The Updates #12

Estimated Reading Time:  13 minutes

Week 12 of the updates and here we are!  


The title screen to the film, "Imitation of Life"
Imitation of Life (1934)

Well--if this week goes according to plan, I will have completed my final 3 interviews (25 in total) and be done with the data collection portion of this process.  Holy shite!  Seriously! I somehow had done all my data collection in under 50 days; almost one interview every other day.  It feels so energizing to be at this point this quickly and while I'm eyeing the next few weeks of catching up on the transcribing and pivot to data analysis, I'm still in awe of things that I'm at this point and feel moreso than ever that this is gonna happen and soon!  So, cheers to that! 


This week was a little frustrating.  I had a bit of FOMO and a bit of falling behind.  I got to work on Tuesday and noticed a flutter in my throat.  I figured it was from the bike ride and slight chill that morning.  However, by noon, it was clear that my throad was not happy and I was getting a little foggy brained.  I let my colleagues know (from a distance) that I was leaving and headed home (yes, on bike).  I had a cold (at least that's what I hoped).  I took a COVID test and it came back negative.  I took a 2 hour nap, and then had to work through a few essential meetings. Wednesday, I took off entirely and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, got lots of sleep and lots of liquids. I still tried to do things but I took it as easy as possible (hell, did less than 2000 steps on Wednesday and Thursday).  My throat continued to be raw and my foggy brain eased a little bit.  Today (Sunday), I'm feeling like 70% back to normal.  But all of this means, I missed a retreat at work and opportunities to bond and spend time with my colleagues; it also pushed me back in some of the projects that I had hoped to be moving along at this point.  At the same time, I don't feel like people were trying to get me to work but encouraging me to take the time I needed, which is also appreciated.  

What I'm Reading

Political Masculinity: How Incels, Fundamentalists and Authoritarians Mobilise for Patriarchy by Susanne Kaiser: This book is appropriate to read in October because it is scary as all hell; though for all the wrong reasons.  Kaiser delves deep into male culture, particularly male internet culture, where there is so much intertwining of certain (horribly toxic) forms of masculinity (and feminity for that matter) that has been increasingly weaponized by the Right. From message boards to rallies, Kaiser illustrates the way how an ideology that is misogynistic, racist, and fueled with hate are becoming increasing corner-stone entities that become central to right-wing ideology and how they end up on platforms like Breibart, Fox, and even the form president's inner circle.  What's disconcerting is that there feels no real viable way to bring these people back from the beyond the scope of what they have done and the political implications for the future of the US and other countries feels palpably threatening.

From the Periphery: Real-Life Stories of Disability by Pia Justesen: This series of interviews and explorations present the the lives of people with disability from a wide range of experiences and disabilities as well as across different times.  Justesen explores the changes over time with many folks having lived as much of their life prior to the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (just 32 years old and still often, insufficient to meaningfully include people with disabilities in everyday society) and what it is like after.  What remains evident and is so well captured in this book is helping readers to understand the different between someone with an impairment (e.g. someone whose legs may not function) and how society turns that impairment into a disability (make a world that is primarily accessible for those with two fully-functioning legs).  This shows up time and again in people's stories about how they try to make life work despite the barriers that they face.  The interviews are also striking in how the participants understand what is and isn't their challenges and the ways they are judge.  For instance, another avenue explored is how people with disabilities are often propped up for inspiration porn because they overcame the barriers that society put in their way to live a normal life.  Such fawning over people with disabilities also says that society's expectations are set lower; even though, it's society that has created the barriers.  It's a powerful book that continues to have me think about the world around me and how we structure it to disable others.  

Project Based Learning Stories and Structures: Wins, Fails, and Where to Start by Ryan Steuer:  A short book that has some good, clear, and simple ideas about designing, structuring, executing, and reviewing project based learning approaches.  Primarily for K-12, I still found it had me thinking about the implications and approaches for the college level. Additionally, the way the book segments the different parts of the chapter including places where failures are likely or have occurred was useful.

The All-Nighter Volume 1 by Chip Zdarsky:  A group of vampires running an all night diner slowly decide to become a super-hero team but in doing so, then encourage other mythical creatures to also spring into action--often as supervillains.  All this is fine, except that there are other folks who are sent out into the world to keep the mythical beasts in line, and it's only a matter of time before they show up.

Mr. Lightbulb by Wojciech Wawszczyk:  This is a weird, curious, and fun graphic novel.  The story follows a working-class family who live in a world where the rules of physics aren't quite what they are here.  The father works hard at a dry-cleaning business until one day there is an accident and he is flattened like a pancake; still alive but rendered unable to do much.  The mother, at one point, succumbs to be broken in half, needing a brack to help her from splitting entirely.  The son swallows metal and then molten material that turn the metal into rods.  So, whenever he puts his fingers in a socket, he lights up (hence, "Mr. Lightbulb."  If this is sounding strange as hell--it totally is and yet, it works. As the boy becomes a man, he must navigate how to care for ailing parents, figure out his own future and path, make a living, and possibly even love.  The story works because it is both about things the reader can relate to and things made strange (father as a pancake) that can also be relatable (a parent flattened or broken by a hard life).  Definitely worth the read if you're looking for something to make you feel, think, and even hope.  

