Oh 2019, let’s cut to the chase: you were a hard year in so many ways, and my lower reading count isn’t the worst of it, for sure. Still (and similar to the prior year), making time to read was challenging for me last year. I managed to read 28 books total — not awful, I suppose, especially since some were quite long. But I also had some bare spots in the year, times when I read very little or not at all. Unsurprisingly the low-reading times were also typically-busy times in the semester, especially May and October through early December.
I’m continuing to struggle to stay awake while reading in the evenings, which I think has more to do with the state of my sleep in general (aging, sigh, not for wimps!) than it does with what I’m reading. Though it’s frustrating to have to go back through a few pages each time I pick up a book when I realize that I dozed off the last time I read it. I did find more success with short stories last month, and I have several books of stories in my to-read pile, so maybe that should for real be my strategy for the busy times of year? (I think I’ve suggested that to myself before.) And over the past week or so during the holiday break I’ve read at my old usual brisk pace, the result of lovely long stretches of time to devote to reading (and cat snuggles).
If you’d asked me before starting to write this post whether I found the fiction or nonfiction that I read last year more compelling, I’d probably have said the nonfiction, though looking through my list now it seems like the books that made the strongest impression on me are all fiction. But I did read some standout nonfiction this year, especially Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick and Other Essays, a National Book Award Finalist. I’m as ever in awe of the brilliant way that she writes theoretically-informed popular essays (with endnotes!). I read part of this on a plane with the kid reading over my shoulder, it’s that good. Also terrific (and highly recommended) were All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung, and two other books of essays: What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky, and Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit.
Two books that I read all in a rush and that made me kind of queasy were The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen, and The Power, by Naomi Alderman. The former was recommended by my pal Jenna, and I think I read it because I am scared of/grossed out by cruises and I wanted to indulge that. But wow, it was weird — started slow, building the characters for the first third of the book, then things start to go wrong and keep going wrong, and at the most wrong part it just ends, like that! I saw The Power on the shelf at a volunteer shift at Books through Bars and remembered that I’d wanted to read it so grabbed it from the library. In this speculative future girls and women develop a muscle that lets them shoot electricity out of their hands, making them physically stronger than men. And then the stuff you’d think would happen, happens: power is abused. Oof, I found both of these books disturbing and unputdownable, so recommended, I guess?
Some of my summer reading was kind of intense, in part because the summer was kind of intense: I turned 50 (and dyed my hair purple!), the kid graduated high school and went off to college in Minnesota. Definitely one of the best books I read this year was Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser. She’d written an essay called The Crane Wife that made the Twitter rounds, and her writing was so lovely that I put this book (her most recent) on hold at the library immediately. It did not disappoint: a beautifully written story about the ways that messed up childhoods can mess you up and you can bring that mess with you into adulthood until you finally let that mess go. On a whim I picked up Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich while walking by the new books shelf at the library, remembering that I’d heard good things about it. And whoa, also: intense, a dystopian future story about a Native American woman with white adoptive parents from Minneapolis who gets pregnant right at the start of a weird reversal in evolution that leads to political collapse, but also really about her relationships with her birth and adoptive families. Summer family feelings, it was me.
Quite unintentionally I seem to have ended the year on a hopeful fiction note. In early December I read Exhalation, the most recent book of short stories by Ted Chiang, which Jonathan had gotten for his birthday. I felt a bit guilty because there were so many other books in the queue ahead of it, but it was so lovely, and he’s such a thoughtful and smart writer. The final book I read last year was Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie, finally completing the trilogy that I started reading two (!) years ago. I’d sometimes struggled to dig into the first two books — they are plot-heavy and complex, and my tendency to fall asleep while reading made it particularly difficult to stay focused on them. But I’m so glad that I kept going, the finish was so satisfying. Both books have lots to say about time and humanity and the future and the past, and have me thinking about how we can continue to care about and take care of each other as our world hurtles into an uncertain future.
