The Week of Fierce Females

I have to shout out Post-Academic Athenas and Self-Employed PhD, two communities that have radically expanded my network and have put so many valuable resources at my fingertips. The stars aligned this past week and between Monday and Friday I had the opportunity to chat or collaborate with ten amazing women with PhDs. I am working with half of them on scholarly research, teaching, or writing support, and the other half are a stalwart braintrust--women from whom I have learned everything I know about how to leave academia for entrepreneurship. Lately I have been thriving on the energy generated through all these collaborations and friendships, and feel immense gratitude for these relationships. 


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

I'm reading: I finished Thomas Mullen's Darktown a few nights ago and thought it was a solid detective mystery. The selling point for me was how Mullen used the standard plot of a murder investigation to shine a light on the racism and violence directed towards Atlanta's first African American policemen, not only by white Atlantans and but also by those black Atlantans who profited from the underground economy of moonshine and prostitution. These petty criminals aligned themselves with the white cops that protected their rackets, selling out the black cops who threatened to clean up the city's black neighborhoods. By following the deteriorating relationship between one ethical white cop and his unscrupulous partner, Darktown reveals how corruption within the predominantly white police force enabled racist violence against their black colleagues. If you loved In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and enjoy a good detective story, you may also like Darktown

Yesterday, for the first time in a very long while, I sat down and read an entire book in one day. My friend Amanda enthusiastically recommended Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus--she actually included it on her 10 favorites of 2017 list--and it lived up to her hype. Montgomery is a naturalist who, around 2011, began visiting the octopuses at the New England Aquarium in Boston. She quickly became fascinated by the intelligence of these cephalopods and began learning about the biology, psychology, and social behavior of these animals. Montgomery introduces you to all of the octopuses and octopus lovers that she meets throughout her research, while also demonstrating how octopuses can challenge our belief that consciousness and sense of self are distinctly human traits. It's a beautifully written, informative, and thought-provoking book.

As I am writing this, I am realizing that The Soul of an Octopus forms a trifecta with two other books I have loved over the past few years. In 2016 I read Helen MacDonald's H is for Hawk, which is a stylistic masterpiece of nature writing that also focuses on a single animal. MacDonald's memoir is about how, after her father's death, she trained a goshawk as a way to deal with her grief. More profoundly, however, in H is for Hawk MacDonald is trying to understand and explain why modern society simultaneously pushes away and hungers for wilderness and wild animals. Montgomery, by contrast, uses her octopuses to challenge the reader to see animals as less wild and more conscious--more like humans than we would ever suspect. Then in 2017 I read another memoir, William Finnegan's Barbarian Days, whose central obsession is surfing rather than an animal. Through the lens of surfing, however, Finnegan portrays an ocean that is at once filled with life and with real danger. Certainly, there were octopus burrowed within the coral reefs over which Finnegan surfed in Hawaii and Australia and the islands of the South Pacific, but the author tells us more about the waves and the tides and how water behaves when it strikes against land. Surfing (Barbarian Days) thus marks the boundary between human land (H is for Hawk) and the fish's sea (The Soul of an Octopus). Ultimately, all three books drew me into a fascination with subjects about which I previously had no interest. 

I'm listening to: an album recommended to me by my co-coworker Seth. Two weeks ago he was listening to Frank Ocean and we both jammed to Blonde for a few days, and then last week when I asked what I should listen to he suggested Black Up by Shabazz Palaces. During my first listen-through of the album, I was struck by the atonal, jazzy samples on first few tracks. I mentioned to Seth that it reminded me of Digable Planets, and after staring at me for a second he told me that it's because half of the duo that is Shabazz Palaces (Ishmael Butler) was one-third of the trio that was Digable Planets. So... nailed it!

I'm watching: The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, a BBC production that's now a Netflix exclusive. A pretentious but very knowledgeable architect and a by-turns sarcastic and enthusiastic actor-slash-property-developer tour homes across the Americas, Europe, and New Zealand and comment on how extraordinary they are. It's porn for the devoted HGTV viewer, albeit with more of a Great British Bake Off sensibility. 

