Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here on this blag. The spring semester was busy, then it was time to attend not one but two commencements, then we went on a family vacation, then we had some illnesses (everyone is better now). It’s been so hot and humid that we didn’t open the windows for 4 straight weeks, though yesterday we were able to open up finally which was amazing. I’ve been slow at book reading recently but I’m all caught up on New Yorkers for the first time in maybe ever? I “cooked” some no-bake granola bars today that I’m hopeful will be a good work snack; ask me about my knife skillz (which have for sure gotten better since watching The Bear).
Everything is fine but it’s been a while since I’ve had a regular writing practice, which is starting to feel weird. There’s been the new job to get up to speed with, and alongside that my goal to keep work to worktimes and not spend too much out of work time on research/writing. Motivation for writing is definitely a challenge for me since the pandemic. My desk at home used to offer me good headspace for writing that I haven’t quite been able to get back to since 2020-2021 had me living at work. I’m still not settled on a solid exercise/meditation routine after being knocked off track by the now-not-so-new job plus last fall’s bout with covid. And all of that was before the high temps/humidity of the past month (I for sure have some kind of summer seasonal affective disorder, sigh).
I don’t have a current research project, either, though there’s one piece of writing with my research partner that we should probably wrap up. I’ve intermittently had some ideas about new research though I’ve also had some concerns about making time for a new project, especially once the new academic year begins with a few new institutional commitments on the horizon. I’m sometimes stuck on wanting to do research that will be actionable in my institution while being wary of the emotional toll that research has sometimes taken on me when actions can’t or won’t be taken. I’m past mid-career, I’m not “required” to research and write.
Perhaps the evergreen task of getting back on the blagging horse is a way back in. Perhaps it feels stranger this time around because in the past 2 years I’ve blagged (and written) less than anytime else in the prior 15 years. As I sat down to write this afternoon I also realized that I’d been neglecting my RSS reader for the past few months, and caught up on several other people’s blags, maybe that will help get me back into the groove, too.
While I’m still wishing for an easier way to bring more exercise into my life, I’m also still kind of in love with my subway commute (even if it did give me covid late last year, grrr). It’s been years since I traveled into Manhattan most weekdays, maybe even more than 2 decades? And it’s never not interesting to me to watch everything during the commute.
The best thing about the Brooklyn side of the commute is in the morning when it’s easiest to see the subway zoetrope, a series of lighted paintings visible through the subway walls in a way that makes them seem animated. I’m still so amazed that it even exists, and I can usually get the best viewing spot right in front of the doors. And then we’re out of the tunnel and onto the bridge, my favorite part of the trip. Bicycles and scooters on the northern side of the bridge, walkers on the south; fast ferries full of commuters and slow tugs pushing barges in the river. The Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty, and, sometimes, the Staten Island ferry (so orange!) if I’m facing south. The Williamsburg Bridge and the whole of Manhattan if I’m facing north.
There’s lots of new-to-me construction in both boroughs, which is fascinating and also kind of sad. On the Brooklyn side many of the tall buildings used to be parking lots, which is not exactly a loss though it’s worrisome to have so much new construction in the flood zone. Recently there’s been some dredging of the inlet with the stone beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a backhoe on a barge, so neat. The stained glass watertower sculpture is one of my favorite sights — before my commute I’d not realized that it’s lit from inside at night, so pretty, and it’s lovely in the mornings too.
On the Manhattan side I keep an eye out for the Forward Building in the mornings — boo luxury condos, though seeing that big FORWARD is still a good way to start the day. I’m also pretty grumpy about the giant shiny building (which I’m sure is also condos) right by the river on the site of a former Pathmark, though it’s pretty to watch the reflection of the train in the mirrored windows on sunny days. The edge of the FDR Drive (a highway!) is painted lavender all along the Lower East Side. And that one 6 story brick tenement building just before the trains go back into the tunnel, the back of which is painted turquoise, with a wheatpasted poster: white with black letters reading LOVE ME LOVE ME — it’s been there for decades too, how is it still there? — and then the Cardigans are my earworm for a bit.
