Grumpy. I am grumpy. Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. Grumpy when I wake up in the morning, grumpy when I go to sleep at night.
I’m grumpy about all the usual things, things that are probably making lots of other folks grumpy too. Time, capitalism, bodies; too little, too much, too fragile. Plus the disturbing political situation. Plus the rolling waves of sexual assault news.* Plus climate change (so hot). Like a slice of toast spread thickly with gray sludge. Grumpy.
I’ve been trying to talk myself out of it and write myself out of it and think myself out of it, but this grumpy is nothing if not persistent.
Last week I went to a symposium for librarians about higher education, focusing on what might be on the horizon. The speakers were mostly not librarians, they were administrators or folks in library-adjacent fields like scholarly publishing. There was, as is so often the case (cf. Eira’s post linked above), not gender parity among the speakers (though perhaps among attendees), and nowhere even in the remote vicinity of racial/ethnic parity among both. I am grumpy about disparities. I am grumpy when I hear about things happening at better-resourced institutions. I know that my colleagues and I do the best we can with the resources we have available, a great job, in all and genuine honesty, but it’s hard not to be grumpy thinking of what we might be able to do were the resources available.
The symposium was held at a hotel in Manhattan. As I walked into the lobby I experienced the most incredible nostalgia, though it took me a few minutes to place it. A long time ago, when my kid was little, the two of us came to that very hotel to meet his grandmother — my spouse’s mom — for lunch. She was at that time the president of a scholarly association that had its meeting at the hotel. My memory is that she was only in town for a short time and couldn’t make it out to Brooklyn, and my spouse was also busy that day, so we decided that the kid and I would come in and meet her for lunch. I believe we ate at a diner, I have a memory of us sitting on counter stools and spinning around? I could dig a little to figure out the exact date (but I haven’t), it could have been when the kid was 3-ish, though maybe as old as 5-ish. I think the lunch was a bit hectic — it’s a busy part of the city for schlepping a kid, she was busy with her meeting. But he is the only child of her only child so of course we made the trip.
It’s 3 years last month since a good friend of ours died suddenly, 3 years this month since my spouse’s mom died. The sadness and missing them has changed and keeps changing, complicated by external factors: other people, the world, life. Reservations are made and tickets are bought for us to go a Chinese restaurant for lunch and to see the latest Star Wars movie on Christmas as we have for the past 2 years, our now-not-so-new tradition. I am and will be thinking of them both.
And I’m looking forward to a few days off at the end of the month to catch up on sleep and read and play some games and get myself out of the house a bit more. It’s so boring to be this grumpy all the time.
I can’t quite believe that we’ve lived in our current apartment for nearly 18 years. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and I’d never lived in the same apartment or house for more than 3 years before this place. It’s been a long time but it’s still strange — when I feel grumpy about having to recaulk the bathtub *again* (because didn’t I just do that?) (and why don’t I ever seem to get any better at it?), I keep having to remind myself that in the past we often moved out before our home needed any significant (or even insignificant) maintenance.
Through a combination of luck and not being on the first floor, plus a heaping helping of I like to clean and for the house to be clean, we’ve not had to deal with many bugs or other annoying critters in this apartment. We do get the occasional house centipede (ew, so many legs) or moth or these really tiny black beetles (when the weather gets warm), but that’s really about it. But that all changed this week when we had to deal with a weird ant invasion, sigh.
The creepiest thing is that it went from 0 to gross in seemingly no time at all. One night we went to bed and there were no ants, and the next morning we woke up to a hairball (yuck, but unfortunately not all that unusual) and lots of ants swarming it (extra-yuck, thanks cats!). Were the ants just lying in wait under the floorboards? Who knows!
There’s nothing more bracing than dealing with a hairball plus ants first thing in the morning on a weekday, boy howdy. Super glad I’m on sabbatical rn because at least I had time to help deal with it, as the cats were No Help At All as per usual. Ants move pretty fast, but we sprayed ’em with cleaning spray and wiped ’em all up as best we could.
The rest of that day we were definitely on ant High Alert, walking around the general living room area a few times to take care of any new arrivals or stragglers. It seemed like they were coming from the wall with a window that looks out onto our courtyard, and they were only in one part of the living room and hallway. But then the next day, though there were fewer ants overall, one got to the threshhold of the kitchen, yikes.
