maura @ 5:09 pm
The thing about writing is that it can be hard to read a lot when you’re writing a lot. Or at least it has been for me this year. It’s a curious thing, even my go-to genre for leisure reading, dystopian YA fiction, has been harder for me to read this year. With the book finished I’m climbing back on the reading horse (and the sleeping, exercising, TV-watching, and other horses), but I admit it’s been slow going of late. There’s a pile of books on the shelf and another next to my bed and a third in my office, all of them books I want to read (or maybe that I want to want to read?). And I’ve stopped reading a few books midstream this year too, two almost right away, one after trying (and failing, despite repeated library renewals) for months. I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m looking for in a book right now. Though maybe this is to be expected, a natural consequence of being completely immersed in a big writing project for so many months? Whatever it is, it’s an odd feeling.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I think this is the longest gap in posting since I started blagging 11 years ago. Whoa. </Keanu voice>
The quiet is not for lack of writing, though. I’ve written many words in 2016, just not here. It’s been my busiest writing year yet, I think. Two book chapters, 1 chapter proposal, 4 conference proposals, 1 (possibly, still not 100% sure about it) book proposal, 7 library blog posts. And one book, a whole book, co-written with my research partner. It’s in the publisher’s hands now — the ebook version should be out by the end of the year.
I miss blagging here, hoping to get back to a more regular practice now that the big book deadline is past. And I’m thinking about next projects, too. It’s been strange to be suddenly finished with a project that’s been such a huge part of my life this year. I’m cheered (and proud of myself) that I’ve been able to successfully create a habit of 1 hour of morning writing before work every weekday.
I’m also grateful to have the weekends back, especially with this morning’s finally Fall weather. Time to get to it.
maura @ 5:29 pm
Today’s day 3 of the 3 day (Memorial Day) weekend, and as the weekend is winding down it’s more clear to me than ever that all weekends should be 3 day weekends. Three days is just long enough to do the things I have to do (chores, teen chauffeuring, catch up on sleep) plus the resarchy things I want to do (some reading + notetaking, finishing the revisions on a book chapter) plus leisure stuff too, in this case going for walks and reading the New Yorker backlog and watching two (2!) movies and playing the new levels in Monument Valley and having dinner with the neighbors.
I’ve felt my brain stretching this weekend, airing out a bit, relaxing, thinking. This past semester was unusually busy — I had a committee assignment that was much more work than I anticipated, and I also taught a graduate class one evening/week, in addition to all of the typical stuff. Now that the semester’s ended things should slow down a bit, the director parts of my job should fit more neatly into 35 hrs/week. Which is good timing since I have a couple of writing deadlines coming up in late summer and early fall, one medium-sized and one big. I’ve joined in to an accountability spreadsheet with other academic folks working towards summer research and writing goals and so far, so good. Summertime, I am ready for you.
maura @ 6:30 pm
I’ve long been convinced that my age cohort was born at the absolute best time to experience the Star Wars movies and fandom. I’d just turned 8 when the first movie was released. My dad took me and my sister (she was just over 3) to see it in what I remember being a big deal — I think we went to a biggish theater in Center City Philadelphia, and there were definitely long lines. It was amazing, of course, unlike anything I’d seen before (partially because many of the other space movies of the 1970s were too much for kids). I was 11 when Empire Strikes Back was released (and we were just about to move halfway across the country for my dad’s new job), arguably the best of the first 3 films (fight me). And I’d just turned 14 when Return of the Jedi came out (just as my family was getting ready to move back east).
I’d wager that’s pretty much the perfect age range for those movies — starting when I was old enough to understand (most of) what was going on and ending before the teen spirit fully took me over. It’s hard to overestimate how pervasive Star Wars was (and is) to nerds in my age group. I remember it being one of the first movies we rented when we first got a VCR in 1980, so my brother could finally see it (he’d been a toddler when it was in the theater). In college the campus movie theater showed all three and the theater was packed, all of us nerds reciting the best lines in unison.
