Things of the Week 4/24/17

Flipping Off Fish: My new favorite juvenile, guilty pleasure–this is an Instagram account. And the username pretty much says it all.

Reading rut: My habit of reading too many things at once has gotten so bad I’m barely reading anything at all. Goodreads has even started sending me passive aggressive messages, “We noticed you’ve only read one book toward your goal” etc. Maybe I need to start a new Instagram account…

FitTwit: I’ve abandoned my FitBit. It’s falling apart and it’s less than a year old. This is my fault–I didn’t save the receipt or the box, otherwise, I could send away for a replacement. I considered buying another one but then I thought about what I use My FitBit for–the alarm. Sure, I paid attention to the steps, but not in a productive way. I didn’t do laps around my house if I didn’t hit my goal. When I think about my health during the time I’ve owned my FitBit, it’s the least healthy I’ve been my whole life. I can’t necessarily blame the FitBit, but I do think it made me lazy. In my brain, I thought, “I have a device tracking my health habits, therefore by knowing my habits I will be more healthy. Brilliant! That mean’s I don’t have to pay attention to my health anymore!” And so, I didn’t. Strangely, having put the FitBit in the drawer, I already feel healthier because I’m paying attention to my hold body instead of just my left wrist.

I am reading some things: This article is awesome for several reasons but I particularly like the way science is being used to study literature.

“Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old” by David Shultz, 4/22/16, Science

Watching: Community and This Is Us. Way late to the party on the first one, only kinda late on the second one. This may be blasphemy, but I might like Community better than Parks and Rec. I’m only in season 1 so I may feel differently by season 3. And I can see why This Is Us is being reviewed well. The writing is very good as is the acting, and I love the parallel story lines.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: A hyper-awareness of my brain. The other day I was putting together a lesson plan with a colleague. I selected several reading selections and I knew that they complimented each other well, but I couldn’t explain to my colleague why. She reviewed the selections and immediately made the connections. I realized that my right brain was seeing the themes and patterns but my left brain couldn’t describe them. My understanding that this was likely related to the brain injury helped me explain my weird behavior to my colleague. She described the situation this way: “It’s like you brought me all of the ingredients for paella and asked, ‘What the hell do I with these?'”

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Things of the Week 3/8/17

Got this message on my teacup the morning after I listened to the podcast about poverty myths and was reminded of the misguided ways many of us think about public assistance. At the risk of oversimplifying complex issues, I think this four-word mantra says a lot. 

#Trypod:

I love podcasts. Every time I reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a long time we always end up talking about podcasts. My go-to conversation starter at parties is “I heard this podcast…” almost as often as “I read this article…”

Most of my friends are already listening to podcasts but you, dear reader, might have friends who have yet to visit this magical, auditory land. See advice from Night Vale Podcast above. Meanwhile, here are some episodes I’ve taken in recently…

Radio Lab Presents: On the Media: Busted, America’s Poverty Myths: This was one of those podcasts where I could feel my perceptions changing as I was listening. I felt myself getting angry, too, as the episode deconstructed tired phrases like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and heart-wrenching examples that make the idea of safety nets seem futile (or like a farce altogether). You can check out the whole series here.

Zapping Your Brain to Bliss (Note to Self):  I admit while listening to this episode I was like, “Where can I get $200 so I can try the Thync Kit?” Living with a brain injury, the idea that there is a device that could help with relaxation seemed almost too good to be true. Like Manoush, I’m still not sure I’d want to use the machine. I think there is some value to the ritual behind relaxation that helps us turn relaxation into a healthy habit. Also, one of the researchers interviewed mentioned he was wary simply because he wasn’t sure how the rest of the brain might be affected. And that made me be like, “Yeah, no thanks.”

The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies (Code Switch)A fascinating episode on the intersection of pop culture and race through the lens of horror movies. I don’t typically watch horror movies but despite my unfamiliarity with the topic, this episode was rich with insights, both specific and broad.

Researching: Reasons for unintended pregnancies. Working on a revision of my novel that requires my protagonist to be older and hence, runs into problems in a more “adult” way. I came across this article from 2012 and found myself still surprised by the findings, even five years later.

“Why We Keep Accidentally Getting Pregnant” by Lindsay Abrams,  7/26/2012 on The Atlantic

Watched: Unreal, the Lifetime Network drama inspired by The Bachelor. I swear this show was made for me. I’ve watched The Bachelor with my mother and sister-in-law as part of a “trash tv night” we’ve had once a week for years. During our viewings, I was always the cynical conspiracy theorist, guessing at what “really happened” to inspire the events we were watching. In Unreal, all my conspiracy theories were validated and then put on steroids. The show is a fiery car crash and I can’t. Look. Away.

(Mini) Things of the Week 3/1/17

Question of the week: After a minor kitchen incident, how does one successfully cut a mango?

Answer: Get your husband to do it for you while you grab the band-aids.

READING

“The Rise of Roxane Gay” by Molly McArdle, February 22, 2017 on Brooklyn

“Against Readability” by Ben Roth, February 21, 2017 on The Millions

Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen 

WATCHING

The Indiana Jones Triology: I had only seen the third movie as a kid, so I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom for the first time this week. Gotta say, I don’t feel like I was missing much. Yes, these movies are supposed to be set in the 30s, but the gender and racial stereotyping was a bit much.

Happy Birthday, Page:

Things of the Week 1/25/17

With the holidays and the start of a new semester, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. Returning to a routine has provided an opportunity to start Things up again.

So, About That New Year’s Resolution: One of my fave podcasts just did an episode examining one explanation for why some people can follow (or set) New Year’s resolutions and other cannot (or do not). The episode features Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, and her theory of habit natures. Also, there’s a quiz (I freaking love quizzes). I got “Questioner.” My husband got “Rebel.”

The Four Tendencies: How to Feed Good Habits

Reading: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben–I asked for this book for Christmas because I was so fascinated by the Radiolab podcast I heard last summer, “From Tree to Shining Tree.” Wohlleben’s writing style is personal yet informative, and the book is also fascinating.

Catching Up On: Finally watched Stranger Things over the holidays and the show definitely lives up to the hype. Now catching up on Season 3 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sometimes that show makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

DIY: We decided that the only way we could afford to update our kitchen (circa 1953) was if we did it ourselves. This weekend we began phase 1 (countertops and sink) of our remodeling project. Phase 2: refinishing cabinets. Phase 3: new floors. Bonus phase: tile backsplash.

Law of averages: I have four students with the same name in my Composition class this semester.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: Often, when I write the capital letter “A” a capital “M” comes out. It’s especially surprising to me to hear myself say “A” in my brain but see an “M” on the page.

Things of the Week: Post Thanksgiving Edition

A greyhound won the National Dog Show:

//giphy.com/embed/YbybIuZaB60so

via GIPHY

Thanksgiving Miracle: Our greyhounds are cuddling.

Commercials: I’ve noticed that commercials this holiday season have a particularly tenderhearted quality about them. It’s nice.

I Got Gilmored: Yes, I’m a fan. Yes, I’ve been bingeing seasons 1-7 for the last several months. Yes, I bought a box of Pop-Tarts to toast Gilmore Girls: A year in the Life. Yes, I might have squealed when I heard the opening music and saw the beloved gazebo. No, I did not expect the #lastfourwords.

Swimming in uncertainty about whether or not we’ll return to Stars Hollow, I’ve been reading as many think pieces as I can to hold on to that Gilmore feeling. Here are a few I particularly liked or was amused by:

“Turns Out, Rory Gilmore Is Not a Good Journalist” by Megan Garber, November 28, 2016, on The Atlantic 

“Watched All of the ‘Gilmore Girls’ Revival? Let’s Talk About It” by Margaret Lyons, November 29, 2016, on The New York Times

“A Play-by-Play of the Only Thing That Matters in the New ‘Gilmore Girls’: Logan Huntzberger”  by Kara Brown, November 28, 2016, on The Muse/Jezebel 

Reading (too many things at once): With the semester coming to a close and lots of papers to grade, I find that I keep collecting books to read without finishing them, assuming the next one will satisfy something in me that the previous one didn’t:

You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thích Nhất Hạnh

 How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

(These three books are all an attempt to remedy semester stress)

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

(Recommended to me by a friend because I had never read anything by Anne Carson. I’m reading this with the hope that it will make me feel smart. Instead, it makes me feel like endeavoring is pointless. So now I pull it out and read it when I feel like I’m trying too hard at something).