I didn’t make the reading goals I’ve (somewhat offhandedly) set for myself for the past couple of years: to read what we have in the house, and to read more older books that I’ve not yet read. So those are still goals, I guess. But maybe here in the first year of a new decade (and the first year of my new decade) I should instead be a little less prescriptive, a little more accommodating of the unpredictabilities of sleep schedules and work variations and life events?
This year’s goal: read a book most days. That’s it.
Here’s my 2019 list, most recent reads at the top. As usual, the * means ebook and the ~ means we own it (as opposed to borrowed from the library or someone else). I coded The Training Commission as an ebook even though it was really a serial novella delivered via email. It looks like I was proportionally light on ebooks during the second half of the year, compared to prior years. There were for sure books that I’d wanted to borrow from the library as ebooks that weren’t available, which is a drag (yes, I’m glaring at you, restrictive publisher licenses).
~ Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie ~ Exhalation, by Ted Chiang Our Bodies, Our Selves Menopause, by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective The Ship Beyond Time, by Heidi Helig * Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata ~ On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden * What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil The Casket of Time, by Andri Snær Magnason Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich Becoming, by Michelle Obama The Power, by Naomi Alderman Improving Survey Questions: Design and Evaluation, by Floyd J. Fowler ~ How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin * The Training Commission, by Ingrid Burrington and Brendan Byrne Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan ~ Thick and Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom * Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper * Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi * The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo There There, by Tommy Orange * The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen * An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon ~ Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung *~ Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit ~ Binti The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
“How’re you doing?” “Fine, good, weird? It’s weird.”
Even though we’ve officially been empty nesters for more than 2 months, I still find myself having some variation on this conversation when I run into folks I haven’t seen in a while. And it’s definitely weird, though perhaps not as weird as it was initially. The grocery bill is lower, the apartment is quieter, there’s less to clean during chore time on Sundays. One of the cats was initially confused when I moved to a different chair at the dining room table, but he figured it out eventually (and is right now camped out on my lap as I type).
This should not have seemed so sudden, but it still does. I’m sure some of it has to do with apartment living, in which we’re all more in each others’ space than I was with my family when I was in high school (in a house in a suburb). And there’s the bigger kind of realization, too. I mean, kids grow up and become more independent (we hope). In reality this is (should be) neither sudden nor unusual. What did I think was going to happen?
It’s been weird and surprising to realize that I do have more time, suddenly, actually. On the run up to the start of the semester people would ask “What are you going to do with yourself after he goes away to college?” which completely puzzled me at the time. I mean, he wasn’t a kid anymore, he had a summer job and made (or warmed up) many of his own meals and did his own laundry and vacuumed his own room, what was I even doing for him anymore at that point? But it turns out they were right, I do have more time. Even though I still can’t quite figure out what I used to do with it before.
We have been trying to go to the movies more, and to pay attention to the movies more, especially revivals and thematic film series. After Jonathan Demme died a couple of years ago we completely missed the retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I am still very grumpy about that. “Something Wild” and “Married to the Mob” played a huge role in our mental construction of an image of New York City before we moved here, and it’s been ages since we’ve seen them. (Plus the sountracks, swoon.)
Soon after that tragic miss I started paying closer attention to the film listings in the paper and elsewhere, so when BAM screened “After Hours” we *did* catch it (go us!). (That was also 2 years ago, though honestly time is so weird recently that I’d have said it was earlier this year, maybe as long ago as summer last year, though my calendar proves my brain wrong once again.)
“After Hours” is another foundational NYC movie for us, and it held up in lots of ways. The gorgeous empty streets of soho, the east village, and the lower east side late at night, so long ago that there were no fancy buildings anywhere, just the occasional dive bar or punk club. The always amazing Catherine O’Hara and her classic line “it’s not boring.” Remembering how different and sometimes difficult it was to go anywhere to meet anyone before we had pocket computers.
