Podcast Preview: Happy Birthday, A Year in the Boiler Room

Widget (grey tabby) Frob (orange tabby, in the back) and Rocket (orange and white creamsicle, in the front) doing their favorite things–leaving fur on furniture and being in the way.

“Poems shouldn’t make you wait for them to finish.

Like love, they should finish making you wait.”

–Noah Eli Gordon “Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.” 

We know you’re waiting to read about what’s coming up this weekend in the Ivory Tower Boiler Room. We’re just as excited to bring it to you. Pour yourself a favorite beverage, get comfortable and take a trip in the not-so-wayback machine to a year ago, when the Ivory Tower Boiler Room had only two residents, before Mary brought in the throw pillows and before Widget, Frob and Rocket lurked about, leaving fur on the furniture and providing scintillating editorial commentary. We’re revisiting episode one this week, when we were anxiously watching COVID numbers spike (oh wait, we’re doing that again,) and listening to dire predictions about the spread of the virus (oh wait, we’re still doing that, too,) and two people created a podcast as a way to reach out to the world and help get through the writer’s block they were experiencing.

We’ve seen how the environment of mutual support has helped writers move past writer’s block, and helped them shape their own visions of themselves as writers. We’ve seen what mutual support can do, and how a community can help sustain us when we’re experiencing a kind of stress and disruption that we’ve never experienced before. None of us knew that a year ago, and we hope you’ll join us as we reflect on that and celebrate what we’ve accomplished. 

So many relationships have changed in the last year, whether it’s the way already-existing friendships that Mary, Adam and Andrew had have been transformed through our work together in The Ivory Tower Boiler Room or the introduction of someone totally new into our lives with Erika joining us. Of course, meeting someone new means getting to know them, and just as we try and give you a chance to get to know our podcast guests each week, we’re going to give you a moment to get to know us a little more right now with answers to some of the questions we ask our podcast guests to answer each week. (If you want the answer to the rest of the questions, the ones that talk more about books, you’ll have to keep listening and check out our upcoming open mic night episode.) To pique your interest for that though, here’s a little more about each of us.

Do you like to cook? What’s your favorite thing to cook?

Mary’s passion for cooking goes back to growing up Italian. One of her favorite things to make is lasagna with homemade noodles! 

On the other hand, Andrew’s enjoyment of cooking came to him as an adult. During the pandemic, Andrew really embraced his cooking identity, which he says he definitely would not have felt comfortable with before the pandemic. He loves cooking eggplant parmesan (always a comfort food to him)! He has his sights set on making his raisin-noodle kugel sometime soon (Rosh Hashanah could be the excuse he needs). 

Adam has a lifelong passion for cooking breakfast foods–eggs over-easy, omelette, and pancakes being his go-to dishes. Homemade pasta sauces, and some soups and salads are also perennial favorites. Like so many of us, Adam has used his pandemic time to bring some more fermentation into the kitchen, specifically the South Indian staples idli and dosa. 

Erika grew up cooking and baking, and loves both. The first thing she learned to cook was scrambled eggs, and she began baking in third grade when her teacher required one research report per month…while getting over strep throat, she learned to bake chocolate chip cookies and always the researcher, Erika soon studied the history of the chocolate chip cookie and learned to bake seven different varieties of chocolate chip cookies which she brought in to her class for a taste test, and then she took the data, analyzed it and presented her results. One of the hardest things about not being able to stand for long periods of time anymore has been how it’s affected cooking and baking, and Erika is still working to adapt her cooking techniques to sitting more (wielding a chef’s knife, for example, is very different.) This time of year she’s thinking of holiday foods, especially things with apples and honey. Some of her plans might include Rosh Hashanah treats like apple cake, apple pie trifle and teiglach.

Did you grow up with video- or computer-games? What were/are some of your favorites?

 Andrew grew up with both video and computer games but says he always gravitated towards computer games and especially enjoyed playing creative visionary games like Rollercoaster Tycoon! He wasn’t a fan of violent video games like Halo. One memory that stands out is when his middle school male friends were playing Halo, but Andrew would be reading a book because yes, he was always that bookish. 

Mary also found video games as a child and has continued that love on and off throughout her life. Mary is completely obsessed with the game Stardew Valley. This farming simulation gives you the opportunity to mine for ores and precious gems, fish, and even marry the person of your choosing. Stardew Valley has set goals for each farmer to complete, however it isn’t necessary to complete them all. Players can enjoy this game at whichever pace they choose. She finds it to be a very relaxing experience. 

As the eldest member of the team, Erika is not quite as old as Pong. Video games and computer games were far less popular when she was growing up, but, because her father worked with computers and saw the value of learning computers from very early on, her family were early adopters of the personal computer, and Erika learned to program her own games. Most video game playing took place in arcades, but Erika’s family did own a pinball machine, and a Nintendo Entertainment System. Erika played a lot of Carmen Sandiego games and then in high school she was a big Tetris fan. She’s still a big fan of puzzle games like Sudoku or match three games, too and sometimes a time management game. Erika is a big board game fan too, and likes to play the game SET either in person or online and also plays games at Board Game Arena sometimes-leave a comment or Tweet her if you’re interested in playing.