When news of the 3 prequels broke we were grown-up nerds living in NYC, and like our other grown-up nerd friends we were pretty psyched. With a bunch of our pals we lined up to see the original (though enhanced/altered, sigh) trilogy at the amazing Ziegfeld Theater in Midtown Manhattan on its incredibly huge screen. Then Phantom Menace was released and, well, Jar Jar (sigh). By the time Attack of the Clones came out we had a little baby who was adorable yet not fond of sleeping, making it a challenge to see movies. Ditto for Revenge of the Sith (though by that time he was a nonsleeping preschooler). When he was old enough we showed him all 6 films, of course, and like other parents our age experienced the intense disappointment of his strong interest in Episodes 1-3 and repeated complaints about Episodes 4-6 (“this is so boring!”). Jar Jar and the fast cuts, that’s what the kids like (have we failed as parents?).
And that was about it for me, for a long time. I don’t think I saw Episodes 2-3 more than once; they were confusing and dull, Anakin was a whiny stalker, and I just couldn’t get into it. The kid watched the animated Clone Wars series for a while which I admit did seem better, especially since there was a female main character in the Jedi trainee Ahsoka. But I still found it confusing and didn’t watch much.
I belabor all of this history as context. When it was announced that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and JJ Abrams would direct a new movie, I thought “meh.” I’d see stuff on Twitter occasionally and yeah, it was cool to see that photo of the cast beginning readings — I was pleased to see a person of color *and* another woman (also: Carrie Fisher 4eva). But the movie just wasn’t on my radar, for the most part, not something I was planning to see as soon as it was released. And then, out of nowhere, the kid up and got obsessed. I blame the internet (obvs). He started watching Clone Wars again and insisted that he really really really wanted to see the movie and, moreover, could we please watch Episodes 1-6 before the new one? After some Netflix scrambling we did, though I admit I mostly tuned out of the early ones (again).
And so it was on December 25, 2015, that we took the train into Manhattan for a dinner of Chinese food (yum, dumplings) followed by a trip to the Ziegfeld Theater to see The Force Awakens. I still hadn’t done much reading about it and was still a bit “meh,” even as we stood on line and took our seats.
It’s corny beyond belief, but I was completely, utterly blown away. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega (who was terrific in Attack the Block) as Finn were uh-may-zing; the fan service of General (yessss!) Leia Organa and Han Solo was sweet; the details — most especially the early scenes with Rey scavenging and living on Jakku, and of course with Rey and Finn on the Millennium Falcon — impeccable. I bought my 10 yr old niece the Lego Rey’s speeder set for her birthday and almost, almost had to keep it for myself; I’m considering buying the DVD of Force Awakens, too (something I pretty much never ever do).
I was also relieved beyond belief that the movie was so good (and the dumplings, too). Last xmas was the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, and the month before that, the first anniversary of our good friend’s death. We saw many, many nerd movies at the Ziegfeld with our friend in the 23 years we’d been friends, and most certainly would have geeked out on Force Awakens with her. We almost always visited (or traveled with) my mother-in-law at xmas. We didn’t have any travel plans or visitors for xmas last year, and as the date approached I was pretty nervous about how we’d all feel on that day, whether we could push back on the weight of it all even if only for just a few hours. And then Poe sent BB-8 off with the plans and Finn stole a TIE fighter and Rey ate that magical puffy bread and it was awesome.
maura @ 9:21 pm
I’ve been both surprised and not surprised by the huge outpouring of traditional and social media response to the recent and sudden death of David Bowie earlier this week. There were two separate 2 page spreads in the NY Times on Tuesday alone. Some folks I follow on Twitter who aren’t fans have expressed completely understandable perplexity (is that even a word?), which I totally get. I’m sure the circumstances surrounding his death have contributed to this as well — family and close friends keeping his illness so secret, his play starting its run last fall, his new album released on his birthday last week, on what ended up being two days before his death.
