The Big Sick

Back when it was in theaters this summer, B and I went to see The Big Sick. It was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, based on their real-life courtship – which involved Emily being in a coma. This is not a spoiler; it was well known before the movie came out, so I thought I would be able to handle it.

I was looking forward to going to the theater with B because we hadn’t gotten out much on our own, as we are in a major sandwich generation phase. It seemed like a good choice because the movie is a romantic comedy. Not only do we know that the couple get together in the end but it is also about a comedian (Nanjiani plays himself in the film) with lots of jokes in the show.

I did like the movie and think that it was well done. It was hard for me to write about it at that time, but it is now coming out on DVD, so this seemed a good time to revisit it and put out a post.

As I said, I knew the basic storyline, but there were things that were jarring to me. The first time we saw Emily on a ventilator reminded me of the last time I saw a family member with a tube.

Seeing Emily’s parents dealing with the doctors and trying to find the best care for their daughter brought back memories of dealing with past medical problems with my daughters. Emily’s parents are told that the doctors know what is going on and the treatment will work – and then it doesn’t. I know what that feels like. I know how desperately you want to protect your child and find the right person to help them get better. I know how little power you have in that situation.

Although the details are very different, I could also relate to the themes of family tensions around the experience of being an immigrant or the child of immigrants, religious differences between generations and spouses, and bi/multiracial families.

Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The Big Sick walks that line in a very human and meaningful way.

 

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Bolt update

Because we have recently completed National Drive Electric Week, I thought I would update you on our experiences with our 2017 Chevy Bolt.

We still love it!

I wish I could have shown it off at our local Drive Electric event, but it did not fit into our schedule.

Over these last six months, we have learned a lot about electric driving. Air temperature has a big effect on range. When the weather was warm this summer, our projected range with a full charge was 280-300 miles (450-482 km) rather than the listed 238 (383 km). During the winter, though, our range may only be in the 160s.

The type of driving also has a big impact on the range. Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because the energy from slowing, braking, and travelling downslope is used to send charge back to the battery. Yesterday, I drove almost fifteen miles while only having my projected range decrease by two miles because I was driving around town.

The Bolt has a screen that shows how various factors affect mileage in real time. It is a bit of a game to see how much different routes, speeds, etc. affect our kilowatt per mile ratio. In a mixed highway/city session, we get about 4.8 m/kwh, while on an exclusively in-town run, we average about 6 m/kwh. This is much cheaper than running a car on gasoline, especially because maintenance costs on EVs are also much lower. It is even cheaper for us because most of our electricity comes from our solar panels, rather than being purchased from a utility.

My favorite driving mode is L mode, which allows most driving to happen with just the accelerator pedal. It reminds me of using the swell pedal on the organ! L mode makes greater use of regenerative braking without needing to touch the brake pedal, which brings in the use of the disc brakes.

The only real problem we have had is that one of our forward cameras stopped functioning, which meant that we were without pedestrian detection and other safety features for a while as our dealer had to order the parts needed. This wasn’t too great a hardship, given that we had never had these kinds of features on prior cars so we were used to driving without them. Still, it was nice to have them back after the repair.

While we had planned to install a home charging station, we haven’t gotten around to it yet. Given that we usually keep the Bolt within the county and that we have an upgraded home electrical service, it hasn’t been a problem charging slowly with our regular household current, but we will eventually get a home charging station so that we can do a full battery charge overnight. We plan to get a station that plugs into a 220 outlet rather than one that is hardwired.

We are also slowly getting more public charging stations. In August, shortly before L had to return to London, we took ABC to Recreation Park in Binghamton to ride the carousel. We were surprised to see two charging stations in the parking lot. I pulled into a slot and got a few kilowatt-hours in while we rode the carousel. It turned out that the chargers had just been installed. It was fun to see the media coverage, knowing that I had already availed myself of the service.

It has also been fun telling people about our EV and giving people rides. One of B’s co-workers, who has an approximately 120-mile (193 km) daily commute, decided to buy a Bolt from our dealership after talking to B about our experience. We had been the first Bolt sold there and he was the third. We are hoping that the sales of the Bolt and other EVs will expand so that the public charging network will grow, especially rapid chargers that will make it easier to take electric cars on long trips.

This will also make it easier to sell more EVs, which will be better for air quality and climate protection for everyone. As battery prices continue to come down, EVs will soon be priced similarly to gas vehicles without subsidies while being cheaper to run and maintain. Several European countries already have plans to phase out gasoline/diesel only vehicles; perhaps, one day, the United States will follow suit.

Fourth blogoversary!

WordPress has helpfully informed me that today is my fourth blogoversary.

Sorry that I won’t be hosting a big blog party, but my in-person commitments are too heavy right now for the organizing and tending involved in a digital event.

I am not entirely sure what I expected four years ago when I started Top of JC’s Mind at the encouragement of some friends, but 918 posts later, I’m glad that I stuck with it, however haphazardly.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my 909 followers and over 10,000 other visitors over these four years. I so appreciate your support and encouragement as life has taken so many twists and turns that I had not anticipated.