Adam grew up watching his older brother play Nintendo and then Super Nintendo; it always mystified him that Aaron was so much better at making the plumber rescue the princess than he was. Despite not having kept up with most of the games it’s based on, the one way to get Adam excited in this otherwise dreary world is Super Smash Brothers. But some old favorites included Earthworm Jim, Command and Conquer: Red Alert, and Halo.  

And of course how could we talk to writers without asking each other about writer’s block? So. What’s your favorite excuse for why you have writer’s block?

Mary’s favorite excuse is “I’m too tired,” a feeling we’re all familiar with. 

Erika thinks this is probably the easiest question she’s ever had to answer about writing and says the answer is “I’m not really a writer.” She knows the validity of that excuse is rapidly dwindling though. Erika admits that fear of writer’s block is a huge obstacle for her and one of the reasons she really puts a lot of pressure on herself to write something every day. Because she had stopped writing for so many years, she worries a lot that if the words go away they won’t come back again. When she gets stuck she’ll often look for a theme or a word in a poem or a song related to what she’s working on to try and loosen things up again. She, like Andrew, has many Google Docs open with different pieces of writing, but for her it’s not avoiding a piece of writing, it’s making sure that if she’s stuck on one there’s something else right there to work on. 

Adam’s favorite excuse is he doesn’t know where a story will to go next. But frequent conversations with the other denizens of the Ivory Tower Boiler Room have helped him to remember that the only way to find out where a story will go next is to write it.

Andrew has so many excuses he creates for writer’s block, but they are all unified under one category: Things Needed for Writing Inspiration

What usually happens, he says, is that he has multiple Google documents open and moves from one to the other and works in a piecemeal fashion because he is avoiding his major writing task…the dissertation. But, now that he has recognized that he tends to do this as a writer’s block strategy, he is holding himself to specific days and times for dissertation writing this fall since he needs that accountability for himself. He promises that he will still seek out the self-care needed to get through this writer’s block and says that his daily walks have really helped with this.

We’ve all learned even more about the importance of self-care this year. We work better as a team when we take care of ourselves, we’re better at filling our other roles, too, and one of the things we’re committed to as a team is reminding each other to take time. One of us did that with a bubble bath earlier this week–do you know whose toes these are? While you’re thinking about that, check out our recommendations for what we’re watching, listening to and reading this week.

Mary is currently reading a true crime novel called We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper. She has just finished the White Lotus Hotel! She’s also returned to Bailey Sarian’s Dark History podcast and is listening to the current episode about the Trail(s) of Tears. 

Erika’s reading this week has included a lot of research. She’s been working her way through Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show as she prepares for the upcoming interview with the author. She’s also been doing a lot of reading about social scripts, condom use among young queer men and with this week’s news about Moderna’s HIV vaccine, she’s been reading a lot of HIV vaccine articles, too. As a break from that she reread Kyle Lukoff’s Too Bright to See. If you read her Big Think earlier this week, you might also have seen that she was reading some of the poetry of Saul Williams, too. She finally went back and finished up the last few episodes of Kim’s Convenience that she hadn’t yet seen and is thoroughly disappointed with the ending. Erika is still watching documentaries and watched season 2 of The Movies that Made Us along with History 101 on Netflix, which is a collection of documentary shorts about 20 minutes in length. Just enough time for a break when writing.

Erika can never decide if the spoken word poetry she gravitates to on YouTube belongs under “Listen” or “Watch” because sometimes she’ll put it on and watch while she’s knitting or something, and other times she’ll open it but put other things in front of it so she can just listen. Either way, she was enjoying some old Def Poetry Jam selections and some things from Button Poetry along with other things she’s compiled into playlists. She  pulled out some Five for Fighting to listen to yesterday, and Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands.” Some of the most intense writing this week has been accompanied by lots of piano music, mostly Shostakovich and Franz Liszt.

Andrew binged Rachel Bloom’s “I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are,” and highly recommends listening to her audiobook because she includes special feature musical numbers! He can’t overstate how much he loves his Libby account (from the public library), and right after Rachel Bloom’s memoir, he just started Casey Wilson’s “The Wreckage of My Presence” which starts with hilarity right away! For Ivory Tower Boiler Room interview preparation, he has been rereading Sarah Schulman’s preface to “Let the Record Show” since he and Erika are interviewing her on Monday. Andrew is halfway through her audiobook read incredibly by Rosalyn Coleman Williams (he’s getting a lot of hours logged in on his Audible app!).

Andrew was awed by the finale of “The White Lotus,” and right after finishing it, he turned to binging “Princesses: Long Island.” It’s such a good watch, and he learned about it from his favorite pop culture podcast, “Behind the Velvet Rope”!

For syllabus preparation motivation, he has turned to three specific songs: Jessie J’s “I Want Love” , Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand” and the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

Adam is still listening to the audiobook of The Lord of the Rings and reading a whole bunch of new written material from our own community. One piece he is currently reading is a play called Arden of Faversham, edited by Bente Videbaek.

Adam’s playlist has been a bit more eclectic of late. An email chain with our recent guest Lev Raphael has led to Adam listening to some new composers, including the Piano Quintet by Sergei Taneyev.

It’s been a week since Adam finished watching The Good Place and it’s been hard getting into something new. If you have suggestions, please list them in the comments section. 

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider making a donation to help us grow our literary and artistic community.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: