Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Dinosaurs in the Hood"

 I'm happy with this module page for my spring-semester lecture, and thought I'd share it here as a sample of the utility of depending more heavily on a Canvas site to teach than I usually do but also as an illustration of one very small part of why teaching online synchronously does seem to involve much more work than teaching as I have done it for many years.  I am going to keep this modality, by the way, when I'm teaching in a classroom again, but I worry about the pronounced trend whereby faculty workload always increases without there being anything that gives....

The class syllabus can be found here; the reading for this week is Danez Smith's chapbook Black Movie.  Caveat: the links to internal course readings won't work for readers here, I think, just the external links.


"Before Lecture #7: Black abundance"

When I write the lecture each week, I try to construct it so that if you've had a chance to spend some time reading the materials in the module page, you will get more out of it, but if you haven't yet looked at the materials, the lecture will still be welcoming and interesting.  The tightness of the interval between Monday seminar and Wednesday lecture, the state of fatigue we're all in, the fact that I'm only putting these words together on Tuesday morning - all these conspire to lead to me saying that if you don't have any wherewithal to read in preparation for lecture tomorrow, that's fine!

If your brain needs poetry this week, though, which mine definitely does, Danez Smith's Black Movie is one of the most galvanizing and beautiful and tragic and angry books of poems I have ever read, and I think you will find the time you spend with the poems in this chapbook extremely rewarding.

There are two poems I'm likely to treat in class at greater length.  The second is readily available online in text and performance versions, so that's perhaps the one to start with:

"Dinosaurs in the Hood" (39-40) and an indispensable recording of Danez Smith reading "Dinosaur in the Hood" here 

I am also hoping to look at "Short Film" (20-31), possibly the most devastating poem in the collection.  Here Danez Smith performs poem 2 in the sequence, "not an elegy for Mike Brown."  - the text can be found here.

Two more links for you: a great short piece where Smith writes about the influence on them of hearing the great Black Arts Movement poet Amiri Baraka on Simmons' Def Poetry Jam and a direct link to the clip of the show Smith refers to


We have an extended archive I'll draw on for lecture.  First up is Johnson and Blacksher's essay On the End of Slam.  You can also, if you're curious, follow up with Johnson's fuller account of Button Poetry and its problematic YouTube archive here, and Dwight Conquergood's essay "Beyond the Text" offers some useful theoretical terms for thinking about performance in relation to text in this and other contexts.  

The concept of "black abundance" comes by way of Kiese Laymon's Heavy, a book that can be read powerfully in tandem with Smith's poetry.  The other book I would assign if we were doing a seminar version of this course (and yes I think maybe I should teach one that would let this material expand for fuller treatment...) is Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped.

Mos Def's album Black on Both Sides is essential listening for my generation, and if you don't know it, you should.  If you wanted to listen to one track right now, you could check out "Hip Hop" and/or the sequel song "Rock N Roll"...

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Small things that are plaguing me

I appreciate the comforts of the modern world, especially infinitely downloadable books.  I like a hot shower and air-conditioning as much as the next person.  I even quite like Zoom for teaching and sociability; I like not having to pry myself out of my apartment!  I'm not a technophobe, I don't mind doing mildly technical stuff.

But my brain is NOT suited to all the annoying bits and bobs of doing business online in pandemic times and this is a list of the things that are currently plaguing me....

  • Google Drive, my inability to organize documents into folders therein, difficulty of setting to different levels of access, etc. etc.
  • Doodle - my longtime hatred, and increasingly a source of blocks on trying to arrange meetings for the endless committee and subcommittee work that is taking up much of my attention this year
  • Lionmail, Columbia's proprietary gmail - don't even really know how to save things into folders, the whole thing is an absolute mess, need to develop some kind of system (filters?) but don't have spare wherewithal
  • Concur - newly introduced reimbursement system, may make everything more convenient ultimately but setting it up is asking for attention I do not have to spare, strong suspicion my FRAP money is just going to go unspent this year as a result
  • Documents that need a human signature i.e. printing and scanning (or photographing - my home scanner is broken) - I got an Apple Pencil in the summer for my iPad and surely I could do this without printing but it will take half an hour of attention to figure that out (have still not used/set up Pencil) and I can't make myself do it. I woke to TWO requests of this nature, both on pieces of business I thought already done! I literally feel like stabbing a fork in my eye when I think about having to deal with this.
  • The impossibility of sending accurate scheduling emails in a time of pandemic - I think every single invitation I have sent in the last couple weeks has had some confusing glitch (day/date correct in book party invitation subject line but wrong date in email; wrong access setting for Google Doc with Zoom meeting scheduling; correct time in subcommittee meeting invitation text but wrong start time on Zoom meeting link).

