Two Weeks in the Life: September 2, 2023

Hello, friends and enemies. Around this time last year I started getting really into the New York Times crossword puzzle. I’m still into it, but I’m not as fanatical about digging into Wikipedia to try to solve every single clue like I was at first. I was reminded of this anniversary because the NYT emailed me to inform me that my promotional subscription rate of $6 every 28 days was ending and access to all of the NYT would now cost $25 every 28 days. Note this is not $25 per month—NYT is eking out a thirteenth payment every year with that every 28 days maneuver. I’m galled by their audacity. I’ve switched to the “games” subscription which is still $6 per month(ish). I was briefly annoyed at losing access to the cooking section, however, I can get it through the library, so that’s cool. Frankly, I could be reading the whole newspaper through the library but I always forget that’s an option. Shout out to the public library for saving me at least $18 every 28 days.

Books and Other Words

Sappho is Burning by Page duBois is a book I bought based on it’s title alone, an allusion to the documentary on New York City ball culture Paris is Burning. This book is about Sappho the Lesbian poet, patron saint of modern lesbians everywhere. I didn’t know much about Sappho before reading this book and I kind of still don’t because we just don’t know that much about her. All that has survived are fragments of her poetry, which duBois analyzes as a whole to discuss her themes and philosophy. I’m not much of a classicist, so although I understood the book I don’t have any real analysis to offer. If you’re looking for a rhetorical and philosophical analysis of Sappho’s work, this is it.

I picked up Vampires of el Norte by Isabel Cañas on my library’s “Lucky Day” shelf and checked it out because the author description said she was getting her Ph.D. in near eastern languages and civilizations and I said, “hey, that’s what I got my degree in!” I liked this book a lot. It’s a historical fiction set during the Mexican-American war, focusing on a pair of star-crossed lovers from a rancho just south of the Rio Bravo (which I learned is what they call the Rio Grande in Mexico. Why did it take a random novel to teach me this information? After seeing “Rio Bravo” a few times, I looked it up because I thought, how many rivers in northern Mexico can there be? JUST ONE it turns out.). I enjoyed the writing style and the story itself a lot but, being the person I am, I also liked that the author used a lot of words in Spanish for the world of the story because I picked up some new vocabulary.

What I love about Becky Chabmers’ work is how hopeful it always is and To Be Taught, If Fortunate is no exception. In this novella, She imagines humanity going to space just to explore, with expeditions funded by citizen initiatives and not governments. I liked the technology she came up with to make prolonged space travel safe for humans and I enjoyed the way the characters interacted.

Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is one of the many non-fiction books I’ve bought and took a while to get around to. I’m trying to just pick a book and start reading instead of spending several days hemming and hawing over what I may or may not be in the mood for. Moods are fickle and these books aren’t going to read themselves. This book is about how radical political ideas get co-opted by the very people the idea was targeting. Think about the idea of “woke.” It started as an in-group description of a certain way of thinking and quickly got picked up by trashbags like Ron DeSantis to vilify everything he hates about modern culture. That’s a form of elite capture. This book is deeply grounded in history and theory and I found it all really interesting. I recommend it if you’re into that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, on the internet:

TV and Music

You may remember that last year I wrote about how I stopped using Spotify and started getting reacquainted with my MP3 collection. This week, I finished updating the metadata for all the music I have, some 30+ gigabytes. The digital music I have comes from various sources—ripped CDs from my dad’s collection, music purchased legally, tracks from the heyday of peer-to-peer sharing—so the metadata was all over the place. I realized this disorganization was an active problem for me when I wanted to listen to my B-52s albums were variously labelled “The B-52s,” “The B-52’s, “b-52s,” etc. and I couldn’t get my app to play them all together. So, I did what any reasonable person would do (lol), and went album by album to make sure all the artist names, track numbering, year information, and album art were stored consistently on my computer and got all the file names into a consistent format. I’ve been working on this here and there for at least the last year. But I’m done now! Finally!

