A Day of Thanks

In giving thanks for the season, I’m reprinting my best man speech from last year for my brother’s wedding. This year, once more, my family is missing another person from the Thanksgiving table. So, hug the ones you love, remember the ones you miss, and take joy in a day of thanks for both.

The months of October, November, and December have not been kind to our family. Over the course of years, we have lost many good friends and family members during this autumn season. But today, I believe, this wedding will mark the beginning of a new era of joy for this late year season. On behalf of the Krafts and the Woodworths, it is my honor and privilege to welcome Meghan to our family. I am very pleased that my brother has found someone to share the experience of the journey ahead.

On your wedding day, I wish to offer you this advice, the collected life lessons of our grandparents, Randy, Beverly, Mary, and Richard.

Follow your dreams and passions, wholly and completely, for they are the true essence of life and happiness.

That judgment and acceptance are mutually exclusive. While the former need not be favorable, the latter should always be given.

That love is boundless and unconditional; it is the product of a multitude of small personal acts.

That separation is merely a temporary illusion; that there are no ‘goodbyes’, only ‘bye for now’.

To the happy couple, I offer you simple and unfettered best wishes.

In looking at it now, it has a different resonance to me. But the sentiments still remain for them, my family, and my friends.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Persistence of Memory

In fiddling around on Tumblr the other day, I saw a friend had activated the “Ask Me Anything” function on their blog. When you do that, the Tumblr robot sends you the question “What is your earliest human memory?” I don’t know why Tumblr decided it do something like that; perhaps it is some sort of icebreaker. Maybe it is to give people an example of a question and answer when they go to the Ask link. I don’t know about you, but I get enough auto generated questions on the internet; I don’t need another scripted entity questioning me on something.

At any rate, I started to think about my oldest memories. For a long time, I’ve sworn that my memory was crap and that retention was a fickle beast. It wasn’t until recently (within the last few years) that I realized my memory was fine if I gave a damn about it. Otherwise, my brain just treated it like noise. This has lead me to start wondering about what my brain considers to be important for it does not always jibe with my conscious brain. The fact that I can remember what a patron wanted when they came to the reference desk six months ago without an intervening visit sometimes grants me some shocked looks. I can remember minor events with friends from long ago that they have clearly forgotten. I don’t know why I hang onto that kind of knowledge as opposed to theories in biology (the subject I studied for four years in college); it is just another way the human brain baffles me.

I was surprised to find out that my oldest memory goes back to when I was ten months old. It was surprising because when I asked my mother how old I was when this memory happened, that’s the age she gave me. For the longest time I had thought that I was older, but she assures me of the age and the events that transpired. And she has good reason to know, as I will endeavor to explain.

I remember standing in my parent’s kitchen with a little Fisher Price Doctor kit in hand. My mother was on the phone with my great grandmother, talking about things that are now lost to time. I was standing in front of the open door to the basement when I indicated to her that I was going to walk down the stairs.

I may have made the first step, but I did not make the others. The most vivid part of this memory is being airborne, turning and spinning as I fell, looking across the open basement from underneath the bannister. That’s the part that has stuck with me the most (and probably the reason I remember it) is that my thought at that exact moment was amusement. Not shock nor horror nor pain, but amused at the way the world looked different in those few moments as I was airborne. It was a glance at the world in a different way for a split second and in that precious point in time, I was strangely delighted for it.

The Fischer Price doctor kit had come open and spilled the contents onto the stairs with me. I can still see them on their own flight arcs past my vision as we all went down the staircase together. Not quite a 2001 moment, but certainly added to the weirdness of the scene as I think back on it.

With all that said, I don’t remember landing. That glance out of side of the stairs is where the memory stops. What almost stopped was my mother’s heart as she watched me in profile disappear down the stairway no more than seven feet away. She had enough presence of mind to tell my great grandmother, “I have go. Andy just fell down the stairs” before hanging up the phone and flying down the stairs after me. She took me to the hospital where I checked out fine. No broken bones, no concussions, no other trauma than being ten months old in a hospital. I was lucky since neither the stairs nor the basement floor had any sort of give or softness to them.

