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.
I took a day trip to Philadelphia last week, down and back on the train (<3 the train), my favorite way to travel always giving me lots of thoughts to think. I’d taken a longer trip requiring several airplanes and airports the prior week, and while it was a good trip in so many ways (not least of which were the spectacular views out the airplane window) I will never not feel that train travel is the Most Ideal Way to travel.
As the train gets close to Philly the gleaming new skyscrapers pop into view. As someone who spent their pre-college years mostly in the Philly environs those tallest buildings in the city will always be new to me, even though Wikipedia reminds me that the unspoken rule that no building should be taller than City Hall (lest it block the view of the William Penn statue on top) was declared passe in 1986 when the first building to surpass it in height went up. How can it possibly have been that long ago? The same year that I saw New Order at the Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus, which I’d forgotten until I found myself standing next to that building last week.
I’m feeling pulled in all the directions recently — middle age and imepending life changes making me look backward and forward, time feeling weirdly both fast and slow. The impacts of budget shortfalls at work overfill my days, sometimes making me miss with an actual physical ache the slower pace I was able to have during sabbatical nearly 2 years ago. (How was that almost two years ago already?) I keep starting books and having to pause them for long periods which is not a good way to read, distracting and slow, always playing catchup. I write postcards and more postcards in support of Democratic candidates because that is the way I can be active in this last push before the midterm elections.
Time for the good things is moving too fast, and too slow for the bad things. Aging, it’s a trip.
I’m on a train, heading north to go to a conference tomorrow, trying not to be too crabby that I drew the short straw in the Sitting Next To People Who Do Not Understand The Quiet Car contest. (Who was I in this contest with? Do the other travelers on this train know about the contest? Also the quiet car in general just seems less…quiet than on trips I’ve taken in the past, which makes me sad.)
I should be working on an article. I’m not working on an article. I’ve done a little thinking on/outlining of the article. I browsed some twitter. I read 2 chapters of one of the 3 books I brought (for a 2.5 day trip, lol, librarians gonna librarian). I ate my lunch.
I’ve done lots of staring out the window. Connecticut and now Rhode Island are both green and watery. There’s always so much to look at on a train trip, starting with NYC in all of its amazing detail though really every place has amazing detail. The tiny wispy cloud behind the electrical lines in a sunwashed blue sky out the window right now. <3
I love to work on trains, but today I’m just not feeling it. Today I’m feeling like looking out the window and listening to music. This is an unusual summer in that we’re not really taking a big trip, our big trip was earlier this year, and it feels less summery in some ways because of that (though we will have some family visiting before the summer ends). I’m taking days off here and there, trying to devote some time to research/writing and some time to errands/chores and some time to true unabashed leisure, lying on the sofa with a cat on my lap reading, or trying to figure out how to do the right combo of jumps and backflips to complete that one shrine giving me trouble in Breath of the Wild. I’m trying not to go into next year carrying over too much annual leave time, trying to decouple my brain from a too-narrow focus on productivity, trying to make space for all of the other things I want to do but can’t always do for a whole range of reasons.
I’m looking out the window on the train, on my 3rd listen to David Bowie’s Low. We are almost there.
Two days later and I’m on the train home, another weirdly crowded quiet car (ask me about my theories of institutional control of seating arrangements that result in lots of folx on the quiet car who don’t actually want to be there!).
My brain is conference-full, so much great stuff to listen to and learn about yesterday, so humbled by and grateful for the work being done by so many rad librarians. Thinking that this trip home will also be a not working on the article trip (sorry, article!). The trees are still green and the sky is full of impossibly puffball clouds and I am taking this time to think and reflect. The article will be waiting for me on Monday.
