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there are mountains to climb

maura @ 11:21 pm

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.

les tags: ,

saved by zero

maura @ 3:36 pm

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.

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summer school

maura @ 5:42 pm

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.

les tags: ,

like one of those sappy hallmark movies

maura @ 9:39 pm

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

les tags: ,

missing may

maura @ 5:09 pm

Wow, what happened to May? It’s been a while since I’ve missed a whole month here. Since last June, in fact. Blame it on the kittehs — I’ve now collected nearly all of them and have the house expansion and 2 of the 3 additional room skins. There’s still more to do since not every cat has given me a present yet, but I’ve collected enough fishmoney (without spending real money! go me!) that I’ve been able to buy lots of toys, and have started going for theme arrangements, like putting out pillows and hammocks and cushions to try to attract lots of napping kittehs, or all of the spinny/small mouse/feather kinds of toys for playing kittehs. Good times.


I took the day off today and am trying hard to really have a day off, no chores or work or anything nonleisureish. Last night was commencement (hence the obligatory confetti shot, above). After a few cold + rainy days it’s amazing out today, high 60s and sunny and lovely. I took a walk in the park which was delightful, if occasionally muddy. I read the Whole Entire Paper over coffee in the morning (typically I only have time for the front page, and have to catch up on the rest at night). I spent some time with the book I’m reading, took a short nap, caught up on twitter, sent some email. Okay, okay, I *did* check my work email, but only twice and only to see if there was anything urgent.

I also played some Never Alone, a game that I got for my birthday. It’s new to me to play games on my laptop, but that’s the way this game comes and it’s gotten terrific reviews and seems right up my alley so I jumped in. I don’t know why I’ve traditionally been so resistant to games on my laptop — maybe the laptop seems more worky or serious than other platforms? Really I prefer gaming on a console and the TV or a handheld gaming system (we have Nintendo DS’s because we’re mostly a Nintendo family), because I’m an old, I guess, though I don’t mind gaming on my phone and, less often, my ipad. I think it’s a controller thing more than anything else — I really don’t like keyboard controls, though I know I could plug in a controller (yes, of course we have USB controllers). So far the keys in Never Alone have been okay.

I *don’t* like how hot my laptop runs and how loud the fan is while playing. But on the other hand, it’s nice to have a game with me all the time on my computer, just in case I ever need it. And while I’m probably worried that I’m going to slide down the slippery slope to playing too much if I have a game on my main machine, realistically it’s been ages since I’ve done that. Just not enough time, really.

I read something recently, can’t remember where, about playing games as resistance to the cult of productivity and busy-ness that’s so prevalent right now. That may not be the best paraphrase, but I’m going to go with it.

les tags: ,

you left your love letter incomplete

maura @ 9:57 pm

We are all having a bit of an obsession here lately in casa mauraweb over Nekoatsume, which Jonathan discovered via Boing Boing last week. It’s a game in which you collect cats. Sort of a loose definition of “game,” really — it’s kind of like Pokemon without the fighting, or like those Tamagochi that you had to take care of intermittently all day.

It’s a cute little cartoony game in which you have a yard outside of a house and try to attract cats with toys and food. Capitalism is the rule — the better stuff you have, the more cats swing by to play with your toys and eat your food. Then the cats pay you in silver fish and gold fish which you can use to buy more toys and food. Typing it all out here now I’m reminded of the Sims — why have the simple cardboard box when you can have the fancy cardboard house?! It’s hilarious because all of the stuff to buy is cat stuff: balls to play with, pillows to sit on, paper bags or cardboard tubes to stuff yrself in (see photo below). Good times.

Right now we’re all playing on the free mode which basically means that we wait to earn enough fish to get more stuff. I’m jonesing the most for an extra room, because the yard only holds 5 small toys or 3 small 1 big, so you max out on what you can have out for the kittehs to play with. Of course there’s leveling up too — if a kitteh visits you enough times she brings you a present! You can take pictures of the cats too, natch. They are really, really cute, especially when they’re scratching on the scratching pad or jumping to get the butterfly toy.

I don’t want to buy more fish, which of course you can use real money to do (duh, it’s the internet). But I reeeeeeeeally want an extra room.

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i keep my feet on solid ground

maura @ 6:09 pm

What’s the word for feeling melancholy as you experience something because you know you’ll be nostalgic for it when you remember it later? Surely the Germans have a word for that, probably many syllables.

We were in the city about a month ago seeing a movie at the NY International Children’s film Festival and I was strangely gripped by that very feeling. It was a lovely time — we had burgers and beer for dinner in Chelsea before heading to the movie showing at the School of Visual Arts on West 23rd. It was cold and clear as it had been for so much of the winter. We happened to be walking from the restaurant to the theater at that magic time that photographers love, when the light is just so. And it seemed like I could feel everything we’ve ever done in that neighborhood layered one on top of the other: when we used to go to the Boston Market and Krispy Kreme before seeing movies on 23rd St., when we went to Co for CUNYPie and we brought Gus and then had to stop in the New York Public Library branch on 23rd so he could go to the bathroom, when commencement was at the Javits Center and we walked down to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant and ran into a former student who’d been in my class the very first semester it existed, when we saw a movie at the Festival the prior year and there were lots of free snacks at the theater and afterward we went to dinner at the place that the NYC ebola patient later ate at.

We are not moving anytime soon, really we are not. The high school situation is sorted, I’m more settled into my now not-so-new job, and we’re still good with our apartment, neighborhood, etc. But at some point we will leave, I can imagine. Maybe it’ll be when Gus goes to college, maybe later. The thing of having one kid only is that we can always, in theory, move to where he ends up. I kind of can’t imagine ever leaving, I can’t think of anyplace else I’d want to live, but at the same time I think we will, someday. It’s a weird feeling, a strange sense. NYC, I’m already missing you.

At the film festival the movie we saw began with this hilarious short, which I love so much I could watch it forever:

In the Beginning from Arthur Metcalf on Vimeo.

les tags: ,

with lots of spectators

maura @ 4:09 pm

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

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

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

les tags: ,

drift compatible

maura @ 9:44 pm

It’s snowing again (well, it was earlier) and I kept wanting to tweet that I am always here for the snow. Always all in. #teamsnowforever #sorryhaters. But we have pals who live in Boston and I can believe that things are awful there, that there’s such a thing as too much snow for an urban infrastructure to deal with, and that the cold and the wind have made things just awful. So I refrained.

I tried to make myself take my skis over to the park, but I was coming off a coffee nap and by the time there was enough new snow that it seemed like there might be enough to cover the old icy stuff that I’m sure is blanketing the long meadow, it was already after 4 and both the light and my resolve was fading. It sometimes seems so far away, even though it’s only a couple of blocks, there’s also the having to pull on fleece-lined tights and longjohns and windpants and sock liners and socks and a turtleneck and a sweater and my parka and hat and mittens, then get my skis and boots out of the closet, then put on my boots which have laces and a zipper and velcro. Then over to the park, where maybe it turns out that the new snow isn’t actually deep enough for skiing, and I’d have to come all the way home.

I love winter, but you can see why the inertia got the best of me.

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the one true day off

maura @ 10:32 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a good day.

les tags: ,