In the few times we have spoken about it, she and I have very different emotions attached to the event. I remember the aforementioned wonder of the experience, to strange perspective of tumbling through space and how different the world looks. She remembers being a young new mother who watched as her baby disappeared from sight in a flash and the resulting noise as I hurled down the stairs. While we are both relieved by the experience, we clearly have different connections to that event.

Until this evening when my mother set me straight, I didn’t think that this was my oldest memory. And since I’d rather not leave people on a down note of a child in peril, I can actually show you what I thought was my oldest memory.

L to R: Me, Marion, Pete (baby), Mary (aka Oliah)

This picture has a fun story to it. The first being that this picture (and others that came out of the photo session) have been universally discussed and agreed within the family to have not been the best of my great grandmother, Marion. It was August in New Jersey (translation: hot, 110% humidity, dog days of summer) and she was not in a good mood. And for her to not be in a good mood is not good news for anyone else. It’s one of the few times in life that the term “snippy” can be used in a loving manner to describe someone’s demeanor. However, as this was the occasion of all of her great grandchildren being in one place at the same time, the natural inclination of the collected family to get some photographic evidence of this occurrence took precedent.

The second reason is that it represents a relatively normal moment between all of the possible things that go wrong with photographing young children. There is a reason that my great grandmother has her hand underneath the armpit of my cousin Mary (also known as Oliah) seated on her left. It was to prevent her from standing up to throw her dress over her head yet again, much to the consternation of my great grandmother. My younger brother Peter is sitting on her lap. Judging from the way she is holding him, I think he had been making a fuss between escape attempts. And when he was put on lockdown, he resorted to other audio ways of displaying his displeasure.

This left my great grandmother with no arms to deal with me. As you can see in the picture, I was poised to go back to chewing on my sneakers. In an effort to rally through this snafu of family photography, I remember my grandmother leaning over to me and telling me quietly but harshly that I would not get a cookie if I kept putting my shoe into my mouth. I complied for those next few moments, long enough to snap some pictures, before forgetting the peril of my previous ways and went back to happily chewing on the shoe rubber*.

Yes, that’s right. The one memory that I have of my great grandmother is of her being terse with me. Though I don’t remember it, my mom took me over to her house everyday to have lunch with my great grandmother when I was a baby. The house is still stands in Moorestown, right around the corner from where my grandparent’s house was (and where I used to live). It’s odd to drive by the house, to know that someone who loved me greatly once lived there, and yet can’t remember a damn thing about it. But I do remember something of her, which is more than a lot of other people. I’m glad for it, but now what I really want to know now is:

Did I get a cookie anyway?

 

 

* Thus, my long history for sticking my foot into my mouth was born. [rimshot]

Banned Books Week 2010: Footnotes

“[I]f a parent wishes to prevent her child from reading a particular book, that parent can and should accompany the child to the Library, and should not prevent all children in the community from gaining access to constitutionally protected materials. Where First Amendment rights are concerned, those seeking to restrict access to information should be forced to take affirmative steps to shield themselves from unwanted materials; the onus should not be on the general public to overcome barriers to their access to fully protected information.” – Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, 121 F. Supp. 2d 530 (N.D. Texas 2000).

Photo by wajakemek | rashdanothman/Flickr Tonight, I was driving up to Princeton to see Revolutionary Readings at the Princeton Public Library to cap off the end of Banned Books Week. I was winding my way through one of the roads off of Route 1 into the main street area when I noticed a couple holding hands and walking in the same direction on the opposite side of the street. They were two college age men, smiling and talking, making their way down the street as I drove by them. I think that on any other night it would have been wholly unremarkable to me, but in the context of the readings I was going to attend for the second time (I had seen them at the Burlington County Footlighters back in August), it took a different significance.

At first brush, it was certainly something that I take for granted. The most stressful part of holding a woman’s hand was the act of doing it the first time, not where the hand holding was taking place or who might be observing it. Nevermind other simple acts of public affection for that matter. I certainly can’t imagine being a gay teen, even though my relatively liberal high school was gay friendly. I’m probably remembering this through the kaleidoscope of recollection, but I remember the early 1990’s as being a time where gay issues and acceptance were starting to hit the mainstream (with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act being a response to this particular time period’s movement.  There is a good chance someone will correct me in the comments; please keep in mind that this is what I remember so be gentle.) But even modern more accepting attitudes have a long track record to overcome against the stigma of centuries of bigotry and hate. Although there is progress, there is still a long road ahead.