But there are other things that stand out glaringly as kind of awful, as is not uncommon with media from 30+ years ago. We left the movie feeling really bad about how Rosanna Arquette’s character is treated by Griffin Dunne’s character specifically and by the film generally. He picks her up at a diner and goes back to her place, then there are some references to her having been burned in the past which left scars, then he ghosts her when she’s in the bathroom. He comes back later to find that she’s killed herself and, while he does report it, he then goes on with the rest of his night (he’s been trying to get home and encountered innumerable weird obstacles). It’s lazy and misogynist and disappointing to rewatch, which is a bummer.
Redeeming Rosanna Arquette is not the only reason we were glad to see “Desperately Seeking Susan” at BAM last month (really for real last month!), but it was definitely a lovely aspect of the movie. (It was hard to pick just one movie in that series on women directors — part of me really wanted to see “Suburbia” and “Decline of Western Civilization” to really dig into the me-as-a-high-schooler mindset, but it’s hard to see movies on weeknights and to be out multiple nights in close succession.)
It was so so funny to see Madonna as Madonna, really, not acting at all — it was super early in her career, with only her first album out (though the internet tells us that she got super famous in the middle of filming the movie which made for an interesting challenge as shooting wrapped up). Lots of old NYC nostalgia here too — Love Saves the Day, the store where Madonna trades her jacket for the fancy boots — was still open when we moved here, though it’s long since closed now. And wow that Port Authority bathroom scene, I still can’t believe that the NYT article last month didn’t even mention it.
Not that there wasn’t any sexism, even with a woman director. When Rosanna Arquette is being chased by a mobster and ends up falling down on the street, the cops pick her up and of course assume she’s a prostitute. <insert eyerolling emoji here> But she gets to ditch her cheating narcissistic husband and change into excellent new clothes and leave the boring suburbs for the city, a much happier ending for sure.
So three weeks ago I dyed my hair purple. Not all of the hairs, mind you — really it’s more like purple highlights, though since my hairs are now more gray than not there are some fairly bright purple areas along with darker purple areas. While it’s faded a bit it is truly purple, esp. near my face. I think the folks I live with are used to it now, but I still have moments when I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision or look in a mirror and think omg! my hair is purple! When I put it up it’s clear that the purple’s mainly on the top layer of hair, and the effect is like my normal gray + brown mix with a puff of purple curls on top.
I kind of love it. I really love it.
For a variety of good, silly, and just plain outdated reasons, this is the first time I’ve ever dyed my hair, though I’ve long wanted to. One advantage to waiting this long is that the gray means no bleaching is required, the dye can go right onto the hair, which saves time and is less damaging so yay for that. I also spent some time thinking about colors. When I was much younger I wanted burgundy, then later a very dark blue. Green is my favorite color but I’m too pale not to look ill with green hair, I think. The kids are all rocking a lovely teal bluish-green this summer, which makes me think of mermaids, but I think I’m too old for that. Purple is MUCH more mature. :)
It’s been weird to have what the salon called “creative color” as my first hair dyeing experience and at my advanced age. My pithy response to folks’ comments has usually been “had a big birthday, not a tattoo person.” Just as I’m getting more comfortable with the usual less visibility for women of a certain age, I’ve done something that results in more visibility. Sometimes it’s been fun — an enthusiastic complement from a woman at the gym (who was wearing a purple shirt), texting photos to pals and getting right ons in return. Sometimes it’s been a bit nerve-wracking — I had a couple of meetings with administrators + others at work right after I did it, when the color was brightest, and I found myself wondering how it would go over (it was fine). Someone said it was cool, someone else said I was brave, lots of people liked it on Twitter.
It’s been fine, really, and I mean for real it’s only hair, right?* Though a recent conversation with a colleague who works in IT reminded me about how easy it is for women not to be taken seriously in male-dominated spaces, and I wondered again about the impact of purple hair, which I imagine many would put directly into the unserious judgement bucket. Another friend said my purple hair might normalize it a bit for others in the workspace, which I acknowledge may be true even as I internally am annoyed that normalization is even needed because our bodies, our business.
