Hello readers, and wow I was a bigger reader this year, too. Blame the new job: while my commute was about the same length for the old job, it’s now a subway commute which means at least an hour of reading each weekday, which definitely makes a difference. In 2022 I read 42 books, only one shy of 2017 (when I had a 6 month sabbatical) and thus the second-highest total since 2012 (when I started blagging about my reading list).
If there’s a theme for me for fiction in 2022 it was multiverses. I listened to an interview with Emily St. John Mandel where she talked about her new novel Sea of Tranquility and the urge since the pandemic to “run the counterfactuals,” and that stuck with me as I read all year. I loved her new book: the ways it referred to other things she’s written, the happy ending, and of course the author in a city in a pandemic is so real. I reread My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I’d loved when I first read it in 2015 and was a great revisit as well. But my favorite book this year, hands down, was The Space Between Worlds by Miciah Johnson, about a multiverse in which a scientist has discovered how to travel between the 400 Earths. The catch is you can only go to another version of Earth where you’re already dead, BIPOC folx are thus the ones who are most able to traverse. And it’s twisty and complicated and hopeful and lovely and I took forever to read the last few pages and cried a bit when it was over. So good.
Other fiction I loved this year includes Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, a book about two friends who meet as middle schoolers and later become game designers together which I read super fast. All the reviews are right: it’s just a terrific book about friendship, which is so rare. And as a game person I found the game stuff to be realistic and engaging, too. My last fiction book of the year was The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first book of his I’ve read. Set in the very near future and beginning with a terrifying heat wave in India that kills 20 million people, the book follows the activity of the titular body set up by the UN in order to try and hold nations accountable for dealing with climate change. Robinson is apparently a huge climate nerd and some of these chapters literally sound like strategies that could be tried here and now (or soon), and while it’s not utopian the book ends with CO2ppm beginning to decrease, a hopeful way for me to end 2022.
I read much less nonfiction this year, which I also think is due to the new job. I prefer reading nonfiction on paper and since it’s easier to read ebooks on my phone I tend to gravitate toward fiction on the commute. But I did read some great nonfiction this year. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong was amazing, these essays gave me lots to think about on US imperialism and violence against Asian-American folx. Plus I’d never even heard about Theresa Cha, an artist raped and killed in the Puck Building in 1982 (we lived a few blocks from there when we first moved to NYC). My CUNY friend and colleague Jessie Daniels published the terrific Nice White Ladies this year, an approachable book about the specific role that white women play in upholding racism and how we might resist it. Jessie weaves autobiography into the book in an especially engaging way, and I’ve been consistently recommending this since I read it. My last nonfiction read of the year was a lovely short YA biography of Octavia Butler called Star Child, by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian-American writer. I’ve read all of Butler’s books and knew some of her life story already, though other info was a complete surprise — she started submitting stories to magazines at age 13! What a legend, gone too soon.
Here’s the full list, as always in reverse-chronological order, because that’s how I keep my reading journal. Key: asterisk = ebook, tilde = books we own. And here’s to more reading in 2023!
