Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for Andor (Disney Plus series), Rogue One (Star Wars movie from like ten years ago), and Interview with the Vampire (mostly just the AMC version).
What I’m reading for work
My Cartoonish Cancellation by Phoebe Gloeckner: Sometimes I’m really bummed about the fact that after the coming spring semester I’ll be doing a lot less teaching, thanks to the cancellation of my library’s credit-bearing information literacy courses. Then I read an article like this one from the Chronicle of Higher Education and I remember that though teaching can be creatively stimulating, dealing with students can also have downsides that I definitely will not miss. I myself recently had occasion to discover that while my own institution has plenty of clear policies in place protecting students from ill treatment by faculty or other students, there are none which protect faculty from ill treatment by students. Go figure. I’ve never dealt with anything nearly as extreme as what Gloeckner describes here but her experiences fending off student harassment and complaints in the face of teaching material that students found objectionable/offensive speaks to some of the same anxieties. Personally, I feel like our increasing desire as a culture to be more mindful of other people’s sensitivities is generally a good thing but I also feel like when it’s taken too far it can slide into censorship that’s no less malicious for coming from the more “liberal” end of the political spectrum than the more conservative kind that, for example, forbids conversations about gay people in school classrooms. People’s feelings and boundaries need to be respected but also discomfort is a necessary part of learning. Many people today (not just young people; not just students) don’t seem to understand that sometimes discomfort with something should be the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Anyway. This article really haunted me, especially the detail that many of the students who were complaining about Gloeckner continued signing up for her classes for the purpose of continuing to collect “evidence” against her. What a nightmare.
What I’m doing for fun (sort of)
Peloton running workouts: A few months ago, I wrote here about how I’d started using the Peloton app, which you can download and use even if you don’t own any of the Peloton equipment. I basically liked the app for the quality of the instructors but found it a little unsatisfying, especially considering the monthly price. Well, I’m still using the app and some of my opinions haven’t changed: I still find the boxing workouts confusing and frustrating and the HIIT workouts are fine but you could find very similar workouts for free on YouTube. However, the variety and quality of the yoga and strength workouts are worth the price of admission if that’s what you’re looking for. I’m updating my thoughts now because I recently decided to try out the running and walking workouts on the app just to mix things up a little. Which is to say, I did not buy a Peloton treadmill. Or any treadmill, for that matter. Instead, I started preloading the running workouts and bringing them with me to the free fitness room in my apartment complex. Running, both outdoors and on a treadmill, is something I’ve done off and on for a number of years. My usual MO for a running workout on the treadmill is to set a challenging but doable place, then put on my favorite music and let it carry me along for 45-65 minutes. This works well enough for me, so I wasn’t interested in trying out Peloton’s running workouts because a) I prefer to pick my own music and b) I didn’t think I would like having someone yapping motivational BS in my ear through the whole run. What changed my mind was I thought it might be an interesting way to challenge myself to start experimenting with speed and incline, something I haven’t really done before. I’ve been doing these running workouts a few times a week for about a month now and I have to say that I finally feel like I understand why so many people seem to think Peloton is so great. I’ve actually surprised myself with how much I’m willing to challenge myself when someone else is (virtually) calling the shots. It’s also fun to experiment with different types of runs: hill runs, endurance runs, interval runs, etc. And though I do like some of the coaches better than others, I have yet to find one that I wouldn’t try again if they were doing something that looked interesting to me. The fact that Peloton releases multiple new workouts every day is also an advantage here. Such a big changeover makes the strength and yoga workouts that I like feel a bit disposable, which is unfortunate, but with the running workouts having new choices every time you log in is a good way to keep from getting bored, at least so far. Anyway, I’m having fun. Recommended.
What I’m watching for fun
Andor on Disney Plus: I recently listened to an episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour in which PCHH mainstay Glen Weldon, along with some distinguished guests, positively gushed about how amazing this show is. Everything they talked about was pretty much in line with other comments I’ve seen on the internet about how, basically, after a lot of disappointment this is the Star Wars show fans have all been waiting for. I don’t necessarily disagree with this sentiment but also I’m finding it weirdly difficult to muster much enthusiasm for Andor. Which is weird because I love Diego Luna! I particularly loved him as Cassian Andor in Rogue One! And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this show—objectively speaking, it really is as great as the critics are saying it is! But for me it feels like something I’m watching out of obligation rather than any real interest, though it does have some good, suspenseful moments. (The recent prison break episode was definitely a high point.) It could be I’m just burned out on Star Wars in general at this point. It could also be that I’m burned out on bleak, depressing TV shows that serve as an allegory for some of the terrible things that are going on in our own world right now, which is what this basically is. Given that this is a prequel, it helps knowing that things will eventually get better for this particular universe (…though not this specific character, since, you know, he dies in Rogue One). The problem is, they’re going to have to get a lot worse before that happens. So I don’t know. I’m glad this exists. I’m glad this proves that Star Wars can do something more than just empty Content meant to sell Merchandise. And even though I’m going to be letting my Disney Plus subscription lapse after this month (due to the price hike), I will probably renew it, at least temporarily, when the second (and final) season of this show comes out in a few years. It’s just not something I’ll rush to do even when it happens.
Interview with the Vampire on AMC+: Anne Rice is one of those authors my mother, who loves reading and especially loves authors like Rice and Stephen King, spent a lot of time trying to get me to read when I was a teenager. If I remember correctly, I did read Interview with the Vampire but I have almost no memory of it. I also have no idea whether or not I’ve ever seen the movie version starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. That’s probably a good thing when it comes to approaching the new TV series. Not remembering much about the original story means I’m not really worrying about the many, many changes this version makes or constantly comparing it to the original movie or book. I’m glad for that because it allows me to just kind of relax and enjoy the show for what it is: a campy, surprisingly hilarious, often ridiculous and occasionally affecting story about a highly dysfunctional found family that features two (queer) dads and (eventually) their adopted daughter. The episode recaps on Vulture actually capture the feeling of watching this show the best, especially when the writer points out the wandering nature of the story and how it doesn’t ever actually seem to be going anywhere…but you’re having enough fun with it that you kind of don’t care. The cast is overall pretty great but I especially like Jacob Anderson as Louis. Like a lot of people, I recognize Anderson mostly from his role as Grey Worm on Game of Thrones. In that show, he was a noticeable presence but mostly in the background, more of a functional character than anything else. Here, he’s front and center and I think he does a particularly great job of making the past version of Louis (seen in flashbacks that make up most of the show’s plot) and the present version of him (as he gives his interview) feel like distinct versions of the same person. Assuming the show lasts (fingers crossed), I’ll be interested to see how Louis develops from his less controlled younger self to his darker, almost Zen-like older self. I also think that in framing the show as a second interview that Louis is giving in order to correct the record from the first, the show has some interesting things to say about memory and what we remember and how we remember it and how that changes over time. Is this an objectively great show? Probably not. At least, not yet. But if you don’t know or don’t remember the original story, it’s a fun one just the same.