It feels really good to know exactly what music I have. This process reminded me of a lot of songs that I have and like but had sort of forgotten about when I abdicated the task of curating my music taste to the Spotify algorithm. I also found a lot of things I apparently downloaded at one point and forgot about, like the entire Yello discography (I have a habit of finding one cool song and then wanting to hear everything else the artist has ever made. And if you think you don’t know who Yello is, yes you do.). When I was listening to music on Spotify, everything started to sound the same because the algorithm figures out what you like then keeps giving you that kind of thing. It definitely would not have recommended me this cool-ass group, which I found on Tumblr of all places. It has been fun to look for music and discover it on purpose. I know you can still do this with Spotify or Amazon music or whatever, but I wasn’t, which brings me to this Anne Helen Petersen article I just read on this same topic. She writes, “Algorithms do the work for cheap, but when they reflect our taste back at us, it feels misshapen and insulting, a crude and unfair representation. When everything is available, all knowledge, all information, all entertainment … nothing is perceived as valuable.” That’s how I’ve been feeling about music. Okay, I can find any song I want (provided Spotify hasn’t randomly made it unavailable in my region), but I have no connection to it. I like having unlimited music, but I’m also nostalgic for when I knew and loved every carefully chosen CD in my collection. So, yes, downloading music and organizing it, to say nothing of finding cool music, is a little more work, but now I’m actually engaged with that music and enjoying it.

screenshot of VLC media player with a playlist of B-52s albums
nice, clean files

Moving It

After two weeks off, I’m back at my dance classes for the fall semester. I am in the very beginnings of the process of working towards being able to dance en pointe, which is exciting. I didn’t really expect that was something I would be able or get to do as someone starting ballet in her 30s, but it’s cool that I have the opportunity to try. I’m in a weird middle place right now though because, ideally, I would add another day or two of class to my schedule to get stronger and improve my technique, but there’s only one adult class. They tried adding a second weekly class, but I’m the only one who signed up. So, I am currently attending a teen class once a week to supplement my dance time and that is a little weird. The youths do not seem to notice or care about having a random old person™ in their midst, which is just as well. Seeing the kids in the class made me think about doing circus classes growing up and had me thinking about if I was as much of a crazed goofball as some of them seem to be (I might have been worse, actually). But that also got me thinking that we had adults mixed in with the kids for some circus acts, so maybe this is all just a normal way of existing and learning new things. Going to school for twelve years gets us too used to learning only with people who are exactly our age, but that’s simply not how life moves.

Kitchen Witchery

It’s cooled down just a little and it seems that’s all I needed to have some kitchen motivation. I made these great walnut and pesto rolls (recipe from The Harvest Baker). The recipe said to put them in a nine-inch cake pan and I, being a genius, thought I’d put them in the spring form so I could get them out more easily. This was, in fact, fucking stupid. The rolls are full of pesto (oily) and cheese (oily at high temperatures) and all that oil seeped out, pooled in the lip of the pan, and eventually overflowed onto my oven floor, where it then started smoking. Fortunately, I did not burn down the kitchen but it did lead to an evening of cleaning the oven. Kirk got us Del Taco for dinner and we saved the rolls for the next day.

As usual, it’s bean-centric cooking out here. It’s what I like to make and eat and now that I’m getting bean subscriptions, I gotta keep up. Fortunately, everything I made the last two weeks has been deemed a keeper. First, we had this brown butter lentil and sweet potato salad (which led to an epistemological debate on what constitutes a “salad;” we have fun here). Next, I cooked a batch of chickpeas so I could mix them with noodles and feta and other flavors for lunch last week (no recipe, just a bit of lemon, chili flakes, and vibes). I used the rest of the chickpeas in a riff on a Pasta Grannies recipe but mixed gnocchi into the sauce with the chickpeas then put a bunch of cheese on top and set it under the broiler for a few minutes. Delicious! Then, I tried this vegetarian tamale pie, which ended up being really good. I tossed in a bit of corn and I used bayo beans and it all turned out great. Finally, I think my season of making rice krispie treats (in my rice krispies era?) is coming to a close, but I wanted to try a black and white version by mixing chocolate and plain rice krispies. No one stopped me so here I am. I also have most of a box of chocolate rice krispies remaining so I will probably make at least one more batch before we shut this category down for the season.

Cat Therapy

Fritz has been an absolute maniac lately. When he was a kitten and started peeing on our bed all the time, one of the suggested solutions was to add another litter box to make sure there were ample sanctioned zones to pee in. So, for the last two years, I’ve had an extra litter box in my office, which I do not like, but I have tolerated. However, this stinky pee boy kept peeing on the floor and on the (washable) rug near the litter box, and I finally lost my mind and threw out the office litter box, vacuumed the floor, and washed and put away the rug until I’m sure Fritz is going to behave. This asshole is adorable 95 percent of the time, but that other five percent is pure demon.

Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves. Here we have Huey camping next to me in my office because she wants me to do things for her. Fritz was annoyed by this so he started being a door troll to be a problem when she tried to leave. We also have Fritz being cute in bed and administering some licks.