And I’m (as usual) probably overthinking this, anyway, because it’ll likely be faded completely by the time the semester begins in late August, when all of my usual meetings and commitments start up again. I’m already a bit sad about the fading and thinking about when I’d feel comfortable to dye it again (and maybe dyeing it at home?). But for now it is summer, and my hair is purple, and it is awesome. <3
I spent part of this year’s first summer Friday in Manhattan getting some of my hairs dyed purple (more on that in another post), which I just realized was the latest recent outing to NYC places from my past. I’ve been in NYC for longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else, and while the Manhattan time was only the first 7 years, it looms large in my brain and personal history construction.
My Manhattany spring has included pizza with the CUNY Pie folks nearish to the location of grad school #1, lunch with two of my most-admired fellow department chairs only a few blocks from our old apartment in Chinatown, dinner just south of Midtown along a walking route I once took home from work, and hair stuff that had me walk by a building where we looked at an apartment when we were first moving here. That last one always makes me laugh: the apartment was on Crosby St. just south of Houston and it was a pretty 4th floor walkup with exposed brick and actually within our price range. But, as NYC newbies we were nervous about the location, which seemed too quiet and dark at night. Of course once we’d been here for a bit we realized how wrong we were — and we only learned much later that we could have been Bowie‘s neighbors!
The nostalgia that has accompanied all of these outings has taken me by surprise, though it probably shouldn’t have. Last week I found myself thinking about maps and augmented reality, layering the routes and memories of the me of 20+ years ago onto the NYC of today. Sitting in that restaurant near Midtown it struck me that our view was only of older buildings, no gleaming glass and metal buildings rising higher than anything else in the neighborhood, and it was easy to feel the past muscling in on the present. But the train home over the Manhattan Bridge brings the present back quickly, downtown Brooklyn awash in construction. The past is still present to me there, too — we used to buy our xmas tree in the space replaced by the huge arena where I attended not one but two graduations this year.
I’m sure it’s probably completely normal to feel like all time is the present when there’s a big life change about to happen. I think I’m looking for ways to fix memories into something like permanence, which of course is impossible. But I think I’m also trying to remember what things used to be like as a way to convince myself that things will be okay after the big changes to come. It’s not totally uncharted territory, just a new layer on the old map.
I am in an airport, on my way home from the first of three trips to the Midwest in an unexpectedly busy month of travel. This airport is relatively pleasant, as airports go: spacious, free wifi, not too crowded, decent food options. Wish we had more airports in NYC that met those criteria, but of course I really wish that I could take a high speed train to these places instead of flying.
These trips are all for good things, family and work and family and vacation (in chronological order). It’s busy, though, and there’s a part of me that wishes I could spend the next month snuggled on the sofa with the kittehs reading books (I have some reading goals this year that I’m already behind on), or finding enough fire lizards that I can trade them in for a fireproof tunic to make it to Goron City.
2019 has snuck up on me a bit. It’s a big year in life stuff that I’m only just now starting to understand is a big year. These 3 trips can sort of be characterized as the past, present, and future: my first trip back to my father in law’s house since my mother in law died; a conference where I’ll present a paper (followed closely by a presentation on my research at a dinner for an award I just won at work, which took me very much by surprise); and attending an accepted students program at a college my teen is seriously considering (plus some extra vacation days).
The nostalgia of aging has also really snuck up on me. Music has been an especially intense time travel drug recently. How is it possible that the songs I love in the Captain Marvel movie are 25 years old? And this song, released just this year, which I’ve been unable to stop listening to because it evokes a time in my life that seems so recent but is actually, literally, no joke half my lifetime ago.
So many feelings, I don’t even know what to do with all of these feelings.
I’ve been dragging my feet a bit writing my annual reading roundup this year. Some of my hesitation stems from pure envy (owning it!): a pal read 100+ books (!) in 2018 and while they have a different sort of commute than I do, I still fall into that grass is greener mentality easily when it comes to reading. Librarian stereotype, it me: I really love to read, and I really wish I could read more without having less time for the other things I need + want to do.