I am trying to get back to videogames this summer. It seems weird to have to make a plan to do something I ostensibly enjoy, something that’s very clearly a leisure + fun thing, but here we are. I think I fell out of the habit of playing games kind of gradually over the past decade as my job really turned into my career.* Being on the tenure track for sure makes it easy to work lots and play little, and by the time I had tenure and was all the way promoted I was also library director which is a not un-busy job. The games I tend to like best are often long and rely on accumulated knowledge and skill, which is not necessarily conducive to intermittent play. Also I was listening to my favorite podcast Secret Feminist Agenda not long ago and in the episode on videogames they made the point that in our late capitalist era it seems like even hobbies have to be productive in some way. Like why is knitting held in higher esteem than playing videogames? Does everything we do have to result in a product? Even reading, which I adore, “makes” something in that you’re learning when you read, right?
*Not that that wasn’t always the plan, because it was, but it still has come as a bit of a shock, I think in part because there seem to be fewer and fewer actual careers now (in any occupation) than there were in the past. Plus the whole problem of contingency in higher ed, declines in funding for public institutions, etc. just makes everything feel very precarious.
Anyway, that’s a drag and videogames are fun, phfffft.
Right now I’m playing the latest game in Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series: Breath of the Wild. It’s the first fully open world Zelda game, and it is also super gorgeous, I have to say. I’ve always liked the Zelda games — they’ve been aesthetically pleasing and have long had a huge expansive landscape feeling even though they weren’t truly open world (meaning that you mostly progressed through the world on a predetermined path, plus diversions [called side quests]). I’m finding gameplay in the open world to be both intoxicating and distracting. At first I didn’t realize that you really can go anywhere — the visibility of the map is activated by visiting a tower in each map section, and I initially thought that I had to follow the overarching game quest to get to each section. Which would work, I assume, but once getting past the initial training level (which requires you to earn a paraglider to get down to the other regions) it’s also fine to just go wherever you want to.
I’m still nearish to the beginning of the game, despite having played on and off for about a month. I’m probably moving more slowly through the game than is absolutely necessary, in part because I’ve been captivated by the cooking mechanic. Instead of cutting the grass or smashing pots to get life hearts, like in other Zelda games, in this game you find plant and animal foods (and can hunt animals as well) as you travel. You can eat any food raw, but you get more hearts and sometimes other special powers (stamina, strength, cold resistence, and others) if you cook the food first. There are cooking pots scattered across the landscape and whenever I come upon one I’m generally unable to resist cooking at least a few things. I’ve also been collecting rocks and weird monster body parts and apparently there’s a crafting mechanic too, but I haven’t done any experimenting yet to see what I can make.
I’ll admit to having some trouble with the inventory process, which I think is also slowing me down a bit, especially when fighting enemies. As is common in many games (though not in prior Zelda games I’ve played), items like weapons and shields last for only a set number of uses before they break. Generally it’s been fairly easy to find weapons around the landscape or in treasure chests, and also when you kill an enemy you can take its weapon. But you can only hold a set number of weapons, and not every weapon is useful for every enemy (and also some things, like the sledgehammer, are needed to smash rocks to get flint and gems, so I’m hesitant to use them as weapons). Mostly the problem for me is that my weapon will inevitably break in the middle of a fight, and I’ll have to jump into the inventory and choose a new weapon quickly. Which is fine — the inventory screen is basically a pause — but I’m not supercoordinated about it and often get flustered and die (sometimes I also forget that I can replenish my hearts by eating food when in the inventory). I also get flustered fairly often with the range of buttons on the controller, though that’s not a new problems for me.
The other thing that’s slowing me down is that it’s Just. So. Pretty. The landscape is mountains and meadows and forests and rivers and lakes and snowcovered peaks and ruined medievalish buildings and broken mosscovered vaguely steampunk robots. There are animals and birds and fish. There’s wind and rain and snow and lightning. The sun rises and sets. The mountaintops and towers have a realistic and genuine feeling of tallness, so much so that as a person who’s afraid of heights I sometimes I feel the tiniest bit woozy when I’m standing on a mountain looking out over the terrain.
