It’s another quiet holiday break for casa mauraweb, for which I’m again grateful. We’ve done some xmasy things and some family visiting and saw some art and ate good food and have more good food and friends events planned for the next few days. I’ve also gotten some writing off my plate, which was needed and is making me feel better about the several (sigh) deadlines I’ve saddled myself with between now and early February.
Leaving town meant driving, so much driving, too much driving, it seemed to me. Though really any driving is too much driving for me at this point. I’m more prone to carsickness the older I get, and the nagging anxiety I have about climate change (and the role of cars and driving) has gotten louder this year for sure. It’s tempting to blame the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which revealed that warming is happening more quickly than (some) originally anticipated. But really my increased unease dates to my reading of this summertime NYT magazine article Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. You might want to read it, though you might not, depending on your personal threshold for retroactive anger and despair.
Because wow, my fighting against despair brain is all about alternate timeline fantasies right now. What if all of those efforts in the 80s had worked to create policies that would slow down global warming? What if Al Gore had actually been allowed to take office? What if the US hadn’t invested so heavily in cars and highways at the expense of public transportation and trains? And the worst kicker, the ultimate gut punch, what if we had a federal government that was interested in figuring out how to deal with climate change rather than actively, cravenly, corporate-greedily speeding it up?
It all makes me angry in small ways as well as big ways. I have to travel to Cleveland for a conference next year, and I keep looking at train and bus routes trying to figure out some non-ridiculous way to get there without flying which just does not exist, no matter how many times I check the maps and schedules. Jonathan told me the other day that apparently the distance between Beijing and Shanghai is similar to that between NYC and Chicago, and there are 39 trains each day between the two cities, a ride that takes 4 hours. FOUR. HOURS. We took the train to Chicago once in the 90s; it took 18 hours (in the regular seats, not the sleeper compartments, because grad students) and also broke down and we had to change to a new train. But we got to see Neil Young eating in the dining car, because he apparently doesn’t fly, so yay?
The big ways are the scarier ways, of course. What will happen, and when? Unpredictability of weather and other natural disasters, for sure. Should we move? Should we not move? Who can tell? We don’t fly all that much, maybe a few times/year total for all of us for vacation/family visiting/work (just me). Should we stop flying completely? What else can we do? I firmly believe that we are outside of the realm of individual solutions, though I also think that as an individual I should keep on doing the things I’m doing already to reduce my carbon footprint.
Ugh, I hate to end on a down note, but it’s hard to find climate-related anything to be hopeful about. I will say that I’m looking to get more active in climate justice work this year, maybe call it a resolution? And I’m cheered by the work of the young folks behind the Sunrise Movement. You may remember them occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office after the midterm elections, and they’re doing urgent work pushing for policy changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. If you’re looking to donate before the end of the year and are as freaked out as I am about climate change, maybe consider a donation to help them keep up their good work?
I am angry, so angry, angry and sad, like so many people are right now. I am doing the things I can do to help push back against the things that make me angry and sad. It’s hard to write about those things — they are big and I feel small.
So instead I’m going to write my lingering anger and sadness about Grimes. The past two years have brought lots of moments of reckoning re: our problematic faves, some moments bigger than others. Since learning about her politics I haven’t been able to listen to Kate Bush, for example, even thinking about her makes me sad. Though not nearly as sad as I’ve been since Grimes and Elon Musk came out as a couple and I had to completely cut her music out of my life.
Yeah, it’s small potatoes compared to so much else. But it feels like a betrayal on so many levels. She’d been that rare woman in music who did almost everything herself, not only writing and performing her own music but also producing, mixing, etc. Her music is weird and poppy and dancey and electronic and weird; individual songs often involve many tracks layering and looping lots of different sounds, which I think must also make mixing a challenge. Many of her more recent songs hit that feminist rage note that is sometimes so necessary. She worked with other women in music who I love love love. And then she allied herself with a rich powerful white man who wants nothing more than to be more rich and more powerful. The patriarchy at work, ugh. (Though I have to say that the prospect of him creating some sort of spaceship to escape Earth and taking all of the other rich powerful greedy cruel white men with him is kind of dreamy.)
Her first two records were partially instrumental and kind of quiet, making them super useful for me for two distinct reasons: calming and writing. Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious or unsettled I gravitate toward electronic dance music — something about the way many EDM songs layer sounds on top of other sounds hooks my brain into listening very carefully which I almost always find soothing, like it’s occupying my brain just enough that I can’t be worried about whatever it was I was worrying about. This brain hooking is also very useful when I’m writing. I usually find it challenging to write in complete silence and gravitate toward instrumental music when I need to write something; singing is too distracting, though sometimes very melodious instrumental can also be distracting. Electronic music is generally a good accompaniement to my writing practice — even if it’s energetic — because it keeps my brain focused enough not to try to sabotage myself (because writing is hard, and, let’s be honest, it’s always a struggle to write).
I am still sad and angry, but recently what has been helping me get over my Grimes melancholy is the new record by Orbital, Monsters Exist. This is their first record since Wonky in 2012, which I listened to approximately 1 zillion times while writing up the results of the big project my research partner and I did in 2009-2011. The new record is terrific — lots of dancey stuff and quieter stuff and absolutely helping me out in both the calming and writing arenas. It’s hard to pick favorites but I really like the first track on the bonus disc, “Kaiju,” which starts off sort of minor key and scary and turns into something major and joyful midway, sort of like my favorite track on The Altogether bonus disc, “Beelzebeat.” “There Will Come a Time” has a spoken word track that’s a bit dire, but there’s also an instrumental version on the bonus disc which is lovely. And the singles are also terrific — I’ve found the video for the first single, “Tiny Foldable Cities,” to be intensely mesmerizing, combining both my love of Orbital with my love of urban landscapes.
