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that’s not supposed to happen

maura @ 10:30 am

Two weekends ago (or roughly one million years ago in mental time) I was trying to catch up on the magazine backlog and read Emily Nussbaum’s review of the HBO show Westworld. I can’t remember exactly at what point during my reading that I realized that the Colourbox song Just Give ‘Em Whiskey extensively samples the original Westworld movie, but I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.

Colourbox is one of my more favorite underappreciated bands from the 80s. They were on the arty British 4AD label, and sort of oddballs even among their labelmates. (One of the founding members of the band, Steve Young, died last summer, another in the sad string of deaths of great musicians this year). Their songs ranged from boppy electronic songs — including one of my favorite covers of You Keep Me Hangin’ On — to trippy collections of samples from movies, TV, and elsewhere. So I’m reading the New Yorker article and all of a sudden it hits me: were most of the samples in Just Give ‘Em Whiskey, which I’d long wondered about, from the 1973 film Westworld on which the current show is based? A bit of internet searching confirmed it and led me to the original film trailer.

And wow, watching that trailer is a trip. It turns out that many (most?) of the samples in the song are from the trailer, and though they’re not necessarily chronological, the song still seems to convey the plot of the movie (or at least as much of the plot as I can figure from only having seen the trailer): a luxurious theme park for rich white people where the robot workers become sentient and revolt. One of the samples that’s prominently featured in the song is an exclamation made by one of the park’s visitors when he realizes that the robots have gained agency: “that’s not supposed to happen!”

The last 10 days have felt like a lifetime. Another line that’s prominent in the song is “do you fight?” (which fellow nerds on the old 4AD listserv suspect is from the 60s British TV show The Prisoner). I’ve been reading, calling elected officials, donating, editing Wikipedia, talking to friends and family and colleagues, thinking about what comes next and how I can help move from “that’s not supposed to happen!” to “do you fight?”

les tags: , ,

so we drive and we’ve driven ten thousand miles

maura @ 6:14 pm

Because of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances we have a new car. I am having a hard time adjusting. Our new car is only a few years old and it is very very very different from our old car, which turns 19 this year. The new car is a sedan and automatic and you can hook your phone up to the stereo system. The old car is a wagon and a standard and has a cassette deck. We have a shoebox of tapes from the early-mid ’90s in the old car, what are we supposed to do with them now?

Perspective (for multiple definitions of the word) is very different in the new car. In the old car the seat is a bit higher plus there is a hatchback rather than a trunk, which means the driver can see and thus fairly accurately perceive the front end of the car all the way through the back. In the new car there’s a trunk and I can’t see or sense either the front or the back of the car, which makes me feel oddly disconnected while parking especially. There’s one of those new fangled back up cameras which should help but instead reminds me of a videogame, another layer of disintermediation. The new car is smaller than the old car but I feel like I’m driving it as if it’s bigger because I don’t yet have a good sense of its size.

In my and the old car’s old age I realize that cars have become very complicated. Everything is an icon or a button or a display screen. The front seats can be heated. The side mirrors fold in. It feels so fancy, much too fancy for me, though it’s really just a normal car, what normal cars are these days.

I am not missing the shifting nearly as much as I should. This is actually my first automatic car, though because of living in cities it’s only the 4th car I’ve had in the 30 yrs I’ve been a driver so the sample is small. I’d wanted us to get rid of the car for years but there’s no denying that the car lets us get up and go at a moment’s notice in addition to facilitating inter-Brooklyn travel for meatballs at Ikea and other locations that are tricky to get to on public transportation.

My grumpy old lady brain mutters that I will miss the standard transmission next winter when it snows, though who knows if that will actually be the case? At any rate it was nice not to have to continuously clutch when it took us one solid hour to get through the Holland Tunnel and over Canal St. (which right now is more pothole than road) to get home yesterday.

