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.
maura @ 10:22 am
I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.
Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.
(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)
Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.
This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.
I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.
Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.
maura @ 8:07 pm
Our washing machine broke yesterday. Happy New Year! As is to be expected it happened mid-wash, forcing me to rinse out each item of clothing (and towels, sigh) in the bathtub, wring them all out, hang them up on our drying rack, and point a small fan at them to speed drying time. Luckily I did two loads of wash the day before yesterday so we’re in a good place, laundry-wise, and should be able to make it through the week with very minimal handwashing should the repair not happen sooner.
Laundry can be complicated for apartment-dwellers. Since we’ve lived in NYC we’ve had close to the full range of washing and drying possibilities. In some of our apartments there was communal laundry in the basement or common space, sometimes coin-op and other times not. Other apartments had no laundry in the building, in which case we’d either take our clothes to a laundry service or wash them ourselves at a laundromat. The former sounds fancy and expensive but sometimes it was the best option if there wasn’t a laundromat close by; the latter is actually my preference, though, because sometimes laundry services lose a sock here and there (and sometimes it’s a favorite sock, extra sad). When we lived near Washington Square (in two different apartments) we used a laundromat on W. 4th St., and every year for the 4 yrs we lived there laundry day was inadvertently the same day as the pride parade which meant that we had to cross the parade route schlepping giant bags of clothes, duh for us.
Our current place has laundry in the actual apartment and we’re on our 2nd washer/drier since we moved in 16.5 yrs ago. This is definitely convenient, and was especially so when the kid was a baby and the pile of things to wash seemed neverending. But my preferred laundry management situation is actually communal laundry in the basement (as long as you don’t have to go outside to get to the basement as we did in one apartment). Communal laundry = communal maintenance, and also the failover scenario of the possibility to use another machine if one machine is broken. Yeah, it’s inconvenient to have to put on shoes to go to the basement, sure. But appliance repair is such a drag, especially given how complicated appliances are. Our machine is a super-fussy (and needlessly complicated) model that both washes and dries, which I feel makes it more complicated to repair, too (though I’m not an expert, so I could just be projecting).
Mostly I’m just grumpy to be going into this week with some of the laundry undone. I like cleaning, and I especially like laundry, one of my chores along with dishes and dusting. I like things to be neat and in order, and I also find it satisfying to clean because there’s a perceptible difference between the before and after: you start with a dirty pile of clothes and end up with clean and folded stacks, ready to be put away in drawers and closets. With so much uncertainty in the world I’ve found recently that I’ve gravitated even more to doing laundry, and it’s making me antsy not to do it.
maura @ 6:54 pm
This year I read 35 books total, down a bit from 2015 and just one book shy of my 2014 total. Partly I think the decrease is a side effect of writing a book this year. My research partner and I wrote ~30K words (and I had a few other writing projects, too) which I think made reading more challenging. (Clearly it made blogging more challenging, given the relative silence around here this year.)
But 35 is nothing to sneeze at, for sure. I don’t know that there were as many standouts as last year — I admit that I carried Station Eleven through with me to this year, it was just that good. And none of the dystopian YA really got me this year, either. Though I did like The Sunlight Pilgrims, a clifi YA book about the world getting freakishly colder because the ice caps melted and ocean salinity decreased. Really it’s about a transgender teen in a small town in Scotland and the climate change stuff is actually more of a backdrop to the characters figuring out complicated family and gender and sexuality stuff. Pretty and dreamily written, too.
I also liked Homegoing and The Vegetarian, both perhaps in part because I read them while we visited Iceland last summer so they have those good vacation vibes associated with them in addition to being compelling reads. I especially enjoyed the former, which was much better than a review I’d read had led me to believe. Another trip-related read was the kids graphic novel El Deafo about a little girl who has a bout of meningitis as a 4 yr old that makes her mostly deaf, and who gets a hearing aid with a microphone for her teacher which makes her briefly famous. This also has really great descriptions of how insensitive abled people are to disabled people. I’d gotten this for one of my nibling’s birthday then forgotten to read it first, and was happy to have the chance to read it when we went for a visit during spring break.
I made an effort to read more short stories this year thinking they’d be easier on weeknights when I’m tired, bite-sized and easy to read before falling asleep mid-page. And I did, but they didn’t end up being as easy as they could be (or maybe I was just more tired this year). I have a bunch of books of stories still stacked up on my bedside table though so there’ll be more in 2017 for sure. And I definitely did not read as much nonfiction as I’d wanted to. I enjoyed The Mushroom at the End of the World, though it’s dense enough that it took me a couple of months to make my way through it. And Tracey Thorn’s book about singing was delightful. Maybe with my sabbatical on its way (37 days!) I’ll finally finish that 4AD book I started in 2014.
Anyway, here’s the list. As usual starred are ebooks, tilded are books I/we own, plussed are graphic novels, and the list is in reverse chronological order. For a second year the number of ebooks I read has gone up, especially for fiction. As I remarked last year ebooks can be easy to get from the library, for sure. And recently the checkout time increased to 3 weeks, so there’s not even the 1 week penalty for ebooks anymore.
