Tuesday, May 26, 2020

NYC 69

Hmm, that's curious, I had a day 68 that was definitely published but now seems to have vanished....

COFFEEWRITING day 1 was a success for me and I hope for others as well.  First actual writing for Untitled Novel - that is good, its shape and nature were clear to me this time last year and we're at the point of "use it or lose it" (it gets superseded by other new ideas if you leave it too long).

I fell back on my favorite trick of textured paper, very soft pencil and an easy large hand....

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

NYC 48

Yesterday I taught my last class for the semester. It was a wonderful conversation and I am really going to miss these two groups of students - teaching things I care about a lot to amazing students has really made this last 6 weeks much easier and more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

That said, I am ready for an easing-off of the school workload. I have an amazing day ahead - I am going to use this week and next week to complete various undone work-related tasks at a sedate pace, things like drafting the rest of this report on course release policy, contributing some paragraphs to the proposal for a new writing studies concentration, reading a few dissertation chapters for Zoom meetings, etc. etc. I'm undecided whether to take the week of May 18 as spa week or use it to get set up for summer writing mode, but I suspect the latter - I shouldn't totally overdo it on yoga, quarantine invites overuse injuries and that is the last thing I need! (But I could do a lot of RESTORATIVE yoga....)

The plan for today:

7am Zoom with E., my Clarissa student in Korea
7:45am 40 minutes as 1:1 jog-walk in the park
9am Zoom Heidi's fascial flow yoga from Cayman!
9am-noon window for FreshDirect delivery of the groceries that didn't arrive on Saturday
4pm Zoom with K, my MA-essay advisee in Seattle

And best of all one of the novels that popped up overnight on my Kindle was the new Murderbot novel! If you don't know this series, you should check it out (here's the whole canon so far): they are funny and delightful and voice-driven in exactly the way I most like.

Friday, May 01, 2020

NYC 44

A good week for the most part. I did a dissertation defense on Wednesday that entailed a lot of work but made me feel happy that I was actually using my core competencies! It was sad to say farewell to Clarissa students on Tuesday, and I have only one more seminar meeting for the semester, on Monday. I am eager to be less busy - it has been a really demanding year even aside from the latest stuff, I need some lazy days of doing virtually nothing other than exercising and reading novels! - but I will miss these students terribly. Teaching has given meaning to these last weeks....

Now, YOGA.

I flew to Cayman on March 11 to spend spring break with Brent - Columbia wasadvising against non-essential international travel, and I was aware of the risks, but Brent is essential! And obviously though it is much better for me to be in NYC for long shelter-in-place it wouldn't have been at all a disaster if I got stuck there, I had brought all the rest of the books for the semester just in case. Brent and I had run over the risks: I was concerned about being a vector, since I was traveling from a place with widespread viral infection to a place that probably still had virtually none, but Brent noted that since cruise ships were still landing 10K passengers/day and that the added risk I brought was negligible.

I sort of "accidentally" went to a yoga class on the afternoon I arrived - I was anxious to stay awake (I barely sleep the night before that very early flight) and do something active for the day. It didn't seem unwise - it was a gentle afternoon class with people well spaced out. And on Thursday morning I went to work at Cafe del Sol as usual. As I thought later in the day Thursday, though, about my usual Friday 6am hot yoga class, I realized that it would be really irresponsible of me to go. Those classes are germ incubators, and can you imagine my sorrow and shame if a week later I was saying to myself "I am the cause of half a dozen cases that wouldn't have happened otherwise?" So I downloaded a hot 26 app and did the 60-minute version on Brent's screened-in balcony.

I was already thinking to myself - and I know I said it on social media - well, I can see that this is the thing that is finally going to get me to have a home practice, after almost 15 years of doing yoga fairly seriously but not consistently over time....

