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eggs and their shells

maura @ 10:14 pm

So I had jury duty today. It’s been a long time — nowadays you only get called for service every 8 yrs and I could swear I had jury duty after I’d already started at City Tech, but that was only 6 yrs ago so maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I was still in library school.

(Woah, checked my files and it was actually 2005! Time, flying, etc.)

A million years ago when we moved to NYC the jury duty thing was different. I got called probably in my 2nd or 3rd yr of anthropology grad school, pretty much as soon as I changed my drivers license from DE to NY. There was no limit to the deferrals then so I think I deferred something like 5 times — they kept calling me around finals week and I always had exams to proctor and grade. The director of grad studies in my dept wrote me a letter every semester to get out of it. Then I took some time off and was called right away, but I didn’t get picked for a jury.

I didn’t get called in Brooklyn until after Gus was born, and Jonathan and I had this incredibly complicated work + childcare setup that kept us both out of jury duty for a while (though required us to bring Gus and/or his birth certificate to the courthouse repeatedly). When I did finally do jury duty in Brooklyn I got to the questioning stage, which was new for me, though I was released before being assigned. They only keep you for a couple of days before they let you go if you haven’t been assigned, which is decent.

Now they automatically let you postpone once, which I did when I was called to report in last December, not the least hectic time of the year. I picked today, May 22, figuring that it’s the end of finals and that things would be slowing down, regularly scheduled commitments ending, and that it wouldn’t be the worst time in the world to be on a jury. Which is sort of true, though of course other things have come up in the interim. Our Chief Librarian is retiring in a few weeks and his retirement party is today (which I may miss the very beginning of). We’re hiring for a couple of positions and I’m on the search committees. By next Friday I’ve got to grade students’ final projects for the grad course I co-taught this semester, and prep a conference presentation for that date. And the usual end of semester meetings which result in end of semester meeting minutes to be written up and distributed.

So far it’s not so awful. The waiting rooms have somewhat decent wifi. The one I’ve been hanging out in has windows that overlook the street which is reasonably pleasant, though it’s kind of weird to be able to see my workplace from here (City Tech is just up the block from the courthouse). Since switching to a mostly-standing desk I’ve become mostly bad at sitting, which is a little weird in a waiting room situation, but I was able to find a table near an outlet in a corner to hang out in. I feel like people are looking at me a bit funny for standing, but what can you do. I’m caught up on twitter (a rarity for me these days) and catching up on other reading. I’m writing this blag.

On the downside, lunch was a bit late at 1pm. And, you know, it’s a waiting room. Sometimes the anthropologist in me enjoys looking around at what people are doing and eavesdropping on the conversations strangers are having, and sometimes I just want that young guy with the PSP to turn down the volume of his game so I can concentrate on what I’m reading. It’s sleepy, even after my afternoon thermos of coffee. But in some ways that’s nice, too — I don’t typically have much time to zone out and daydream, and the older I get the more I enjoy those opportunities when they present themselves.

Postscript: There was a big lot of no announcements at all when we got back from lunch, then bam, at 3:50pm they announced that everyone left in the room would get to leave, service completed. Woot! Later on someone noted that they probably didn’t have many cases just before Memorial Day weekend, which wasn’t what I’d planned for at all but seems like useful info to remember for next time. And *then* the officer who dismissed us pronounced both my first AND last name correctly which practically never happens. See you in 8 yrs, Supreme Court of Kings County!

les tags: ,

from cave to cave

maura @ 10:32 pm

Art! There is suddenly lots of art right now, of varying expiration dates. The whole of it seems very springy, beginning as it has last month and this month when spring is finally here. The botanic gardens have been nutso — the long late winter made lots of flowers bloom at the same time that don’t usually bloom together, a couple of weeks ago we went and there were tulips and cherry blossoms and the beginnings of lilacs. Everything seems to be happening in an intense brief burst right now with a short timespan.