It is a lovely car, quiet when on, comfortable, all the mod cons. I wish we never had to take it.

les tags: ,

with lots of spectators

maura @ 4:09 pm

Until recently I’ve been lucky enough to not have folks close to me die. Really it had been a big long stretch since my last remaining grandparent passed away in the mid-90s. Since that stretch has broken I am dealing. Things feel different at different ages, of course, and as I get older feelings sometimes seem bigger. But I’m also now navigating all of these feelings post-internet which is its own weird thing (one that I’m sure many academic papers have been and are being written about).

What do you do with the texts of the deceased? Their twitter feed? Photos on your phone? I look at my phone and realize that it’s become this strange device that holds memories, in addition to all of its other uses. Which of course it always was, at least the smart ones, but memories that include people who are now gone are very different memories than those with folks who’re still around.

I sometimes scroll through those texts, the twitter feed, or do a bit of internet searching too. Obituaries are also online, though the extra layer of mediation of the open internet (as opposed to texts and photos on just my phone) can sometimes add a welcome distance. And there are other unanticipated interactions. Friends of those folks, now also followed by me on twitter. They pop up in my feed and I am reminded, no searching required. I don’t want to unfollow those folks in much the same way that I don’t want to delete the texts, it seems like cutting a cord I’m not ready to cut yet (ever?). But it’s surprising nonetheless.

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the one true day off

maura @ 10:32 pm

Today is Lincoln’s Birthday, which longtime readers know is the one day each year when my work is closed but the K-12 schools are open. I call it the One True Day Off. As Gus gets older it’s maybe less of a big deal, but maybe still a big deal in some ways too. Because even though I do get 2 days off each time the weekend rolls around, more often than not those days seem filled with errands, housecleaning, laundry, the stuff there’s no time for during the week. Each year when Lincoln’s Birthday rolls around I argue with myself about what I’m going to do — the pull to do something practical and useful is always strong. Sometimes the practical wins: last year I went shopping for work clothes which was super necessary. But this year I gave myself a break and went with nearly 100% leisure.

And I’m happy to report that it’s been a good day! I started with coffee and the newspaper, reading the entire paper rather than just the first section which I usually do on mornings during the week (and save the other sections for evenings). Then I got a second (!) cup of coffee and finished the last level on the second part of Monument Valley, a beautiful and fun puzzle game on my phone. I answered a few emails from friends and took a quick glance at my RSS feeds, too.

Then Jonathan and I headed out to the Brooklyn Museum. Even though it’s super close we don’t go often because the spawn is not a fan of Art, and when we do go it seems like we only have a chance to see the special exhibits. Because I’m a nerd I love the American collections of furniture and housewares, plus the two partial reconstructions of historic houses, so we spent most of our time on the 4th and 5th floors today. There were some other cool exhibits in the Sackler Center and some neat modern stuff too. Special shout out to the Luce Visible Storage Center, such a great idea that brings much more of the collection into view.

We had lunch at Kimchi Taco, which we order from semi-regularly but have never been to IRL. I had a tofu edamame falafel bowl with kimchi refried beans and kimchi fried rice, and we split kimchi rice balls which are amazing and, as you might expect, much better in the restaurant than via takeout, all warm and cheesy. Gus used to eat some stuff there, the unsauced chicken wings and chicken taco, but lately he won’t so we don’t order it as much as I’d like. I could eat kimchi every day, for serious.

A leisure day’s not complete without legos, so when we got home I put together my lego research scientists. The heads have two faces! That’s new. One side is a sort of calm face and the other is kind of yelling or skeptical or nervous, depending on how you want to interpret it (and each of the 3 minifigs has a different expression). I feel like I should bring them to work but I can’t quite part with them at home yet, so they’re on the shelf for now.

Then a coffee nap! Because a day off’s not a day off without a nap! Then a brisk walk to meet Gus after school. Then dinner.

