maura @ 6:31 pm
I am sick, blargh. In general I’m more annoying than some sick folks, but less annoying than others, I think. I’ve spent the day moving from the sofa to the table, blowing my nose, drinking water and tea, and reading. When I’m not sick it always seems like being sick could be sort of okay, restful, even? But of course it’s not. My head hurts, my nose is running, and my body aches. This is a giant drag even despite a good book and the lap-warming efforts of one of our cats. Blargh.
I shouldn’t complain, really. I don’t get sick often, usually only once or twice each year. I’m very lucky to have paid sick days. January is a pretty common time for me to get sick — thinking back, this is the 3rd January in a row that I’ve had a cold bad enough to stay home from work. It makes sense that in the cold weather, worn down after the end of the busy semester and holidays, it’d be easy to pick up some kind of crud, especially with everyone else in the city coughing and sneezing.
January’s a good time to be sick in many ways. Things are slower at work, there are only a few classes and many folks take vacation, so it’s quieter. A good time to get things done before the semester starts, to catch up. So while I’m not missing too much by being home today, I do feel the pull of losing time to being sick, with only 3 weeks left to get some biggish tasks — both with and without hard deadlines — out of the way before the semester begins and everything speeds up again.
I’ve been trying to write more consistently this year as well, jumping into using the hashtag #write2018 with other library and academic folks on twitter. Some are doing 25 minutes/day; I’ve been aiming for just something every day, sometimes more and sometimes less, even on the weekends. It’s going to be a bit less today, I fear. Hoping that I’m feeling and writing better tomorrow.
maura @ 11:21 am
Wow, 2017 was a big reading year for me: 43 books total, handily surpassing the past 5 years and up 8 from 2016. Since I was on sabbatical for 6 months of 2017 that’s not too much of a surprise — in some ways I kind of expected to have read more. There was lots of good stuff in there and lots of challenging nonfiction, which was faster to read while on sabbatical (as I blagged about over at Librarian Sabbatical). Having the time and space (physical and mental) to simultaneously read a work-ish book, a fiction book, and a non-work nonfiction book during sabbatical was lovely, a gift. I think the count shows it: 24 fiction and 19 nonfiction. I read no graphic novels this year, though Citizen 13660 is a book written by an illustrator about her family’s experiences in a Japanese internment camp during WWII, and is sort of like a graphic novel though not exactly. That was inspired by a student I interviewed for my sabbatical project, who was assigned to read that plus The Handmaid’s Tale during the semester I spoke with her. Heavy.
As I expect is true for many folks in the U.S. especially, this was kind of a a heavy reading year, though I did read some amazing fiction that was serious but not (too) heavy. The Sun is Also a Star started out the year and was such a gorgeous NYC teenage story. Lunch in Koreatown, sigh. I could not read this fast enough. The Changeling was also super compelling and a fast read, partly because I wanted to finish it before we took a trip but also because it was such an incredible description of new parenthood and so, so, so scary, truly frightening. And The Fifth Season, finally. I feel a bit guilty that it’s taken me so long to read anything by N.K. Jemisin but I am fired up to remedy that, I got the other two books in the trilogy for xmas and am excited to start them. I love the geologically amazing world she’s created, which is aligning well with plans we’re making for a geologically amazing trip this spring.
Super heavy fiction I read and loved though wow heavy included The Underground Railroad, The Hate U Give, The Leavers, and my reread of Octavia Butler’s Parable books (which I reviewed for our newsletter at work). Also American War which was absolutely gripping and terrifying — I gulped it down though it’s left me shaken and thinking back to it at various ridiculous and scary political points during this year.
I maybe should not count Malafrena as a finished book, since I didn’t finish it, but I did finish Orsinian Tales which was included in the Library of America version that I checked out from the public library, and since Orsinian Tales is also a standalone book I counted it. Malafrena just dragged for me, though I love Ursula Le Guin and her work. But this is just not the time for me to read fiction with such a historical, European, white focus.
