The Updates #27

Estimated Reading Time: 17 minutes

Week 27 of the updates and I'm now doing this biweekly!


Ok, getting back into the groove. I sat down and dug back into the data and revisited my notes on phenomenographic analysis.  
  • 108 days until June 1


A photo of a bald eagle standing on a branch but from the shoulder up and looking straight at the camera
Roger Williams Zoo - Bald Eagle
It's been hard to get into a strong rhythm with work and most of it feels like trying to patchwork things. While jury duty is still just half-days mostly, it takes a toll on disrupting the day and making things hard to get deep into. However, this past week, I got a cold which wasn't ideal (thanks again 2023 for keeping things interesting) but it did create circumstances for me to catch up. When I get a cold, as soon as I realize it, if I can, I spend that day sleeping and drinking LOTS of fluids. I find if I do this, it means day 2 of the cold, I've lost the brain fog or most of the worst symptoms and am left with just congestion and running/stuffy nose. So I did that this Tuesday and was in reasonable mind-space on Wednesday. However, I was still not going into jury duty because it's 23 people in a very small room and it did not seem smart. So I caught up on some of my work and felt like I'm not nearly as far behind as I was the last few weeks.

We also have some really rich conversations about over-work, burnout, and support at work which I appreciated for the vulnerability of my coworkers and how we thought about the work that we are doing and better supporting one another and respecting our boundaries.

As the conversation of ChatGPT and AI-Generative Tools goes, I dropped my thoughts on the whole thing 2 weeks back to a lot of interest of folks (one of the most visited blog posts in a while). I also had the opportunity to have a rich conversation with friends and colleagues, Rebecca Hogue and Autumm Caines on this podcast.

What I'm Reading

My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson: Both satire and thoughtful exploration of a young Black gay man who leaves his family and trauma of youth to go to New York in the 1980s at the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis.  Chockful of cameos of well-known figures in the city, the Civil Rights movement, and the ACT UP movements, Newson brings a variety of interesting and amusing characters, provocative situations, and impossible determinations into this novel.  

The Last White Man by Mohsin: White people's skin is slowly turning dark without any real explanation and so the narrator and his girlfriend navigate what that means as they deal with the implicit and explicit biases within themselves and their parents.  As the white world reacts in increasingly fearful and violent ways, they must also find ways forward.  Like many satires, it feels both fantastic and on target for how many would react. Though fiction, it realizes many people's suspicions that one of the things that scare white people the most is losing their whiteness. 

Tambourines to Glory by Langston Hughes:  Two women decide to start up a preaching practice as part of a scheme to make ends meet.  However, as they go about it, one of them begins to increasingly find faith while the other increasingly decide to take more advantage of their follows.  Before long, the tension turns to confrontation.  A short but snappy-with-dialogue novel that showed me a sign of Hughes whom I've only read in relation to poetry.

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes: An autobiographical novel from the early 1900s based on Hughes's upbringing.  The novel follows Sandy Rodgers as he navigates life as a young adult, the various intrigues of a shifting family, and the realization of how racism permeates everything in American culture. What shines in this story is following the relationships in Sandy's world as his family and friends work to make ends meet and the complex and real decisions that must be made.   

Teaching White Supremacy: America's Democratic Ordeal and the Forging of Our National Identity by Donald Yacovone:  A deep and thorough history of the constant effort in education to ignore, marginalize, and undermine the experiences of Black people from their earliest enslavement to their roles and impact throughout history.  Yacovone shows through primary sources and well-developed analysis that history books--particularly textbooks--for the last few centuries have sought to limit the scope of how Black people have been central to US history.  In doing so, it too has contributed to the past and present structural racism. It's hard not to read this book and see how education as a system does help perpetuate the structural racism still present in American society.

The Public Option: How to Expand Freedom, Increase Opportunity, and Promote Equality by Ganesh Sitaraman:  A strong analysis and well-researched book that carefully crafts the argument that public options in many different areas of American lives would be hugely helpful in improving equality and raising the quality of life.  Sitaraman points to many successful public options already (libraries,m US post service, Medicaid, Social Security--though not without some limitations, yet still better than a purely privatized system) and argues that we should see more of this with education, healthcare, and retirement savings beyond Social Security.  It's a strong push against the increasing privatization of so many essential structures of a democratic society and one that certainly feels better than the emptying of public resources that seems to be the current trend in US culture.

Great Courses: The History and Future of the HBCU by Crystal Sanders: A too-brief history of the role that Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) have played in the realm of higher education and also culture including their contributions to science, society, and the arts.  Sanders shows the political and social tensions HCBUs have had to engage with over the last 200 years and the ways they have served both the Black community and the society as a whole. It's a solid lens for understanding how this collection of nearly 100 colleges and universities have been a key part of American culture.

Great Courses: The History of the Superhero by Lan Dong: An enjoyable exploration of the history of the superhero--with a particular focus on comic books and movies.  Dong tries to cover a great deal in this short lecture series which means at times, it feels more breadth and less depth.  This also means there's less digging into controversies and more just celebration.  It's also surprising that it largely stays away from television and its relational impact on comics and film. Outside of that, it does a good job of the highlights of comic and cinematic superhero history.

Graphic Novel
Call Me Nathan by Catherine Castro: An endearing story about young Nathan as he comes into his own about who he is and how he wants to be recognized.  I particularly liked this story because the transition of a trans character was not one deeply grounded in trauma--tension, yes--but the tension of coming into adulthood that we all face.  

Queenie: Godmother of Harlem by Elizabeth Colomba: A fascinating graphic biography of Queenie who came head to head with Lucky Luciano and other kingpins of crime in the early 1930s as she ran the numbers and other illicit activities out of Harlem.  These scenes contrast with flashbacks to the exploitation and challenges she navigated as a young woman that help the reader understand the ways she prepares to deal with organized crime. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night Vol. 1 by Ana Lily Amirpour: A vampire who moves through the night in Bad City finding people to sink her teeth into and then dispose of. It's a quiet and quick novel, more atmospheric and filled with visual commentary that reflects the Iranian society in which the story takes place--various contrasts of the vampire extracting the blood of humans just as the oil rigs drain the earth of oil--both acts contributing to a dead and abandoned world.  

Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars by Ethan Hawke: A graphic history that explores the tension, the egos, and the betrayals that lead to the Apache War and its eventual end. It's one of those stories I had not heard of and got largely swept under the history of western expansion in the US and the "Indian wars" as they were framed in my own upbringing.  I thought it was interesting and yet, at times, lacked context and make jumps in time and place that might make it hard to follow.  

Shuna's Journey by Hayao Miyazaki: A visually delightful graphic novel or storybook (depending on what you think about its structure) that follows young Shuna, a young leader in his small village as he travels across his world in search of powerful grains that can keep his village alive.  He encounters magical creatures, deadly traps, and witnesses the horrors of humanity.  Written earlier in Miyazaki's career, one can see all the hallmarks of his work that would show up later.

Children of the Woods by Joe Ciano: Two age-old characters use the local teens to play out their power games against one another which leads to murders, beastly transformations, and a whole lot of teenage rage. It's one of those stories where you're trying to figure out exactly who are the protagonists and antagonists, and who really is the monster.

Star Wars: The Crystal Run, Part One (Han Solo & Chewbacca, #1) by Marc Guggenheim:  Han and Chewie in their early adventures get an opportunity to make some serious credits but they have to work with Greedo and his intel leads them astray.  Nothing great in this run--just feels like an opportunity to sell more stuff.  

Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Vol. 1: Season One, Part One by Rodney Barnes: I was thinking this might have some additional nuggets and insights from the first season of The Mandalorian series but was largely just a recreation of the first two arcs of the show.
A cheet standing up on a large boulder and staring off to the right.
Standing Proud Cheetah

What I'm Watching

The Woman King:  Worth all the hype that got as far as I'm concerned.  Additionally, I appreciated the way that while there was competition among the woman warriors, it was not toxic or manipulative as is often shown when presenting women's narratives.  I would have to rewatch it to confirm it but the violence itself feels evenly tempered.  Fight scenes were real and most of the time, the gratuitous violence where blood flies or viewers get visceral images of mutilation were largely avoided.  Where visceral images were depicted it came in other scenes such as when the warriors in training must go through the thorn patch. I also appreciated the way that trauma and alienation, support and community were interwoven throughout the movie. 

Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever: Faced with an impossible feat to both honor what Chadwick Boseman brought to the Marvel Universe with his portrayal of the Black Panther and needing to develop a way forward for the franchise to have a Black Panther character, the film threaded an exquisitely small need in my eyes.  The homage paid to the first film, Bosewick, and the entire concept of family resonated throughout the film (even with Namor as a contrast of dealing with family trauma).  At times, it felt like there was too much that was going on--setting up future franchises with Riri's integration--but I really liked Shiri's arc and the real challenges and inner demons she had to face.  Definitely one of the stronger and cathartic films within the Marvel universe.

X:  Finally got around to this horror. Aesthetically, it places itself in the 1970s, therefore invoking all sorts of the gore and slashers of the 1970s. It's evocative of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with youths traveling in a van in rural Texas and taking advantage of the hospitality of a financially strapped family.  When the elderly couple discovers they are there to make a porn film, the deaths start happening. But there's a deeper dynamic in my eyes that parallels the present, thus making the film both a montage to the 1970s films and a reflection of the present.  There's this dynamic among the elderly couple, the oldest among the travellers (a man in his 40s who's bringing them out to make a porn film), and the younger men and women who are staring in it.  The younger characters want to become famous and make money--they're doing this by selling their bodies for their 15 minutes of fame; their dialogue and desire reflect very much the discourse around social media influencers; the director on the other hand is the tech-bros who have helped created and profited from the platforms for youth that allow them to sell themselves in different capacities for influence, money, and power.  The elderly couple operates as the people who find this course of action ugly and distasteful, wallow over their own lost power and influence, and want to punish the youth for their aspirations.  That's my initial take and there's probably even more--but that's what kept my attention in an otherwise typical horror film.

