On ‘Men Without Women’

Men Without WomenMen Without Women by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Haruki Murakami.

I love the way he is able to transport his readers to the exact place he’s describing. How he can weave tales which seem utterly outlandish and yet entirely plausible. How he can create emotions, particularly those of longing and loss and a sense of wanting, simply through his characters’ thoughts and actions.

For each of these stories describing Men Without Women, I’d like more. I’d like to know what happens next to each of them.

More than anything, I’m reminded once again why Murakami is amongst my most favourite authors. Thank you once again, Maestro. You are a genre unto yourself.

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On Anthony Bourdain

Finding Anthony Bourdain was a complete accident. Flipping through channels in Moscow on a completely ordinary day, I stumbled across this weird dude on a military boat saying, ‘Not how we expected this show to end, huh?’.

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut, 2006 from Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Vimeo.

That dude was Tony and he was filming an episode of No Reservations in Beirut. The problem was all hell broke lose on his first day of filming and he, his crew and many others were trapped in a hotel until they could get out of the country safely. He, the star, seemed more concerned about his crew, the other hotel guests (particularly the kids) and the hotel staff, as well as all those beyond the hotel living in hell on earth. He cooked for his crew as stress relief, and mostly he showed such a rare degree of honest compassion for everyone else in that episode that he was just … some dude who happened to have this really cool gig, talking about food and eating it on camera. In a war zone.

I was hooked.

I watched him through the last episode of No Reservations. I mourned the closing of El Bulli with Tony.  I have watched almost all of Parts Unknown faithfully, although I am a bit behind.

I love his perspective on food, his commentaries on the cultures in which he finds himself and his interactions with the people he meets as he eats and pontificates across the globe. He makes the different seem not so bad. And, not quite so foreign.

When he traveled to Cuba in 2011, I was equally thrilled and horrified. My biggest fear was ‘which’ Cuba he would see; which Cuba would he show his legions of followers from the couch. But, before that show aired, he wrote the following:

It’s easy, I know, to over-romanticize the unspoiled. Especially when “unspoiled” means “poor”. But look. Look.

Whatever your politics, however you feel about Cuba–look at tonight’s show and admit, at least, that Havana is beautiful. It is the most beautiful city of Latin America or the Caribbean. Look at the Cuban people and admit that they are proud and big hearted and funny and kind–and strong as hell, having put up with every variety of bullshit over the years. On these things, I hope we can agree.

That episode made me weep for the country which has embraced me and which also breaks my heart just a little every time I think of her and her amazing people. He got it. And, better yet, he showed it to everyone else.

He showed so many parts of this crazy world to us all, and showed us the unpolished, unvarnished, unsanitised versions. Because that’s life. For all of us. Regardless of the perfect images we personally choose show to and share with the world.

‘Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.’
Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

This past year, he’s also been a rather vocal ally to women, supporting #metoo, understanding the inherent irony of a chef from an incredibly chauvinistic and misogynistic profession giving voice to acts of misogyny and sexism. But, you know, having that ultimate dude as an advocate for women calling out powerful men meant something.

All of it did. It does.

Now, in a world in which we won’t have his wit, his curiosity, his insatiable appetite for all of the food, his uncanny skill with words and their descriptive beauty and power … I’m simply heartbroken.

Thank you, Tony. You gave us too much. And, forgive me, but I really, really, really want to punch you right now.

If you feel at all at the end of tether, before you do anything, please call / reach out to me. Reach out to someone. Anyone.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Take a moment and know that you are loved.

On ‘Notorious RBG’

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader GinsburgNotorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always reminded me a bit of my grandmother. Quiet. Proper. Often wearing a stern look or serious expression accentuated by flawless hair and pearls. And, retorts at the ready which leave all present to hear them slack-jawed and cowering at their own ignorance. In my family, we often repeated a mantra, ‘Don’t cross Grandma’. I would imagine some variant exists for RBG amongst those nearest and dearest.

