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maura @ 5:26 pm
Last Friday I went to a conference in Manhattan and had what can only be described as an epicly cruddy commute into the city. I left in (what I thought was) plenty of time to make it to the keynote speaker and walked the 7 minutes or so to the subway station. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, the platform getting more crowded as time progressed. After I’d been in the station for about 20 minutes a train finally pulled in, and of course it was much too crowded for anyone new to get on. I waited some more, maybe 5 minutes or so, and was just about to leave the station when another train pulled in, similarly crowded. So I walked upstairs and out to the street and 2 blocks up the hill to the other subway station. Paid my fare (again!) and got on a train (thankfully of standard rush hour person-density) that arrived a couple of minutes after I got there. Of course that train was the wrong train for that line, temporarily rerouted because of a sick passenger or somesuch. Three stops later an announcement came on that the train was switching back to its original line, so I had to get off and switch trains again. I waited a normal amount of time for the next train which then proceeded to move slooooooowly (“please be patient”) through the next several stops, before finally getting up to normal speed once we were in Manhattan. I had to switch trains (planned, this time) one last time before I got off at my stop and walked the 10 minutes over to the conference.
Total commute time = nearly 2 hrs for something that should have taken me 1 hour at the most.
While alternately moving through the various stages of transit-related frustration or reading on my phone (thank you, Instapaper) during my trip, I also started thinking about the relationship between travel and time. Time while traveling (by non-self-powered means) is different than time otherwise. The MTA bends time, forces it to collapse or expand, making you so far yet so close, or so close yet so far. At one point on Friday I’d spent 50 minutes and 2 subway fares to get to a station that’s a 30 minute walk from my house.
What makes me grumpiest about transit delays is that it always seems like they happen on the one day when I need to go somewhere by a specific time. But of course having somewhere to be is a prerequisite for a delay; it wouldn’t be a delay in any real sense of the word if it were optional, a part of standard or normal life.
Car delays (= traffic) are numbing, probably because I hate car travel and feel guilty whenever we drive anywhere. But with a subway delay my brain goes into calculation overload, like the alterna-Astrid on Fringe. Should I change to another line? Which would be fastest? Of course the system is rigged against me because I don’t have access to all of the data points at once. What if I change to another line and that line has delays? Will the walk through the station to switch trains be faster than just sitting here waiting for this train I’m on to finally move? Those sunk costs can be difficult to overcome.
Ultimately it’s all about splitting timelines. What happened to that version of me at the original station, the one who waited for a train to come that wasn’t overfull. Where is she now? And did she get to the conference in time to hear the keynote speaker?
maura @ 9:44 pm
You guys! How did I get to this ripe old age and not know that right after work is the best time to go to the gym? How?! This is week 2 of my new go to the gym 2 nights/week and be home in time for (a smidge later than usual) dinner, and it’s 100% rad. And this after I was just about to suggest that we up and quit the Y!
We used to have family gym time on Saturdays which was the whole reason we joined the Y in the first place. But then Gus decided he didn’t want to take swimming anymore and while we can go for free swim, the older he gets, the less he’s into it. This also means that we eat less Shake Shack, which in some ways is kind of like going to the gym all on its own, right?
I’ve gone some weekends on my own, but by the time I can get there it’s usually after lunch and my energy level’s kind of tanking at that point. Plus it always seems like a time-waster to have to take the subway there + back. I’ve tried to go on the occasional morning before work, but it’s a pain to have to shower there (even though they do have towels) and I always end up at work kind of sweaty and later than I want to be. Plus the morning’s my best writing time, so while I can get up at 6 or 6:30 and go to the gym early, really if I’m going to get up that early I should be writing.
So I was moping around a couple of weeks ago saying we should quit the gym, when it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could try and go after work. Between the increase in homework (thank you, middle school. not really.) and the slightly later bedtime brought on by the kid’s advanced age, it’s not the end of the world anymore if we don’t sit down to dinner until 6:45 or 7. Which is totally doable if I trot out of work in a timely fashion and hightail it down to the Y.
