Friday, June 24, 2022

Survival of Memory

The other day I read John McPhee's The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975) and parts reminded me of the one canoe trip I took in Maine when I was fifteen, a trip that's usually a blip on the memory timeline. Often books with grand outdoor adventures make me feel less-than for not doing that sort of thing all the time. This time I felt wistful, yet also proud of this thing I'd accomplished many years ago. Even if our windy day wasn't as severe as theirs, it was a big challenge for the members of my Girl Scout troop, and having met it, we added another layer resilience to our cores. 

At first place names were the biggest memory trigger. I had it in my head that Moosehead Lake is where we paddled. And then McPhee mentions in passing a leech on someone's leg -- and that struck a deep chord. I'm not much of a freshwater person even now; to that fifteen year old, leeches were new and viscerally alarming.

Reading, I could picture a souvenir map I bought of the region. I didn't think I had it anymore, though, but I couldn't really bring to mind any snapshots of the trip, either. Or then again -- didn't I dig up a picture to post for Mary Sam, maybe when we turned 50? Where are they? McPhee of course is keeping notes for himself on their trip. A couple of the men he paddled with knew their Thoreau and his journalistic The Maine Woods (1864) and while they have a copy, they also can conjure excerpts from memory. Didn't we have BSA-issued booklets, journals for our canoe trip? Gosh, if I had that, where would it be?

As it is for anyone on a packed-out trip, food is a major theme. McPhee notes that the canoe-builder and defacto leader (despite, it turns out, having perhaps the least backwoods or tripping experience) insisted they each pack their own. McPhee and his friend have a variety of things, and McPhee waxes on about Mountain House freeze dried foods. These absolutely were about the major brand in play ten years later when I started backpacking with my Girl Scout troop. I've certainly eaten the meals they did. The canoe-builder poo-poos McPhee's reflector oven. The writer brings it anyway and they all relish the things he bakes for them. Probably, we Girl Scouts used one on my Maine trip; certainly our troops and summer camp units messed around with reflector ovens. I never became anything like expert with them and the sight of one still makes me roll my eyes. 

While he focus of McPhee's narrative is the crafting of the canoes and what it's like to paddle one and care for it, we get his usual digressions into interesting natural history and character study, too. The canoe-builder comes across as a talented craftsman and a bit of a savant, but a terrible leader. While he takes charge and his companions defer to him almost always, we eventually learn that he's been on scant few long trips before this and has no idea which techniques and gear are truly useful. Not only does McPhee's reflector oven redeem itself, the flashlight he was told to leave behind is a clear necessity, too. McPhee teaches everyone (excepting the friend he brought) pray and draw strokes and other crucial paddling skills. Skills I've had since I was twelve or thirteen. Idle canoeing in the Cove at camp and preparing for the Maine trip taught me that. Everything about being in Girl Scout troops taught me leadership and consensus-building.

I found the scrapbook from my trip in the third place I looked. While I certainly would have guessed it was made by Hallmark -- Dad's mom work in an office supply-Hallmark store and kept us well supplied -- the robin on the cover was a surprise. The Instamatic photos must have been cheaply developed; they are faded and yellow-brown. The journal existed and was right there to remind me that it rained lots; that we hit about 160 miles (!); that we had not only the guide provided by the Boy Scout high adventure camp that ran the trips, but also miscellaneous adults I did not particularly remember. Perhaps I didn't have great leadership modeled to me if I don't remember them? Or is that an indicator that they were good and melted into the background? In the official photo of the bus-load that travelled from Richmond were the faces of people I remembered and people I'd forgotten til just that moment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gentrification Book Reading Notets

 How To Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz New York : Nation Books, 2017)

Tiny summary: Capitalism combined with state and federal laws to set us up to value real estate over people. Author documents examples in New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco and New York.

Author's thesis statement: "In every gentrifying city -- that is, in every city where there is a combination of new coffee shops and condos, hipsters, and families struggling to hang on -- you can usually trace they start of that change not to a few pioneering citysteaders but to a combination of federal, local, and state policies that favor the creation of wealth over the creation of community." (p. 23)

Federal examples:

"Regan cut all nonmilitary spending by the US government by 9.7 percent in his first term, and in his second term cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development's budget by an astonishing 40 percent, hobbling cities' ability to pay for public housing." p. 42 

GI bill's focus on home ownership fostered suburbs, broke habit of multi-generational living

FEMA's failure to serve black New Orleanians post-Katrina


Quotes Jane Jacobs: "'Private investment shapes cities, but social ideas (and laws) shape private investment. First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.'" p. 68

Urbanist Richard Florida with 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class is a leading force in hyping the creative class at the expense of the poor, working, and even middle class. Emphasis on creating cities or districts that cater to the needs and tastes of this group at the expense of others (who were generally in the districts first). (See section beginning p. 78)