*Star Child, by Ibi Zoboi (December 2022) *The Ministry of the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson (December 2022) *Sea Monsters, by Chloe Aridjis (December, 2022) *The House of Rust, by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber (December, 2022) *Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng (December, 2022) *This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub (November, 2022) *The Wall, by Marlen Haushofer (November, 2022) *The Old Drift, by Namwali Serpell (November, 2022) *A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet (October and November, 2022) *The Measure, by Nikki Erlick (October 2022) ~*Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson (October 2022) (we own it in print, but I read it as an ebook because subway commute) *Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin (October 2022) *Bitter, by Akwaeke Emezi (September 2022) *Begin the World Over, by Kung Li Sun (September 2022) ~Build Your House Around My Body, by Violet Kupersmith (August and September 2022) *The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers (August and September 2022) ~Unmanageable: Leadership Lessons from an Impossible Year, by Johnathan Nightingale and Melissa Nightingale (August 2022) *Hurricane Girl, by Marcy Dermansky (August 2022) *Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, by Holly Whitaker (July and August 2022) *The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel (July and August 2022) *Tell Me an Ending, by Jo Harkin (July 2022) *The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (June and July 2022) *The Impossible Us, by Sarah Lotz (June 2022) *My Real Children, by Jo Walton (June 2022) *The World Gives Way, by Marissa Levien (May and June 2022) ~Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong (May and June 2022) *Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (May 2022) *The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi (May 2022) ~We Do This Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba (April and May 2022) *The Future of Another Timeline, by Analee Newitz (April and May 2022) *The Seep, by Chana Porter (April 2022) ~Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help, by Jessie Daniels (April 2022) Decolonizing Academia: Poverty, Oppression, and Pain, by Clelia O. Rodriguez (April 2022) ~Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel (April 2022) *Appleseed, by Matt Bell (March and April 2022) ~Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities (February, March, and April 2022) *Sorrowland, by Rivers Solomon (February and March 2022) *The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson (February 2022) *I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins (January 2022) *Noor, by Nnedi Okorafor (January 2022) *The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich (December 2021 and January 2022) *The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism, by Jen Gunter (December 2021 and January 2022)
I started this post earlier this month, but keep having trouble making time to come back to it. I’m still kind of tired, not as tired as while I was sick, but a lingering fatigue that’s been difficult to describe. It’s not a muscular tired like after exercise, I guess more like a bone tired? Or sometimes it feels like a layer of tiredness between my muscles and bones. It’s a drag.
So to go back to the beginning: perhaps unsurprisingly here in season 3 of the pandemic, I came down with covid a little over a month ago. I tested positive on Thanksgiving and isolated at home until I got a negative rapid test on day 13 after symptoms started. I was grateful to have a relatively mild case — mostly like a bad head cold with sore throat, leaky face, sneezing, coughing, and headache for about 4 days, then lingering snottiness and fatigue after that. I’m also grateful to have been able to isolate: we have 2 bathrooms, 2 air purifiers, and plenty of windows to open, and with that plus masking I was the only person in my household to get sick.
The sickness part was mostly like being other kinds of sick: boring and tiring and with lots of tissues. I read a bit but mostly watched stuff on my laptop, taking advantage of the time to watch ridiculous scifi/disaster movies that don’t interest anyone else I live with, plus the Chernobyl miniseries which was terrific — so beautifully filmed, and I’m a fan of brutalist architecture so that was lovely for me too. And I will admit that nothing can interrupt your covid pity party like watching a show in which many people die of radiation poisoning. Things could be worse!
The work week I was home I mostly worked half days, mostly from bed (except for Zooms). I’d work a couple of hours in the morning, break for a nap midday, then a couple more hours of work. And the two weeks after that I made time for 30 minutes of lying down with my eyes closed in my office at lunchtime. I’d heard and read that resting is critical to covid recovery — that can sometimes be hard for me but I really tried to push back the urges to Get Things Done and to intentionally go slower. I skipped karate for a few weeks; I missed doing karate and seeing my dojo pals.
I’m grateful to have had a relatively mild case, to be mostly better, to have been in a position to take the time and space to rest and recover. But I am feeling all kinds of ways about this covid bout, still. I’ve been vaccinated and boosted a total of five (5!) times. I wear a KF94 mask on the subway and at work and in other indoor locations. I do occasionally go to restaurants, but not often. We still have free PCR testing at work and I’ve been testing weekly. And the timing of my last PCR test before I got sick strongly suggests that I got covid from riding the subway. #sadtrombone
I love the subway. It’s mindboggling that the system exists and works as well as it does (which is sometimes not well at all), and I feel so lucky that I get to ride it over bridges with amazing views, and that I don’t have to get into a car every day (ugh, cars). Truly, I’m a huge fan. But wow, people are not really masking on the subway. Masking had been going down for a while when the mayor and governor announced an end to the requirement at the end of the summer, and consistently I am one of only a few people masked on the trains during my commute. And I can’t not ride the subway to work — it’s too long to walk, I’m too chicken to bike, it’s really the only way.
I guess it’s also not just the subway that I’m sad about, but people more generally. Is it really that awful to wear a mask while in a small enclosed area for the duration of your commute? When it protects you and other people around you, some of whom (not me!) might have health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from covid? I did upgrade my mask to an N95 and am being more careful about mask fit on my face, but really that is all I can personally do.