Speaking as a fan — not the hugest fan but fan enough that we have more than 10 of his albums — I was utterly gobsmacked. Again, the shock for sure (and also he was the same age as my parents are and I remain unprepared for and unpleased at the prospect of my parents dying). But I’ve read a few articles and essays written by fans, journalists, others and it’s remarkable how many common themes emerge. He was an incredibly talented weirdo who made amazing music that made the rest of us weirdos feel less weird.
The sheer length of his career also means that his music was almost always there at some point in many folks’ lives. That’s how I remember his music, more than anything, as flashes on a timeline, specific scenes:
– I’m 9 years old at my friend’s house. She has two older brothers, one in middle school and one in high school (I think), and we sneak into their rooms and steal their records to play on the turntable in her room. Changesonebowie is a favorite. My parents listen to lots of music at home but they never got into Bowie. Maybe a year or so later I ask for the album for my birthday or Christmas and it’s one of the first records I’ve ever owned that’s mine, not my parents’.
– I’m 14 years old and my family is just about to move halfway across the country (for the second time during my adolescence) from Columbia, Missouri to Wilmington, Delaware. Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour is set to hit Philadelphia that July. I beg and beg and beg to be allowed to go, but it doesn’t happen. Later on I learn that the live footage in the video for “Modern Love” was filmed at that show in Philly and I am so angry with my parents as only a 14 yr old can be.
– I’m 18 years old and have just graduated from high school, old enough to go to concerts in Philadelphia with my friends, thankyouverymuch. It’s the Glass Spider Tour, two nights at the enormous Veterans Stadium. It’s the one and only time I’ve ever slept out all night to get concert tickets, taking turns with friends sitting in the car and in line at the Christiana Mall, heading to Wawa for coffee early in the morning. The concert is incredible.
Later memories are not as snapshot-clear. I had a phase of listening to Low almost exclusively, over and over again. I saw Labyrinth in the theater, with the then-unknown Jennifer Connelly, and Absolute Beginners too. The cassette I made with Aladdin Sane on one side and Scary Monsters on the other side lasted forever, seemingly, until last year when we got rid of the car with the cassette deck. I also had the factory cassette of Ziggy Stardust that I played until it wore out — luckily Jonathan had the CD. I have kept that Changesonebowie record, for all these years, even though I never listen to it because those songs are all on other albums.
Bowie’s music was like a blanket, is still that way: it’s comforting, familiar, and there’s a song or album for any mood. We don’t have the last few of his most recent records but I’m pretty sure we would have bought Blackstar anyway, and Jonathan bought it for us on Monday. One day soon I hope I’m able to listen to it.
maura @ 5:42 pm
Sometimes I wait until the new year to do this, and sometimes I don’t. But I’m not going to finish any books in the rest of today and I have some down time right now and I’ve been jonesing to get my list out there since reading Alycia’s, Jenna’s, and Meredith’s lists, so here goes.
Just like last year I made a conscious effort to read more this year, and I managed to read 39 books in 2015 (up by 3!). I feel pretty good about this number, though; I read an actual book most days this year, which is truly my main goal. I didn’t have many explicit content goals for reading this year. I still have a few reading projects I’m planning on — including more on feminism and racism — plus some author goals: reading the stuff I haven’t read yet by Nnedi Okorafor, reading the Ursula LeGuin books I haven’t read, and rereading all of Octavia Butler’s books. But these feel like projects I can chip away at over time (or maybe I’ll go all in next summer like that one summer years ago when I read everything by Willa Cather). I didn’t make an official We Need Diverse Books pledge this year but I did continue to try to read mostly books written by people of color and women. Like last year this was an easy win — all of my favorites this year were written by people of color or women.
Not to be all negative but I did finish a few books I didn’t like this year (which is sort of unusual because recently I’ve tended to abandon books that I don’t like rather than force myself to finish). I wanted to like VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy and there were aspects of it that I did — the biological stuff was cool and X-Files-y and the character study of the biologist and director were great. But I ultimately found the lack of answers unsatisfying. I also barely finished the Very Short Intro to critical theory, which I picked up feeling like I needed a bit more theoretical grounding for my interest in critical pedagogy/librarianship, but which was just too dull for me to get into (though I did take notes, go me).
