Sunny September

I am back in my comfortable intra-Asian hybrid anthropology-geography saddle again after a surprisingly relaxing summer. This term, I’m teaching courses in the bachelors programme, the masters programme, the research masters programme, the contemporary Asian studies programme, not to mention supervising several bachelors, masters, and PhD theses. Different hats. Fingers in different pots. Tentacles in different hats. I think I am getting my idioms mixed up now that I live in the Netherlands (land of amazing idioms – for example: “Nu komt de aap uit de mouw” – now the monkey comes out of the sleeve). But I think I’ve got this; compared to last year, when I was teetering on the edge of burnout. My son is now two years old. I am no longer up all night with crying and milk and deadlines. This is not to say that I am well-rested (ha!), but I’m happy. I think that every institution should be able to give a semester off for junior-ish faculty to recharge every two or three years. I am shifting my priorities around these days. Living in Amsterdam and cycling to work on a sunny day is helpful.

I also found that I am inspired to write more if I read more novels and non-academic texts. I deal with nonfiction all day, so fiction is my way of escape, always with the intention to return. Novels make me crave more language and dialogue. So do narratives that are dramatic, that have a denouement, that are beautiful…just like good ethnographic writing. I recently put out a call for new reading material on Facebook and friends came back to suggest all sorts of fantastic things. It was specifically a call for post-apocalyptic novels, China Miéville-ish stuff. These were good suggestions; Station Eleven, Nod, Under the Skin. Then someone suggested The Bees – a story from the vantage point of bees: surprisingly thrilling! I finally read Blindness by Jose Saramago. But there were other, non-sci-fi suggestions. Ruby was sharp and harrowing and beautiful. And I re-read James Baldwin’s Another Country. The most important book of the summer, I think. Then there were autobiographies by people I do not necessarily like (see Rupert Everett), but they were unbelievably compelling and over-the-top-painful at times (see David Carr). So, I write and read, read and write. This reading not-anthropology, then writing anthropology kick involves not futzing around on the Internet, however, so back to reading and writing I go…

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