My nonfiction reads this year were a mix of worky and non-worky, mostly serious but not entirely so. White Rage was so amazing and devastating which is exactly what I said about Between the World and Me (as I wrote in my reading journal). Hunger I read all in one day, sort of luxuriating in the availability of time when on sabbatical, but also I think sort of afraid that if I put it down I might not be able to pick it up again because it was so hard, so heartbreaking. It was beyond terrific. An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States took me many months to read, I renewed it enough times from the (work) library that I had to physically go in to renew it again. Dense and scholarly and necessary. I finished up my nonfiction reading this year with Feminists Among Us just this past week while at home on a few days off, wearing multiple layers and trying to keep warm in this polar vortex we’re having. I have a chapter in this book and the other chapters were so incredible that I’m still sort of pinching myself that my writing is in there, too.
This year I’m not sure I have specific reading goals, though I’m going to try and keep up with my antiracism/social justice reading and keep working on strategies for reading hard stuff during busy times, which I continue to find challenging. I think one goal may be to try and read the stuff I already have, the books piled up on my to read shelf next to my desk, some of the others on other shelves in our house. I have a tendency to add a pile of books to my library holds as I read reviews that sound interesting, then they all come in at times that aren’t always convenient, and my book pile at home doesn’t get any smaller. Going to see if I can remedy that this year, at least somewhat.
Here’s 2017, in reverse-chronological order, starred are ebooks and tilded are books we own.
* Signal to Noise, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
~ Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership. edited by Shirley Lew and Baharak Yousefi
* An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor
~ The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
* No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, by Naomi Klein
The Leavers, by Lisa Ko
* The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch
~ Information Literacy and Social Justice, edited by Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins
* The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
No One Is Coming to Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts
~ The Real World of Technology, by Ursula M. Franklin
~ Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
~ The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder
~ All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
The Changeling, by Victor LaValle
~ Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo
* The Small Backs of Children, by Lidia Yuknavitch
~ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks
~ Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, by Angela Y. Davis
~ You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day
Waking Up White (And Finding Myself in the Story of Race), by Debby Irving
Malafrena (partially) and Orsinian Tales, by Ursula Le Guin
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
American War, by Omar El Akkad
~ Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
* ~ Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
~ Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age, by Kurt Squire
* Kabu Kabu, by Nnedi Okorafor
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
~ Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
* The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
* Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon
Prior year end reading roundups (mostly collected here so I can find them easily): 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012
maura @ 9:47 pm
Grumpy. I am grumpy. Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. Grumpy when I wake up in the morning, grumpy when I go to sleep at night.
I’m grumpy about all the usual things, things that are probably making lots of other folks grumpy too. Time, capitalism, bodies; too little, too much, too fragile. Plus the disturbing political situation. Plus the rolling waves of sexual assault news.* Plus climate change (so hot). Like a slice of toast spread thickly with gray sludge. Grumpy.
* Among the many well-written and heartwrenching pieces, this one by archivist Eira Tansey really resonated with me.
I’ve been trying to talk myself out of it and write myself out of it and think myself out of it, but this grumpy is nothing if not persistent.
Last week I went to a symposium for librarians about higher education, focusing on what might be on the horizon. The speakers were mostly not librarians, they were administrators or folks in library-adjacent fields like scholarly publishing. There was, as is so often the case (cf. Eira’s post linked above), not gender parity among the speakers (though perhaps among attendees), and nowhere even in the remote vicinity of racial/ethnic parity among both. I am grumpy about disparities. I am grumpy when I hear about things happening at better-resourced institutions. I know that my colleagues and I do the best we can with the resources we have available, a great job, in all and genuine honesty, but it’s hard not to be grumpy thinking of what we might be able to do were the resources available.