Viral video in San Francisco captured white men bullying Hispanic people off a city soccer field because the former paid for the time and the people who'd always lived in the neighborhood followed the practice of the community. Moskowitz sees this as an example of how "[a]s our cities' landscapes have changed, we have too, increasingly viewing ourselves not as community members with a responsibility to each other but as purchasers of things and experiences. This is what pissed off Hugo the most -- the idea that these people felt they had more of a right to space than he and his friends; that the amount of times spent in a community and the traditional way of doing things, of accessing public space, did not matter and only money did." (p 136)

"How do you begin to form a tenants movement in a city where many residents feel like consumers of luxury products, not community members?" (p 215)


Tax breaks favor Twitter over small-business owners; they bring in the massive stadium and its team with expensive tickets and demand for mostly service-wages jobs to support it.

Localities put incentives in place for real estate or tech companies rather than making sure people's basic needs met. Once those companies arrive, rents go up and businesses open that cater to richer people meaning people who had been living there have to go further for basic needs. See Detroit's "7.2" (beginning page 91) for example. "The people who are benefiting from all these subsidies -- the gentrifiers of the 7.2 -- do not seem to realize the work that has gone into bringing and keeping them here. They consider themselves cunning pioneers ... ignoring the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to keep [Detroit native now displaced] Cheryl West in their homes...." p. 95

"The suburbs were the prototype for gentrification, not aesthetically but economically. Suburbanization was the original American experiment in using real estate to reinvigorate capitalism. Gentrification can be understood as a continuation of that experiment .... The suburbs are also a good reminder that housing, planning, and economic policy in the United States is deliberate, and that its main purpose is to produce money not adequately house people." (p. 147)

Given that urban gentrification pushes poor people to the suburbs, "The suburbs are being reused, reconfigured, and repopulated. They are becoming poorer, and that has wide-ranging implications for policy and the lives of lower income people." (p. 147) 

Moskowitz's concluding suggestions (p 209-13)

Expand, protect, and make accessible public lands. 

Give people an actual say in what happens in their city.

Heavily regulate housing. (e.g. rent control)

Implement a New Deal

End protectionism, add infrastructure. 

Raise taxes, raise wages, spend on the poor.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022


cream and sugar at my house


Today I learned that Boonton melmine dishes, the sturdy dishes gracing my Girl Scout camp dining hall, were designed by a woman named Belle Kogan (1902-2000). She studied mechanical drawing in high school and studied briefly at the Pratt Institute in New York. 

Boonton was promoted as stylish and sturdy -- indeed the company would replace pieces you broke. Lucky for them, we didn't know this at camp, where we made an art form of breaking them by forcing them into dish washing baskets. 

To learn more about Kogan, I especially recommend this website which considers a variety of drinking vessels and highlights the Boonton coffee cup. The researcher notes, “Kogan worked with many different media including silver, aluminum, ceramics, glass, plastic, wood and cloth and was one of the first industrial designers – man or woman – to experiment with plastic. Her 1950s lines of plastic dinnerware for Boonton Molding Co. was particularly popular and was purchased widely.” 

Additional Reading

Entry on the Cooper Hewitt's website; includes some of her drawings (such as the 1958 rendering of the sugar bowl lid below) as well as the pieces themselves.

Cooper Hewitt Museum

Cream and sugar in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Article in industrial design magazine Core 77, from 2015. 

Very artsy shots (you may have to click on each to see them fully) at another design website.

Saturday, March 20, 2021



I liked the way these covers looked together on my Goodreads page  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Recommended 9: Isolation

Isolation is a word that can encompass living with or seeing with a few -- or a few dozen -- others, such as on a wildfire-fighting team, or if you launch into space (or just role-play the latter). I do okay leading a solitary life, and some days seeing 5 or 6 coworkers (plus some patrons, but always for just minutes at a time) is more than enough people time for me. Yet for two nights in a row, explosions on TV made me jump way out of proportion to their loudness, and I recalled Kate Greene writing that isolation, boredom, and/or the same environment for a length of time dulls your senses; your days "smooth over, lose their texture." (p. 115) 

In the last two days I finished up a book about a practice Mars mission, listened to an episode of This American Life episode ("Boulder vs. Hill," aired 12/18/2020), and got lost in Susanna Clarke's new book, Piranesi. Plus, you know, I spent most of 2020 not seeing people, even for holidays. I've been deep into thoughts on isolation.