Art can be tricky for us: the spawn has a limited tolerance for some but not all art, and the precise combination of factors that produce a successful visit is not always predictable. Luckily I have a few get out of jail free cards I can cash in around this time of year, Mother’s Day and my birthday. I used the MD card last weekend to take us to the Brooklyn Museum to see Submerged Motherlands, a huge installation by Swoon. I’ve loved her work ever since the woodcut pasteup graffiti down by the Gowanus that we used to see on the way to Gus’s elementary school. This piece is incredible — she’s taken over a large room with a vaulted ceiling and built a huge tree covered in cloth and paper cutouts in the center. There are two handmade wooden boats around the tree, plus lots more woodcuts and a neat little hut with cardboard honeycombs which I found utterly charming (and took bad photos of). I tweeted that you could look forever and not see everything and I think it’s totally true. Luckily this one is open through August so I could go back, conceivably, when I have a summer Friday off and Gus is in camp.

The other two exhibits I hope to see are much more time-sensitive. One is the Kara Walker installation A Subtlety at the old Domino sugar factory in Williamsburg. From the photos and descriptions it looks amazing, and the line was pretty long today as I was driving Gus to parkour so it’s definitely generating lots of interest. This one might work for Gus — we’ve had some conversations about her work when we’ve seen it in the Brooklyn Museum, and I think we could have some good conversations after seeing this. But I don’t think an hour wait is really feasible for him, so I might have to figure out how to get to see this on my own. I also love the painted ribbon-like stripes (kind of wallpaper patterny) on the plywood around the construction site, though they’re so pretty as to be a bit distracting as I drive by on Sundays.

Last but absoLUTEly not least is a Lynda Barry show at a gallery in the city! OMGxinfinity!!! This is in anticipation of a new book with collections of all of her old stuff, fittingly titled Everything Part 1. I have lots (maybe all?) of her old books of comics but I will probably buy this one too because she is one of my favorites ever. That Marlys doing the funky chicken comeek was on our fridge in our 57th St. apt. for at least a year. And then when she did the 100 Views of Marlys that you could buy and she’d autograph them Jonathan bought me Top 40 Marlys and she signed it and added “Am I doin’ it?” in a speech bubble because she is the greatest. All the grownups in the house want to see this one so we’ll have to figure something out some weekend, maybe there’s a tasty eatery nearby that we can go to? Looks like it’s near the Central Park Zoo, that might do it.

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button button who’s got the button

maura @ 9:20 pm

Last week we took a field trip at work to visit Interference Archive in Gowanus. It’s a neat space and project focused on collecting print and other artifacts from social and activist movements (and fully run by volunteers!). It was interesting to hear about the origins and mission of the archive — it began with the collections of two activists — and their goals to preserve the past via use. They collect multiple copies whenever possible, but they don’t focus on conservation of materials and everything can be taken out and examined. My colleagues and I noted some interesting parallels between their mission and our own, since we’re a teaching rather than a research library.

One of the things I found most fascinating about our visit is the sheer variety of materials in the archive. Books, flyers, pamphlets, zines, posters, banners, and other paper items, but also records, videos, t-shirts, buttons, etc. I’m much less familiar with the content in Interference Archive (and it’s on my radar to become moreso), but the buttons grabbed my attention right away. I love buttons (what the British call badges). While I’ve thinned my collection over the years I still have a fair number of indiepop and other music buttons. And my librarian self has a couple of open access buttons, a librarians against DRM button, and a set of 6 library buttons from the University of Chicago. I even have an old hippie button promoting breastfeeding that was my mom’s when I was little.

Not all of the buttons at Interference Archive have been cataloged, but the ones that have are stored in long boxes that look a bit like individual card catalog drawers. Inside each button is pinned to an index card and they’re arranged alphabetically. The effect is really neat, sort of like a 3D card catalog.

I’ve found myself thinking of the buttons a lot since our visit, wondering about those buttons specifically and my buttons specifically and buttons themselves more generally. When were buttons invented? Has there ever been a history of buttons in general written, or buttons for particular uses — activism, politics, music, etc.? If not, someone should write one. And maybe when I’m finished with all of the projects I’ve currently got on my plate, that person will be me.



maura @ 10:37 pm

This week Gus is at a kind of unusual camp. Not unusual in the subject matter — yay for science! — so much as unusual in location. The camp is in Manhattan about an hour’s commute from us, and it’s sort of a complicated commute, too, involving both a subway and a bus. It was kind of a fluke: we’d planned on another camp for this week that didn’t end up working out, and by the time we found out it wasn’t going to work it was already March, which is late for getting signed up for camp here. So when I found this week’s camp I sort of signed us up without much reflection on how the commute was actually going to work.

