How did Tulsa become the site of what many consider the most heinous case of racial violence in America? Was the historic black community of Greenwood really a mecca of Black wealth and was it completely destroyed by the Massacre? Is there a connection between past and present day incidents of racial violence in Tulsa? TU Anthropology professor Alicia Odewale and Dr. Karla Slocum, from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with TU graduate student Nkem Ike and Chapel Hill graduate student Moriah James, have created a new online resource to help answer some of these timely and complex questions.
As protesters fill the streets in response to the seemingly endless stream of murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement and the ongoing lack of justice for the victims, all eyes are on Tulsa as a city with its own complicated history of racial violence and mob rule juxtaposed next to images of Black wealth and prosperity. There is even more regarding black Tulsans and racial violence that have raised people’s awareness of the city: the upcoming centennial of the historic Tulsa Race Massacre on May 31, 2021; the City’s renewed search for mass graves from the massacre restarted in 2019; the murder of a unarmed Black male –Terence Crutcher– by Tulsa police in 2016; the targeted shooting of Greenwood residents by two White gunmen in 2012; and the current president’s right wing rally in Tulsa on the Juneteenth holiday weekend in 2020.
The creators of #TulsaSyllabus believe that it is important to take a step back and try to understand the roots and reverberations of racism and racial violence that have plagued Tulsa for over 100 years. Alicia Odewale and Karla Slocum created #TulsaSyllabus as a place for activists, members of the press, the general public, and students and scholars to become better informed not only about what happened in Greenwood in 1921 but also about the many contexts that shaped the community before and after this horrific event.
The varied sources on the #TulsaSyllabus, which is organized thematically, are not exhaustive. Rather, it is a guide and entré for understanding the background to the Tulsa Race Massacre and the larger story of the Greenwood District. The syllabus also offers commentary on both past and present-day race relations in Tulsa and the larger state of Oklahoma from statehood in 1907 to now. Comprised of diverse sources, the #TulsaSyllabus provide multiple vantage points that come from works in non-fiction and scholarly readings; news media, past and present; multi-media sources; governmental and nongovernmental reports; and artistic works addressing race in Tulsa and black Oklahoma more broadly as well as racial formation, racial terror and placemaking for black people in the United States. As anthropologists, the creators of this rich resource bring special attention to the archaeology and cultural anthropology of black Oklahoma. They also intentionally feature the work of local Tulsa authors and creative artists, highlighting wherever possible the voices and views of Black men and women.
The resource is intended to help students, researchers, activists, educators, the press, and general public gain a better understanding of how race and racism is manifest in Tulsa, why the city of Tulsa continues to be divided along racial lines in terms of physical space, socio-political boundaries, economic prosperity, and lingering historical trauma. Ultimately, the list helps us understand race in America, through the focus on one city in one state.
Visit #TulsaSyllabus here!
On mechanics and meaning
For my last blog post on board games and the humanities, I want to write a bit more in depth about the curious relationship between game mechanics and the story told on the table. It may seem unlikely, but I find that some of my most memorable encounters with dramatic storytelling happen at the table.
Consider the six-sided die. There’s a tactility to a dice roll that is undeniably pleasant. It has a tangible weight in your hand, and it makes a sound when it rolls across the table. Equally important is its movement and in that moment, the synthesis of kinesis and probability create a moment of tension. Once it stops, it reveals a face that gives you information with which you conclude your turn. Setup, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement–all the hallmarks of the classic story structure we learn in grade school.
The dice roll itself only matters, though, if it’s performed in a context that matters to us. This is where I find board games’ capacity for storytelling compelling. Though the dice roll described above contains a story on its own, the added layer of art and theme a game can bring to the action makes the roll mean something. When that roll of dice represents how much havoc your cardboard standee monster can wreak as it wanders into Tokyo, punching all in its path? That’s not just a dice roll; it’s drama.
Using mechanics to tell a story isn’t exactly new to board gaming. Indeed, games have been used to tell stories through play for centuries. One of the darkest examples I can think of comes from the origins of Monopoly. It’s first incarnation was called “The Landlord’s Game,” and it was designed in 1904 by a woman named Lizzie Magie. Magie hoped its mechanics that prioritized greed and rapid accumulation of capital (at the expense of the other players) would educate players about the systemic exploitation of renters at the hands of greedy landlords and real estate moguls.
Due to a complicated bout of double-dealing regarding the game’s patent, a man by the name of Charles Darrow (long considered to be the designer of the game) re-branded it Monopoly and set it in Atlantic City. This was the version that the Parker Brothers decided to publish (after rejecting Magie’s idea). Thus a game built on mechanics of a predatory system of lending and bankruptcy, of a bank running out of money, of players jailed due to poverty was robbed of its original intent. Monopoly’s pro-capitalism theme that has been the result of family fights the world over has its origins as a socialist teaching tool.
Storytelling in action
As tragic as The Landlord’s Game perversion into the godawful Monopoly of today is, its story shows that Magie created the game with intention and consideration, assured in the idea that mechanics translate into meaning on the table. Modern board games do the same, and some are exceptionally good at it. For instance, let’s look at Flamme Rouge, a game about racing bicycles in the early twentieth century.
In Flamme Rouge, each player controls a two-person cycling team, each with their own small deck of cards. At the beginning of each turn, the player draws cards for both of their cyclists and chooses one to play; the cards show how many spaces each cyclist can move, usually 3-7. Since played cards are permanently moved from the game, choosing the right one at the right time is crucial, and if at any point you are in a space on the board where there is no one directly in front of your cyclist, you add an “exhaustion card” in your deck which lets your figure move only two spaces.
