Instagram Imperfect Life

The internet is awash with articles critiquing Instagram users for perpetuating the fallacy of "a perfect life." Accounts that post styled, staged, and filtered photographs of beautiful people and things attract the most followers, but also create the impression that life should and could be so elegant, photogenic, and organized all the time. Although awareness of this phenomenon has given rise to the #imperfect hashtag, the platform has not been overtaken by accounts highlighting the messiness of most people's lives.

I confess that I too would prefer to have a perfectly curated feed of beautiful sunsets, delectable meals, and stylish outfits--all of which have made appearances on my Instagram account. But recently I noticed that my photos have tended towards the exasperated, defeated, and messy aspects of my life. Unsurprisingly, this trend directly correlates with when I started my own business and began a semester of teaching two brand-new courses.

So, in the spirit of public service, I want to highlight these photographs from the rather unglamorous past few months of my life. 

"The dinner of a woman too tired to go to the store..."

"The dinner of a woman too tired to go to the store..."

"Came home from a long day to hot dogs, wine, and an ice cream sandwich."

"Came home from a long day to hot dogs, wine, and an ice cream sandwich."

Dinner in bed, 60-ish pounds of dirty laundry in the background. [Original caption: "Thank god today is over."]

Dinner in bed, 60-ish pounds of dirty laundry in the background. [Original caption: "Thank god today is over."]

"Breakfast this morning"

"Breakfast this morning"

"Maybe we drink wine in bed too much?"

"Maybe we drink wine in bed too much?"

My commitment to my business and to my students has shifted my priorities towards client work and writing lectures, and away from meal planning and laundry. I do not photograph the hours I spend writing and editing each week--though perhaps I should--but I do regularly find myself standing in my apartment, agog at my failure to live up to the standards of adulthood. All I can really do is laugh, snap a pic, and get back to work. 

Do you also begin your days with coffee and end them with wine in bed? Do you also occasionally eat dinner leftovers for breakfast and cereal for dinner? More power to you. Life is hard.

The Week of Drinking Wine Straight from the Bottle

It was a long week of teaching and hard work. By Friday afternoon, my concentration was shot; the only work I trusted myself to do correctly was uploading receipts into Quickbooks. I took yesterday completely off and went holiday shopping at Handmade Arcade, a giant arts+crafts fair at Pittsburgh's convention center. I found unique gifts for family members, supported local artists and artisans, and saw lots of friends. Not a bad way to spend a cold December Saturday!

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

I'm reading: ...more student papers. But I did find a delightful article by one of my favorite writers in an old T Magazine we had lying around the house. In "School's Out" Alice Gregory visited a German waldkita, or forest kindergartens. Kindergartners spend the majority of their school day outdoors in city parks, playing with the sticks and rocks they find out in nature rather than with toys brought along by teachers. I was charmed by the following description of snack time:

By the time a secluded spot had been chosen for breakfast, the children’s fingernails were black with dirt, and although it was exceptionally cold nobody was complaining. Instead they all arranged their backpacks into a circle and wandered off in various directions to pee semi-privately, each one undressing out of their snowsuits without help. They returned and took out small Tupperware containers full of fresh produce from their backpacks. Two girls, both under 5, began arranging the fruit into an elaborate mandala atop a wooden tray. They piled carrot coins in the middle and surrounded them with concentric circles of tangerines, bell pepper slices and cucumber sticks; dates went in one corner and apple chunks in another, with a scattering of walnuts on the opposite side of the plate. [The teacher] had encouraged them to organize the food “neatly” but provided no further instructions. The girls did all this slowly and wordlessly, rearranging items when they didn’t like a particular combination. The end result was as beautiful as anything you’d see in a restaurant.

After a week of student emails asking basic questions that could be answered by reviewing the syllabus, I'm seduced by the self-sufficiency of the forest kindergarteners. 

I'm listening to: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 Playlist. I showed my students a clip of the documentary when I taught them about the Black Power movement on Monday. It's a powerful and insightful film, and the music--scored by Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson of The Roots--is a best-of-the-era mix of tracks. 

I'm watching: On Friday night, we went to see Coco, the new Pixar film, with friends. It was a hit with all four of us. The movie takes place on the evening of Dia de los Muertos, and most of the action occurs in the vividly animated Land of the Dead as the protagonist attempts to discover why his great-great-grandmother banned anyone in the Rivera family from ever listening to or playing music. Coco is a reflection on how we remember the legacies of individuals and of families, and raises questions that we as a society are currently preoccupied with: how does legacy and memory become history? And how is historical memorialization undone, and with what effects? And for whose benefit?

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

The Week of Tight Waistbands

Why no post last week, you wonder? I forgot to write it. 

I caught a brief breather this week, though; the university closed on Wednesday because students inevitably skip class to travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I spent the time catching up on non-teaching work! But I feel recharged and ready to tackle the final two weeks of the semester. 

