Anxietyversary

I meant to write this post a couple of days back, but my body had some other ideas (sneezy, wheezy feverish ones) as to how I should spend my weekend. Resting, Kleenex, and Netflix pretty much sums up the experience as my sinuses tried to bridge the ocular socket gap to achieve a unified homeland on my face. I’m still recovering today, but I finally feel well enough to sit at the computer to type this out.

It was a year ago yesterday that I had the largest continuous anxiety attack of my life. The proximate cause of the attack was the idea of flying to meet The Girlfriend in Aruba for a couple of rest and relaxation days. I had been looking forward to it for weeks since it was also where I wanted to propose to her. Tropical sunsets, sandy beaches, and the two of us together for a couple of days of doing not much of anything. That’s not the part that scared me.

I was nervous about the flight leading up to it, but my thoughts were decidedly mixed. While I was not the best flyer over the years, I did manage to Australia and back which entails fourteen hour flight times. The statistics are on the side of safety, despite what popular culture and media outlets like to tell us about flying. Surely, I could have a four and a half hour one.

I was decidedly wrong.

My previous experience with anxiety had been handled well by Xanax. Not so this time as each dose I took was steadily consumed by the terror that now wracked my thoughts and body. Literally, I could not stop shaking from the fear. Rational thoughts bounced off the irrational feelings like paper balls thrown at a fire door. Even with the intervention of The Girlfriend and my parents, I could not stop it. I got a few hours of sleep before waking up for my airport departure time. I couldn’t stop shaking or heart racing or the impending terror that was building from all the “what ifs” parading through my head, intensified by what limited options I would have once I was up in the air.

I simply couldn’t do it. And it killed me to finally admit.

It killed me because that day and the few days afterward I could not imagine my future at all. I felt detached from my life entirely, that it was over in the sense of I didn’t know what would happen next or what I should do. (I would note that feeling my life was over did not cross paths with suicidal thoughts. I just couldn’t imagine what I was supposed to do.) I felt like I was standing before a great blank wall, unyielding and impassable. So deep, so primal, so complete was this failure that I just completely shut down. I felt like I had disappointed everyone around me, that I was no longer reliable, and that I had nothing left to offer the world. It reminds me of an expression that Hell is not a place where we do when we die, but a place in our minds that amplifies all of our negative emotions. In that sense, I was in Hell.

Life goes on, as they say, and this simply notion is the first step towards emerging back into the light. As the cataclysm of that wicked day started to recede, I felt my feet return back to ground. That awful fog lifted and I started to see what I needed to do to recapture my life. I made the call to an employee mental health line and found a really awesome therapist. I found a good anxiety medication that works without side effects that I had experience before on other medications. I am very lucky in that I had a very good support system with The Girlfriend, my parents, my brother and SIL, friends, and coworkers. I’ve gotten back to almost normal not simply because I got treatment, but also had the support network to help me get there.

The importance thing to share is that my story doesn’t end there. While I didn’t get to propose in Aruba, but I did propose on Valentine’s Day in our hotel room in Lambertville, NJ. As she is now The Wife, you can tell what the answer was. I still do feel the anxiety especially when I’m traveling, but the more I go places the easier it has gotten for me. I feel that I am still moving forward, even though I have no plans for stepping on an airplane in the near future.

I do have somewhat selfish reasons for writing this since making it back this far over the course of a year is something to crow about; I’m proud of having brought my anxiety under control and resumed my life. But I also know that these kinds of posts can help others by encouraging them to seek out treatment and help, to step out and say that they have anxiety, and to bring visibility to the issue. My career has not yet peaked and my life is not yet done for all the things I want to do. Anxiety is my personal struggle, but not something that I will suffer in silence or let contain me.

Happy anxietyversary to me.

Honeymoon

It’s been over a month since the last post and with good reason. I got married at the end of October in a wedding that I can only describe as perfect. Granted, I am biased on this account. Also, given that I have been married before this is certain to raise questions and/or ire in some people, but since I have no control over that I’m going to move on. It’s just how I saw it.

The event itself was on a gorgeous albeit windy (and therefore chilly) autumn day attended by a small group of family. The Wife and I wanted it to be a cordial and close knit family affair with some drinks, dancing, and the accoutrements that make weddings memorable experiences. Personally, my favorite wedding story comes from the ceremony itself which took place outside. The Wife had a veil over her face which upon entering into the sunlight turned it into a giant white wall through which she couldn’t see. All she could think about was that there were people who could see her so she had to keep smiling and rely on her father to guide over the asphalt and brickwork. She only saw me (and everyone else, for that matter) for the first time once she was right next to me.

These last few weeks have been about learning to live together since we had not before the ceremony and getting into a new rhythm and schedule. I’m both happy and sorry to say that this has been a rather mundane process punctuated with some amusement as we find where our pet peeves cross. In settling down with each other, I’ve also taken the time to put some distance and perspective on the library world. As hindsight tends to be 20/20, I’ve realized how overdue I’ve been for such a break. No one can keep up this kind of pace forever, especially on their own, and as other priorities assert themselves (family, eventual children, friends, hobbies) it puts it in its place.