On a purely mechanical level, Flamme Rouge excels as a short, simple game of tactical positioning. But as each player adds exhaustion cards to their decks and plastic cyclists fall behind or pull ahead, the game becomes something more cinematic. There’s exhilaration in trailing the pack only to slipstream behind your opponent and then pull ahead at the last minute. There’s excitement in drawing the right card to give you an extra boost down a hill, doubling your movement speed. There’s tragedy in maintaining a lead until all your hard work to remain in front left your cyclist too exhausted to make it across the finish line. All of this drama is built into the DNA of this rather simple game about movie plastic racers across a track.
Some games do this better than others, of course, and there’s no hard and fast rule on whether complex games are better at storytelling than simpler ones. What matters most, to me at least, is whether or not the moment-by-moment play leads to interesting board states. As I said in my first post of this series, the table is a medium for expression, a place where stories are told and our values are explored. Looking closely at the connection between gameplay mechanics–rolling dice, playing cards, moving figures across a board–and the story you create with the people at the table might just open your eyes to how expressive that space can be.
On March 10, in a warm room full of listeners, I got to hear Sarah Pinsker, award-winning speculative fiction writer, read from her Nebula-nominated novel A Song for a New Day.
The novel, published by Penguin Random House in fall 2019, takes place in a near-future where culture and individuals have been warped by a global pandemic and mass terror. The story follows Luce Cannon, a musician on the brink of major success when catastrophe hits and suddenly large gatherings, including concerts, are banned. In this changed world, Luce is not allowed to play – and blocked from pursuing her art and purpose, and from experiencing deep connection with other people.
At the reading, Sarah shared a section where Luce and her housemates compile a list of all the elements of life and culture that are suddenly inaccessible. “The Don’t Forget Normal list included: street festivals, Renaissance fairs, amusement parks, supermarket runs, movie theaters, malls in December, talking to strangers in a waiting room,” she writes. “We debated whether some of those were things we actually missed, but decided they all went on the list. Just because something had needed improvement didn’t mean the solution was to cancel it entirely.” The list keeps growing, running from a whiteboard onto the walls in permanent marker and paint, expanding to include memories and stories.
Fittingly, that reading turned out to be the last public gathering I attended before buckling down into quarantine. It took a couple weeks before I could properly dive into the book because it felt too real. But once I did, the novel’s echoes of the unfolding pandemic became – if not comforting, then resonant in important ways. It reminded me to examine the individual and cultural changes at hand, and instead of When will things get back to normal? asking What do we want to keep and what do we need to change as we move forward? If play is joy, connection, and purpose, how do we continue to play, and play more?
Sarah and I discussed her all-too-prescient A Song for a New Day, how What-If questions create speculative fiction, how to write dystopia at the human level. We also discuss the already-precarious economic position of musicians and artists, and how we build communities even in virtual spaces. You can order the novel and Sarah’s collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea from Magic City Books or at bookshop.org.
Sarah Pinsker is an award-winning author based in Baltimore. Her short fiction has won Nebula and Sturgeon awards and appeared in Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as numerous other magazines and anthologies. She is a singer-songwriter who has toured behind three albums on various independent labels. Her first story collection, Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, and her first novel, A Song for a New Day, were both published in 2019. She is the current Writer in Residence at Goucher College. Her next novel, We Are Satellites, due out in February 2021.
Katie Moulton is a writer, editor and music critic. She is a 2019-2020 Tulsa Artist Fellow, and a Public Fellow with the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ Interdisciplinary Research Seminar on Play.
Please join nonbinary Latinx artists Este Sanchez and Edgar Fabián Frías as they discuss the use of movement, embodied magic and play within their creative and personal spiritual practices. They share some of their previous collaborations as well as some of Este’s newest contemporary art and social media embodiments. Part of which include some dance and video art pieces they’ve created recently during this COVID 19 pandemic.
To learn more about Este please find them at their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/este_ojo/ Website coming soon!
To learn more about Edgar please visit them at: www.edgarfabianfrias.org https://www.instagram.com/edgarfabian…
This offering is a part of Friday with Fellows through the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities (OCH) at the University of Tulsa. This series will feature contributions by public OCH fellows (past and present) and will focus on providing content that entertains, enlightens, and eases some of our shared stress (and boredom) during the Covid-19 crisis.
This week, OCH fellow David Chandler returns with a post on starting a board game collection.
In my previous post, I wrote about the tabletop as a medium for expression, and I made a video that explained, in brief, some of the more interesting ideas that creators channel in the games they make. This week, I wanted to do something a bit more specific and talk about how to choose a board game to play and start a collection.
Like any academic who finds a hobby and tries to incorporate it into his range of interests, I started my collection with a bit of research. There is a borderline unsustainable amount of board games on the market, and with the advent of services like Kickstarter and the ease of 3D printing, creators churn out new games every month. And given that games can cost anywhere from $10 to well over $100, not to mention they take up a fair amount of domestic real estate, it’s rather easy to get overwhelmed by the mixture of game option and financial/spatial limitations.
It’s this selection process that I want to talk about in this post, and, in a way, building a collection is like playing a game in itself. In the video above, I talk about a few different games I like that provide solid introductions to the hobby, but here I want to talk more generally about what goes into cultivating a collection and why collecting games can be its own rewarding endeavor.
What’s in a theme?
Excepting the most abstract types, most board games have a theme, an organizing aesthetic that provides a narrative justification for the action of the game. Whenever someone asks which game they should play, I tend to respond with another question: “What interests you?” In my earlier post, I showed off a group of games that had players engage in giant monster punch-ups, turn of the century bike races, galactic conquests, and palace subterfuge. If there is any type of fiction you enjoy, you can find a game to fit that theme.
