Watch, Listen, Read with Us

If you haven’t already realized, there’s been some renovation here in the Boiler Room. We’ve launched a new design for our homepage. We hope it will make finding what you’re looking for easier. You’ll now find the podcast on its own page. Of course you’ll still find the usual selections like The Big Think, our Featured Writers and True Crime Tuesday on our blog, you’ll also be able to find special pieces from each of the team members on their own blogs. These pieces won’t necessarily appear on the main blog, so be sure you’re following your favorite writers. You’ll find Adam at Love the Questions, Andrew at Song of Myself, Mary at True Crime and Other Thoughts, and Erika at Pretty Words about Ugly Things.

And with all of that, we’ve also got some schedule changes. Podcasts will now be released on Mondays, as well as new editions of The Big Think. We’ll continue to share True Crime Tuesdays on Tuesday of course. Wednesdays will be a featured essay-look for upcoming topics to include things like travel stories, essays about the power of language, and other great writing that keeps you coming back to read more. We’ll keep bringing you featured writing on Thursdays from Ivory Tower Boiler Room visitors. Fridays will continue to feature the team’s Watch/Listen/Read recommendations along with some first person commentary from one of our team members on something they’ve been thinking about.. Saturdays are all about hearing from you. We’re inviting your commentary, creativity, and community with things like survey questions and writing prompts…but that’s only half of it. You’ll have to check back on Saturday to see what else we’ve got planned. The best way of course, to make sure you don’t miss anything is to make sure you’re subscribed to the blog or following us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram..

With all these new features, it seems like a good time to remind you that we’re always looking for writers! Whether you’re a new or experienced writer, whether you know what you want to write about or have no idea where to start, we’ve got a place for you. All you need to bring is a desire to write and a willingness to collaborate with our editor. 

Don’t forget that we’ve got a book club happening this weekend, too. Join us for a discussion about PJ Vernon’s thriller Bath Haus this Sunday. We hope we’ll see you there.


And now, a peek at what each of us has been paying attention to this week.

Andrew is consuming all things “Bath Haus” related, reading P.J. Vernon’s book and listening to his audiobook featuring performances by Michael Crouch and Daniel Henning.

This week he has also just finished teaching “Hagar’s Daughter” by Pauline Hopkins, and his students really enjoyed the hybrid genre nature of Hopkins’ book (romance, suspense, historical fiction, thriller and so much more). Next week, he will dig deep into “The House of Mirth” with his students. Check out his social media pages, @andrewdavidrimby (Instagram) and @andrewdrimby (Twitter) to see his pedagogy! With his own blog space now, Andrew plans to write a short pedagogy blurb to describe his Poetry Labyrinth exercise (look for it in October)!

Andrew is planning on going to the cinema to see “Dear Evan Hansen” and may even treat himself to the new release of “Everyone’s Talking About Jamie” (He notes that Erika is so excited for this film as well-she can’t stop listening to the soundtrack for the film and the original cast recording of the West End production, too.)

He’s been listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire (the live album). He’s also started a new audiobook, “The 4 Word Answer” by Rob Shuter, and he’s finishing E.L. Doctorow reading his novel Ragtime”. (One of Erika’s favorite songs from a musical comes from the adaptation of the novel, too. If you do check out the link, the performance of the song from Ragtime starts at about 2:30.)

Mary is also getting ready for the book club this weekend. She’s also reading Know My Name by Chanel Miller. This memoir is extremely powerful and eye opening about how society still treats sexual assault survivors today. (Sexual assault seems to be a comon theme this week; one of Erika’s suggestions also is about being a sexual assault survivor.) 

She’s been watching Only Murders in the Building. This crime comedy starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez is just as hilarious as it is riveting! Mary has been binge watching it for the past two days and is already caught up.

Mary has been jamming out to some classic rock. “Nothing specific” she says, just listening to whatever sounds good. 