Then, OMG, Lynda Barry and Matt Groening at BAM! Sitting right there on the stage talking about drawing and writing and teaching and kids and families and friendship and man they are just awesome. They told stories and showed slides and read/acted out a few comics. One of these days I have to figure out a way to get to the University of Wisconsin to take one of the classes that Lynda Barry is teaching. Because I am pretty awful at drawing and handwriting but I totally believe her that it’s good for you even if (when! because?) it’s scary.

It was a good day.

les tags: ,

eggs and their shells redux

maura @ 7:03 pm

One thing that’s happened in the past just under a year is that with increased stress comes increased reliance on old music rather than new. I’ve been practically unable to listen to any of the music I’ve gotten for my birthday last year or xmas, with the exception of a few gifts that were of music that I’d once owned but no longer do. Usually those are casualties of the cassette tape and the thriftiness of college. We no longer really have an easy way to play cassettes outside of our 18 yr old car, which does have a tape deck, and an old boombox with a cassette and CD player that we used to play the white noise CDs when Gus was a baby. The CD part is broken but I think the tape part still works (though come to think of it I’m no longer quite sure where it is). And the thing about college and my 20s is that between doing a radio show and having roommates I ended up taping lots of music rather than buying the LP or CD. Now that I’m an old lady I wish I could go back and trade in some of the LPs and CDs I did buy for those I just taped, because only some of that music has had staying power with me.

Familiar music has been like a security blanket to me this past year. I guess it always is. Maybe this is just a normal aging thing, but what’s been new is the narrowing down of what I’ve been listening to. Really it’s maybe only a handful of bands:

– For writing/research: It’s still Orbital. Still. As always it’s got the perfect tempo to keep me moving along when I write, and because their music is mostly instrumental there are no words (usually) to distract me. Really it’s practically Pavlovian, like using Word and Times New Roman (which for me = academic writing).

– For working at work when I’m in my office — email, planning, scheduling meetings, the usual: Pipas. Sometimes Amor de Dias, but if I’m feeling blue they can often make me bluer so it depends. I have all of the Pipas records and I make Itunes play them all through alphabetically by album which means it starts with Mental and ends with Sorry Love. And if I’ve still got work to do I start it all over again.

– For doing dishes on some weeknights: Mostly 50 Foot Wave but sometimes Throwing Muses. The former is louder and sometimes seems more productive — the latter, again, can sometimes bring me down. But loud drums + Kristin Hersh singing is often just what I need at the end of the day.

– For doing dishes on other nights, plus anytime I’m feeling particularly stressed: Cocteau Twins, so much Cocteau Twins. For calming it’s usually the Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay EPs; for familiar though not supercalming I’ll do Treasure (still my favorite Cocteau Twins record even after all these years) or Head Over Heels. Plus I’ve had this thing about the song Summerhead from Four Calendar Cafe, sometimes having to listen to that on repeat.

I did have a Janelle Monae and Colourbox interlude in the mid-Fall, but since the holidays it’s been right back to these 4-6 bands. I’m wondering when I’ll pull out of the restricted music phase, no sign of it yet.

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maura @ 5:17 pm

It’s the last day of November, and I can definitively say that I am ready to put this month behind me. It’s been a hard past few weeks.

A close, longtime friend of ours died suddenly at the beginning of the month. She was our age which, I’d hasten to add, is much too fucking young to die.

We all first met in our first round of grad school, just over 25 (!) years ago. She was fun and smart and kind and funny. We lived through some of those early tough times in archaeology grad school together, then she switched to new media. During my break from grad school when I worked in new media too, a bunch of us went to a web conference in New Orleans (paid by our jobs!) which was delightful. We watched Buffy together and played Magic together and ate Japanese food together and she always talked to Gus like a person and he liked talking to her about the videogames she was playing (which were often the same ones we were playing). She came to Thanksgiving dinner at my family’s once in the ’90s which was a literal trip, and since we were here for Thanksgiving this year we’d planned to ask her if she wanted to come over for a casual Thanksgiving, NBD, Jonathan’s making 3 desserts and spatchcocking the turkey, want to stop by?