It took me a while to read Station Eleven because the hype was so very hypey, but I finally did and it was hands down my favorite book this year. I’m generally a fan of the postapocalyptic story and this one was realistic and melancholy in its plot and description of what things would actually be like, and not overly depressing or scary (though occasionally so, but not awfully). Really great, I just devoured it staying up too late on school nights. Other faves for fiction this year were Planetfall, Get in Trouble, and Everything I Never Told You. I also loved My Real Children — alternate universes/timelines have always interested me, but with my mother-in-law and a close friend of ours both dying suddenly late last year I think I was especially primed to be grabbed by this book.
For nonfiction my favorite book was Between the World and Me, 100% worth all the accolades and attention. Devastating.
As in past years this list is in reverse chrono order (because that’s how I keep my reading journal), ebooks are starred, tilded are books we own (vs. library books). I read more ebooks this year than last year, which is interesting — I’m not sure why that is, other than that it’s easy to request them from the library as soon as I learn about them and then just wait for them to come in (though I still hate that they’re only able to be checked out for 2 weeks rather than 3).
~ The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, by Anna North
* Planetfall, by Emma Newman
~ Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, by Maria Accardi
Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov, by Kirin Narayan
Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix
* In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction, by Stephen Eric Bronner
* Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby
The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
* My Real Children, by Jo Watson
~ Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
Critical Journeys, edited by Robert Schroeder
~ Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link
The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work, edited by Nicole Pagowsky & Miriam Rigby
* Find Me, by Laura van den Berg
Digital Technology and the Contemporary University, by Neil Selwyn
~ Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor
* Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
* Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
~ Lines, A Brief History, by Tim Ingold
~ Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
* Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown
Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham
* Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
~ Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer
* Zarah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
~ Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
* Citizen, by Claudia Rankine
* Inheritance, by Malinda Lo
* Adaptation, by Malinda Lo
The Almost Nearly Perfect People, by Michael Booth
* Echoes of Us, by Kat Zhang
*~ Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (So originally I got this from the library but then I loved it so much and Jonathan wanted to read it so we bought it.)
~ Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson
Panic, by Lauren Oliver
* Once We Were, by Kat Zhang
* What’s Left of Me, by Kat Zhang
Started, not finished:
The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman — I only got about 20 pages in and realized I wouldn’t be able to deal with the slang that this book is written in.
maura @ 6:18 pm
The weather, everyone’s talking about the weather. Jonathan keeps reading me these statistics from the interwebs, hundreds of days since the last time the temperatures went below freezing in Central Park, predictions that it’ll be in the high 60s on xmas eve, etc. etc. etc. It seems boring and repetitive to complain about the weather, but seriously, this weather is getting me down. I like seasons, and I really like winter. I’m more sensitive to cold temperatures than I used to be, though I’d still rather be cold than hot by a fairly wide margin. Snow is just plain magical.
Mostly what I’ve missed this extended fall that won’t turn into winter are opportunities to wear my winter clothes. I don’t have all that many clothes and it gets boring to wear the same thing when there are lots of things that I want to wear but can’t because it’s not cold enough for them. Also the apartment tends to be hot, and work tends to be hot too, most especially when it’s in the 40-60 degree range outside. Which it has been since October.
– my magenta + other colors striped sweater, which is a pullover so I feel like I really need to commit to it when I wear it, unlike, say, cardigans which can accommodate temperatures that vary throughout the day.
– my gray wool pants, a great find at a thrift store years ago when the narrow cut was sort of out of style, but since I’ve kept them around they look okay now, *almost* modern, and are a nice pants option for work in the winter.
– various turtleneck sweaters for work, a bright blue one as well as a new to me purple one that used to belong to my mother in law which I’ve not yet had the chance to wear.