With all of this I’ve been meandering through the game, taking my time to explore different places even as the little indicator of the main quest that I’m supposed to be on is blinking at the edge of the map. Producing nothing other than immersive enjoyment for myself, even despite weapon-related frustrations. (And producing nearly a thousand words about my experience, too, apparently.)
It was a busy spring, following a busy fall. Also everything is awful and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
I’ve found myself thinking back lots recently to our spring break trip to Hawaii. Some of that is a “wow remember how lovely it was to be there and to relax and see neat stuff and eat good food and relax” kind of thinking. But most of it is a “wow where has the lava gone today?” kind of thinking. In mid-April volcanic activity and earthquakes started happening at Kilauea, and eruptions started in early May. It’s been super intense: fissures popped up in a subdivision east of the volcano and lava fountained up into the air and flowed down the streets and consumed a car and there’ve been ash and boulder explosions regularly out of Halema’uma’u crater and the lava flowed all the way to the ocean.
When the eruption started it was in the news regularly here on the mainland, but it’s dropped off most people’s radar I think. Except that I’m a nerd and fascinated so I check the US Geological Society website every day to see what’s happening. They have a great, active Twitter account too. (Lol, inward slumping of the crater continues. I feel ya, Halema’uma’u.) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has also been closed in that section for the past month or so (there’s a smaller section on the southern end of the island that’s open), including the lodge where we stayed.
It’s a strange weird feeling to be watching this volcano situation. While dramatic, it’s not super fast moving or sudden, and thankfully no one has died (and I don’t even think many, if any, folx have been hurt?). There has been damage to property — houses consumed by lava in the eastern part of that subdivision as well as a few other neighborhoods — though since that area (the Lower East Rift Zone) is fairly volcanically active there’s not a lot of housing there. On the other hand, houses have been destroyed and people are displaced, which is not good.
Also destroyed were the tidepools at Kapoho, just south of Kapoho Bay, where we* snorkeled on the last day of our vacation. (*Except not me, because it turns out that for me snorkeling feels a bit like drowning. Not my jam.) The ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow is enormous and growing. The maps are a trip, on this one you can see the former coastline marked with a dotted line — everything east of that is new land, the earth just belching out a whole bunch of new land. It’s sad to think of the tidepools — they were beautiful (on the map they were just about where the line from the word “active” points to the shoreline). And the small neighborhood of big vacation houses just adjacent to the tidepools has been completely obliterated.
It’s sad but fascinating, such a weird feeling. I keep tuning in every evening, checking on what’s happened in the past day. The earth is amazing.
We went to the island of Hawaii over Spring Break and I left my hiking boots in Puna as we headed home. Hawaii was amazing. (This is not a post about Hawaii.)
I left the boots on purpose, it was not an accident. They were on their last legs before the trip so I’d thought I might leave them, but the rainstorm we got trapped in while hiking to the Thurston Lava Tube sealed the deal. They were so, so, so wet that little chunks of the suede even started breaking off. Luckily they lasted a few more days after that, to Lava Tree State Monument and Kapoho tidepools and back to the rental house near Pahoa where I snapped a farewell photo of them on the porch, above the backyard where a family of chickens from next door were free-ranging.
(Maybe just a little bit about Hawaii I guess. It was amazing.)
I’d had those boots since 1993 when my mom bought them for me, unaffordable on my paltry grad school stipend, before a 9 week stint on an archaeological survey in western Ireland. I knew it would be wet there, too, and while the boots were technically waterproof they weren’t completely so. Rubber boots would have been drier, but I wanted something that would give me some decent grip and ankle support as I walked through fields up and down hills and over endless limestone rocks, rain or no rain. And they were field boots after that, too: the following summer in New Jersey and a summer after that back in Ireland and 2-ish summers in Brooklyn, some time later.
They fulfilled their true role as hiking boots in between, on vacations near and far. After the kid was born my feet got bigger and they became more useful as warmish weather boots than cold, as I couldn’t wear very thick socks anymore. And the older they got the less waterproof they became as well. I wore them snowshoeing visiting family up north for years until finally my feet were just too cold and I couldn’t do it. I wore them walking to work in the snow until they just got too leaky for me to cross the gross dirty melting snow puddles that form at each intersection in the city after a storm.
