The Week of Newshour

Over the past seven days, I juggled so many different projects that by the time I sat down for dinner with my parents each evening it felt like two or three days had elapsed. My parents, who never let us eat in front of the television when we were growing up, now regularly dine with Judy and Chris and Lisa and William and Yamiche and Jeffrey and Paul and the guests of the PBS Newshour. Clearly, even though we do not actually know these people IRL, they feel like family. 

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Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: The Sympathizer, still, because I got sidetracked this week by reading an almost-final draft of a forthcoming book for young readers. It should be released later this year, and, because it is so good, I will definitely write more about it.

I'm listening to: Desert Island Discs from the BBC. I've been in a musical rut lately, only wanting to listen to the same familiar albums over and over again. Desert Island Discs is a great way to find new music (Welsh Miner's Choirs), or be reminded of old favorites that you haven't listened to in a while and now finally feel fresh again (Oasis). The concept is simple: each week a guest joins host Kirsty Young to share the eight tracks they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a remote tropical shore. Young is a crafty, experienced interviewer who never asks the same reductive questions--she manages to draw out new information from even the most media-trained celebrities. So you hear interesting stories, learn from accomplished people, and listen to (mostly) great music. And it will make you begin to wonder what eight tracks, book, and a luxury item you would take with you if (god forbid) you were cast away.

I'm watching: The Olympics, duh. For two weeks every other year, I pack away my cynicism and blind my critical eye and become a rabid patriot. It's a holdover from back before I knew better, and I feel like if I kill the enthusiasm I'm also killing a piece of my childhood. 

What are you reading, listening to, and watching this week? 

The Snowbird Manifesto

I want to propose a radical idea: you do not have to wait until you are in your 60s and retired to become a snowbird.

Why should you winter in warmer climes? There is no snow to shovel or slush to slosh through. The skies are brighter and there are fewer grey days. The sunshine is energizing. You do not have to keep track of mittens.

I understand many people have jobs and families that keep them from spreading their wings and flying south as soon as the weather turns cold. But if you hate the winter, find a way to escape it--for a weekend, a week (or several), even month(s).   

If you work for yourself, what's tethering you to home? Can you work remotely from a friend's guest bedroom in Miami? Do a home swap with someone in San Diego? Convince a client in Tucson to fly you down for a week or two of consulting and workshops?

Academics: get a grant! Find an archive in the sunbelt and apply for travel funds. Cancel lectures for a week in February and make your students do fifteen-minute meetings with you on Google Hangouts to discuss papers. Head to the airport and spend seven days replenishing your stores of Vitamin D.

Have a desk job and kids in school? Play hooky. Take off a Friday and a Monday and find a non-stop flight to somewhere warm. It doesn't have to be an expensive destination; you can skip the beach resorts and touristy places. Book an AirBnB in a residential neighborhood and spend your days playing outside in the yard or at local parks. Do what you would do if you were staycationing at home in summer. 

My point is: retirement is wasted on the old. Travel now, while you have your health and resilience. Who knows if our generation will even be able to afford to retire? Might as well invest that money in your mental health--maybe it will prevent you from impulsively quitting your job in a fit of late-February pique. 

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The Week of Escaping to Florida

It's overcast today in Gainesville, but you won't hear a peep of complaint from me. I'm wearing a t-shirt and a light sweater instead of a heavy coat and wool hat (and scarf and gloves and snow boots). The greatest frustration I'm currently facing is not how I will navigate from appointment to appointment in the freezing cold and slush--it's that the internet has been out at my parent's house for the past four days, and there is no end in sight. I've been spending a lot more time at Starbucks than I anticipated, but I also found a beautiful co-working space in East Gainesville (MindSpace Collective) that I would highly recommend to anyone needing a friendly, zen place to get stuff done.

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Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: I'm a third of the way through Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, which several different friends recommended to me. It's about a Vietnamese double-agent who, while spying on the American-backed Southern Vietnamese military for the communist Northern freedom fighters, is evacuated to the United States and becomes a refugee in Los Angeles. I was pretty ambivalent about it for the first fifty pages, but now feel invested in the moral struggle of the protagonist. At what point does your loyalty to an ideology--the actions you take to support and maintain it--actually degrade the integrity of the ideology's values? 

I also read and enjoyed Issue #7 of True Story, a mini-magazine put out by Creative Nonfiction. In "Take Your Son to Work Day," author Andrew Maynard describes his father's work as a pro-bono lawyer defending inmates on death row. Without ever being didactic, the story demonstrates why due process is so important to the pursuit of justice--even when a criminal is incontrovertibly guilty of a heinous crime. 

I'm listening to: Alicia Key's album HERE, after enjoying her PBS Great Performances Landmarks Live in Concert special.

I'm watching: Last night I went with my parents to The Hippodrome Theater's production of The Royale and we all loved it. It is a timely and moving drama about the collateral damage that black communities endured as they fought racial discrimination in early-twentieth-century America, and this particular production was brilliantly staged. You can watch an excerpted scene from the play here, and I would encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for a local performance in your area. 

What are you reading, listening to, and watching this week? 