Overall, I know that my interest in writing in this blog comes and goes, waxing and waning in the topic cycles of the library world. While there are issues that I like to follow, there are only some many times I can hammer on things like eBooks or intellectual freedom without feeling like I’m regurgitating stale points to the same audience. There is a difference between being a cheerleader and a strategic leader; while each has their own value, I’m starting to feel like I can’t tell the difference. Or, more importantly, which role I should be playing.

I’ve previously expressed my disappointment in the state of discourse in the columns and blogosphere of libraryland; with notable exceptions, the rest is bland, sterile, and eyerollingly passive aggressive. I don’t share as much as I used to on Twitter because there isn’t that much worthy of sharing. I would bet dollars to donuts that I’m not the only one who has seen the same pattern in the online librarian community.

I’m not certain what awaits in this blog and as downcast as I make this post out to be, this is not an announcement that I’m completely out of the game. I’m enjoying being on the proverbial bench, watching other people try their hand at this game of ours. In resting, I draw on my other major strength of being a catalyst for people and ideas. I’m a very social creature so I’m looking fine tune my extended network and see how I can help out from behind the scenes. That’s the action that interests me now, but I’ll be sure to keep you guys in the loop.

Just like the new life I’m starting with The Wife, I feel a new life coming on in my profession. It’s just a matter of taking it day by day.

The Eternal Clouds of the Anxious Mind

I have anxiety.

It may seem strange to some, but I labored over the wording of that first sentence. Other phrases like “live with”, “suffer from”, and “have been diagnosed with” didn’t seem to quite capture the nuance I was seeking. It’s not an unwanted roommate on equal footing with the rest of my mind and all I have to do is find a way to evict it. While there are times when I suffer from the symptoms that relate to anxiety, I don’t feel it warrants a term that is more aptly used to describe people in pain, torture, or other greater forms of physical or psychological duress. The diagnosis angle seems too impersonal and clinical for my preferences in approaching this topic as a blog post. While I won’t deny other people the right to use these terms for their own anxiety, I’m not a fan.

In combating the symptoms, I’ve been taking a low dose of anti-anxiety medication for the last few months. Prior to that, I had not been a big fan of the SSRI drug family. My first experience with these kinds of drugs was not the product of anxiety or depression, but as a migraine preventative. Where previous migraine bouts were limited to a couple of headaches over a couple of months then years apart, the migraines I experienced in my late 20’s decided to go full time. I was getting them every day or every other day which, combined with a visual aura followed by extreme light and noise sensitivity, puts a giant crimp on daily life. The SSRI I took then stopped them cold within a day and brought a scary health episode to a close. The downside while I was taking them was a lack of moods and insomnia, a combination that lead to lying awake in bed to think about why I didn’t have much emotional range. These aren’t exactly the best thoughts for lulling yourself to sleep each night. In later years, I took another drug from the SSRI group on a short term basis to deal with depression associated with my divorce. I had to switch medications because of the side effects which included those really bad thoughts they warn you about. While I would prefer not to be on medication, I can’t argue with the positive results with another drug from the same group this time. 

The mental health history of my family tree reads like the lineage of European nobility, for it is long and illustrious and apparently a tradition that is handed down from one generation to the next. I have three family members with paranoid schizophrenia diagnoses (a great uncle and two second cousins once removed). Beyond that, I’d have to take off my shoes to count the number of family members who have dealt with anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD, and other mental conditions over the course of their lives. Needless to say, family reunions are never dull.

There are times when I wonder how much (if at all) these mental illnesses influence my own mind. Do I have those occasional disturbing, haunting thoughts because I have an overactive imagination or it is the product of a dissociative condition? The realistic answer is former but the anxious mind doesn’t completely agree which is enough to put the splinter of doubt at the periphery. It shouldn’t be that way since I had an MRI of my brain done a couple years back when I was experiencing visual distortions every now and again. My neurologist went over the results and told me that my brain was structurally normal which also rules out other conditions. (Me, after finding out the results: “Good, I can now tell me I have a normal brain.” Neurologist, without missing a beat: “The structure is normal. This doesn’t cover function.”) 

I’ve wanted to write about anxiety for awhile because talking about it has always been helpful to me. The reality of acknowledgment always edges out any horrible possibilities that my mind can conjure while some obstacles just evaporate or become clearer by simply articulating them. The mental isolation, that all too often feeling that I am the only one in the world who can understand what it is like, melts away as others open up about their experiences. Sunshine, as they say, is the ultimate disinfectant and it has held true for me when it comes to anxiety. It’s not a silver bullet but it curtails the influence that anxiety can exert over me.