Notorious RBG is a must-read for any self-respecting feminist or equal rights activist (Is there really a difference between the two?) needing a beacon of hope and a dose of ‘get up and go’. And, RBG the woman is that beacon during very dark times. This woman. Unlike her, rather than seeing nine women justices on the highest bench in the land, I’d like to see nine RBGs at SCOTUS.

Oh, to dare to dream.

Detailing her life as a young newlywed law student, then graduate of Columbia Law (top in her class) unable to land a job, then law professor (needing to hide her second pregnancy)…, she understands not just in theoretical terms but from lived experience what perceived differences mean and they affect us as individuals and groups. To her, it isn’t simply about disregarding those perceived differences and the ideal roles of men and women; it’s about those institutionalised cateogories and erasing the various barriers and injustices they unfairly impose upon us. Her weapon of choice, however, is the law and the US Constitution. And, this woman plays the long game.

As I was finishing this brilliant, inspiring book this morning, I wept. Not because of anything particularly troubling that appeard upon the page at that precise moment. But, because so many of us are simply too tired to continue fighting for and working towards what we believe is right and just. If this tiny woman could become one of the most inspiring memes of our times, we—who have benefitted from her tireless efforts in classrooms, courtrooms and on the bench—can certainly work just a little bit harder to solidify and make permanent those giant gains she made for us.

RBG inspires for many reasons. And, we do her and all others who have blazed various trails a disservice by simply giving in to despair because it is too damn hard.

One of the appendices features a list of ‘How to be like RBG’. It reads:

  • Work for what you believe in
  • But pick your battles
  • Don’t burn your bridges
  • Don’t be afraid to take charge
  • Think about what you want, then do the work
  • But then enjoy what makes you happy
  • Bring along your crew
  • Have a sense of humour
  • I’ve got my to-do list sorted then.

RBG. However long she graces the Supreme Court and this world, it won’t be nearly long enough to satisfy me. I’ll still want more. But, her legacy. Long may it guide and inspire us all. And, may we all have red hot pens at the ready to sharpen and hone our words. Because words and how we wield them truly matter.

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A dear John to coffee…

Dear Coffee:

I adore you.

Above all the beverages and vices I rely on, I have been most committed and faithful to you, scarcely missing our morning rendez-vous for going on 30 years now.

Why?

Why then have you forsaken me so?

In a single bump against you, you not only created the single largest cold coffee puddle across my desk, ruining countless to-do lists in an instant. But, you spread across and within every single crevice on and into my trusty keyboard, rendering her useless. I know you have occasionally suffered from neglect at the expense of my keyboard, at times growing cold. But, I’ve always returned to you, my darling dearest Coffee.
As I make an emergency trip to find a replacement keyboard, I’m thinking hard about our relationship. I wonder: Is it time to take a break from one another?

Let’s sleep on it. But,… this hurts, Coffee.

PS … I suspect we both know, come morning, I’ll come crawling back to you, you magical potion. But, still….

Photo courtesy of my friend Puck. 

On ‘Between the World & Me’

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will never know what it is like to live as a black man or woman in today’s America. And, I can’t imagine raising a black child, particularly a young black man, in the US. All I can do is image the reality of knowing that they may not come home any time they leave.

Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ long letter to his son, I can understand the pain of history and helplessness that accompanies current events a little bit better.

Coates is very quickly becoming one of my favourite writers on contemporary issues in the US. His perspective alone equally intrigues and compels me. His writing blows me away. Through it, I can feel his anguish and uncertainty and anger, and share those sentiments. I also feel more than a little shame for being a part of a system that values him less than me simply by virtue of our individual histories. I am privileged because I am white and solidly middle class, as well as for growing up in a suburban utopia that never knew the dangers of simply stepping outside whilst black.

I sat down to read a part of this book; I ended up finishing it in a single sitting.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, should read this book. Not once, but multiple times. If we ever hope to move beyond the existing divisions and racial inequity that surrounds us all, we need to understand the experiences of those like Coates. It will make us squirm with discomfort and shame by actions which I imagine we in our privilege never think of twice. And, it should.

