Hello readers, and wow I was a bigger reader this year, too. Blame the new job: while my commute was about the same length for the old job, it’s now a subway commute which means at least an hour of reading each weekday, which definitely makes a difference. In 2022 I read 42 books, only one shy of 2017 (when I had a 6 month sabbatical) and thus the second-highest total since 2012 (when I started blagging about my reading list).
If there’s a theme for me for fiction in 2022 it was multiverses. I listened to an interview with Emily St. John Mandel where she talked about her new novel Sea of Tranquility and the urge since the pandemic to “run the counterfactuals,” and that stuck with me as I read all year. I loved her new book: the ways it referred to other things she’s written, the happy ending, and of course the author in a city in a pandemic is so real. I reread My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I’d loved when I first read it in 2015 and was a great revisit as well. But my favorite book this year, hands down, was The Space Between Worlds by Miciah Johnson, about a multiverse in which a scientist has discovered how to travel between the 400 Earths. The catch is you can only go to another version of Earth where you’re already dead, BIPOC folx are thus the ones who are most able to traverse. And it’s twisty and complicated and hopeful and lovely and I took forever to read the last few pages and cried a bit when it was over. So good.
Other fiction I loved this year includes Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, a book about two friends who meet as middle schoolers and later become game designers together which I read super fast. All the reviews are right: it’s just a terrific book about friendship, which is so rare. And as a game person I found the game stuff to be realistic and engaging, too. My last fiction book of the year was The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first book of his I’ve read. Set in the very near future and beginning with a terrifying heat wave in India that kills 20 million people, the book follows the activity of the titular body set up by the UN in order to try and hold nations accountable for dealing with climate change. Robinson is apparently a huge climate nerd and some of these chapters literally sound like strategies that could be tried here and now (or soon), and while it’s not utopian the book ends with CO2ppm beginning to decrease, a hopeful way for me to end 2022.
I read much less nonfiction this year, which I also think is due to the new job. I prefer reading nonfiction on paper and since it’s easier to read ebooks on my phone I tend to gravitate toward fiction on the commute. But I did read some great nonfiction this year. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong was amazing, these essays gave me lots to think about on US imperialism and violence against Asian-American folx. Plus I’d never even heard about Theresa Cha, an artist raped and killed in the Puck Building in 1982 (we lived a few blocks from there when we first moved to NYC). My CUNY friend and colleague Jessie Daniels published the terrific Nice White Ladies this year, an approachable book about the specific role that white women play in upholding racism and how we might resist it. Jessie weaves autobiography into the book in an especially engaging way, and I’ve been consistently recommending this since I read it. My last nonfiction read of the year was a lovely short YA biography of Octavia Butler called Star Child, by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian-American writer. I’ve read all of Butler’s books and knew some of her life story already, though other info was a complete surprise — she started submitting stories to magazines at age 13! What a legend, gone too soon.
Here’s the full list, as always in reverse-chronological order, because that’s how I keep my reading journal. Key: asterisk = ebook, tilde = books we own. And here’s to more reading in 2023!