While I plan to write a post about how a game’s mechanics and art can help communicate its themes, I find that theme is more than just a bit of set dressing over a process. There’s a concept in virtual gaming called “game feel” that refers to a subtle, almost intangible feeling that virtual games can provide when your inputs translate to actions on the screen. Board games do something similar by translating tactility directly into action, and much of the drama on the table comes from a game’s theme. When rolling dice determines a battle outcome or your decision to draw a card can lead to a chain of disasters, a strong theme can make all the difference. Actions can matter to us more when they’re tied to a story that we collectively create.
What do you like about play?
One of the often overlooked benefits of curating a collection is finding out what types of gameplay you enjoy. Randomness, strategy, social deduction, engine-building, and numerous other aspects of play form the mechanical cores of tabletop games. Most combine several of these elements to create more complex systems, but complex doesn’t always mean complicated.
So, ask yourself what you like about play in general? If you enjoy chance and pushing your luck, then games that rely on dice would suit your interests. King of Tokyo and Bang! The Dice Game offer a mix of luck and strategic gambling that can lead to fun, dynamic board states. If, however, you want more control over the outcome of our game decisions, a game like Onitama or Coup can take chance almost entirely out of the equation. For more patient gamers, worker-placement or deck-building mechanics afford the opportunity to assemble complicated engines to help you earn points or deny your opponents a victory through decisive planning.
Cultivating a collection of games introduces you to a variety of styles and experiments in a dynamic hobby, but that shouldn’t be cause for intimidation. The range of experiences tabletop games offer is constantly expanding, and starting your collection can be as simple as asking yourself what you value about play.
The collection meta
Lastly, there’s a bit of a metagame that goes into collecting, I think. There are games I generally use as openers–small, light games to kick off or wind down an evening with friends. I also have my event games that last all day and the faithful standbys for my regular game groups. I also have games that are more aspirational than practical, those hours-long war games or narrative experiences that I only play a few times a year, if at all.
The simple pleasures of collecting games, then, is not all that different than that of playing the games themselves. There’s a tactility to it, a balancing act of spatial economy and breadth of gameplay variety. I add and subtract games from my collection with the careful consideration I exercise when playing a game. I look for gaps in the experiences my collection offers. I research new games as they hit the market, reading reviews from critics who share my interests, and I make the decision based on how the game will fit in with my regular group. It’s a tightrope walk of weighing my options, predicting the outcomes, and making the call to add a game to my carefully cultivated menagerie.
That, or I see a shiny box that looks neat and snatch it up. Sometimes that works, too.
For her second contribution to our Friday with the Fellows posts, music writer Katie Moulton interviews her pal Jordan Jacks, a writer and record collector, about his quarantine project of cataloging his massive record collection in alphabetical order and reviewing each album on Twitter. It was an opportunity to think about play within constraints, connected to music.
Play requires constraints. This was a concept we discussed frequently in our fellowship seminar in the fall 2019 semester: the seeming paradox that fun – and its attendant sensation of creative freedom – were only made possible by the players first agreeing on a set of rules and boundaries. These days, we’re all getting very familiar with constraints – not only conceptually but in the real physical limits of living during a pandemic.
As weeks flip by, I find myself bored of my own four lucky walls, uninterested in my shelves of unread books, sick of my Netflix queue, played out on my own Spotify library. If we’ve entered the “magic circle” unwillingly, can we still locate magic or fun there? How can we find creative, meaningful reflection – or at least, a little lightness?
These questions were on my mind, as I numbly scrolled through Twitter, when I discovered the delightful quarantine endeavor of my friend Jordan Jacks. Jordan is an Ohio-based writer, musician, and music aficionado, with a killer record collection. On March 14, he set himself the task of listening to his considerable vinyl collection of 400-500 albums – one by one, each album in its entirety, in alphabetical order. He considers each album, then writes a brief review – each no longer than the character limit of a tweet. In doing so, he’s rediscovering the musical gems that he already has – both worn-out favorites and records he forgot he owned – and, to make a synesthetic metaphor, hearing them all in new lights.
We spoke over Zoom this week to talk about this project, surprises and satisfying juxtapositions, how rules result in randomness, and how his writing, music making and music listening work in tandem. You can dive into Jordan’s glorious record collection – in ongoing alphabetical order – on Twitter at @jordanrjacks.
May we all find ways to listen to what surrounds us and our internal rhythms with renewed ears!
Artists mentioned in this conversation:
Jordan Jacks, @jordanrjacks: https://www.jordanjacks.com
Marisa Anderson: https://www.marisaandersonmusic.com
Roy Ayers (#1 vibraphone player): http://www.royayers.com
Wally Badarou: https://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/lectures/wally-badarou-wally-street-journals
Our Friday with the Fellows posts continue this week with a second video from artist Edgar Frias. In this video, Edgar supports you in doing your own tarot reading for yourself or for your loved ones, including lighting sage to cleanse the space, spraying etheric aura spray, and shuffling the tarot cards to get to that place that’s just right. Make yourself your favorite cup of tea and sit back, relax, and enjoy the soothing ASMR sounds of a tarot reading.
08:31 – Aries
10:25 – Taurus
11:55 – Gemini
13:49 – Cancer
15:48 – Leo
17:00 – Virgo
18:43 – Libra
20:03 – Scorpio
21:45 – Sagittarius
23:20 – Capricorn
25:20 – Aquarius
26:47 – Pisces
Our Friday with Fellows features contributions by public OCH fellows (past and present) and will focus on providing content that entertains, enlightens, and eases some of our shared stress (and boredom) during the Covid-19 crisis. Stay tuned each Friday!
Welcome to the third installment of Friday with the Fellows, a series of posts by our OCH fellows intended to entertain and inspire during the age of social distancing. This week, OCH fellow Dr. David Chandler talks about how tabletop games are not only a great distraction during times of uncertainty but also meaningful experiences and engines for discussion. He then offers up some suggestions for newcomers to this popular hobby!
