The Updates #21

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes

Week 21 of the updates and I bet you thought I'd quit by now!


One more transcript finished and a plan for this week on getting the rest done.  Still doubting the March 15 and looking more and more like June 1 to be done by.  
  • 65 days until March 1
  • 79 days until March 15
  • 110 days until April 15
  • 157 days until June 1
A black cat sits on a shelf on a wooden bookcase with various fictional titles stacked horizontally behind her.
Bear Among the Books

Three reflections for this week.

Just a great appreciation for getting to work where I do and with the people that I do. I say this often but don't want to forget it. I work with smart, kind, and genuine folks who push me to think deeply about the ways I show up and the work that is to be done. So many conversations leave me better off than at the start of the conversation and I just hope that I return as much, if not more, of what I receive.

The real exciting news this week with work is that I am going to be teaching my first course at College Unbound next semester and it will focus on ChatGPT and other similar tools. If you've been reading the last few updates, you know that I've been thinking about and consider what this tool could mean for higher education and for College Unbound, what does it mean to think critically and provide a thoughtful response to how we craft policy about its usages in education rather than just outright ban it. So this 1 credit course will be with students to discuss and explore ChatGPT (and other AI tools) to consider what is the appropriate policy to for College Unbound when students rely on artificial intelligence for their educational work. We will provide this policy as a proposal to CU to consider. This is super exciting and I'm happy to be back in a classroom and to be doing a course that feels tangible to the students' lives in a way that other courses may not have been.

The final thing that I'm thinking about this week is a mistake I made that cost me a lot of time but more importantly, did some damage to my relationship with one of the faculty members. As can happen at times when things are tight and there is a lot of work to do, I had a moment in the past week and a half when I chose expediency over thoroughness. It's certainly not the first time I did this and certainly not the first time where I had adverse results. However, this time it was one that impacts several faculty and that threw me off a bit. As I'm ending the year, I'm thinking and carrying this week me into the next year to think a bit more deeply about how I approach such situations going forward. Within that, it's a mixture of communicating and advocating for more resources (time, people, tools), figuring out better processes, and determining how to better keep the flow of work steadier (where possible) so that it does not feel like everything all at once as certain times can.

What I'm Reading
A collage with the words "guilt was a Rat-catchig job that might have lain undiscovered but for in a nearby clearing the exhaustive analysis"
Hotel Almighty by
Sarah J. Sloat - Page 323

Another strong reading week and also crossed my annual goal of 300 books (keeping in mind that includes physical books, graphic novels, and audiobooks).  I feel marginally obligated to do a blog post of "best books of..." but don't really have it in me as I have enough writing to do (ahem dissertation).  Still, it's a good mixture of books and I appreciated this year that I managed to get in more books of poetry.

Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat: This was a delightful surprise.  Sloat's poetry is formed from the practice of erasure where she will take a page in a book and remove words to create a poem and often, add some visuals to make these collage poems. For this collection, she uses the book, The Shining by Stephen King. The poems on their own are fascinating and curious; magical and mysterious.  Knowing that they originate from a King novel that I'm familiar with, I'm impressed with the ways the poems resonate with the original text.  At times, I feel like there is can operate as a metatext for the novel.  

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson: Another (this must be the 3rd or 4th novel this year) that is a fictional novel written in the middle of the 20th century. I originally got this because I thought it was the novel version of a film, The Man in the White Suit.  I had mixed up the titles.  Instead, it was a novel with some level of interesting critique about the middle class, cultural capital, and the pull (or allure) of acquiring more things (and the inevitable demand of more things that comes with it).  It follows a man and his wife as they move from wanting to do good work to wanting to have more things as children come into the scene and the compromises or demands it puts upon them.  There's some really interesting elements about the way work culture is represented in this novel that I appreciate and also, its portrayal of women and relationships also feels patriarchal at best (and no surprise).  

The Future of the American Negro by Booker T. Washington: Washington's view of the path forward for Black people, published in 1899 is an interesting text to consider nearly 125 years later.  Were it published today, he may, at best, find comradery in those (few?) remaining parts of the Republican party that aren't outwardly racist (but still subscribe to various policies deeply rooted in racism).  Like much of his life's work, his argument is that Black people need to work hard and provide meaningful services, goods, and trades that are needed in society and through that, they will build respect from their fellow white people for the quality work they deliver and rise up socially and culturally. In his eyes, only proving through hard work, dedication, and basic education can Black people open up opportunities to eventually become some part of elite culture. It's a nice and comforting narrative, one that white people would certainly applaud.  Yet, that ideal that Washington promotes is a fairy tale at best and one that would found in the ashes of the Tulsa Massacre (among so many other incidents and moments).  In a city, where Black people had risen in the exact manner that Washington advocates, they were not welcomed or praised but murdered.  And that's the damning thing about reading Washington is that you know his heart is in the right place but so often takes the wrong lessons or frame. He is quick to view Black people from a deficit lens, to assume that when they are arrested it is for "real" crimes as opposed to the various Jim Crow laws that arouse in the latter half of the 19th century.  He decides that if a Black person knows book knowledge but can't calculate a certain math process, they are doing harm to society (note: this is a straw-person argument around education that has been with us for centuries to privilege certain forms of practical knowledge as always more important than other knowledge).  So as a work, it's an interesting snapshot of a moment that feels antiquated and yet still strongly upheld by many with the assumption that this is the best that Black people can hope for.