It’s so disappointing. I am so tired of this pandemic.
It’s been quiet around here because I’ve been busy outside of this blag. In July I started a new job leading the library at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’m enjoying the new role and working with colleagues I’ve long respected, while still missing my former colleagues at City Tech who are also terrific.
I wrapped things up at my old job near the beginning of the summer and then had a whole month between jobs which was really incredible and necessary. We took a trip, I read a bunch of books while snuggling the cat, and I did some walking around and touristing in NYC. Starting the new job in the summer turned out to be a good plan — the relative quiet gave me more time to settle in and to meet with each of my new colleagues. In the 8 years since my last job change I’d sort of forgotten how tiring it is to learn the ins and outs of a new position/institution. So much new info is coming into my brain, though I’m grateful that my CUNY knowledge has made settling in easier.
With the new job also comes a new commute — the GC is in midtown, so I’m back to a subway commute to Manhattan for the first time in 15 (or so) years. I like the subway, and truly I have nothing to complain about: the commute is about 45 minutes at the longest, often more like 35, and my trains go over the Manhattan Bridge which is a view I will never ever get tired of. The only downside is that I’m missing my 90 minutes/day of walking, which I’d gotten used to as a gym-substitute since the pandemic finally convinced me to walk both ways to City Tech.
Working in midtown has been different, too. The excessive heat this summer has kept me inside more than I’d like, but once the weather cools off a bit I’m looking forward to taking a break to walk around and explore the neighborhood, and to eating lunch in the nearish parks. Definitely I need to find ways to make up for my steep decline in walking — some days I’ve walked up the 8 (though really 16, because each floor is double-height) flights of stairs to the dining hall to get some (literal) steps in.
The GC is in the western portion of an old department store that takes up an entire city block, and the library has some beautiful architectural details, including a fancy staircase I get to walk up every morning. Weirdly enough, I have worked in the building before. Roughly 10 million years ago in 1997 I worked for Disney Online, which at that time ran the website family.com out of NYC (and everything else from California). The office was in the same building as the GC, in the office spaces in the middle section of the building (the eastern section was and is still Oxford University Press, and the former home of the Science, Business, and Industry branch of the NY Public Library).
It’s just wild to me to be working in this building again, seems like it’s pulling together so many threads from my work life in archaeology, publishing, the internet, academia, and libraries, and from the 31 years that we’ve lived in NYC. I feel very lucky.
I am trying to get back into games. I’ve been here before, and admit that I still have lots of complicated feelings about games as leisure, probably mostly the fault of capitalism, feelings that I don’t have about reading or knitting or some of the other things I do in my leisure time. But games are fun, and free time is for fun stuff.
One thing that’s easing my way back into games right now is the realization that games on my phone can perhaps help with the unfortunate doomscrolling habit I’ve developed. Not that I think I’m unique in that habit right now, I mean, there’s still a pandemic and also a war, and climate change is more and more real every day. But doomscrolling is not at all helpful to me (and maybe not to you, either?), so having something else to do when I pick up my phone during the in-between times of my days is helping me pull my attention away from that temptation.
Some of the recent obsession with Wordle and its variants has been useful, though I haven’t gone too far down that rabbit hole. I do the classic text version each day, sometimes saving it as a treat for a time when I need a pick me up. I also do the Worldle each day, in which you’re given 6 attempts to guess what country is pictured, and with each wrong guess the distance and direction of the right country is revealed. That’s been a fun challenge that has made it clear to me how much geographic knowledge I’ve lost over the years — as a kid I loved maps and would often spend time looking at atlases and globes. And of course many things have changed geopolitically since I was a kid, too. I find that I usually either get the country right on the first guess or two, or I don’t get it right at all. And yes, predictably for a white USian I find that the Global South is much more of a challenge for me.
I also just — finally — finished playing Gorogoa on my phone. It’s a gorgeous puzzle game that I’ve had for a while and had started then stopped, for some reason. The layout is four tiles in a square, and you move through the puzzles by zooming in and out and using arrows to move left to right in the tile. Sometimes you have to line up two or more tiles to make something happen, and other times a tile turns into one or more layers that you pull apart. The puzzles are clever and just hard enough. It’s very, very pretty, too. And one thing I really like is that you can pick it up and play for 5 minutes or so, then put it down and come back to it later. That seems key to the anti-doomscrolling application for games, for me.