During his lifetime, Winston Chruchill referred to bouts of his depression as visits from his “black dog”. I wouldn’t call my anxiety that (mainly because I like dogs), but I can appreciate the frame of reference: something that comes and goes without much indication as to duration or frequency. Since my massive panic attack back in February, I’ve been on the march back towards the (relatively) normal life that I had before that time period. I’m much better than I was and continue to improve as time slowly marches that event further into my past and, yes, I still have a ways to go.

When and how it will make itself known in the future, I can’t possibly guess. But I will try to stick to that little phrase I picked up during my semester abroad in Australia so many years ago:

“No worries.”

Housekeeping

Call it “spring cleaning in the summer”, but I recently went through my social media stuff and took the time to figure out what I wanted to keep or delete. I’ve gotten bloated in the sheer number of social media accounts I have and I took a hard look at where I’ve signed up, what I still use, and how I want these sites in my life. The divide for how I use these sites is somewhere in the middle between personal and professional; while I maintain good contacts with friends and family, I also use it to promote my blog (read: myself). So, with some of those factors in mind, here’s how it went down.

Gone: My accounts on Google Plus and Pinterest as well as my Facebook author page. The first two I never checked ever unless I was at the brink of web boredom death. I never really saw much traffic from Google Plus to my blog and it turned into yet-another-place to dump a link. Even then, there wasn’t much interaction from my links and more often than not the notices were telling me how people I don’t know had added me to their circles. Or worse, that they have invited me to an event that I couldn’t give two damns about attending. Google Plus was the large annoying fly in the room and I finally just had to swat it.

I liked Pinterest, but beyond uploading the funny pictures I made, it didn’t hold much interest for me. I never remembered to pin things to it nor did I ever want to do so. I mean, isn’t that what Tumblr is for? (More on Tumblr later.)

As for my Facebook Author page, the apps were starting to get on my nerve. I had something that would import Tumblr and WordPress posts, but it was asking and re-asking permission every few weeks. When I realized that it had not posted in a few weeks, I was just plain frustrated. It didn’t bring much traffic either, but I will miss posting pictures with all the sharing ease it possessed. But, after all the other Facebook crap of the last couple of weeks, I just let it go.

On The Fence: Oh, LinkedIn. You’re like that person from high school who thinks that after graduation we should all stay in contact with each other. I keep getting emails from them so every now and then I go clear out all my messages and invitations. There are some people I know who really know how to work that site in terms of getting consulting and speaking gigs. God bless them, but it looks more exhausting to me than I care to do. I updated my profile and added my TechSoup writing to my experience, but I don’t know what else to do. Sure, I’d like more writing and speaking gigs and be able to help out libraries create social media strategies, but I’m still not entirely converted to the value professed to exist (nor am I willing to pay for the upgrade). I’ll keep it for now, but only because it’s a good passive billboard.

Keeping: Twitter is by far one of my strongest online presences professionally, so that’s certainly going to stay. I have lots of good contacts on Facebook so that will remain as part of my online “personal” life (yes, even if it is being supervised by the NSA). I’m enjoying being on Imgur, but I still have my toes in the water on that one. There is another social media website that I’m keeping, but it’s my last bastion of online privacy (I know, har har) so I have to defend it by keeping it secret.

I’m going to take another shot at Tumblr. All those Tumbrarian/Tumblrarian posts have made me take another look at the service. I enjoyed using it for the New Jersey Library Roadshow back in the fall since it can handle any kind of post, but I’ve had a harder time getting into the habit of using/checking it. The shame for me is that I really like how easy it is, how many formats I can post in, and how the new interface has moved along. I’ve used it in the past for "A View from Your Desk” (a collection of pictures taken from people’s library workspaces) and “LOLbrarian” (homemade memes). Right now, with it being connected to Twitter, it has worked well for things I want to post that are longer than a tweet. I’ll have to get better at tagging posts and adding content on a regular basis.

For what it’s worth, this cleaning has been very cathartic for me. In deleting some accounts and out of date blogs, I’ve removed some of the internet debris I’ve left lying around. I highly suggest taking a close look at your online footprint and taking action where needed.

It’s good to do a little housekeeping.

Something about Anxiety and Depression

I’ve been wanting to write something on anxiety and depression but I couldn’t think of a good opening. Having a good hook at the start of the post is important to me since it was important to all my English teachers over the years who taught me how to write. Sometimes I’ll find myself stymied because I know what I want to say as the major point I want to make, but I’m not always certain how to get to that point in order to say it. It’s frustrating to have a middle and an end but no opening.

So, yes, in writing about how I couldn’t think of a good way to open, I have given myself one. I think the major issue was that this topic is so personal and so hard to talk about sometimes. Yes, I am someone who lives with anxiety and depression. I was going to say “suffers from”, but I don’t think that puts the right spin on it. It’s something that inhabits me, not the other way around. To be fair, it’s more like a main entrée of anxiety with a side order of depression. And, like many of my fellow Americans, I am having difficulty with portion control.