*Star Child, by Ibi Zoboi (December 2022) *The Ministry of the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson (December 2022) *Sea Monsters, by Chloe Aridjis (December, 2022) *The House of Rust, by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber (December, 2022) *Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng (December, 2022) *This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub (November, 2022) *The Wall, by Marlen Haushofer (November, 2022) *The Old Drift, by Namwali Serpell (November, 2022) *A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet (October and November, 2022) *The Measure, by Nikki Erlick (October 2022) ~*Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson (October 2022) (we own it in print, but I read it as an ebook because subway commute) *Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin (October 2022) *Bitter, by Akwaeke Emezi (September 2022) *Begin the World Over, by Kung Li Sun (September 2022) ~Build Your House Around My Body, by Violet Kupersmith (August and September 2022) *The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers (August and September 2022) ~Unmanageable: Leadership Lessons from an Impossible Year, by Johnathan Nightingale and Melissa Nightingale (August 2022) *Hurricane Girl, by Marcy Dermansky (August 2022) *Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, by Holly Whitaker (July and August 2022) *The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel (July and August 2022) *Tell Me an Ending, by Jo Harkin (July 2022) *The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (June and July 2022) *The Impossible Us, by Sarah Lotz (June 2022) *My Real Children, by Jo Walton (June 2022) *The World Gives Way, by Marissa Levien (May and June 2022) ~Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong (May and June 2022) *Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (May 2022) *The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi (May 2022) ~We Do This Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba (April and May 2022) *The Future of Another Timeline, by Analee Newitz (April and May 2022) *The Seep, by Chana Porter (April 2022) ~Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help, by Jessie Daniels (April 2022) Decolonizing Academia: Poverty, Oppression, and Pain, by Clelia O. Rodriguez (April 2022) ~Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel (April 2022) *Appleseed, by Matt Bell (March and April 2022) ~Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities (February, March, and April 2022) *Sorrowland, by Rivers Solomon (February and March 2022) *The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson (February 2022) *I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins (January 2022) *Noor, by Nnedi Okorafor (January 2022) *The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich (December 2021 and January 2022) *The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism, by Jen Gunter (December 2021 and January 2022)
I started this post earlier this month, but keep having trouble making time to come back to it. I’m still kind of tired, not as tired as while I was sick, but a lingering fatigue that’s been difficult to describe. It’s not a muscular tired like after exercise, I guess more like a bone tired? Or sometimes it feels like a layer of tiredness between my muscles and bones. It’s a drag.
So to go back to the beginning: perhaps unsurprisingly here in season 3 of the pandemic, I came down with covid a little over a month ago. I tested positive on Thanksgiving and isolated at home until I got a negative rapid test on day 13 after symptoms started. I was grateful to have a relatively mild case — mostly like a bad head cold with sore throat, leaky face, sneezing, coughing, and headache for about 4 days, then lingering snottiness and fatigue after that. I’m also grateful to have been able to isolate: we have 2 bathrooms, 2 air purifiers, and plenty of windows to open, and with that plus masking I was the only person in my household to get sick.
The sickness part was mostly like being other kinds of sick: boring and tiring and with lots of tissues. I read a bit but mostly watched stuff on my laptop, taking advantage of the time to watch ridiculous scifi/disaster movies that don’t interest anyone else I live with, plus the Chernobyl miniseries which was terrific — so beautifully filmed, and I’m a fan of brutalist architecture so that was lovely for me too. And I will admit that nothing can interrupt your covid pity party like watching a show in which many people die of radiation poisoning. Things could be worse!
The work week I was home I mostly worked half days, mostly from bed (except for Zooms). I’d work a couple of hours in the morning, break for a nap midday, then a couple more hours of work. And the two weeks after that I made time for 30 minutes of lying down with my eyes closed in my office at lunchtime. I’d heard and read that resting is critical to covid recovery — that can sometimes be hard for me but I really tried to push back the urges to Get Things Done and to intentionally go slower. I skipped karate for a few weeks; I missed doing karate and seeing my dojo pals.
I’m grateful to have had a relatively mild case, to be mostly better, to have been in a position to take the time and space to rest and recover. But I am feeling all kinds of ways about this covid bout, still. I’ve been vaccinated and boosted a total of five (5!) times. I wear a KF94 mask on the subway and at work and in other indoor locations. I do occasionally go to restaurants, but not often. We still have free PCR testing at work and I’ve been testing weekly. And the timing of my last PCR test before I got sick strongly suggests that I got covid from riding the subway. #sadtrombone
I love the subway. It’s mindboggling that the system exists and works as well as it does (which is sometimes not well at all), and I feel so lucky that I get to ride it over bridges with amazing views, and that I don’t have to get into a car every day (ugh, cars). Truly, I’m a huge fan. But wow, people are not really masking on the subway. Masking had been going down for a while when the mayor and governor announced an end to the requirement at the end of the summer, and consistently I am one of only a few people masked on the trains during my commute. And I can’t not ride the subway to work — it’s too long to walk, I’m too chicken to bike, it’s really the only way.
