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.
So many things were supposed to be different over the past year, big and small, and it’s hard to argue that the schedule and procedure for my kid learning how to drive isn’t on the very very small side of annoyances caused by the pandemic. But it’s different, for sure.
The original plan was that he’d learn last summer while home from college. And while he was certainly home from college, with the lockdown the DMVs were closed, with no appointments to be had for the learners permit test for much of last year. As the lockdown started to gradually lift, permit tests reappeared slowly at some though not all DMV offices. There was an online system to book appointments for tests and it was predictably awful. Appointments kept seeming to be there but then disappearing, and I kept wondering whether it would be better to just drive a few hours north to have him take the test at a DMV outside the city. But I am a rules-follower and the website said you’re supposed to take the test in your own county.
Eventually we got him an appointment at one of the DMV offices in Queens (not our own county, but close enough?). I think we made the appointment in August, and the earliest appointment we could find was for the end of October. Soon after that the Governor (ugh) said in his nightly covid update email that the state would pilot an online learners permit test. I was frustrated that there didn’t seem to be a way to register specifically for the online test, and then relieved a couple of weeks later the kid got an email with a link to sign up to take the test online. Which he did, and then at the appointment in Queens got his picture taken and learners permit issued.
Next up in learning to drive in NY is to take the 5 hour course, basically a drivers ed class.* Because pandemic those were all online, too, so he signed up for that in late November. That seemed like lots of death on the highway-style videos and rules of the road kind of stuff, also driving under the influence warnings. Not sure if they focus as much on seatbelts as they did when I took drivers ed in high school — doesn’t everyone just automatically wear seatbelts now, since we’re long past the days of bouncing around in the way back of the car?
* While high schools do offer drivers ed in NYC, because the driving age is 18 it doesn’t seem like many kids take it,** even though it’s possible to get a learners permit at 16.
** Also, not everyone has a car, and driving in the city is such a pain, who would even want to do it if they didn’t have to?
Then, finally, he was ready to take some driving lessons. Except…pandemic. The holiday caseload surge was well underway, and it was cold enough that it would have been unpleasant to be in a car with windows open.
And that, dear readers, is how I came to teach my child how to drive. Wow this was not at all what I planned — I may still be carrying some baggage from when my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15. But it’s actually been fine! We started out in the Lowe’s and Ikea parking lots, then driving around the neighborhood where Ikea is located, and now we drive around our own and adjacent neighborhoods. A couple of weeks ago we went for a day trip to see my family and he drove between two rest stops on the highway, a bit teeth-clenching but fine, we all made it through okay.
There’ve been a few jokes about Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto, but he’s taking it all pretty seriously. It’s occurred to me that age is probably part of the reason it’s gone so well, too. With almost two decades on this planet I think he has a much more realistic understanding of the gravity of navigating a huge hunk of metal through the streets. And learning to drive in the city is definitely hard mode, as he pointed out. Talking him through it really makes it clear just how much there is to pay attention to when driving down city streets — cars and pedestrians and bikes and wow, it’s a lot.
Last weekend we tried parallel parking, mimicking what I’ve seen a drivers ed car do: using the fire hydrant space as a practice spot. Yes, our car has power steering and a backup camera, two things I did not have as a new driver. But he blew me away with his parking skills, picked it up after only a few tries. My own parallel parking skills have kind of deteriorated lately, and it occurred to me that maybe we could come up with a practice I could use, too, aligning the lines in the backup camera with the curb to find the best spot to cut the wheel. And it worked!
With the warmer weather we decided to get him one lesson with a driving school, just to see if they have any suggestions. And he’s signed up for the road test in a little over a month, fingers crossed.
Monday February 1st was the start of a 2-day blizzard here, and we have had snow on the ground ever since. We got maybe 2 feet in that first storm, and a few additional storms have added 4 to 6 inches each since then, maintaining a base even with the melt on warmer days. There’s been enough snow for sledding in the park every day of February. And I have cross-country skied in the park nine times (9!) since the start of the month.