I don't know that it really counts as a home practice if I'm reliant on teachers still, but I am significantly further towards this goal than I was before we started sheltering in place. I've noticed how when I go somewhere, the two things I get set up right away are run routes and yoga classes - it was consistent across Oxford, Rome, Paris over these last few years, and I am always doing yoga 3-4 times per week (health permitting) when I'm in Cayman. I've been Facebook friends with Susanne (my favorite Oxford yoga teacher) and Bon (my favorite Trastevere teacher) since then; Bon tragically died of cancer.

I did a few Bliss online classes initially, but they pretty quickly had to shut down the studio, and though the online library of classes is nice to have, it's just not the same without a teacher at the other end and a group practicing at the same time. I also did a great class with my old friend Alex Auder! I do have one fairly major constraint, which is that I can't do much of the kind of flow class where you are doing a lot of downward dogs - starting last summer I was having foot problems as a consequence of back problems (first and temporarily in right foot, more permanently in left foot) and it's not good to spend so much time on the forefeet.

Susanne was the person I reached out to some weeks ago as I thought about getting yoga going properly again. She's living in Sweden now, but she's already well set up for online teaching and I decided to go for it. She has a 1pm/my 7am class Monday ("grounded flow") that I do (very limited down-dog for now), then private sessions on Thursday and Friday mornings, with Thursday being a more active class, Friday as a yin session.

Bliss is just now moving to live online classes. I didn't end up using the bank of saved classes at all, partly because I was too busy in April but also because live with a teacher is best! And I'm registered for Chantelle's midday flow class tomorrow. This is exciting - and Heidi's doing a fascial flow class Tuesday morning!

I have a tendency to go all in on things, I really can't overdo it safely right now due to back stuff, so what I am really thinking is going all in on yin. If you know me and you know the terminology, you will laugh with recognition when I say - I do not need more yang in my life, but I sure could use a daily infusion of yin! And EQUIPMENT is required for yin and restorative yoga - bolsters, blocks, blankets.

I have always loved this kind of yoga. It reminds me of early childhood in a Montessori school (and the first yoga I ever did was an Iyengar-based class at the Columbia gym. We used a lot of props - there was a skeleton that could be rolled out to show things anatomically! - and I think for that first semester the only three postures we learned were side angle, triangle and seated twist on a folding chair. I loved it....)

So - more yoga, more yoga SHOPPING (online of course). Very excited too about this new bright pair of yoga leggings - my favorite day-glow color.

Monday, April 27, 2020

NYC 40

Posting energy continues to be leached away by Facebook, good intentions notwithstanding.

So, the opening gambit for today's seminar (our second-to-last meeting of the Epic Histories seminar), which starts in about half an hour:

Benjamin calls the book "an obsolete mediation between two different card-filing systems": "everything essential is found in the note boxes of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his own note file." (a) Do you experience your own research and writing as essentially a card-filing system? If not, what other metaphor (of storage or of process) might be a better fit? (b) Keith Thomas, in the LRB essay you read for your footnote assignment, describes his own process in a way that resembles Benjamin's description. Not all historians, though, work after this fashion. Given that Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL doesn't invite comparison to a card-filing system, how might we imagine it instead? Think of a few possible images or metaphors that might convey the essence of Gibbon's kind of history-writing.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

NYC 36


Slept 9pm-4:30am, huddled in bed a while reading coronanews on my phone, did finally get up once it was getting light. Once the teaching semester is done, I have to start going to bed later again - 4:30 is TOO EARLY TO GET UP! Eating a bowl of mush now, will go out for an exercise walk momentarily, and then I've got yoga with Susanne at 9! And a day with NOT A SINGLE ZOOM APPOINTMENT - I have several work things I've been unable to make headway on because they aren't directly related to teaching and the day-to-day needs of students and others are using up all of my energy and attention, but they are not intrinsically offputting tasks and I am committed to making significant progress on at least one of them today! (A report on the theory and practice of how course releases are granted for individual service to the department and to Arts & Sciences and the university more generally.) We have a subcommittee meeting tomorrow so yes, it helps that there's a hard deadline, and once I get this one further forward, I can turn my attention to the Writing Studies Certification proposal that is my other important Thing....