I also feel kinda bummed that I wasn’t able to get through all of the books I own and have been meaning to read. Some of this is for sure the fault of being led astray by other books (oh books, you’re so pretty!), some from the library and some not. And I’ve actually tried to stop myself from reading new book reviews until I’ve gotten the piles* of unread books under control. But also I was busy last year, and for sure 2017’s count was inflated just by virtue of my 6 months on sabbatical.
*metaphorical piles — mostly these are on a shelf next to my desk
Admittedly I have had a really hard time reading recently. I’m not sure exactly why — I pick up a book that seems interesting and I get a few pages in and then I just slow down. I only started + dumped 1 book this year, but it’s just taken me ages to get through many reads. It has been a superbusy year: hired 5 folks at work + did the college application (!) thing + wrote up my sabbatical research. So perhaps unsurprising that I fall asleep many nights after only reading a page or two.
Having thoroughly moped out in this post so far (whoa, sorry for the downer), I will say that there’s some amazing stuff on my list from last year. Both So You Want to Talk about Race and White Fragility were transformative; the former was so good that I bought it after borrowing it from the library, and the latter was so good that I blagged about it over at the academic librarianship place where I’m a blogger. I was delighted that the kid read So You Want to Talk about Race too, initially over my shoulder when we were on an airplane and later finishing the whole thing after I did.
I also feel good about having read a few classics that I’d never read before, especially Frankenstein and The Fire This Time, which were both amazing. I think for next year, in addition to getting through the piles, I’m also going to try and get to other classics that I’ve somehow missed to this point, especially those written by women and BIPOC.
I made a big push to read more of the library or otherwise work-related books in my pile this year and it definitely shows. Algorithms of Oppression is the standout — disturbing and necessary, and I’m still chuffed from getting to introduce Safiya Noble at the CUNY IT Conference in December 2017. :) The Self as Subject was a somewhat indulgent delight — being a part of this book project is one of the best academic experiences I’ve ever had, and I was delighted to read everything that we were all able to write for this volume. Emergent Strategy was also terrific and, while perhaps not exactly work-related, is definitely a book I’ll return to as I keep learning and thinking about how libraries can help us get to a just future for everyone.
Looking at it now I realize that this list is a bit light on fiction, likely a factor in the total number of books I read as fiction tends to move faster for me than nonfiction. Highlights were finishing N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, which was so so so good, and The Marrow Thieves, a dystopian future story by an indigenous author from Canada, inventive and immersive. I’d avoided reading Red Clocks for a while because the anti-abortion future it describes is so very unsettlingly possible, but I finally did because Kelly Link blurbed it and I loved it: atmospheric and angering and thoughtful and sad. I ended 2018 and am starting 2019 in the midst of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti novellas; as I have often found with her books it’s a complex, fascinating story about humans and aliens and technology and nature and the universe. <3
I present to you 2018 in mauraweb reading. 32 books total: not 100, but not 0 either. Ebooks = * and owned (as opposed to libraryed) = ~, same as it ever was:
~Binti Home, by Nnedi Okorafor
~*Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
~Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
~Where Are All the Librarians of Color? edited by Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Júarez
*Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas
~Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha
The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
*The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline
~Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister
A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry
*Menopause Confidential: A Doctor Reveals the Secrets to Thriving Through Midlife, by Tara Allmen
*The Parking Lot Attendant, by Nafkote Tamirat
~White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo
*The Just City, by Jo Walton
~Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
~Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by adrienne maree brown
~Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
~The Self as Subject: Autoethnographic Research into Identity, Culture, and Academic Librarianship
Librarianship, the Erosion of a Women’s Profession, by Roma M. Harris
~Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin
~Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, by Safiya Umoja Noble
Written, Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure, edited by Patricia A. Matthew
Off the Rag: Lesbians Writing on Menopause, edited by Lee Lynch and Akia Woods
*All These Things I’ve Done, by Gabrielle Zevin
~So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
~The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
~A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
*Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia Perez
~The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
*Another Day, by David Levithan
Started not finished: The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg — I liked her first book but this one just didn’t grab me.