I’ve had bouts of anxiety for a long time over the course of my life. It’s only within the last few years that it has intensified to the point where it has become (for lack of a better phrase) life interfering. Specifically, it has made travelling anywhere very hard at times. At its worst, it could turn a short car trip (think 15-20 minutes) into a white knuckle experience. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that the kind of imagination and creativity that was used some of the projects I’ve done over the years doesn’t always work for the good side of my brain. No, it has staked its claim on darker territory.

I remember a previous counselor remarking that I live a lot in my own head. It’s not that I’m unaware of what is going on around me or unable to empathize with others, but that there are thought processes go on without an outside check. That, despite best evidence otherwise, I don’t always articulate the thoughts and feelings I’m having very well so that I get some sort of feedback from others. This has lead to many a conversation in which I feel very silly or stupid once I say what the issue is because (oddly enough) it’s not that big a deal otherwise. I will build things up in my head that aren’t always as big as they purport to be.

The other half of this equation are the physical symptoms I’ve experienced. Dizziness, shaking, chills, and the ever popular chest pains have made appearances over the years and especially recently. They are the perpetual motion machines of symptoms since they can expand and fuel an ever increasing anxiety reaction. What starts out as a “I’m feeling a bit off” can become a “DEAR GOD I WANT TO GO HOME AND CRAWL UNDER THE COVERS AND NOT COME OUT EVER AGAIN” with just enough lingering thoughts over the interpretation of symptoms. It’s been my experience that there is nothing too small that the mind can’t blow out of proportion.

Writing this blog post has not been the easiest. As I said before, it is something personal. But even if no one was to read this, just the act of typing the words has been liberating. It’s as if I was transferring it from my brain to the screen thus freeing the former from the latter. It’s certainly not a cure-all, but it takes away the power that comes from suffering in silence. As someone who lets those thoughts rattle around his head, this can be the change that is needed to come out ahead.

This latest bout of anxiety comes and goes. Last week I was feeling pretty great; this weekend and last night hit me sideways. Right now I’m on an ‘up’ so I’m taking advantage of it. I got some exercise this evening, ate a nutritious meal, had a non-nutritious snack, and have been on-and-off dancing around in my apartment. I just have to remember I’m not alone and that anxiety doesn’t define me even though it gets the controls every now and again. To everyone who has it or been touched by it in their lives, it’s a good reminder of all the benefits that come from facing something as part of a crowd.

(Everything But) National Library Week

If you asked me what library related activities went on this week, I’d be hard pressed to give an answer. The Digital Public Library of America launched on Thursday to much social media fanfare. The Circulating Idea podcast Kickstarter was also launched and within two days was fully funded. After those two events, I can’t really think of anything else significant this week. Something I read in one of the regular columns in Library Journal made me want to punch the screen but that’s nothing new either. No, it wasn’t the Annoyed Librarian because both of their columns were rather banal this week. No, it wasn’t John Berry’s piece either even if it lead to an epic ALA Think Tank thread.

No, what I can tell you about this week is that it was bookended by the bombing in Boston as well as the (currently unfolding) hunt for the bombers. It was a fertilizer factory in Texas blowing up, well, most of the town (This is a map of the blast area with landmarks via Reddit. Skip it if you don’t want to be additionally horrified.) Congress dropped the ball on passing a gun purchase background check amendment to a bill despite widespread support. Chicago got all manner of weather, suggesting that the Bermuda Triangle may now run through Hinsdale. The Gosnell “House of Horrors” trial continued to unfold in ways that would give Stephen King the willies. Iran experienced a scary giant earthquake. I’m stopping here because, unfortunately, I really could go on.

Without a doubt, it has been a rough week. In an age of instant information transmission, it’s hard not to avoid breaking stories which bring all of the incomplete uncertainty with it. Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook can send rumors, speculation, and inaccuracies around the globe in moments. To be fair, it can also send corrections, confirmations, and official accounts in the same time frame as well. But doesn’t lessen the resulting moments of confusion.

The human brain doesn’t like information gaps so it tries to fill those with anything it has on hand, be it real or imagined. Rationalizations play Monday Morning Quarterback to our thoughts as a way of finding reconciliation and closure using causation and correlation that doesn’t necessarily follow through. Elsewhere in the brain, our primitive risk calculating system (best thought of as “the gut”) makes risk calculations that are based on emotional factors, not logic. This can push aside our better judgments in favor of immediate action, whatever that may be.

It’s hard to sit tight and wait for events to unfold so that a bigger clearer picture emerges. Like many people, I want to know what is going on and a lack of larger perspective stymies that. I’m going to try to step away from the computer for a bit to allow things to develop, but I know I’ll have one eye on the screen as I pass it. I try to keep in mind that, as rough as this week has been, this too shall pass. We’ll come out on the other side of all these things a bit older, a bit wiser, and hopefully a bit stronger. It’s just a matter of getting there.

In the meantime, be kind and try to take care of one another.