Erika is relieved to have gotten the new homepage launched this week. While she was working on it, she spent a lot of time listening to The Academy of Ancient Music. If you’re unfamiliar with Baroque and Classical music and want to learn more, they have some excellent videos about the pieces they play. There’s also been some Scissor Sisters and Mika, but the highlight was probably listening to Queen and David Bowie last night. Something about Under Pressure gave her chills and major feelings of love.

It’s Banned Books Week, and both Adam and Erika spent some time writing about book banning. In honor of that, Erika finally curled up with her copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout. She also enjoyed her new copy of The Great Gatsby, which arrived last week. She’s been reading stories about Island Trees v Pico, too. There always seems to be technical reading to do as well, and this week’s topic has been search engine optimization.

On the screen, there has of course been at least one viewing of Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, which she’s been waiting and waiting and waiting to see. She watched a documentary about movie posters called “24×36” which was interesting. There have been some silly Two Set Violin videos as well, along with new Library and Dictionary videos from DotGay including an excellent one about queer people accessing health care. The weekend will definitely include the new episode of The Great British Baking Show and while she’s watching Netflix she’ll also probably watch “Attack of the Hollywood Cliches” again.”

Adam has been listening to markedly less music this week. Less TV, too, though Norm MacDonald, and all his imperfect glory, has figured prominently. And reading has stepped up to fill the gap: Adam is most of the way done with Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. It reads surprisingly fast for a buck a bit size, and it’s just so interesting. Maybe less so to residence of other parts of the world, but Adam finds himself getting frustrated and angry every time he sees some thing that Moses built, that isn’t working the way it was intended: giant roads that were meant to move people faster through the city, but are now hopelessly clogged with traffic, for example. A good book is like that. If you don’t get frustrated or excited or joyful or sad while reading it, then what holds does it have on you that is making you continue to read it?


The Rhythm of Writing
by Erika Grumet

As we approach the relaunched homepage and the new schedule, I’ve been thinking about rituals a lot. Over the last month, as the homepage design stuff really shifted gears, I ended up spending a lot of time–more time than we had before, on the phone with Adam. The kind of time that would have gotten me into major trouble on the day the phone bill arrived when I was growing up, Adam’s been working diligently to get the featured writer things all ready to go, and it was nice to have company, and not work in such solitary conditions sometimes. I’ve talked to Adam at least once or twice a week for almost an entire year–our collaboration initially began as a teacher/student thing, the goal I approached it with was “to become a better writer.”   We’d meet on Zoom, do some writing exercises and workshop something I’d written. We’ve evolved beyond that student-teacher dynamic; writing, (at least the kind of writing I do,) can be such an intimate activity that it would be impossible to keep someone completely at arm’s length, and still grow the way I have as a writer, or collaborate on some of the projects we have worked on. Our once or twice a week phone calls, mixed with Facebook and text messages throughout the week have become much more involved. We’ve settled into a sort of pattern, our own ritual of sorts, and a surprisingly positive influence from it.

It’s not the only phone call ritual I have; I’ve had an (almost) weekly phone call with someone for the last sixteen and a half years. With rare exceptions, we have our phone call unless one of us is sick or traveling, and it’s been my Wednesday night ritual for a long time. If we don’t talk on a Wednesday because life happens, we reschedule our call. It’s a predictable part of my life, and I rely on that predictability for comfort, but that predictability also means that there’s safety and in that safety I am able to grow.

The comfortable predictability sometimes helps me relax, and focus on growing, and on dealing with the parts that are challenging.  There have been times I’ve got into the synagogue for services only because I needed to be able to sink into the ritual, the predictable and familiar pattern of songs, words, stand up, sit down, stand up, sing.   Wrapped in a tallis and then blanketed by the ritual, I could free up space in my head to deal with some difficult thing I was trying to work out for myself. I’d often slip out and avoid the oneg (the after services coffee and chatting) because all I wanted was the ritual.