The tabletop is a medium for expression. Families gather there for meals. Political or business decisions are made over a round of drinks. It’s the centerpiece for holiday gatherings, religious celebrations, or important parties. Currently, mine is piled high with books and documents, unopened mail and graded papers, laptops and headphones–all the detritus of a makeshift workspace while my wife and I perform our jobs from home. Now, our table is an expression of anxiety and shifting priorities as we do what we can to get through the day.
But at least once a week, we clear it (or, if I’m being honest just kind of shove our pile of occupational obligations to the side) and make a space for a game. In the shadow of all that we have to do, we set apart a place to play, to open a beer and agree to abide by a set of rules for a set amount of time in pursuit of this transient idea called “fun.” We draw cards, roll dice, move plastic or wooden pieces across a board, work against each other or together, depending on the game we play. In that brief time, we find a way to connect and enjoy each other’s company despite the anxious pull of work, of quarantine, of the world outside the boundaries of a few rules and some bits of cardboard.
Tabletop games have been a hobby interest of mine for a few years and a professional interest for a few semesters. I’ve written about why I like to use them in my college classrooms to help my students hone their abilities in analysis and textual interpretation, but one of the curious of talking about games purely in a functional capacity is that doing so (arguably) risks their potential to entertain. And that’s what interests me for this blog post, that ineffable thing that makes games so entertaining.
Perhaps a few years ago, I would have to go through the list of misconceptions about tabletop games–they’re all boring, there’s only like six of them (Risk, Uno, Chess, Monopoly, Sorry, maybe Clue if you’re into the obscure stuff, Dungeons and Dragons for the more intense players), modern ones are too complicated, they’re only for nerdy hobbyists. In truth modern tabletop games provide experiences ranging from small card games you can learn in minutes to sprawling experiences that fill your living room with dice and plastic, and it has never been easier to get into tabletop gaming. And there’s no better way to pass the time while social distancing than setting aside some time and space to connect with your family, your partner, or your friends (playing games via Zoom or Google hangouts can work! I’ve tried it!).
In a 2017 talk, game critic and editor of the site Shut Up & Sit Down explained, “Games are interesting because people are interesting.” And while it seems an obvious statement, it is an honest one. You learn about the people you play with because everything you do at the table communicates information, whether that’s pushing your luck with a dice roll, trying to deceive your opponent in a game of social deduction, or setting up a long- or short-term strategy on your path to board game victory. The funny thing is, the game doesn’t have to be a grand system of processes or an expensive production of components and rules to help you engage with others in surprising and novel ways.
The tabletop is a medium, a canvas for expression, and tabletop games over a myriad of ways to illustrate what that means. Games can tell stories, simulate grand-scale conflicts, offer intricate puzzles to solve, and generally provide shared experiences and ideas among a group of people. I can scarcely think of a more worthwhile activity to occupy our time during today’s uncertainty than coming together to play.
So, over the course of a few blog posts, I’m going to, hopefully, convince you that tabletop games are more than just distractions; they’re meaningful experiences, engines for discussion, and some of the most fascinating texts to explore. In the meantime, here are a few resources at your disposal if you think you have a passing interest in the hobby.
Online and local resources
Board Game Geek – BoardGameGeek (BGG) is, by all accounts, a hideous website. However, it is the most comprehensive resource for board game information out there. Essentially, it’s a massive database of tabletop games that compiles everything from reviews, news, forums, product availability, a trade market, and anything else you could possibly want to know. If you’re playing a game and you come across a confusing rule (which will happen), you can just Google your question, and the first answer will likely be a forum on BGG.
The Dice Tower – The Dice Tower is probably the biggest game review and information site on the internet. If you’re interested in any sort of game, the smart money says they’ve covered it in some capacity.
Shut Up & Sit Down – Shut Up & Sit Down is my favorite resource for games news and all around good games writing. Their reviews extend beyond the simple buy/don’t buy commentary by offering a reading of a game and its mechanics.
No Pun Included – No Pun Included focuses chiefly on reviews. Their YouTube channel is fun and informative.
Shuffles Board Game Cafe (Tulsa) – While you can’t hang out there during the outbreak, Shuffles is currently offering a game checkout service for some of its stock. If you want to try a game before you buy, give them a call (and get some good food while you’re there).
“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. Indeed, as lovers of the arts and humanities, we hope that others find solace in poetry that, despite often being written in the most difficult of times, still reaches toward hope.
In celebration of National Poetry Month, we asked our community to submit videos of themselves reading one of their favorite poems. In this first installment of Corona Coffeehouse, English faculty at the University of Tulsa share their poetry picks. We hope you enjoy this series–and find some comfort in poetry during these challenging times.
Welcome to our second edition of Friday with the Fellows–a series of posts by our OCH fellows intended to entertain and inspire during the age of social distancing. Katie Moulton and Layne Farmen, 2019-20 OCH fellows (and our resident music aficionados), made you a mix. Four, to be exact. We can all use a little musical self-soothing right now, and these fit the bill perfectly. What music is currently getting you through quarantine?
For me, making playlists is an important, multi-faceted strategy of self-soothing. This practice of arranging a certain number of songs in a certain order has taken various forms in my life, depending on available tech: from mixtapes and copied CDs to illegally downloaded hodge-podges that disappeared when LimeWire did, to my own radio set lists.
My playlists serve as expressions if not outright declarations of feelings. They are a record by all definitions, a form of diary. The process of creating them is a distracting puzzle with mysterious stakes and answers I only know when I hear them. In these days of upheaval and isolation, the clear sense that we are living through something – or hoping to – those of us so inclined are making a lot of playlists.