…which reminds me that I really need to update my About page one of these days…

I especially appreciate my stalwart regular readers who have continued to visit despite my now months-long lack of reciprocation in blog visits and comments.

Baby ABC is waking from a nap and I am on Nana duty, so I’ll end here.

Thank you all so much and stay tuned!

Joanne

MASS MoCA, North Adams, and me

As we prepare for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets later this month, our poet-organizer Kay sent this video from the PBS NewsHour about MASS MoCA and city of North Adams:  

Well, she sent it over a month ago, but I am just getting to it and this post…

Much of the piece concentrates on the intersection of MASS MoCA and North Adams history. The interview with Mr. Sprague especially struck me, as he wove together his family/business history with the larger story of the area.

When the Boiler House Poets re-convene, I am planning to spend at least some share of my studio time trying to assemble my first manuscript, a collection of poems tentatively entitled Monroe MoCA.  It weaves together my family history in North Adams and the surrounding small towns with the changes that have taken place over the decades and ends with a group of ekphrastic poems about pieces of MASS MoCA art.

For the first time, this year the Boiler House Poets will be giving a public reading, Wednesday, October 4, at 7 PM at the Makers’ Mill on Main Street. I will use my time to read a few poems from the collection.

I have been dreaming about this collection for almost two years and am excited/anxious/daunted by the prospect of actually piecing it together.

Wish me luck…

Harvey

I join with the millions of people in the US and around the world in sending thoughts, prayers, and charitable donations to those affected by tropical system Harvey. The amount of damage from the winds and historic amount of rainfall is mind-boggling. Recovery will take years and some locations will not recover at all.

When my area suffered two record floods of the Susquehanna River, I learned a lot of lessons that, while our geographic and demographic situations differ, applies to Texas and Louisiana now:
– There is no way to adequately prepare for a flood of that magnitude. No amount of prepositioning of supplies and personnel could cover such a vast area with so much destruction over some many days. Yes, lessons can be learned for the future, but don’t waste time now casting aspersions. There is too much work to do.
– Accept help! I volunteered in a flood relief center in my town after the 2011 flood. We sometimes had problems getting people to accept the food, cleaning supplies, and other help we had available. They wanted to forgo it in order to leave it for someone worse off than they. We had to gently explain that everything had been donated to help those affected by the flood and that that included them; there was plenty to go around. On a larger scale, this goes to the question of whether the states accept help from other states and countries. They should graciously accept offers to help, in the same spirit in which they have offered help in past disasters. Obviously, there needs to be coordination so that donations mesh well. I know that the New York governor has offered the services of our Air National Guard because the need is so great and Texas has already mobilized all its available forces.
– Don’t argue about whether it is a 500-year flood or a 1000-year flood. Those probabilities were based on historic records that no longer apply due to climate changes. My area suffered two record floods in five years. Areas flooded that had never flooded before. A number of lots that had had homes on them have now been bought out and converted to green space because the flooding threat is too high to have people continue to live there. If you are going to rebuild in flood-prone areas, you have to be smart and elevate homes, build protective wetlands, and minimize impermeable surfaces. Which brings me to my last point…

– Accept the science about how storm strength and mobility are affected by global warming. Michael Mann helps to explain the factors that made Harvey so destructive. (More information and links can be found here.) Yes, there have always been category 4 hurricanes, but the warmer surface temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico and the higher sea level made the rainfall and storm surge higher than they would have been in years past. The lack of steering currents kept the storm spinning in the same area, dropping over three feet (one meter) of rain over a large area. This same mechanism had a hand in the first record flood here in 2006, which was caused by a stationary front, as was a flood a few years ago in the Boulder, Colorado area.

Part of what we all need to do going forward is pay attention to preparing for increasingly severe weather. We need to think about resiliency in our building, zoning, and planning. We need to look at restoring natural aids, like barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands. We can place offshore wind turbines strategically to help blunt high winds. We can move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible so that warming does not cross over into the catastrophic category. We can’t afford wishful thinking about the latest severe storm being once-in-a-lifetime. We need to work together to help each other recover and prepare for the future.

 

SoCS: the birth of ABC

Things have been very busy here, so I wasn’t sure I would SoCS this week, but when I saw the prompt, I knew I had to join in.

Birth has been on my mind a lot this year. Our daughter E has been living with us this year. When she and her husband L left Honolulu last December, L’s graduate student visa expired, so he had to go back to the UK. It will take a while to qualify for a spousal visa for E, so she has been living here in New York State with us.

She and L were expecting their first child on July first or so. It was hard to be apart, but it meant that I got to help out with things like going for ultrasounds. L was allowed to have a 90-day visa for the birth. He arrived in mid-May in time to attend an all-day blitz childbirth class. At one point, they had thought that he should go back to the UK and return in mid-June for the 90-day stay, but they decided to just have him remain after the childbirth class.