My very first day out, blizzard still happening, my boot broke: the hard plastic sole snapped, with the toe half still clipped into the ski’s binding and the heel half still attached to the boot. I used velcro cable ties (which hold my skis and poles together for carrying) to macgyver the boot to the ski enough to sort of limpingly ski home that day. That evening we crazyglued and duct taped the boot back together, and I also ordered up a new pair of boots. Reader, I skied five (5!) more times on that taped up boot (though my new boots are delightful).
It’s possible that I’ve been a bit obsessive. I have definitely been a bit obsessive. I love snow. The past few years have been relatively snow-free, to my dismay. While we usually get a chance to ski on our winter visit to family northward, last year when we visited there wasn’t enough snow to ski. So it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to ski, and you could make the argument that I am making up for that lost time.
But it’s also a pandemic, still. And we are not going to be able to go north for a visit this winter. And with climate change accelerating it’s likely we won’t be getting this much snow regularly in the future. So I am obsessing, and I am skiing as much as I can.
At the beginning of the month I was able to clear some meeting-free space late on a couple of weekdays and use some annual leave to ski. Sometimes I’ve been able to ski on the weekends, and last week I even took a slightly long lunch to get a (fast!) ski in during the middle of the day, snow still falling. It still gets dark early enough that skiing at 5pm isn’t really that great. My favorite has definitely been the days I can use annual leave to cut out of work at 4pm — snow and quiet on the meadow and in the woods after a day of zooming and email is a balm.
I almost feel guilty for enjoying the snow so much, especially since I wouldn’t be able to ski as often as I have were we not in still this pandemic, still living at work (not working from home), lucky to live so close to the park. But I will take this unexpected month of snowy joy, for which I am so grateful.
I’ve taken a few leave days this month to do some research, trying to make more time and space for getting back to my scholarship while also trying to spend down some of my huge balance of leave days before the semester starts (tomorrow!) and things get too busy (lol too late!).
Right now I’m on a big research project with a big research team that’s ramping up for data collection this spring, plus three presentations on the horizon for April, May, and June. I’ve once again fallen off the writing wagon, but in fairness to me I don’t actually have any required writing in the near term. Presentations are different — I do typically create a script for what I’d like to say, which is helpful both during the presentation and after if we’re sharing slides (I try to aim for non-wordy slides). I know I should get back to more regular blogging (and indeed I missed my scheduled week to post on ACRLog <hangs head>), which could both help fill this interstitial time and make it easier to get back to regular academic writing when that time comes round again, as it certainly will this summer when we write up the results of our spring data collection.
While I haven’t done lots of writing and while January has been busy (not just in my own little world), I’ve definitely had more time to think about my scholarship. I’ve also found myself thinking lots about the data left behind, which I blogged briefly about 7 (seven! would not have guessed it’s been that long!) years ago. In particular I’m again coming back to thinking about the photos students took in response to the prompt “the things you always carry with you.”
Students had such interesting responses to this prompt, and I wonder how those responses might be different today. Even before the pandemic I imagine there have been changes. One photo that stands out to me of a student’s communication devices includes a cellphone, digital camera, satellite radio, and portable videogaming system. That photo was taken in 2009, certainly by even 5 years later there might only be a need for one device for all of those uses: a smartphone.
But with the pandemic things have likely changed again. I know they have for me — I now have 3 different setups for the things I carry with me. For short walks around the neighborhood it’s basically phone, wallet, keys in pockets only: usually a smaller wallet with only a subset of items (no coins) and I tend to leave my car key at home because it’s bulky. For longer walks or drives or shopping I bring my regular smallish purse-like bag, which now always has hand sanitizer (in the beforetimes that lived in my backpack). And for going into work at work, which I do about 2-3 times each month (I’m lucky to be close enough to walk), my regular backpack setup has also had a few changes. I bring two full water bottles because there’s no regular water delivery in the library right now (and no water fountains in the library either). I’ve moved the items I need to get into the building — college ID, a pen to sign in, my office keys — and the bottle of hand sanitizer to an outside pocket, to make it easier to manage showing ID plus the covid19 certification app on my phone to the security guard at the college entrance. I usually stop briefly at the bench outside the library’s entrance to get myself ready to go in, it’s a much different process now than the old swipe-card access we used to have.
I’m still so fascinated by those data, the photos students took, memorializing their material culture in 2009-2011. I’m just not sure what to do with that fascination, how to think and write about it. Which maybe makes it a good low stakes writing project for me to tackle — what could I do with that data, other than leave it behind?