It’s another quiet holiday break for casa mauraweb, for which I’m again grateful. We’ve done some xmasy things and some family visiting and saw some art and ate good food and have more good food and friends events planned for the next few days. I’ve also gotten some writing off my plate, which was needed and is making me feel better about the several (sigh) deadlines I’ve saddled myself with between now and early February.
Leaving town meant driving, so much driving, too much driving, it seemed to me. Though really any driving is too much driving for me at this point. I’m more prone to carsickness the older I get, and the nagging anxiety I have about climate change (and the role of cars and driving) has gotten louder this year for sure. It’s tempting to blame the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which revealed that warming is happening more quickly than (some) originally anticipated. But really my increased unease dates to my reading of this summertime NYT magazine article Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. You might want to read it, though you might not, depending on your personal threshold for retroactive anger and despair.
Because wow, my fighting against despair brain is all about alternate timeline fantasies right now. What if all of those efforts in the 80s had worked to create policies that would slow down global warming? What if Al Gore had actually been allowed to take office? What if the US hadn’t invested so heavily in cars and highways at the expense of public transportation and trains? And the worst kicker, the ultimate gut punch, what if we had a federal government that was interested in figuring out how to deal with climate change rather than actively, cravenly, corporate-greedily speeding it up?
It all makes me angry in small ways as well as big ways. I have to travel to Cleveland for a conference next year, and I keep looking at train and bus routes trying to figure out some non-ridiculous way to get there without flying which just does not exist, no matter how many times I check the maps and schedules. Jonathan told me the other day that apparently the distance between Beijing and Shanghai is similar to that between NYC and Chicago, and there are 39 trains each day between the two cities, a ride that takes 4 hours. FOUR. HOURS. We took the train to Chicago once in the 90s; it took 18 hours (in the regular seats, not the sleeper compartments, because grad students) and also broke down and we had to change to a new train. But we got to see Neil Young eating in the dining car, because he apparently doesn’t fly, so yay?
The big ways are the scarier ways, of course. What will happen, and when? Unpredictability of weather and other natural disasters, for sure. Should we move? Should we not move? Who can tell? We don’t fly all that much, maybe a few times/year total for all of us for vacation/family visiting/work (just me). Should we stop flying completely? What else can we do? I firmly believe that we are outside of the realm of individual solutions, though I also think that as an individual I should keep on doing the things I’m doing already to reduce my carbon footprint.
Ugh, I hate to end on a down note, but it’s hard to find climate-related anything to be hopeful about. I will say that I’m looking to get more active in climate justice work this year, maybe call it a resolution? And I’m cheered by the work of the young folks behind the Sunrise Movement. You may remember them occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office after the midterm elections, and they’re doing urgent work pushing for policy changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. If you’re looking to donate before the end of the year and are as freaked out as I am about climate change, maybe consider a donation to help them keep up their good work?
We did not travel for the late November holiday this year, for the first time in a very long time. Instead we stayed home, just the three of us (five with cats), and went out to a restaurant for the Big Dinner (just us, not the cats). The last time we went out to eat on this holiday I was just about 9 months pregnant, we didn’t want to travel just in case the kid was early (reader, he wasn’t). My family came to us that year and we ate a delicious meal out though I also remember feeling grumpy that I could only eat a little bit, since my tenant was by that point taking up So. Much. Room. This year heading out to visit family would have been complicated, with lots of scheduling challenges. Plus there are college applications to work on. Plus it’s just been such a busy fall, and the thought of spending hours on the NJ turnpike on the busiest travel weekend in the country was more than I could stomach.