What I'm Watching

Trees with different colored leaves in a cemetery
The Cemetery in Fall

So apparently, last week wasn't the last episode and I was wrong.  Whew!  This episode felt very much like "you can never go home" with a mix of "oh shit, I'm not really a nice person" splashed all over it.  

Atlanta: Rewatched the first two episodes of this and will keep going.  Donald Glover is amazing so I can't believe I've not gotten to this earlier.  Still, the energy of laugh and cringe is so palpable in these first two episodes.  

The Bear:  Finished this series and while I'm hopeful for more because Jeremy Allan White is delightful (Lip in Shameless was one of my favorites); I'm not quite content with this ending and I'm hoping season 2 gives us a bit more.  I've got more questions about it than feel right; it feels like too easy an ending which leads me to believe the next season will unravel it.  Still, White's monologue at the meeting was so good.  

The Last Castle: I borrowed this one from the library. I had seen it a few times years ago and really liked it.  It was the first movie I saw with Robert Redford that I got why he is so popular and given accolades for his performance.  When I think about powerful performances (where actors or actresses did something that I felt was magical), Redford in The Last Castle is one of those roles.  His presence is just felt in every scene and in some ways, it feels a better prison film than Shawshank Redemption which I know many a great folks swear by.  There's also James Gandolfini's role as the small-minded prison warden and a young'ish Mark Ruffalo as the indecisive man-boy who has to step up.  While it is an overwhelmingly "guy" film with both prison and military overlap, it's still provocative and holds up two decades later.

Imitation of Life:  This week, we watched the 1934 version of this film. I was inspired because of a reference to it in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (which I'm currently reading).  I was surprised by a film that so lively talked about passing and showed a loving (albeit problematic on many levels) relationship between a white woman and Black woman.  It seems strange that this was a viable film in the same 20 year period in which Birth of a Nation and so many other racist films were made.  Still, I was impressed to see an old film that centered women's relationships with each other, could pass the Bechdel Test, and center the complexity of race, class, and gender.  We'll be checking out the 1959 version probably in the next week. 

Don't Bother to Knock: This was Marilyn Monroe's first film I believe and her performance was good, even if the film was a bit messy.  It felt a bit too busy and convoluted at times, but Monroe's performance does stand out.  I was also surprised that the film focused so strongly on suicide, showing the scars of her character's attempt and even the end scene.  Not a great film on its own but has a few things to recognize.  I imagine if it were told today (probably by Ryan Murphy), it would have been more convoluted, darker, and more beautiful but that's just a guess.

This Week's Photos

Imitation of Life (1934): Often when I watch an old black-and-white film, I'm compelled to take a photo of the title screen.  I'm not sure why but there's something about documenting it with my camera that feels important.  Sometimes, it gets shared on my Instagram and sometimes, I like knowing it is part of my photo archive.  I think also taking a photograph of a film based on a novel that is labeled "Imitation of Life" has several levels of meta that are amusing.

The Cemetery in Fall:  My partner and I went for a walk in Roger Williams Park because Saturday was a beautiful fall day and we wanted to take advantage of it after several days of me staying inside.  To get to the park, we have to walk through the cemetery and well, these two trees with their contrasts stood out to me and I had to grab the shot.  

What's on My Mind
Getting Sick:  I had been joking for the past year that the first time that I got a cold, I was going to be such a baby because it will be my first cold in 3 years.  I'm eternally grateful that I've largely been able to avoid getting COVID and know that there's a lot of privilege bundled into that.  Still, when Tuesday rolled around and the signs were evident, I was largely certain this was a cold and has proven to be (two COVID tests were negative and also, it seems like my partner has not gotten it--yay for that!).  This time getting a cold didn't feel as bad and I can only assume that I did what I should always do at the first sign: I took to lots of rest and lots of liquids for the first 48 hours; that seems to have worked for me as I'm 5 days in and feeling mostly fine.  But, of course, the degree that I can do those things can be a challenge.  In this case, I was also running a conference (see next topic) Thursday-Saturday but it was remote and so I was inside and not having to literally run around; instead, just jump from zoom to zoom! 

NEPCA!:  About 16 years ago, I attended my first Northeast Popular Culture Association Conference if I remember correctly.  It might have been 15 years ago but pretty sure it was 2006.  It's strange to think I've been involved with this organization for 15 or more years and have lead it for these past 4 years.  This weekend was our virtual conference; the third one we've done and the 4th conference I've led in organizing. It was also our most attended conference ever which is pretty cool to see such growth happen during COVID.  Of course, it's has been and continues to be a team effort where I work with many different folks to make this happen, but I have still carried about 2/3's of the work and that has never felt quite right.  What I'm thinking about these days as I see it in several different areas of my life (not with me but other folks) is how do you transition and how do you spread responsibility and power. For me, I think it's a dangerous thing for so much of the work, responsibility, and institutional knowledge to sit inside me and not to be more meaningfully spread out throughout the group.  So while I'm grateful to be in a place where I can help hundreds of scholars come together and share ideas about popular culture--including many international scholars--I'm also trying to figure out a way to make this a sustainable structure that doesn't sit upon one person.  Now that the conference is over, I think that is going to be some of my deeper work to get things better documented and look to see how things can be more collectively held as we move forward.  

Till next week...

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