About stuff (including me and writing)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Welcome to College!

 In bed, throw the covers on your head / You pretend like you are dead
No way, you can fight it every day
 But no matter what you say
You know it, the rhythm is gonna get you
 No clue of what's happening to you
But I know it, the rhythm is gonna get you     - Gloria Estefan

Thirty-eight of my forty-five years as a human being have included at least one First Day of School. Eighty-four percent. I didn't even live with a cat for that many years! For more than one of those years, I had First Days of School in two different countries. I've had the darn things in five states, on ten different campuses.

In a couple of weeks, I'm having one again, for the first time in a couple of years.

This time, I will spend the least amount of time ever for a First Day of School planning what to wear. I probably won't carry a backpack. But I am planning for some jitters, meeting new people, asking for help, and most likely taking a lunch break. And supper. Maybe midnight snack.

At the end of October, I start teaching an eight-week first year seminar online for SNHU. My role, in keeping with the distinct SNHU approach, is as a mentor and guide, weaving my knowledge, connections, suggestions, advice, feedback, and encouragement into the established structure of a "Perspectives in the Liberal Arts" course. My undergraduate, adult-learner students' average ages will be around the age I was starting my last new school, in 2004 at UConn, a bright-eyed doctoral student with two First Days of School (in two New England states) that fall.

They'll have more than one full-time commitment, probably kids and a job and a return to school after some time away. I hope they'll be curious and hopeful and determined. I hope I'll empathize and be helpful, resourceful, and at least a little bit funny sometimes.

In the calendar year 2016, I had no First Day of School for the first time since Y2K. My first days since then have been many and varied. In shifting professional commitments to consulting, writing, and editing, I now experience jitters and meeting new people without the comforting embrace (or bookends) of the rhythm of schools. I don't get much orientation and knowing who to ask for help is not handed to me in announcements and handouts.

But some familiar things have bridged the gap. I have a lunch period, for one. (Because my office-mate-host-brother invites me to shadow his work-from-home schedule.)

So I'm gearing up for my new First Day of School and more schedules and priorities and commitments living in tension with each other. I'm filling out my color-coded calendars (don't think I'm not buying three-dimensional school supplies just because the class exists in a net of ether). I may actually buy a new (comfy) outfit. I've had lots of help from The School in figuring out who to ask for help. And I'm excited about learning and wrestling with ideas, new weekly topics, and assignment due dates with a group of humans sharing my First Day of School.

(Except the online course is almost totally asynchronous.)

Friday, July 07, 2017

On the roundabout road to not much to do about not much new or now

via Goodreads

On the Road with Charles KuraltOn the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Read through my 2017 eyes, this vignette collection is occasionally sweet, rarely--though not never--provocative, and always repetitive. Besides a few gestures at poverty, which is never confronted, just overcome through good will--none of the stories incorporates conflict. It's a picture of the people on the back roads of the US that is too comfortable in nostalgia and its yearning for authortative, meaningful, cohesive, harmonious pastness: The Past and The Old Ways which must be glorified because goshdarnit they're the good ol' guys. The book works as it's designed, in spurts of short and vivid anecdotes. But if I weren't reading it to get some genre context for a comparable current project I'm editing, I'd have had no drive to keep reading to the end.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Part I: Shelter

I didn’t know, when I drove three days down here two years ago, that I wouldn’t be driving back.

Well, my brother drove most of the time.

Two years ago I packed up half my college-professor-office and cleaned up my condo, both on the north shore of Boston. I turned in final spring semester grades, stopped by doctors’ offices for one-last-appointments, and headed southwest to my family roots in DFW. We drove through horizon-blurring fields in New York, shared a quick and quiet Lake Erie beach moment with a van of Amish women, ate pizza and filled up with gas in a possibly sad, once-industrial town in Pennsylvania.

I think it was the day after Cleveland residents protested the acquittal of an officer who shot unarmed individuals that we skirted that downtown on an Interstate. I remember driving over the Ohio River into Kentucky while eating a fragrant orange; my brother was driving. I rode, sore and serious but happy for a sweet little moment and view, in the passenger seat in front of a semester’s worth of stuff, halfway to my overdue half-year sabbatical. It rained most of the rest of our way, and I think I was the one gripping the wheel through hail and flash-flooding in Texarkana, after a night in a leaky motel room decked in mood-matching decor.