Definitely there is more graffiti since the pandemic. I really love graffiti and there’s always plenty to look at from the bridge, too, on both sides. It’s interesting to see the same tags repeated in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and noticing some of them in other parts of Manhattan too. Artists will often use the architectural features of buildings in their work, and my favorite is when a smallish block of building is used for one tag, reminds me of the glyphs in Mayan writing. Some graffiti is more interesting to me for the text than the graphics — on the south side of the train in Manhattan someone’s tagged the top of a building with giant all caps letters that read BAKERS YEAST (lol). But my favorite on the south side is one that says KINDBUD with a heart. Is it a weed tag? Or just a wish that we’ll all be kind to each other, bud? Probably the former, but I like my latter interpretation.
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.
It’s been quiet around here because I’ve been busy outside of this blag. In July I started a new job leading the library at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’m enjoying the new role and working with colleagues I’ve long respected, while still missing my former colleagues at City Tech who are also terrific.
I wrapped things up at my old job near the beginning of the summer and then had a whole month between jobs which was really incredible and necessary. We took a trip, I read a bunch of books while snuggling the cat, and I did some walking around and touristing in NYC. Starting the new job in the summer turned out to be a good plan — the relative quiet gave me more time to settle in and to meet with each of my new colleagues. In the 8 years since my last job change I’d sort of forgotten how tiring it is to learn the ins and outs of a new position/institution. So much new info is coming into my brain, though I’m grateful that my CUNY knowledge has made settling in easier.
With the new job also comes a new commute — the GC is in midtown, so I’m back to a subway commute to Manhattan for the first time in 15 (or so) years. I like the subway, and truly I have nothing to complain about: the commute is about 45 minutes at the longest, often more like 35, and my trains go over the Manhattan Bridge which is a view I will never ever get tired of. The only downside is that I’m missing my 90 minutes/day of walking, which I’d gotten used to as a gym-substitute since the pandemic finally convinced me to walk both ways to City Tech.
Working in midtown has been different, too. The excessive heat this summer has kept me inside more than I’d like, but once the weather cools off a bit I’m looking forward to taking a break to walk around and explore the neighborhood, and to eating lunch in the nearish parks. Definitely I need to find ways to make up for my steep decline in walking — some days I’ve walked up the 8 (though really 16, because each floor is double-height) flights of stairs to the dining hall to get some (literal) steps in.
The GC is in the western portion of an old department store that takes up an entire city block, and the library has some beautiful architectural details, including a fancy staircase I get to walk up every morning. Weirdly enough, I have worked in the building before. Roughly 10 million years ago in 1997 I worked for Disney Online, which at that time ran the website family.com out of NYC (and everything else from California). The office was in the same building as the GC, in the office spaces in the middle section of the building (the eastern section was and is still Oxford University Press, and the former home of the Science, Business, and Industry branch of the NY Public Library).
It’s just wild to me to be working in this building again, seems like it’s pulling together so many threads from my work life in archaeology, publishing, the internet, academia, and libraries, and from the 31 years that we’ve lived in NYC. I feel very lucky.
I am trying to get back into games. I’ve been here before, and admit that I still have lots of complicated feelings about games as leisure, probably mostly the fault of capitalism, feelings that I don’t have about reading or knitting or some of the other things I do in my leisure time. But games are fun, and free time is for fun stuff.
One thing that’s easing my way back into games right now is the realization that games on my phone can perhaps help with the unfortunate doomscrolling habit I’ve developed. Not that I think I’m unique in that habit right now, I mean, there’s still a pandemic and also a war, and climate change is more and more real every day. But doomscrolling is not at all helpful to me (and maybe not to you, either?), so having something else to do when I pick up my phone during the in-between times of my days is helping me pull my attention away from that temptation.