The symposium was held at a hotel in Manhattan. As I walked into the lobby I experienced the most incredible nostalgia, though it took me a few minutes to place it. A long time ago, when my kid was little, the two of us came to that very hotel to meet his grandmother — my spouse’s mom — for lunch. She was at that time the president of a scholarly association that had its meeting at the hotel. My memory is that she was only in town for a short time and couldn’t make it out to Brooklyn, and my spouse was also busy that day, so we decided that the kid and I would come in and meet her for lunch. I believe we ate at a diner, I have a memory of us sitting on counter stools and spinning around? I could dig a little to figure out the exact date (but I haven’t), it could have been when the kid was 3-ish, though maybe as old as 5-ish. I think the lunch was a bit hectic — it’s a busy part of the city for schlepping a kid, she was busy with her meeting. But he is the only child of her only child so of course we made the trip.
It’s 3 years last month since a good friend of ours died suddenly, 3 years this month since my spouse’s mom died. The sadness and missing them has changed and keeps changing, complicated by external factors: other people, the world, life. Reservations are made and tickets are bought for us to go a Chinese restaurant for lunch and to see the latest Star Wars movie on Christmas as we have for the past 2 years, our now-not-so-new tradition. I am and will be thinking of them both.
And I’m looking forward to a few days off at the end of the month to catch up on sleep and read and play some games and get myself out of the house a bit more. It’s so boring to be this grumpy all the time.
maura @ 6:47 am
Wow September, where did you go? Into the manuscript for the edited book that my research partner and I delivered to the publisher last weekend, is the real answer. But wow, everything is so much right now, and September was no different. Work is extra busy, home is extra busy, the world continues to fall apart at what feels like extra busy speed (though I realize that much of this perception of speed is the result of the instantaneous notification that comes from our pocket computers).
It’s still weird to me to finish up a big project. The sort of let-down feeling is less so now than with the last book, I think because this semester is already so much busier than this time last year. But the feeling like I’m out of words is the same. How many words do we get? I wrote or cowrote lots of things on sabbatical, are my words used up? Will they come back?
This time around I acutely felt the slowdown in reading that happened as I got closer to the book’s deadline. This feeling was also exacerbated by sabbatical: during sabbatical I had enough time to do my research work + writing and to read a bunch each day (as I blogged about on one of the sabbatical side projects I worked on with a colleague). But once I was back to work and counting down to our deadline it got harder and harder to allocate the brain space needed to read in addition to doing everything else. I left off in the middle of a couple of nonfiction books that were especially challenging, but even fun light reading before bed usually had me falling asleep over the book.
I’m looking forward to finishing those books and starting new ones. And I’m hoping that reading more will help the words come back for writing, too.
maura @ 6:15 pm
One thing that I’ll definitely miss about sabbatical is hanging out with our cats. They turned 9 this past spring, and being a cat owner continues to surprise me. Which maybe it shouldn’t, because we did have cats when I was a kid, though we didn’t get our first cats until I was about 12. They were outdoor cats, ostensibly because a few family members were allergic (though I should note that those same family members now have both cats and dogs that live inside, hmmm… [thinking emoji]).
We started with three cats, one each for me and my sibs. Two of them came with us when we moved across several states a little over a year later (RIP Freckles, my brother’s cat accidentally killed by a car on a snowy day). Things got a little more hectic when I was in high school — my parents’ were heading for divorce by that point and when my sibs “found” a few kittens in the small stand of trees that separated our yard from the yard of the house in the development behind ours, we were allowed to keep them. And two of them got pregnant before we could get them fixed, and at one point we had maybe 13 cats total? The moms + kittens lived on the screened porch until they were old enough to give away, and I think things stabilized after that at about 6 cats. And then I went away to college.
Anyway, so outdoor cats are a little different than indoor cats. No cat hair on all of your stuff, for one thing. Also if they had hairballs I guess we never saw them. On the minus side, sometimes you couldn’t find them when you wanted a snuggle. And also they would bring us presents from their killing escapades, mostly mice, though one cat used to eat grasshoppers and barf them up on the back steps, good times. I wonder now about the weather — if it was a really cold winter’s day we were allowed to bring them into the laundry room, which was next to the garage, but mostly they seemed okay outside.
