Setting goals for the summer

Summer is like New Year’s for academics: a time of reflection and goal-setting, both in work and in personal life.

2016–2017 was rewarding—I finished my dissertation and landed a tenure-track job—but intensely difficult. Neither of the New Year’s resolutions I made really worked out long-term.

I lost sight of writing 5 days a week while I was in the depths of interviewing and landing a job, although I got better about it when it came time to pushing to the finish line.

I meditated pretty consistently for a month or two, until interviewing and getting a job became extremely difficult and intense for me. This is when you need to meditate the most, or so the wisdom goes, but the last thing I wanted to do was sit around with my thoughts. Meditation is harder than it sounds.

Forgiveness being crucial, I want to try again, and set out some new Big Changes for myself before I get lost in the hubbub of the 2017–2018 schoolyear. Really committing to all of these would be impossible, so this is more of a brainstorming session. I will feel accomplished if I manage just one or two of these big changes.

  • Journaling with a pen and paper. I have a terrible and deceptive memory. I want to record the ideas I get as I get them. I want to keep track of the things I achieve daily, for revisiting when I have those days where I feel like I haven’t been useful in ages.
  • Designing thoughtful syllabi for my courses next semester. I’m teaching Theory III, Graduate Theory Review, and Graduate Analytical Techniques at my new job. I have a lot of planning to do!
  • Recommitting to exercise. Yoga has been difficult for me to do since I almost broke my toe a few months back, but I can still do select poses at home… I just have to get up and do it. Also, I’m considering lifting? I don’t know.
  • Writing a couple of blog posts. My blog is another thing that was left by the wayside while I lost my mind getting a job. But I have a few ideas for new posts: making a poster for SMT, reviewing the IASPM conference that I’m attending later this month, and just trying some casual analysis of something just because.
  • Reading an academic book or two over the summer. I have successfully started reading for fun again. But academically, I don’t have to read stuff that’s related to my diss anymore! I can read anything I want! I’m thinking of William Cheng’s Just Vibrations or Robert Fink’s Repeating Ourselves. I got a Kindle for my birthday so maybe I can even find Kindle versions of these things to make reading a bit easier.

I recently read a tweet that said that summer is an especially hard time for academics, because our work is already isolating, and summer takes away all our structure. It’s doubtful I’ll get to all of these things, but I hope this will motivate me on those summer days where I have trouble remembering what to do with myself.

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New Years Resolutions for 2017

I’ll echo what everyone else is saying, that 2016 was a trying year for many reasons, including personal ones. Tied up with all that difficulty though is a lot of personal growth. Even though a lot of bad stuff happened in the past year, I have learned from every part of it.

photo-oct-03-16-50-21
Amsterdam, October 3, 2016

I’m going to continue this lemons-into-lemonade kind of approach into 2017. To that end I’ve come up with a few resolutions for myself.

Really important and big resolutions:

  • Maintain a daily meditation and/or yoga practice. In May of the past year I got an injury in yoga class, where I pulled my left hip adductor (basically, groin). I was ordered to quit going to yoga until it was fully healed. This really bummed me out, because I felt I had benefitted a lot from the mindfulness practice that my yoga teacher incorporates into her classes. Luckily I realized that I could practice mindfulness without yoga, and I got my toes wet with meditation. I’ve been meditating more and more since then, and it’s helped me quite a lot with taking a breather from my work and with sleeping better. In 2017 I want to do this basically every day. You can meditate for as little as 5 minutes, so there is no excuse for not meditating besides “It’s not important to me.”
  • Get back into writing 5 days a week. I’m on the job market this year and it’s very time consuming. Luckily, I think the most time-consuming parts are behind me. I’ve gotten much faster at writing my cover letters, and all my materials have been created at this point. With that, I am re-committing myself to writing 5 days a week, if not my dissertation, then some kind of blog post. I have previously noted on this blog that writing 5 days a week is essential to being a prolific scholar.

Even though these are big goals, they can be broken down into tiny ones, since they’re both every-day activities. Each day, I just have to do a little bit—at least 5 minutes of meditation, and at least 250 words. Come on, I can do that! My Facebook password is changed to something I don’t know now, so that I can’t log on and waste time there. I’m hoping this leads to more productive activity, even if that productive activity is a game or knitting, two things that are relaxing but not as pointless as browsing Facebook.

I also want to briefly reflect on things I’ve achieved in 2016, because I personally struggle with giving myself enough credit for what I’ve done.

