Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How do people think of these things?

We were talking today about the inscrutable language of our database system. E. says "When the system says 'charged' I think I am going to have to pay for something!" What it really means is that it is "checked out". Then we see "textual holdings." E's face lights up and he starts to giggle. " Sounds like a Marvin Gaye song!" This guy is funny AND clever. His comments were validating. I thought I was the only one who didn't understand crazy, convoluted and obnoxious database language.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Uncommon Women and Others. . .

It's hard to believe, especially since I didn't know that she was sick , that Wendy Wasserstein died today. She was the author of one of my all time favorite plays, Uncommon Women and others. I actually received a phone call from Wendy many years ago in response to a letter I had written her. I remember the day well: a hot, sultry, never-ending summer day. I was giving my three small children lunch when the phone rang. It was Wendy, thanking me for such a nice letter. My children , as opportunistic as they can get, took advantage of the stars in my eyes, to pour a carton of orange juice on the floor and quack around like ducks. Wendy could hear the commotion in the background and just chuckled. The call lasted, at the most, 20 seconds, but I never forgot it.
She was a funny woman, but given to great and profound insights.
Rest in Peace, Wendy.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Todays Apercu

" I like trees because they seem resigned to the way they have to live than other things do."
----Willa Cather

The Weekend is Short and Writing is Long. . .

...and therein lies the dilemma. For all of Virginia Woolf's prognostications about "a room of one's own," I find mental space more urgent. For me to write today, this beautiful , warm Saturday, I not only have to flush out the busy and complicated work week with all of its mundane and irritating aspects. I have to deny myself the sheer beauty of the day and stay with the writing. Stay with the work. Sometimes I have to tell myself , "Get back to the laptop, Michelle, stay with it. Atta girl!" I feel worried lately, a bit bogged down, a tad sad, though nothing I can put my finger on. Maybe it is the sense of nothing ever really being done---that every minute of every day is often redoing what just keeps getting undone. There are some days that seem as though they hum along so nicely. I am really grateful for those days. Then there are those that are fraught with all sorts of complications. Days that I just fight back tears of frustration and the feeling that, despite my best intentions, I am being misunderstood, and it is working against me.
So right now, I am settling down,making the coffee, lighting a candle and limbering up my fingers. A bit of Edith Piaf in the background, to be followed by some George Gershwin (I am definitely in a Blue Rhapsody mood) and then perhaps some of Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa to get me deeper into the zone.
We'll see.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

It seemed like a good idea at the time!

My director has rejected my request to be represented by either Peppermint Patty or Brenda Starr in place of my photo on the library web page. I absolutely no desire to have my picture on the website and I can be equally sure that it won't be missed. I did, however, want to be represented by a firey red head such as Pepperming or Brenda, because they are everything I'm not: Adventursome, outspoken and full of fun!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What can Snoopy teach us about writing?

I am an avowed Charlie Brown lover. I have always loved the entire Peanuts gang and have always had a profound admiration for the late Charles Schulz. Charles Schulz had a saturnine personality (not unlike myself!) and parlayed the fear and depression that often descended upon him into a wonderful array of characters. Probably Charlie Brown was most like himself. Snoopy, too, seemed to be his outlet for the often crazy and frustrating life of the creative artist. Even as a kid I have always loved the image of Snoopy perched on the top of his dog house with his typewriter. I loved, even then, his single-mindednesss, his stick-to-it attitude, letting nothing deter him from what he needed to put down on the page.
Here is what Monte Schulz, Charles' son, has to say about his father, snoopy and the creative process in his foreward to the book Snoopy and the Writing Life:

"Snoopy perched in front of a typewriter on his famous doghouse is one of the enduring images of Peanuts. His flights of literary imagination take hold of every writer and remind us (as if we needed reminding) that once we admit to ourselves we require and adore the written word and the writer’s life, we are bound to chase that ever elusive perfect sentence, paragraph, story, novel, poem. Rejections, blocks, false starts, and dead ends only distract us; they cannot lead us away from this holy destiny we know is ours. Without a doubt, my father used Snoopy the author to express his own love and frustration with the creative process, to illuminate the writer’s life by poking fun at the often incomprehensible divide between author and publisher while showing the amazing resilience of the everyday writer struggling for acceptance and acknowledgment. Some know fame and other anonymity, but my father believed there were no short cuts to be had in the life of the dedicated artist. There is only faith and persistence. In the last days of his life, my father knew that his own commitment to the art of the written word had been honest and complete, and when he passed from this world, he left as a writer. We should all be so fortunate."