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

The Week of Reunions

At 5:00 AM on Wednesday morning, I drove myself to the Gainesville airport to catch a flight back to Pittsburgh. It was almost 70 degrees outside, even at that early hour. On Thursday evening, I walked through downtown Pittsburgh with an old friend and we could hardly see where we were going because big, wet flakes of snow were blowing into our eyes. Quite the transition.

Despite the less than ideal weather, it has been heartening to reunite with friends and, of course, with my husband and the home we've built together. People seemed to miss me, and I missed them; one more pleasant byproduct of being a snowbird. 


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

I'm reading: I finished Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies and gave up on The Third Generation by Chester Himes. The latter just devolved into a laundry list of the protagonist's physical and emotional injuries and I couldn't bear to read one more page about his depression and insecurity. By contrast, I could not stop reading Fates and Furies. I read the last 200 pages on my flights back to Pittsburgh, and was captivated by the wife's version of the marriage that's the focus of the novel. You reach the midpoint and think that Mathilde's narrative will be the bitter half, the rejoinder to husband Lotto's more assured, expressive, adoring (if self-involved) experience of their marriage. Groff does her female character justice, though, and Mathilde's story is not an obvious one. She's complicated, vindictive in a totally different way than you're led to think at the beginning, and that's where I'll stop--no spoilers!

This week, I've been working my way through Darktown by Thomas Mullen and Weird in a World That's Not by Jennifer Romolini. I have so much to say about Darktown. Set in Atlanta in 1948, right after the city "integrated" its police force, the novel follows two black cops who walk the night beat in a segregated neighborhood on the city's east side. After they begin to investigate what happened to a black woman who was murdered and left in an abandoned lot, they encounter intense opposition from white policemen who neither care about the victim nor wish to see their black colleagues succeed in winning justice. The story is compelling, and Mullen's storytelling makes you viscerally feel the intimidation and violence of Jim Crow. I'm curious to see how the book ends, and I'll give an update next week.

I picked up Weird in a World That's Not for a reading group I have with other self-employed PhDs.  Romolini tells the story of her career in an energetic, unpretentious style, and she leaves you feeling more confidently secure that the twists and turns in your work life have meaning, make you a unique candidate, and should be leveraged. She doesn't simply say, "be yourself." Her argument is that "yourself" has value, even if that value isn't clear right now. It's always reassuring to hear that a career is more than the sum of its parts. The book isn't perfect, and despite the author's best efforts to acknowledge her white, hetero, cis, abled privilege, you can't help but doubt if the advice she gives is translatable to all "misfits, fuckups, and failures." But if you're currently in a place where you career isn't making any sense to you, I'd recommend this book for its ability to shift your perspective. 

I'm listening to: a newish podcast, "Forever 35," hosted by Kate Spencer and Doree Shafrir. This one was recommended by one of my best friends, who is in fact the friend that introduced me to the wide, expensive world of skincare and beauty products. "Self-care," broadly defined, is the focus of this podcast. I enjoy nothing more than hearing other people review face creams and serums, and Spencer and Shafrir are brutally honest about what works, what probably doesn't work but makes them happy, and what definitely does not work. Actually, the hosts are pretty frank about lots of private aspects of their lives--I cannot imagine telling thousands of people about my pregnancy journey, for example--and you quickly come to feel like you know them as old friends. So it's one of those podcasts where you come for the content, but stay for the relationship.

I'm watching: The trailer for a new project by one of my oldest friends, Erin. Her new film, "Lady Parts," is about an actress who superficially seems to be working in a world that accepts and appreciates women--she gets a big meaty role, lands a big movie on a serious subject--but that in practice continues to discriminate and dismiss women. Erin believes that in this moment of #MeToo and #TimesUp, "This film is important because it shows the industry, not as it COULD be or as it SHOULD be, but as it IS and explores the cost of having so few women behind the camera." You can support the project here.