While I was driving back to my apartment after the reading, I found that there was a question that kept asking myself: what are the true consequences to keeping or removing a GLBT title such as Revolutionary Voices or Heather Has Two Mommies or Boy Meets Boy? In other words, what are the actual ramifications that challengers and supporters would endure if the book was kept or removed? What are the beneficial or detrimental effects associated with either choice?

In examining each side in purely objective terms, I find that the supporters of a title have a more compelling case. Perhaps it is undocumented or less reported in professional, trade, or traditional media sources, but I have yet to hear of the personal, emotional, social, or physical consequences suffered by a challenger when a book was kept on the shelf. In the absence of readily available evidence (anecdotal or otherwise), I would have to presume that there was some sort of negative effect since such a title was so patently offensive in the first place to warrant such action. I am not being facetious in the slightest; I want to know how a challenger was suffered when an objectionable book is not removed from patron availability in its respective community (regardless as to whether it is a public, academic, school, or other kind of library).

On the other hand, supporters of a book tend to be able to demonstrate the value of a title through the benefit it brings to its target audience. Whether it is presenting a tough subject, using the book as a means to answer questions for a young mind, or providing someone with a similar experience to let them know they are not alone, the benefits provided by supporters of having the title available are greater than the detrimental effects (if any) to challengers.

Now, in considering the opposite: what are the benefits to the challenger when a book is removed? I would surmise there is a satisfaction in the successful removal of the title, perhaps relief as to its removal from public availability, but I am perplexed as to other short and long term benefits. What are the benefits, if any? On the contrary, supporters can argue that the lack of access to the book is preventing the benefits they have described in keeping it. Granted, it is not the strongest causation argument. The absence of the book does not necessarily mean that potential users would suffer without it; they might find other books that would do the same as the book in question. However, the loss of benefits argument feels feel more compelling than any benefit a challenger may reap from being successful.

While this objective examination is good fodder for high minded blogging and discussions, there is an undeniable reality. Undeniable they were, two young men enjoying each others company walking hand in hand along the chain fence of the golf course as the setting sun made its way behind the trees in a cool autumn air. And I in the driver’s seat of my car, passing by them unnoticed, wondering if a book like the one I was going to hear would have helped them be comfortable with who they are a few year prior. For them, I will never know. But I do know that it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

Summer Job

(The NPR radio program All Things Considered has been asking people to submit their stories about summer jobs that they have held. This is my submission.)

For two days one summer in college, I had a job that parents warn their children never to buy from.

I sold stuff out the back of a van to complete strangers.

Exactly like these, but oppositeStereo speakers, to be exact. The kind that you plug into home sound system, full sized and with unknown craftsmanship. Selling these home entertainment enhancements was the only part of the employment ad that was accurate. The full ad advertised the position as being “sales, delivery, and installation”. It also listed a name and a number to which, after a short series of questions, I was given driving directions and an address.

The next morning, I scrutinized my hand scribbled notations as I drove into a very nondescript office park in the next town over. I eventually found the business, tucked between other unrelated enterprises, parked out front, and walked through the front business door.

Anything resembling an office stopped at this point. In front of me was a large open unfinished area with bare cinder block walls. There were half a dozen white windowless vans, all haphazardly arranged near a large rear parking on the back wall. There were rows of cardboard speaker boxes neatly arranged along the walls near some broken couches and a ping pong table.

The manager, whose name eludes, came out of little office that had been constructed within the space. A medium height balding man with a saggy build, what he lacked in stereotypical oiliness in hair he made up for in oiliness of personality. He took me back into his diversely furnished office; an ugly desk, a couple of mismatched chairs, and a sore and worn faux leather sofa across from a out of place state of the art (at the time) wide screen rear projection television.

As I sat in one of the chairs, we talked about the job. Is there delivery? "If you can get people to pay you for it.” Is there installation? “Sure, if you can convince them to pay.” Is this just sales? He simply smiled, a knowing smile, one in which he knew how deep the water was while I’m standing on the edge of the pool. He promised me a training fee, half at the end of the day and half if I came back in the morning, till I made my first sale. Being both curious and dumb, I agreed to try out a day.