And now she is gone and it’s hard. Hard to drive by the Japanese restaurant where we took her for a belated birthday dinner in September, which was delicious, chicken hearts on a skewer and all. Hard to see a preview for the recent dumb Godzilla remake at the beginning of some other movie we Netflixed that I can’t remember right now, because it reminded me about the fun we had on that hot hot day 2 summers ago when we got Japanese dinner and saw Pacific Rim at the IMAX on the Upper West Side which was awesome. Harder still to see ads for Mockingjay, because we’d seen the last 2 Hunger Games movies with her at the Ziegfeld because the screen is hyoooooooge and now we can’t see this one with her because she’s gone.

She’d lived in NYC for as long as we’d known her, as long as we’ve been here, and her family’s in the South. We’ve been helping as much as we can with arrangements and dealing with her apartment, such a small thing to do for so many years of friendship. I wish I could do more. We’ve had Twitter and email conversations with her other friends, friends we don’t know, and some of her neighbors too. We’re still not on Facebook but of course there’s conversation there as well that we’ve heard second hand. She was well-loved, and it is lovely to see these tributes.

But I’m sad, still sad.

les tags: ,

the feeling describes itself

maura @ 9:09 pm

It’s been quiet around here lately, though there’ve been some changes in non-virtual maurawebland. I bought not one, but two (2!) new pairs of fancyish/workish shoes, and got new glasses, too. The latter is not quite a complete change yet — they’re a bit loose so I haven’t been wearing them, but tomorrow I get them fitted and we’ll be good to go.

And I have a new job, too, which is a rather more biggish change. The former Chief Librarian at the college where I work has retired, and I’m now the new Chief Librarian.

It’s been a fast and slow change, sometimes simultaneously. Securing all of the proper university approvals took some time, mostly during the slowish summer months. It was nice to have that time to settle in a bit and start wrapping my head around my new responsibilities. There was lots of physical movement in the library, too — several folks changed offices (myself included), walls were painted, and we did a general cleanup and removal of furniture and other stuff that had outlived its usefulness. Another colleague retired and we secured permission to hire additional tech staff, so I worked on getting those jobs posted and thinking toward the search process. The college does offer courses over the summer, though not nearly as many as during the academic year, and the smaller number of students in the library was helpful as the moving and maintenance was going on. I never lacked for things to do, but the pace wasn’t appreciably different from what I was used to in my former position as Instruction Coordinator.

Since the semester began it’s been fast fast fast. My new responsibilities include a new suite of meetings, both at the college and at the university. I’m learning about our budget and facilities, and getting acclimated to my role of Department Chair too (the library is an academic department at the college, and we go through the same tenure and promotion process as other departments do). Our job searches are progressing. I’m wearing my fancy shoes more often.

Of course there are things I miss about my old job. Teaching has started, both our three-credit course and our individual instruction sessions. When one of my favorite collaborators from the English Department emailed me to schedule her class for research instruction, I was sad to have to say no (though our new Instruction Coordinator is terrific, so she’s in good hands). I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to carve out time for my research, though my research partner and I have 2 articles under review and one that was just published this week, so it’s maybe not the worst time for a breather. It’s been strange to step down from commitments, to ask others to take them on, to say no to new things.

But the truth is that I really *don’t* have as much time. In the past I’d said yes to opportunities that I felt like I couldn’t pass up probably much more often than I should have (I’m retroactively a bit terrified by how many conference presentations I ended up doing last year). But now my time is completely filled, all of it, always. It’s been a while since I’ve had a new job, and I forgot how much learning and thinking about new things all day is actually reflected physically. Even on the days when I’ve spent most of my time sitting in meetings, I’m exhausted by the evening. It’s been hard to turn off my brain, to stop thinking about what’s on my list for tomorrow, next week, this semester.

