Friday, April 16, 2021

examining the digital clutter

Last summer, in the depths of the pandemic isolation, I found myself struggling with my eyesight. I realized, in part, it was due to more screen usage--we got a Switch; I was scrolling through social media more in an attempt to distract myself/connect with people; I was on the computer constantly once I started back to work fully in August. I also realized that (with an infant), I would stumble awake and immediately stare down at my phone. I also had issues with my hands/wrists.

One thing that began to help with my eyesight (until I finally went to the eye doctor in March and got the right prescription--one eye had changed slightly) was to not start the day by staring at the phone. So I made coffee and breakfast for the family. Or I stared out the window for a while. Basically, immediately opening my phone and staring at the screen was clearly detrimental to my health. In switching up these habits, I also deleted Twitter and Facebook off the phone and later decided to put a time limit on Instagram.

All this leads up to me thinking about how I use digital technology, some of which is to my detriment, though some is good too. In preparation for my sabbatical, I wanted to reconsider my use of technology and set myself up for success for this next year. I want to be able to work productively and intentionally--but also enjoy the time available to pursue my own interests and spend time with my family and dedicate to relationships. What I don't want is to end the year with the sense that I wasted time on social media and watching too many movies or just not engaging.

But mostly, what I want is a sense that I'm being more intentional overall, and that my use of technology is aligned with my values, a philosophy of technology use that Cal Newport argues for in his book, Digital Minimalism. I encountered a bit about that here in this article about doing a digital declutter, and now I'm reading his book to think about what I want from this experience (e.g. change my actions, not just "take a break").

So, May will be spent opting out of optional technologies, and then June will be reintroducing those things that work in a way that supports what I want. And I'm excited to continue to think and reflect and consider how I can continue to identify my values and continue to be intentional with my actions.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

musical self, circa 2004

 Recently, we bought a CD player because I'm old school and like playing CDs still. In this process, I also organized CDs and have a small case with a bunch of burned CDs, one of which was labeled something like "Jenn's Favorites Mix." So I popped it into the CD player to see what Jenn, circa 2004, was into.

A little history: I was an active member of a church all through college, and faith was something important to me. In a way, it still is--I just have mixed feelings about Christianity and the many ways its been coopted for such evil ends. I also came to see the ways faith was twisted to manipulate and to suppress and subdue. So while I don't really claim to be a person of faith anymore, it is something that's a part of me and likely still influences my actions in subtle ways.

Anyway, this history means that a LOT of my CD was Christian pop music, things I found lyrical and lovely at the time, though many of the songs didn't really hold up over the past decade or so. The CD also had a bunch of songs that I liked from Top 40 music at the time, as when I started college, I started listening to a broader range of music (before college, we only could listen to Christian artists at home, and I was too goody-goody to sneak other music).

It was fascinating because I clearly loved those songs at the time--and many of them took me back to the early 20s self who was navigating burgeoning identities and new experiences and was obsessed with music (still am, honestly). Of course, others I barely remembered, and I wonder why I put them on there. The flashback to 2004 was an interesting one, and made me feel a little old because it 16 years ago...but it doesn't feel that long ago all at the same time.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

thinking about the rest

 Last December, I applied for sabbatical, which meant that I was planning to be gone for Fall 2021-Spring 2022, hopefully as funded by a grant. Then the grant window closed because I had no time to work on it (see: raising small children and working from home and a heap of workplace stress), so I thought that I'd just push it to Fall 2022.

But then I chatted with some folks and it swung me back to going for it...and as soon as I confirmed that I indeed would be on sabbatical, I felt an enormous weight lift. L got excited too because my sabbatical gives him flexibility to do some things that he wouldn't be able to do normally (see raising two small children while working from home).

Now, I'm thinking about my projects and plans. I know what I'll be doing research-wise, but I also want to set out some personal plans, like training for a marathon for early 2022 (I haven't run one in 10 years and also haven't been able to train for one). I also think I'd like to spend some of my time volunteering, though I'm not sure what for yet. Perhaps a range of local organizations supporting women and environmental causes.

Anyway, now I'm trying to hold off until Spring Break (2 more weeks to go, agggh) to launch into full-scale planning, but I'm excited about the chance to just think and read and write and talk to people without getting bogged down by the day-to-day emails and the other parts of my job that while enjoyable (like teaching) also demand a lot of my creative energy and brainpower.

Monday, March 15, 2021

slogging on through

 It is the doldrums, the bitter dregs, the dreary sighs. Nothing is specifically awful; everything is specifically shitty. I'm finding ways to distract, deflect, and disrupt, but sometimes, it's just a suck-fest. On the one hand: the weather is improving, I'm able to get out and run and bask in sunshine, the kids are adorable, and I got new glasses so I can see well again. Today, I cleaned my desk off; I ordered a new keyboard. I'm getting a kneeling chair to change up how I sit occasionally (and provide fun for the kids). I'm baking delicious cakes and amazing bread (seriously--I got some amazing height and crumb on my latest one).

On the other hand: work. It sucks. Communication is thwarted, people are seething, nothing is getting done and yet the demands to do more continue to roll in. I'm working all the time and not getting anywhere. I'm behind on getting back student work, and yet I have to take a furlough day this week. Lies are being spread about me. I miss humans, human contact, human faces, feeding my humans, hugging my humans. I hate Zoom; I hate email. I wake up each day to more Zoom meetings and yet more email anyway. Vaccines are coming, but seem so far away, given that university faculty and employees are not in the essential worker list and have to wait for the general group to open. It feels never ending.

