The Week of Florida Weather in Pittsburgh (Finally)

On Friday temperatures climbed into the 70s and it's been balmy all weekend. I celebrated by doing nine loads of laundry. There is a washer and dryer in the basement of our apartment building, but we have to go outside to access it. The only thing worse than doing laundry is having to first carry your clothes through the freezing cold or the rain or the snow, even if it's only for 100 feet. So during the winter we do the bare minimum--work clothes and underwear only--and sheets and towels and other miscellaneous garments pile up. 

While I was tackling the mountain of laundry, I decided to try out the decluttering lessons I learned this week from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Per Marie Kondo's very specific instructions, I began with the category of clothing. I dumped out everything in my closet and dresser and purged three giant garbage bags worth of sweaters, pants, shirts, athletic gear, dresses, pajamas, undergarments, and accessories that no longer "spark joy." It was gratifying but exhausting, and I'm not even rid of everything yet. Tomorrow I'm going to have to call an Uber to shlep all this stuff to Goodwill. I posted some peeks into my dresser drawers on Brisket.

Before the laundry and decluttering marathon, I did manage to enjoy the weekend. I spent two hours yesterday morning laying in the sun in the park and reading. I brought veggies to snack on, and my yoga tune-up balls so I could give myself a little pressure point massage. It was heavenly.

Temperatures will dip again tomorrow, and there's snow forecasted on Tuesday. I'm hoping the vitamin D I absorbed this weekend will get me through to the next warm, sunny day. Fingers crossed.

IMG_0725.JPG

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

I'm reading: a lot of books at once, despite my effort to pare the list down from last week. I'm still working my way through Adrienne Rich's On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita, and Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. I finished Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which had a great ending but dragged through the middle. The characters made one too many stops on their quest, and the lusty side plot did not make the endless march across the magical land of Orîsha more tolerable (though I think if I read this as a teenager I would have vehemently disagreed). 

I also finished Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and started reading Thomas Mullen's Lightning Men. It's the sequel to Darktown, which I read last month and really enjoyed. Set in 1950, two years after Darktown, Lightning Men follows the same black police officers as they investigate a new murder/corruption case. Already I can tell that the Civil Rights Movement will play a bigger role in the sequel, which I definitely find more intriguing than the whodunnit. But I'm a historian. 

I'm listening to: Chelsea Jade, after someone compared her to Haim on Facebook.

I'm watching: Baba the Cosmic Barber's World's Greatest Head Massage. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've watched the video twice since discovering it earlier this week and it is so relaxing. What? How? Why? All valid questions. You'll just have to experience it for yourself.

Enjoy posts like this one? Check out Brisket to read more about what's on my mind--just bring some bread to go with the meal!

Legitimacy

They say that it only takes two things to be a writer: to write, and to call yourself a writer. But I can now tell you that there is an undeniable joy and pride that comes from seeing your work printed in a book. A book that two very senior scholars had the idea to write, and asked me if I would contribute a chapter to it. And when I said yes, they then read and carefully edited my words and tightened my argument, and then sent it to the UK where a person agreed it was worth publishing and spent a lot of time and energy laying it out in a fancy book-printing computer program, and then sent to a big book-making factory and had it bound up. And now it costs $53.70 on Amazon and is ranked #1,428,714 on the site's best seller list (but is boosted up to #1416 in books about African American history). 

IMG_0709.JPG

I was working from my dining room table yesterday afternoon when my husband came home and brought in the mail. After weeks of waiting, the book had finally arrived--and I was in the middle of working and it had been a long, long day and I just threw up my hands and said "finally!" and went along with what I was doing. What was a little more waiting, at this point?

The chapter that I contributed to this book originated from a year-long seminar I participated in during the 2014-15 academic year. I began the research in the fall of 2015, completed a draft in August of 2016, and did three rounds of revision and submitted a final version by the end of that year. In the spring and summer of 2017 I made final edits and approved the page proofs. The book was finally released in December 2017, but a printing delay meant that my copy was not sent out until mid-March. And then it took three weeks to ship from the UK. If you had told me that I would not see the fruit of this labor for four years, I probably never would have done it. Yet that's fairly typical for academic publishing, and realistically it would have taken a fifth year if I had submitted it to a journal.