– I have worn my oatmeal heather wool skirt, another thrifty find from years ago, to work this semester because I love it, but I had to turn on the fan in my office that day so I haven’t worn it since.
– all of the amazing wool socks that folks have hand-knitted for me: 3 stripey pairs from my mom, 1 charcoal from my pal Abby, and 1 multicolored from my father in law’s artist’s coop shop.
– my ugly green + brown striped writing sweater with the weird cowl neck, which I got for free at a swap-o-rama maybe 6 years ago in the park right next to where the kid would end up going to middle school (though I didn’t know that at the time).
Okay, I’m wearing the ugly writing sweater right now, because it’s actually been wintery this weekend and I am, in fact, writing. The weird cowl neck means that I can pull it halfway up my face or even kind of create a hood for when I’m really chilly or just need to take a break. It’s reversible (because I say so) and stretchy and cozy, and makes me feel like writing. I think I’ll need to get another item of clothing to infuse with magical writing powers because global warming. Also because my research partner and I need to deliver the manuscript of our book (!!!) on September 15, 2016, which means lots of spring + summer writing next year.
maura @ 4:11 pm
If you had asked me 15 yrs ago whether all kids like legos I’d have said yes for sure. They were around when I was a kid and are still around now, though certainly more branded and less gender-neutral, which is sort of unfortunate. Still, what’s not to like? Building the thing that the instructions shows how to make is kind of like doing a puzzle (or like Ikea construction on a smaller scale and minus the allen wrench), and there are all kinds of stuff you can build without the instructions too.
But as I have learned, sometimes the parents like legos more than the kids do. Hey, it’s no big deal — I was a huge huge puzzle fan as a kid and my kid’s not that, either, so perhaps it’s not a surprise. He did play with legos as a younger kid somewhat, but it’s been a while and he’s just not that into them anymore. Because I both liked legos and kept track of some of my childhood stuff, as it turns out we now have a bunch of lego sets from the far past that are in fairly good condition. We could sell them at our stoop sales, but I feel like there might be other folks out there who’d be more interested in them than stooping passers-by. So off to ebay I’ve gone to clear out the closets.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a puzzle — first the kid was too little and now the cats are too curious to leave a puzzle out, and we don’t really have anywhere we can stash a partially-finished puzzle. To sell the legos I’ve had to put them together to take photos, and while there was one big set that got a little tiresome by the end, it’s mostly been super fun building them. There’s just enough brain power involved to be sort of challenging, and when you’re done you end up with a thing that’s built which is really satisfying. There’s a trend right now in coloring books for adults as a calming activity and I think the lego building hits lots of those same notes. I’ll be relieved when the packages are all shipped (always my least-favorite part of the ebay experience), but it’s been fun indulging my inner builder for a while.
maura @ 5:48 pm
This semester is all about deadlines for me, so many deadlines. In addition to the usual work stuff, the chief librarian stuff and department chair stuff, I’ve started the data collection phase of a new research project as well as taken on a few new writing commitments. My research-related to do list is long right now, and I’m working through it as methodically as I can, one deadline at a time, in the evening-and-weekend spaces, slow and steady wins the race. All of it is stuff I really, really want to do, projects that feel meaningful and worthwhile and involve folks I respect and admire. But it’s a lot — after adding the most recent deadline my plate is well and truly full, and I’ve resolved not to say yes to anything else research or writing-related for the foreseeable future.
Lots of these commitments involve writing: a proposal for a book chapter, a draft of another book chapter, perhaps a small grant application, and (I hope) something even bigger looming. There’s research to do as well, both of the literature search-and-review variety and the collecting data in audio/graphical/text variety. I admit that I’ve fallen off the writing wagon again, and have found even blogging here (not to mention library-related blogging) difficult over the past year. Partly I’m sure that was just the busy-ness and challenges of the past year, though last year was also one of revising stuff that had been written/submitted and conference presenting.