Our two current cats are spoiled indoor cats, like many city kitties. They are snuggly and lovely though I do feel like things are happening as they age that I was not prepared for. Hair-related issues for one: they shed more and more and seem to produce more hairballs, most especially when we’re away (which I guess is a stress-grooming thing? which makes me sad). Gummy loves to be brushed so I try to brush him once every week or two, but Caramel can’t stand being brushed. We got a couple of decent lint brushes that make it easier to deal with hair on clothes and furniture, but some shirts just seem to be like velcro for cat hair, sigh.
They are funny with their own personalities, which I think I was less aware of with outdoor cats. They’re brothers but don’t really hang out much, though there is the occasional chase and sort-of-mock fight. Caramel likes to sit on our laps and knead, he also follows you around meowing if he wants something (usually food), occasionally throws himself down on the floor belly-up for pets, and sometimes he wants to sleep right next to my head. Gummy is more aloof, he wants pets but won’t sit on your lap, instead preferring that you sit on the floor and scratch his chin and ears while he walks around you. Sometimes he will sit next to us on the sofa or bed, he also regularly meets us at the door when we come home from being out, sort of like a dog. Caramel’s purr is quiet, and Gummy’s is very loud. Caramel’s naughtiness is that he likes to eat plastic/paper (esp. window envelopes), ribbons, and plastic bags. Gummy is a fan of lightly biting things, like my laptop cord which has several tiny teeth indentations.
Really they are quite personable, which is good when we’re here but not so much when we’re gone. We originally got two rather than one so that the solo cat wouldn’t be lonely, but since at least one of us tends to be home much of them time I think they get sort of stressed out when we’re not here. I suppose we could get more cats to help these guys not be so sad when we go, but that would push us into the realm of too many litterboxes for a 2BR apartment, I think. [cat with heart eyes emoji]
maura @ 6:07 pm
As I write this we are finishing up the second of our 2 summer vacations this year. We’ve been to Scotland, which was incredible, and also spent some time visiting family in northern New England.
I am sitting on the front porch (vacation #2) thinking about time. And I realize I have spent lots of my sabbatical thinking about time, specifically the ways in which sabbatical time differs from regular work schedule time. Vacation time is different too.
My friend Emily writes about kairos and library work, often teaching. As Emily puts it, kairos is “time married to action and context,” or qualitative time, as opposed to chronos which is regular clock time, schedules and appointments and hourlong chunks in the online calendar. Sabbatical has been mostly about kairos I think, chronos has faded a bit into the background. Qualitative time also makes sense to me in my own research context, I think a lot about what and where and how people do things with the tools and in the locations and times available to them. So it is not surprising that I would think about my own qualitative time during my own sabbatical context. (Tho yes, navel gazing.)
I have done a lot of reading on sabbatical, mostly fiction but a fair amount of nonfiction too. Reading has always messed with time for me: time slows to a crawl if I’m reading something dull or difficult, or flies by when a book is so engaging that I can’t put it down. It feels like a luxurious use of time to spend a whole day reading, which I’ve done on a few occasions during sabbatical. Sitting on this front porch I read “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (and the rest of the stories in that collection as well). That’s the story that the movie “Arrival” was based on, a movie I loved though it made me so very sad. (the teen: “why do you [and dad] always cry at movies?” me: “because parenthood makes ya sappy, kid.”) The source material does not disappoint, and I found myself going back to it a few times as I was finishing up the other stories in the volume.
Sabbatical feels like heptapod B time a little bit. I kind of had the whole thing planned out, and mostly it’s unfolded the way I expected. Deviations weren’t too awful, even the ones that were more negative than positive. There was a big structure but I felt sort of floaty in between. Scotland was like that too: we had an itinerary and moved between things to do, but there was some squishiness too. Family visiting is less structured more squishy.
My sabbatical ends in 12 days. Our drive home from visiting takes 6 hours. The commute to work when everything on the subway is working well takes 20 minutes. My walk home takes 40 minutes. The semester starts (almost) 3 weeks after I’m back. My commute to the NYPL to the study room I’ve been using during sabbatical takes 50 minutes.