Some of the recent obsession with Wordle and its variants has been useful, though I haven’t gone too far down that rabbit hole. I do the classic text version each day, sometimes saving it as a treat for a time when I need a pick me up. I also do the Worldle each day, in which you’re given 6 attempts to guess what country is pictured, and with each wrong guess the distance and direction of the right country is revealed. That’s been a fun challenge that has made it clear to me how much geographic knowledge I’ve lost over the years — as a kid I loved maps and would often spend time looking at atlases and globes. And of course many things have changed geopolitically since I was a kid, too. I find that I usually either get the country right on the first guess or two, or I don’t get it right at all. And yes, predictably for a white USian I find that the Global South is much more of a challenge for me.
I also just — finally — finished playing Gorogoa on my phone. It’s a gorgeous puzzle game that I’ve had for a while and had started then stopped, for some reason. The layout is four tiles in a square, and you move through the puzzles by zooming in and out and using arrows to move left to right in the tile. Sometimes you have to line up two or more tiles to make something happen, and other times a tile turns into one or more layers that you pull apart. The puzzles are clever and just hard enough. It’s very, very pretty, too. And one thing I really like is that you can pick it up and play for 5 minutes or so, then put it down and come back to it later. That seems key to the anti-doomscrolling application for games, for me.
I did finally finish playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch, mostly because when he was doing college at home last year my kid kept teasing me that I’d never finished it. I’m not usually a big fan of the final boss battle and I admit I found it annoying, though it was satisfying to finish, and at some point I will go back and do some of the side quests I think. More recently I’ve been playing smaller games on the Switch. I loved A Short Hike so much last year, it was like taking a fun trip to nature when we weren’t really going anywhere, and the music is so lovely that I still sometimes listen to it while I’m working.
Right now on the Switch I’m playing Unpacking, which is a sort of puzzly game about moving but also really about life and growing up. The game takes you through someone’s life, starting when they’re a kid, then moving to college, then in an apartment with roommates, etc. Each level is a room or series of rooms that the person is moving into, and you have to unpack the boxes and arrange their stuff. There’s lots of freedom to put stuff wherever feels right to you, though you can’t leave anything on the floor or else the level won’t be complete. There are also stickers that you get for specific actions or arrangements of things — it took me a few levels to realize that, and now I’m kind of obsessed with looking at the names of the stickers I don’t have yet to try and figure out what I need to do to get them. As you go through each level you learn a bit more about the person who’s life you’re arranging. We have been in our apartment for 23 years this summer, and it has been a long time since we’ve packed and unpacked, and I am finding this mechanic to be super compelling here in pandemic season 3, too.
It’s the weekend and I am adjusting to my new glasses. They’re super pretty, though it’s so weird to see them on my face in the mirror as they’re very different from my old glasses. I’m remembering that I felt exactly this weird 2 summers ago when I first got those old glasses, too. Now I feel so fondly about those old glasses, in large part because of a photo of me and the kid that summer at a family wedding, one of the better pictures ever taken of the two of us. We both look so happy back there in August 2019, anticipating the changes we knew were coming and so totally, completely oblivious to the horrible thing coming that would change so much, has changed so much.
My new glasses are the 5th pair I’ve had since moving to glasses pretty much always, away from contacts, which I guess makes it about a decade of full time glasses. I first got glasses in 6th grade, the classic can’t see the chalkboard in school situation, though with a dad who’s extremely nearsighted it wasn’t exactly unexpected that I’d need them too. I was able to get away with wearing them only in school for about two years before I really started to need them on my face full time in junior high, which was about as awful as the 80s teen movies make it out to be. Why were glasses and braces so devastating to preteens in the old days? Now it’s just no big deal, which of course is the way it should always have been.