5-6-7-Dance

eastwood-martin

This weekend, I was left to my own devices as The Fiancée was in the midst of accounting hell that is (what I’m told) “quarter closing”. Apparently, on a regular basis there is a need to have some sort of numerical conclave in which people from all over the company gather their charts and figures, cast their dark magic balance sheet spells, and make the numbers dance and tell stories. No one can leave until the corporate overlords are placated and shift their Eye of Sauron-like focus on another fearful portion of the company. From what I understand the reality is something about looking at spreadsheets, sending emails, and sitting in on conference calls, but I like my version much better.

While I had to work on Saturday as well, I had the benefit of having enough energy to go country line dancing both Friday and Saturday evening. This is something that The Fiancée introduced me to about eighteen months ago when we first started dating and I’ve taken a liking to it. It’s social, it’s active, and it’s in sharp relief to my work day (in front of the computer) and my play time (in front of the computer). I had wanted to learn to dance (East Coast swing, in particular) as it was the rage at the time in the late 1990’s but the fates conspired against me. So, I’m a late starter but I finally got there.

I was sitting at one of the high top tables, carefully chosen for easy access to the dance floor as well as a view of the establishment, when it occurred to me that I am now a regular at the main place we go dancing. I haven’t been a regular at any place or event in a long while, perhaps over ten years ago during my LARPing years. I’ve gotten to know the people and the staff as well as the dances and the social conventions that is the dance floor. (Line dancers in the main area on the inside, couples dancing counter-clockwise around the outside, and wait for the count to start.) Right now I still draw relationship context to them from The Fiancée (formerly “Oh, you’re her boyfriend!”, now they say “Oh, you’re her fiancé!”) but I hope in another two years people will start their name guesses with a vowel.

In becoming a regular, I can now claim the power of judgment over non-regulars. While I am still low on the regular seniority scale (a constant reminder by the people who just glide across the floor with ease), it still outranks the tourists who come out for the night of cultural gaping and inexpensive mass manufactured American beer. Over the course of the last eighteen months, all those valuable pattern recognition skills that help me as a librarian have been utilized to develop a sense as what is the norm and what is not. Given my highly tuned powers of arbitrary observation, it has been refined to the point where I can tell who fits in and who doesn’t.

When it comes to outsiders, then tend to fall into a couple of groups. Bachelorette parties and girls night outs are my favorites but for much more sadistic reasons. Any combination of booze, tall stiletto heels, and tiny dresses is a recipe for embarrassment waiting to happen. As soon as they take to the fringes of the dance floor to try to follow along, the wait for disaster begins. It’s only a matter a time before the balance games is lost or a “wardrobe malfunction” occurs. Without a doubt it’s schadenfreude, but it does provide a nice diversion to the evening.

The ‘trying too hard’ group is next in which people put on everything they think is western. Hats, anything with fringe hanging off of it, all manner of boots, leather everything, you name it. I’ve even seen people wearing spurs. Spurs. Why in God’s name you would put on spurs and then drive to a bar in New Jersey to go dancing is beyond me. The gentleman from last Saturday who inspired the graphic above did not have spurs (I guess they don’t make them for Timberland knockoffs), but he was dressed in all the shades of mottled brown that exist and topped off with a dinky brown beat-up cowboy hat with the stampede strap cinched underneath his chin. He looked like the guy in charge of pony rides at a little kid’s birthday party.

Mercifully enough, I never went through the awkward garb phase since (1) I had enough sense to not try for every country western cliché garb I could think of and (2) I had The Fiancée to glare guide me along with my wardrobe choices. I started out in shorts, Chucks, and t-shirts and graduated to jeans, boots, and button-down shirts. I don’t wear a cowboy hat since any arms moves over the head are that much tougher and it can get pretty hot under there. Eventually, I’m sure my wardrobe will slowly convert to serve this dancing lifestyle.

From my own experience, I can tell what these groups are expecting: twangy songs about girlfriends leaving, dogs dying, and pick-up trucks; people stiffly moving in square dance-like moves; and perhaps a glimpse of someone whittling in the corner or playing a jug. I know what they are expecting because it was what I was thinking when I first went (well, basically that line about twangy songs). I can remember sitting there watching The Fiancée dancing to some contemporary country songs. Then, suddenly, there was a Backstreet Boys song. And there was a specific dance choreographed to that song. As the nights have gone on, they play songs by artists like V.I.C, Cee Lo Green, LMFAO, and Maroon 5. There is still a good amount of country music, but it’s the insertion of other genres that makes it fascinating to me as a cultural mashup. It’s fun to watch their faces when those tunes come on for it gives me an idea about what my face looked like when I first experienced it.

Invariably, the unspoken peace between the tourists and the regulars will be usurped by the entry of the former onto the dance floor. I’d liken it to cubs crossing over into the territory of an established lion pride. They were safe at the bar, the booths, the high-top tables, and even the edges of the dance area. But by entering the dance floor area, the aforementioned rules come into play and are enforced both nicely and, for lack of a better phrase, not-so-nicely. It’s not guys like myself that they should be worried about (even though I’ve come pretty close to running people over and deservedly so) but the ladies who are the true enforcers on the field. While tolerance is given for those trying and not disrupting the floor, patience is measured and finite. One time I saw a woman deliver a hip check to a drunken stumbling bride that would make the Broad Street Bullies look at each other and say, “Damn.” You can try to keep up (indeed, people will help out), but if you keep getting in the way, you’re toast.