With the cats we can’t really get an exterminator or ant poison, and a pal on twitter suggested baking soda as an alternative. J ran out to get three boxes and we started going along the wall of the apartment pushing a line of baking soda into the cracks and under the floorboards plus along the threshhold of the kitchen. We did all of this before checking online and I’m still not exactly sure what baking soda does to ants — while I didn’t do an exhaustive search it seemed like some folks were suggesting mixing powdered sugar with baking soda so they’d take it back to the nest and then their stomachs would explode? Which seems weird to me and possibly not true (though again, I didn’t follow up). Other folks suggested using cinnamon which disrupts their pheremone trail, but our living room wall is very long, that would take a lot of cinnamon (and baking soda is cheaper).
My attention to detail and ability to see irregularities are adjusted pretty high. That came in handy when I was an archaeologist and continues to do so when I need to copy edit something, but is perhaps less useful to me overall during an ant situtation. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit this week walking around the apartment looking for ants along the walls and floors, which is sort of distracting.
We are on day 5 now and things are much better, really we are just seeing a few each day and also some poor ant corpses occasionally. The teenager says it looks like we were spellcasting, what with the white powder along the perimiter of the living room and around the pillar in the kitchen. Hope these spells continue to ward off the ant menace.
I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.
Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.
(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)
Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.
This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.
I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.
Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.
Our washing machine broke yesterday. Happy New Year! As is to be expected it happened mid-wash, forcing me to rinse out each item of clothing (and towels, sigh) in the bathtub, wring them all out, hang them up on our drying rack, and point a small fan at them to speed drying time. Luckily I did two loads of wash the day before yesterday so we’re in a good place, laundry-wise, and should be able to make it through the week with very minimal handwashing should the repair not happen sooner.
Laundry can be complicated for apartment-dwellers. Since we’ve lived in NYC we’ve had close to the full range of washing and drying possibilities. In some of our apartments there was communal laundry in the basement or common space, sometimes coin-op and other times not. Other apartments had no laundry in the building, in which case we’d either take our clothes to a laundry service or wash them ourselves at a laundromat. The former sounds fancy and expensive but sometimes it was the best option if there wasn’t a laundromat close by; the latter is actually my preference, though, because sometimes laundry services lose a sock here and there (and sometimes it’s a favorite sock, extra sad). When we lived near Washington Square (in two different apartments) we used a laundromat on W. 4th St., and every year for the 4 yrs we lived there laundry day was inadvertently the same day as the pride parade which meant that we had to cross the parade route schlepping giant bags of clothes, duh for us.
Our current place has laundry in the actual apartment and we’re on our 2nd washer/drier since we moved in 16.5 yrs ago. This is definitely convenient, and was especially so when the kid was a baby and the pile of things to wash seemed neverending. But my preferred laundry management situation is actually communal laundry in the basement (as long as you don’t have to go outside to get to the basement as we did in one apartment). Communal laundry = communal maintenance, and also the failover scenario of the possibility to use another machine if one machine is broken. Yeah, it’s inconvenient to have to put on shoes to go to the basement, sure. But appliance repair is such a drag, especially given how complicated appliances are. Our machine is a super-fussy (and needlessly complicated) model that both washes and dries, which I feel makes it more complicated to repair, too (though I’m not an expert, so I could just be projecting).
Mostly I’m just grumpy to be going into this week with some of the laundry undone. I like cleaning, and I especially like laundry, one of my chores along with dishes and dusting. I like things to be neat and in order, and I also find it satisfying to clean because there’s a perceptible difference between the before and after: you start with a dirty pile of clothes and end up with clean and folded stacks, ready to be put away in drawers and closets. With so much uncertainty in the world I’ve found recently that I’ve gravitated even more to doing laundry, and it’s making me antsy not to do it.
Today’s day 3 of the 3 day (Memorial Day) weekend, and as the weekend is winding down it’s more clear to me than ever that all weekends should be 3 day weekends. Three days is just long enough to do the things I have to do (chores, teen chauffeuring, catch up on sleep) plus the resarchy things I want to do (some reading + notetaking, finishing the revisions on a book chapter) plus leisure stuff too, in this case going for walks and reading the New Yorker backlog and watching two (2!) movies and playing the new levels in Monument Valley and having dinner with the neighbors.