I started hardcore lobbying for contact lenses in 8th grade though it took another year or so for my parents to agree. And for years after that I was almost never in glasses, only first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I tried to be good about replacing my contacts when recommended, cleaning them (and extra cleaning them? with fizzy tablets and special fluids? wow I can barely remember), not wearing them for too long, and not sleeping in them. But it was high school, college, early grad school; I was out late, up late, young enough not to be too worried about my eyes, on a budget enough not to want to spend too much money on them. And glasses were so annoying to me: no peripheral vision, hard to wear sunglasses, they make your face sweaty, they fog up.
But about a decade ago my eyes started to get cranky about the constant contacts. They’d itch or be dry or uncomfortable after most of the day, and gradually I started wearing my glasses more and more often. Yes, still annoying in some ways, but much less annoying than painful eyes. I’ve also found some benefits to glasses in adulthood. I think they suit me — as an academic, it’s part of the persona, right? And they do a great job drawing attention away from circles under my eyes when I’m tired. I still haven’t quite come around to prescription sunglasses — feels like a pain in the butt to have to take them on and off as the sun comes and goes — but maybe I can get used to that, too?
This is my 3rd pair of progressives (because old) and I’m always suprised by the adjustments needed. I was absolutely certain (and stressed out) that the incessant zooming since the pandemic had totally wrecked my eyes, and then relieved when I finally went to the eye doctor in late summer that everything’s fine, my prescription needs a small change but not too much. But the change in frame style plus the slight change in strength means that I’m figuring out anew how to hold my head to see close, middle, and far distance. So many adjustments every time something changes. I hope I adjust soon, because once I do I will take my old frames in for new lenses, keeping that old pair around just in case I need them.
This week I am taking some vacation days, a use ’em or lose ’em kind of situation that so many of us seem to be finding ourselves in here in pandemic season 2. For various reasons we’re not able to go anywhere this week so I’m catching up on sleep and reading, and also trying to get out and about when I can, weather permitting (ugh, the heat, the humidity).
It had been an age, plus the newly-renovated hall of gems and minerals is finally open, so we headed up to the American Museum of Natural History a few days ago. While not unproblematic, as a science and social science nerd I will always count the AMNH among my most favorite museums. I can’t remember when my first visit was, but in graduate school I spent lots of time there as a researcher, using their collections to identify animal bones from the archaeological digs I worked on. The collections of animal bones I was analyzing were from medieval Ireland and 19th century Brooklyn, which meant hanging out with the domesticated animal skeletons on the 5th (?) floor of the museum, each room devoted to a different animal (or closely related species) with drawers full of bones and skins. In the Irish collection I had lots and lots of frog bones to identify, and the folx in the Herpetology Department were so friendly and helpful, in amongst the snakes and amphibians in jars and drawers. And the avian fauna, then (maybe still now?) in the basement — the Brooklyn collection had so many ducks, and wow, duck bones of different species and even genuses are so hard to identify, they all look so similar (and I was much more proficient at mammals, to be fair). There are some things I do still miss about being an archaeologist, but sitting alone in that basement with all of those duck bones is for sure not one of them.
Once the kid was born our AMNH visit frequency increased, unsurprisingly. When he was really little the length of the subway ride meant we usually only could stay at the museum for an hour or so before we hit crankiness or naptime; we got a membership to make the whole thing reasonably affordable, and we’ve kept the membership ever since. When we visit now the echoes of all of our previous visits are there. When he was a toddler we spent lots of time in the old hall of gems and minerals, then with a sort of dark 70s basement vibe, carpeted stairs for toddlers to climb up and down, a few huge rocks to touch, and low cases with the collections visible at toddler level. The dinosaurs, of course, in preschool and elementary school, so much time with them. The Hall of Biodiversity, newly renovated when he was little, still lovely now. The blue whale (right now with a bandaid on one flipper because they’re still giving covid19 vaccines underneath, so cool!) and sitting on the bench to watch the oceans movie, such a soothing place to rest. Meryl Streep explaining cladistics, what more could you ask for?