As they say, the beat goes on, last week’s tourists are out the door, and next week will be the same regular faces with the possibility of new outsiders to entertain us. It feels good to be a regular at something again, even as I wonder how long I can keep it up once family life makes an appearance. For now, I’ll enjoy the time I have been afforded and try to soak it up as much as possible. But I’ll admit it’s hard to wait for the next dance night.

Beg, Borrow, Steal

On my social media outlets the other day, I happened to catch a link to a post on Lifehacker entitled, “Why I Stopped Pirating and Started Paying for Media”. As you can guess from the title, the author talks about their personal journey to legitimacy. In reading about their own experience, I got to thinking about my own dance with copyright, media, and the shady side of the internet.

Back in college in the late 1990’s, the big thing in the dorm computer network was the peer to peer (P2P) service Napster. It was in its heyday and I, like many of my peers, took advantage of it. I wasn’t one of those people who downloaded everything and anything they could find just for the hell of it, but I did download tracks I heard on the radio that I liked. I had a fondness for remixes and mashups which weren’t generally weren’t available on a CD so it was perfect for finding those kinds of music tracks as well. I still bought music so that I could have the liner notes and the physical CD itself, but I was able to try out different artists as well. (Those mp3s are long gone now, but I still have the CDs from that time.)

After Napster went kaput, I used KaZaa for a short period of time. The big difference between the two programs was that KaZaa offered P2P video files as well. I was still looking for mashups and remixes but I could also find videos for whatever my interest was at the time. Graphic war footage, pornography, funny video clips, you name it. The bigger issue with KaZaa was the prevalence of malicious viruses as well as purposefully mislabeled files intended to troll the viewer/listener. Hearing the virus alert go off got old very fast just as opening up a music or video file and finding something else. The luster wore off quickly and I stopped using KaZaa after a few months.

I didn’t really think much about copyright or ownership at that point in my life. I knew it was wrong, but not wrong enough to stop what I was doing. At the time, there were no digital music alternatives. iTunes had not arrived on the scene and Amazon was still selling books. The market that exists today was something that people spoke of breathlessly at conferences and industry trade shows. I never tried to justify it to myself that I was doing no harm, but that the harm I was doing was minimized since I only downloaded and never shared my files with others. (Yeah, I was that guy.)  I know that doesn’t absolve me from guilt or blame, but it was enough of a mitigation to ease my conscious at the time.

After KaZaa, I completely stopped using P2P networks. I haven’t touched anything like since the early 00’s, not even a bit torrent. In that post P2P time period, I also stopped buying music or movies for the most part except for the occasional (and exceptional) artist or movie here and there. I would say that the two events are related but I will concede that I wasn’t going to movies or listening to the radio much either. After I bought my first iPod, I did get back into purchasing music but on a limited basis. The majority of my music still dates back to the pre-iTunes era as well as my movie collection. Overall, the drawbacks outweighed the benefits.

Fast forward to the present day.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot more anti-piracy public service announcements (PSAs). It gets my attention at first because I loathe the term “piracy” for its inherent inaccuracy, but I’ll concede that “unauthorized file sharing” isn’t as sexy a term. Although, if you called it by the latter, it would certainly be less glamorous than the people who relish in the notion of being a pirate. Not many are going to take up the title of “sharer” (sharerer?) as it doesn’t have the same mystique as pirate.

I recently saw one of these PSAs before DVD episodes of the TV series Justified that I had borrowed from my library. This giant emblem would pop up on the screen with a dire warning about how I could go to jail, be fined, lose all my friends, and die alone if I copied this disc. Ordinarily, I’ve learned to tune out the FBI warning and other emblem related television warnings. But this warning then proceeded to give me a rundown of how it was protected internationally followed by the same warning in all of the official languages of the United Nations. Worse, it’s completely unskippable so that I have find a way to amuse myself through these two unrefundable minutes of my life. Since it magically knew to do this each time I started up my DVD player, these life stealing increments added up to the point where I became very sympathetic to people who download media illegally to avoid this time theft.

I also heard announcements on commercial radio urging people to call a number or go to a website to report media piracy in their area. The announcement spends more time telling people how to contact them than compelling reasons why they should do it other than (to paraphrase) it’s bad. It didn’t mention anything about a reward so I guess they are hoping for listeners to act out of the goodness of their hearts or (more likely) revenge on people who have wronged them or spiteful frame-ups intended to give someone a hard time. Nothing quite like a little McCarthy-like “rat on your friends, family, and neighbors” strategy to endear themselves to the public, but since I guess you can’t do worse in the public relations department after suing thousands of consumers over the course of years for very little return. Even then, this is hunting goldfish rather than the internet pirate website whales.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to feel this way, but my overall impression of copyright, intellectual property, and swirling vortex of issues around those two issues can be summed up in one word: unsatisfactory. Personally, there isn’t much quality television out there and even less quality movies that demand to be seen on the big screen. I’m willing to wait to television series or movies to come out on DVD and either borrow them from a friend or from the library. Even for the series that I’m following closely, there is nothing pressing that I need to watch right this moment. The price point is not sufficiently low enough to tempt me to purchase it for that instant gratification. It’s not to say that I haven’t been tempted, but the temptation is very fleeting.