And yay for after work gymming! Because if I’ve had a good day, yay for extra happy endorphin feelings. And if I’m feeling a little down, yay for happy endorphin feelings. And if I’m grumpy, welcome happy feelings + the tendency for my brain to zone out to the music = grumpiness be gone. I think I’m sleeping better, too, about which I’m especially grateful in these last few crazy weeks of the semester. That’s a win win win win, in case you’re keeping track.
maura @ 9:58 pm
The most surprising thing about the aging process is how it goes through phases of happening all at once. When I turned 40 a few years ago it seemed like no big deal, 40, phhfft, who cares? Things are the same, of course they’re the same, why wouldn’t they be the same? But gradually it’s settled in: aging, it’s for real. All of a sudden my hair is grayer,* my eyes don’t like contact lenses anymore,** and to make matters worse far-sightedness has been added to my near-sightedness, what the what? Of course this is probably only surprising to me — I guess I’d never really read or thought much about the humdrum practicalities of the far side of forty.
* I actually don’t mind the gray at all, never have, though I will cop to a smidge of worry about the nonconformist nature of many of the gray strands. We’ll see how anarchic things get — worst case scenario I will finally have an excuse to see how it looks short, which hasn’t been the case for a long long time.
** After almost 30 years, how could they betray me like that? I used to wear them for 18 hours straight, to a smoke-filled late-night concert, and put them right back in after just a few hours of sleep. And now I can’t wear the plastic see-helpers for more than about 6 hrs at a time. This summer I need to find a good optometrist and explore some options, I think.
Today was another aha moment. Last night I was up late, very late (for me), til about 1am, and I had a touch of the awesome (not) early morning insomnia today so up at 6. And as it turns out, the occasional night of 5 hours of sleep is no longer really feasible if I want to have a productive day. Today was slow. Slooooooooooow. I kept drinking coffee, and it kept not helping. I had a candy bar, because I deserved it. No sugar rush. No rushing of any sort, more like padding down a hallway in soft slippers.
It wasn’t the kind of crushing, I-could-fall-asleep-at-any-moment kind of tiredness that hits you when you’ve done lots of exercise or travel or that kind of thing. It was more the blanket-of-muffle kind of tiredness. Everything seemed a little bit unreal, like I was behind glass. Everything took longer, far loooooonger than usual. It’s not that I didn’t get anything done — I walked Gus to school, finished and crossed a bunch of stuff off my list at work, even went to a meeting. It’s more that I kept losing focus and spacing out, then snapping back to attention.
Today was my least meeting-laden day this week so I’m a little bit sad about this, though not too sad, because I just can’t work up the energy for that. But last night’s waking excess was for a good cause: I’m happy to report that Chapter 6 is drafted and in my research partner’s hands, woo! And that’s worth all the spaciness and wasted coffee money for sure.
maura @ 12:26 pm
I’ve been carrying this post around with me in my head all week, an incredibly busy beginning of the semester at work, too worn out in the evenings to bang coherent sentences together. This time last weekend I was in Delaware, having driven down first thing in the morning with a good friend to go to the funeral of our favorite teacher from high school. She was only 59; her kids were only in their 20s. I’m tearing up again even as I type this.
The small group of folks that I’m close friends with from high school first heard the news at the end of the spring a year and a half ago: cancer, of the pancreatic kind, prognosis uncertain. I had trouble processing it — my teacher had actually visited Brooklyn the prior year and my friend and I had met her for dinner w/our partners and kids — how could she possibly be sick? I was upset and angry and sad. I wrote a bloggy screed that I never posted about how stupid cancer is and about some of the other friends we have who’ve had bouts with it (and, thankfully, survived). I wrote a letter to my teacher expressing my concern, letting her know how much she meant to me, and offering support in any way I could. I got a letter back from her promising that she’d fight the good fight.
She was an incredibly energetic and optimistic person and she fought hard, but right after new year’s we all heard that she’d taken a turn for the worse. I sent her emails, one with a crazy photo of the back of her head as she was driving a small bus full of a group of us during a Spring Break trip to work at a homeless shelter in Richmond, VA. My friends and I emailed each other photos and reminiscing, too, my favorite (from an old yearbook) of her sitting cross-legged on her desk in class, hands up to emphasize a point. I can actually hear her voice when I look at that picture.