I did finally finish playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch, mostly because when he was doing college at home last year my kid kept teasing me that I’d never finished it. I’m not usually a big fan of the final boss battle and I admit I found it annoying, though it was satisfying to finish, and at some point I will go back and do some of the side quests I think. More recently I’ve been playing smaller games on the Switch. I loved A Short Hike so much last year, it was like taking a fun trip to nature when we weren’t really going anywhere, and the music is so lovely that I still sometimes listen to it while I’m working.
Right now on the Switch I’m playing Unpacking, which is a sort of puzzly game about moving but also really about life and growing up. The game takes you through someone’s life, starting when they’re a kid, then moving to college, then in an apartment with roommates, etc. Each level is a room or series of rooms that the person is moving into, and you have to unpack the boxes and arrange their stuff. There’s lots of freedom to put stuff wherever feels right to you, though you can’t leave anything on the floor or else the level won’t be complete. There are also stickers that you get for specific actions or arrangements of things — it took me a few levels to realize that, and now I’m kind of obsessed with looking at the names of the stickers I don’t have yet to try and figure out what I need to do to get them. As you go through each level you learn a bit more about the person who’s life you’re arranging. We have been in our apartment for 23 years this summer, and it has been a long time since we’ve packed and unpacked, and I am finding this mechanic to be super compelling here in pandemic season 3, too.
I came into writing this post feeling mopey and down because I didn’t think I’d read that much in 2020. But I was surprised after counting these up to find that I’ve read 39 books this (last [since I’m writing this on January 2]) year, more than I would have guessed. I’m trying to resist the urge to type “but several of them were graphic novels/comix” (guess I couldn’t resist after all, sigh). Definitely I had high reading and low reading times — summer obviously a high time, but also early spring, even though the semester was in full effect. And this fall was a low low time, probably lower than is usual during the fall semester, which is traditionally our busiest at work. We’d just gone back to a more onsite schedule at work, and even with the kid finally back at his own college (which made my work from home days easier) I was tired which made reading harder. Blame pandemic season 2 — wow it’s just so much more tiring than season 1. I also taught a graduate class in the fall so I had that reading to do, too.
Looking back at my fiction reading I feel like there was a bunch of meh in there, books that I kind of don’t remember much now, which makes me both glad that I keep a reading journal and a little bit wistful that I spent the reading time on meh when it could have been spent on awesome. Only one book was so meh that I ditched it halfway through: Homeland, by Cory Doctorow, which I started reading when my co-teacher and I thought we might assign it to our students and ditched when we decided not to. I also read Feed for that same reason, though I finished that one — zombies aren’t really my jam but this YA book was fun enough, extra bonus points for a pandemic causing the zombification.
Thankfully the meh fiction was in the minority compared to the awesome fiction. I reread Station Eleven when I was feeling especially glum and like I needed to read about a worse pandemic than this pandemic, and it hit the spot — such a terrific book, and with the story fresh in my mind I’m ready to watch the TV show (bonus!). Early in the year the library was still closed to patrons (though I worked in my office once/week or so) and I kept walking by The Need on a book truck, admiring the cover, until finally I picked it up only to see that the author is a Brooklyn College prof. Read in a gulp and it was intense: about parenting and archaeology and time, all my jam. I borrowed some more challenging books from work too; both An Untamed State and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous were heartbreaking and incredible. Early in the year I was delighted to learn that Emma Newman had written additional books in the Planetfall universe (I loved that book, why did I forget to check for sequels for so long?), and I tore through Before Mars and After Atlas. I also tore through Disappearing Earth, which was compelling and dreamy and had me looking at maps of the Kamchatka Peninsula repeatedly. And The Vanishing Half absolutely bowled me over with its gorgeous writing and gripping story, just amazing. I am so grateful for all of these authors during this hard hard year.