Creative Commons is for closers! When we emerged from his hovel/office, I met my new coworkers. It was like meeting the jocks of Glengarry Glenn Ross high school. Muscle shirts, tank tops, wife beaters, and shorts; t-shirts with sayings that were less than acceptable in polite company. Their language was equally as salty, routinely exchanging profanity for where punctuation should be. I was introduced in passing as the manager gave a quick pep talk, then left in the hands of the van crews.

I helped them load the van and off we went through the bright opening of the parking door, a hot sunny summer day. The premise, as the husky guy riding shotgun explained to me over his shoulder was simple: sell the speakers however you can. To whom? “Anyone!” For how much? “However much you can get over $200 each; the first $200 goes to the manager for inventory, van insurance, and other [crap] and his cut.” Won’t people think these speakers are stolen? “No,” he said, his eyes starting to twinkle like an evil genius as he started to explain. Every morning, each crew makes up a new fake delivery sheet that purports to show that the van was loaded with too many speakers than were scheduled to be delivered. The people are told that they can buy the excess speakers for a fraction of the cost (as shown on the sheet). If anyone decides to report the crew, the telephone number goes to the manager who listens to their story, thanks them for their help, and promises to ‘deal’ with the crew. So, how do you sell these speakers?

“Well…”

For a job that I held for only two days, I was more personally influenced by this job than many I have held since then. The major lesson from this experience is that everyone is approachable. Parking lots, stores, businesses, streets, sidewalks, even (and this is absolutely true) driving up the New Jersey Turnpike at 80 miles Like this, only minus the sleeves and add 80 mph.per hour in moderate traffic screaming out the window at other cars, “Hey, you want to buy some speakers? For your house?” (Two different times, people pulled over with us to see what the van had.) Long after I left this fleeting job behind me, I took with me the knowledge that, not only are people more open to social contact than they appear, it can lead to positive experiences. Even if there was not a sale made, they left with a smile on their faces and a good story to tell.

For those two days, it was a roller coaster ride. As the new guy, I wasn’t given a chance to sell the speakers but I did get a front row seat to something strange and memorable. These guys worked hard for their sales (every one of them had a girlfriend or wife or kids to support), telling tales of big commission scores and tough sale droughts. They drove hundreds of miles a day over the New Jersey-Delaware-Pennsylvania area while approaching hundreds if not thousands of people engaged in the midst of their regular lives. We met all kinds and types of people as we briefly passed through theirs with a simple sales pitch. (Including an unmistakable ‘urban entrepreneur’ who had us follow him up the New Jersey Parkway at over 90 miles per hour to the shadiest pizza joint I’ve ever seen in my life.)

Truth be told, I knew after the first day that his job was not for me. I went back for the second day because it was so strange, so enthralling, and so very exciting to see how these guys operated. It was a human safari of sorts, roaming through the urban and suburban, and here I was sitting in the van with the consumer hunters. They sized people up within moments, parlayed their sales pitch, and either went in for the kill or moved on to the next. It was a spectacle to behold, a wonder on four wheel hauling ass down the street, looking for the next sale. It was the summer job that I remember the most, and the one that has stayed with me.

And, honestly, who else can say that they’ve done something like that?

My Library Route

(This entry is part of Ned Potter’s Library Routes Project. The idea is to write an entry detailing how you got into the profession along with what made you decide to do so and/or the career path which has taken you to where you are today. I’ve been wanting to write this entry for a long time.) 

Just under ten years ago, I was standing out in the summer sun surrounded by acres and acres of various types of plants in pots. Wide brim hat on my head, sunglasses keeping the glare at bay, everyday was warm when you wore jeans to work. Shorts are not your best option when you are working with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that carry labels that say “Caution”, “Warning”, or even a few “Dangerous”. As I was given rather fair skin and an inclination for contact dermatitis, jeans were part of my own work uniform. The site was 400 acres in size nicknamed The Orchard; it was a former orchard cleared, graded, Not built for people of my height, either. covered in gravel, and had rows and rows of rib houses (much like the ones in the picture to the side). Hundreds of these houses were on the side, some as long as football fields. As my first job out of college, I was hired as an Assistant Manager of Irrigation and Chemical Application. This meant running the water pump, managing the watering of areas, creating spray schedules for chemical applications, and maintenance and repair of literally miles of PVC piping and hundreds of sprinkler heads. Our group was the smallest, but it was tasked with one of the most vital aspects to commercial horticulture.