I’ve felt my brain stretching this weekend, airing out a bit, relaxing, thinking. This past semester was unusually busy — I had a committee assignment that was much more work than I anticipated, and I also taught a graduate class one evening/week, in addition to all of the typical stuff. Now that the semester’s ended things should slow down a bit, the director parts of my job should fit more neatly into 35 hrs/week. Which is good timing since I have a couple of writing deadlines coming up in late summer and early fall, one medium-sized and one big. I’ve joined in to an accountability spreadsheet with other academic folks working towards summer research and writing goals and so far, so good. Summertime, I am ready for you.
The weather, everyone’s talking about the weather. Jonathan keeps reading me these statistics from the interwebs, hundreds of days since the last time the temperatures went below freezing in Central Park, predictions that it’ll be in the high 60s on xmas eve, etc. etc. etc. It seems boring and repetitive to complain about the weather, but seriously, this weather is getting me down. I like seasons, and I really like winter. I’m more sensitive to cold temperatures than I used to be, though I’d still rather be cold than hot by a fairly wide margin. Snow is just plain magical.
Mostly what I’ve missed this extended fall that won’t turn into winter are opportunities to wear my winter clothes. I don’t have all that many clothes and it gets boring to wear the same thing when there are lots of things that I want to wear but can’t because it’s not cold enough for them. Also the apartment tends to be hot, and work tends to be hot too, most especially when it’s in the 40-60 degree range outside. Which it has been since October.
– my magenta + other colors striped sweater, which is a pullover so I feel like I really need to commit to it when I wear it, unlike, say, cardigans which can accommodate temperatures that vary throughout the day.
– my gray wool pants, a great find at a thrift store years ago when the narrow cut was sort of out of style, but since I’ve kept them around they look okay now, *almost* modern, and are a nice pants option for work in the winter.
– various turtleneck sweaters for work, a bright blue one as well as a new to me purple one that used to belong to my mother in law which I’ve not yet had the chance to wear.
– I have worn my oatmeal heather wool skirt, another thrifty find from years ago, to work this semester because I love it, but I had to turn on the fan in my office that day so I haven’t worn it since.
– all of the amazing wool socks that folks have hand-knitted for me: 3 stripey pairs from my mom, 1 charcoal from my pal Abby, and 1 multicolored from my father in law’s artist’s coop shop.
– my ugly green + brown striped writing sweater with the weird cowl neck, which I got for free at a swap-o-rama maybe 6 years ago in the park right next to where the kid would end up going to middle school (though I didn’t know that at the time).
Okay, I’m wearing the ugly writing sweater right now, because it’s actually been wintery this weekend and I am, in fact, writing. The weird cowl neck means that I can pull it halfway up my face or even kind of create a hood for when I’m really chilly or just need to take a break. It’s reversible (because I say so) and stretchy and cozy, and makes me feel like writing. I think I’ll need to get another item of clothing to infuse with magical writing powers because global warming. Also because my research partner and I need to deliver the manuscript of our book (!!!) on September 15, 2016, which means lots of spring + summer writing next year.
Over the past week or two I seem to have developed a slight overwhelming obsession for the music of Grimes, an electronic dance music artist from Vancouver. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that, like the old person that I am, I learned about her from reading an article in the New Yorker. It’s not a little ironic that as it’s become easier and easier to hear new music online I find myself listening to fewer and fewer new bands, and mostly default to my old standbys. There’s the old thing I think, and the busy job thing for sure, but also perhaps the there’s so much music out there right now where to even begin? thing.
Anyway, so I’m reading the New Yorker, about 4 issues behind as usual (I had this one week in early August when I was totally caught up, it’s like a unicorn week of summer). I always glance at the music articles but this one was longer than usual which caught my eye. I read for a bit and learned that she also produces and engineers her own tracks — she compared herself to Phil Spector and claims Grimes is the girl group. I also learned that she’s on 4AD, one of the few labels left for which I’ll always at least give a listen to almost anything they put out.