I guess it’s also not just the subway that I’m sad about, but people more generally. Is it really that awful to wear a mask while in a small enclosed area for the duration of your commute? When it protects you and other people around you, some of whom (not me!) might have health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from covid? I did upgrade my mask to an N95 and am being more careful about mask fit on my face, but really that is all I can personally do.
It’s so disappointing. I am so tired of this pandemic.
I came into writing this post feeling mopey and down because I didn’t think I’d read that much in 2020. But I was surprised after counting these up to find that I’ve read 39 books this (last [since I’m writing this on January 2]) year, more than I would have guessed. I’m trying to resist the urge to type “but several of them were graphic novels/comix” (guess I couldn’t resist after all, sigh). Definitely I had high reading and low reading times — summer obviously a high time, but also early spring, even though the semester was in full effect. And this fall was a low low time, probably lower than is usual during the fall semester, which is traditionally our busiest at work. We’d just gone back to a more onsite schedule at work, and even with the kid finally back at his own college (which made my work from home days easier) I was tired which made reading harder. Blame pandemic season 2 — wow it’s just so much more tiring than season 1. I also taught a graduate class in the fall so I had that reading to do, too.
Looking back at my fiction reading I feel like there was a bunch of meh in there, books that I kind of don’t remember much now, which makes me both glad that I keep a reading journal and a little bit wistful that I spent the reading time on meh when it could have been spent on awesome. Only one book was so meh that I ditched it halfway through: Homeland, by Cory Doctorow, which I started reading when my co-teacher and I thought we might assign it to our students and ditched when we decided not to. I also read Feed for that same reason, though I finished that one — zombies aren’t really my jam but this YA book was fun enough, extra bonus points for a pandemic causing the zombification.
Thankfully the meh fiction was in the minority compared to the awesome fiction. I reread Station Eleven when I was feeling especially glum and like I needed to read about a worse pandemic than this pandemic, and it hit the spot — such a terrific book, and with the story fresh in my mind I’m ready to watch the TV show (bonus!). Early in the year the library was still closed to patrons (though I worked in my office once/week or so) and I kept walking by The Need on a book truck, admiring the cover, until finally I picked it up only to see that the author is a Brooklyn College prof. Read in a gulp and it was intense: about parenting and archaeology and time, all my jam. I borrowed some more challenging books from work too; both An Untamed State and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous were heartbreaking and incredible. Early in the year I was delighted to learn that Emma Newman had written additional books in the Planetfall universe (I loved that book, why did I forget to check for sequels for so long?), and I tore through Before Mars and After Atlas. I also tore through Disappearing Earth, which was compelling and dreamy and had me looking at maps of the Kamchatka Peninsula repeatedly. And The Vanishing Half absolutely bowled me over with its gorgeous writing and gripping story, just amazing. I am so grateful for all of these authors during this hard hard year.
During the quieter times when I could find daytime hours to read I got through some academic books that I’d been meaning to read for ages. Finally finished Living a Feminist Life, begun in 2017 (!), which was terrific of course, and my last book of the year was Gamer Trouble, a fun read in a discipline (game studies) that I’m always feeling under-read in, so go me. In other nonfiction reads The Sum of Us and Mediocre were also both terrific and necessary — the former in particular is super comprehensive and approachable and I think will be a book about racism that I share with folx when they ask for reading suggestions. I ended up buying and rereading Burnout because pandemic season 2. But the real standout was Laziness Does Not Exist, reading this was so useful and comforting to me, thinking I might buy it, too. And my ever-present climate change anxiety was soothed somewhat by reading All We Can Save, picked up after hearing Tressie McMillan Cottom and Roxane Gay interview the editor on their podcast Hear to Slay. It’s a huge book that took me two rounds of library borrowing to read, punctuated by a couple of months’ break when I had to wait for it to be available again after it expired from my phone. Realistic but hopeful, which is the energy I need to take me into 2022.
My list below, as per usual in reverse chrono order and with these indicators: asterisk = ebook, tilde = books we own (which I seemingly forgot to indicate last year).
~Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture, by Amanda Phillips *Remote Control, by Nnedi Okorafor *Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel ~Menopause, A Comic Treatment, by MK Czerwiec *No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood *All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson *We Have Always Been Here, by Lena Nguyen *There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, by Kikuko Tsumura *Feed, by Mira Grant *Yolk, by Mary H. K. Choi ~Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed *Follow Me to Ground, by Sue Rainsford *Pew, by Catherine Lacey *You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience, by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado *Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, by Ijeoma Oluo On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong ~Comics For a Strange World, by Reza Farazmand *The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee *The Memory Theater, by Karin Tidbeck An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay ~Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel The Need, by Helen Phillips ~Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward ~Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke *Laziness Does Not Exist, By Devon Price *Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid ~Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski *Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips *Luster, by Raven Leilani *After Atlas, by Emma Newman *Double Bind: Women on Ambition, by Robin Romm *The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, by Christopher Emdin *Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam *Before Mars, by Emma Newman *The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa ~New York Drawings, by Adrian Tomine
So many things were supposed to be different over the past year, big and small, and it’s hard to argue that the schedule and procedure for my kid learning how to drive isn’t on the very very small side of annoyances caused by the pandemic. But it’s different, for sure.
The original plan was that he’d learn last summer while home from college. And while he was certainly home from college, with the lockdown the DMVs were closed, with no appointments to be had for the learners permit test for much of last year. As the lockdown started to gradually lift, permit tests reappeared slowly at some though not all DMV offices. There was an online system to book appointments for tests and it was predictably awful. Appointments kept seeming to be there but then disappearing, and I kept wondering whether it would be better to just drive a few hours north to have him take the test at a DMV outside the city. But I am a rules-follower and the website said you’re supposed to take the test in your own county.
Eventually we got him an appointment at one of the DMV offices in Queens (not our own county, but close enough?). I think we made the appointment in August, and the earliest appointment we could find was for the end of October. Soon after that the Governor (ugh) said in his nightly covid update email that the state would pilot an online learners permit test. I was frustrated that there didn’t seem to be a way to register specifically for the online test, and then relieved a couple of weeks later the kid got an email with a link to sign up to take the test online. Which he did, and then at the appointment in Queens got his picture taken and learners permit issued.
Next up in learning to drive in NY is to take the 5 hour course, basically a drivers ed class.* Because pandemic those were all online, too, so he signed up for that in late November. That seemed like lots of death on the highway-style videos and rules of the road kind of stuff, also driving under the influence warnings. Not sure if they focus as much on seatbelts as they did when I took drivers ed in high school — doesn’t everyone just automatically wear seatbelts now, since we’re long past the days of bouncing around in the way back of the car?
* While high schools do offer drivers ed in NYC, because the driving age is 18 it doesn’t seem like many kids take it,** even though it’s possible to get a learners permit at 16.
** Also, not everyone has a car, and driving in the city is such a pain, who would even want to do it if they didn’t have to?
Then, finally, he was ready to take some driving lessons. Except…pandemic. The holiday caseload surge was well underway, and it was cold enough that it would have been unpleasant to be in a car with windows open.
And that, dear readers, is how I came to teach my child how to drive. Wow this was not at all what I planned — I may still be carrying some baggage from when my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15. But it’s actually been fine! We started out in the Lowe’s and Ikea parking lots, then driving around the neighborhood where Ikea is located, and now we drive around our own and adjacent neighborhoods. A couple of weeks ago we went for a day trip to see my family and he drove between two rest stops on the highway, a bit teeth-clenching but fine, we all made it through okay.
There’ve been a few jokes about Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto, but he’s taking it all pretty seriously. It’s occurred to me that age is probably part of the reason it’s gone so well, too. With almost two decades on this planet I think he has a much more realistic understanding of the gravity of navigating a huge hunk of metal through the streets. And learning to drive in the city is definitely hard mode, as he pointed out. Talking him through it really makes it clear just how much there is to pay attention to when driving down city streets — cars and pedestrians and bikes and wow, it’s a lot.