I have always made mixes for friends, families, parties. I like to mix genres, styles, genders, and especially eras. I like to vary the mainstream-ness of the choices: If I play you a song you love from Top 40 radio, then you’ll slide seamlessly into the next track that’s perhaps underground, overlooked, and connected to sounds that already resonate with you. (On the first mix below, for example, we move from Halsey to Thundercat to Al Green.) I like to play with tempo and emotion: to start on one peak, for example, then descend into a valley dense with pines, and maybe, if we’re lucky, emerge into dappled light, far and not-far from where we started. No matter what, the choices are intuitive, drawing first from the vault of records in my head and the fresh earworms that are burrowing new homes in me even as I type this.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, when I worked as a radio DJ that I fully understood the reach a playlist could have. I had a weekday morning show, and it was part of my job to ease my neighbors into their day. Through a song, I could get them ready for whatever they had to face; I could surprise them with a memory—and I would never have any idea it was happening. But when someone called in to say thank you or stopped me at the local bar (remember those?) because they recognized my voice, the invisible thread between us snapped, vibrated. A playlist is filtered through my highly individual lens, but it can entertain, communicate, and record an experience beyond my own. Certain songs in a certain order can mean something collectively.
We don’t all have access to sourdough starters or watercolor canvases during this collective lockdown—or the time or money to bemoan our boredom and be intentional in our soul-searching. I certainly don’t.
But my wish now is that we, all of us, have access to some kind of music. I wish that you have a computer and decent wi-fi, an old record player with a sensitive needle, or a cassette player in a car that maybe has never been used. I wish you a guitar in your kitchen and an open door. I wish you a delight as unexpected as this one from my neighborhood: A white-haired man in a black hat emerged on the first mild spring evening, and then began to play a bagpipe – of all things! – shrill and spirited from the shadows of his porch. When he stopped and we on our stoops stood and applauded, he seemed as surprised by our gift as we were by his.
I wish you music. I offer you playlists. The first, “Dark Times, Light Songs: Zoom Dance Party” is for communing and shaking your body with friends in the uncanny valley of a video chat room. The second, “Songs from Six Feet Apart” is for pressing your face to your front window, contemplating, feeling this moment. I’m already thinking of more songs to add to these lists—say, anything by the mountain John Prine. But that’s the best thing about playlists: They can be collaborative, and they are ever editable, ever changeable. In that way, they live and move as we do.
Dark Times, Light Songs, Zoom Dance Party Mix
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince
“Kill the Lights (with Nile Rodgers)” by Alex Newell, Jess Glynne, DJ Cassidy (Audien Remix)
“Take Shelter” by Years & Years (alternate track: “Don’t Panic”)
“Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa
“Adore You” by Harry Styles
“Graveyard” by Halsey
“Them Changes” by Thundercat
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by Al Green
“Want You in My Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen
“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” by Caroline Polachek
“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen
“Hard to Kill” by Bleached
“This Will Be Our Year” by the Zombies
“All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem
“America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” by the Menzingers
Songs from Six Feet Apart
“America” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Everybody’s Talkin'” by Harry Nilsson
“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff
“Strangers” by The Kinks
“Streets of Philadelphia” by Francesca Blanchard
“Delete Forever” by Grimes
“Old Friends” by Pinegrove
“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths
“Everything Is Free Now” by Sylvan Esso/Flock of Dimes
“17 Days (demo)” by Prince
“Cold War” by Cautious Clay
“The Dreamer” by Anderson .Paak
“No Rain” by Blind Melon
“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile
I wanted to make room for two distinct kinds of catharsis: through music and songs that make me feel like keeping my head down, pressing on through a dark and dismal tunnel, and through music and songs that make me feel like raising my head to see the finish line ahead.
Some tracks were, admittedly, chosen for their low-hanging applicability to COVID life. “No one ever told me leaving was the easy part” MUNA sings, “I gotta stay away.”
Some were chosen for a single line, like Earl Sweatshirt’s “lately I don’t like shit I stay inside on the daily,” an interpolation of his appropriately entitled LP I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, a piece of art centered on both depression and misanthropy; staying inside all the time, even when one isn’t supposed to.
Some are important because their release can never be dissociated from the pandemic and its far-reaching influence. Like “Tiger King” became forever embedded into the American zeitgeist whether we liked it or not, Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul,” already an absolute magnum opus on death, history, and popular culture, is now perhaps the most essential document we have that captures this current national moment: an enduring “O Captain! My Captain!” for the 21st century.
Arguably my favorite selections of each list are the firsts: Charly Bliss’s “Capacity” is one of the best songs from one of the best albums of last year, a synth-heavy power-pop testament to the state of being totally overwhelmed. And Vampire Weekend’s recent “2021” is a small cut on a giant album, but it’s central conceit takes on new significance now in “Generation C”: What will we be thinking about in 2021? Will we wait a year, will we have to wait three?
Admittedly, there is going to be some slippage between the lists. Many of the tracks that sound hopeful also have to reconcile with hard realities: There is no unqualified optimism here. This may be on best display with the stirring, show-stopping single from The 1975, which balances two arena-ready hooks, between shouting “Modernity has failed us” and “Love it if we made it.” I think these two lines are great encapsulations of the two crucial kinds of revelations music has offered me the past few weeks: the way we’ve failed (the way we’ve been failed), and the way I want us so badly to make it through. All of these tracks are pieces that have made my heart soar, whether I was thinking about the tunnel or the light.