I took a day trip to Philadelphia last week, down and back on the train (<3 the train), my favorite way to travel always giving me lots of thoughts to think. I’d taken a longer trip requiring several airplanes and airports the prior week, and while it was a good trip in so many ways (not least of which were the spectacular views out the airplane window) I will never not feel that train travel is the Most Ideal Way to travel.
As the train gets close to Philly the gleaming new skyscrapers pop into view. As someone who spent their pre-college years mostly in the Philly environs those tallest buildings in the city will always be new to me, even though Wikipedia reminds me that the unspoken rule that no building should be taller than City Hall (lest it block the view of the William Penn statue on top) was declared passe in 1986 when the first building to surpass it in height went up. How can it possibly have been that long ago? The same year that I saw New Order at the Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus, which I’d forgotten until I found myself standing next to that building last week.
I’m feeling pulled in all the directions recently — middle age and imepending life changes making me look backward and forward, time feeling weirdly both fast and slow. The impacts of budget shortfalls at work overfill my days, sometimes making me miss with an actual physical ache the slower pace I was able to have during sabbatical nearly 2 years ago. (How was that almost two years ago already?) I keep starting books and having to pause them for long periods which is not a good way to read, distracting and slow, always playing catchup. I write postcards and more postcards in support of Democratic candidates because that is the way I can be active in this last push before the midterm elections.
Time for the good things is moving too fast, and too slow for the bad things. Aging, it’s a trip.
I am a big fan of coffee (n.b. the footer of this very website). I didn’t really start drinking coffee in earnest until I went to college, but since then it’s been a reliable and beloved companion. Cups at the local cafe/restaurant near campus when we were undergraduates, so many that we even have a mug that we “borrowed”” as a souvenir when we graduated. Classic blue and white paper cups from streetcorner carts all over NYC. More recently, the occasional flat white from a fancyish coffee and toast place that sprung up in our ever-fancifying neighborhood (sigh). And the evolving range of home coffee methods, too: regular drip to aeropress to burr grinders to cold brew to our current Dutch coffeemaker with a fun name (Technivorm!) which makes a reliably delicious pot each morning.
Except. In the past couple of years occasionally I’ve noticed that sometimes what had previously been a perfectly fine level of coffee consumption (2 1/2 cups/day, not too much according to the medical establishment!) has the opposite effect. I’m awake, but also kind of jittery and anxious. Or maybe my afternoon cup doesn’t really make me feel more awake, so then I have more (or a few chocolate-covered espresso beans), then it’s the fast track to jittery/anxious.
When I was sick last month I didn’t want coffee at all, and since I already felt so yucky the detox from my standard levels of caffeine (a process that usually produces headaches) wasn’t such a big deal. What happened next was weirder, though — even after my illness subsided, I still wasn’t all that interested in coffee. And it’s been that way for the past few weeks. I have gone back to coffee, one cup in the morning and a second after lunch. But sometimes I forget to drink the second and don’t even want it. I wish I could report that I don’t have any afternoon tiredness anymore, but that’s not the case — I still have the usual post-lunch energy dip most days. But coffee no longer seems like the solution.
I miss it. I miss the ritual of making and drinking a hot beverage, though that’s not super hard to replicate. I’ve been drinking lots of herbal tea, at home and at work. I also miss the clarity and focus that I used to get with a cup of coffee, which now seems elusive even in the mornings. I didn’t drink coffee at all when I was pregnant many years ago, and I still remember that first cup I had after the kid was born as a sort of amazing, magical elixir.
Aging is such a trip, the ways that our bodies and minds just change right out from under us, the things we used to be able to do or eat or think or handle shifting gradually or quickly. Suddenly not really grooving on coffee anymore is hardly the worst thing that could (or will) happen. But wow it’s making me kind of melancholy.
I am sick, blargh. In general I’m more annoying than some sick folks, but less annoying than others, I think. I’ve spent the day moving from the sofa to the table, blowing my nose, drinking water and tea, and reading. When I’m not sick it always seems like being sick could be sort of okay, restful, even? But of course it’s not. My head hurts, my nose is running, and my body aches. This is a giant drag even despite a good book and the lap-warming efforts of one of our cats. Blargh.
I shouldn’t complain, really. I don’t get sick often, usually only once or twice each year. I’m very lucky to have paid sick days. January is a pretty common time for me to get sick — thinking back, this is the 3rd January in a row that I’ve had a cold bad enough to stay home from work. It makes sense that in the cold weather, worn down after the end of the busy semester and holidays, it’d be easy to pick up some kind of crud, especially with everyone else in the city coughing and sneezing.
January’s a good time to be sick in many ways. Things are slower at work, there are only a few classes and many folks take vacation, so it’s quieter. A good time to get things done before the semester starts, to catch up. So while I’m not missing too much by being home today, I do feel the pull of losing time to being sick, with only 3 weeks left to get some biggish tasks — both with and without hard deadlines — out of the way before the semester begins and everything speeds up again.
I’ve been trying to write more consistently this year as well, jumping into using the hashtag #write2018 with other library and academic folks on twitter. Some are doing 25 minutes/day; I’ve been aiming for just something every day, sometimes more and sometimes less, even on the weekends. It’s going to be a bit less today, I fear. Hoping that I’m feeling and writing better tomorrow.
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.