Now I’m not on the front porch anymore. Now my sabbatical ends sooner than it did when I started this post. Do the number of items on the list of things I’d like to get done before sabbatical ends subdivide and fit neatly into the time remaining? Will I go back to my one hour of research each morning before heading into the library?
I am not ready to go back.
I am ready to go back.
These things are both, at the same time, true.
maura @ 11:55 am
I realized the other morning that even though my sabbatical is in theory not bound by the same academic calendar constraints that my regular worklife is, in practice I’ve ended up aligning to those semester-based rhythms even when on leave. It’s true that I did have to interview students for my research project during the semester, because that’s when they’re on campus (we do have summer classes but enrollment is significantly lower than during the year). But looking back now I’m struck by how much my time in February, March, April, and May was fairly regimented during the week.
The regular academic year finishes up at the end of May, and this month I have relaxed my self-imposed sabbatical schedule somewhat, too. Especially over the past two weeks, when the kid’s been out of school more than in (thanks but no thanks high school regents exams). Our apartment is big by NYC standards, but even so I find that I can’t work well for long chunks of time when all three of us are here. I have a spot in one of the study rooms at the NYPL that I typically use about once/week, though with the evermore erratic behavior of the subway system I sometimes don’t want to make that commute into the city. Sometimes I use the Brooklyn Public Library as a workspace too — a much shorter (and walkable) commute.
But this month I’ve also been letting myself do less research work overall. As someone who sometimes worries that I’m not getting enough done, when I look back at the last four months I have crossed lots of sabbatical goals off my list, so a little relaxation is not so scandalous, right?
All of which is just a long-winded (very long-winded!) way of saying that recently I played a game! From start to finish! That had been sitting around unplayed since I got it for my birthday 2 (?) years ago! And it was delightful.
The game is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and is a good example of the kinds of narrative games that I like more these days, less about button combo skillz and more about using a game to get somewhere interesting or tell a story. The plot is that two brothers are on a quest to find a magical ingredient to save their dying father. The game world is fairy-tale like with relatively straightforward puzzles as you leave the doctor’s house and travel through the town, up the mountains, and farther afield in search of the cure. It’s also very pretty. I especially liked the inclusion of benches at various locations along the way when the game wants to show you what’s ahead, which also served as a very real analogy to when you’re on a hike or long walk and want to stop for a brief rest.
While I’ve been known to gripe about the 2 joysticks on the PlayStation controller, I admit that for this game the physical mechanics are pretty neat: the left joystick and button control the actions of one brother, and the right joystick/button the other. Sometimes you need to have the brothers do the same action together, and other times they need to work together but doing different things. Figuring out the controller action was fun for some of the more interesting puzzles — my favorite was a climb up and into a castle on a rocky precipice that required tying a rope between the two brothers to connect them as they climbed and swung between handholds.
What seemed like a fairly standard-issue quest through a vaguely Medieval-European-ish world gradually took a pretty weird and ominous turn. First there were bloody streaks in a river you had to cross, followed by dead giants strewn along the path who looked to have died in a battle. You suddenly come upon a scene of small men with beards and spears who look to be about to sacrifice a girl, and after scaring them away the girl leads you further up into the mountains past an invisible snow yeti. Once you survive *that* she gets a little flirty (!) with the big brother and leads you both into a creepy tunnel — I should add that the little brother doesn’t want to go, but the big brother insists. (Also, the northern lights along the path to the tunnel were beautiful.)
Aaaaand then the tunnel ends up being a spider’s nest and the girl transforms into a spider with a girl head. There’s a boss battle to escape, and while both brothers finally defeat her, the girlspider stabs the older brother just before she dies. A brief and limping walk bring the brothers to the location of the magical healing liquid to cure their father, which the younger brother has to climb a tall tree to retrieve. But by the time the little brother comes back down the tree, the older brother has died. The little brother then has to *bury* the older brother — seriously, the game makes you dig the grave — and returns home to save his father, all of which is a little weird because not only is it sad but also you’re now only using half of the controller. There is a spot near the end when the ghost of the older brother comes back to help the younger brother and you’re made to use the whole controller again.