I got some new hiking boots for xmas last year and wore them for snowshoeing earlier this year, and it was lovely to have warm and dry feet. But I knew I’d want to wear actual boots in Hawaii, and it’s hot in Hawaii, and the new boots are kind of heavy. The old boots were perfect, even despite the rain soaking. It felt a little sad to let them go, but they were good boots, they served me well, and no one can ever say that I didn’t get my (mom’s) money’s worth out of them. Thanks, boots.
It’s been a late winter of lots of movies (kinda like last year?), which has been a lovely distraction in a somewhat unexpectedly overwhelmingly busy time at work. We saw Black Panther which was amazing — among many other things I loved (Shuri! <3), the Wakanda city scenes were FANTASTIC, I can’t wait to see it at home so I can pause and really look to take in all the details. Next weekend is Pacific Rim #2 which we might not see right away but definitely want to see in the theater, even though it’ll likely make me cry because we saw the first one with a dear friend who’s since died. I miss her very much.
Last weekend we saw Wrinkle in Time. I know the reviews have been up and down, some of which I think is because it truly is a kids movie (which some reviews do acknowledge). But I adored it, flat out.
Wrinkle in Time was One of Those Books for me as a kid — I read and reread it multiple times, still have my childhood copy, etc. I decided to reread it before seeing the movie because it had been a while and I wanted to refresh my memory. Yep, still amazing, still loved it. I can’t remember when I first read it as a child but it definitely spoke to me as a nerdy sort of weird girl kid — I was shy and didn’t always have lots of friends, I was smart and not always interested in traditionally girly things, I was intermittently angry at various (what I now recognize as both actual and perceived) injustices. The book spoke to all of that for me and ended with Meg, the weird smart angry girl, saving everyone and everything. It was a powerful feeling to read that.
Rereading it before the movie I now can see what a very white book it is, not unusual for a children’s book written by a white woman in 1962, and not something that occurred to me as a white kid reading the book in the ’70s + ’80s. I was interested to read the essay about the book and movie by Salamishah Tillet in the NYT which spoke directly to race and the book/movie. Tillet’s terrific essay also points out something I thought when the movie was first announced (and haven’t really seen discussed elsewhere): the lack of any kind of controversy over the casting of Storm Reid as Meg and the Murrys as a multiracial family, as compared to the outcry over the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in the Hunger Games movie even as Rue was clearly written in the book as a Black character. (I may still be angry about that outcry.)
I think my reread also reminded me what a difficult book it is to adapt for the screen. The plot is linear but very internal, with lots of conversation and talking between characters, and there’s lots of exposition that’s tricky to represent visually. You’re plopped in at the beginning with everything already happening and ramped up very quickly, which isn’t as much of a challenge in a book since you can always go back and refer to earlier chapters. There’s tween/family angst but also physics plus supernatural/higher powers. The ending is abrupt (though satisfying). It’s super duper detailed and could easily be a film of much more than 2 hrs.
And I think Ava DuVernay did an incredible job of adapting that difficult source material for the screen. The details she chose to drop — Meg and Charles Wallace’s twin brothers, the lead up to meeting the IT, and some complexity near the end with wresting Charles Wallace from the IT, to name a few — didn’t detract from the film at all (and I love the way she nodded to the Aunt Beast chapter by zipping us through their planet during the search for Meg’s father). The ways she enhanced the source material were also wonderful: their California neighborhood and Mrs. Who’s Outkast quote (to name just two examples) were delightful. And new material was all in service of the main goal: while there was no Meg and Calvin running from an evil forest and tornado in the book, that scene both reminded us that Meg is smart and resourceful and that Calvin was following/helping Meg, not the other way around. Which matters.
It’s been a long time since a kid’s movie has stuck with me the way this has, I keep turning it over in my head, more convinced every day that it not only did the book justice but also made it better, more relevant. Definitely worth seeing again.