Our most recent visit was one million percent worth it, the renovated Hall of Gems and Minerals is fantastic, truly. The displays are terrific, grouping specimens by their chemistry and crystalline structure, plus lots of explanation about geological processes. There are several enormous and frankly stunning items, new to display (I think?) which makes me wonder where they were hiding all these years (though of course I realize that the museum has so many items in storage/for research). It was amazing — I could have looked at the Singing Stone for an hour.
But seeing the new amazingness does make me a little nervous, a tiny bit worried that more renovation might be looming. On the walk from the museum entrance to the minerals we traversed through some of our most favorite spots: North American Forests and the Hall of the New York State Environment. Most of these galleries feature the very classic natural history museum diorama-type displays: a specific location or type of forest, with trees and plants and bugs and birds and other animals, and a description and key. These were also a favorite when the kid was little, trying to find and identify all of the animals like a 3D version of the I Spy books. But they’re also just beautiful. And other cases in those galleries are old-fashioned but also kind of gorgeous, all fabulous fonts and little models of farming in upstate or hibernating chipmunks. The painting I snapped a photo of (above) illustrating the temperature and humidity ranges at different heights in the forest on a rainy day, sunny day, and at night. These galleries aren’t at all flashy, but they still have lots to offer. I hope they stay off the renovation schedule for a good long while, still.
I am trying to learn how to knit, and it has been kind of hilarious. My mom knits and about a million years ago she got me a learn to knit puppet kit which I’d never quite been able to bring myself to do. I’m not sure why I had such a weird block for so long. I generally enjoy making things (I can sew and go through phases of sewing stuff: purses and phone cases in the past, masks more recently [obvs]), and it feels like knitting is a useful skill to have (though sometimes I mentally push back on that because why do I feel the need for a productive hobby?). And I know lots of folx knit during meetings and wow, and the end of this year with endless work zooms I have really been wanting something to help me stay focused in meetings. Which I think is ultimately why I dug the puppet kit out of a drawer last month and gave it a whirl.
It’s been a wild ride so far. The instructions were kind of confusing but I was able to get the first few rows knitted alright, thinking back now I’m not sure why I didn’t go to youtube right away but I’m stubborn like that. The yarn in the kit had come twisted in a skein and at first I just pulled yarn directly from it, only to realize after things got horribly tangled that duh, the first step is to wrap the yarn into a ball (and then I remembered that my kid used to help my mom do that with her knitting when he was a toddler). So I pulled the needles out of what I’d done so far and unraveled it, untangled and wound the yarn into a ball, and started again.
I am also impatient, so after the first few newly-knitted rows went smoothly I got ahead of myself and decided that I was good enough to knit while watching TV. That went okay-ish — we were watching “Search Party” and during the tense parts I dropped a few stitches, but I thought I’d been able to pick them up okay. Then we started watching “Ted Lasso” (omg so so good) and I made a bigger mistake, but instead of stopping to fix it I just kind of plowed on through. And the combination of all of those mistakes meant that I ended up with something that is not at all a rectangle of 44 stitches by 80 rows, as you can see, because I kept adding stitches (though I didn’t really internalize that until I got to the next step).
Next up was to knit each half of my non-rectangle more narrowly to create a head for the puppet, which I also messed up. On the one side I did the knit two together stitches too aggressively (every stitch rather than two stitches each row), so it got all puckered. On the other side I tried to make up for it by not knitting narrowly enough. The finishing up bit was folding the knitting in half and sewing in (with a tapestry needle, who even knew I had one of those in my sewing box?) a precut piece of fleece for the mouth and striped buttons for eyes.
And woooooooooow, wow, that puppet is a hot mess. (Though to be fair, even if I’d knitted everything perfectly the puppet would still be kind of scary, at least if the photo on the instructions is to be believed.) I’m not sure why I didn’t rip stitches out to go back and fix it once things truly went pear-shaped. I think I keep telling myself that it’s good to have this record of knitting errors for the future? My mom came to visit a couple of weeks ago and also told me that I’m doing the knit stitch slightly wrong, the way I’m doing it is called knitting into the back of the stitch. Which I’d suspected, having finally taken a look at a youtube video.