Last weekend we tried parallel parking, mimicking what I’ve seen a drivers ed car do: using the fire hydrant space as a practice spot. Yes, our car has power steering and a backup camera, two things I did not have as a new driver. But he blew me away with his parking skills, picked it up after only a few tries. My own parallel parking skills have kind of deteriorated lately, and it occurred to me that maybe we could come up with a practice I could use, too, aligning the lines in the backup camera with the curb to find the best spot to cut the wheel. And it worked!
With the warmer weather we decided to get him one lesson with a driving school, just to see if they have any suggestions. And he’s signed up for the road test in a little over a month, fingers crossed.
Monday February 1st was the start of a 2-day blizzard here, and we have had snow on the ground ever since. We got maybe 2 feet in that first storm, and a few additional storms have added 4 to 6 inches each since then, maintaining a base even with the melt on warmer days. There’s been enough snow for sledding in the park every day of February. And I have cross-country skied in the park nine times (9!) since the start of the month.
My very first day out, blizzard still happening, my boot broke: the hard plastic sole snapped, with the toe half still clipped into the ski’s binding and the heel half still attached to the boot. I used velcro cable ties (which hold my skis and poles together for carrying) to macgyver the boot to the ski enough to sort of limpingly ski home that day. That evening we crazyglued and duct taped the boot back together, and I also ordered up a new pair of boots. Reader, I skied five (5!) more times on that taped up boot (though my new boots are delightful).
It’s possible that I’ve been a bit obsessive. I have definitely been a bit obsessive. I love snow. The past few years have been relatively snow-free, to my dismay. While we usually get a chance to ski on our winter visit to family northward, last year when we visited there wasn’t enough snow to ski. So it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to ski, and you could make the argument that I am making up for that lost time.
But it’s also a pandemic, still. And we are not going to be able to go north for a visit this winter. And with climate change accelerating it’s likely we won’t be getting this much snow regularly in the future. So I am obsessing, and I am skiing as much as I can.
At the beginning of the month I was able to clear some meeting-free space late on a couple of weekdays and use some annual leave to ski. Sometimes I’ve been able to ski on the weekends, and last week I even took a slightly long lunch to get a (fast!) ski in during the middle of the day, snow still falling. It still gets dark early enough that skiing at 5pm isn’t really that great. My favorite has definitely been the days I can use annual leave to cut out of work at 4pm — snow and quiet on the meadow and in the woods after a day of zooming and email is a balm.
I almost feel guilty for enjoying the snow so much, especially since I wouldn’t be able to ski as often as I have were we not in still this pandemic, still living at work (not working from home), lucky to live so close to the park. But I will take this unexpected month of snowy joy, for which I am so grateful.
Wow, reading was hard this year. So hard that I have piles of books hanging out around the house, each with a bookmark about 20-odd pages in, and digital piles too, hanging out in my ebook reader when I didn’t finish them before they returned themselves to the library. I mean, lots of things were hard this year, are still hard. It’s still a pandemic, we’re all still staying home and working from home and trying to keep it all together during a pandemic. Understandably there are also some weird gaps in my reading this year, more books than usual that I started in February or March but didn’t finish until July or August.
Nonfiction reading in particular was a challenge for me in 2020. My problems staying focused and awake while reading contributed to the nonfiction difficulties, though they are for sure not unique to me (nor new to this year). Nonbook reading also suffered a bit, magazines piled up, and my rss reader filled up too. Maybe lay some of the blame for that on the large volume of pandemic, protest, and political news I consumed this year? I also confess to falling into doomscrolling more often than I’d like, though I’ve been more successful recently in putting down the phone and picking up a book instead.
Today on the last day of this hard year I’m feeling pretty good about finishing my 4th book in 8 days; unsurprisingly, today’s my 8th day of staycation. It’s been much much easier to read in the middle of the day with a cat curled on my lap as opposed to nighttimes zoomed out after a full day of work, also unsurprisingly.