I’m super honored to have taken on this new position, and excited to have this opportunity to work to support our students alongside my excellent colleagues. But whew, learning and doing new things, it’s tiring. Time to stop this blagging and hit the hay.

les tags: , ,

waiting for years to go by

maura @ 9:15 am

Hi blag. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Already the end of December, nearly the new year. I’ve written post after post in my head for over a month now, unable to find slash make the time to get the words out. November was busy (including with lots of scholarly kinds of writing, though not quite as much as I’d hoped), and Thanksgiving was late which lent the whole kid’s birthday + xmas prep a bit more urgency this year, given the time constraints.

Of course the thing about not writing is that with every day you don’t write it’s easier to not write the next day. Or the day after. &tc. And that’s how the not writing becomes a routine, much more comfortable and cozy than even the best writing routine. Because inaction is always easier. This is hardly the worst dry spell I’ve ever had, but it feels yucky nonetheless because I know it’s not for lack of material or even, strictly speaking, lack of time. Yeah, I’m busy, but there’s always time for a bit of writing every day, even if only 30 minutes.

This time around it’s most definitely the blahs that have been slowing me down. Nothing huge, really, but lots of little things adding up. We still haven’t had any bites on our book proposal.* I took on a service commitment at work that’s taken up considerably more time than I’d anticipated. A couple of our household appliances went belly up and it’s taken more cognitive effort than I anticipated to incorporate the new ones into my usual chores routines. Lots of my favorite items of clothing have finally worn out, and clothes shopping is one of my least favorite things ever.

*Lest I seem too mopey about this I should note that when we were at a conference last month we spent a long time hashing out a new book strategy, and we’re definitely on a more productive path now. So a new round of proposals should be ready to go out soon, yay!

And there have been some maybe not so little things too. A colleague in another department died; while he wasn’t a young man, it was still very sudden and sad. A dear friend’s parent died too, not suddenly at all but no less sad. I also learned that a colleague in a different department who I respect very much is leaving the college for another position, a big loss for the students and the college.

In addition to the mental reasons there’ve also been some physical reasons for the blahs. Over the fall I started having persistent neck and shoulder tingling and pain, I think related to something I pulled or strained last winter while shoveling snow. Dr visits + testing revealed that I have 2 herniated discs in my neck, hooray. *Not* hooray at all, really annoying, actually. So I’m going to physical therapy and trying to be careful not to slouch or look down much. Which is a pain in the ass, frankly, because it’s difficult to write (or read!) without looking down.

So, back on the wagon with me, though perhaps climbing on a bit more slowly than before. Aging, sigh.

les tags: , ,

break those chains that bind you

maura @ 10:38 pm

Last weekend I finally got back to Journey, one of the Playstation 3 games we got for xmas (along with the PS3 itself). I played most of the way through on Saturday night then finished it Monday. It was amazing, incredible — the reviews are all spot-on, the awards well-deserved.

You play as a gender-neutral person (yay!), plopped down in a desert with a huge mountain in the distance. The game essentially involves walking through what you gradually realize is a ruined city to get to the mountain. There are small challenges to figure out along the way which allow you to progress, but the game is more about the atmosphere — visual, audio, your movement — than solving puzzles. It’s absolutely gorgeous: time progresses from morning to night throughout your journey and the colors shift accordingly. You can walk along the sand (or slide down hills, which is delightful!) but also, sometimes, fly — the amount of time spent flying is determined by how long your scarf is. Finding glyphs on each level lengthens your scarf, and flying cloth creatures of various sorts, some incredibly playful, recharge it.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Journey is that the Playstation’s network pairs you up with another player in real time if enough other people are playing (though you never encounter more than one at a time). I knew about this feature beforehand so it didn’t surprise me when it happened, though it was interesting to see what happened to *my* gameplay when it did. The first time I encountered another player, yo was nearly to the end of solving a puzzle to activate what was needed to move to the next level. I found myself slightly annoyed — I hadn’t had the opportunity to move about and explore everything on that level, and I wanted to hit some of those switches too before moving on. So I exited out of the game and came back in, then progressed through the level the way *I* wanted to. As it turns out, another player joined me again, but this time I’d been in that space for long enough that I was ready to move on, and we crossed to the next level together.