I enjoy spontaneity, too. Unpredictable but joyful things can be fantastic, and really make me feel good. They bring on an endorphin rush…and as a dopamine-craving person (thanks neurodivergence) it’s good to have that sometimes.  There’s a lot to be said for symbolism, too. Getting to do Tashlich, and symbolically shed things from the past year is one of my favorite parts of Rosh Hashanah. I love the feeling of standing by the water, in a community of people thinking about similar things, and physically feeling the emptying of things I’d been carrying or hanging on to. Sometimes I wonder about how I can love both the comfort of the ritual and new adventures, but here in the Boiler Room, one of the things I’m known for is my love of reminding people to “embrace the and.” Sometimes we aren’t either/or people, sometimes we’re “give me all the things,” people. 

So we’ve just launched all these new changes to the homepage…and I’ve gotten used to the ritual of nearly nightly phone calls. Only right now, just as we’ve launched something that I’m still watching out for, working the details out for, checking up on and making sure things are working well, I’m temporarily losing the major support I’ve had through the process and probably my biggest and most frequent cheerleader when I’m writing, too. I know I’m prepared to handle the possible crises (and I don’t anticipate any, but I do like to be ready with a plan just in case.) I wouldn’t have that confidence if it hadn’t been for the comfort of rituals in getting to this point. Still, suddenly changing or losing a ritual at a time when disruption or chaos seems to be lurking behind every door, waiting to pounce is frightening, but having spent all the time engaging in it, I’ve grown more confident, and can see being able to handle it.

Over the last year, writing has become part of my ritual too. I couldn’t have imagined that a year ago. I’d just started writing again and was having trouble setting and sticking to a schedule for writing, even for getting homework done for a class I was taking. And then along came Adam, and suddenly I was engaged in writing again. After that, there was an invitation to the writing group…having that as a ritual meant daily accountability at a time when no matter how much of a priority I made things, I still had trouble sticking to it. Suddenly I was writing every day. And now, it feels strange if I don’t have something that I’m working on, even just a little bit every day, even without a daily writing group. I don’t think I’d be able to (hesitantly) call myself a writer now if it weren’t for having been able to participate in that ritual when I needed it. Because I participated in that, I’ve been changed. I’ve gone from automatically hating everything to not always hating everything I write and sometimes even liking it! I’ve been able to give better feedback when asked to review things. I’m able to do the thing I set out to do when I first became involved in writing with Adam: to write better. I see it in the work I turn out. I see it in the way that my fear of writer’s block has changed. I know it’s there because on days when I’ve got pain flare ups, one of the first things I want to be able to do is write, and I often can’t. (Today is one of those days; I’m pushing through significant fibromyalgia pain to get things done.) I see it because I have a vision of the future that continues to include writing. Not only am I a better writer, but writing has made my life better.

My nightly phone call ritual may be suspended (temporarily, I hope–even if it doesn’t go back to what we were doing, I do hope to get a variation of it back,) but I made a calendar today with dates and deadlines for writing projects for the next month and it was abundantly full and I was excited. I get to write. I get to pour words onto the page, swirl them around and make something beautiful out of things. The ritual that writing has given me has made me a better version of myself and I’m so glad for that. An entire month of not getting to celebrate that in phone calls is going to be rough. I’m going to keep writing this month. We’ll see what I come up with as we go, but I’m going to keep my writing ritual. It’s no more complicated than picking out a couple of things that I want to make progress on, checking my calendar for deadlines and dumping words out, but it’s something I am making time for every day. A month from now, I’ll celebrate a year since I returned to writing and I’m going to honor the ritual that’s come from taking a chance and trying it again and that includes the people who are part of it.. And I’ll celebrate finding a little more of me in the process. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, one day my ritual will result in a more tangible reward than the joy and pride I feel, the satisfaction as I see my work grow and evolve, and other positive things. I’m not sure it matters too much though. I’m starting to see joy in the process, and starting to believe that somewhere in there is the key to my becoming “a better writer,” and to be the kind of writer I want to be.

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