Two months later, I quit my job, flew back northeast, packed up the rest of my office, for good, and piled a relatively modest layer of book boxes in my condo’s spare room, out of the way of a year-long housesitter. I probably wouldn’t be back, but who ever knew.

A year ago, I shipped the boxes southwest, clearing a financially underwater, nor’easter-leaky, brilliant-for-me home of all the furniture and most of the household items and old paper files accumulated over 10, some 14, years.

One of the absolute best things about the last year for me is no longer owning a home. I did love that home.

I bought the shiny, corner condo in a converted 19th century shoe warehouse at the junction of small but busy streets in downtown Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin, in 2006, after spending a liminal year completing my doctoral coursework in Connecticut.

That Connecticut year, the time of Katrina, when I welcomed maybe temporary, maybe not, undergraduate students from Louisiana universities into my Humanities discussion sections at UConn, I commuted once, usually twice, more than once three times a week back up to my office and a friend’s tiny living room-filling air mattress north of Boston. I drove back and forth to teach a class, advise students, help to manage an academic department in a time of extended growing pains.

In my year-leased Connecticut home, I slept on an eternally-flattening air mattress of my own in a dank apartment building in the woods of Ashford, Connecticut, with sketchy cell coverage and familiar neighbors I never got to know. I'd smell and hear the late night meals of Ramadan as I walked down the mildewy hallway to my dark, mainly empty space; or hear the fighting couple across the hall and wish they weren't, or eye closed doors wondering which ones protected the package-under-the-lobby-mailbox-stealer from my disappointed glare. Mostly I was too tired to care.

It was like living in a turn lane or elevator stuck between floors, my books stacked on plastic shelves even I could put together without instructions. It took me a few months to figure out that my cat Buddy’s frequent seizures at night while we snuggled with our skeptical new companion cat Georgianna inches above the stale carpeted floor were connected to the ever-increasing punctures leaking air so we’d wake up on two comfortless layers of rubber, to the sound of a garbage truck or drunk college student at the dumpster gracing our backlot window views.

The year before the in-between year of air mattress living, I slept on a borrowed mattress in the borrowed attic space room of another generous friend’s home on Boston’s north shore, commuting the opposite direction to Storrs once, twice a week in snow and rain and bouncing cell coverage. That’s when Buddy became my friend, The Little Bastard inherited sequentially two floors up from friend to friend to my borrowed apartment, where I believed I could tame the angry adolescent beast or laugh and bleed to death trying.

That’s when I housed my papers and non-blow-up or fold-up furniture and knickknacks in a storage unit on Route 1 I still refer to as the place I lived for two years.

I fell in love with my restaurant and train station views from the high-ceilinged fourth floor windows of my new condo on a lightly raining day. The windows were huge and I almost grew elastic arms to hug them as my gracious friend and I stepped into the wide open space, just to check it out, not yet anticipating an adventure of rewarding proportions trying to hang window treatments in a space defying pre-fab rods and other hardware. I bought the extra longest sets of curtains from JCPenney and Ikea and made a home for myself and my cats that several friends came to recognize from their commuter rail train windows across the street over the next 10 years.

(The short-sale contract for my condo a year ago specified that the washer, dryer, and window treatments were to remain as part of the deal.)

It was a bubbly moment in a real estate market about to implode. An overpriced, idealistically pitched condo designed as part of a plan to create some kind of connection between a catalog-picturesque, private, woodsy liberal arts college up the road and around the lovely bends, to the urban community in my new city with a view of Boston from the public beach. I fell in love with the windows.

After completing my dissertation and what I thought would be the longest, hardest part of my college faculty tenure - commuting between two states for nearly seven years, advancing my degree and chairing my department while teaching full-time - I bought myself a little lemon tree. Shipped to citrus-barren New England from tropical Louisiana, my new pet held its own, with I think seven beautiful yellow lemons in its first full year and another few each year after that until things fell apart. It grew tired and brown and a little mean, producing fragrant blossoms that transformed into Tic-Tac-sized green baby fruit before shrivelling up and dashing hopes.

