Saylor Breckenridge, Associate Professor of Sociology
Are you reading anything that’s giving you insight or useful and usable distraction at this point?
I return to old favorites to ground me in a different frame of mind. I have an ancient paperback copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker, which is a collection of her short fiction, poetry, social commentary, and book reviews. I can pick it up, turn to any page, and read through it a bit for a laugh or a smile or, very often, a caustic critique of class and power in America. It’s alternately funny and sad and a bit vicious, which is great for these times. “What fresh hell is this,” indeed!
How about music? Films?
I watch a lot of movies. Here are a couple that I’ve (re)watched recently and are real treats:
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – This is one of my favorite movies! It’s a darkly comic, film-noir about fading stardom that skewers the nature of fame in Hollywood. Director Billy Wilder captures top notch acting (Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olsen), with beautiful cinematography and crazy-sharp dialogue. Mercy! Early on in the picture, we’re blessed with one of the most stunning bits of costuming in movie history: the best-ever cigarette holder. I don’t smoke, but if I did, I’d cop this style. There’s also a chimpanzee. Now streaming on Amazon Prime.
HAYWIRE (2011) – Come for the action, but stay for the ACTION! This is a compelling double-crossed espionage story featuring the thrilling stunt work of star Gina Carano. Her mixed martial arts training is brought to bear throughout the movie in some of the best fight sequences in modern cinema. Steven Soderbergh adds art-house directing to a B-movie production filled with grade-A actors in supporting roles (Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas). It’s really Carano’s flick, though. She’s in almost every scene, defying the stuttering and simplistic fights of most 21st C. movies to create long-take battles that make you feel beat up just watching them. It’s so visceral! By the time the deer flies through the car window you’ll believe she’s the most powerful stunt performer you’ve ever seen. Now streaming on Netflix.
What is the best website, twitter feed, or other source of information, humor, insight, or distraction that you’ve found lately?
Paradise Lost? Pandaemonium? That’s the internet! Nonetheless, I do visit from time to time.
For the last few days, I’ve been following BAD SEED TEEVEE on YouTube. It’s a constant live stream of footage of Nick Cave’s work with his bands The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, and Grinderman, along with solo material and volumes of live and backstage footage. It’s a fantastic archive. A few years ago, in an answer to a fan letter, Nick Cave wrote “Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable.” At the time I found that comforting and I still do – I think it captures a certain aspect of his art that attracts me to it. This page is streaming in support of the pandemic mission to keep folks at home, so it might not be available forever.
I most miss the formal and informal connections with colleagues and students. That’s the core of college life at Wake Forest and I enjoy it very much. I’m eager for its return! And, at the moment, I’m reflecting on all the graduating majors in sociology who I’m not going to see in person. We have a zoom party planned, but it’s fun to meet parents and siblings and laugh and have a good time at our department event. I’m sure we’ll still be able to make our ersatz party a fun one, and on the plus side I think it will feature more pets than usual.
I suspect that when we return to campus I’ll still be disappointed by the lunch options available to me.
What research, scholarship, or academic meetings have you had to cancel or miss?
Most academic conferences across all disciplines have been cancelled and sociology is no exception. I’m on several NSF panels which are now being held online instead of in-person, which is disappointing, but that work is at least still going forward. One of my current research projects is tied to age-varying patterns of human death, so that has been thrown for a loop until we have a much better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on human lives and livelihoods. Some other projects are still underway, but there are general and specific anxieties and griefs in the air that are definitely a barrier to being focused on work.
Are you rescheduling any of the above, or . . . ?
No conferences are being rescheduled or postponed – they’re all flat out cancelled. Many are annual, though, so will return next year (fingers crossed). Everything else will move forward, just at a much different pace than expected. And so it goes.
What’s been the biggest challenge about working at home?
I like being on campus and typically work in my office. Working at home isn’t directly challenging, but I feel the loss of the rituals that frame how I approach work and, because I’m at home, my off-work rituals are also a bit topsy turvy. I don’t like it, but I’m growing accustomed to it.
Picked up any new skills or hobbies, or revisited any old ones? (Zoom doesn’t count as a skill)
I’m teaching my cat to walk on a leash.
Complete the following: “I can’t wait for summer, because then . . .”
… mosquitoes and humidity and early morning lawn mowers?