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

The Week of Texts from Tokyo

I dropped my parents off at the airport on Friday morning and off they went to Tokyo. I confess that I miss them! They have been sending some nice updates from Japan, though, and I'm happy to see that they're enjoying exploring the city and the food and have (unsurprisingly, if you know them) already been to a jazz club.

This afternoon I decided to visit the Harn Museum of Art to see the newly-opened exhibit, History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence. I was actually unaware of the fact that Lawrence was prolific as a printmaker, since the sixty works in his magnum opus Migration Series are paintings. I also did not know that Lawrence did several series in the 1930s and 1940s, including ones on Toussaint L'Ouverture, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. I found the final series particularly eye-catching, with sharper lines and brighter colors than the rest of his oeuvre. 

And then, of course, I had to head off for a beer and a snack. 


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

I'm reading: I'm still working on Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies and The Third Generation by Chester Himes. I'm enjoying the former so far. I'm still in the first section, seeing the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde from Lotto's perspective. Groff is masterful at moving the story along, giving the reader rich details but never lingering too long on any event or moment, but I also understand  people's critique that it's overwritten. Many, if not most, of the sentences are beautiful... but there are some sticky, saccharine clunkers every now and again. I'm looking forward to the second half of the book, because I've heard that there's a big twist when the book transitions to Mathilde's perspective.

What to say about The Third Generation? It hasn't been my favorite read of the year. It's a thinly-veiled autobiography, a fictionalized retelling of Himes's early life and his love/hate relationship with his parents. Perhaps I will write more about it next week, after I've finished the book. I'm two-thirds of the way through right now, though, and at this point I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. 

I'm listening to: Ray Brown, John Clayton, and Christian McBride's "Poppa Was a Rolling Stone." My dad has Sirius satellite radio in his car, and as I was driving home from the airport on Friday morning this song came on the Classic Jazz station. It was a perfect accompaniment to the sunrise.

I'm watching: Queer Eye on Netflix. Oh my goodness, I've cried during every episode! I started watching it for the design, fashion, and grooming segments, and ended up binge-watching six episodes because the stories that unfurled during the makeovers were touching and profound. I didn't expect to find such an interesting portrayal of contemporary masculinity and identity politics, but they manage to cover a lot of ground by making over men of different backgrounds, ages, and even sexualities. 

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

The Week of Atlanta

I skipped posting last week because my husband came to visit me in Gainesville for a few days, and this Sunday's post is three days late because we spent the weekend in Atlanta catching up with old friends. The weather was perfect, and for two full days we walked from restaurant to restaurant. It was pure hedonistic pleasure. I ate barbecue, and brunched three times, and drank so much beer.

Before and after this mini-vacation, however, I did manage to get a tiny bit of reading and writing done. On Monday I published an essay on The Metropole about the children's books that inspired my interest in urban history. My mother spared me the embarrassment of leaving a comment, but did express her relief that the thousands of dollars she spent on books for her children seem to have been worth it. 


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

I'm reading: I finally finished The Sympathizer, and my (probably unpopular) opinion was that it took too many pages to make the unremarkable argument that revolutionary wars turn revolutionaries into the type of authoritarians they sought to overthrow. And I was underwhelmed by how the confession was used a framing device. I've now moved on to Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies--which so many friends, and Obama, have recommended--and to The Third Generation by Chester Himes (for research purposes). I'm just two chapters into each book, so I'll report further on them in the coming weeks.

I'm listening to: Camilla Cabello's hit song, "Havana." It wormed its way into my head after listening to the most recent episode of my fave podcast, Switched on Pop

I'm watching: I saw Black Panther, y'all, and it was great. Check out the Wakanda Syllabus for readings about the comic, afro-futurism, pan-Africanism, black nationalism, and African history.

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

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. 


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?