But, by understanding such perspectives a little better, we can also understand why so many feel compelled to take a knee or protest yet another white cop escaping justice for killing another unarmed black man.

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On ‘They Say / I Say’

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic WritingThey Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A colleague and friend of mine passed along this book’s citation, suggesting that it might be of interest to me for a new course I’m teaching on academic rhetoric and argumentation.

She could not have made a more apt book recommendation.

What a gem for those seeking to become better academic writers as well as for those guiding others to improve their writing skills and prose. Examining academic texts not simply as a report of findings but as a conversation amongst scholars helps to create clear and engaging texts, rather than prose that suffers from the inaccessibility label often lobbed at members of the academy and their manuscripts.

Indeed, I’m often asking my own students why academic texts shouldn’t engage readers, even those from fields and disciplines further removed from their own?

I’ll be recommending this to all of my students from now on. And, revisiting this book as I work to improve my own writing as well my classes.

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Summer ‘schedule’

Summer. That glorious time of year when the days are long, the birds sing loudly and the sun stays high in the Northern sky for more hours than you can imagine. I welcome summer and the glorious green and long days. But, I also dread it.

I’ve never been good at managing my time in the absence of a schedule. I need structure; I need a plan. If there is no plan, I’ll make one simply to ease the inevitable anxiety of not having a plan. When we’re on holiday and not confined by the schedules of work or others, I force my husband to come up with a ‘plan’ even if it goes to hell within days if not hours. Planning relaxes me.

As absurd as it sounds, I keep three calendars on my desk. These are separate from my weekly to-do list(s), which complement my electronic calendar and to-do lists which annoyingly pop-up on various devices reminding me to procrastinate another half hour. [Just writing that out makes me cringe at how absurd it all is. But, well, what can I say? I like my calendars and lists and procrastinating.]

It’s a relief to be free from my lecturing schedule at the University of Helsinki. With the end of my classes last week, Monday morning—day before yesterday—brought a bit of weirdness and a mild panic. Seeing so few items on my calendar and to do list this week left me somewhat disoriented and bereft. In fact, my deadlines for Tuesday this week were all met before 9 am on Monday, representing perhaps the first time in months I’ve delivered early rather than late.

This is not to say that I don’t have things to fill my time. Just the opposite in fact. As a freelance contractor, I’ll never not panic when I have no work in the pipeline. Alas, this summer is already proving vastly different from last. And, this is a very good thing. But, all of those others things I’ve put off for far too long also await.

June is booked. Even if I wanted to take on more work, I cannot. The rest of this week is oddly devoid of deadlines. Yet, my to-do lists are filled with various items simply prioritised as ‘ASAP’ or ‘eventually’. This is where I typically struggle. I need a ‘complete by’ date. For everything. The most pressing issue aside from cleaning my desk and the windows (yes, those are on my to-do list) involves sorting through multiple assignments my students sent during the last month or so, and which have sat patiently in my inbox. (I’m a weebit behind—don’t judge; my students worked entirely too hard!) But, without my own self-imposed deadline of ‘the next class meeting’ procrastination takes over. Little by little, I review their work and send feedback. I will get through my inbox and back to zero. And, I will endeavour to do better next year.

But, distractions and ‘other stuff’ seem so much more pressing or necessary.

So, scheduling. I must schedule when I work on my inbox. And, then, when I can, go for a run (ideally every other day) and clean my sodding windows. Spend a bit time daily peripatetically bonding with my husband. And, sort through all of the other things I want and need to do this summer.

It’s only 12 weeks; but, those 12 weeks leave me restless and somewhat unsteady, particularly without milestones and goals and a plan. I need a plan. My summer schedule may be less structured than that during the academic year, but the structure it takes will either leave me desperate for a schedule or empowered by it. And, I’m determined to be empowered come the end of August. [Where does that fall on my to-do list?]

Calendar

One of three calendars I keep — this is my master class schedule / academic calendar calendar from several years ago.