In the previous four years, I went to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey outside of Atlantic City. I had completed a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science (A B.S. in B.S., I would joke) with a late concentration on horticulture. I was doomed from the start, I think, since I certainly could name and explain all of the plant cellular operations and chemistry but my taxonomy was terrible. But I didn’t want to work at a desk at that time; I wanted to be outside, working with my hands, and with a job where I couldn’t take the work home with me. This nursery was the right fit for a me at the age of 22.

My college chemistry found some use to the chemical work, as you needed to find different dilutions for chemicals before applying them from giant sprayers. There was always weeds to kill, growing through the gravel and dirt, in the edges of the houses and along the inner roadways. And there were certainly other pathogens that needed attention: mold, mildew, fungus, and insects of all types and stripes. And the watering was nearly year round; when the houses were covered, it could get up to 60 degrees or hotter depending on the amount of light that the polyurethane covering allowed in. In January, the rose plants would arrive and we would grow them up to size to send to the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes for their spring garden sections. Between our site and the other company site close by (a larger 800 acres, now 1,200), it was quite the operation.

Fun times! To an extent, I liked the work there. I do like playing with the big toys such as front end loaders, tractors, fork trucks, and other vehicles. My real attraction was being able to do something for which I could see a result. When I watered, a plant grew; when it got sick, I applied treatments to make it better. The downsides are really all I have left in terms of memory for the place beyond those feelings; low salary, little benefits, unfair treatment of migratory workers, a somewhat poisonous corporate atmosphere with little room to advance, and repetitive seasonal work. I got a promotion to the propagation section (where cuttings were grown up), but within six months they decided they didn’t need me anymore.

Rather than fire me right then, they gave me “another chance” by assigning me a near Herculean task building more rib houses on the nearly acquired property. It was an impossible task given in the cold of winter, given not enough manpower, tools, or time to complete it. I resigned myself sticking it out; they were not going to make me quit.

Three months later, I got my walking papers. I think I smiled the whole drive home. The tribulation was over.

In another six months, I found work at a much smaller commercial nursery deep in the southern parts of New Jersey. Fairweather Gardens is a tiny operation which specializes in a variety of hard-to-find plants for the hardcore gardener. The Philadelphia Inquirer had done a story on them and, on a whim, I sent them my resume and cover letter. This would end up being a very brief stint (I lasted about 3 months) but an important one for me and my Library Route.

After returning from a short trip during which I got engaged to my now wife Kathy, I was just about to tell the owners the news when they told me that they were firing me and giving me two weeks pay in lieu of notice. I was devastated. As I was handing over the pruning sheers I had been given, one of the owners said something to me that got me on the start of my route. He said:

Andy, you seems to have abilities and interests in other things for which you are more passionate about. We’re wondering why you are not doing that instead of this.

For a long time, I thought it was an backhanded insult given out while I was getting ready to go home to Kathy and tell her that I had been fired again. But as the time stretched on after that day, I really started to think about it. Horticulture was something I could do, but it wasn’t where my passion was. I could see during that job that I wasn’t at the same level as the owners who lived, breathed, and knew horticulture.

I did find work again as a temp worker at DuPont (we lived in Delaware at the time), but it was a way to pay the bills while I figured out what I was doing with my life. I had always had an interest in law, I thought, so why not try out law school? I took the LSAT, applied to Widener Law, and was accepted into their  night program. Working full time, every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I would head up to campus for 3 to 4 hours of class time with other parts of my day crammed with class preparation and studying. Kathy and I were virtual strangers to each other as our time tables did not generally mesh well except on Sunday evenings or after 11pm every other night.

I loved law school as well, but between working full time and studying the rest of it, it did not suit my learning style at all. There was no room to breathe, to rest and relax, and to recuperate. In the end, the only class I did well on for both semesters was my legal research and writing class. Everything else was dismal and put me on academic probation.