During the quieter times when I could find daytime hours to read I got through some academic books that I’d been meaning to read for ages. Finally finished Living a Feminist Life, begun in 2017 (!), which was terrific of course, and my last book of the year was Gamer Trouble, a fun read in a discipline (game studies) that I’m always feeling under-read in, so go me. In other nonfiction reads The Sum of Us and Mediocre were also both terrific and necessary — the former in particular is super comprehensive and approachable and I think will be a book about racism that I share with folx when they ask for reading suggestions. I ended up buying and rereading Burnout because pandemic season 2. But the real standout was Laziness Does Not Exist, reading this was so useful and comforting to me, thinking I might buy it, too. And my ever-present climate change anxiety was soothed somewhat by reading All We Can Save, picked up after hearing Tressie McMillan Cottom and Roxane Gay interview the editor on their podcast Hear to Slay. It’s a huge book that took me two rounds of library borrowing to read, punctuated by a couple of months’ break when I had to wait for it to be available again after it expired from my phone. Realistic but hopeful, which is the energy I need to take me into 2022.
My list below, as per usual in reverse chrono order and with these indicators: asterisk = ebook, tilde = books we own (which I seemingly forgot to indicate last year).
~Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture, by Amanda Phillips *Remote Control, by Nnedi Okorafor *Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel ~Menopause, A Comic Treatment, by MK Czerwiec *No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood *All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson *We Have Always Been Here, by Lena Nguyen *There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, by Kikuko Tsumura *Feed, by Mira Grant *Yolk, by Mary H. K. Choi ~Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed *Follow Me to Ground, by Sue Rainsford *Pew, by Catherine Lacey *You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience, by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado *Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, by Ijeoma Oluo On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong ~Comics For a Strange World, by Reza Farazmand *The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee *The Memory Theater, by Karin Tidbeck An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay ~Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel The Need, by Helen Phillips ~Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward ~Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke *Laziness Does Not Exist, By Devon Price *Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid ~Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski *Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips *Luster, by Raven Leilani *After Atlas, by Emma Newman *Double Bind: Women on Ambition, by Robin Romm *The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, by Christopher Emdin *Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam *Before Mars, by Emma Newman *The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa ~New York Drawings, by Adrian Tomine
It’s the weekend and I am adjusting to my new glasses. They’re super pretty, though it’s so weird to see them on my face in the mirror as they’re very different from my old glasses. I’m remembering that I felt exactly this weird 2 summers ago when I first got those old glasses, too. Now I feel so fondly about those old glasses, in large part because of a photo of me and the kid that summer at a family wedding, one of the better pictures ever taken of the two of us. We both look so happy back there in August 2019, anticipating the changes we knew were coming and so totally, completely oblivious to the horrible thing coming that would change so much, has changed so much.
My new glasses are the 5th pair I’ve had since moving to glasses pretty much always, away from contacts, which I guess makes it about a decade of full time glasses. I first got glasses in 6th grade, the classic can’t see the chalkboard in school situation, though with a dad who’s extremely nearsighted it wasn’t exactly unexpected that I’d need them too. I was able to get away with wearing them only in school for about two years before I really started to need them on my face full time in junior high, which was about as awful as the 80s teen movies make it out to be. Why were glasses and braces so devastating to preteens in the old days? Now it’s just no big deal, which of course is the way it should always have been.
I started hardcore lobbying for contact lenses in 8th grade though it took another year or so for my parents to agree. And for years after that I was almost never in glasses, only first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I tried to be good about replacing my contacts when recommended, cleaning them (and extra cleaning them? with fizzy tablets and special fluids? wow I can barely remember), not wearing them for too long, and not sleeping in them. But it was high school, college, early grad school; I was out late, up late, young enough not to be too worried about my eyes, on a budget enough not to want to spend too much money on them. And glasses were so annoying to me: no peripheral vision, hard to wear sunglasses, they make your face sweaty, they fog up.
But about a decade ago my eyes started to get cranky about the constant contacts. They’d itch or be dry or uncomfortable after most of the day, and gradually I started wearing my glasses more and more often. Yes, still annoying in some ways, but much less annoying than painful eyes. I’ve also found some benefits to glasses in adulthood. I think they suit me — as an academic, it’s part of the persona, right? And they do a great job drawing attention away from circles under my eyes when I’m tired. I still haven’t quite come around to prescription sunglasses — feels like a pain in the butt to have to take them on and off as the sun comes and goes — but maybe I can get used to that, too?