I know the pandemic is making everything worse, but I really am unhappy in a job that I typically love. I have some high points--like thinking about offering a new class in a year! working with students!--but a whole lot more low. I respond to one email to have ten more take its place. People ignore my expertise. I try to get things done and nothing moves forward.

So I try to get outside, breathe some fresh air, bake a cake, read a book, and hope that some day soon, I can get a vaccine and hold my friends again.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

cakes I have baked

 I snagged myself a copy of Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi, and it's so much fun! The cakes are so cute and delicious and easily converted to gluten free. 


Here is a list of cakes I have baked the last few weeks:

Chocolate peanut butter with peanut butter glaze with chocolate peanut butter balls (for our anniversary)


Coconut lime


Banana peanut butter with cocoa glaze


Apple with salted caramel glaze


Two cakes I didn't get pictures of but were delicious:

  • Spiced honey with almonds
  • Oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips

Not to mention the birthday cake I baked for the not-so-baby small human (a hazelnut meringue with whipped cream and mandarin orange segments in the middle)

In many ways, I'm clearly using baking to deal with my stress and things going on that are challenging, and that's not a bad thing. I'm also having fun and baking in a way that's manageable this time of the semester--small cakes that are whipped up with minimal dishes needed (and can be done by hand). And while I still love making gluten-free sourdough, I'm also just not able to commit as much time to baking bread, except on the weekends, so the cake baking has been good for getting a baking-fix in on more limited time scales. And the elder child is pretty happy with this arrangement.

By the way, if you're a cake-baker and use 9" round pans, get yourself some precut parchment--it makes baking cakes (or other round things) sooooo much easier.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

can't I logic my way out?

 My friends, I have procured yet another type of planner--this one a Panda Planner from Rocketbook. I was curious about it, and I've been enjoying my Rocketbooks that I got for Christmas from a friend, so I figured, eh, why not. I'm not sure it's the planner I want, particularly when the example gave a goal (get in shape) and then the target metric was weight-based, and it triggered my rage at diet culture. So maybe Panda Planner should not be so fat-phobic in its examples, and besides, weight shouldn't be a target metric for "get in shape" but instead something like "lift X lbs" or "do plank for 1 minute" or something. Gahhhh.

Anyway, I digress.

Another friend mentioned something their therapist told them, which is that you can't logic your way out of situations (not an exact quote, but the gist). And I come back to that idea time and time again--I often think if I can just plan it out, then I can eliminate all of my woes. I empathized with Courtney Milan's character in The Duke Who Didn't because she loved making lists and always aimed for perfection on completing the list--but always failed. The point there is that the character purposefully made the lists impossible to accomplish because she was aiming at a standard of perfection that seemly wasn't attainable as a way of coping with the chaos of the world. And I do that a lot.

My calendars and planning systems are all an attempt to obtain some perfection, to use my formidable organization skills to impose order on a world that simply cannot be ordered. I know this. And yet, here I am, with a new sleek planner and the promise that I can try a new way to organize things to make the world fit into orderly patterns.

Ultimately, though, my systems are useful: I'm using them to realize what I can accomplish in a week and to plan out my days. I'm getting a clearer sense of what is feasible in a day--and also considering how I can shift things if I need to take a break, like I did last week after an exhausting day that followed a few hectic weeks. So, perhaps the planner obsession is useful in helping me reach some clarity about working as much as I need to work and letting everything else go--something I am working toward much more consciously this year.

Friday, February 19, 2021

mothers and babies

 Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how mothers and babies are portrayed in literature and film. Particularly, the ways babies are often snatched from their mothers, while the mother lies helpless on the birthing bed. Most recently, it was in Bridgerton, where the duchess was left with her arms reaching for her son, while the duke held him for all to see his triumph--only for the duchess to die without even getting to see her baby. In Jane the Virgin, Jane's baby is kidnapped shortly after she gives birth, leading to a wild chase while she is still sore and raw and needing to feed him. In a fantastic book I recently read, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, the baby was snatched from his mother. And in one of my favorite books, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, the baby is torn from her mother's breast, and it drives the mother mad. I like all these stories as a whole, but I wonder at this repeated narrative and how hard it is for me to read it.

I'm aware that my thoughts and feelings are because I am a mother--I got to immediately hold both of my babies on my chest and then keep them tucked close to me for much of their newborn days. My body made these tiny creatures, and my body (and hormones) demanded that I keep them close. My body was this baby's first home, and the baby wants to stay close to it. In some of the books I've read about birth and midwifery, they refer to the mother-baby dyad, which is a way of capturing the relationship that makes sense to me: the baby is a separate being but also not, and together, the mother and baby make something else, and you have to care for both mother and baby to ensure health and well-being for the whole. So I have a visceral reaction--and not a positive one--at the narratives that cast mothers as weak or helpless or exploit them after they have given birth to steal their babies.

It reminds me too of the arguments around reproductive justice. The ways that controlling women's bodies become a way to subjugate women and remove their agency--both in preventing them access to birth control and abortion as well as taking their children from them. Forcing women to have children but then taking those children away for a range of reasons. Taking children from birth mothers as a so-called deterrent to illegal immigration but really just an exercise in exploitation and inhuman cruelty. Denying nursing mothers access to their babies. Incarcerating mothers for being poor. These are real stories, stories that happen daily.

It also makes me want to write a story about a powerful mother whose baby isn't taken, who is able to fight the powers that want to steal her baby. A story where a mother isn't weak or passive but uses her ferocity to destroy the entities that would control her body and rob her child of their first home. A story where women band together to protect and support each other and take down the patriarchy.