* The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
~ Monstrous Affections, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
* Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters
After Atlas, by Emma Newman
~ Dead Set, by Richard Kadrey
Replica, by Lauren Oliver
Good White People: The Problem With Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, by Shannon Sullivan
* The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan
~ Proxy, by Alex London
* MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood
~ Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, by Tracey Thorn
~ Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older
~ Waste, by Brian Thill
~ We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
* The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
* Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
* Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
~ + Syllabus, by Lynda Barry
Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson
* Ways to Disappear, by Idra Novey
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt
~ “I Love Learning, I Hate School” An Anthropology of College, by Susan Blum
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, by Pema Chodron
~ Lock In, by John Scalzi
+ El Deafo, by Cece Bell
+ This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
* If Then Else, by Barbara Fister
* The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, by Kelly McGonigal
* The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon
* Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz
The Mushroom at the End of the World, On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
+ Supermutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki
Pressed for Time, The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, by Judy Wajcman
* Vanishing Girls, by Lauren Oliver
* Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
maura @ 10:30 am
Two weekends ago (or roughly one million years ago in mental time) I was trying to catch up on the magazine backlog and read Emily Nussbaum’s review of the HBO show Westworld. I can’t remember exactly at what point during my reading that I realized that the Colourbox song Just Give ‘Em Whiskey extensively samples the original Westworld movie, but I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.
Colourbox is one of my more favorite underappreciated bands from the 80s. They were on the arty British 4AD label, and sort of oddballs even among their labelmates. (One of the founding members of the band, Steve Young, died last summer, another in the sad string of deaths of great musicians this year). Their songs ranged from boppy electronic songs — including one of my favorite covers of You Keep Me Hangin’ On — to trippy collections of samples from movies, TV, and elsewhere. So I’m reading the New Yorker article and all of a sudden it hits me: were most of the samples in Just Give ‘Em Whiskey, which I’d long wondered about, from the 1973 film Westworld on which the current show is based? A bit of internet searching confirmed it and led me to the original film trailer.
And wow, watching that trailer is a trip. It turns out that many (most?) of the samples in the song are from the trailer, and though they’re not necessarily chronological, the song still seems to convey the plot of the movie (or at least as much of the plot as I can figure from only having seen the trailer): a luxurious theme park for rich white people where the robot workers become sentient and revolt. One of the samples that’s prominently featured in the song is an exclamation made by one of the park’s visitors when he realizes that the robots have gained agency: “that’s not supposed to happen!”
The last 10 days have felt like a lifetime. Another line that’s prominent in the song is “do you fight?” (which fellow nerds on the old 4AD listserv suspect is from the 60s British TV show The Prisoner). I’ve been reading, calling elected officials, donating, editing Wikipedia, talking to friends and family and colleagues, thinking about what comes next and how I can help move from “that’s not supposed to happen!” to “do you fight?”
maura @ 5:09 pm
The thing about writing is that it can be hard to read a lot when you’re writing a lot. Or at least it has been for me this year. It’s a curious thing, even my go-to genre for leisure reading, dystopian YA fiction, has been harder for me to read this year. With the book finished I’m climbing back on the reading horse (and the sleeping, exercising, TV-watching, and other horses), but I admit it’s been slow going of late. There’s a pile of books on the shelf and another next to my bed and a third in my office, all of them books I want to read (or maybe that I want to want to read?). And I’ve stopped reading a few books midstream this year too, two almost right away, one after trying (and failing, despite repeated library renewals) for months. I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m looking for in a book right now. Though maybe this is to be expected, a natural consequence of being completely immersed in a big writing project for so many months? Whatever it is, it’s an odd feeling.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I think this is the longest gap in posting since I started blagging 11 years ago. Whoa. </Keanu voice>
The quiet is not for lack of writing, though. I’ve written many words in 2016, just not here. It’s been my busiest writing year yet, I think. Two book chapters, 1 chapter proposal, 4 conference proposals, 1 (possibly, still not 100% sure about it) book proposal, 7 library blog posts. And one book, a whole book, co-written with my research partner. It’s in the publisher’s hands now — the ebook version should be out by the end of the year.
I miss blagging here, hoping to get back to a more regular practice now that the big book deadline is past. And I’m thinking about next projects, too. It’s been strange to be suddenly finished with a project that’s been such a huge part of my life this year. I’m cheered (and proud of myself) that I’ve been able to successfully create a habit of 1 hour of morning writing before work every weekday.
I’m also grateful to have the weekends back, especially with this morning’s finally Fall weather. Time to get to it.
maura @ 5:29 pm
Today’s day 3 of the 3 day (Memorial Day) weekend, and as the weekend is winding down it’s more clear to me than ever that all weekends should be 3 day weekends. Three days is just long enough to do the things I have to do (chores, teen chauffeuring, catch up on sleep) plus the resarchy things I want to do (some reading + notetaking, finishing the revisions on a book chapter) plus leisure stuff too, in this case going for walks and reading the New Yorker backlog and watching two (2!) movies and playing the new levels in Monument Valley and having dinner with the neighbors.
I’ve felt my brain stretching this weekend, airing out a bit, relaxing, thinking. This past semester was unusually busy — I had a committee assignment that was much more work than I anticipated, and I also taught a graduate class one evening/week, in addition to all of the typical stuff. Now that the semester’s ended things should slow down a bit, the director parts of my job should fit more neatly into 35 hrs/week. Which is good timing since I have a couple of writing deadlines coming up in late summer and early fall, one medium-sized and one big. I’ve joined in to an accountability spreadsheet with other academic folks working towards summer research and writing goals and so far, so good. Summertime, I am ready for you.