When I started the puppet I thought I might give it away, but now that it’s so very ugly I think I have to keep it forever? I texted a friend and they called it ugdorable (lol). I do have some more yarn, so maybe I’ll try for a very basic scarf next.
Tuesdays after work and Saturday mornings I do karate. It’s a small group who of us who train in a now-virtual dojo for women and transfolx. Looking back at my calendar just now I realize I’ve been training for 4 years this month. I started karate after taking a self-defense class offered at an anti-violence org in the same location as our dojo. A work friend had recommended both; in Spring 2017 I was on sabbatical and trying to get myself together in the early days of the last federal administration, and taking self-defense felt like a tangible, helpful action to take.
Starting karate was the first time in a long time I’d intentionally done something involving moving my body, which I’m increasingly aware is so necessary as I get older. I appreciate that exercise makes me feel better, but exercise has for most of my life been kind of boring to me (with a few exceptions). It was also my first time in a while being a complete novice at something. It’s hard to do new things, especially if the new thing involves continuing to return to an activity that you’re not very good at, and being patient while building skill, accepting that progress may not be linear. In the immortal words of Jake the Dog, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.
Before the pandemic I could only make it to class on Saturday mornings. I wrote early on in the pandemic about missing my routines, and I was sad about that Saturday morning karate routine for a long time: getting myself out of the house by 9:30am and dropping off compost at the farmers market before walking down to the dojo, changing into my gi, leaving everything except karate outside the dojo during our initial meditation, chatting after we finished training, and walking home. Maybe I struggled with learning whatever kata I was working on, or trying to get my body to execute a technique in the same way on the right side and left side, but I always left feeling so much better than I had before class.
When the pandemic started I quickly realized I could attend the Tuesday evening class too, which fit neatly into the time I’d previously spent commuting, so I started training twice a week. I made space in the bedroom, already arranged differently because of our paused renovation. When the renovation started up again and the bedroom was inaccessible, I figured out a way to shift the living room furniture so I could train there. And once the renovation finished and our bedroom was back to (new) normal, I settled into what’s now my usual karate space, a rectangle of about 5 feet by 10 feet, rug rolled up so that my bare feet can grip the wood floors, just like in the dojo. I’ve mentally mapped the dimensions of our old dojo onto my room, so that when one of the teachers says “step out left toward the mirror” I know what that means in my space.
In yesterday’s class I was in a breakout room working on my kata with an advanced student, talking about showing katas, and we realized that I’ve shown 5 katas since we moved to virtual karate. I’m not always comfortable feeling proud of myself, so I sort of brushed off the compliment from my classmate — I’m still closer to the beginning of our kata list than the end, these were easy katas, especially the two in short stances that don’t require lots of space. But the more I think about it I should be proud. Two of these katas are in our widest stance, and I had to do lots of thinking and adjusting and practicing to fit them into a 5’x10′ box. One of the five is still vexing me, to be honest — I learned it well enough to show it a few months ago but it’s complex enough that now that a classmate is learning it I’m struggling to remind my body about one section in particular. It’s a process.
With the warmer weather we’ll hopefully be able to train in the park occasionally, as we did last year, and with vaccination rates increasing I wonder if we’ll be able to get a new dojo space in the not too distant future, too? The org we rented our old space from has given up the lease during the pandemic, not surprisingly. I still really miss training in person — especially when learning a new technique it’s much easier for my brain to see it in 3D with a real person than zooming. Though a benefit to our virtual dojo is that the folx who’re no longer in Brooklyn can train with us too, a small group that includes former students returning and current students who’ve moved since last year. And that community of our dojo is a super important part of karate for me, too.
I am getting better, and I still have so much to learn.
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.