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

NYC 35

Until the teaching semester is done (soon!), Mondays and Tuesdays basically need all of my available vim for my classes. Wednesday morning has a TINY bit the effect of a Saturday morning (not really, student appointments starting at 11 and pretty booked through end of day) and I have just read my friend Marina Harss's wonderful article about learning the Merce Cunningham solo through Zoom sessions. I might even give this a try myself in May - have been thinking that this summer might not be a bad time to try some beginner barre classes too....

This afternoon at 4:30pm EDT: Kaiama L. Glover and I will talk about Margaret's novel at the virtual humanities center. Join us if you can possibly bear another hour on Zoom!

Off outside momentarily for Wednesday's faster run intervals. It is still in the 30s today, that's sort of amazing.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

NYC 32

This past weekend I found myself in the grip of a much stronger urge than usual to spend money on things. It is ethically questionable (warehouse and delivery worker safety issues) and somewhat unseemly (22 million newly unemployed) but it was not to be resisted. One of the many extraordinarily lucky things about my situation in the current crisis is that I can afford this sort of discretionary spending still, and I am super-aware of my good fortune in this and other respects.

Very happy with this purchase! I paid my nice housecleaner for ten weeks starting in the middle of March, as it seemed inconceivable to me that she would be coming again any time before the end of May at the earliest. Yes, I am fully capable of cleaning my apartment myself, but I am not keen on it, and most of all I dislike using the vacuum cleaner, one of those ones that's like a stout little fire hydrant with a long proboscis. It's loud and it hurts my tender R lower back a little; I acquired and used a broom last week instead, but though it's good for grit, it's definitely not as good at capturing cat hair.

Andrea and Jane persuaded me I needed one of these! It really is genius: the cordless thing gets rid of a major psychological obstacle (plugging and unplugging in each room is a pain), the position you use it in is basically totally upright and puts none of the strain on lower back that the other one does, you can even see the stuff you've vacuumed up afterwards....

Saturday, April 18, 2020

NYC day 31

I was a drowned rat this morning after my run! 80 as 3:1 along the river, quite rainy and cold, especially frigid once I turned around just shy of the sanitation pier and found myself running into a serious headwind (cold thighs!). Hair held back with a barrette (an internet-ordered coronaccessory) as hair is much too long; it will happen sooner or later that I will give myself an extreme haircut, though I am trying to resist the urge to go full Furiosa....

The sequel: a hot shower, this.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Final assignments

Your final assignment, should you choose to accept it, is a 5-7pp. personal critical essay on a topic of your choice. I’ve written this up as a shared set of directions for both of my seminars in case seeing the other class’s essay options helps you think of something you would like to write about. You are welcome to adapt or abandon the questions I’ve written as you see fit.

Reminder: I’d love to see something from you in the way of final writing, but you will receive credit for the class whether or not you hand something in to me.

You’ll upload your assignment to Courseworks and I’ll send you a short email with comments before the end of May. I’ve included these hard deadlines because I don’t want you to feel open-ended stress about writing something for which you may not have the wherewithal, and I intend to submit the roster of Pass grades on May 22, but I’d be delighted to read anything for you in summer months if you find yourself working on a writing project of any kind and would like some feedback.

The term “personal critical essay” is possibly coined by me. It overlaps with the category called “creative nonfiction” and can be found more often on literary websites than in academic journals. These are some of its traits:

- Less formal in tone than an academic essay

- May quote a passage or passages from the reading, but won’t depend on extended close reading work or a fully developed analytic argument

- Personal thoughts and observations are welcome

- Getting your self into your voice on the page is to be desired rather than avoided

- May be structured as associative “musings” and probably won’t include conventional argument transitions

I’m going to share a few examples, though these are all at a higher level of polish and sophistication than I imagine you should shoot for if it’s your first attempt in this mode.