Professionally, it feels like dancing through a landmine field. I am trying to steer people to the legitimate track of properly authorized and compensated copies of digital media, but society and business seems to conspire against this ideal. The social acceptance of media copying have lead me to the hardly surprising conclusion that people are copying the music and movies that they check out from the library at home. Over the course of my library years, I’ve even had the unfortunate experience of intervening when people were brazenly ripping CDs onto their laptops at the library. Some honestly didn’t know that it was a copyright infraction while others picked up on the fact that they could copy those CDs but in the privacy of their own homes. When it comes to eBooks, it’s tricky to guide people away from the ease of P2P downloading when the so called “friction” of eBook lending turns the question of borrowing into a overly long complex and extremely contextual answer. In trying to respect the owners of copyright, I end up showcasing all the madness that they have brought down on themselves in order to enforce it. It does nothing to encourage compliance nor engender respect for the concept or the laws supporting it.

Some may argue that librarians are not the stewards of copyright or even “the copyright police”. If you are someone who believes that, do me a favor and keep that stupid opinion to yourself. Librarians will not get a seat at a future copyright reform table if they abandon all forms of current enforcement. While I’m not advocating roaming the streets or even the library itself to patrol for infractions, the simple act of not intervening when infringement is found surrenders our moral high ground as custodians of other people’s work. How are we going to maintain their trust if we as information professionals make it clear that we intend to look the other way? It does not bode well for a future in which intellectual property rights are becoming increasingly important to individuals as well as businesses.

There is another end to my dissatisfaction with copyright; I can’t claim that I’m still perfect in this matter. I will look for legitimate ways to get digital media, but sometimes those outlets don’t exist. Some of the music tracks I find on YouTube don’t have a means to buy them on iTunes, Amazon, or the artist’s website. I have used one of the many Youtube to MP3 conversion sites out there to obtain a music track that I could not otherwise obtain. Perhaps some might find this to be hypocrisy on my part and I’m willing to concede that. I would say that while this is an action of last resort as a mitigating factor doesn’t make it completely right, but the lack of any legitimate sources left me with either using a convertor or not listening to the music at all. It’s not an ideal tiebreaker, but I rationalize that the artist would rather that I enjoy their music than let it go unnoticed or unappreciated.

With these things in mind, I await the next round of copyright and intellectual property reform. While I look forward to it, I also fear it. History has shown how the business interests have driven the protections beyond the original intent of the Constitution as well as years beyond the lives of content creators. The balance has tipped to the point of outright interference with creativity and innovation. I hope that it can swing back towards the interests of the people while giving ample provision for creators. Copyright is heading towards that moment, but I dare not guess when that moment will happen. I can only hope that it is soon.

Mawwiage

The word “wedding” is a magical word.

When uttered, it immediately brings forth to mind a special day where a happy couple are surrounded by their family and friends. The beauty of the ceremony, the joy of the union, and the potential awesomeness and/or awkwardness that is the reception are all invoked by those who have ever accepted an invitation. Popular culture has given us stories and images of lavish affairs, loving exchanges, and the happy couple riding off into the sunset.

It is also a magical word as it acts as an event cost multiplier. Three tier cakes magically change from $150 to $500, banquet hall rentals magically shift from $900 to $1400, and simple entrees magically double in price. It’s small wonder that the average wedding cost in the United State is just north of $25,000. To put this in perspective for myself, this is about three times what I paid for my car back in 2007. (Sadly, I wouldn’t get three cars because New Jersey auto insurance rates are adjusted to stay slight below “blackmail” levels at amount that is commonly known as “completely screwed”.) As soon as the word “wedding” comes out while making appointments to visit potential venues, you can hear the faint chorus of cash registers go off in the distance.

On top of that, my fiancé and I seem to trying to do this on Hard Mode. We’d like a small wedding with roughly thirty people. That doesn’t seem too tough, right? The venues we’ve looked at so far either have a fifty person minimum or a Byzantine catering price menu that has so many options I feel like I need a guide. This seemingly innocuous dilemma is really just a frustrating “pick your poison” decision point.

As anyone who has been married before can tell you (and this is not my first rodeo, as they say), increasing the guest list can be a social tightrope act through mine laden family and friend territory. With the current list, we have the “absolutely essential people” plus an iron clad “sorry we do love/like you but we didn’t invite you” explanation. In moving beyond that list, the debate for those seats begins to loom larger as the potential for hurt feelings increases. Your wedding then becomes a focus point of short and long term grudges and (as the horror stories I have heard go) you spend more time on soothing people who weren’t invited than on decisions that will affect the people who are attending. It’s a social quagmire that we are trying to avoid.