“Capacity” by Charly Bliss
“Stayaway” by MUNA
“breathin’” by Ariana Grande
“Coldest Winter” by Kanye West
“Xanny” by Billie Eilish
“Isolation” by John Lennon
“Ballad of the Dying Man” by Father John Misty
“I’m Sleeping in a Submarine” by Arcade Fire
“Inside” by Earl Sweatshirt
“If You Need to, Keep Time On Me” by Fleet Foxes
“Paranoia in B Major” by Avett Brothers
“Murder Most Foul” by Bob Dylan
“2021” by Vampire Weekend
“Love It If We Made It” by The 1975
“Bastard” by Polyenso
“Upside” by Steph Simon
“Balm in Gilead” by Sunday Service Choir
“Faith” by Bon Iver
“Due West” by Kelsey Lu
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
“Coming Home” by Pusha-T feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill
“High” by Young Thug feat. Elton John
“Blessings” by Lecrae feat. Ty Dolla Sign
“Finish Line” by Chance the Rapper
This week, we are beginning a new blog series entitled “Friday with the Fellows.” These posts will feature contributions by public OCH fellows (past and present) and will focus on providing content that entertains, enlightens, and eases some of our shared stress (and boredom) during the Covid-19 crisis. This week’s post features a calming meditation and ritual by artist and psychotherapist Edgar Frias. Click here to learn more about Edgar’s work in the Tulsa community and beyond.
As we sit with the uncertainty, fear, ease, boredom, overwhelm, and deep grief of this global pandemic, it can be helpful to return our awareness to our body, our organs, and our connection to the earth. To feel a sense of terrestrial communion in the era of social distancing and social media overwhelm.
Feel free to listen to this meditation as is or, if you’d like, you could turn this meditation into a personal ritual. Below, I offer a few suggestions on how to do this, but feel free to improvise and use whatever you have at hand. It is important for the ceremony to feel right for you and for it to honor your intentions and realities.
First, find a comfortable place, preferably a quiet space where you will not be interrupted for a few minutes. Light a candle and set an intention as a way to begin your ritual. This intention can be a word, a sentence, or a prayer. Your intention can also be a song, humming, chanting, or a moment of dancing. After this, anoint yourself with essential oils or flower essences, or alternatively, feel free to hold a flower or a fruit in your hands. If it feels right, you can rub this plant all over yourself, starting with your face. Let yourself connect with the plant’s energies, try to get a sense of its spirit. Is it communicating with you?
The goal of this process is to start to shift our attention, clear our minds and cleanse our spirits. Returning to sensation and connection is a powerful way to shift out of other states of awareness and return to the basics. Plants are incredibly generous in the love and care they offer. If you do not have any plants near you, you could also try using a stone, a bowl of water, a feather, seeds, or a cup of tea.
Once you feel like you’ve connected with yourself and with the plant long enough, return your attention to your breath, and begin your transition into the guided meditation. Feel free to bring your plant ally with you and hold onto them during the meditation or place them on your altar or kitchen table. Feel free to write, dance, draw, or call a friend to process your experience afterward.
I hope this meditation can provide you with a moment of respite and emotional support. I also hope this meditation can remind you of the powerful resources you have both within and without.
Join us every Thursday at 5:00 pm on Facebook for a much needed #humanitieshappyhour. Each week, we’ll be going live from the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities Facebook page to share a dose of arts and humanities, paired with a themed beverage.
For our inaugural humanities happy hour, Sean Latham, the OCH Director and Editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, will host a live reading and discussion of James Joyce’s “Eveline.” The event is free and open to everyone.
Grab a Guiness or make an Irish cocktail, order in some bangers and mash, and join us for this Irish-themed Humanities Happy Hour.
The following Thursday, join Machele Dill, Director of the Musical Theatre Program at The University of Tulsa, in her virtual “Quarantini Lounge” for a COVID cabaret performance!
Each week we will feature a special themed drink recipe from one of our favorite local bars or restaurants. Let’s help support the people who make Tulsa great during the Covid-19 crisis.
This week’s blog post comes from TU English Ph.D. student and 2017-18 OCH fellow, Seungho Lee. As an international student living in Tulsa, Seungho reflects on how his sense of home has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
During a time of crisis, our sense of home changes dramatically. Disasters like the current coronavirus pandemic often reveal who belongs in a society and who does not; who has resources and who does not; who is protected and who is not; and, who is more at home and who is less at home. What I’ve been going through over the past month is insignificant compared to those who have to worry about simply sustaining their lives on a daily basis. Still, I want to share my story, hoping that it can help us think together about what it’s like to be away from home at a time like this. Living abroad as a non-citizen in the context of a global pandemic feels less secure, less anchored. It has forced me to ponder where I could stay if forced to leave my current home, where I would feel most comfortable and confident to deal with the situation, and where I can find, or make, a home for myself and my family despite all of the difficulties.
On March 19th, at 12:56 pm, I received an email from University of Tulsa stating that they were going to restrict access to the campus, including the apartments, due to the Covid-19 crisis. My family and I have been living on campus for almost four years, and we had never thought about having to leave before we completed our graduate degrees, or being asked to leave by the university, even for valid reasons. Luckily, TU promised exemptions for those whose permanent addresses were abroad or couldn’t travel back home at the moment. The email stated that if a request for exemption was declined, however, students should plan to move out by 5 pm the following day, March 20th. Even with the promise of exemptions, this email was powerful enough to disconcert me. I made a request very promptly. But I couldn’t help fearing the worst possible scenario: what if my request was turned down and I wouldn’t be able to go back home? If that happened, where would we go? I knew it was very unlikely that we’d be declined, but not impossible. My wife began looking for tickets for flights departing as early as possible. It seemed that there were a lot of people like us—people yearning for homecoming during this difficult time. Flight costs had skyrocketed. Our laptop screen showed us the search result: $15,000 for three people. That’s over three times more than what it would normally cost to fly back to South Korea. That’s more than my yearly stipend. Still, the laptop appeared indifferent, even uninterested, while all of us were visibly shaken.