This is my 3rd pair of progressives (because old) and I’m always suprised by the adjustments needed. I was absolutely certain (and stressed out) that the incessant zooming since the pandemic had totally wrecked my eyes, and then relieved when I finally went to the eye doctor in late summer that everything’s fine, my prescription needs a small change but not too much. But the change in frame style plus the slight change in strength means that I’m figuring out anew how to hold my head to see close, middle, and far distance. So many adjustments every time something changes. I hope I adjust soon, because once I do I will take my old frames in for new lenses, keeping that old pair around just in case I need them.
This was a hard week, in large part because yesterday we had to say goodbye to one of our sweet 13.5 year old cats. Gummy had been diagnosed with diabetes last summer, just one small ingredient in the general garbagefire stew that was 2020. We’d gamely learned how to do the twice-daily insulin injections and for a while he seemed fine. The needles are small enough that he didn’t mind the shots much, and we fell into a rhythm with it all, even finding a cat sitter with injection experience for the times we had to travel. But a few weeks ago he started declining, and by yesterday we knew it was time. The vet was very considerate and compassionate, but wow it’s still hard.
Gummy was always the more prickly and grumpy of our two littermate cats, and admittedly later in life he was sort of an asshole. He didn’t really like anyone other than my spouse and me, though he’d kind of grudgingly accept pets from the kid. But even the kid got on his nerves recently, apparently, since he peed on the kid’s bed once over the summer. (At 11pm on a weeknight, sigh.)
But Gummy was such a sweetie to us. He didn’t like to sit on laps or be held, but he was very into chin scritches and pets, preferring us to sit on the floor next to him while he walked around us. He’d come sit next to me on the floor while I meditated, and if you were sitting in a chair or on the sofa he’d reach up and touch you with a gentle paw if he wanted you to come down to the floor to give him pets. He was kind of a dog cat — he always ran to the door when I came home from work, just to check in and say hi. He also liked climbing up onto places he shouldn’t be (see my desk above), and drinking water sneakily from our water glasses (eww).
It’s a weird vibe now, with just one cat. Gummy and Caramel weren’t really close later in life, as they got older they mostly stayed away from each other with only the occasional grooming or tussling. But it’s sad to suddenly only have one cat instead of two. RIP Gummy, our kind of a jerk but also so sweet and loyal kittie, I miss you.
This week I am taking some vacation days, a use ’em or lose ’em kind of situation that so many of us seem to be finding ourselves in here in pandemic season 2. For various reasons we’re not able to go anywhere this week so I’m catching up on sleep and reading, and also trying to get out and about when I can, weather permitting (ugh, the heat, the humidity).
It had been an age, plus the newly-renovated hall of gems and minerals is finally open, so we headed up to the American Museum of Natural History a few days ago. While not unproblematic, as a science and social science nerd I will always count the AMNH among my most favorite museums. I can’t remember when my first visit was, but in graduate school I spent lots of time there as a researcher, using their collections to identify animal bones from the archaeological digs I worked on. The collections of animal bones I was analyzing were from medieval Ireland and 19th century Brooklyn, which meant hanging out with the domesticated animal skeletons on the 5th (?) floor of the museum, each room devoted to a different animal (or closely related species) with drawers full of bones and skins. In the Irish collection I had lots and lots of frog bones to identify, and the folx in the Herpetology Department were so friendly and helpful, in amongst the snakes and amphibians in jars and drawers. And the avian fauna, then (maybe still now?) in the basement — the Brooklyn collection had so many ducks, and wow, duck bones of different species and even genuses are so hard to identify, they all look so similar (and I was much more proficient at mammals, to be fair). There are some things I do still miss about being an archaeologist, but sitting alone in that basement with all of those duck bones is for sure not one of them.