If you'd like copy my deep-dive into feeling isolated -- and to come out feeling generally okay about it -- check out: 

The This American Life episode called "Boulder vs. Hill." It has just two acts, each featuring huge 2020 civic undertakings. As I listened to the act about  fighting wildfires, I made connections to to Kate Greene's book about an earth-bound Mars mission practice. The firefighters work in bigger teams; the faux astronauts had a greater variety of tasks. Both groups felt that those back home didn't understand the importance of their work.

Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars, by Kate Greene. 

Journalist Kate Greene spent 4 months living in a geodesic dome in Hawaii to help gather data about both food variety for astronauts and insights into close-quarters life. Each chapter is a reflection on a different topic or experience, though of course themes of isolation and getting along continue throughout. A good general read on space sciences.   

Piranesi by Susanna Clark 

There are just 15 of them, and only two living: the Other and the narrator, whom the Other calls Piranesi. Piranesi tracks the tides, talks to the birds, catalogs the statues. The Other has been working on immortality and other projects. One day Piranesi suggest that's not a good use of time, and the Other reminds Piranesi they've had this conversation before, that he gets confused. Furthermore, he should be alert to someone new appearing, someone dangerous. These conversations lead to Piranesi digging back in his old journals, which leads to him question his understanding of reality.

Dreamy and page-turner-y and compelling; set in a liminal space like Lewis's Wood Between the World or maybe Lev Grossman's Library. Given that the Other sees Piranesi only twice a week, a pandemic-worthy meditation on being alone. 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Thick: And Other Essays

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tough issues illuminated in prose that I’d call “conversational,” but she uses footnotes, so maybe I can’t.

"Because I was such a big deal to an actual big deal, the black man seated to my left made a great effort at small talk. I wish he had not bothered. I hate small talk. It is small. Small is for tea cups and occasionally for tiny houses. Too much small talk is how a country is given to sociopaths who thrive on shallow chatter to distract their emotional sleight of hand. Talk should be meaningful or kept to a minimum."

View all my reviews



Saturday, May 02, 2020

Oh No Not Again

Fifteen years ago, I didn't really want to build another life and another persona with SecondLife. Why would I take time away from creating my primary life to build an alternate Lisa and an alternate house, public library for her? It with that same weary mindset that I read about the metaverse and the likelihood of it launching out of (violent) gaming. The only appealing part of it, from my read of this Washington Post article would be that it's a unified platform - a single space. No separate logins, vocabularies, currencies.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Recommended 8

Jill Lepore in The New Yorker describes two essential structures for "plague novels": stories set during a time of sickness and quarantine, and those "set among a ragged band of survivors." She cites many, beginning with The Last Man (1826) by Mary Shelley, that end with a portrayal of society having regressed.

And that, in the modern plague novel, is the final terror of every world-ending plague, the loss of knowledge, for which reading itself is the only cure.

 Maybe today is the day, then, to recommend Station Eleven by Emily Mandel. In this plague novel we do experience the lock-down quarantine and also the time after. In the after times, a man curates a archive of artifacts in the airport in which he and others live, and a band of musician and actors roam the land putting on Shakespeare's plays, because "survival is insufficient." Mandel gives us a hopeful ending.

If there are again towns with streetlights, if there are symphonies and newspapers, then what else might this awakening world contain? Perhaps vessels are setting out even now, traveling toward or away from him, steered by sailors armed with maps and knowledge of the stars, driven by need or perhaps simply by curiosity: whatever became of the countries on the other side?

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Are We on Web 3.0 Now?

The other day, a colleague asked me to remind her about the 23 Things initiative we did when we worked together. It sounded like she was looking for structure to guide people in their self-teaching activities while working from home. I used my 23 Things tag to direct her back to some of the original posts. At the same time, I glanced at those "web 2.0" posts and the things we were excited about then: mashups and widgets; Flickr and BookThing.

I'm also taking a look at the sidebar on this site and culling dead links. In the early 2000s, I liked sites that were internet directories and portals. Before search engines gained strength, these directories reliably pointed users to credible sources. I used them on the ref desk all the time. Now it seems that one of them, the Internet Public Library has become a very bad essay farm? Only it acts like it belongs to Barnes & Nobel??

Library Spot appears to be active and useful still. Here's a page of links to directories: one or two patrons do call my current branch to have us look up phone numbers. Sometimes it's straightforward, but with personal numbers or address you can get bogged down in ads and paid sites. 

Hmm: YALSA book lists is dead and can go; most of those other blogs are long gone. Weird how my early online connections were mostly with strangers. No, wait, that's not right. I follow famous people on Twitter and witty strangers on Tumblr. It's really only Facebook where everyone is someone I actually know.

Recommended 7

99% Invisible on toilet paper.

Tiny Pantone matches on Tumblr.

"Stephen King is Sorry You Feel Like You're Living in a Stephen King Novel" on Fresh Air