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology Edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

(Reading this one slowly, a story at a time. Have been pulling it out when I need something to put reality in perspective.)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

(Picked this up because I wanted to get lost in beautiful sentences. So far so good.)

New Addition to the Brain Injury Glossary: gravel brain – when it feels like there are pebbles sitting on top of my frontal lobe, small but still heavy, with spaces between them that allow brief moments of lucidity to shine through.

November 9th, 2016

After midnight, moments after setting my iPhone on the nightstand, deciding I couldn’t refresh NPR.org one more time, I heard what I thought was a gunshot. I live in a red state and my first assumption with every bang is it’s a gunshot, but then there was another, and another, four bangs with a silent even pause between each one.

“Fireworks,” my husband said. “Trump won.”

We both reached for our phones. 244 electoral college votes became 279 votes and the angry caricatures of both Trump’s and Clintons faces stared back at me from their places above the abstract map of blue and red squares. We turned out the light and went to bed.

*

I don’t remember what I dreamt about, or if a dreamt anything. My brother said he dreamt about zombies. At 4:30am I woke up, I can only assume from stress or panic. With deep breaths I fell back asleep only to awaken, leering, two and a half hours later. My period started. Even my body was exhibiting some kind of ironic biological defiance to America’s new reality.

Two days before, a friend and I had hosted the first event in a series of Write-Ins, an hour for people to come together to write and be in community with one another. The series was part of a literary organization (with a hardly subtle hint of feminism) that we started with a mission to create more writing opportunities in our town. Two days before we were feeling revolutionary and empowered. Overnight our confidence turned to desperation.

The day after the election, my friend’s text to me read, “Hello. Did you get any sleep? I want to do something. Hold safe space for people to write and hug and be. What can we do?”

I texted back, “Barely. We could do another impromptu/pop up Write-In maybe,” and then I digressed as I thought about my commitments for the rest of the day.

I had to meet a student at my office then teach a composition class. Also, I was an artist-in-residence at the public library. I had been leading a workshop for the last four weeks leading up to the election. I was helping teens write letters to the next president as part of a project hosted by the National Writing Project.

The rest of my text read, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to the two thirteen your old girls who participated in the Letters to the Next President project—we’re supposed to have a pizza party at the library tonight.”

The moment needed immediacy and action, but I was grieving along with everyone else in my bubble of America. I wanted to hide. I called my friend and we poured over our options. Our literary organization was new and we had no idea what the political leanings were of our participants. In the end, she opened her home to anyone who wanted a place to write but asked people to private message her for the address.

I stumbled through my morning and wondered how I would face my students, many of whom had made it clear in one way or another that they were Trump supporters.

When I got dressed I wore a jacket I purchased from J. Crew several years ago when Mad Men style was a thing. I curled my hair and put on some lipstick and my big black sunglasses. I looked like Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I thought about how she performed her civic duties at a time when she might have wanted to hide.

On campus, walking to the liberal arts building I passed students. Fear set in, labeling set in, and everyone I passed was either a “likely Clinton supporter,” which brought a feeling of relief, or a “likely Trump supporter,” which brought on a feeling of distress. I’m not proud that in that moment I was engaging in the same kind of irrational thinking that contributed to Trump’s election in the first place.

Before my lecture, I had to meet the student who needed to take a test. She arrived at my office and her greeting was careful, her voice polite, and it took on a tone she hadn’t used with me all semester. Though I had never said it she knew which side I was on, and I which side she was on. We exchanged the appropriate professor/student pleasantries and I sent her to a conference room to take her exam.

While she worked I graded papers. I checked Twitter and Facebook. I sent texts to my brother and my husband. I wanted to cry but didn’t because I didn’t know how my students would meet my vulnerability. I tried to understand what exactly I wanted to cry about.

Before class I went to the bathroom and coming out of the stall I ran into a student who had written an essay for me about voter apathy. She was my mirror that morning. We couldn’t smile. Our eyes were tired. Our skin lacked the pink that comes with breathing deeply. We didn’t say anything to each other but we knew.

*

On my lunch break, I watched Clinton’s concession speech and had my cathartic moment. I sobbed while admiring those steely nerves that characterized her as being robotic. I listened to her words mindfully (it was the first time in a while I hadn’t scanned something on my phone during a long video), and near the end of twelve minutes, I found the smallest ray of hope. She said, “To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” and it reminded me of the two girls who were taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, who were asking important questions and finding their way through the answers. Hope for me was two girls who wrote letters to the future president about making school lunches healthy, and developing community programs to educate people about nutrition choices. Hope was two little girls who, despite the outcome of the election, believed their voices would be heard.

*

That night we had our pizza party at the library, the girls and I. We read letters about medical marijuana and cyber bullying, and unemployment, and we shared ideas and opinions. We smiled and we laughed because we needed to.

On the day after the 2016 election, in my darkest moments, I was planning for the worst. I was planning for the reality that I could lose my health insurance and that my student loan payments might not be adjusted for my income anymore. And when I ran out of plans I worried. Worried whether my cousin’s husband and family would be allowed to stay or return to the United States because they are Muslim. I worried for my Muslim students and my African American students and my gay students and my female students.

But eating pizza in a small conference room with two intelligent, adolescent girls, I realized I was doing something, however small my actions might seem.

I was doing something by mentoring them. I was doing something by teaching my Trump supporting college students how to write effectively and think clearly. I was doing something by running a literary organization with my friend, even if our feminism made us vulnerable.

And with these thoughts the hope caught on and pumped in my heart, like small bangs, with silent even pauses between them.

Things of the Week: Literary Billings Edition

Introducing BALA: After a wave of poetry activity in our town (much of it tied to a grant from the Pulitzer Foundation), my friend Anna Paige and I found ourselves talking about the need for more writing activities and events in Billings, MT. With a little bit of serendipity and some good old fashioned networking, we met one of the founders of the Helena Area Literary Arts. Realizing that what they do is AMAZING we decided to create a version of their organization here in Billings.

And so we would like to introduce Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA), a new organization dedicated to building and enhancing literary arts in and around Billings, Montana.

bala-square
Logo design by Kate Restad of Pioneer Creative

BALA will be offering a variety of events dedicated to writing, starting with a series of Write-Ins.

Write-In: to occupy a place as a form of creation.

On the first and third Monday of every month, Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA) will host an hour of dedicated time and space to write. Participants are invited to come to MoAV Coffee to write, edit, revise, or share as part of the writing process. Moderators Anna Paige and Ashley Warren will be available to give feedback on short pieces or excerpts from longer works as well.

Join us for our first Write-In!
Monday, November 7th
5:30-6:30PM
MoAV Coffee
2501 Montana Ave.

*Please bring whatever writing tools you like to use. (Paper, pens, laptop, tablet etc.)

In addition to these Write-Ins, we’ll be scheduling more events in the near future. Here’s a sneak peek:

Flight of Writers: In collaboration with Harper and Madison and Lilac, BALA will host a night of writing, food, wine, and art. Guests will enjoy pairings of literary, culinary, and artistic courses, a true feast for the senses.

A Reading of Her Own: These readings will be dedicated to showcasing female-identified writers who will share short, 800 word or 8-minute long memoirs at an open-mic night.

If you would like to be added to the BALA mailing list, please send an email to billingsliteraryarts at gmail dot com.

Another cool thing I’m doing: I am honored to have been selected as an Artist-in-Residence with the Billings Public Library, specifically in the TECH Lab, an education and creation hub reserved for teens.

During my time as Artist-in-Residence, I have been helping teens write letters to the next president as part of the national project Letters to the Next President 2.0 hosted by the National Writing Project.

Our project was covered by the local news this week–our clip begins at 9:12.