Wow, reading was hard this year. So hard that I have piles of books hanging out around the house, each with a bookmark about 20-odd pages in, and digital piles too, hanging out in my ebook reader when I didn’t finish them before they returned themselves to the library. I mean, lots of things were hard this year, are still hard. It’s still a pandemic, we’re all still staying home and working from home and trying to keep it all together during a pandemic. Understandably there are also some weird gaps in my reading this year, more books than usual that I started in February or March but didn’t finish until July or August.
Nonfiction reading in particular was a challenge for me in 2020. My problems staying focused and awake while reading contributed to the nonfiction difficulties, though they are for sure not unique to me (nor new to this year). Nonbook reading also suffered a bit, magazines piled up, and my rss reader filled up too. Maybe lay some of the blame for that on the large volume of pandemic, protest, and political news I consumed this year? I also confess to falling into doomscrolling more often than I’d like, though I’ve been more successful recently in putting down the phone and picking up a book instead.
Today on the last day of this hard year I’m feeling pretty good about finishing my 4th book in 8 days; unsurprisingly, today’s my 8th day of staycation. It’s been much much easier to read in the middle of the day with a cat curled on my lap as opposed to nighttimes zoomed out after a full day of work, also unsurprisingly.
Fiction definitely predominated for me this year, though the nonfiction books I did manage to read were all terrific. I started the year with a giant academic book about menopause, as one does, which pulls together biological and historical sources from around the world. Her conclusion is that menopause is neither a medical condition nor is it an aberrant stage, and that the move of a significant proportion of a population to postreproductive status before they die enables women to help ensure reproductive success for younger women and children, and contributes enormously to our success as a species. Super interesting, even if it’s a huge bummer that the one physical complaint of menopause that does seem to be crossculturally distributed is hot flashes.
I am not the biggest fan of poetry, but I was blown away by Eve Ewing’s 1919: Poems. I love Chicago, and was ashamed to discover that I did not even know about the race riots in Chicago in 1919. Ewing juxtaposes each of her poems with passages from a report about the 1919 riots that had been researched and written by a panel of 3 white and 3 black men in the early 1920s. Powerful and a gut punch — I checked this out from the public library, but I’ve been thinking that I need to buy it, too.
In fiction, well, I read a lot of pandemic or otherwise (post)apocalyptic fiction this year. They went down easy in March and April, as sirens filled the empty streets in NYC, and in the summer, as I protested, met friends for socially distanced chats and picnics, and went for endless park walks. I also read a couple of books by First Nations authors that were especially terrific, Moon of the Crusted Snow and Empire of the Wild, the latter by Cherie Demaline whose YA book The Marrow Thieves I read 2 years ago and loved. Other fiction standouts for me were The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel and Weather by Jenny Offill.
And definitely among the best books I read this year was N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. Awesome, just so so so good, I cannot wait for the sequels. The first of a trilogy about embodied multidimensional cities, NYC is being born in this book but the boroughs are each embodied too, and have to help birth the primary avatar. Lots of fun stuff about NYC that locals will know and love — the big baddie ensnares Staten Island and turns her against the others (so real!). I read this during the summer as the city was protesting, Brooklyn spots like the Barclays Center and Grand Army Plaza were being used as public squares, and it helped remind me that even in this hard year this is my home and I love it.
This year’s book count is 28, lower than many previous years but still above an average of 1 book every 2 weeks, which I think I’ve decided is my minimum annual goal. Starred books are ebooks (that number surely increased), and the list below is in reverse chronological order, as in previous years.
Here’s to better days — for reading and pretty much everything else, too — in 2021.
*Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi *Long Division, by Kiese Laymon Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave *New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl *The Down Days, by Ilze Hugo Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata *The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook The Deep, by Rivers Solomon *Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice *Empire of Wild, by Cherie Demaline *Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango *The Factory, by Hiroko Oyamada The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel *Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski *Severance, by Ling Ma *Weather, by Jenny Offill *Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli *The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care, by Anne Boyer *This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone *The Tiger Flu, by Larissa Lai Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi 1919: Poems, by Eve L. Ewing Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause, by Susan P. Mattern