The game ends on a melancholy note with the now-cured father and younger brother kneeling at a memorial for the older brother. While sad, it was definitely worthwhile, and I’m so glad I made the time to (finally!) play.
maura @ 5:10 pm
I can’t quite believe that we’ve lived in our current apartment for nearly 18 years. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and I’d never lived in the same apartment or house for more than 3 years before this place. It’s been a long time but it’s still strange — when I feel grumpy about having to recaulk the bathtub *again* (because didn’t I just do that?) (and why don’t I ever seem to get any better at it?), I keep having to remind myself that in the past we often moved out before our home needed any significant (or even insignificant) maintenance.
Through a combination of luck and not being on the first floor, plus a heaping helping of I like to clean and for the house to be clean, we’ve not had to deal with many bugs or other annoying critters in this apartment. We do get the occasional house centipede (ew, so many legs) or moth or these really tiny black beetles (when the weather gets warm), but that’s really about it. But that all changed this week when we had to deal with a weird ant invasion, sigh.
The creepiest thing is that it went from 0 to gross in seemingly no time at all. One night we went to bed and there were no ants, and the next morning we woke up to a hairball (yuck, but unfortunately not all that unusual) and lots of ants swarming it (extra-yuck, thanks cats!). Were the ants just lying in wait under the floorboards? Who knows!
There’s nothing more bracing than dealing with a hairball plus ants first thing in the morning on a weekday, boy howdy. Super glad I’m on sabbatical rn because at least I had time to help deal with it, as the cats were No Help At All as per usual. Ants move pretty fast, but we sprayed ’em with cleaning spray and wiped ’em all up as best we could.
The rest of that day we were definitely on ant High Alert, walking around the general living room area a few times to take care of any new arrivals or stragglers. It seemed like they were coming from the wall with a window that looks out onto our courtyard, and they were only in one part of the living room and hallway. But then the next day, though there were fewer ants overall, one got to the threshhold of the kitchen, yikes.
With the cats we can’t really get an exterminator or ant poison, and a pal on twitter suggested baking soda as an alternative. J ran out to get three boxes and we started going along the wall of the apartment pushing a line of baking soda into the cracks and under the floorboards plus along the threshhold of the kitchen. We did all of this before checking online and I’m still not exactly sure what baking soda does to ants — while I didn’t do an exhaustive search it seemed like some folks were suggesting mixing powdered sugar with baking soda so they’d take it back to the nest and then their stomachs would explode? Which seems weird to me and possibly not true (though again, I didn’t follow up). Other folks suggested using cinnamon which disrupts their pheremone trail, but our living room wall is very long, that would take a lot of cinnamon (and baking soda is cheaper).
My attention to detail and ability to see irregularities are adjusted pretty high. That came in handy when I was an archaeologist and continues to do so when I need to copy edit something, but is perhaps less useful to me overall during an ant situtation. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit this week walking around the apartment looking for ants along the walls and floors, which is sort of distracting.
We are on day 5 now and things are much better, really we are just seeing a few each day and also some poor ant corpses occasionally. The teenager says it looks like we were spellcasting, what with the white powder along the perimiter of the living room and around the pillar in the kitchen. Hope these spells continue to ward off the ant menace.
maura @ 11:33 am
It feels oddly indulgent to have spring break while on sabbatical, but this year the kid’s spring break was 11 days long — 7 schooldays and 4 weekend days — so it was kind of hard to avoid it. We promised him several days of not doing anything in particular, and balanced that with a 3 day whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. where we did lots of things. D.C. was a frequent spring break destination for us when the kid was younger (I just spent way too much time digging up and reading about our prior trips here, here, and here). This year the alternate side parking rules aligned in such a perfect way that we didn’t have to move the car for 10 (!) days, so we decided to take the train down rather than make the drive, which was a lovely change (and only 1 hr late on the way home!).