So I start hunting around online and the first thing I find is this track, which apparently she released online earlier this year when it was scrapped from plans for a new album:
It’s been a while since I fell so hard for new music. That *is* the magic of the internet, for reals, because it took me approximately 10 minutes to buy her last record + EP + single and I haven’t listened to anything else since. She’s touring now and coming to NYC next month and of course it’s unpossible for about a million reasons — it’s a weeknight (but all ages! could we bring the kid?) and sold out anyway, and EDM live shows are kinda wasted on me since I’m not really a dancer.
Her stuff is poppy but weird and many of the songs have some of the same attributes that I like in other EDM, especially Orbital and mu-Ziq — layered beats in complicated patterns, plus lots of changes mid-song. This song has a shambling set of back beats that are just amazing, in particular in the first few minutes of the track. Trying to listen to all of it all at once gives my brain something to puzzle over that makes me feel oddly calm — I’m sure there’s some neurological reason for this, but in this suddenly incredibly busy semester I’ll take it, no fancy science explanation required.
The article specifically mentioned that Grimes was concerned that the songs she’d recorded for her new album, including the one above, were too hopeless to put out. It’s a melancholy song, to be sure, though I also find it simultaneously hopeful even when it makes me want to cry. It’s a good song for me for right now. We’re coming up on a year since the unexpected and sudden death of a close friend followed quickly by the somewhat more expected though still sudden death of my mother in law. I’m sad, I’ve been sad, I’m still sad. It’s been a weird time to have a new job that’s a step up, to have a bunch of articles recently published, to have successfully navigated the getting the kid into high school process. The older you get, the more it’s sad and happy at the same time. Music always helps.
I still like to have a paper calendar hanging near my desk, and this year it’s a free calendar from the Nature Conservancy (well, I guess I made a donation at one point, so it’s not really free). August’s calendar models were three adorable sandpipers on the beach. For some reason their cute little faces and bright orange feet were honestly captivating to me, and I haven’t yet found the will to turn over the calendar to September (a cool foresty brown bear).
We haven’t been to the beach in a while. I really, really dislike sand, I was so very relieved when the kid finally outgrew sandboxes. I also am not the biggest fan of sunscreen, much as I realize that it’s an absolute necessity for someone as fluorescently pale as I am. The sand + sunscreen combo I find particularly yucky, as I’m sure most people do. But I do like the ocean a lot, both for swimming (much much more awesome than swimming in pools) and for looking/listening. And the sand always *looks* nice, too.
When the kid was littler we often went to the beach with my family during the summer. It was typically a fun, chaotic, energetic time — lots of little kids + sand + sea + vacation food will be that way. The kind of vacation you kind of feel like you need another vacation to recover from. And while I like the relative calm of vacationing with a teenager now, I kind of miss those beach vacations. The last week of August — this past week — was often when we’d go, lots of kids are in school by now so the rental prices have gone down. But with the kids getting older and all of my nieces and nephews now starting school before the NYC public schools (which don’t start til next Wednesday), it’s been to hard to plan a big beach trip in recent years. It’s a bad week for me work-wise, too, as CUNY has typically started by then.
One thing that seems more of a boring grownup thing that I like is visiting the beach on the off season. No swimming, of course, but still lots to love about being near the ocean. The kind of vacation that might be easier with a teenager. Perhaps we’ll test out that theory this year.
With August half over it’s tempting to look at my list of stuff I wanted to accomplish this summer and cringe a bit. I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like to with the home improvement tasks, reading/playing games/watching movies, or weekend daytripping as I hoped. OTOH, we had two nice vacations and I’ve done a fair amount of reading and writing for ongoing and new research projects.
I’ve actually done a huge amount of reading this summer, full stop. Much of that is in the service of my growing interest in anti-racist work. Like lots of well-meaning white folks I started self-educating in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder last summer in Ferguson, Missouri. I was pretty appalled at what I didn’t know about civil rights history and structural racism in the U.S., to be honest. It’s really depressing what’s not taught in school, and as a high school and college and graduate student I didn’t go to any great lengths to seek out this learning so was able to remain blissfully ignorant for far too long (hello, white privilege).
So I started reading, reading, reading. Twitter helps — I follow a buncha radical librarians and academics of all sorts, lots of sociologists and others doing anti-racist work. The past year’s protests have also used twitter to spread information, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity that twitter affords to listen in on conversations and learn. As much as I feel drawn to protesting, feel like I want to want to be there, I’m enough of an introvert and not a big fan of crowds to know that marches are not really going to work for me. But I’ve increasingly felt like I need to do more than just read, tweet, and retweet.