Fiction definitely predominated for me this year, though the nonfiction books I did manage to read were all terrific. I started the year with a giant academic book about menopause, as one does, which pulls together biological and historical sources from around the world. Her conclusion is that menopause is neither a medical condition nor is it an aberrant stage, and that the move of a significant proportion of a population to postreproductive status before they die enables women to help ensure reproductive success for younger women and children, and contributes enormously to our success as a species. Super interesting, even if it’s a huge bummer that the one physical complaint of menopause that does seem to be crossculturally distributed is hot flashes.
I am not the biggest fan of poetry, but I was blown away by Eve Ewing’s 1919: Poems. I love Chicago, and was ashamed to discover that I did not even know about the race riots in Chicago in 1919. Ewing juxtaposes each of her poems with passages from a report about the 1919 riots that had been researched and written by a panel of 3 white and 3 black men in the early 1920s. Powerful and a gut punch — I checked this out from the public library, but I’ve been thinking that I need to buy it, too.
In fiction, well, I read a lot of pandemic or otherwise (post)apocalyptic fiction this year. They went down easy in March and April, as sirens filled the empty streets in NYC, and in the summer, as I protested, met friends for socially distanced chats and picnics, and went for endless park walks. I also read a couple of books by First Nations authors that were especially terrific, Moon of the Crusted Snow and Empire of the Wild, the latter by Cherie Demaline whose YA book The Marrow Thieves I read 2 years ago and loved. Other fiction standouts for me were The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel and Weather by Jenny Offill.
And definitely among the best books I read this year was N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. Awesome, just so so so good, I cannot wait for the sequels. The first of a trilogy about embodied multidimensional cities, NYC is being born in this book but the boroughs are each embodied too, and have to help birth the primary avatar. Lots of fun stuff about NYC that locals will know and love — the big baddie ensnares Staten Island and turns her against the others (so real!). I read this during the summer as the city was protesting, Brooklyn spots like the Barclays Center and Grand Army Plaza were being used as public squares, and it helped remind me that even in this hard year this is my home and I love it.
This year’s book count is 28, lower than many previous years but still above an average of 1 book every 2 weeks, which I think I’ve decided is my minimum annual goal. Starred books are ebooks (that number surely increased), and the list below is in reverse chronological order, as in previous years.
Here’s to better days — for reading and pretty much everything else, too — in 2021.
*Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi *Long Division, by Kiese Laymon Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave *New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl *The Down Days, by Ilze Hugo Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata *The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook The Deep, by Rivers Solomon *Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice *Empire of Wild, by Cherie Demaline *Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango *The Factory, by Hiroko Oyamada The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel *Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, By Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski *Severance, by Ling Ma *Weather, by Jenny Offill *Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli *The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care, by Anne Boyer *This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone *The Tiger Flu, by Larissa Lai Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi 1919: Poems, by Eve L. Ewing Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause, by Susan P. Mattern
A few weeks ago we got a birdfeeder for our fire escape and I have been amazed by the extent that it’s improved my daily life. We’ve been gradually getting more birdy as we age, noticing when there’s a chattering small bird party in local trees or shrubs, watching the bird bath opportunities in the stream and ponds in the botanic gardens. Earlier in the fall we got a Sibley guide and some beginner binoculars and have been taking them on our walks. I also started seeing the occasional mourning dove or sparrow on the railing of the fire escape, which is just outside the window next to my desk. So I suppose a birdfeeder was the logical next step.
And omg, it’s been a wild ride since then. Chickadees! Sparrows! Three obnoxious blue jays yelling at each other and shoving to get access to the feeder, one even cheekily pulling a another’s tailfeathers; they are gorgeous jerks. And house finches, with their red feathers on their head and upper body — a month ago I did not even know they existed, and now they’re regular visitors. The mourning doves, hilariously staring straight into the window at me staring at them, or trying to arrange their chub bods on the edge of the feeder to get the right angle to pop their small heads in for food. Last week’s excitement was the first visit of a couple of tufted titmouses (titmice?), so elegant with their fluffy slim gray feathers and the jaunty tuft on their heads.