The first one, a lovely short piece for Electric Literature, was actually adapted from the final essay a student wrote for me when I taught the Epic Histories class in Paris – based on specific conversations we’d had about Baudelaire’s “Painter of Modern Life” and the students’ own habits and preferences, I wrote an essay question about what it’s like to visit Sephora in Paris, and got this amazing set of reflections in response: Sarah Anjum Bari on visiting Sephora under the shadow of the Arcades Project (read it here).

And I’ll give you two more links to essays written and published by advanced PhD students in our department:

Liz Bowen’s New Inquiry review of the film A Quiet Place (read it here)

Carina dell Valle Schorske’s Lit Hub essay on Gwendolyn Brooks (read it here)

Finally, an essay that we’re going to read for and talk about during the final meeting of Clarissa: See-Young Chu’s “Woven: A Refuge for Jae-In Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major,” published in Entropy. This is an upsetting one, and you should make sure you’re fortified for it before reading, especially if reading about sexual assault is triggering for you. You can find it here.

Epic Histories options

Original due date: Monday 5/11

New due date: Monday 5/18

1. Take one of Benjamin’s short chunks of text in the Arcades Project or elsewhere and use it as the epigraph for a personal essay about how we experience history in the time of covid-19.

2. We talked about several stumbling-blocks that made it difficult for Gibbon to write his own autobiography, the two chief ones being the challenge of how to represent a bad father given the bounds of decorum and the difficulty of retroactively defending a tendency towards religious skepticism that looked far more dangerous in the light of revolution in France. If you were going to set out to write your own autobiography, what would be the chief factor that would make it hard for you to tell an honest and fully represented story?

3. We switched from live to online meetings just before we moved on from Gibbon to Benjamin. How is reading the Benjamin of the Arcades Project different from reading Decline and Fall and/or Gibbon’s autobiographies? How is our online conversation different from the face-to-face ones we had for the first half of the semester?

Clarissa options

Original due date: Friday 5/8

New due date: Friday 5/15

1. Given that the novel Clarissa is so concerned with the problem of confinement, what was it like to read Richardson’s book in conditions of quarantine? Alternately, write a letter to a close friend in which you reflect on your current situation in a fashion that includes some thoughts about Richardson’s novel.

2. We talked about the “mad papers” and looked the typography Richardson the printer was able to use to supplement the textual meanings he created by way of words. Using a mix of visual and verbal methods (this might or might not be an essay!), create a single page layout, analog or digital, that integrates some bits of Clarissa and other texts you’re currently reading into a visual representation of your current state of mind.

3. How does a Columbia literature seminar create community? Is the physical classroom space essential, or do we find ourselves able to approximate many of its virtues on Zoom? If not, why not? How would you frame the virtuality of Zoom communication in terms of eighteenth-century epistolarity?

NYC day 30

Quarantine doesn't change the fact that Facebook leaches my energy away from blogging - it's just so easy to post a trivial sentence with a picture there! But I'm surfacing again here....

On balance I've been doing really well. I'm distracted by coronanews and finding it hard to get off the internet, also of course weighed down by the weight of global calamity, but my morale is good and my day-to-day life is quite similar to how it always is. April is probably the single busiest month in the academic year, and I've got a lot of stuff to do, but the workload is on balance mitigated rather than exacerbated by the move online, and my life is definitely easier when there can be absolutely no expectation that I should meet people face to face, especially for evening social commitments!

I had a low spell Sunday evening, but this week has been really good.

I thoroughly enjoyed my seminars on Monday on Tuesday (it's not really for the teacher to evaluate whether they were great classes or not, but I experienced them as great!).

A PhD student of mine got a job offer on Wednesday, always a prompt for joy but under these circumstances extraordinarily so!

My mother is doing well, and I had another really joyful conversation via Zoom on Thursday with a student who's been writing poetry in quarantine and shared some of it with me.

Running and yoga are both going very very well.