Things of the Week 10/12/16

Tweeting the Season: 

Poet-ing: I competed in my first Slam Poetry Competition. An absolutely fabulous night. I think I’m more of a poet-for-the-page, but the experience was well worth it. The poem I recited for Round 1, “Modern Witchcraft: A Business Meeting” was published back in April by Easy Street. Check it out. 

2016-slam
I think they caught me on an “m” word.

MOMIX:  Had my mind blown by the dance-illusion experience “Opus Cactus.” Truly have never seen anything like it. Video doesn’t even do it justice, but:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJKIO93zBg4

High Plains Book Awards: Had the opportunity to attend the High Plains Books Awards and was delighted to discover that the centerpieces at the banquet tables were books–free books.

Reading the Season: The Witches: Salem,1692 by Stacy Schiff. I didn’t realize that the period of time surrounding the Salem witch trials was so short. I’m having the sneaking suspicion I fell asleep in American History on the day this was covered.

(Actual) Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: I’m taking up Tai Chi. I’ve started with YouTube and resources from my local library, but my next step will be to join a class locally. Discoveries so far:

  • practicing Tai Chi will be as much about developing patience for me as about anything else
  • moving slowly feels good (whaaaat)
  • the naming conventions for Tai Chi moves are a bit poetic, which I like
  • I’m sore (whaaaat)

Things of the Week 10/05/16

Listening to: Lady Gaga. In a recent episode, the hosts of Switched On Pop fall down a musical rabbit hole describing the ways in which Gaga’s music depicts both the “fame” and the “monster,” (complete with aural comparisons to Phantom of the Opera) and I’m like

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via GIPHY

Drinking: Decaf cardamom lattes at Annex Coffee House and Bakery

Teaching: Comparison essays, using Riz Ahmed’s excellent essay as an example:

“Typecast as a Terrorist” by Riz Ahmed, September 15, 2016 on The Guardian 

Yes, this: Recently, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, and after I finished I swirled with all the implications for modern society. Then, someone took all the things I was swirling about and put them in one essay, and it is awesome.

Is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ A Prophecy of America’s Future?” by Laura Beans, 9/28/16 on The Establishment

Discovering: great literary organizations in Montana:

Helena Area Literary Arts  and Tell Us Something 

Purchased: an iPhone 7. (see Gif above) This will be the first time that when my phone was eligible for an upgrade I purchased the newest model of the iPhone available. I’m expecting that the jump up from my iPhone 5s will feel significant.

Things of the Week 9/21/16

Small Pleasures: When you get more marshmallows in your cereal than you expected.

Awesome Thing I Saw on the Internet: Artist Adds Monsters Next To Strangers On The Subway

Watching: Happy Endings–this is a fave of Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes and I like her taste in movies/tv so I thought I’d give it a try. It took me until episode 12 of season 2 to click with this show, but now it has me laughing out loud, particularly when I saw this scene where Brad goes to the dentist.

Paranoia: Having watched the documentary Citizen Four and listened to the Note to Self Podcast Episode “There is No ‘Off the Record'” in the same week, I’ve decided that I really appreciate the idea of first drafts–something that no one will read, and something that can be taken down on paper…

Reading: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler with art by Maira Kalman–I’m really getting into the novel-containing-visuals trend. Perhaps I’ll make my way into some graphic novels eventually.

Practicing: memorization, a skill I haven’t really employed since my days in grade school school plays.

Confounded by Technology: I fell victim to an instance of too good to be true. Having returned to academia I discovered our university provides Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions through our email accounts. Pleased with this discovery, I dowloaded the various Microsoft apps to my iPad and began using One Drive to back up my lectures. When, while in One Drive, it offered a free download of the latest Microsoft software I thought to myself, free upgrade? Why not! Only after having dowloaded updated versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (which deleted the old versions from my computer in the process) did I discover that to use these programs on my computer I have to sign in (with my university email address) first. The catch–I’m an adjunct, and in semesters when I’m not teaching (like for example, over the summer) my email address is deactivated i.e. I won’t be able to use these programs come this summer. This has led to hypervigilant saving practices to make sure anything I need stays on my hard drive and won’t get trapped in the cloud if and when my access is turned off. Wish I could have stumbled upon some hashtag on Twitter for this one.