So this summer I tried to kick it up a notch. In July I participated in a 2 1/2 day workshop called Undoing Racism, sponsored by the Anti-Racist Alliance. While it wasn’t a CUNY thing it was held at Baruch College and there were lots of Baruch folks there as well as other educators, social workers, and others. White folks were in the majority though there were lots of people of color there as well, and we all came in with an interest in doing anti-racist work, which set the stage well. Less satisfying was that folks were at all different stages of understanding structural racism and white supremacy, which sometimes made it feel like the black participants were teaching the white participants about racism (something one of the black participants identified). It was also a big group — there were probably about 45 of us — and it seemed like we were rushing through at the end, perhaps because it was hard to get through the schedule with so many folks in the conversation? It ended up being somewhat light on concrete actions we can take to help dismantle racism, which was a bit disappointing. The Anti-Racist Alliance holds monthly group meetings as well as the workshops — there’s a group especially for educators that meets during the school year and I think I’ll try to make it to one of the meetings to see what they’re like.
This month I’m participating in an online course offered by social justice activist Patti Digh called Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism, Unconscious Racism, and Silent Racism. The course is great though a lot (LOT!) of work — I’m putting in about an hour each evening on average and I could definitely be spending more time on it. In some ways the course is similar to last month’s workshop in that it seems like it’s more white folks than POC and everyone’s at a different place in their prior knowledge about racism. While there’s much more to read (as well as videos to watch) in this course, there’s also more time to process and discuss, which we do on forums devoted to a question about each topic or reading. So far I’ve read some things that are new to me and some that I’d read before, and like some of the other participants I’m eager to get to the “things we white folks can do” part of the course. But since the course is 4 weeks (this is the end of week 2) I trust that we’ll get there. It’s also a very big course (my first non-open MOOC!) — about 2,500 people signed up and probably about 300-500 are actively participating in the forum discussions. I’ve tried to follow threads of interest to me and do respond to folks but that’s really where I could spend more time, reading and commenting on my classmates’ forum posts.
Tonight we have a huge giant phone call with the Hard Conversations course and I admit to being a little bit nervous. There was a call last week that I had to miss, and even after listening to the recording of the call I’m still not sure how a call with this many participants will work. In a few hours I guess I will find out.
Today we went to Brooklyn Bridge Park to walk around and see the new stuff that’s been added over the past couple of years, parky stuff and arty stuff and foody stuff. We took the train to Brooklyn Heights then walked to river under the Manhattan Bridge, near the stoney beach where the kid used to love to throw rocks in the river. Then we walked the park all the way down to Atlantic Ave., ogling Manhattan and the bridges and the river and the barges and the tugboats as we went. We saw some new art in the form of lots of climbable and sittable neon orange benches, as well as a neat maze-like arrangement of vertical mirrors about 6 inches wide and varying heights (kid and adult-sized). We saw the pop-up pool, and the enormous new condo construction everyone’s angry about (I like to think of them as “first to flood!” Thank you, wealthy future residents, for taking the next storm surge for the borough). We saw the new pier with all the sports and noticed that they moved the kayaks from where we once did the free Saturday morning kayak a few years ago. We ended up at a restaurant on the pier near Atlantic that’s not the same as the old restaurant, right near the water playground and slide playground and swing playground that the kid used to love when it first opened.
It’s taken me a while to realize this but I am not quite ready to be finished with doing the stuff that parents of littler kids do. I love my teenager, really I do, even despite the teen spirit. But on the weekends I still want to do the elementary school stuff. I want to go to the natural history museum and the science museum and the transit museum and the aquarium and the many zoos, esp. the Queens Zoo, which we unfortunately neglected until a few years ago (and which has the adorable little deer-like animal called the pudu!). I want to go see the new Pixar movie.
I know that adults can do all of those things, and in the abstract I’m fine with doing all of those things. I’m not embarrassed to want to see the new Pixar movie — Amy Poehler is flat out awesome. But unless the kid has something else to do it feels weird to go do this stuff without him, weird to think of him at home while we’re at a non-exclusively-adults thing.
So, in conclusion, growing up is weird, and parenting gives you all the feels. #statingtheobvious