And so it was that I found myself in the car on the NJ Turnpike again (we’d gone down to visit my family the prior weekend) on the way to her funeral mass at the new theater building at my old school. It was lovely and sad. Gus asked me later if I’d cried (yes). There were hundreds of people there that morning, and had been hundreds the night before for another memorial service. Former students from when she began teaching 30 years ago up to the present were there. The school streamed the service live and I later heard that folks on Facebook said they watched from afar. She was that good.
Rereading what I wrote when she first got sick, some of it seems salvageable and still true:
If I can write at all I owe it to this high school teacher for sure. It’s in her English classes that I have the first clear memory of really writing — not just reporting on what I’d read but actually thinking through the words and putting those thoughts on paper, albeit imperfectly. I don’t have many artifacts of my work from high school, the perils of growing up before ready access to computers. But I did keep some of the photocopies of short stories we read in her classes, many of which were my first introduction to Borges, Barthelme, Garcia-Marquez and others and had a lasting impact on my reading and writing habits.
It’s only in reflecting now that I’ve realized what a huge influence she’s been on my teaching, too. She had only just started teaching a few years before I got to high school, but I’m sure she’s the same in the classroom now as she was then. Her classes were fun and interesting because she’s fun and interesting, and her energy and enthusiasm for literature and writing made her classes enjoyable even as they were challenging. Thinking about how my own teaching has evolved over the years, I can only conclude that whatever success I have in the classroom now owes a huge debt to those high school English classes.
All of the conversations I’ve had with friends and acquaintances from high school center around the same theme. At a time when we were all navigating the transition from childhood to adulthood and were not always the nicest people to be around, in her teaching and friendship she always respected and valued us. She was a great teacher because of what she always did for her students: treated them as people with ideas worth having, gave them space for their own voices and creativity, and inspired them to do their best work. I’m still trying to do my best work. Thank you, Rosie.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s hard for me to fathom that the fall semester ended yesterday. Ended? Hadn’t it just started? (Tho I’m of course pleased that the world didn’t end, no thanks to you, ancient Mayans). This semester has been strange and odd and speedy in so many ways; even before the hurricane it seemed like everyone I ran into was just a tad crazed, a little more stressed than usual. For us it was settling into the new middle school schedule in September, the usual collision of lots of work stuff in October (getting into the busiest time for instruction, plus Open Access Week), then the hurricane, which knocked me for a loop in more ways than I expected. The week off for Gus and almost-week for City Tech made the rest of the semester run slightly off the rails: it seemed like homework was just piled on for Gus, and plans at work slightly skew and thus more difficult. There was travel — to an old pal’s wedding in October, to a conference upstate in November, to Delaware for Thanksgiving — and there were visitors — another old pal for the weekend and my brother the following weekend, both in December. The terrible tragedy in Newtown, about which I still don’t know what to say (and there’s plenty already being said so I’ll leave it at that). The holidays approach(ed) ever more rapidly with their associated planning and preparations.
All of this has left me feeling a bit more… not even sure of the right word here…blurgh? than usual for this time of year. Perhaps tired (well, certainly tired), but also quiet and reflective. I didn’t blog much this semester, either here or on the other spaces where I write. Part of the reason for that is the book, which continues to chug along at a semi-respectable pace. AcWriMo ended in a similar place to its midpoint: while I did achieve my overall time goal, I feel like I could have written more. But not to beat myself up too much: Chapters 1 and 3 (of 10, we think) are completely finished, Chapter 2 is a complete shitty first draft, and by the time I go to sleep on xmas eve Chapter 4 will be too (she typed confidently). Which is nothing to sneeze at, for sure.