Once the kid was born our AMNH visit frequency increased, unsurprisingly. When he was really little the length of the subway ride meant we usually only could stay at the museum for an hour or so before we hit crankiness or naptime; we got a membership to make the whole thing reasonably affordable, and we’ve kept the membership ever since. When we visit now the echoes of all of our previous visits are there. When he was a toddler we spent lots of time in the old hall of gems and minerals, then with a sort of dark 70s basement vibe, carpeted stairs for toddlers to climb up and down, a few huge rocks to touch, and low cases with the collections visible at toddler level. The dinosaurs, of course, in preschool and elementary school, so much time with them. The Hall of Biodiversity, newly renovated when he was little, still lovely now. The blue whale (right now with a bandaid on one flipper because they’re still giving covid19 vaccines underneath, so cool!) and sitting on the bench to watch the oceans movie, such a soothing place to rest. Meryl Streep explaining cladistics, what more could you ask for?
Our most recent visit was one million percent worth it, the renovated Hall of Gems and Minerals is fantastic, truly. The displays are terrific, grouping specimens by their chemistry and crystalline structure, plus lots of explanation about geological processes. There are several enormous and frankly stunning items, new to display (I think?) which makes me wonder where they were hiding all these years (though of course I realize that the museum has so many items in storage/for research). It was amazing — I could have looked at the Singing Stone for an hour.
But seeing the new amazingness does make me a little nervous, a tiny bit worried that more renovation might be looming. On the walk from the museum entrance to the minerals we traversed through some of our most favorite spots: North American Forests and the Hall of the New York State Environment. Most of these galleries feature the very classic natural history museum diorama-type displays: a specific location or type of forest, with trees and plants and bugs and birds and other animals, and a description and key. These were also a favorite when the kid was little, trying to find and identify all of the animals like a 3D version of the I Spy books. But they’re also just beautiful. And other cases in those galleries are old-fashioned but also kind of gorgeous, all fabulous fonts and little models of farming in upstate or hibernating chipmunks. The painting I snapped a photo of (above) illustrating the temperature and humidity ranges at different heights in the forest on a rainy day, sunny day, and at night. These galleries aren’t at all flashy, but they still have lots to offer. I hope they stay off the renovation schedule for a good long while, still.
I am trying to learn how to knit, and it has been kind of hilarious. My mom knits and about a million years ago she got me a learn to knit puppet kit which I’d never quite been able to bring myself to do. I’m not sure why I had such a weird block for so long. I generally enjoy making things (I can sew and go through phases of sewing stuff: purses and phone cases in the past, masks more recently [obvs]), and it feels like knitting is a useful skill to have (though sometimes I mentally push back on that because why do I feel the need for a productive hobby?). And I know lots of folx knit during meetings and wow, and the end of this year with endless work zooms I have really been wanting something to help me stay focused in meetings. Which I think is ultimately why I dug the puppet kit out of a drawer last month and gave it a whirl.
It’s been a wild ride so far. The instructions were kind of confusing but I was able to get the first few rows knitted alright, thinking back now I’m not sure why I didn’t go to youtube right away but I’m stubborn like that. The yarn in the kit had come twisted in a skein and at first I just pulled yarn directly from it, only to realize after things got horribly tangled that duh, the first step is to wrap the yarn into a ball (and then I remembered that my kid used to help my mom do that with her knitting when he was a toddler). So I pulled the needles out of what I’d done so far and unraveled it, untangled and wound the yarn into a ball, and started again.
I am also impatient, so after the first few newly-knitted rows went smoothly I got ahead of myself and decided that I was good enough to knit while watching TV. That went okay-ish — we were watching “Search Party” and during the tense parts I dropped a few stitches, but I thought I’d been able to pick them up okay. Then we started watching “Ted Lasso” (omg so so good) and I made a bigger mistake, but instead of stopping to fix it I just kind of plowed on through. And the combination of all of those mistakes meant that I ended up with something that is not at all a rectangle of 44 stitches by 80 rows, as you can see, because I kept adding stitches (though I didn’t really internalize that until I got to the next step).
Next up was to knit each half of my non-rectangle more narrowly to create a head for the puppet, which I also messed up. On the one side I did the knit two together stitches too aggressively (every stitch rather than two stitches each row), so it got all puckered. On the other side I tried to make up for it by not knitting narrowly enough. The finishing up bit was folding the knitting in half and sewing in (with a tapestry needle, who even knew I had one of those in my sewing box?) a precut piece of fleece for the mouth and striped buttons for eyes.