It was during this time, seated at my computer in our little office we had in the apartment, that Kathy started talking about finding another career. She had always been interested in librarianship since she was a high school student. It was there, sitting in my computer chair, listening to her talk about it, that the thought first crossed my mind. Surely, I thought, it has to be easier than this law school bullshit. I was sick and tired of the stress, the work, and being away from family and friends. I did well in my research class, so maybe becoming a law librarian was a good alternative.

I took a semester leave of absence that fall while Kathy attended Saturday classes held at the Free Library of Philadelphia by the staff of Clarion University. When she kept coming back with tales about what she was learning and doing, I knew I found something I could do as well. That fall, I made a proposal to Kathy: move to Clarion, get our degrees as fast as we can, and then move back. We’d live on student loans and whatever work we could find as well as maybe some family charity. Within those four months, I applied and was accepted to the program, found a place to live (a tiny single newly renovated single family house), packed our stuff one dark January day, and moved out to Clarion.

This is my Library Route.

The Disconnect

Big tree limb down on the property Right as I was finishing dinner on Wednesday night, the power went out. The chili was basically done, left to sit on the gas stove and allow the flavors to intermingle. I had started to bake some cornbread which, once I remembered after locating the flashlights and candles, was about half baked. The house has a gas fireplace and we had been through this power loss routine before. We sent out text messages (I did a couple of Twitter updates) and made a few calls to let people in the area know what had happened (and reported it to the utility company), and then put them down to save on our charge. Gathering what we needed into the family room, we hunkered down in front of the fireplace and made the best of it.

Kathy had a book and read for most of the evening (and as it would turn out, most of the night). I had a book as well that I could have gotten, but I was in no mood for reading. I wasn’t really in any mood for doing anything, really; I was just listening to the wind outside. Laying on the couch, with the crackle of the fire, eyes looking out the back window area watching the tree sway in the wind. Shortly after the power went out, we had limbs from trees around the Where the trees were hitting the front  of the house house breaking off under the weight of the snow and hitting the roof. You wouldn’t hear the crack, just the dull thud as it hit the roof and rolled off. A couple of these whole limbs, perfectly healthy limbs (not a good sign), snapped off at the trunk of the tree. Most rolled off the roof and into the shrubs, squashing them under the weight of branch and snow. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t worried that one of these branches would fall in such a way that it would smash a window or take out the power lines, but I tried not to let it cross my mind.

Early in the evening, I went out to shovel a little bit. I wanted to do something and that was the only thing that I could really do. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do much or get very far, but I was not ready to simply lay there while this was going on. The driveway of the house is not under and trees, so I was going to stay out in the open and not risk getting hurt or killed by a falling branch or tree. I told Kathy I would knock on the window at regular intervals so that she wouldn’t worry; if it went too long without a knock, she should come check up on me. The eaves on the house are rather wide, so I had a place to duck under to avoid any potential falling debris. I got wrapped out and headed outside to shovel the back walk and anything else I had the strength and energy to do.

Once outside, it was bright in only the way that a winter landscape can be. The dark trees against the cloudy sky made everything stand out as I shoveled my back to the driveway. It was apparent very early on that this was going to be a short trip outside if I wanted to continue to shovel; the heavy wet snow was enough to make any snow removal arduous. I didn’t want to take out the snowblower since there is a lot of driveway under trees and I wasn’t feeling that adventurous. So, in standing under the eaves of the garage, shoveling every now and again, I would listen for the wind to kick up. You could hear it coming through the trees from far away, so I’d stop, watch, and listen.

Big downed limb on the property Near and far, you could hear the sounds of branches snapping, their popping and crunching coming through the winter air. Some were so close I’d peer through the darkness to see if I locate the source; others were like distant gunshots, their noise taken away by the wind. I did hear one crash close enough to put it a house or two away, but my vantage was blocked. I did go around the edge of the house to check out the limbs that had fallen, to note their location, and to see if there was any visible damage to the house itself. During this period in time, I watched someone try to make their way through a side street, their tires spinning in the sleet and snow mixture that had formed on the road. I don’t know what would possess anyone to leave their home, but it must have been enough to brave the storm.

Afterwards, I came back into the house, changed into pajamas, and took the couch that I would be sleeping in that night (pictured below). There, laying on the couch, listening once again to the fire next to me and the storm above me, my situation dawned upon me.