Still, I feel the ghosts of unwritten blog posts hovering over me a bit. I started something on the train up to Saratoga Springs for the conference in November that I haven’t had a chance to finish. I have a photo of a game that I’ve intended to blog about, and brief notes on a handful of other more academic-y posts. Giving all of my writing energy to the book means that our project website has been dormant. I wrote and rewrote a post in my head about music several times this fall, starting with a love letter to Heavenly, one of my favorite bands, and Tender Trap, whose record I bought right away after reading my friend Steve’s review in the Guardian and which made me listen to Heavenly (and Tender Trap, though sometimes their kids singing at the end of “Love is Hard Enough” makes me tear up a bit) nearly nonstop this semester (when I wasn’t writing to Orbital), and ending earlier this month with a complete Talulah Gosh immersion because of the Guardian article that refers to them as overachievers. I must’ve listened to Rock Legends: Volume 69 about a hundred times this month, and every time it still surprises me that “My Best Friend” isn’t followed by Felt’s “The Day the Rain Came Down” (which it was on an old mixtape I made in the early ’90s).
Now I’ve got ten (10!) days off in a row, which seems slightly unreal, how is that even possible? And not that there’s nothing to do in those 10 days, there sure is (especially the next 3). But I’m giving myself a whole week off from the book, so I hope that things get a little more active in these non-book writing spaces, too.
maura @ 10:01 pm
We’ve been here for 21 years now and I still lurve NYC. I love the non-drivingness, the lotsa different peopleness, the variety of places and spaces, the never a lack of things to do. I know it’s reductive and not totally true — the income inequality in NYC is pretty severe, actually — but I feel like most of the time the city lives up to my ideal of a place where no one kind of person is the default, where the sexism and racism of the world is less prevalent, and where everyone remembers that the one bright spot on Sept. 11th was how much we all helped each other and looked out for each other, and we all try to remember to do that every day.
In Brooklyn specifically I love living only a few blocks from an awesome library, a huge park, gorgeous botanic gardens, a lovely museum, and lots of good public transit options. We have our hippie food coop for good food (and few choices, which becomes evermore important to me the older I get because reading labels is boring + time-consuming). We can walk to school and work. We have a house that is big enough but not too big. Yeah, there are things I wish we had — a little bit of our very own outdoor space, a parking space, less dust, self-cleaning bathrooms — but the stuff in the cons column doesn’t even come close to the list in the pros column.
Except. Lately I’ve been thinking that if anything drives me from NYC it’s going to be this godamned global warming. Because I am tired of being hot in my office, hot in the subway, hot everywhere. Why is it still 70 degrees on October 20th? Will it ever snow again? My wool sweaters are so sad. Also there’s the potential flooding. Blame the post-apocalyptic YA novels, but the whole have-to-cross-at-least-2-bridges-to-get-to-a-non-island thing is starting to nag at my brain a bit. And also there are tunnels, for cars and subway trains, and those could flood. Will flood!
Honestly, it’s enough to have me thinking about Canada. Or Iceland, where it’s a balmy 30 degrees right now. Brisk!
maura @ 7:07 pm
Feeling a bit fried from this week, ever so slightly crispy ’round the edges. Everyone’s back to school and while I do love the certainty of the schoolyear schedules, since it’s a new school for Gus this year we’re still settling into the newness. Middle school is much more complicated than elementary school, with lots more to remember. Plus lots of deadlines for me this past week.
New for me is a new title: I was promoted to Associate Professor in August. Which is exciting and gratifying! I’m proud of myself, and it’s been lovely to get congratulations from colleagues, family, and friends.
What’s perhaps a smidge unanticipated is that the promotion hasn’t automatically = me chilling out about everything at work that I feel that I need to do. It’s not just that I still have 3 yrs til I come up for tenure, though I’m sure that has something to do with it. Part of it is my tendency to want to do all the things, because there are so many library and academic things that I find interesting. As much as I realize that’s a good problem to have, I still have trouble saying no to stuff that looks neat and fun, whether I’m the asked or the asking. So I pile it on then stress out about not having enough time to get it all done while still having some semblance of a life outside work. This is not good.
The slowerness of summer helped, for sure, and I did and am still making an effort to do all the things I need to do to keep sane: family time, enough sleep, exercise, some leisure reading, near-daily writing. Right now my biggest looming worry is the book: we still have lots to think and write, and it’s difficult to find the mental space with everything up to its normal termtime velocity. I have some research time scheduled for a couple of mornings per week, and trying to combine early-to-work + lunch-hour for the other days. I realized after last year that I really need the weekends to be non-work time, though I will take advantage of the occasional playdate or sleepover to sneak in some work, preferably on the book.