And various choices I'd already made about what I'm doing the coming year make it relatively low-stakes for me whether we're teaching online in the fall or not, so I've been able not to obsess too much about that (or whether we'll wait to start the fall semester till January? I'm not keen on that as I feel that the US is so disorganized and chaotic that the kind of protocols that let schools be open in China or Singapore are absolutely unenforceable here, and I think the following fall is more realistic for moving students safely back into dorms).

Due partly I think to the morale boost from good seminar meetings but also to various other external tasks having been accomplished, I assessed things post-run on Wednesday morning and decided that what I really needed was a day off. For the last four weeks I've basically been working sort of all the time but so inefficiently that I am getting less done than usual. Decided to really just give myself the whole day, and it was a gift!

I took a long nap (had slept very badly - the early waking remains an issue), then read not one but TWO novels, new releases of the day before. I liked Joanna Hershon's St. Ivo very much - the writing is superb, the characters are interesting and not at all stereotypical, the choice to have short sharp cuts rather than more conventional novelistic development works very well (in some ways it feels more like a novella than a full-blown novel, or rather perhaps the scenario for a film - the technique of excision might be related to what Jenny Offill's been doing too, only it plays out in a completely different technical fashion here). Would also make an interesting teaching pairing with The Need on the grounds of shared emotional terrain.

It was the other book, though, that really spoke so directly to my heart that I might have cried at the end if I were a slightly different person! The book is Jenn Reese's A Game of Fox & Squirrels; a middle-grade fantasy novel, it is as suitable for the adult reader as anything I have ever read in this vein. A powerful and deeply moving book about the experience of being the child of an angry parent, and how that damage can be resolved by love. Read it! It's going on my top ten novels of 2020 for sure. It broke a spell for me, too: it was the first novel I read in its entirety since I've been back in NYC and sheltering in place.

Thursday was another rather unproductive work day - somehow just doing those few hours of Zoom meetings, plus morning exercise of course, leaves me completely tapped out for anything other. I had one truly pressing work task and two more general ones that I need to attend to sometime and couldn't touch any of them.

I held out till 9 for bedtime and actually slept from 9-5:30, which is almost like a normal night of sleep, albeit weirdly early for my natural clock. Felt surprisingly well rested - probably the first "regular" night of sleep I've had this week - and was able to sit down and complete time-sensitive priority task in a bit more than an hour of focused work. That felt really good, and I'm going to share it as its own blog post in a minute!

Glitch on yoga logistics meant I thought I had an 8:30 session but didn't really, so I've been able to write this post as well and will go out for my easy Friday run (40 as 1:1) momentarily. I have a dissertation chapter conference at 11 and still need to read the 40-page chapter but it is my coronadiscretionary thought that doing the run and only reading half the chapter will be more productive for all concerned than just reading the chapter and not doing the run. (I don't like to go out later because the park will be so much more crowded.) I can get more detailed comments to the chapter-writer later in the day if that's the way it goes....

Image: all of us yesterday.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

NYC day 24


Or, a love letter to Hartley Pharmacy.

It's the first time I've been in a store since the NYC shelter in place started.

(I have been into the small UPS store right downstairs from me a few times, first to send a big container of hand sanitizer to my mother - I'd bought two and she couldn't find any - and second to mail a couple copies of The Duchess of Angus to the folks who are going to interview me about it at live online events later in the month.)

(Also, Luc Sante's "Commerce" is one of my favorite nonfiction pieces of all time. Read it!)

My prescriptions were due for a refill, and I called them in yesterday. The pharmacist Tau is wonderful, knows all customers by name and really keeps an eye out for us, doing all sorts of helpful things the chain pharmacies really aren't in a position to do. You don't need a picture of the prescriptions themselves, but it was strangely exciting to do a little shopping!

My hair situation is unpleasantly out of control; this will help. (Usually they have electric hair clippers, they looked but there weren't any - the pharmacist is going to call me if they come in Monday's shipment. I ordered some on Amazon right away when I realized I had to cancel my upcoming haircut, but there are delays in shipment, and the situation is growing urgent....)