First up was the Library of Congress, to which I’d never been (for shame!). I was glad to have the chance to remedy that and to ogle the amazing reading room in the Jefferson Building — one of these days I’ll do some research or writing there. There was a nice exhibit with maps and artifacts about initial colonial contact in the Americas, and the kid was surprisingly interested in the exhibit on World War I. But I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the visit was seeing Dr. Carla Hayden’s name engraved in gold on the marble wall listing all of the Librarians of Congress. I completely choked up — we are so lucky to to have her in that role.
We stayed in a hotel in Georgetown that was a converted apartment building which was lovely, essentially a one bedroom apartment with separate kitchen. It was convenient to be able to have normal (read: cereal for me) breakfast there but kind of odd too, since the whole thing was bigger than several apartments we’d rented in Manhattan back in the day. Which meant I spent much of the time we were in the room trying to map our various old apartments onto the layout of the hotel room (I may be somewhat spatially obsessive).
The main event on day 2 had been planned for a long time: a visit to the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The museum opened last Fall and has been so popular that timed (though free, like all of the Smithsonian museums) tickets are needed. Tickets for the spring were released on January 4th at 9am, so I got to work at 8:30 that day to get in the online queue for tickets. It was so very worth it: this museum is phenomenal. We were there for about 5 1/2 hours and didn’t come close to seeing everything. The history galleries are all underground and begin with colonization and slavery, and you walk upwards through the past 400+ years of history to the present day. Jonathan remarked on how dense the information was: it seemed like every surface had words, images, video, audio to take in. We spent most of the time in these galleries — in this historical moment it felt like these were the most critical for us as white people, and I appreciated the opportunity to fill in my knowledge gaps (Reconstruction, in particular, is a period I didn’t know much about).
We went faster than I would have liked through the upper galleries of the museum, the kid was dragging and the museum was pretty crowded and we were all a bit info-overloaded by then. We did linger a while in the music gallery which was terrific: Jackson 5 costumes and Public Enemy’s boombox and Prince’s tambourine and an exhibit on various genres in the format of record album covers that you flip through, plus lots of audio and video. We walked fairly quickly through a great exhibit of African-American communities through history called Power of Place that I think will be my first stop the next time we go, from the little we were able to see it looked fascinating. We finished off day 2 with a walk over to the MLK Memorial, which we’d also never seen.
Day 3 got off to a slower start (because day 2 was tiring!), as we made our way from Georgetown to the train station to stow our bags for the day. Then we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian, both for it’s delicious cafeteria lunch (tho the NMAAHC cafeteria was also amazing) and to visit, finally. We didn’t have time for the whole museum but did see several exhibits, including a neat temporary exhbit about Inka roads and engineering. And we took our time in the exhibit on expansion by Europeans into Native American lands and treaties made and broken — again filling in gaps in my knowledge that seem especially urgent right now.
And then we were back on the train heading home. With our current political situation I admit to being a little bit on edge in D.C. in ways I haven’t been in the past, though I do want to go back to both museums again in the not too distant future.
maura @ 1:32 pm
SPOILER ALERT! I can’t talk about Get Out the way I want to without spoilers!! Do not read beyond paragraph 4 if you do not want spoilers!!!
It’s not necessarily related to my sabbatical, but we’ve seen a bunch of movies lately. We’d pulled back from movies in the theater when the kid was a baby, then started easing back in but focused mostly on movies we could take him to, too. Babysitting is expensive when combined with tickets + snacks (which are sort of expensive just by themselves), and for a long time it seemed easier to just wait for the DVD. But as he’s gotten older it’s been easier for us to bring him to see movies we want to see that aren’t overtly kid or superhero movies. So far this calendar year we’ve seen 3 movies in the theater, which feels like a record.