Today’s had brunch + errands + a lovely walk in this delicious weather + reading + buying new music, which means that I should probably go eat dinner so I can take advantage of the sleepover happening in my living room right this very minute!
maura @ 8:30 pm
Woah, what happened to the summer projects list? Blame the vacation, about which I’ll write more soon. It was very relaxing (yay!) and involved much more reading than writing.
The call of the blag has grown louder the past few days, so here I am to finish out the list. These are the less exciting projects, I have to warn you. But in the interest of completeness (and of keeping myself to the tasks by making them public)…
3. Ebay the old Legos
We’ve used ebay off and for years to get rid of old stuff, especially technology stuff which tends to fetch a decent price. Most of our stuff slated for removal from the apartment goes to our annual stoop sale and, thanks to my new vow never to bring stuff back into the apartment once it goes out to the stoop, off to Goodwill on the same day if it hasn’t sold. Stoop sales are easy but don’t usually net us much unless we have something biggish to sell, like a bike or a tape deck. Ebay is kind of a pain — all of that taking pictures and describing the items and setting the prices and mailing things out — so we tend to use it only if it seems like we’ll make decent money.
Legos are different from most of our other stuff. Gus has some sets that he really likes, but has never been the biggest lego fan (which still somewhat surprises me). Because I am a packrat and because I bought some legos as late as college (like the nerd I am), there are a bunch of my old sets that Gus doesn’t want. And it turns out that they’re actually worth some ca$h, too. So, ebay it is. And maybe I’ll share my loot with the kid. Maybe.
4. Clothes shopping
I hate clothes shopping, as I’ve often complained. I could bore you with the details about why, but Mimi Smartypants says it so much better so I won’t.
But the time has come: my wardrobe is in dire straits and I’m looking even frumpier than usual, even given the generous librarian frumpiness allowance. With summer Fridays kicking in I won’t have my usual excuse, which is that I can’t shop on the weekends because it would be so unfair to take time away from Jonathan and Gus on the weekend when I only see them for a few hours a day during the week.
This Friday we work, because of the July 4th holiday, but next Friday I’m off to the shops. It’ll be Friday the 13th, think that’s a bad idea?
And I’m thinking of bribing myself to clothes shop by dangling a prize: if I go shopping and end up adding a few more work outfits to my stash, I can treat myself to a new pair of sneakers. My favorite sneaker shop in the Village closed last year so I’m thinking of springing for the extra $30 to make my very own custom Sambas. What do you think?
5. Sew a new phone cozy
This one’s easy because it’s almost done! I’ve chosen the fabric and sewn the pouch already, so only the most labor-intensive parts remain: sewing on the ribbon edging. The old sock I’ve been using for a phone cozy is long LONG past its prime, and since I broke out the sewing machine a couple of weeks ago to convert some long-sleeved t-shirts into short-sleeved for Gus, I thought I’d get started on a new cozy too. This would be a good project for watching a movie or something similar as hand sewing’s not really a 100% of yr brain task.
I swear there was a 6, but now I can’t for the life of it remember what it was. Blag more, probably — I’m long overdue for post on the library blag I write for and the games network folks have a plan for more blagging, too. So let’s call it blagging, deal?
maura @ 10:36 pm
The semester’s been over for a few weeks now, though things are still busy with library projects and the college grant I work on and my own research. I’m not sure that I’m ready to write about the long of it yet, but the short of it is that I piled way way way too much on my plate this past year, and ended up somewhere on the spectrum of crispy, singed, fried, burned out, feel free to use whatever flame-based descriptor you like best.
Key to a successful summer for me, I think, will be having a bunch of non-work-related projects to chew on. Dare I call them leisure goals? I do dare. I like projects; projects provide a good framework for me to muck around in. Here are my summer project thoughts, in no particular order:
1. The Great Vinyl Digitization Project
Oh yeah, I got records: 12″, 7″, even a couple of 10″ EPs, some in fun, transparent colors. I’ve had a USB turntable for a while now but hadn’t made much headway on ripping the records to MP3. It was somewhat onerous and required me to push a button to break the digital file into individual songs. There’s also not really any way to speed it up the way that ripping a CD can happen at a faster speed than the recording — you just have to listen to the entire record. But I downloaded some new software that does a reasonably decent job of sensing the track breaks and cuts down the time considerably, so I’ve been hauling my laptop out to the living room each weekend to rip a few records.