I've deliberately not been buying chips in my grocery deliveries - whereas I consider sugar a desirable and soothing luxury item, chips are just a recipe for mindless eating, and I do better not having them in the house. But this small bag will be a nice and appreciated treat!

The other big desiderata was a broom - I threw one away in last declutter but hadn't gotten around to replacing it. I don't mind cleaning but as well as not liking the noise of the vacuum cleaner (distressing to cats!), the way you have to lean over while vacuuming really jacks up my sensitive right lower back. So this is pretty exciting!

You will also deduce from the picture that Tau had masks behind the counter and sold me one of each kind, an N95 for if I end up needing to be around people for a little while and a washable cloth mask that may be lighter-weight for walking and running than the buffs I'm currently using.

(Actually decluttering is why I don't have any hair clips or ponytail holders either, or indeed a comb [I do own a hairbrush]; I've had short hair for the last few years and chucked all that stuff 2 summers ago when I was really getting the cupboards bare!)

The other local store I love is Pet Market on West End. Ditto put in an order by phone yesterday and it came just after I got back from the pharmacy. I am glad to learn that they have added the option at checkout (they have my credit card saved in an account linked to my phone number so that I don't have to give it every time I place an ordeR) of giving a tip to the delivery person. So grateful for all of this help that makes things easier and safer for myself - I don't take it for granted. Necessities (two twenty-pound bags of unscented Jonny Cat litter) with a small additional complement of luxury!

Friday, April 10, 2020

NYC day 23

Big accomplishment for the day: a great conversation online with Nicholas Frank of the Rivard Report about The Duchess of Angus.

And a lot of Zoom appointments, and I am now so tired that I don't have it in me to write even a word more....

Thursday, April 09, 2020

NYC 21-22

It's end of day Thursday, that to-do list doesn't actually look too bad, at least if you forget that there are two important things at the bottom (the course release committee, the writing studies proposal) that need some quality attention from me, and I've got enough Zoom stuff on the schedule for tomorrow that I don't imagine I'm likely to make huge inroads. It is the best I can do, at any rate!

Had a gloriously exciting thing this morning - my first online yoga session (one on one) with Susanne, my great teacher from the Oxford studio 3.5 years ago. Gonna have private sessions with her Thurs. and Fri. and join her Monday class as well, that will give me automatic willpower-free 3 yoga/week which will be very good. It's a really busy time of the school year even aside from the extra demands of the current situation, but I don't think that's putting on too much. Any time I'm NOT in NYC I find an amazing studio and go near-daily, but when I'm here I'm basically just too busy - and don't have an obvious one that covers all the bases right near me. Doing online private sessions may be my solution to the "but how do I do yoga regularly during a teaching semester?" conundrum....

This is Susanne's website. She's a really good teacher, and it's the kind of yoga I most like - gentle, strong, with much attention to alignment.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Border closures

The premier of the Cayman Islands has been a very effective leader these last couple of weeks. I am interested to see today the clearest hint yet, in this article from the Cayman News Service, what he's thinking about borders and covid-19 going forward. They initially closed for three weeks (I hastily got myself out a few days before that happened - it wouldn't have been a terrible thing if I got stuck there, but for almost every reason it was clearly better that I should be at home in my own apartment on US soil) - and now this:
He also revealed that the border shut down will be formally extended by Cabinet this week, and while it has not yet confirmed the length of the extension, it is expected to be until 30 May.

However, that does not mean that the port or airport will open then, as government will continue to extend the closure because of the global situation.

McLaughlin said, as he has before, that it is unlikely the borders will be open for visitors again for many more months. And even when they do open, given the expected global recession in the fallout from COVID-19, tourism in Cayman is unlikely to return to anything like what it was by next year.
It is a set of circumstances I can easily approach with fortitude, but it is strange not knowing when I will next see Brent!....