What I’m reading: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was awesome. The book tracks the divergent paths of a family from the Gold Coast of Western Africa through chapter-length short stories that switch between the perspectives of characters from successive generations. The narrative of the side of the family that moved—unwillingly, to put it nicely—to the U.S. was often times less compelling than the stories in Africa due to the somewhat forced attachment of certain African-American generational features onto characters. For example, Willie’s embodiment of the Great Migration, gospel music, and the brief flourishment of multiracial culture in parts of Southern labor towns felt unnecessarily constricting on her character growth. But, overall, Homegoing is a fantastic read that digs deep into issues of family and belonging and is a sobering reminder of ugly realities of the slave trade and its repercussions.
What I’m experimenting with: Toggl. Given my propensity to sit/stand idly in front of my laptop going through articles and videos, I thought it might be a good idea to start quantifying time spent. I’m only using the free, basic version of the app which simply acts as a timer to track screen time. The great part is that the app also keeps track of “idle time”—time without movement of the mouse or typing of the keyboard—so there won’t be an erroneous measure of laptop time when you take a twenty-minute bathroom break to watch five clips of Parks and Recreation on your phone. The end game for me is that I hope the daily tally will scare me enough to cut down on distractions, visualize how long it takes for me to complete certain tasks, as well as take care of my eyes better.
What I’m listening to (again): Strange Journey Volume Three by CunninLynguists. Dope album. In fact, it was my 2014 album of the year (2017’s was Big K.R.I.T.’s 4eva is a Mighty Long Time). Favorite tracks: South California, Innerspace, Guide You Through Shadows, Castles, Makes You Wanna Cry.
What I’m watching: Molly’s Game. A fascinating true story (spoilers!) of an ex-Olympic-caliber skier’s time running underground poker games for Hollywood and Wall Street elites. The movie is deeply thought-provoking—though a little preachy at parts—and I was particularly intrigued by its commentary on personal integrity and the dynamics between high-powered men and women.
Favorite video of the week: The New England Patriots’ Devin McCourty on Tom Brady’s hand injury.
Commonplace book entry of the week: “Train and bus stations were the sad places of the war, the limbs of lost souls. All those troops, far from their hometowns, and miserable-looking in their new uniforms, and the sad, young country girls, pregnant or holding babies, not looking around much, just standing, waiting. Lines everywhere. There was no place you could go that you didn’t have to stand in line first. Piles of duffel bags. And MPs with their white leggings and nigh sticks, patrolling, representing disciplines, being discipline in their stiff postures and their sharp uniforms. War could do worse things than this to plain people, but for a sense of the ordinary outrages of life in a country at war, the stations were the place to go.” – Samuel Hynes
How different a reality we live in today. As the longest war in U.S. history—Afghanistan—drags into its seventeenth year, this passage is a stark reminder of how good we have it today and how divergent civilian and military lives are. Yes, the scale and threat cannot be more different (uncertainty in the future of the world order vs. regional and ethnic grievances tracing back hundreds of years) but the harshness of war is in no way diminished. No wonder the yellow ribbon wearing crowds, NFL game ceremonies, and State of the Union stunts feel so empty. The men and women fighting a war with no tangible objectives are treated as cardboard idols for Americans to feel good about being American. Unsurprisingly, veterans returning home feel alienated, and the PTSD problem continues its destructive march, shattering lives and families. Civilians living in advanced societies—myself included—will never experience the very worst of human nature. The nature of modern war has negated our need to even taste hardship.