So I left the book sitting on the table while I finished working, ate dinner, and watched Sunday night's episode of Silicon Valley with Kevin (so good!). Before leaving to meet a friend to see Viet Than Nguyen speak, I scooped it up and threw it in my bag. We arrived early enough that I had time to show her before the event started. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and after she insisted on taking pictures of the book I began flipping through to find my chapter.  You might be surprised to know which page made me verklempt.

IMG_0711.JPG

I created this chart and table in Excel and I am not being self-deprecating when I say that the originals are amateurish and lacking in aesthetic merit. So when I opened to this page in the book, and found that they looked professional and "like what a chart in a book should look like," it drove home the point that I had actually done something legit.

So my eyes watered a little bit, though I did not actually cry, and I spent a few seconds saying something dumb like "wow, huh, wow" before pulling it together and changing the subject. 

After the talk I came home and before I went to sleep I placed the book on the table next to my bed. When I got up this morning I put it in my bag and carried it around with me all day. This afternoon I brought it to show my therapist. But I think by tonight I'll be ready to find a nice home for it on a bookshelf. 

I never was a kid who really knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, but I was always writing--journal entries, awful short stories and poems, school papers, personal essays, letters to friends, and later blogs, and newsletters, and a dissertation. So this book does not quite represent my actualization into the person I dreamed I could be. Instead, it underscores what I already know: I've become a writer. 

 

The Week of Passover and Palm Trees

I flew back from Florida late last night, and unsurprisingly it is not as warm here in Pittsburgh. That's the only stain on what has otherwise been a banner week:

  • I launched Brisket...
  • Lady Parts met its crowdfunding goal and got the green light...
  • Swamp Head Brewery celebrated it's 10 year anniversary...
  • I finally met Rose, the five-month-old daughter of one of my oldest friends...
  • I spent Passover, a socially and ethically meaningful (if culinarily unenjoyable) holiday with my parents, sister, husband, and old family friends.
 April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017

This all felt even more significant because yesterday marked one year since the day I officially handed over my dissertation and was certified for graduation. So in the midst of these celebrations of new endeavors and commemorations of past struggles, I spent a lot of time this week reflecting. 

This year was one of unparalleled growth. I have endlessly surprised myself by going after opportunities, experimenting with business ideas, and being open to new people. It's a bit mind- boggling to realize that I have 15 new friends and colleagues who I regularly turn to for advice and inspiration, all acquaintances I made since finishing my PhD. Moreover, since unburying myself from what can only be described as the "blah" of graduate school, I feel like my relationships with old friends and with my family have deepened. It's this connection and community that has made this year the best of my life, and out of all that I've accomplished this year it's what makes me proudest. So I have to thank you all for your trust in me as a friend and as a colleague.

Another really great development in my life since last April has been finding time to once again read fiction. Exactly one year ago today, I cracked open Nathan Hill's The Nix and lay in bed reading with a glass of wine. The books have changed over the past twelve months, but the venue and beverage have stayed fairly constant. 

 April 8, 2017

April 8, 2017

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

I'm reading: more books at one time than I've ever read before. I'm still working my way through Adrienne Rich's On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, currently enjoying her feminist reading of Jane Eyre. It's been about 15 years since I've read that classic, and I'm wondering if it's time for a second go at it. I'm also half way through a brand-new YA fantasy book by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone is set in Orisha, a land where majis have been stripped of their magic by a king who was threatened by their power. It reminds me a lot of The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which I read earlier this year--but instead of being set in a world informed by Islam and by Arab culture, Orisha is clearly inspired by Afro-Brazilian religions and culture. So far I'm really liking it for its fast-paced plot and for the mellifluous Yoruba language that Adeyemi has incorporated into the story. 

I am also two chapters into I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita. This book has been on my to-read list since my husband's friend Adam Dalva reviewed it favorably on Goodreads. It's a novel that plays with form, which I generally like, and it's set in San Francisco during the Civil Rights struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. More updates on this one to follow.

Finally, I am also dipping in and out of Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. How's that for contrast? 