I received a result on March 20th, 8:12 pm that my request for exemption was accepted. Our status was up in the air for only about 31 hours, but the idea of having nowhere to go was troubling enough to wear me out completely. I became distressed and discouraged. I couldn’t focus on anything. I couldn’t put down my phone. I constantly refreshed my email inbox, only to discover more spam. I got impatient, which made my wife and child impatient. I felt like the roof over my head was going to fall down. Or the floor was going to split apart. Thankfully, none of that happened. But in my fantasy, it all felt like it was happening. During those 31 hours, I feared that, despite all my efforts for the last 4 years to make Tulsa our home away from home, it was not my real home. By real home, I mean a place you can claim as your own no matter what. A place you can keep your roots firmly planted, whatever storm comes.
But I’ve glimpsed a silver lining. I’ve found what may matter more. It has been a pleasant surprise that my family has received so many emails and messages showing concern about us. The messages came from our close friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and professors. They all expressed their worries and their willingness to help us if something happens. One of them was even going to introduce to us her colleague who had some space for us to stay. We found these messages very encouraging. They helped us have the guts to face the situation. The pandemic might push us out of our place, yet people out there can keep us feeling at home. It’s not the place we’ve been living in, but the human connections that we’ve been building up that would house us, shelter us. We may not find our real home in Tulsa. But we can make an effort to make a home with our Tulsa friends.
In fact, even with the request being approved, there is still a possibility that we might have to move out if things get worse and the university further restricts access to the housing. But now, our belief in the people around us, the ties that anchor us, help us keep going as if everything’s going to be alright. We’re managing to do what we were doing. We’re having a semblance of peace as we did in the pre-coronavirus days. We’re feeling taken care of, accommodated, and protected, thanks to those reaching out and checking in.
Through all of this, I’ve found that we are merely standing on what appears to be solid ground. The house we’ve been living in is not as secure as we thought it would be, and it may not be able to protect us when we need its protection most. But I’ve also realized that we are linked. Warm-hearted people around us hold us tight to make sure we will be able to go through this time. Solid ground may be an illusion, but solidarity is not. Life can be rough and fluctuating, but we can be a shelter to each other. When a physical shelter—whether it’s simply a place to live or the planet itself—no longer works, people can make it work, by being home to each other.
We’re happy to announce that with the cooperation of Project MUSE, you’ll now be able to access current and back issues of TU’s acclaimed journals JJQ and TSWL for free through the early part of June.
Sean Latham, Director of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities and Editor for The James Joyce Quarterly says “We hope this will make things easier for all those struggling to teach, learn, and do research in these trying circumstances.”
Founded in 1963 at the University of Tulsa by Thomas F. Staley, the James Joyce Quarterly has been the flagship journal of international Joyce studies ever since. In each issue, the JJQ brings together a wide array of critical and theoretical work focusing on the life, writing, and reception of James Joyce.
According to Jennifer Airey, Editor forTulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, “Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature was the first scholarly journal devoted solely to the study of women’s literature, and we remain one of the best known and well-respected journals in the field. We have a really broad scope – we publish articles on women’s writings from all nations and all time periods – so we have something to interest everyone. We also publish essays on little-known archives and digital tools for studying women’s literature, and personal essays on the experience of being a woman or studying women’s literature in academia.
Dr. Latham and Dr. Airey both hope having access to these journals might ease the burden on students and instructors so that they can continue research and coursework as smoothly as possible.
In response to the challenges created by the global public health crisis of COVID-19, Project MUSE is making scholarly content temporarily available for free on their platform. With many higher education institutions moving into an exclusively online learning environment for the foreseeable future, access to vetted research in the humanities and social sciences, from a variety of distinguished university presses, societies, and related not-for-profit publishers, will help to support teaching, learning, and knowledge discovery for users worldwide.
This week’s blog post comes from TU Media Studies professor and 2019-20 OCH fellow, Mark Brewin. As the resident sports aficionado for this years’ PLAY seminar, Mark shares some of his favorite sports-related diversions to enjoy during this challenging time of social isolation (and basketball’s coronavirus-induced hiatus).
Tired of watching CNN and updating Johns Hopkins’ worldwide coronavirus map on my browser, I decided to take the advice of our seminar’s wise and illustrious leader, Dr. Sean Latham, and spend my time a little more productively, by thinking how Play can help us muddle through the current moment. Because I was the “sporting” representative in our group, I’m going to suggest some ways to use sports right now, in a seriously playful manner.
So, how to do that? I am avoiding ESPN for the most part. As nothing much is going on and the content is currently mostly filler. There’s MMA, but I hate MMA: a not terribly clever, ongoing con, on the level of the current President of the United States. Everything else has shut down, and there’s only so much interest I can muster in Tom Brady’s future with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You could re-watch old classic games, but this sort of thing has never done much for me. The drama of sports is tied to the moment. It is because we cannot be sure what will happen, because the narrative is not already determined as it is with a play or a novel, that we find the contest fascinating. Maybe I’ll get around to watching game seven of the 2004 ACLS, which will never get old. Other than that, no.
If you absolutely must troll through old tape, though, I would skip the underdog victories—NC State beating Houston in the 1983 NCAAs, the 1980 US men’s Olympic hockey team, and focus instead on specific teams rather than specific games. The point here is not the outcome of the match but watching group of human beings doing an extremely difficult physical task well, in coordination with others. Think of it as more of an aesthetic experience than a sporting one. Teams I have in mind are those who played a sport at an especially high level of excellence on a consistent basis: the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s or the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s in hockey; in basketball, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls or Stephan Curry’s Golden States Warriors (in the first half of the 2010s, before they signed Durant and started to win ugly); for baseball, as much as it hurts to say it, probably the Derek Jeter-Bernie Williams-Scott Brosius-Jorge Posada era Yankees. And for soccer, the team that made me fall in love with that sport—Barcelona circa 2009, with Messi coming into top form, Carles Puyol and his heavy metal hair still covering up for Pique on the back line, and Xavi weaving the whole thing together.