The book is very good, though we’re still learning to identify all of these birds. I feel like there are a bunch of small mostly brown ones that I can’t quite name yet. Sometimes there’s a flurry of bird activity out there and it can be hard to get my phone ready to take a picture, even though I’m sitting right next to the window. Plus our window is old and has streaks despite our vigorous cleaning. But I’m working on it.
After a couple of weeks — and a couple of conversations with friends who have also jumped into the fire escape birdfeeder deep end — this week we added a suet cake in a second feeder. Fats and nuts and mealworms, yum! I’ve also been tempted to add a feeder with a roof, for when it’s raining, though I realize that’s just me anthropomorphizing because of course birds don’t mind the rain.
Is this newfound bird obsession an aging thing? A slowing down and stopping to smell the flowers thing? A pandemic-inspired seizing life outside our four apartment walls thing? Probably all of the above. On the very warm Sunday after the election we took a drive up to the NY Botanic Garden in the Bronx to walk through the Thain Family Forest, the largest area of old growth forest in NYC. The gardens themselves were kind of crowded (it was a beautiful day), but the forest was less so, thankfully. It was a perfect foliage day too — peak color on many of the trees, and leaves falling as we walked the forest paths. At one point we stopped to sit on a bench and rest, and spent some time watching two surprisingly quiet blue jays hopping from tree to tree in front of us. It was kind of magical.
I keep trying to remember to write here, I was aiming for once a month, but then September just kind of slipped away. With the semester underway work got busy, as it usually does in September, and everything seems to take longer and be more exhausting than in the beforetimes. I want what I want to write to have a narrative, to be a whole piece, but sitting here with my coffee this morning and the vague desire to write I’m coming up short, so will write short, I think.
Today I have to stop by the public library to pick up a book on hold. I still feel weird about returning to paper books from the library. I’m glad that the library hasn’t opened its spaces to patrons and is doing pickup in a nearly contactless way, everyone masked up, density controlled, limited hours. But I still worry about staff having to take public transit and work in a space with other people. It feels self-indulgent to request print books rather than just reading ebooks from the library of which there are many, though my eyes are so tired of reading on screens (and endless zooms), and I just need to take a break from that.
We took a little mini 2 day vacation a little bit upstate, and while the traffic was brutal on our way up, the rest of the trip was lovely. I’d never been to Storm King Art Center, an enormous outdoor sculpture park which as it turns out is the perfect pandemic fall outing. We also went to Dia:Beacon and I was delighted to find that both venues have Louise Bourgeois pieces. When I first encountered her art I used to find the giant spiders creepy, but now I think of them more as protective, scaring away the bad stuff.
Weekends are just so weird in the pandemic. When I worked at work all week the weekends were welcome for their lack of commute, for not requiring me to put on work clothes and make my lunch and pay close attention to schedules and maybe it’s raining on the way to work or the subway is acting up. I’ve adjusted to so much but still can’t quite wrap my consciousness around weekends not being that anymore. On the weekends I’m still tired from the work week and want to rest, but it’s not the same kind of resting when I’m in the same place I’ve been all week.
This is getting mopey, which was not my intention, so let’s end with some gratitude. I’m grateful for: my karate class held in the park 2 weeks ago, the apple cake with brown sugar frosting that Jonathan made, new sneakers (with polka dots!), opportunities to textbank to get out the vote, the mourning dove that sometimes walks along the fire escape railing outside the window next to my desk, What We Drew by Yaeji.
I’ve been trying to get into and keep to a few routines, ways to add structure to the days and mark transitions between activities. One thing that I’ve been doing more or less every workday since early May is taking a walk before work in the small park near our apartment. Sometimes Jonathan walks with me, and sometimes not. It’s almost a little bit like a commute, 20-30 minutes outside, a change of scenery and breath of fresh air before getting down to work in my home office (which is also our bedroom).