Today's Apercu

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” ---Henry Ford

I like that.

Enough already! (Coffee helps!)

Ok.Ok. No more blogs about the "incident". Over the Monday hump. Just had an oil drum of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. The best coffee in the entire world. I mean it. Never, ever would I eat a donut , but my idea of heaven is a place where unlimited amounts of the brew (aka "nectar of the gods) is in never ending supply. Coffee helps everything.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Rodney King had a point. . .

Although I had foolishly fretted all weekend long about Monday,the day went fine. I was worried, apprehensive, unable to fully relax in the weekend because of the unpleasant interaction that I had on Friday in the library. I always do that, I hold on so tightly to emotions. There was a part of me that was worried that I had wronged someone with my solid stance to "the rules." I don't like to be punitive senselessly and I had thought, more than once during the verbal beating I took, that if I just relented, just gave in, I could avoid all of the unpleasantness. But, it makes me angry that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. What about the people who don't speak up out of fear, shyness, self-doubt? Why should obnoxious behavior be rewarded? I would hate myself. Although, I have to admit, I didn't feel so great on Friday night,so I guess it all kind of evened itself out. It's not the first time,it won't be the last.
In the immortal words of Rodney King: "Why can't we all just get along?"

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ah, Sunday sickness is alive and well

...and I definitely have it! I always wondered what a "hang dog" look was and maybe this it. It is just the way I feel. Where did the weekend go??? I swear I can feel every singe minute pass as though it were a mere second. But,alas, it is still Sunday, and Monday morning is many hours away. Still. . . .

Friday, January 20, 2006

There is a certain kind of anger that I have never been able to understand. And anger mixed with insult is, in many ways,beyond my comprehension. Whenever you work in the public domain you are left vulnerable to a particularly vicious kind of abuse: one in which, basically, you must stand there with your teeth in your mouth while someone who is foaming at theirs has a verbal go at you. This happened to me today. Some people cannot imagine something like this happening in a library, but the "house of knowledge" is no exception. I hate to be yelled at. Seem obvious? If you are reading this you are saying to yourself "well, duh, no one likes to be yelled at." NO. You don't understand, I HATE to be yelled at. For me, it is like death. Ugh. And I hate not really being able to defend myself. Maybe that's the worst part. I spoke very patiently and in a quiet voice to this person. It didn't do any good. It seemed to fuel the anger that was already stoked. When it was over, I felt a bit shakey, a bit sick to my stomach . I just wanted to go home. There is a certain amount of civility missing in every day interactions and I don't know what it is, or why it is or even what to do about it. I can get easily irritated, that I admit, but it would take an incident of gargantuan proportions for me to hurl invectives at someone over something small. Although I could imagine doing it if it meant defending someone. It took a lot out of me and I dread seeing this person again.
But, alas, it will be the front lines again on Monday. Right now would be a good time to remind myself that 99% of the time my interactions with students and with the public is interesting, wonderful and gratifying in so many ways.
Bring on Monday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Where are all the students? Even when the winds are blowing at 60 mph and it is raining cats and dogs, you still have to get to class. So where is everyone? The underground tunnel?
Sweet Nelly, I'd rather be writing, for sure.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Living from the inside out,not the outside in

After two weeks of going into work everyday while classes were not in session because of the holiday, classes start, once again, tommorow. I always feel a bit anxious because we basically go from 0 to 60 as soon as the day starts. For the most part students are wonderfully engaging. They can, though,be incredibly demanding and inscrutable. The noise level in the library raises appreciably as students come to the library for various reasons, not all of them for the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, the library serves some of the same purpose as a community center: students come to study,chat, check e-mail, attend class, hang out, keep warm (winter) get cool(summer)and, on occasion, actually look for a book just to read for pleasure! I always get so much satisfaction out of a kid that wants a book of fiction to read, and I must admit, I always feel a bit sorry for the student who is constantl partying, or hanging outside in huge groups, having a cigarette or with a cell phone plastered against the ear. Admittedly, I was such a different person at that age. I really needed a HUGE amount of quiet time with myself. I really needed to "hear myself think", needed to be able to put things down on paper, to get them out of my system so that I could get on with other things. I always like to ask my students on Friday afternoon how they plan to spend the weekend. Again, on Monday morning, I ask to see if maybe one of them realized that the reason their heads are always spinning,why they seem to feel a bit shattered or lonely is because they are constantly searching outside of themselves for something. I just want to say "slow down a bit," but of course they would just look at me and laugh.
I have one student who is so lively and vivacious and will someday set the world on fire because she wants so much out of life. Her social calendar could rival anyones, but she manages to write some lovely poetry, in between the clubbing , hanging out with her boyfriend and her seemingly hundreds of friends. One day I had walked away from the circulation desk for a few minutes. When I came back, L. was sitting behind the circ desk with a pad of paper . She was looking up and out of the window, deep in thought. Then she would hesitate and look down at the pad and write a few lines. I was watching a mind in thought , and witnessing someone who lives life allegro find the words to create images of beauty. I want to be able to say to her "That's it. Writing those words, creating those images will bring you so much joy in life. Keep writing, do that every , single day. Make something beautiful!" If, I did say that, she'd laugh. She'd more than laugh. She'd slap her thigh and say "It really ain't that deep, Miss Michelle!"
But, you know, it is. She just doesn't realize it now. But I do. Which is why my heart soars when a student comes in for something to read.
"Have anything, like, good to read?" I just smile. I sure do.