There are a lot of great movies filled with sports-related content that also have some larger points to make about the human condition. Hoosiers, Downhill Racer, and The Games (about the 1960s Olympic marathon) all feature flawed but fascinating central characters, in which the desire to win can overtake the demands of basic human decency. The internal conflicts at the center mean these are decent films to watch for non-sports fans (although a warning that some of the sexual and racial politics of The Games has not aged well.) The masterpiece within this genre, of course, is Raging Bull. It is a beautiful film, but I’m guessing that most people have already seen it. If not, then you should probably see it: coronavirus or not.
Chariots of Fire used to have a reputation of being over-rated (it won the Academy Award in 1981) but for the life of me I can’t see why. It is an inspiring story. The two main British characters at the center went on to very different lives. Harold Abrahams became a sports journalist and was strongly involved in athletics for the rest of his life; Eric Liddell went to China and did missionary work. The Church of England has a feast day in Liddell’s honor (February 22), which is as close as an Anglican can get to sainthood. Less serious options: John Huston’s Escape to Victory is a WW II-era narrative, basically a mash-up of a sports film and The Great Escape. Michael Caine plays a British officer who constantly gets into it with Sylvester Stallone’s wise-acre American in a prison camp. The two then get involved with a proposed match against a star team from the camp and an elite German squad, to be played before a cowed French audience in occupied Paris. The purpose of the game is to have the prisoners lose to the Germans and give the Nazis a propaganda coup (Guess what? That doesn’t happen.) The reason to see the film is the roster of other actors who play both prisoners of war and Stallone’s and Caine’s team-mates. They are all famous soccer players, including the great Pelé.
Field of Dreams is a fable, but of the right kind. While it provides us with a false picture of American society, it is at least one worth striving towards. Might be a good tonic when you are feeling especially low any time in the next few weeks and wondering whether we can get ourselves through this mess.
If you would actually prefer to read something, I have several books to suggest: Levels of the Game, John McPhee’s non-fictional account of a game between two young American tennis players, Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, in the 1968 US Open. At several points McPhee alludes to, but never explicitly mentions, the central drama of the game, which is that in this tournament Ashe had the chance to become the first African American man to win the Open. BS Johnson’s The Unfortunates, a book in a box that allows you to shuffle the chapters to create your own story arc, is a bit of a cheat for this list. Soccer figures only peripherally to the main narrative. It is more of a framing device, as the main character has been sent by his London newspaper to cover a Manchester City game. Nonetheless, the notion of play is key to the book’s form and its theme. Finally, The Rider, by Dutch writer Tim Krabbé, who took up professional cycling only after he had established a career as a journalist. Krabbé was also a championship chess player and wrote the novel on which the creepy suspense film The Vanishing was based. Like McPhee’s book, the entirety of The Rider’s narrative is limited to a single event, in this case a cycling race.
The single greatest piece of sports prose fiction I have ever read was “Pafko at the Wall,” by Don DeLillo, which was published in Harper’s magazine in 1991 and then became a chapter in the novel Underworld. For a reason that no one has been able to satisfactorily explain, baseball seems to be the sport most congenial to the American literary class, or at least the white male subset: John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” and Bartlett Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind”—which memorably begins, “It breaks your heart. It was designed to break your heart”—are other classics of this genre.
Though American football is a somewhat ugly sport, it’s inspired some pretty good writing, such as DeLillo’s End Zone and Ben Fountain’s novel about America during the time of the Iraq War, Billy Fountain’s Long Halftime Walk. Because of its military-industrial overtones, football serves as a nice analogy for modern American empire. If baseball is who we would like to think we are, football, maybe, is who we really are.
Online sports prose, for those who don’t want Amazon employees to have to move any more product right now, features two outstanding examples, both of which are no longer current but have kept their websites up. The more famous of these, Grantland, might just be the single greatest source of sports journalism since the turn of the century. Its very existence absolves Bill Simmons of a whole host of other sins committed against modern popular culture. Less famous is the Brian Phillips-edited The Run of Play, devoted to soccer. Phillips, who grew up in Ponca City, OK, is simply a great writer on almost anything. His book, Impossible Owls, includes a lot of good stuff on sports and other subjects.
My last general set of suggestions deals with documentaries, both written and filmed. Hoop Dreams is a classic and, like Raging Bull, may be a little too obvious. But if you haven’t seen it, you should see it: again, even if you don’t like sports. It is as compelling a dissection of race and class in America as you’ll find almost anywhere. The literary equivalent to Hoop Dreams is Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, about high school football in small-town Texas. Hollywood took up Bissinger’s book and made him rich. While doing so, by turning it into movie first and then a TV series, it also stripped out all the politics of Bissinger’s original work. Laurent Dubois’ Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, is another good non-fictional account of sport with politics thrown in, although Dubois’ story about the victorious 1998 French men’s World Cup squad is more optimistic in tone than Bissinger’s. Dubois’ book came out in 2010, though: one suspects that he might have written a more sober account now.
Other good sports docs include: The Two Escobars, about the intersection of international drug cartels and World Cup soccer, and the recent Diego Maradona, about the player other than Pelé who has a claim to being soccer’s GOAT. A great movie that is non-fiction but not a documentary: The Damned United, about a complicated, infuriating, and brilliant English soccer coach named Brian Clough.
We’re almost done, but I wanted to add some sports that you can do alone or online. The latter includes a whole raft of modern digital games—Esports. For the former: well, running. And cycling. Just remember to take a wide berth when you pass someone.
Okay that’s it. I could go on for longer but the purpose of these kinds of lists is to be incomplete. If you want to argue with anything here or point out some obvious missed titles, let me know in the comments section.