In the cooler spring months I’d get showered and breakfasted and ready before we went on our walk. Doing that same walk every day we started to see the same people every day: the dog owners and their happy puppers during off-leash time in the circular grassy area in the middle of the park, the runners and other walkers on the paths (some masked and some not). There were two families who used to meet up nearly every day at the benches near the stairs, a mom with 2 kids and a dad with 2 kids of similar ages. The adults kept to physical distancing but the kids did not, and even as mask wearing became more common they wore them rarely.
Then the weather got super hot and humid in July and the need to shower after walking became unavoidable, so I switched to taking my walk first thing after waking up. Unsurprisingly there’s a whole different cast of human and animal characters at the earlier hour: fewer puppers, more exercisers, mostly adults working out alone or in small groups, some with equipment like resistance bands and weights, often taking advantage of the reopened playgrounds which are childfree at that early hour. It’s generally less crowded earlier, too, as I remembered last week when I walked later during one of our unexpectedly cooler days.
It’s a small but lovely park, high up on a hill which means it’s usually breezy even on hot days. There are lots of old tall trees and good shade over most of the walking paths along the perimeter of the park, and a few sets of stairs to climb which my one somewhat wonky hip appreciates. On Mondays during the summer there’s often been lots of evidence of weekend fun: takeout food containers and spent water balloons and the occasional birthday balloon piled up at the trash cans, all of us in the city spending time outside whenever we can. In June a plastic dollhouse suddenly appeared in the park and I tweeted that the chipmunks were kicking it up a notch. The house moved all over the park for a few weeks before it disappeared.
As spring changed to summer we watched the plants change too, and learned which plants are where. I like to take note of fruit-bearing trees in our neighborhood just in case we ever need to forage for food (just kidding!) (mostly) — there are not one but two mulberry trees in that park, one near the main steps and one on the upper path. There’s a tree on the upper path that spent weeks growing acorn-sized green pods or fruit that have recently sprouted red-orange fringey fronds to cover them, and now they look for all the world like little growing coronaviruses. I tried to get a picture the other day but my camera wouldn’t focus on the pod, insisted on focusing on the leaves instead. I feel you, camera, it’s just really hard to focus right now.
Another month and we are still at home, though things are opening up somewhat here in NYC, thankfully so far opening slowly enough that the transmission rate is still low. Things are finishing up changing at home too — our long-delayed small renovation project is finally complete, just a few additional things to do and some rearranging related to both the renovation and the continuing necessity for most work to be mostly done at home.
I’m super grateful the renovation is finished, though wow it was not what we expected to happen. We’d originally planned to have the work done early in the year, figuring that it would be easier when the kid was away so we could use that room. But everything took longer than we’d hoped. We played phone tag with the contractor for a few weeks, then were delayed even longer when we learned that the building’s management company (which is not the same as the last time we did some renovations a decade ago, oops) had a lengthy paperwork-filled process to complete. We moved everything around in preparation in February, finally, and took a brief trip out of town, so it was early March by the time the work got started…
…and stopped 2 1/2 weeks later. By which point the kid had come home, so we moved out of his room and pushed all of the renovation stuff into the corners so we could reclaim the bedroom, suddenly more important than before that we each have a separate workspace. (It’s not working from home, it’s living at work, lolsob.)
And we were like that until about a month ago, when the city entered phase 2 and we confirmed that the workers could come back. Which suddenly threw us into spending all of our time in one room together, wow, thanking our lucky stars that the living room is a big room. All things considered we did pretty well, I think, despite the close quarters and need to mask up as folx came in and out of the apartment and still feeling that overall covid19 nervousness, even as the transmission rate continues to decline here in NYC.
It’s a relief to be back to a normal apartment, even as we’re not at all back to normal life. I admit that I’ve been surprised at how nervous I still feel about getting back out there in the world. I missed a dentist appointment in April and while there’s no immediate problem with my teeth right now, it seems like a good time to go in for a cleaning, my rational brain tells me. But even though I can walk there and I know that dental offices are taking covid19 very seriously (because realistically dental workers are more at risk than the patient is), it took me most of the day to work up to giving the dentist a call.
I was able to get an appointment for next week — guess I’m not the only person still wary about the regular stuff we have to do.