I never bought a new bed or mattress after the one I got for an unfurnished apartment just North of Dallas in my two years between first-round grad school and becoming an under-30, tenure-track faculty member in Massachusetts. After two rented apartments and a two-year stretch standing on its head in the storage unit I called home on Route 1, I placed the little double bed on the light wood floor in the condo and the cats and I slept in it until we didn't. After Buddy left this mortal coil during my first sabbatical in Texas, Georgianna grew weary and arthritic and I bought pet stairs to help her snuggle up. Then in the last half-year before she joined our Buddy in the afterlife of no pet pain, which turned out to start the hardest year and a half of my college teaching era - leaving seven years of double-duty with grad school looking like a day floating on an intertube on a softly lapping lake in the shade by comparison - I broke the bedframe down and brought the mattress down to stay on the floor so George didn't have so hard a fall when she tried climbing into bed. The night before I became the ex-owner of the condo, my sister, niece, and I leaned the old mattress up against the dumpster downstairs and I slept on the floor cushioned by an unpacked quilt.

The day before I turned in my key at the real estate lawyer’s office for her to close in my absence, we walked the dry-bone lemon tree that could until it couldn’t down to the parking lot dumpster, out of sight of my movie screen windows for 10 years in my own, owned home. Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin, I didn’t go out the way I went in.

These days I sit on a hand-me-down office chair at a fold-up desk in the corner of my brother's living room, watching fearless squirrels mangle bird feeders intermixed with scenes of black- and tufted-crested titmice and chickadees gathering for sunflower seeds every few hours just inches from the window.

Two years ago I moved to Texas. One year ago I sold my condo in Massachusetts. These past two years have been more liminal than the air mattress adventure of 2005-2006, when then I knew the measurable goals and final move-back plans, with my very own new home on the horizon. I have lived in the familiar homes of my family, become entangled with their cats, and acclimated to the sounds of suburbia and the edge of the countryside.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Turn around, bright eyes (but don't look at the map)

Every now and then we are minding our own business, getting our work done, making our stuff, when a stupid jerk starts yakking away about how we are just going to embarrass ourselves or we simply can't make what we're trying to make. The voice is coming from inside our heads!! and it is like a cat pushing our papers off the table, but with greater malicious intent and, significantly, way less self-esteem.

My friend - no really, it was a friend, not me - and mutual tweet-follower Michael tweeted a call for help this morning (hi):

How do we out-wit the voice?

So, a few trusty practices came to mind pretty quickly. Not because I don't have to sit and listen to the inner critic literally every (okay, every other) day as I write, but because I do. There are these things that do happen to work sometimes.

1. Remember a project my gut tells me was done well and re-view it. That will shut the "meh, why bother" voice up at least for a while.
Rini's Personal Writing Archives, Four-Year-Old File
 2. Remember what some people (or gatekeepers) said about something I did and re-view their responses. That will give the voice someone else to argue with while I get back to work.

Then another friend of the Original Poster suggested (in addition to tried and true setting small goals and checking them off) a tactic that has had the opposite effect on me sometimes. He recommended reflecting "on the personal trail you are blazing," but I find that zooming out and looking for proof of Good Work in a big picture trajectory actually invites the mean voice to say, "So this map doesn't impress much, does it? You're no closer to the X than you were five projects ago. Wait, I can't even see the X -- what treasure are we searching for anyway?"

Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears
Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit terrified
And then I see the look in your eyes 
- Bonnie Tyler

That can be a trip-up for the upwardly or treasurably mobile among us. The thing for me is to do The Thing that is being done now well, and to remind myself that a Thing or Two has been done well before, so don't get all mired in the map. Just this one thing now, okay.

Of course, life and creativity and productive work are none of them just a bunch of unconnected things. I am fortunate in that I have never been especially stuck on the single, ever-forward-moving path idea. But I understand its temptation and its authoritative claims for a lot of maker-workers, and Purpose driving - maybe for some, even, a 15 Year Plan - has its virtues.

There is a third Silence the Downer Inside tactic I practice even more regularly, and that is the move so fast my mind can't mess me up move. This is when I do what it takes to build some momentum - in my case, in writing - and pound out 750 or 1,000 words or more in one breath. I usually tell myself going in that "it doesn't matter if they're good or not" but that's all I'll say to myself about it because this exercise is not about self-affirmation, it's about action. Most of the time when I exhaust that burst of productivity, I look back over it without trepidation and find there is good, usable stuff right there and as a bonus, the Critic Inside got distracted and is taking a nap or something.

A caveat, for me, is necessary when it comes to pitching and self-promoting -- as in a job application, book proposal, letter of interest... They're a tricky Thing when it comes to revisiting and powering through, because the whole Thing is to deny the critic within and without.

I'd like to get better at stopping and taking more time to represent Me, rather than Perfect Pitchy Me in these projects. Because sometimes I see or think up something I want to do and I'm in such a hurry to get my "Pick me!" in front of the Picker's eyes first that I bulldoze right over the good that comes from self-criticism -- the humor, the carefulness, modesty.