This year is different — this year is about writing. I’m only planning to present at one conference this academic year and, while data collection does not = writing, it leads to writing. All of which means that I need to get back into the writing groove, back to a more regular writing practice. It’s *wrimo right now, November — that time when folks write a book or blag or academic writing or other stuff. Longtime readers may remember that I’d done NaBloPoMo several times in the past, though not since 2011. In 2012 and 2013 I did AcWriMo (thank you, blag, for remembering things that I can’t seem to).
It’s already November 7 and I haven’t signed up with any kind of tracking or accountability mechanisms for writing this month, but I have my postit note with all of the deadlines on it that reminds me of my writing goals every day. Slow and steady, let’s go.
maura @ 9:56 pm
The past two weekends I took two short trips, somewhat unusual for this time of year for me since the semester is in full swing, though it was nice to have the time away. Both trips involved stays in rental houses, which is always sort of interesting.
The first was in Toronto — I’d never been there before but was there sans famille (except pas de francais, quel dommage!) to visit with 3 old friends. While we did do a bit of traipsing around the city, the main focus was catching up and hanging out. Our pal who lives there got us an Air B&B house and, while I’m not the biggest fan of the sharing economy (for a variety of reasons, like who gets left out?), this place was perfect for the occasion. A small house in what was described as a trendy neighborhood, it was in a quiet residential area very close to some commercial streets for easy access to food + transportation.
Apparently the folks who own the house are academics who are away, maybe for the year? But it was curious to see how much of their stuff was still there. No clothes in the closets or food in the cupboards, but it almost seemed like that’s all they’d taken. Lots and lots and lots of books, toys too. The house had 4 bedrooms and one was clearly a kids room, but there were a range of children’s books from picture books to YA, which made me wonder how many kids and what ages? Where did they go? When are they coming back? Why do they have two copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins? Is it weird for them to come back to having rented out their house to total strangers? We were very neat and unobtrusive, but it’s still a strange thing to be sitting eating dinner at someone else’s table (tasty pho from a place nearby, yum).
Next up was a long weekend in the Catskills, mostly a treat for the adults in the family who didn’t have a chance to get away in August, though the teen had a reasonably okay time too (barring some hiking-related crabbiness). We missed the cats, who of course don’t travel well, though as Jonathan said they could use some skills so maybe next time we should bring them?
We rented what was described as a woodlands cottage and indeed it was — almost every room was wood-paneled, with the exception of the kitchen. The wood theme was strong throughout with dressers, small shelves and cabinets, even the towel rods all made of wood. The house was sort of hunting lodge style with what amounted to a 1 bedroom apartment on the first floor — living room, eat in kitchen, bathroom, bedroom — and a spiral staircase upstairs to 2 small bedrooms and another bathroom, all tiny and with slanted ceilings tucked under the eaves of the roof. Thank goodness we are a small people since the potential for bumping your head on the ceiling was high.
This house was a bit more beach house-y in that it was clearly a vacation house for the owners. There were board games, a few books, videotapes (of course!), and a usable kitchen, but not a lot of personal effects. Again we speculated: why were there so many Pepsi-branded knick-knacks, did the owner work for Pepsi? Yes, the house was covered in wood paneling, but was it really necessary to have a fire extinguisher in every room? And why was the internet so bad? That last question is kind of facetious — we knew going in that there was no cell service so we assumed that there’d be satellite internet, which is notoriously slow. I’d kind of missed the part about no dishwasher, so it was back to hand-washing for me. But sitting on the back porch was delightful, looking out onto trees with turning + falling leaves while reading or drinking coffee.
We’ve occasionally had friends or family stay in our apartment while we’ve been away, but it’s never been anyone we don’t know. We don’t really ever go away for long enough for that to work, plus there are the cats, sweet but not always the best roommates (sigh, hairballs). I can’t imagine anyone we don’t know staying in our place, what would they think of us? Too many books, slightly shabby and/or Ikea furniture, one desk per person — is that a dead giveaway for an academic? Signs point to yes.