I'm listening to: another old favorite, Amadou and Mariam's Dimanche a Bamako, inspired by Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther. 

I'm watching: The new season of HBO's Silicon Valley. I loved the first two seasons so much, but the third was meh. Last season recovered somewhat, and I'm hoping that season five is a return to form. The pilot delivered a handful of funny moments, but it remains to be seen whether the show can survive the exit of vulgar, narcissistic Erlich Bachmann. The pilot indicated that housemate Jian Yang will step in to fill the vacuum Bachmann left behind, which I think is a brilliant move (and I'm also looking forward to reading actor Jimmy O. Yang's new book How to American: An Immigrant's Guide to Disappointing Your Parents). 

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

The Week of Serving Brisket

Brisket Vol. 1, No. 1 launches tomorrow and I am excited and nervous, preoccupied and obsessing. Between the newsletter and preparing for Friday night's Passover seder--where a brisket was served, of course--my week was spent writing, editing, designing, cleaning, cooking, and posting to social media. So this week's post is on the light side, but consider it an hors d'oeuvre before the big entree tomorrow. 

IMG_0669.JPG

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

I'm reading: On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose by feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, gifted to me for graduation by a thoughtful family friend. I was searching for inspiration this week and picked it off my shelf of books-to-be-read. As I wrote on the Brisket Patreon page, I am struck by Rich's preoccupation in this collection with a "culture of passivity." For Rich, the women's movement had to reject passivity if it was going to "name and found a culture of [women's] own." When I picked up the book I was only looking for a good example of the essay form to use as a model and learn from--which On Lies, Secrets, and Silence definitely provides--but I also found a great model for how to quietly but forcibly roar.

I'm listening to: an old, sentimental favorite, Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue. I listened to this album all throughout college and confess that when I listen to it now (as well as to Bon Iver's To Emma, Forever Ago) I am overwhelmed by that feeling that you get when you stare out the window of a train or an airplane. Wistfulness? 

I'm watching: Nothing new! Yesterday afternoon I took my mom to see Black Panther, and it was just as good the second time. 

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

Brisket: Monthly Essays Cooked Low and Slow

Next Monday, April 2, I will debut Brisket Vol. 1, No. 1. It's not a new magazine, or webzine, or even a website. I'm calling it a newsletter because each month I will share a new essay with readers (plus some extra content related to that essay's theme). My hope, however, is that it becomes more than an essay in your inbox every four or five weeks. I have the great fortune in life to be surrounded by dynamic, thoughtful people who enjoy conversation. Brisket is a dish to gather around and talk, perhaps at first about the monthly essay but eventually about the messy, emotional, and weird experience of being human.

That's why I have chosen Patreon to host Brisket. Patreon is a platform that allows creators to build communities around their work. By pledging to Brisket, patrons can post and comment on Brisket's feed (similar to the Facebook timeline feature) and have a conversation with me and other readers. 

The other reason that I decided to launch this project on Patreon is because I want to do the kind of work that freelance writers rarely get to do: write meaty essays that are neither pegged to the news cycle nor broadly appealing enough to be evergreen. At Brisket's core is a monthly essay on a topic that has preoccupied me recently, enough so that I sat down day after day and fought to answer my own questions. These are essays that I craft while pacing back and forth across rooms talking to myself, that require many long stretches of staring off into space, and many phone calls to friends to try and work through the ideas. They are not necessarily deep or profound as a result (though some are). Writing is just difficult, time-consuming work. Patreon puts a community of devoted patrons behind their creators to make sure that the work gets done!

If you have been enjoying my Sunday morning roundup posts, or what I've been writing over at The Metropole, then Brisket might appeal to you. 

For the first month only, I'll be sending out a short excerpt of Brisket to everyone on the mailing list. Feel free to sample before you throw me some bread. 

Feeling too full to partake of Brisket? You can still catch a glimpse behind the scenes by following Brisket on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Litsy!

I look forward to sharing Brisket  with you, and hope you will share Brisket with any and all friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, or bookshop owners who you think might be interested in this project! See you around the metaphorical dining table soon...

Avigail