Because of the long trip in, whichever one of us is taking him that day has stayed in Manhattan and work for the day in the public library, which is kind of fun, actually. But last weekend we realized that the missing link in this plan is the car. What to do about the car? On our block and the streets around our house there’s alternate side parking for street cleaning four, count them, 4 times per week. That’s usually a pain but not a problem — since Jonathan works for himself he’s the car caretaker during the week.

But with this week’s unusual schedule we had to hatch an alternative plan. The neighborhood to the southwest of us only has alternate side parking twice per week, so in theory if we could move the car to one of those streets just after the street cleaner came by we could stay there for 6 days. I found a street that’s scheduled to be cleaned Tuesdays 8-8:30am, so that seemed like our best bet.

The good thing about that narrow AM street cleaning window is that it’s right before I have to leave for work, rather than midday like many other streets. The bad thing is that’s a narrow window on a car-heavy block. For some reason* I was weirdly paranoid that something would go wrong, so I got up early to get ready so I could head out the door at 7:45am.

* A rather boring and un-mysterious reason, actually: this week I’m taking 2 vacation days (for book writing) and have a couple of appointments that are taking me out of the office for a chunk of the afternoon, and work time feels short to me (because it is!).

The Alternate Side Parking Theater of NYC is extremely easy to make fun of, but man, this was intense. By 7:53am I was in place near the bottom of the street, adjacent to (but not blocking!) a fire hydrant just in case I needed to make a quick exit. By 7:59am the non-street cleaning side of the street was parked up solid, including me in a hilarious 4 car run of Subarus (ours by far the oldest and most shabby). All drivers remained in their cars; the woman behind me didn’t even take off her seat belt. There was one car left, Massachusetts plates, on the street cleaning side of the street. Tension was high — would that car move in time? Would it get ticketed? I read Twitter, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it was 8:10am and the street cleaner approcheth — a quick wet whoosh and it was off. And THE VERY INSTANT it passed, Subarus (and other cars) sprung into motion to pull over and park in its wake. I was a smidge nervous about the adjusting, but settled our car in well and considerately, I thought. Unlike the lady in a more expensive car who pulled into the space in front of me a few minutes later, hitting our car (gently) several times in the process.

Once we were in position on the newly clean side of the street my stomach and I settled in to wait for 8:30, until the alternate side parking window closed and I could head into work. On my way up the block to the subway I spied the Massachusetts scofflaw: never moved, nor ticketed. Lucky duck.

les tags: ,


maura @ 4:39 pm

We had a hurricane, you may have heard. We are very, very lucky here at chez mauraweb: located at one of the higher elevations of the borough, there was no flooding, and we didn’t have more than a few lights flicker last night during the worst of the wind. A quick walk around the neighborhood today to dispel some of the cabin fever revealed that there are a bunch of trees down, but again, nothing too bad, probably about the same as the last hurricane or the tornado. Half of the plywood at the abandoned construction site across the street blew over, revealing the garbage I’d suspected was piling up behind it. Once things settle down I am definitely calling 311 on its ass.

But the rest of the city was not so lucky. Subway (and other) tunnels flooded and the waterfront edges as well. Much of Lower Manhattan and large portions of the suburbs without power. Hospital evacuations, power station explosions, the Rockaways burning. It’s kind of intense. School’s been canceled again for tomorrow, my work too. Who knows how long it will be until the subways run normally again, though the governor supposedly promised that some bus service will be back this evening. This is a huge huge deal for a place that runs on public transportation, that relies on being able to get people between 5 boroughs and 3+ states for work and school and everything else.

We got most of our storm prep done on Saturday so I spent much of the storm alternately gorging on twitter and news websites and trying to ignore it all and not be too freaked out. The cats were fine, acted as if nothing weird was going on (if a bit confused to find water in the bathtubs) and wasn’t it great that ALL THA HUMANZ were there ALL THA TIMEZ?! That made me feel better, too — animals are supposed to be much more sensitive to weather stuff than we are, right? We went to our front of the building neighbors’ apartment for potluck dinner last night and their hamster was sleeping right through it, I kid you not.