This turned out to be a good move as their baby girl arrived on June 6, three and a half weeks before anticipated. I wrote about this emotional time here.

It was great to have E, L and Baby ABC here with us for those first two months. Now that L is back in the UK, they visit often by skype. We are looking forward to a visit from L in October and another in time for ABC’s first Christmas.

We are trying to savor every minute as we expect that E and ABC will re-locate to London early in 2018. It will be bittersweet as we want them to be together full-time as a family, but it will be so hard to have them so far away.

ABC already has two passports, though, so she is all set to travel! Of course, she will need to bring at least one parent along!
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “birth/berth.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/09/01/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-217/

 

choral change

Over the years, I have written often about singing with the Binghamton University Chorus, such as this post about rehearsing for our Brahms’ Requiem concert last fall. When I wrote about the retirement party of our director and titled it “end of an era”, I did not realize how true that would be.

The choral program had been headed by our director with the assistance of an adjunct and, frequently, candidates for a master’s in choral conducting. Now, just one person will handle the whole program, necessitating some changes.

The University Chorus, with whom I have sung for 35 years, and which existed for some number of year before that, has always been a group made up of students, University faculty and staff, and community members, which met every semester and performed major works with orchestra, as well as concerts of shorter pieces with piano or small instrumental ensemble.

There was a consistent core of community singers who had been with University Chorus for years. We had become friends and had been through many big life events together. We chatted before and after rehearsal and thoroughly enjoyed singing together.

Unfortunately, in the new choral group organization schema, University Chorus will no longer exist as a separate entity. Instead, University Chorus will act as a supplement to the student choruses when they are in need of larger forces to perform with orchestra. For the fall semester, University Chorus will join with the Women’s Chorus, Harpur Chorale and Chamber Singers to perform works associated with 17th century Venice. I am very excited about this repertoire, as I love singing works from that period and haven’t had the opportunity to for a long time. I am also anxious to sing with the new choral director, Dr. William Culverhouse; last spring, University Chorus had been part of the audition process and I was very impressed with his conducting and rehearsal technique.

However, as we all expected, we would need to audition to be included and, because of the demanding repertoire, a certain level of skill, particularly in sight singing, is required. I quickly became nervous. I have always been a anxious auditioner, a state that was not helped by the fact that the last vocal audition I sang was over 25 years ago. I am very much a choral singer, with a smaller voice without a lot of vibrato, which is useful to help blend within a section, but not necessarily that engaging to listen to on its own. I also have a sharp intonation, which is not ideal, but can be useful in a group because most people who have intonation problems tend to go flat. I am also a soprano and acutely aware that many of the other sopranos have had individual voice instruction, which I have not.  In addition, while I was a music major, our program at the time was very academically based, so I never had a course in solfège and sightsinging. And I was envisioning sight reading that was modal or chromatic or highly syncopated.

I chose to schedule my audition early on in the audition period, on eclipse day. I arrived early and tried to read and take deep breaths to calm myself, which didn’t really work. Dr. Culverhouse was very interactive during the audition and tried to give helpful hints as we went along, but I’m sure I still sounded very shaky. Thankfully, the sightsinging was not tricky, which at least gave me some hope of being accepted.

I sent an email to a couple of friends who were going to audition later in the week to tell them not to be scared about the sightreading, and then I waited for Sunday night, when invitations were due to arrive via email. I actually stayed up late waiting, but finally had to go to bed without any news…

In the morning, I discovered that the email had come in about twenty minutes after I had gone to bed and that it was good news! I was invited to join University Chorus for this semester; I found out later that the friends I had contacted were also accepted. On Monday night, which is our usual rehearsal night, we had a forty minutes Q&A with Dr. Culverhouse, which was enlightening. We aren’t sure about our final number of singers yet, as auditions are still ongoing. Our first rehearsal is September 11th with our concert on December 2nd.

I am thrilled to be able to sing this fall and looking forward to having a bit of structure back after what has been a chaotic summer. I am looking forward to the music, to seeing my friends every week, and to singing on a regular basis again.

I am sad, though, that for this academic year, University Chorus will only meet for the fall semester. For the first time since moving here in 1982, I will not have Monday night rehearsals and a chorus with which to sing. While this is sad in and of itself, it is a particularly daunting thought for 2018. My mother is currently under hospice care and it is impossible to project that many months into the future. It is likely, though, that, early in 2018, our daughter E and granddaughter ABC will leave our home to join our son-in-law L in the UK. ABC’s US and UK passports have already come through and E will probably be able to obtain an appropriate visa early next year. In the face of these personal changes/losses, the thought of not having the support, companionship, and music of University Chorus from December 3rd through September 2018 is heart-breaking.

As fate would have it, there is the possibility that I will have a concert in which to sing on the first weekend in March. Members of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus have been asked to join with the current Smith Glee Club and the Penn State Men’s Glee Club for a concert in Northampton, with the possibility of a late February concert in Philadelphia. Details are still being worked out, but I am hopeful that I will be able to participate.

The piece that we will perform will be Brahms’ Requiem.