Friday, January 13, 2006

And so did Van Gogh. . .

Friday night and while I should be relaxing, it will take me until tommorow to flush work out of my mind. Today was good and productive. I like that feeling about work and I try to hold onto it , because it inspires my writing, too.
Here's what Van Gogh says:

<em>Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.

And sometimes it takes a bunch of people to bring things to fruition. That's another good thing about my day job: the teamwork. Writing is often so lonely, all my thoughts rattling around in my brain like marbles in shoebox. No one to bounce things off of. This creating of worlds in your head is strange business, though I love it. But my day job, being surrounded by people and expectations that others have of me,not just the ones that I have for myself is a good thing.

Here's to you Vincent Van Gogh, because , in the end , whether those 'great things' are brought about by, the group with all of the external pressures of the workplace or within the desirous part of ourselves that just wants to create something meaningful in the end , making it happen is what counts.

Kafka had a point. . .

My student insists on defending A Million Little Pieces. I've decided to reconsider what the story could mean for people for whom transcendence in their lives is the goal or a matter of survival. The transcendence of pain, addiction, loneliness, alchoholism or any of the other sundry miseries we often find ourselves in. O.K. I'll concede that my student is a real smart girl and she challenged me, not without some irritation: "O.K,Michelle,you know,it is not really that deep, o.k.? I mean , really what difference does it make?" I was a bit taken aback, so I took a minute to think: "Well, I said "it's not real." She replied "So?" "He should have made it fiction!" I persisted. "But Michelle,either way,it is still a damn good story."
And you know, as much as I hate to admit it,I have to say that she's right. Is that why the recent negative publicity hasn't hurt sales in the least? Could be. I'll let this rest for a while. But if a book, as Kafka said, should be the ax that breaks the frozen sea within us, then no matter what it is called fiction or memoir, the way it makes us feel is all that matters.
And that's one of the things that I LOVE about my day job: interactions with really bright students who know how to cut through the intellectual bs and get to a bedrock of truth.
Let's hear it for a damn good story wherever it can be found.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A million little lies..

"Um,well, I mean..." That's the way that author James Frey prefaced almost every answer to the questions he was asked tonight on Larry King Live. Frey's creative shifting and manipulation of his version of the truth has caused a quite a dustup. I am listening to him try to himself out of what he has come close to admitting but not quite: that he lied. A Million Little Pieces is a riveting romp throgh Frey's crack smoking, law breaking alchohol induced existence years ago and of his attempt to get clean in a treatment center. Sounds compelling so far, right? Yeah, well he lied. I have to keep reminding myself of this because it clearly changes the entire impact of the book for me. Yes, James, memoir IS subjective. Yes, James, it should capture the essence of an experience. Yes James, YOU might call it the "essential truth of your life," but you've lost credibility. A student said to me "His story is amazing, I can't believe what he lived through!" And therin lies the rub. He didn't exactly live through any of it. Lessens the impact doesn't it? Not to her. She kept saying, "I don't care whether it's true or not, he's really brave." Okaaaay. . . but see, that 's the POINT, it's a good story, let's give him kudos for a story that has the ability to sell millions and millions (God only knows, if only I could do the same), but let's try not to elevate him to sainthood for what he survived, when at this point it is difficult to even figure out what exactly is true and what isn't. Oprah called in on the show and still supports the book. Frey and his Mom were grinning ear to ear. Sales will probably soar overnight! Having said that, I will lose interest in this rather quickly. Whenever the masses catch on to something , I say "I'm outta here." On to the next thing.

Today's apercu

As Katherine Hepburn says in the movie High Society:
"The time to make up your mind about people is never."

