Ryan Shirey

Ryan Shirey, Director of the Writing Center and Associate Teaching Professor, Writing Program

Are you reading anything that’s giving you insight or useful and usable distraction at this point?

I’m doing less reading than I would like, but that’s what summer is for! I have been enjoying Stephen Fry’s “Mythos” series about Greek mythology (Mythos and Heroes) as audiobooks because he’s delightful to listen to and a great distraction. I’ve been reading Mark Greif’s essays in the collection Against Everything and thinking a lot about how abnormal the normal really is and why we probably should not be in such a rush to return to an old way of life when the option of creating a new and better one is available. To a similar point, Mark Fisher’s work remains deeply important to me and I’ve gone back to Ghosts of My Life to help me think about the “hauntological” dimension of this moment and why it remains so difficult to imagine a compelling, creative vision of the future in the seemingly never-ending wake of neoliberalism. I’m in the middle of John Williams’s Stoner, which is wonderfully written, but which I seem to have to put down periodically for my own emotional stability (it’s a bummer). I’ve been reading a lot of poetry as well, but mostly through Poetry magazine’s very nice app, so I recommend just browsing through that if you’re looking for a poem to suit your mood in a particular moment.

How about music? Films?

I’ve been listening to a lot of music during the quarantine, and what I’ve been doing mostly is creating playlists as a kind of cathartic process. It’s hard to say exactly what I’ve been listening to the most because I’ve been trying to vary it on these playlists, but there are a few mainstays that have crept in more than once: Destroyer, Silver Jews (and Purple Mountains), Run the Jewels, Andrew Bird, and Leonard Cohen are a few. I’m trying to make myself listen to more contemporary music lately (though I still have a hard time with contemporary top 40), and I’m really digging Nap Eyes, the Beths, Algiers, Muzz, Preoccupations, and Sheer Mag (among others). It all depends on the day, but I would say that I’m not listening to a lot of super happy music lately or as much up-tempo stuff as I usually would.

On the film front, I’ve not watched anything that remarkable. I feel like I’ve been more drawn to disposable nonsense during all this, so I don’t have any good recommendations here. Actually, one recommendation for this era: Elia Kazan’s 1950 film Panic in the Streets, a film noir that hinges on trying to prevent a plague outbreak.

What is the best website, twitter feed, or other source of information, humor, insight, or distraction that you’ve found lately?

I’m honestly trying to stay as far away from social media as possible right now—not out of snobbishness but out of self-preservation. When I find myself wandering to Twitter I get sucked into a morass of bad feeling and anxiety. I like watching videos of people fixing and restoring things on YouTube—that has a nice, calming effect. Julian Baumgartner’s Fine Art Restoration is a great YouTube channel to just lower your blood pressure for a while. He’s an art conservator that talks you calmly through his fascinating process of conserving damaged artwork. That is much more interesting than it sounds, I promise. I like Cody Johnston’s Some More News YouTube channel because his humor and anger resonate with me and his semi-performative falling apart (letting his set background peel away from the wall, going unshaven with wild hair, etc.) feels like a good visual metaphor for how I feel much of the time. There are lots of other things, I guess, but so much of the information out there—whether dressed in humor or presented straightforwardly—starts to feel heavy after anything but very small doses.

What do you miss the most about being on campus?

I miss seeing my colleagues and dropping into someone’s office for a work chat that turns into a strange side conversation about some piece of pop culture ephemera or obscure historical trivia. I miss hanging out with the tutors in the Writing Center and hearing about what’s going on in their worlds. I miss interacting with students more generally—class conversations are just not the same online. I miss having an office that is removed from my living space. I miss a lot about being on campus.

The least?

I do not miss meetings, but since they have simply migrated into an even more unpleasant medium via Zoom, I have not escaped them either. I do not miss navigating the parking situation. I do not miss the overzealous HVAC systems. Finally, I do not miss trying to exit the library “upstream” through a campus tour group.

What research, scholarship, or academic meetings have you had to cancel or miss?

There are too many things to list, but here are a few. I was collaborating with the Office of Civic and Community Engagement on a workshop for parents on advocacy writing, and that had to be postponed. That is a project that I feel so strongly about that it really hurt to have to push it off. The Writing Center’s “March Miscellany Madness” was another big loss because it’s such fun and brings students, faculty, and staff together. Probably the biggest for me, though, is not being able to return to the WFU program at Soong Ching Ling School in Shanghai again this summer. I’ve been working with that program for a couple of years now and I am very much going to miss working with the students, traveling with colleagues, and revisiting that incredible city.

Are you rescheduling any of the above, or . . . ?

Yes, where possible. Mostly, we’re looking at delaying things by a year (which is hard). I hope the workshop with OCCE is something that we’ll be able to do in the fall.

What’s been the biggest challenge about working at home?

There are many, but the biggest is just trying to structure the day like a work day. Whether that means keeping a regular schedule or keeping some boundaries drawn about work and personal life, I think structure is the core difficulty for me personally.

Picked up any new skills or hobbies, or revisited any old ones? (Zoom doesn’t count as a skill)

I’m trying to sketch a bit again, but I’m a true novice. I’m goofing around with GarageBand and trying to make cover versions of songs I like. I’m also just trying to find things to do that don’t involve looking at a screen, which is a challenge since I’ve also been playing more video games.

Complete the following: “I can’t wait for summer, because then . . .”

There will be fewer (I hope!) Zoom calls.

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