credit course and our individual instruction sessions. When one of my favorite collaborators from the English Department emailed me to schedule her class for research instruction, I was sad to have to say no (though our new Instruction Coordinator is terrific, so she’s in good hands). I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to carve out time for my research, though my research partner and I have 2 articles under review and one that was just published this week, so it’s maybe not the worst time for a breather. It’s been strange to step down from commitments, to ask others to take them on, to say no to new things.
But the truth is that I really *don’t* have as much time. In the past I’d said yes to opportunities that I felt like I couldn’t pass up probably much more often than I should have (I’m retroactively a bit terrified by how many conference presentations I ended up doing last year). But now my time is completely filled, all of it, always. It’s been a while since I’ve had a new job, and I forgot how much learning and thinking about new things all day is actually reflected physically. Even on the days when I’ve spent most of my time sitting in meetings, I’m exhausted by the evening. It’s been hard to turn off my brain, to stop thinking about what’s on my list for tomorrow, next week, this semester.
I’m super honored to have taken on this new position, and excited to have this opportunity to work to support our students alongside my excellent colleagues. But whew, learning and doing new things, it’s tiring. Time to stop this blagging and hit the hay.
maura @ 10:34 am
It’s dawning on me that I’m afraid to ride my bike to work. Yeah, it’s summer, and summer is hot, maybe not the best time to start riding your bike to work. But there are so many good reasons to do it:
1. Cheaper. I <3 the subway, but that $2.50/ride adds up.
2. Exercise is good. I have been walking home all summer (which helps somewhat with #1, above), but biking would get me moving in the morning and the evening.
3. The biggest reason is probably that biking is the only mode of transport that lets me bring a bunch of stuff to work (lunch, coffee, extra clothes if need be) without having to carry it on my back. I <3 <3 <3 my backpack* but the fact is that since
the slipped discs in my neck started bothering me starting to get old I probably shouldn’t be carrying lots of weight on my back for 45 minutes at a time each way to and from work on a regular basis.
* Yes, pricey, but seriously a fantastic bag that’s holding up amazingly. I’ve carried it practically every workday for something like 6 years and it still looks nearly new. Plus it’s super comfortable when I do have to carry lots of weight (i.e. a laptop) which I know I shouldn’t be doing but still sometimes have to do.
I have ridden my bike to work in the past, though inconsistently. There are somewhat annoying bits to it. I have a sturdy bike that’s pretty old-ladyish — 3 speeds only, plus coaster brakes! — so I imagine it’s not much of a theft risk, but I do still worry, especially since the bike racks at work are just out of eyesight of the security guards at the entrance to the college.** The ride itself is fine, though sometimes the street I spend the most time on (which has a bike lane) gets crowded, and I’ve occasionally experienced grumpiness from fellow bikers as they pass me. Dudes, it’s not a race! There’s room for everyone!
** I’m almost positive that it’s technically legal to use freight elevators to bring bikes inside buildings, and there is actually a frieght elevator that goes right to the floor in the library where my office is. But it’s a little ways to go through the college getting to the elevator and I suspect that the security guards wouldn’t let me walk my bike through that area.
I’m willing to concede that all of these minor complaints might be concealing a bigger fear, which is the fear of being mowed down by a car while I bike to work. Of course that’s always possible — even walking in NYC can be dangerous — but in reality the streets that I’d need to bike on are pretty quiet and safe most of the time. There are lights at every corner and bike lanes the whole way.
It’s been a busy summer with lots going on, new stuff to adjust to, and more coming down the pike. So maybe the real real reason is that I just can’t accommodate any additional new things right now, cognitive overload and such. Tomorrow morning looks nice and cool, maybe that will be the day to begin. (Or maybe not.)
maura @ 8:49 pm
The thing about adolescence is you go through it and it kind of sucks, sometimes more, sometimes less. Then the suckiness fades and you go through your 20s thinking “wow, that was intermittently sucky!” and then you get even older and think “man, I’m glad I never have to do that again.” Then maybe you have a kid, and if so you’re probably pretty excited about that, and also probably sleep-deprived. Probably so excited and sleep-deprived that you completely forget that at some point in the future you’ll have to go through adolescence again, except this time from the other side.
This is not a post about my kid becoming an adolescent. As he gets older I feel less and less comfortable blagging about him, and I’ve started to ask before I tweet something funny that he said or a photo. It seems like the right time to do that, to start letting him decide how much or how little of his life is online. And really, his adolescence so far has been nothing out of the ordinary.
Instead, this is a post about my adolescence. Even the ordinary with proto-teens can sometimes be trying, and I’ve been working to remember what it felt like on that side now that I’m on this side.
We lived in and around Philadelphia when I was little — both my parents were from around there, and we had some family nearby when I was growing up. From what I remember I was a pretty shy kid and didn’t like talking to new people for most of my childhood, though I was more vocal at home. For a variety of reasons we moved houses and schools a bunch during elementary school, and it was challenging to have to meet new kids when I moved schools. Still, by the end of elementary school we’d lived in the same house for a few years in a suburb with walkable access to parks, stores, and a movie theater. I knew the neighborhood kids as well as had some close school friends despite having gone to different schools in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.
And then during the summer between 6th and 7th grades we moved to Columbia, Missouri, for my dad’s job. It was starkly, starkly different: we lived on a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a big hill in a development that I remember being sort of on the outskirts of town. There was nowhere to walk or ride bikes to, and my parents had to drive us everywhere. My junior high was huge: I spent most lunchtimes in 7th grade in the library after eating in the cafeteria as quickly as I could. I got glasses, my hair got curly, my parents wouldn’t buy me the izod shirts that all the cool kids had. We got cable for the first time when we moved which coincided with the debut of MTV, and I watched lots and lots of cable. It took me a long, long time to make friends, though I did end up making a few friends that I missed terribly after we moved to Delaware after 8th grade.
High school was hard in the beginning — repeat moving, meeting new people, needing to be driven everywhere — but it got easier as time went on and I made friends and learned how to drive. The older you get, the less it matters what other people think, and that helped too.
It wasn’t universally awful, so few things ever are. I have fond memories of playing Tempest at the arcade and buying jelly bellies at the candy store, or seeing Raiders at the movie theater in the mall. But I also remember that for much of adolescence I was angry. Angry that we moved, angry not to have friends, angry that there wasn’t anything to do. Pretty typical stuff, but thinking back on it now I realize I was probably pretty horrible to be around at home, probably pretty mean to my parents and siblings. And I remember the crazy emotions, sometimes flying off the handle for something seemingly minor even while a little glimmer of reason meant that I kind of understood that I was freaking out needlessly, but being unable to pull out of it. It felt like I had lots and lots of reasons to be angry, really good reasons, but now that I’m a grown lady it’s clear that my parents were not actually trying to ruin my life, as much as it might have seemed so at the time.
Damn, I’m glad that’s over. The thing about getting older is that so much gets easier — I’m still more on the introvert than extrovert side of the world, but I’m much much closer to the middle than I once was (and being an introvert is perhaps somewhat easier in academia and librarianship than in other professions). And I’m old enough that there’s no way I’m even a little bit cool, anyway, so that’s a huge relief.