My bed for our night without powerI had not been so utterly disconnected in a long while. No computer, no text (saving phone charge, just in case), no games, no television, no technology whatsoever. I had no idea what time it was; I couldn’t even remember the date. As I lay there, my mind was still churning but without the usual external stimuli. It was like a party where the noise level suddenly dies down and all but one person shuts up so their voice carries throughout the room. In this case, my mind was the only voice left.

And so, as I lay under many layers of blankets, I just let my mind roam.

I can’t really say that I thought of anything deep and profound, but that I didn’t realize how much of my day had some form of technological input. Even when I’m out and about away from the computer screen, I text on a fairly regular basis with a number of different people. It didn’t matter where I was, there was always a level of connectedness that was present. With the power loss and a driveway full of snow, it was gone. It was a disconnect that I hadn’t experienced in years. (As I write about it now, I think it might have been when I was riding around Australia on my own back in college.)

And so it was, staring at the ceiling and watching the flickering of the fireplace light on the ceiling, almost a passenger in my own brain. With the outside idea support structures away, it was left to its own devices. Scenes from my life, work at the library, friends new and old, just wandered in and out as the night stretched on. I have no idea how long this went on; I know Kathy told me I dozed off several times.

As much as I would think to avoid putting a moral or conclusion on this experience, it feels right to say that I need more kind of this time. While it could be at home, the temptations of the household technology make it a harder sell. I should think that, in conjunction with my new year’s resolution to get out of the house and be more social, I should be looking for more opportunities to find places that make such temptations hard if not impossible. I’ve heard of monasteries that rent rooms to people to allow them to come and stay (with devices forbidden), but I’m thinking of some more local nature destinations. Banish the cell phone to the car, go camping or hiking, maybe visit the beach. I’m not completely firm on ideas, but this feels like the right direction.

It’s always interesting to me how the perception of things can change with just a little shift. I guess this was one of those times. And from the looks of it, it was a tiny bit overdue. This past year has put me on the move and perhaps it is time to take another. ;)

(For those interested, here’s the link to all of the snow pictures from the past week.)

Some say the world will end in fire…

15"!

That’s the official account of our snowfall, taken from the side of the driveway. Today was a bit of an obstacle course as I wrestled the snow blower out of the shed to clear the driveway and sidewalks (and that of our neighbors), then go out and grab enough take out to ensure a lazy afternoon and evening, and then send out seventy five emails and Facebook messages for the Online Holiday Secret Santa Extravaganza for library folks to their respective people (lots of ideas for next year on how to do it better). Tonight was a raid night for World of Warcraft so I and twenty four of my fellow game friends punches monsters in dungeons for loot (or tried to at least).

Click here for more snowstorm pictures! Yesterday was good day off, though I wanted to write a blog post but our power went off at 10:30pm. Kathy and I hunkered down in the family room by the natural gas fireplace and candles and read a bit. Of course, once we had stacked the bed high with blankets and snuggled in, the power returned. Lest we sweat to death, we undid our mountain of quilt mass and finally passed out.

I did not get a chance to finish the blog post that I wanted to write (I hope to do that tomorrow), but I did apply for a job. I am very happy with my current position, but the words “once in a lifetime” danced through my head when it came across the Twitter feed. This is certainly more for the ability to say “I applied for this job” than getting it, although I’ll just have to see how it goes. From what I have heard, there are people who are better positioned to get it (people who are currently federal employees), but you never know.

(By the by, the post title comes from a line from the Robert Frost poem, Fire and Ice. (Forgive the ads.) Take that, Whitman!)

With partial apologies to Walt Whitman

This is the not the first time my family has crossed paths with Walt Whitman.

In my family’s lore, my grandfather would tell a story about how his grandfather (a judge in Camden prior to the turn of the century) once sent the famous and highly debated poet to jail for public intoxication. His grandmother and her friends would cross the street if they saw ole Walt stumbling their way, drunk as a skunk, for they did not want to be on the same side of the road as he passed. Their recollections, as retold by my grandfather, were singularly unimpressed with the man who has been called “America’s poet”.