The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture by Matthew Stewart: Stewart explores how the top 10% of the economically wealthy are creating and maintaining structures that keep they rich and take increasingly more from those in the bottom 90% through different practices and approaches that are structural, legal, and cultural.  It's a provocative book in many ways in how it highlights the broken systems out there from land/home ownership, legal protections, education, professional opportunities, and financial benefits to the wealthy that allow them to make money without any actual contribution to society.  Stewart's critique is great and yet his faith in capitalism seems at odds with this critique.  He thinks it just needs tweaking and improving but that hope seems without real evidence of success.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: I know when I open a Morrison novel, I should be prepared for complexity, nuance, and complicated trauma and The Bluest Eye contains all of that.  Like other novels of hers, the chronology is mixed in a way to provide a powerful punch in the final third of the novel. It's definitely one of those that now that I've read it, I need to re-read it and dig deeper into the way Morrison's literary prowess.  On its face, this is a novel about survival, race, gender, and intergenerational trauma; but it's more than that as the characters and the reader must witness and wonder what is their role in witnessing the violation at the story's center (an idea we see similarly in Beloved).  

Providence Noir by Ann Hood: A fun anthology of noir short stories taking place throughout Providence, Rhode Island.  Many of the stories were fun and it was interesting to see how the Providence became part of the atmosphere.  Yet, sometimes, it felt like the authors were trying too hard to mention specific local places to prove that the story really is in Providence; almost as if there was product placement.  I think if they linked the stories beyond location, they could have had a much more exciting collection.

Joker: Killer Smile by Jeff Lemire:  Jeff Lemire takes on a story focused on DC Comics' The Joker.  It has the haunted atmosphere and peculiarity of personality that I come to expect from Lemire's darker stories.  Yet I felt this didn't quite work.  It felt more like a "do Joker in Lemire style" but didn't have any real heart or purpose beyond that.

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain by Mark Twain:  I forget where I picked up this book but I've been thumbing through it for a little while and finally finished it. Regardless of what people thought of his works, Twain could write and capture the essence of humanity in ways that we're still quoting well over a hundred years later.

Like: Poems by A.E. Stallings: A fascinating mix of poems, many of which invoke, adapt, and interrogate some of the classic Greek mythological and epic-poem characters.

What I'm Watching

Three Pines: This is an engaging murder-mystery in Canada with Alfred Molina that is on Amazon.  The central murder mystery (of a woman who an entire town hates) is not nearly as fascinating as the overarching narrative and exploration into missing indigenous women and the unwillingness or distinterest by the police to investigate.  Only about half-way through but finding the issues around indigenous voices to resonate with several other works (of fact and fiction) that are out there.

Doctor Who:  Finished the last season with Jodie Whitaker as The Doctor. I really enjoyed her run and I know some folks were not fans of the writing, Whitaker has a lot of charm and energy that made her a great doctor.  I won't try to convince to pick up Doctor Who if you're not already involved, but if you're looking for a thought, goofy, and fun romp through time, space, and different lead "Doctors", you can enjoy 13 seasons of adventures starting with Chris Eccleston as the doctor and making your way through Jodie Whitaker.  

Kindred: We're about half way through the adaptation of Octavia Butler's amazing novel and y'all need to be watching this.  Origianlly written in the 1980s, the series is updated to (intentionally for the social/political context) 2016 and does center a white character that was more peripheral but I think they do it in a way that enhances different viewers' experience.  The story's premise is that Dana has just moved and is setting up a new life when she finds her self transported into the antebellum South onto a slave plantation.  Each time she arrives, there is a white boy (Rufus) whom she must save. The story does some really interesting things around thinking about historical trauma, personal trauma, mental health, and navigating power and agency.  I can't wait to see the writing that is done about this series.

This Week's Photos

Bear Among the Books:  Sometimes, I catch Bear and Pumpkin poses that I feel just capture something about them, me, or our home.  In this case, she sat on a bookshelf (in the fiction section as you can tell) slightly above us and our guests.  It was a busy weekend of guests and so being able to watch over us probably helped her feel a little more settled (she is not happy with guests!).  

Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat - Page 323:  As I mentioned in the books area, Sloat's work is pretty cool and I wanted to show one of the examples that I really liked.

What's on My Mind

The holidays are an intense time with so many things going on.  This year was more complicated as my partner's 93 year-old grandmother has been in the hospital.  Still, we managed to get to spend time with different families (biological and chosen) and I'm just appreciating the opportunity to do that this holiday. 

Till next week...

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