The random other person in your gamespace but not in your living room mechanic is so interesting. It’s a highly meditative game, and even with another player there’s no way to talk or really communicate. I won’t spoil anything by saying that there are times in the game when it’s really, really helpful to have someone else there, when it’s advantageous to be paired rather than alone. But Journey begins, and ends, with solo play. A nice touch at the end is that before the credits run the screen displays the usernames of all of the other players you encountered during your game.

In many ways the real measure of how much I like a game is how soon I think about playing it again once I’ve finished. I think Journey is the first game ever in which I knew I’d play again soon even as the credits were rolling. Throughout your travels the game gives you little clues about what’s happened in that place, though I found them to be fairly opaque on my first playthrough. Gus started playing almost immediately after I finished, and watching him has made many things clear. I’m absolutely looking forward to playing it again. It’s beautiful and sad and amazing, really pushes videogames (especially console games) in some interesting directions.

Lest we leave this post on too much of a reverent note, a funny story: of course the very next day Gus had found the Journey wiki where he could do all the obsessive research he could stomach, just like any child of a librarian/academic would. Jonathan suggested he ask a question on the wiki’s forums about the lyrics for Open Arms, which had both of us old folks giggling while the youngster looked confused. And then we had to remind Gus that Journey is the music playing at the beginning of Tron Legacy when Flynn’s son powers up the video arcade. And then we felt really, really old.

les tags: ,

one two three, some examples

maura @ 9:58 pm

The most surprising thing about the aging process is how it goes through phases of happening all at once. When I turned 40 a few years ago it seemed like no big deal, 40, phhfft, who cares? Things are the same, of course they’re the same, why wouldn’t they be the same? But gradually it’s settled in: aging, it’s for real. All of a sudden my hair is grayer,* my eyes don’t like contact lenses anymore,** and to make matters worse far-sightedness has been added to my near-sightedness, what the what? Of course this is probably only surprising to me — I guess I’d never really read or thought much about the humdrum practicalities of the far side of forty.

* I actually don’t mind the gray at all, never have, though I will cop to a smidge of worry about the nonconformist nature of many of the gray strands. We’ll see how anarchic things get — worst case scenario I will finally have an excuse to see how it looks short, which hasn’t been the case for a long long time.

** After almost 30 years, how could they betray me like that? I used to wear them for 18 hours straight, to a smoke-filled late-night concert, and put them right back in after just a few hours of sleep. And now I can’t wear the plastic see-helpers for more than about 6 hrs at a time. This summer I need to find a good optometrist and explore some options, I think.

Today was another aha moment. Last night I was up late, very late (for me), til about 1am, and I had a touch of the awesome (not) early morning insomnia today so up at 6. And as it turns out, the occasional night of 5 hours of sleep is no longer really feasible if I want to have a productive day. Today was slow. Slooooooooooow. I kept drinking coffee, and it kept not helping. I had a candy bar, because I deserved it. No sugar rush. No rushing of any sort, more like padding down a hallway in soft slippers.

It wasn’t the kind of crushing, I-could-fall-asleep-at-any-moment kind of tiredness that hits you when you’ve done lots of exercise or travel or that kind of thing. It was more the blanket-of-muffle kind of tiredness. Everything seemed a little bit unreal, like I was behind glass. Everything took longer, far loooooonger than usual. It’s not that I didn’t get anything done — I walked Gus to school, finished and crossed a bunch of stuff off my list at work, even went to a meeting. It’s more that I kept losing focus and spacing out, then snapping back to attention.

Today was my least meeting-laden day this week so I’m a little bit sad about this, though not too sad, because I just can’t work up the energy for that. But last night’s waking excess was for a good cause: I’m happy to report that Chapter 6 is drafted and in my research partner’s hands, woo! And that’s worth all the spaciness and wasted coffee money for sure.

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