First up was Hidden Figures. I’d been waiting for this for a while because science + women of color is totally my jam, Janelle Monae is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve loved Taraji Henson ever since she was on Person of Interest. I’ve not read the book that this is based on so I can’t comment on how they’re different, though I did read a review that noted that the Kevin Costner role was elevated in the movie (the better to make him the white savior, sigh), which is a drag. Other than that, though, the movie was terrific. The leads were incredible. Octavia Spencer’s scene in the library especially resonated with me (obvs), a reminder — unfortunately — that libraries have been complicit and have a responsibility to resist. We need more movies like this, please: telling the stories of women and people of color who have been overlooked by mainstream history education and publications, especially for us white people who really need to make sure we and our kids learn about the history of everyone in our nation. I’m definitely going to recommend this for the next time we’re visiting my siblings and need something for all of the niblings to watch.
One of the previews during Hidden Figures was for I am Not Your Negro, the film adaptation of an unfinished script that James Baldwin was writing when he died. I’ve not read any James Baldwin* and have read that folks who have read lots of his work may not find much new here. The movie shared Baldwin’s perspective on the Civil Rights movement, and also focused on the work of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. For me the movie was an education, and a disturbing reminder of our country’s brutally racist past that has evolved into our still pretty brutally racist present. We brought the kid with us to this, too, and while his schools have done a much better job of telling the true story of American history than did mine when I was a kid, I don’t know that he’s seen the kind of documentary footage that the movie included (I hadn’t, either). I am so glad we saw this — I can’t exactly say that it was enjoyable, but it feels like it was necessary.
* I know, I’m working on it — there’s a lot to read, and while I’m glad to be doing the work of learning about white supremacy, intersectional feminism, and American oppression of marginalized populations, I remain angry about my lack of exposure to this during my formal schooling. I’m working on it.
Then yesterday (okay, this one was enabled by sabbatical, because weekday matinee what?!) Jonathan and I saw Get Out. Again we’d seen previews at the prior two movies. After the first preview we wondered, is this a real horror movie or a funny horror movie? I mean, Jordan Peele, he’s funny, and the preview made it look like it could go either way. After the 2nd time we saw the preview I thought, whoa, this is too creepy, I do *not* want to see that movie. But then I started reading more about it and just couldn’t get it out of my head, so off we went.
And wow. Wow. Mind. Blown. The basic plot outlines are familiar to anyone who’s seen the preview: black guy dating a white girl who live in the city go home to the rich white suburbs to meet her parents where things are…weird. But are they microaggressions weird? Or bloodthirsty evil weird? Or…?
(ONE MORE SPOILER WARNING!)
The answer is both and, plus it *is* funny, because Jordan Peele. Yes there’s lots of racism, but also the whole family turns out to be the leaders of a sort of weird cult that transfer the brains of white people who are old or disabled into black people stolen for the purpose, because of their “genetic makeup” and strength. The black guy’s buddy is the hero, providing the laughs when he confirms the black guy’s weird feelings about the increasing creepiness of the situation, and ultimately saving him in the end because he’s the only person who believes that the black guy was ever in any danger. Because white people are racist but not actually evil, right? Except these white people are both.
Honestly I can’t do the film justice at all — I’ve been thinking about it for 24 hours and it just gets better and better. What’s stuck with me most is that I feel like the movie manipulated me in the best way to get me to confront my own biases. For most of the movie it seems like the girlfriend is okay, she’s not evil, just the rest of her family. She lives in the city, she’s dating a black guy, “I have a black friend!” And that goes so deep that during a couple of scenes leading up to the revelation that actually, she’s fully on board with her family’s evil agenda, I found myself trying to give her a pass, thinking things like “wow, she was totally brainwashed by her family!” And then she’s revealed, and damn, there’s me as a white woman realizing that I was trying to give the white woman a pass, after all of the history of violence wrought on black men in the name of white women. D A M N.
That is some fine filmmaking. I am beyond thrilled to have read that Jordan Peele is planning for several more horror films.