  • I started this blog in March 2016, and I’ve written 24 posts—not a great number, but nothing to sneeze at either!
  • I submitted my first manuscript to a journal, after spending a lot of time doing archival research (another first).
  • I started singing professionally, including securing my job singing High Mass in Latin at a Catholic church, and taking voice lessons.
  • I designed and taught a course on Analysis of Popular Music that I think was a big success.
  • I went on a short vacation with my cousin, who is my oldest friend, and reconnected with her.
  • As a co-chair, I put on a successful graduate student conference, and wrote up a thorough manual on the process for future chairs.
  • I started doing the household budget and really sticking to it! I hate numbers so this is a big achievement for me.
  • I applied for 25 tenure-track jobs in music theory, and even had my first on-campus interview.
  • I spent two weeks in Europe.
  • I started meditating.
  • I started a new job at the Writing Center at Medgar Evers College and have learned a lot about effective feedback on written work.
  • I started volunteering with CUNY Citizenship Now! and joined a group of politically active women.
  • I made a resolution to read 6 books, and almost did it. Maybe next year.
  • I knitted a fluffy cowl, a little doll of Smudge, some gauntlets, and a large portion of a sweater.

I forgot about a lot of these things until I went back through my calendar and looked at my appointments. I see a lot of firsts and a lot of change in there.

So, here’s to keeping up this level of achievement and self-improvement in 2017!

Listening

It’s a cliché to say this now, but the election results were a complete and utter shock to me. Maybe that makes me blind. I was in disbelief as the numbers climbed on the TV, dismissive of Florida when it went red (“typical Florida”), betrayed by my home state of Ohio when it followed suit, and bowled over as more and more Midwestern states voted for a reality TV star rather than the most qualified politician to ever run for president. I kept watching til 2AM waiting for things to change, before my friends and I began the slow process of coming to terms with our new reality. I slept for about five hours before waking up and scouring the internet for strategies Hillary might use to still eke out a win—something about recounts or the Supreme Court or something?—but of course there was no such path. This is really happening.

Yesterday was a weary and emotional day of realizing that I was not celebrating the election of the nation’s first woman president. Instead I tried to come to terms with imagining my future under President Trump, hearing him give more speeches, representing our country internationally, appointing justices, and facing little opposition or checks and balances in the legislature or the courts. My brain knows that fear is not a productive response, but it’s hard to drive it out. I keep thinking how my life will change on a personal level: how will my career be impacted by budget cuts? by cutting access to health care? by new policies that target reproductive health? I am certain that women will not experience equality under this administration. The hostility I feel from the President-elect toward myself, i.e., toward women, is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in politics.

My next thought is, if this is how threatened I feel, as a straight white cis woman, how much more endangered must others feel who are more marginalized than I am? My heart breaks. Many of the students that come to the Writing Center at Medgar Evers, where I work now, are immigrants, mostly from Caribbean islands. Nearly all of them are black. Most are women. Many are Muslim. What are they feeling now? I’m thankful that I don’t have to tutor again until Monday, so I have time to straighten myself back out. I tutored two students on Election Day. Both of them assured me they were voting. One informed me that she always volunteers as a poll worker. When she said this, a tutor complained that her name had been removed from the voter roll, and this student helped the tutor understand her rights and what to do. She stayed a while after I was done tutoring her, talking about the dread of the election with other students and tutors. At the end of our conversation, while my student walked out the door, she said, “Well, tomorrow morning we’ll be waking up to President Trump.” I said with a smile, “No we won’t; don’t say that.”

Lying in bed at 2AM on election night, sickened, remembering this exchange, I realized how my unwillingness to see the racism and sexism of America for what it was allowed me to believe the election would go the way I wanted it to go. My unwillingness is a product of my white privilege. I didn’t listen to people less privileged than I, who were literally telling me that Trump had this election in the bag. But because I didn’t want to believe that the country would elect a stupid, racist, sexist buffoon with anger issues, I was able to imagine that my country was better than it is. This didn’t cause me any dissonance, because I’m able to avoid seeing racism myself. I didn’t listen to people who actually are forced to deal with racism as a part of their everyday life, and I told them they were wrong.

Yesterday I read the Twitter thread I linked at the top of this post and felt an incredible resonance, like Marco Rogers was talking directly to me. I had the luxury of crafting my bubble. I’ve left the Midwest and the South in my past, moved to New York City, avoided talking to old friends and family whose opinions make me uncomfortable. So that’s evidence of my privilege, the fact that I can even do that. And then, I have to consider the charge that in doing that, I’m not being an ally to people of color: instead of running away—a luxury not everyone can afford—I should stand up to these people and try and change their minds, or at the very least, condemn what they have to say. With regard to this last sentence, I think there is truth in that. And it’s painful to hear that I’m not doing my duty, in a way. At the same time, I wonder how productive such arguments would really be.