The Week of Liver and Literacy

On Thursday night, the husband and I cashed in a gift card to a fancy French restaurant in our neighborhood. Over two and a half hours, we tasted eight courses paired with eight wines (plus a complimentary glass of champagne). I had some of the best beets of my life, but also tasted foie gras for the first time. Meat should not be a mousse. That is, unless you're eating a moose. 

On Friday night, we went to a Shabbat dinner at Repair the World. Facilitators led discussions over dinner about the enduring racial disparities in literacy achievement among students in Pittsburgh's public schools. The attendees at dinner represented a broad cross section of the community by race, religion, age, and profession, and we had a wide-ranging conversation about how the "invisible backpacks" that low-income and minority students bring with them to school translate into challenges in the classroom. 

I also had two conversations this week about financial literacy, one with fellow self-employed PhDs and one with a friend who is trying to meet some ambitious savings goals. And if we consider activism to be a metaphorical liver--responsible for cleaning up the toxins our presidential administration keeps throwing into our country's bloodstream--I also served up some liver on Wednesday when I helped publicize Bend the Arc's civil disobedience action at the Senate Building and again this afternoon when I joined Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh at the Women's March.

Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: I finished City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, and honestly don't know how I feel about it. The ending was stronger than the beginning, but I am not sure I fully bought into the world that Chakraborty created. Speculative fiction/fantasy might not be my cup of tea. I have moved on to two new books. The first is As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner. my January Book of the Month pick, and the second is Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Joseph Remnant. The former is historical fiction, the story of a family that moves to Philadelphia from a small town in the Lehigh Valley so that the father can take over his uncle's mortuary. I'm only 50 pages into it, but the book description promises that there will soon be a plot line about the 1918 Spanish flu. I'm enjoying how the author rotates the narrator's perspective between the mother and her three daughters, and the writing is stylish without being overwrought.

In the autobiographical comic Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, Pekar weaves anecdotes from his life together with the history of the city in which he was born and raised. My collaborator and I discuss the book in a digital history project that we are working on, and so I bought the Kindle version so I could have a portable copy to consult. I would actually recommend buying and reading this book on the Kindle because the new Panel View feature allows you to read the text frame-by-frame rather than page-by-page! It zooms in on the art and slows down your reading so that you focus more closely on each panel. 

I'm listening to: a great podcast called Successful Fashion Designer. I have no aspirations to become a designer, but a friend recommended the podcast to me because many of the fashion entrepreneurs interviewed by host Sew Heidi describe how they developed email and social media marketing campaigns to promote their new companies. Sew Heidi's intention with the podcast is to demystify the process of launching a design business, but many of the insights are translatable outside the fashion industry. The episode that I especially enjoyed listening to this week was #12, "Starting a Clothing Brand: Why (and How) To Build Your Audience First." Many of the networking, marketing, and fundraising strategies described by Untucked Workwear's Colleen Monroe really resonated with me because she stresses the value of interpersonal relationships and storytelling. And I confess that now I am totally obsessed with these pants from Untucked Workwear and cannot wait to buy my own pair. 

I'm watching: The new season of Top Chef! It's one of the few shows that Kevin and I can agree on, so we reliably watch it every winter. 

What are you reading, listening to, and watching this week? 

The Week of Slaying To-Do Lists

It was a big week. I sent out a newsletter filled with end-of-year updates about my business. I found out that a book which includes a chapter I wrote was finally published! I made headway on a Storymap project I've been collaborating on, I edited a journal article for a client, I reached out to a few businesses and organizations I would like to work with, I looked into a potential grant opportunity, I had several meetings with colleagues, I drafted a blog post for a social justice group I'm active with, I wrote a blog post for The Metropole and edited a few upcoming posts.... and I feel great! I'm invigorated and inspired by all that I am working on these days. 

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Here's what captured my attention this week...

I'm reading: I finished Paul Goldberg's The Yid, which was underwhelming. I found the premise compelling, but the humor never resonated with me--I'm not yet enough of an alter kaker, I guess. I've now moved on to City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which was my December Book of the Month pick. I would describe it as Game of Thrones, if GOT was set in the Middle East in the nineteenth century and you turned all the various Houses into djinn. There's also no incest and rape (so far), which is an improvement over GOT. It's well plotted and populated by some interesting characters, but I have a small complaint that's distracting from my enjoyment of the book: all the fictional proper nouns sound like the terrible made-up names I would have chosen back when I was writing fiction in elementary school. The capital of the djinn world is Daevabad, the tribe of East African djinn are Ayaanla, and one of the djinn languages is Divasti. It seems like the author took existing (mostly Arabic) words and just added extra vowels. That said, it's pretty awesome to read a Muslim fantasy novel--it freshens up what had become, for me personally, a tired genre. 

I'm listening to: my protest playlist while I re-read Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

I'm watching: I finished the new season of Netflix's Ultimate Beastmaster, which was an absolutely mind-numbing delight. I'm now moving on to the second season of the equally mind-numbing and even more delightful Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian, the first episode of which aired last night. I never got into The Biggest Loser and its spin-off training shows, but had to watch Revenge Body "for research" because I want to do a book project on the Kardashian family. The stories are inspiring! I now understand the appeal of these shows. 

What are you reading, listening to, and watching this week?