So, that's my take on what to do to do good stuff when I doubt the stuff is good-able.

You? Hit Michael's tweet up (if he's still looking), or share around here with us and me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Of Women and Sports Fans

Oh hi sportball fans and non sportsy friends and people. I am working on a thing. Maybe you could help.
What would it take for you to watch professional or national collegiate women's games on TV?
What would it take for you to get excited about a professional or national collegiate women's game or tournament?
I am particularly interested in (a) basketball, (b) hockey, (c) softball, and (d) soccer.
There's been a bunch of stuff written and said about "Why [Men and/or We] Don't Watch Women's Sports." I'm interested in some additional current, personal perspectives from real sports fans and non-sports people alike.
If you wouldn't hate briefly sharing your thoughts and feels, please do. No long, deeply analytical replies necessary! Comment on this post, FB or tweet me, or take my survey!
Feel free to state what seems to you like an obvious or not-new reason or point, if it's true for you. Or, hit me with some insight or personal perspective if you got it.
I'm into answers that are true for you, not (in theory or "well actuallyness") for Our Society. For you.
Also, if you can stretch your imagination beyond "I'd watch if there were more on TV," that's super helpful, too. But, for sure, note that as a factor if it's true for you, then consider as well: What if there were, at least for a trial period to gauge ROI, more coverage available?_______________________________________________________________________
If it helps to keep in mind, I watch 10-15 professional or national collegiate (men's or women's) sportball games a year, but I read about them every day, not least of all on my great friends' social media. My interest and questions are honest and sincere (if not entirely earnest).

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Listing Some Books, Episode 3: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Edible Bugs

The Book Review, by The New York Times, is my most satisfying podcast habit presently. It has in-depth conversation about one specific book and author, followed by a roundtable discussion of several books, highlighting what the participants are currently reading, thinking about, abandoning, or paying attention to.

When I listen, I jot titles and authors down for future consideration. I may be moved by the topic, the personality of the author being interviewed in the first segment, or the presentation of emotional or intellectual response by the critics and readers in the last segment.

A few weeks ago, Mohsin Hamid's voice drew me. As he talked with host Pamela Paul about his latest novel Exit West, he sounded warm, self-reflective, sensitive to complex perspectives, and familiar. It turns out, I'd heard him in the car just a few days before on Fresh Air talking about his book with (the hypnotic-voiced) Terry Gross.

This latest writing experience, he said, was different for him because he told the story more than he wrote the novel.

I had probably written his name down before he finished his first sentence about that concept: story in relationship to style. I am a sucker for meta-art and -stories, especially when they're good.

So I checked the local library (via the super amazing wonderful Library Extension I've attached to Amazon and Goodreads), and found one of Hamid's earlier novels available for electronic checkout.

I am currently reading and about 25 percent through The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Subject-wise, in its story of a Pakistani man's experience of September 11, 2001 as a young business analyst in New York, the 2007 novel offers a lot for my tastes as a reader. Globalized identity, religious tension, academic-intellectual life -- all are topics on my lists.

Then there is the device. The Guardian called the narrator's voice (or its effects?) "quite mesmerizing." But so far I've felt more contrived at than engaged. The Pakistani man tells his story - so far - entirely as a one-side conversation with the American he encounters on the streets of Lahore. So far, I don't get it and I don't feel it, if it means some kind of transcendent novel-reading experience owing to the means of storytelling.

I know the story will be - it isn't yet, really - compelling in an inevitable way. It promises to be part love-story, but probably even more so friendship, betrayal, and an un-simply-named quality that any story of 9/11 (implying surrounding consequence) must have. But the one-voiced, excessive-conversation-based storytelling so far mutes the character for me.

For the first couple of nights I approached the book, I read a chapter each evening. . . because it felt like a Thing to Do. A device, almost, for reading the device. And the chapters are sensorily vivid with street and institution sounds and images and smells and temperatures. So I am there, at least for the moment. The character-voice is more than what he has shared so far, no doubt. And I can't deny the trustworthy personality that includes an occasional and funny throwaway Top Gun reference. It-he will evolve: he's nervous in the present, in subtle contrast to increasingly - if youthful - assuredness in the narrative's past.