Before I cleansed my digital presence from all political implications, I would occasionally get into a Facebook fight about politics, where I felt particularly compelled to do so. I don’t get involved in Facebook arguments unless I respect the person I’m talking to and believe them to be intelligent. In these cases I believe these people must be well-intentioned but that they don’t understand why something they’ve said is problematic.

And yet, I can think of only one time where my getting involved in a political argument with someone I respect has ever resulted in that person changing their mind. The rest of the time it’s only led to anger, hurt feelings, and often even damaged relationships with the people I dared to argue with. So how much can I even do? What power do I have?

My Facebook and Twitter feeds were scrubbed of Trump supporters as I gradually unfollowed them so as not to be tempted to get involved in these arguments. Then, living in NYC, of course no one talks about supporting Trump in public here. I and all my neighbors and friends went and voted; the lines were down the block. Hillary won the popular vote. Yet none of it mattered. What else could we have done?

Paradoxically, I also am dealing with regret that I didn’t do more. Certainly I could have done more. I have largely stayed out of it this political cycle. I prefer to remain distant and jokey about my political preferences (in no small part because I don’t enjoy arguments like those I mention above). I secretly was grateful to friends who actually joined the campaigns as volunteers, though I dare not say it aloud, lest I compromise my brand. I didn’t really lift a finger personally to help the campaign, because that’s not me. I didn’t even make a typical political post, because ugh, those are so annoying anyway. This is just “how I am.” But if someone had told me, “Megan, if you make a post like that, if you volunteer one afternoon, you can make a difference,” I would have done it. Funny though, because of course people do say things like that, I just don’t believe them. This is the paradox again.

I do my civic duty, I go out and vote, but that’s not good enough when I insist on maintaining this aloof, joking attitude toward politics. That attitude is a luxury, born of my white privilege. I am sad and embarrassed that I didn’t learn this lesson until my status as a woman felt threatened, instead of learning it as LGBTQ folks and people of color were screaming it at all of us. But better late than never, I guess. I feel better today than I did yesterday. But part of the reason I am writing this is because I want to remember not to be complacent. This is a bit of a watershed moment for me and I need to record it, so I can go back when I slip into my jokey aloof self, and remind myself that this is how it felt when I really finally understood.

Edit 11/11/16: many of my friends have written their own blog posts about this event, and I recommend them all: Bryn Hughes, Michael McClimon, Jill Brasky. Bryn has also assembled an excellent Spotify playlist

I Want It That Way

This [lack of scholarship on drum machines] says much about the general ambivalence, if not outright animosity, that “rhythm units” have engendered through the years. Most famously, in the early 2000s, a 50-something pianist from Los Angeles, John Wood, began to sell a $1 bumper sticker that read “Drum Machines Have No Soul,” and quickly drew to him a fan base of similarly minded sulkers (Chamberlin). It is not always clear if Wood and other critics saw the drum machine as a cause or a symptom of the (perceived) displacement of studio musicians by electronic production, but like the equally maligned auto-tuning vocal software, beat boxes make for easy targets given their unmistakable sonic signatures.


That major pop artists and songs would rely on a built-in rhythm may seem like a creative shortcut but such criticism misses the point: what most of these artists valued was not just a particular pattern but the specific sound of it. Phil Collins, after all, was a drummer himself but he embraced the CR-78 to the point of demo-ing it for journalists (Rsdave). His use of the CR-78 suggested that Collins, like Sly Stone and disco producers before him, saw it as an instrument for aiding a larger musical vision.

 I found myself emphatically agreeing with a lot of this and applying it to a lot of other things beyond drum machines and autotune—synthesizers, samplers, lo-fi… hmmm.

How Things Sound

“Any accurate analysis of rock music must therefore ultimately account for its timbre and studio production at least as much as on the traditionally analyzed parameters of tonality, harmony, and meter; in other words, how the song sounds is as important—if not more so—than what is sounding.”

 

Kevin Holm-Hudson, “The Future Is Now … and Then: Sonic Historiography in Post-1960s Rock”

Trying out a new post format today—posting a quote from a recent reading and reflecting on it a teensy weensy bit.

Holm-Hudson’s idea of sonic historiography, tracing the history of rock music through the sound of that music, is integral to my approach and my (still under construction) thesis statement for my dissertation. Part of what I want to do is define the “’80s sound” through its technology, analyze the timbres of those technologies, and finally raise issues of aesthetics and reception and how they relate to those timbres/technologies.