Now I’m in that post-storm stage of relieved and cabin fevery and under-exercised and (guiltily) bored and annoyed with myself that I’m not doing more with this found time. But it’s crypto-time, in some ways — I still can’t stop checking the news every hour or so, we wasted 1 hr waiting for the mayor to speak this morning (reported to be at 10 but really at 11). I’ve done some book work and checked my work email. I read a whole book on Saturday and Sunday (calm down, it was a YA book). The dishes and laundry are done. Gus has played more videogames than I thought possible, since we lifted all screen time limitations during the storm, and has a pal over right now. Jonathan is grading. And I am still…antsy.

les tags: ,

stars made for us tonight

maura @ 10:01 pm

We’ve been here for 21 years now and I still lurve NYC. I love the non-drivingness, the lotsa different peopleness, the variety of places and spaces, the never a lack of things to do. I know it’s reductive and not totally true — the income inequality in NYC is pretty severe, actually — but I feel like most of the time the city lives up to my ideal of a place where no one kind of person is the default, where the sexism and racism of the world is less prevalent, and where everyone remembers that the one bright spot on Sept. 11th was how much we all helped each other and looked out for each other, and we all try to remember to do that every day.

In Brooklyn specifically I love living only a few blocks from an awesome library, a huge park, gorgeous botanic gardens, a lovely museum, and lots of good public transit options. We have our hippie food coop for good food (and few choices, which becomes evermore important to me the older I get because reading labels is boring + time-consuming). We can walk to school and work. We have a house that is big enough but not too big. Yeah, there are things I wish we had — a little bit of our very own outdoor space, a parking space, less dust, self-cleaning bathrooms — but the stuff in the cons column doesn’t even come close to the list in the pros column.

Except. Lately I’ve been thinking that if anything drives me from NYC it’s going to be this godamned global warming. Because I am tired of being hot in my office, hot in the subway, hot everywhere. Why is it still 70 degrees on October 20th? Will it ever snow again? My wool sweaters are so sad. Also there’s the potential flooding. Blame the post-apocalyptic YA novels, but the whole have-to-cross-at-least-2-bridges-to-get-to-a-non-island thing is starting to nag at my brain a bit. And also there are tunnels, for cars and subway trains, and those could flood. Will flood!

Honestly, it’s enough to have me thinking about Canada. Or Iceland, where it’s a balmy 30 degrees right now. Brisk!

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what you see

maura @ 10:28 pm

Now that things are (somewhat) slower I’m trying to get back to some old, good habits, things I’d stopped doing when I was too busy or too tired. So I walked to work both yesterday and today. Today I even walked the old, preferable way, which is much more scenic and much less vehicle exhaust-y but takes between 5-10 more minutes. Which is nothing, really — barely a drop in the time bucket, practically zip in the great scheme of things. And something I should totally be doing for mental health, etc.

What I’ve missed in the past couple of months is new street/public art, which is everywhere! Photos of the stuff closest to work coming soon, but also there’s a great installation on a building on the scenic way to work. I didn’t stop to take pictures today, and anyway tonight I found much better photos than I could probably take. E.g.:


Really a cool project, and I haven’t even had a chance to walk around the entire building yet. I actually kind of adore that part of Brooklyn, that intersection of Livingston and Hoyt. True that it’s grungy and dirty and rundown and sad, plus the horrible commercial crowdedness of the Fulton St. Mall (where–UGH–xmas carols are currently being played so loud you can hear them 2 blocks away!). But there are amazing and beautiful historic buildings, and a Mexican grocery with 50 cent bags of chips for after summer-camp snacks, and lots of people people people coming and going and just trying to make it work.

Here’s an article about the artist, who sounds like a cool guy.

Image credit: sabeth718


that point me to another day

maura @ 10:19 pm

What is it about getting out of the city that always leaves me so conflicted when I return? Gus was out of school all last week so we headed north for a few days for our annual grandparents-n-snow pilgrimage. All of the usual “s” activities were accounted for: sledding, snowshoeing, skating, and skiing. Gus, Jonathan, and my brother built an epic snowfort, too, about 5 feet wide by 15 long with three rooms and walls (w/crenellations) over 5 feet tall and fierce icicles all around the door to ward off marauders. The whole trip was lovely.

So now I’m thinking about the country again, nature + woods + mountains (and the silo house). It’s not that I want to leave the city. Why does nature always have to = no diversity + tons of driving? Especially the driving — on this trip we realized that Connecticut is the Staten Island of New England, because there is always traffic somewhere no matter what day or time you’re on the road.