It’s funny to listen to my records again. I bought most of them in high school before my family or I had a CD player, so there’s lots of 80s pop and new wave. Then there’s another segment from college, when I was either too stingy to shell out the extra cash for a CD or wanted something on vinyl only — that group includes lots of Wax Trax/industrial stuff (hey, it was Chicago in the late 80s, what can I say?). Finally there’re the mostly 7″s from my big indiepop buying days, the mid-to-late 90s. Some of this music has aged well, and some not so much.
First ripped this time around? Psychocandy by Jesus and the Mary Chain, because for some reason the song was stuck in my head and I kept having to listen to The Hardest Walk by watching the video on YouTube.
2. Buffy Rewatch
A couple of weeks ago something intriguing came through my Twitter stream: a website called NoWhiteNoise was organizing a Buffy Rewatch, in which fans watch the entire TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (either on DVD or on Netflix or websites) at the same time on Mondays throughout the summer. It’s been ages since we’ve watched them so we thought what the hell, we’ll bite (ha!).
If you had asked me before this whether watching the same episode of BTVS and live-tweeting about it with a bunch of people you don’t know was fun, I’d probably have given you a puzzled face. But you know, it’s actually surprisingly enjoyable. There are lots of younger folks who didn’t watch the show live like us oldsters, and there’s an incredible amount of foreshadowing that I of course hadn’t caught the first time around. And it’s just such a fantastic show, really, like catching up with old friends.
The only problem is the time: the Rewatch starts at 9:30pm on Mondays and includes 3 episodes @ 45 minutes each, which runs a little late for us on a school night. Once we make the transition from school to camp in a week or so things should get easier.
Wow, I have totally run out of steam, probably the 100 million degree heat is to blame (happy summer, ugh.). Stay tuned for leisure goals 3, 4, 5, and maybe 6, coming soon to this very blag!
maura @ 9:21 pm
I took the day off work to celebrate May Day this year by heading into the city to do an open access publishing teach-in with Jill and Alycia, my OA peeps from Brooklyn College. Alycia made a sign, Jill made handouts (paper and web), and I made cards with the URL for the web handout. It was rad: although the chilly rain, early hour, and a timeslot up against someone famous made for a small crowd, we had some great conversations about open access with folks who stopped by.
I hung out at the Free U until midafternoon when I had to leave to pick up Gus from school. There was a great vibe in the park, friendly and mellow, and it was fun to wander around and see the groups of people clustered together reading, discussing, and, in some cases, drawing. I ran into a coupla folks I know (though not my labor doula, who’d called me out of the blue the day before when she saw my name on the class list). I listened in on the session about the imagery of protest and Occupy by Occuprint, a group collecting and sharing the posters created by Occupiers, which was really cool.
At the beginning of the day there were only a handful of park rangers at the park, but as the day wore on and got sunnier + more crowded police started showing up. I felt a bit more tense as the day progressed, too — there were intermittent helicopters starting around 1-ish and the occasional paddywagon with sirens on driving by the park, though again, the park itself was pretty non-threatening. I had to leave before the marching started for which I was both glad and sad. Despite preparations like not bringing my nice water bottle, I really didn’t want to get arrested. Also, the older I get the less I’m into hanging out in large crowds of people, even if it’s for something I want to do (like see a band play, e.g.). On the other hand, the photos and videos I saw of the marches later made me wish I’d been able to stay: that good feeling that can accompany solidarity is lovely and was clearly evident.
Even though there are no firm rules, I did try to keep to the no work no housework no shopping no banking spirit of May Day. Definitely that = yes hanging out with your kid, which meant buying him a cookie at a (non-chain!) bakery near his school while we chatted about his day. It also meant yes laundry, because my inner stinky hippie forces me to hang most laundry dry which takes time, and we needed clean clothes. But otherwise I was pretty good at taking the day off, an accomplishment in itself, I think.
Photo on the left by Alycia and on the right by me.