My amazing RA Diana is going to give me a Drive tutorial next week after her dissertation chapter is distributed.  But frankly I can't concentrate while working at the computer, even at the best of times.  My brain is not made for this!  What a waste of time and attention that could be purposed to genuine  intellectual or administrative work, actually LISTENING to a student, etc.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

My six months

 We all count it from different days.  My shelter in place really started on Thursday, March 19.  I'd seen it coming - I saw the footage of Wuhan hospitals in late January and it was clear to me it was going to be "the big one" - but that's not the same as being able to envisage the transformations that would ensue.

I hosted a small book party in my apartment on the evening of March 5 - we had the windows open and the fan blowing from the window-unit AC, uneasily bumped elbows and so forth.  Given that community spread was already taking place in my Columbia community (people who'd returned from Italy) we were lucky, I think, that it didn't become a small super-spreader event.

Classes were suspended on the 9th, and Columbia asked employees not to undertake non-essential international travel, but I was hungry to see Brent (it was essential for me!) and I got on a plane to Cayman on the 11th as planned for ten days to overlap with the week-long spring break.  Each day the situation seemed more grave; we went to Fidel Murphy's for early happy hour on Friday as always, and the bar was deserted except for a handful of panicky servers looking at the collapse of St. Patrick's Day prospects and the likelihood that many of them would have to leave the island if shutdowns continued on the planned trajectory.

I wasn't supposed to fly home until the 21st, but on the 17th the Cayman government announced that the border would close on the 22nd; my flight was canceled and I hastened to get on the next flight back to NYC.  I wouldn't have gone to Cayman if it would have been an absolute disaster to get stuck there, but it is not desirable to be where you don't have immigration status and access to your real work materials in a time of pandemic.  Got a business class seat on Cayman Airways and was home late on the 18th.  As I left the apartment the next morning to lay in a few essentials (I'd been stockpiling cat food and toilet paper already before I went to Cayman), I felt something like a membrane stretch across my door, I had to press my way through it, and I saw that it was a very good thing that I run five times a week outside, a non-negotiable commitment for me, or else I would be looking at a serious exacerbation of mild agoraphobia.

I said goodbye to Brent at the airport on March 18.  I thought then that I'd probably be able to get back to Cayman for the summer months, but the borders have remained closed.  There's a soft opening for Oct. 1, but it's still only repatriation flights and you have to book through a government agency: I'm not sure whether or not I would get permission, though at some point I need to try.  We're still hoping to see each other in December, but there are too many variables to make more than a good guess about how and where that will happen.

In almost every respect I have been extremely fortunate through all this.  I have a secure job and can easily work from home.  I like being at home and am not itching to travel, unless I could suddenly be teleported to Brent's condo.  I have two funny cats who are excellent companions!  I've had harder summers.  And yet....

The start of the new school year has brought a sense of movement to my life that was sorely lacking.  Depression has been hovering, but it's mostly lifted (leaving me with acute anxiety, inevitably, but I can work with that). 

It is going to be a meaningful and rewarding year of work, I think, within just about manageable bounds.  I made a choice last winter that now looks prescient: once I realized I was going to be running my pilot Work Inside and Outside the University seminar and also chairing the Arts and Sciences Policy and Planning Committee, I decided to use up a semester of banked course release (I am operating in an extraordinarily privileged realm of academic life) so that I could teach 1-1 rather than 2-2 for 2020-21.  (The work seminar carries through for the whole year, and I was particularly worried about having in effect 3 courses as well as PPC chairing for the spring semester.)

 And this morning I printed out my book manuscript, the version I finished in January and haven't touched since.  I hired a developmental editor in July to give me a detailed edit letter, and she provided me with truly excellent comments and insights.  I had genuinely no wherewithal for it over the summer, all my energy was going towards getting from day to day (running and yoga were good, and so was the writing accountability group I was running every day, but mostly I just huddled in bed doomscrolling), and that didn't contribute to my sense of well-being. I always have a book going!  It may not be realistic to think I'll be able to work on it consistently this semester, but I am at least going to see whether it might be possible to have about forty-five minutes a day for it, five days a week....

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!