So we stayed. It feels like an age since I’ve had 4 days off in a row, though I’m sure it’s only been since the end of the summer. My body and brain spent some time Thursday morning fighting against ingrained routines — if I’m not at work then surely I should be going to drop off compost on the way to karate? (Saturdays) Or putting in a load of wash and running a dust mop over the floor? (Sundays) Nope, neither of those. Finally finishing the two books I’ve taken far too long to read? Check. Working my way through the first of 4 big puzzles in the videogame I’m playing? Check. PJs til the afternoon, plus kitteh snugs? All the checks.
It’s so weird to be home for a long weekend in which many folks aren’t, especially in our mostly residential part of Brooklyn. Parking spaces are plentiful, and pedestrians few. Everything seems a little bit slower and with more space. It was lovely to have two full days in which to do things that are not weekend things, and to still have space and time for the weekend things. And it’s still the weekend!
This is the first November holiday in which we’ve stayed and are staying, and the last November holiday with a high schooler. I’m thinking a lot about routines and how they will change.
I am angry, so angry, angry and sad, like so many people are right now. I am doing the things I can do to help push back against the things that make me angry and sad. It’s hard to write about those things — they are big and I feel small.
So instead I’m going to write my lingering anger and sadness about Grimes. The past two years have brought lots of moments of reckoning re: our problematic faves, some moments bigger than others. Since learning about her politics I haven’t been able to listen to Kate Bush, for example, even thinking about her makes me sad. Though not nearly as sad as I’ve been since Grimes and Elon Musk came out as a couple and I had to completely cut her music out of my life.
Yeah, it’s small potatoes compared to so much else. But it feels like a betrayal on so many levels. She’d been that rare woman in music who did almost everything herself, not only writing and performing her own music but also producing, mixing, etc. Her music is weird and poppy and dancey and electronic and weird; individual songs often involve many tracks layering and looping lots of different sounds, which I think must also make mixing a challenge. Many of her more recent songs hit that feminist rage note that is sometimes so necessary. She worked with other women in music who I love love love. And then she allied herself with a rich powerful white man who wants nothing more than to be more rich and more powerful. The patriarchy at work, ugh. (Though I have to say that the prospect of him creating some sort of spaceship to escape Earth and taking all of the other rich powerful greedy cruel white men with him is kind of dreamy.)
Her first two records were partially instrumental and kind of quiet, making them super useful for me for two distinct reasons: calming and writing. Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious or unsettled I gravitate toward electronic dance music — something about the way many EDM songs layer sounds on top of other sounds hooks my brain into listening very carefully which I almost always find soothing, like it’s occupying my brain just enough that I can’t be worried about whatever it was I was worrying about. This brain hooking is also very useful when I’m writing. I usually find it challenging to write in complete silence and gravitate toward instrumental music when I need to write something; singing is too distracting, though sometimes very melodious instrumental can also be distracting. Electronic music is generally a good accompaniement to my writing practice — even if it’s energetic — because it keeps my brain focused enough not to try to sabotage myself (because writing is hard, and, let’s be honest, it’s always a struggle to write).
I am still sad and angry, but recently what has been helping me get over my Grimes melancholy is the new record by Orbital, Monsters Exist. This is their first record since Wonky in 2012, which I listened to approximately 1 zillion times while writing up the results of the big project my research partner and I did in 2009-2011. The new record is terrific — lots of dancey stuff and quieter stuff and absolutely helping me out in both the calming and writing arenas. It’s hard to pick favorites but I really like the first track on the bonus disc, “Kaiju,” which starts off sort of minor key and scary and turns into something major and joyful midway, sort of like my favorite track on The Altogether bonus disc, “Beelzebeat.” “There Will Come a Time” has a spoken word track that’s a bit dire, but there’s also an instrumental version on the bonus disc which is lovely. And the singles are also terrific — I’ve found the video for the first single, “Tiny Foldable Cities,” to be intensely mesmerizing, combining both my love of Orbital with my love of urban landscapes.