I am a big fan of coffee (n.b. the footer of this very website). I didn’t really start drinking coffee in earnest until I went to college, but since then it’s been a reliable and beloved companion. Cups at the local cafe/restaurant near campus when we were undergraduates, so many that we even have a mug that we “borrowed”” as a souvenir when we graduated. Classic blue and white paper cups from streetcorner carts all over NYC. More recently, the occasional flat white from a fancyish coffee and toast place that sprung up in our ever-fancifying neighborhood (sigh). And the evolving range of home coffee methods, too: regular drip to aeropress to burr grinders to cold brew to our current Dutch coffeemaker with a fun name (Technivorm!) which makes a reliably delicious pot each morning.
Except. In the past couple of years occasionally I’ve noticed that sometimes what had previously been a perfectly fine level of coffee consumption (2 1/2 cups/day, not too much according to the medical establishment!) has the opposite effect. I’m awake, but also kind of jittery and anxious. Or maybe my afternoon cup doesn’t really make me feel more awake, so then I have more (or a few chocolate-covered espresso beans), then it’s the fast track to jittery/anxious.
When I was sick last month I didn’t want coffee at all, and since I already felt so yucky the detox from my standard levels of caffeine (a process that usually produces headaches) wasn’t such a big deal. What happened next was weirder, though — even after my illness subsided, I still wasn’t all that interested in coffee. And it’s been that way for the past few weeks. I have gone back to coffee, one cup in the morning and a second after lunch. But sometimes I forget to drink the second and don’t even want it. I wish I could report that I don’t have any afternoon tiredness anymore, but that’s not the case — I still have the usual post-lunch energy dip most days. But coffee no longer seems like the solution.
I miss it. I miss the ritual of making and drinking a hot beverage, though that’s not super hard to replicate. I’ve been drinking lots of herbal tea, at home and at work. I also miss the clarity and focus that I used to get with a cup of coffee, which now seems elusive even in the mornings. I didn’t drink coffee at all when I was pregnant many years ago, and I still remember that first cup I had after the kid was born as a sort of amazing, magical elixir.
Aging is such a trip, the ways that our bodies and minds just change right out from under us, the things we used to be able to do or eat or think or handle shifting gradually or quickly. Suddenly not really grooving on coffee anymore is hardly the worst thing that could (or will) happen. But wow it’s making me kind of melancholy.
I am sick, blargh. In general I’m more annoying than some sick folks, but less annoying than others, I think. I’ve spent the day moving from the sofa to the table, blowing my nose, drinking water and tea, and reading. When I’m not sick it always seems like being sick could be sort of okay, restful, even? But of course it’s not. My head hurts, my nose is running, and my body aches. This is a giant drag even despite a good book and the lap-warming efforts of one of our cats. Blargh.
I shouldn’t complain, really. I don’t get sick often, usually only once or twice each year. I’m very lucky to have paid sick days. January is a pretty common time for me to get sick — thinking back, this is the 3rd January in a row that I’ve had a cold bad enough to stay home from work. It makes sense that in the cold weather, worn down after the end of the busy semester and holidays, it’d be easy to pick up some kind of crud, especially with everyone else in the city coughing and sneezing.
January’s a good time to be sick in many ways. Things are slower at work, there are only a few classes and many folks take vacation, so it’s quieter. A good time to get things done before the semester starts, to catch up. So while I’m not missing too much by being home today, I do feel the pull of losing time to being sick, with only 3 weeks left to get some biggish tasks — both with and without hard deadlines — out of the way before the semester begins and everything speeds up again.
I’ve been trying to write more consistently this year as well, jumping into using the hashtag #write2018 with other library and academic folks on twitter. Some are doing 25 minutes/day; I’ve been aiming for just something every day, sometimes more and sometimes less, even on the weekends. It’s going to be a bit less today, I fear. Hoping that I’m feeling and writing better tomorrow.