And woooooooooow, wow, that puppet is a hot mess. (Though to be fair, even if I’d knitted everything perfectly the puppet would still be kind of scary, at least if the photo on the instructions is to be believed.) I’m not sure why I didn’t rip stitches out to go back and fix it once things truly went pear-shaped. I think I keep telling myself that it’s good to have this record of knitting errors for the future? My mom came to visit a couple of weeks ago and also told me that I’m doing the knit stitch slightly wrong, the way I’m doing it is called knitting into the back of the stitch. Which I’d suspected, having finally taken a look at a youtube video.
When I started the puppet I thought I might give it away, but now that it’s so very ugly I think I have to keep it forever? I texted a friend and they called it ugdorable (lol). I do have some more yarn, so maybe I’ll try for a very basic scarf next.
Tuesdays after work and Saturday mornings I do karate. It’s a small group who of us who train in a now-virtual dojo for women and transfolx. Looking back at my calendar just now I realize I’ve been training for 4 years this month. I started karate after taking a self-defense class offered at an anti-violence org in the same location as our dojo. A work friend had recommended both; in Spring 2017 I was on sabbatical and trying to get myself together in the early days of the last federal administration, and taking self-defense felt like a tangible, helpful action to take.
Starting karate was the first time in a long time I’d intentionally done something involving moving my body, which I’m increasingly aware is so necessary as I get older. I appreciate that exercise makes me feel better, but exercise has for most of my life been kind of boring to me (with a few exceptions). It was also my first time in a while being a complete novice at something. It’s hard to do new things, especially if the new thing involves continuing to return to an activity that you’re not very good at, and being patient while building skill, accepting that progress may not be linear. In the immortal words of Jake the Dog, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.
Before the pandemic I could only make it to class on Saturday mornings. I wrote early on in the pandemic about missing my routines, and I was sad about that Saturday morning karate routine for a long time: getting myself out of the house by 9:30am and dropping off compost at the farmers market before walking down to the dojo, changing into my gi, leaving everything except karate outside the dojo during our initial meditation, chatting after we finished training, and walking home. Maybe I struggled with learning whatever kata I was working on, or trying to get my body to execute a technique in the same way on the right side and left side, but I always left feeling so much better than I had before class.
When the pandemic started I quickly realized I could attend the Tuesday evening class too, which fit neatly into the time I’d previously spent commuting, so I started training twice a week. I made space in the bedroom, already arranged differently because of our paused renovation. When the renovation started up again and the bedroom was inaccessible, I figured out a way to shift the living room furniture so I could train there. And once the renovation finished and our bedroom was back to (new) normal, I settled into what’s now my usual karate space, a rectangle of about 5 feet by 10 feet, rug rolled up so that my bare feet can grip the wood floors, just like in the dojo. I’ve mentally mapped the dimensions of our old dojo onto my room, so that when one of the teachers says “step out left toward the mirror” I know what that means in my space.
In yesterday’s class I was in a breakout room working on my kata with an advanced student, talking about showing katas, and we realized that I’ve shown 5 katas since we moved to virtual karate. I’m not always comfortable feeling proud of myself, so I sort of brushed off the compliment from my classmate — I’m still closer to the beginning of our kata list than the end, these were easy katas, especially the two in short stances that don’t require lots of space. But the more I think about it I should be proud. Two of these katas are in our widest stance, and I had to do lots of thinking and adjusting and practicing to fit them into a 5’x10′ box. One of the five is still vexing me, to be honest — I learned it well enough to show it a few months ago but it’s complex enough that now that a classmate is learning it I’m struggling to remind my body about one section in particular. It’s a process.
With the warmer weather we’ll hopefully be able to train in the park occasionally, as we did last year, and with vaccination rates increasing I wonder if we’ll be able to get a new dojo space in the not too distant future, too? The org we rented our old space from has given up the lease during the pandemic, not surprisingly. I still really miss training in person — especially when learning a new technique it’s much easier for my brain to see it in 3D with a real person than zooming. Though a benefit to our virtual dojo is that the folx who’re no longer in Brooklyn can train with us too, a small group that includes former students returning and current students who’ve moved since last year. And that community of our dojo is a super important part of karate for me, too.
I am getting better, and I still have so much to learn.