You People: This film has some solid laughs--some are real laughs and others are cringe laughs (particularly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus). I enjoyed it a lot and though there were lots of ways it helped to frame cultural, social, religious, and racial tensions--on the individual level. It's worth the watch, particularly if you like smart and snappy writing.  Where it flounders a bit as a film in the 21st century dealing with the challenging relationships between Black people and white (and/or Jewish people--as the film plays this both ways) is that it's a bit too both-sides'ism and still comes with a slice of "if individuals could just learn to be more accepting of one another, we could all live together happier and that's where it loses me a bit.  

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: A quiet film (same premise as the graphic novel above of the same name) that explores life in Bad City as a young man tries to figure out how to deal with the debts his dad has incurred (through addiction) and make ends meet.  When a vampire takes out his biggest problem, he unexpectedly befriends her and they begin their curious relationship.  As a vampire story, its atmospheric approach that emphasizes the place and environment almost to the detriment of the characters can feel evocative of the Swedish version of Let the Right One In. It's a story grounded in the view and sound of things which then adds to the characters, even though we get so little of them.  Definitely worth a watch for those looking for atmosphere and mood more than high-energy films.

This Week's Photos

I happened to visit the Roger Williams Zoo twice in the last 2 weeks (we have a membership and it's 5 minutes from our house; it's a great place to wander early on Sundays and when we have guests!).  

Roger Williams Zoo - Bald Eagle: The eagles at the Roger Williams Zoo can't fly (how they ended up in the zoo) and so the space for them is more accessible and you can be 10 feet away from these beautiful creatures.  They often are sitting on the ropes just looking around and it was nice to see them again since they had been less available due to rampant bird flu spreading across RI in the last year.

Standing Proud Cheetah: We know that I'm a fan of cats and so to see these cheetahs walk around, play, bath in the sun, and occasionally strike a pose is often one of the reasons I want to check them out; it's hard not to make some (silly) comparisons between the cheetah and my own cats.  Still, this one seemed ready to let you know that he was ready for his close-up.  

What's on My Mind

My mind moves like a movie trailer when I sit here and think about what's on my mind. Images of Turkey and Syria are in my mind-space as a colleague's family lives in an area that was struck and though they're safe, the real concern for her family and their community is palpable. I think about another colleague and friend who is facing a family trauma. In general, a good deal of my colleagues and friends are facing various physical, relational, and familial challenges and I wonder about how they are doing it, navigating it, and still being the full beings that they are.  I'm swirling about another friend who is about to make a big step personally yet one that feels precarious in some ways. I think about another friend who has been nursing two dying cats for a few months and the tolls that such experiences take. I'm thinking about my partner who is also grieving the passing of her beloved grandmother. I guess it's just that I'm recognizing there's a lot of pain and sorrow for the people around me and sometimes, have trouble keeping it all in focus while also being pulled in these other directions (work, dissertation, grand jury duty, etc).  So, I'm thinking about what are the ways I can continue to show care for them.  

Words of the Year

Focus: Focus has felt both elusive and possibly attainable in the last two weeks.  From getting back up to speed with work, grand jury duty, and getting sick, I've felt a little all over the place but as I mentioned above, being sick was a boon to getting away from grand jury duty and catching up on things and I feel like I'm hitting this week with a stronger opportunity to do some deep dives on things.

Kind:  I sometimes wonder if being helpful and being kind are the same thing.  I think they both come from a place of caring but I often think about how I can be helpful and not enough about how I can be kind. It's something I've been thinking in the last few weeks both through the passing of my partner's grandmother, as I've been working with students, learning about new challenges faced by colleagues, and connecting with friends whom I feel like I can help them with something.  I think I have a strong capacity to be helpful but I also am wondering how that does and doesn't align with being kind.

Earnest: I think I've found a couple moments in the last two weeks where I felt like I was exhibiting earnestness (again, going with my own working definition which is "a sense of compassion that derives its power through intentional honesty").  In the last few months, I've been working to recruit more friends and colleagues to College Unbound to teach. However, teaching at CU is different than teaching at most colleges and so I'm mindful about whom I'm asking to teach there.  In these situations, I'm finding that I'm trying to be honest and forthright about why these particular people are important to be at CU (at least in my mind).  There's sometimes some things within that transparency that I know I might have skirted before in conversation but I also am feeling a stronger desire to be clear with the need of certain people at our institution.

Till next week...

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