So I have renewed the book from my library and will probably move through it with more speed now that I've come this far, in reading and reporting. There is also my comfortable resistance to judging a meta-style story's gimmick before the end. Happily I have experienced "that click" when in the end, the way the art was made, made the art just right in its final turns. Sarah Polley's 2012 documentary Stories We Tell rested that case for me when I viscerally went from "c'mon, what are you doing and why are you doing it" to "oh! yes" with the kind of force where I can still picture myself as I was watching. Maybe, then, the monologue-on-the-street novel and I will connect before I'm done.

Most nights this week I have also been listening to Daniella Martin read her Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet before I go to sleep. Given the relative randomness of its topic in my usual scope of interests and the quality of the writing, I'm thinking I must have picked it up as an Audible Daily Deal or some such recently. I cannot remember, and it was never On a List. But it's making a pretty interesting case and the author's dorkiness is growing on me and last night it made me nostalgic for my tarantula-eating days in Cambodia 13 summers ago and waterbugs in China not so long ago.

Tracking points for this week's "Listing Some Books" blog series:

Came across: via a podcast, a radio show, library availability, and probably a passing sale.

Caught attention: because of voice, religion, academia, and curiosity.

And then: Renewed to finish reading (and, in the case of eating bugs, will put on my Lifestyles to Consider list).

Accessed: Library, Audible sale.

Listing Some Books Episodes all done for this go-round! Previous: Two comedic cultural essay to-be-read-list books and Recently finished Dark Money (with meta).

Happy booklisting!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Listing Some Books, Episode 2: You Can't Touch My Hair and I'm Judging You

Podcasts and #hashtags, newsletters and friends, books on cool topics and shelves in bookstores -- these are a few of my fav-or-ite things that move me to add new titles to my array of "to read" (and "to check into and maybe read but also probably not") lists.

This week I am blogging a few books from my current (March 2017) lists. In our last episode, I reported finishing reading Jane Mayer's chronicle of billionaire buried politicking in Dark Money. Now I am thinking about titles that haven't even made it to my bookshelf yet.

2a and 2b. Wikipedia Brown's (@eveewing) #ActualBlackWomen favorite books thread on Twitter:

a. You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. By Phoebe Robinson, with a highlighted forward by Jessica Williams.

I feel like I shouldn't have to explain what the book is about, since I have provided the title and I have no more read the book than you have. Possibly less. Eve's invitation for recommendations of (recent) books by black women brought out a few mentions of this essay collection. That and a few other points prompted me to do two things:

(1) Look it up on Amazon. Which, thanks to the seriously greatest thing ever invented - Library Extension - simultaneously tells me if my local public library has a hard and/or electronic copy available.

(2) Confirming that it looks like something I would like to read and finding my library can't help me out, I added it to my running Kindle wish list (that could feed into a later-library-borrow list, an audiobook list, or a I-don't-remember-wanting-this-book:Delete list).

From the Amazon blurb:

"Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day."
This is probably a book I will actually read sooner than later, unlike most books on lists and shelves. The intersection of race and feminism and comedy put it in that sweet spot of levity + reality that feels like oxygen some days. Also its currency pulls me in -- both as a book I've seen mentioned in other tweets and lists since its release last fall and because the author's podcast, "2 Dope Queens" shows up as a popular and rec'd title every time I open my listening app. The pod's not on a list yet.

And, the double-edged rhetoric of "I shouldn't have to explain" hooks me like cat. I'm glad we do still sometimes love enough to explain when it seems like if we - the explanation needer - could pay real attention, we might already understand.

b. I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. By Luvvie Ajayi

Speaking of advice and explanations. This one showed up even more times on the Black Women Authors thread, and on a pile of Best of Last Year lists. It went right on another soon-to-be-converted "to read" list: the public library has a hard copy!

I ended up adding I think five books from the Wikipedia Brown twitter thread and scrolled by another five or so I had read within the last year, which probably got on the to-read list because of another #hashtag, conversation, or list. Including a few less recent but I-recommend ones such as Adichie's Americanah, my first (not last) Octavia Butler book Kindred, and Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Tracking points for this week's "Listing Some Books" blog series:

Came across: via a call for recommendations by a writer-voice-woman I admire and follow on Twitter. Knew the names and titles from previous un-followed-up references.

Caught attention: because of intersecting of multiple points of interest for me: racecomedy, women, popular media, calling out b.s.

And then: Trip to the library WHICH NEVER FAILS TO WIN THE DAY.

Accessed: Might go audio on the first.

Listing Some Books Episode 3 up next: Currently reading lists. Previous: Recently finished Dark Money (with meta).