Found on a Black Friday shopping excursion

Found on a Black Friday shopping excursion

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

I'm reading: I have given no fewer than five dramatic readings of Rebecca Saltzman's comedic masterpiece, "Listen Up, Bitches: It's Lysistrata Time!" I was also really disappointed by James Wolcott's review of The Kardashians: An American Drama in last week's New York Times. Wolcott makes no pretense at objectivity, which is fine--but why was he assigned to write on reality TV if he disdains it so? I find it even more problematic that Wolcott passes no judgment on Jerry Oppenheimer, the book's author, saving all his criticism for the powerful women who are the book's subject. Moreover, he fails to point out a problematic aspect of the book, one raised by the top review on Goodreads: "[Oppenheimer] was obsessed with the Kardashians preference for dating and marrying African Americans. He repeatedly called the Kardashian women trashy and trampy and seemed to equate the fact that they dated black men with proof of that." Shame on the Times for assigning this to a man, and for not calling him on his shit when he sent back this review. Having read most every other entry in the genre of Kardashian Kritique, I'm sure the book is not great. But it deserved a review on its merits, not on the Kardashians'.

I'm listening to: I've been grading to the smooth flows on Aminé's "Good For You."

I'm watching: A new season of The Great British Baking Show just dropped on Netflix!!! I'm already two episodes in, and it is bringing me indescribable joy. 

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

A Gift Guide for Academic Aesthetes

At around this time each year, the magazines and blogs that I read put out their holiday gift guides. I peruse these lists hopefully, but rarely ever find anything I would be interested in giving or receiving. The items either register as entirely too personal, or are so impersonal as to be meaningless.  I do not want to purchase pajama sets for my colleagues and friends, nor do I need more tchotchkes for my home. I am so lucky to have women and men in my life who are dynamic, bookish, cosmopolitan, and who choose to fill their lives with beauty. These gifts are for them.

A Membership to the Book of the Month Club

Book of the Month (BOTM) is a great choice for the people in your life who love to read, but who lead busy lives and can't always gather the energy to keep up with the newest releases. BOTM is also a great gift to give to multiple friends at once. My friends Amanda, Danielle, and Jessica are also members, and it's so delightful to spend the first of every month texting about our impressions of the five options. We strategize about whether we should all choose the same book or whether we should choose different books and share them.

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Of the 24 books I have read so far in 2017, seven came to me via BOTM. My favorite novel of the year, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, was a September BOTM pick. In addition to Little Fires Everywhere, I also loved Lisa Ko's debut novel The Leavers and David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon. Highly recommended!

The Placecards Project Greeting Cards

Image Credit: Emma Jacobs

Image Credit: Emma Jacobs

My talented friend Emma Jacobs, who illustrated all of the images for my website and business, recently launched a series of watercolor drawings of cities around the world. As a working journalist, Emma has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas. What I love about her travel illustrations is that she focuses on just one building or block, and through that small slice--just what the eye can take in at a single moment--she translates a city's feel, its architecture, its relative chaos or calm. These cards are perfect for wanderlusting friends, or for anyone who enjoys sending beautiful letters. Many of the illustrations are also available as art prints, which could be perfect for colleagues or friends who have recently moved into a new home.

Slate Plus Membership

This is the perfect gift for the podcast lover, political junkie, or culture vulture in your life. Slate Plus is the membership program for Slate Magazine and Slate Podcasts, and it includes lots of perks not available to non-members, including ad-free podcasts, extra podcast segments, and special members-only podcast series like The History of American Slavery. I am a devoted listener to Slate's Political Gabfest, Culture Gabfest, Double X Gabfest, and Trumpcast, which bring me all the news and commentary I need from week to week.

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Ashley Cecil Flora and Fauna Infinity Scarves

Ever since I first saw this yellow Keystone-patterned scarf, I have not been able to get it out of my mind.

Image Credit: www.ashleycecil.com

Image Credit: www.ashleycecil.com

Truthfully, the photos do not do justice to the vibrant colors and the drape of the fabric. All of the scarves are beautiful and would bring joy to a nature-loving, fashionable friend or family member. 

Moo Notebooks and a Fancy Pen

I've long been a devoted fan of Moleskine Cahier Journals, but recently Moo--one of my favorite companies--launched a line of notebooks that I'm absolutely dying to try out.

Image Credit: www.moo.com

Image Credit: www.moo.com

I love that the binding of the hardcover notebooks is designed so that the pages lay flat. The softcover, however, comes in my favored dot/grid layout. The Hard & Softcover Duo would be a great gift for a colleague, along with a nice pen (and you can use this referral link to save 20% on your first Moo order). I favor UniBall Vision Elite Rollerball pens, which are not as expensive as getting someone a fancy fountain pen, but are more than most people will spend themselves. 

Read the Damn Syllabus Mug

Image Credit: Elevate and Fly Designs Easy Shop

Image Credit: Elevate and Fly Designs Easy Shop

An evergreen sentiment, beautifully designed. The ultimate Academic Aesthete gift. 

The Week that Flew By

This week, in a long-delayed response to an email from my advisor, I wrote to her, "Now that I am teaching, each day seems to last a year but each week seems to last a minute." It's fulfilling work, but it is intense; because I teach one morning class and one evening class each Monday and Wednesday, those days feel like two. I've caught myself saying "yesterday" when referring to that morning...

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

I'm reading: Student papers. They're solid, but I still do not recommend them. 

I'm listening to: On Friday night, I attended a concert organized by our friends' teenage daughter to raise funds for Hungry for Music. She performed "No One Else" from the show Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812--beautifully, I might add--and the song captivated me. 

I'm watching: Last night I saw Murder on the Orient Express. It was exactly what I was in the mood for: a campy caper. The performances were excellent, and it was suspenseful enough to be interesting without ever being tense. I won't lie--it's not a great movie. It is a fine one, though, and I left the theater in a good mood. 

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