The average banquet menu doesn’t offer much solace either. You start out with a simple price per person, but then there are the options. These multitude of a la carte items are really a nickel and diming guilt trip trap set by the caterer. Sure, you love your family and friends, but don’t you love them enough to add a champagne toast? Tiny mac ‘n cheese appetizers? Veal might be cruel, but would be crueler not to offer it? All of these tiny monetary mousetraps have costs like “$4 a person” which doesn’t seem so bad until you start doing the math. Suddenly turns your $45-a-person meals into a budgetary death spiral. And that’s before gratuity and sales tax. 

All this roams the background as the anxiety of finding a place that has dates available pushes forward. We’d like to get hitched in October of this year which apparently is going to be an issue in itself. Not because it is only seven months away, but according to one wedding vendor we’ve talked to October is “the new June”. I guess we have arrived in time to experience some sort of wedding date rebellion where one time of year has become so cliché so that people must take the opposite season. Since we are late getting into the game here (we were engaged on Valentine’s day), the choice of dates has dwindled considerably.

I do have faith that we will be able to find a place and make it work. Though the preparation and planning can be a drag at times (like right now), these are still all fun decisions to make. When the day comes, the days of stress and running around will slip away in the magic of the moment. I’m looking forward to that day, whenever and wherever it may be.

But I can’t help but think of the wedding planning advice I’ve offered couples over the years, both solicited and not. Like all advice, it seems to be something I will give to others but not practice myself. It’s a one word piece of advice and perhaps the best and least stressful thing a couple can do for their wedding:

Elope.

Why I Just Won’t Shut Up (or, Why I Blog)

I’ve been turning over Bonnie Power’s post “Why do bloggers blog?” in my head for the last two weeks. Every time my fingers have come close to touching the keyboard and writing something about it, my attention span would magically divert itself to something else like video games or social media stuff. In the past, I’ve taken that as a sign that I’m really not up for writing on a particular topic and just moved on. But, alas, her post planted a thought that simply wouldn’t die: why do I blog? In just letting it run its course, here is what I found.

Initially, it felt pretty self evident; I write because I have something to say and I want to be heard. The internet, the great digital soapbox of our time, has the capability of providing that platform for the second part of that sentiment. But “something to say” is just too neat, too tidy; I wanted to say something that would make people think. I wanted to offer something different, something new, something to push people into using their critical thinking skills. It is my desire to fill the role of a public intellectual for libraries, a position that I have not seen much in my travels around the web. It’s only been recently that I’ve found something that captured that sentiment:

An intellectual is not an expert, and a public intellectual is not an expert who condescends to speak to a wider audience about her area of expertise. An intellectual is a generalist, an autodidact, a thinker who wanders and speculates. As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”

Setting aside the problems of such a label (and there are some) as well as whether my efforts are taking me there (perhaps, perhaps not), the underlying motivations have not exactly been what I expected. They seem to be rooted in a dissatisfaction with the status quo, the not-always-constructive need to argue, and a nearly unexplainable driving desire to offer differing and sometimes contrarian point of views. This is a writing arc that only seems to have me finish as a human form of Grumpy Cat, forever unhappy with anything. It’s a struggle not to end up in the gutter ball lane of internet humor, the short snarky retort written in Impact font over the picture of an animal. It’s the mantra of “try[ing] to add something worthwhile to the conversation” that keeps me on track most of the time. That ideal has killed more blogs posts than I care to imagine.

I would say that the keyword that has appeared within my own thoughts around why I blog is “challenge”. I want to challenge people to defend their beliefs so as to help make their arguments tighter or see an error in their thinking. I want to challenge people to step up to the plate, to have the courage of conviction to take on the pressing issues of the day, and to step outside their comfort zone to (as they say in the ALA Think Tank) make it happen. I want the challenge of saying something bold, something crazy, and perhaps something unexpected. I want the challenge of people telling me I’m right or wrong and assimilating what they say into either defending or evolving my own positions. I want the ultimate challenge that comes with failing; and failing grandly with an online world that never forgets, so as to take the lessons from it and move on.

I don’t want to squander my youth or my status as a still-new-to-the-field librarian in writing ‘safe’ blog posts, bland ramblings on mundane subjects that fade into the background of the online libraryland noise. I feel a duty to be reckless, impetuous, and antagonistic so as to reap the rewards of wisdom and experience that will shape my writing into my later years. This will ruffle a few tail feathers, but I consider that to be a statistical inevitability.

In the end, I’d like to imagine that I’d be writing this blog even if no one read it. But knowing that I have a following, that my blog posts are shared widely around the world, and that people are impassioned enough to take the time to offer a comment, that makes it so much more compelling to continue to write. I’d like to thank everyone who is reading these words, those who share them, and those who think they are worthy enough for discussion. I am humbled and honored by your attention in this world of distraction.