Even in death, my mother’s family cannot escape some sort of proximity to the poet. Harleigh Cemetery, where my maternal grandparents, their siblings, and both sides of my grandfather’s family have family plots, is also the resting place for Walt Whitman. When I visit the family gravesite, I can see the Whitman mausoleum about one hundred and fifty yard away hidden in the trees that have grown over it. The only way out is to go past it. You can see the slots of the Whitman family behind a heavy barred gate with little knickknacks, flowers, and other minutiae left outside.

So it was less of a surprise when I found out that some irksome commercial was using one of his poems to sell jeans.* Initially, I simply ignored this annoying ad campaign but it was hard avoid catching sight of it, a plethora of pretentiousness and artsy-fartsy high school fantasy imagery. But once I wondered which poetry treasure was savaged in the name of corporate America, I found out that an old family rival was back.

(“So, Walt,” I said, leaning back in my computer chair, fingers forming an evil finger steeple. “It’s on again, I see?” The only thing to make it more complete would be a twirling of a moustache and a cat sitting on my lap to slowly pet.)

So, with partial apologies to Walt Whitman, I have written my own version of “Pioneers! O pioneers!” out of contempt for stupid commercialism, my own love of parody, and of course, to spite Walt Whitman in the grave.

I hope you enjoy it.

Librarians! O librarians!
    COME, my pasty white children,
    Shelve well in order, get your carts ready,
    Have you your patience? Have you your sharped-edged wits?
    Librarians! O librarians!

    For we cannot story time here
    We must shush my darlings, we must bear the weight of weeding,
    We the well read masses, all the curious on us depend,
    Librarians! O librarians!

    O you grads, MLS grads,
    So, full of questions, full of many tweets and Facebooks,
    Plain I see you MLS grads, see you scrounging for the jobs,
    Librarians! O librarians!

    Have the elders admins retired?
    Do they sneer and end their shift, wearied over by years of policies?
    We update the eternal catalog, and the MARC and the LOC,
    Librarians! O librarians!

    All the practices left behind
    We debouch upon a newer information world, a 2.0 world
    Tools and websites the urls we collect, world of texts and the computers,
    Librarians! O librarians!

    We libraries steady growing
    Down the spinners, through the stacks, up the bookcases steep
    Reviewing, buying, cataloging, shelving as we go about the days,
    Librarians! O librarians!

There are certainly more stanzas, but I only did as much as the stupid commercial did. Maybe some day I’ll finish it out, but I think it’ll get lost at some point.

 

* I refuse to link to the ad because I despise it SO much. It’s on YouTube and there are enough clues here so as to find it on your own.

1st Annual Holiday Online Secret Santa Extravaganza

I’d like to take a shot at arranging an online librarian Secret Santa. It’s been a rough year for the national library community as a whole and I’d like to end the year with some holiday cheer.

So, here’s the skinny:

  • Sign up between now and 11:59PM Saturday December 19th. (Form embedded below.)
  • You will receive your gift target’s information on December 20th.
  • Gifts should be received around December 25th.
  • $10 gift limit (Go over at your own discretion.)

I’ve set up a Google Documents form to collect information from interested individuals. With the advent of internet shopping, the least amount of information you need to share is an email address. (As a good librarian, I will not share any information with anyone but your gift giver. Plus, I will need to contact you to let you know who you are giving to.)

(Apparently, WordPress doesn’t like iFrames. Here’s the link to the live form while I find a workaround. Sorry about that!)

Let’s make this a rousing end of the year success! Be sure to pass the word on this event! I will be making a Facebook event and tweeting on it as the days go by (I haven’t thought of a clever hashtag yet).

Happy Holidays, whatever that holiday might be!

Thanksgiving Thoughts ‘09

I am thankful for the journey so far.

It is the culmination of many events, both good and bad, that have brought to where I am today. I thank all of the people, both present and long gone of all intentions, who have shaped me into the person I am today. It has not always been great, it has not always been fun, but it has been an evolving experience.

I am thankful that my life is surrounded by such vibrance.

To be in the included in the lives of such a wide range of exceptional people is a true gift. They are my angels, muses, saints, and heroes. While we may originate from dust and return to it in the end, never forget that it is stardust. We are a greater sum than our mortal parts. Some may call it the soul, others the divine spark, still others the human spirit, but never let such a fantastic essence be secreted away.

I am thankful for all that I have and all that is to come.