Also, I really miss the snow. You’d think after our unusually snowy January I’d be okay with what’s obviously winter ending (at the botanic gardens today I noticed that the bluebells are starting to poke through). But the skis in my closet make me greedy for more. Maybe we just need to be in a more northern city.

What I really want is a War Drobe so I can move from city to nature easily without all that pesky driving. And a rainbow unicorn.

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a very blustery day

maura @ 9:32 pm

So, there was a tornado in Brooklyn yesterday! Yeah, I know the weather service is saying they’re not sure what to call it yet, but it sure seemed like a tornado to me. It’s funny: I lived in Missouri for 2 yrs as a kid and have spent lots of time visiting my in-laws in the great Midwest, but it’s here in the big city that I first encounter a tornado.

The whole thing was really weird — as Jonathan said at dinner, the weather forecast for the day didn’t seem that awful, just a 20% or so chance of rain in the evening. I was chatting with a coworker and ended up leaving work later than I planned, and as I walked from the library to the subway it was just starting to drizzle. But the air was really unsettled and the clouds were speeding by and the lightning was just weird, so you could tell it wasn’t a typical storm.

The train was really slow so I was probably down in the subway for 20 minutes or so. When I got to my stop and walked up to the first level above the platform, there was a huge tree branch near the turnstiles. Which was unexpected! Then I got upstairs to the sidewalk and saw the first of the big downed trees on my walk home (that’s the photo on the left above). There were three big trees down on the three-block walk to our street, though strangely none of the small trees on our block were damaged at all. The buildings around us are all fine but there’s been lots of roof + window damage elsewhere in Brooklyn and Queens.

(The Times has a cool map today of the downed trees that traces the storm’s path. Go GIS!)

We’re fine, as is everyone we know. Our car is fine, too, which makes me a little sad. You see that last photo up there, on the right? See the little bit of red car across the street from the car that has a tree on it? The red one is ours, and I wish it was the other one. I’ve been trying to make us get rid of the car for about 3 yrs now. But my enthusiasm is not shared, and it’s a lot of work to get it together and actually sell it. So we are still car owners.

But we have friends whose car got totalled a bunch of years ago, I forget how, I think they were in an accident but thankfully no one was hurt. And afterward they decided not to get a new car. Which got me thinking what a great thing it would be if something like that happened to our car. Accident, disaster, whatever — as long as no one gets hurt and nothing else gets broken. It just seems so much easier than having to make the effort to sell the damn thing.

So hello tornado in Brooklyn. If you were going to take down all of our beautiful trees, the least you could have done is dropped one of them on our car. The owner of that car across the street is so lucky, sheesh.

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updates, in list form

maura @ 5:32 pm

1. We did manage to make it to the BBG today. What’s more fun than traipsing through the botanic gardens with a sullen, complaining 8 yr old? Same plus nearly every other resident of our fine city. I have rarely seen the gardens so crowded on a non-event day. We actually had to cut the trip short because the crowds were getting to all of us.

2. Here’s the flower report:
Magnolias: mostly finished
Tulips: full bloom
Grape hyacinths: full bloom, like a bluish-purple carpet
Lilacs: mostly not open, but a few bushes have started, eep!
Cherries: a mixed bag, some trees are full on, and some just have buds. Seems like the trees with whitish blossoms open earliest:


It’s like a crazy nature fast forward over there, even the azalea bushes have a couple of blossoms opening. Looks like Gus will have to endure a few more awful weekends of floral viewing. We’ll be consulting the cherry blossom status map to plan our viewing strategy.

3. We did have ice cream bars, phew. And as you can see, even the non-treat time wasn’t all bad:


Nothing like a muddy stream to really cheer a kid up after being dragged to see boring old flowers with his boring old parents.

4. Have you seen my to-do list? It’s gone missing, which has completely thrown me for a loop because I need to update it for this week and I usually start with the old list when I’m making a new one. I’ve got a couple of piles of work- and research-related stuff on my desk and shelves, and it’s not in any of them. I *just* had it yesterday, and I can’t for the life of me imagine what’s happened to it.

Maybe the cats stole it. I’ve been talking trash about shaving them lately because with the warm weather they are shedding like mad. This could be their devilish revenge: wig out the control freak by stealing her list! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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