It's good to remember.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

It's kind of like bartending. . .

Well, it really is. I worked my part time job today at the public library and had a lot of great conversations. A regular patron that comes in is a very lovely looking Polish woman. She's jus had her fourth child----gorgeous blue-eyed, blonde children. I congratulated her on the birth of her son who is only a few weeks old. She sighed and said, "I slipped him in right before my Big birthday coming up!" "Oh," I replied, "Thirty isn't that bad!" Her eyes became wide. "Thirty?!" she sputtered. "I'll be Forty!" "Well, " I said,"Forty isn't bad at all." She came closer to the circulation desk and leaned toward me and said "But my husband is only 24!" EGADS! Ive had people confess all sorts of things to me in the course of doing readers' advisory,checking their books out, as well as collecting their fines.
I will still always love the preteen boy, a few years back who confirmed that if he returned books late , he would have to pay a late fine. "That's right," I said. "Well, " he replied as he pulled the books he wanted to return out of a small backpack, "These are early. Do I get money back?"
Gotta love working at the library. Good conversation, books, colorful characters and books, lousy pay, but books, books books.
What's not to love?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Back to work!

So the holidays are over. How grand. As much as I love them, I couldn't wait until they were over---that is, until I got back to work. I am a creature of habit, and really felt the need to get back to some semblance of routine. When I was at home, I'd really look forward to brewing my morning coffee and then sit down to write. The truth is, after those first few delcious sips of scalding hot coffee, drinking the rest of the cup and any cups that are poured after that, is akin to chasing a ghost. So after I've savored the flavor of the first cup of coffee I sat and looked at the blank page for a long, long time. But while I am at work, its a different story. Sometimes I much prefer to think about writing than to actually do any writing. And that's where work comes in. Because while I am working my day job, I can knash my teeth and think, quite dramatically "I'd rather be writing!" The truth is, I'm much more productive when I have other things to occupy me, then when I do come to the writing, I am really hungry for it.

The library has been so quiet . It will remain that way until the students come back on the 17th of this month. While I enjoy the quiet, it makes the day long and tedious no matter how much work I have to do. Of course, once the semester starts , things will be so busy, the day so full of all sorts of details, I'll go home every night way too tired to do anything of import. Such is life. Writing time becomes all important on the weekends. I try to maximize my time.

Alas, today is Friday, but I don't have any time to savor it. I will work my parttime job in a public library tommorow. But,to be sure, no matter how tired I will be when I come home, I'll start brewing the coffee while preparing to write. If I've got to chase ghosts, so be it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Emerging from the other side of the holidays...

Wow. This is the last day off from work. Tommorow I will return to my desk where I left everything in a bit of happy confusion. Afterall, who cares right before the break? I feel like a bear who is just wakening from hibernation. I woke early this morning in preparation for getting into the early a.m. groove again. It is not only physical, it's mental, too. Coffee helps. I've got a nice big cup of it right now. The break was great though. The holidays were relaxing and fun, just like they are supposed to be and I managed to get quite a bit of reading done. Dr. Zhivago was amazing---so was Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Seamstress. MJ Hyland's Carry Me Down almost hurt to read, it was that poignant. Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos was o.k Jean Paul Sartre's The Words will now be my book for life. Rereading Adrienne Rich's On Secrets, Lies and Silence is so validating for me, especially as a wife and mother and writer. She just resonates so deeply with me. The essays were written in the 70's , but their truth is not dated a single bit. She is a brave and brilliant woman. An excerpt:

For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive. Anda certain freedom of the mind is needed---freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transencd and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very lief you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day ;might be night, love might be hate;nothing can be too sacred for he imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is re-naming.
And I love Rich for every word that she has ever written. She, like Emily Dickinson, is a guiding light for me, a constant reminder that no matter what our circumstances as wives, mothers , students, day job workers, we can write, we can imagine, we can create worlds. In fact, if we call ourselves writers, it is essential that we do write ---every day. It is validating, it is freeing, it is uplifting.
Right now I am typing this on my laptop which I got for Christmas. Last night my son and daughter were watching me type . My daugher asked me if I was always going to write on my laptop from now on. "Of course!" I replied. My son and daugher looked at eachother in a strange way. "Mom! What about your journals?" I assured her that I would never give up my journals since nothing quite compares to curling up with a beautiful and carefully selected book of blank pages-----practically an engraved invitation to get to know yourself and the world around you. So, after I post this, I'll pour myself another cup of delicious coffee, sit down near the window and plumb the depths of my soul. Well, something like that anyway!
Happy New Year everyone!