We had a tiny television on the table in the kitchen in my house in Pennsylvania. There was a special shelf we built into the wall, close enough to the ceiling that you had to stand on a chair to reach it, where the tv was placed when everyone was home for dinner, or if you wanted to see it more easily while you were at the sink, washing the dishes. But mostly the tv, which was actually a combination tv/am/fm radio, lived on the table; it was in front of this tv that I would sit and watch G.I. Joe and The Transformers while doing my homework, and it was on this tv, several years later (although fewer than I would want to detail), that my mother and I watched the 2nd to last episode ever of Twin Peaks, featuring the long-mentioned Miss Twin Peaks pageant (winner gets a free trip to the Black Lodge!), for which the contestants had been rehearsing for weeks, and which, once it finally arrived, moved my mother to proclaim boy, that David Lynch must really hate women.
I doubt there was any follow-up to this comment. In part because, as a senior in high school who had already been accepted to college, this fell squarely into the time frame where everything your parents say is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened. Particularly in a situation like this, where there exists the horrifying possibility that the ensuing conversation might be tangentially related to sex. But also all the time, and particularly in a situation like this, because it’s just so awful how they’re always wrong.
The error in this case was not that there might have been anything hateful about the Miss Twin Peaks pageant; obviously, a show that used the murder of the prom queen as the jumping off point to explore the secrets kept in a small town – including that said prom queen was a prostitute, and, in the immortal words of the lovely Audrey Horne, “had a sweet tooth for nose candy” – is not going to have a problem with women. The error was in thinking that, in that day and age – 1991, Saturdays, 9pm, suburban Pennsylvania – anyone might hate women.
Because that sort of thing didn’t happen; not anymore. Certainly, it had been a problem in the past, but so had polio. Feminism & Women’s Lib had been a powerful vaccine, spreading equality and understanding throughout society. My mother was a doctor, for pete’s sake; if, when she went to buy a new car accompanied by her husband, the salesman referred to the lighted mirror on the passenger-side visor as a “standard feature for the lady of the house,” well, that one salesman was an antiquated buffoon, a decomposing carp buried in silt, occasionally giving off gas that would bubble up to momentarily disturb the still pond of sisters are doin’ it for themselves, and nothing more; certainly, it was no indication of a continuing societal norm to belittle and condescend to women. No.
And it didn’t change the fact that, over on the #1 show on television (which Twin Peaks, sadly, was not), charming as Cliff was, it was still Claire Huxtable who wore the pants in that relationship. And if I occasionally found her to be a bit strident, it wasn’t because she was overreacting to things or overly emotional, but because there was no need to yell; you’re a woman, Claire Huxtable : you have a right to be heard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how much my right to be heard depended on who was doing the listening.
Recently, I received an email from a male coworker in which he stated that I was definitely “the superstar” of a group assigned to work on a particular project. This group – which consisted of myself and two other people, both male – had, even before that email, sparked unpleasant flashbacks to group projects in library school : meetings were difficult to schedule and constantly postponed; people didn’t have ideas, and most of the meetings that were held were spent silently marveling and how people were not using any of their time to work on this project. It was amazingly frustrating to see a fairly straightforward project, which, generously, should have taken no more than 3.5 hours, stretch over 5 months.
However, eventually, as it had to, work on the project concluded. And, even though I was not the lead, I can tell you confidently and completely without boasting that 98% of our conclusions had been entirely my idea. The proposal that we submitted was written entirely by me, even though at one point another of the other group members, stating that he felt like he wasn’t doing anything (which, I refrained from pointing out, might have been because he wasn’t), offered to take a pass at it; but, after a week it remained unchanged, so I finished it up. To be fair, he did create the images for the document, although he wasn’t able to go so far as to insert them into the document, so I took care of that. And the presentation that we did was a word-for-word recitation of the document I had written detailing my ideas.
I understand that being part of a group means that credit goes to the whole, regardless of how much might have been done by each individual person. And, I don’t even necessarily mind being the only person in the group doing any work; I do love to get my own way, after all, so if no one else is doing anything, then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get what I want.
But the ‘superstar’ email made me angry. Because my first thought on reading it was boy, I bet he never would have said that to me if I were a man. I mean, yes, it’s unlikely that one man would call another a superstar in most professional settings. But even apart from that, had I been a man, the sender would probably not have felt the need to obscure the fact that he hadn’t done shit on the project behind a feeble compliment, or to charmingly suggest that I might not have noticed that I was the only one doing anything.
It made me angry too because, after all these years, I know there’s no way to respond to a comment meant to appease the little lady. If I point out that the bar for superstardom is exceedingly low, then I’m ungrateful and kind of a bitch. Or, worse, I’m reacting emotionally rather than rationally. If I suggest that other members of the group might contribute a little more, I get either excuses for why they’re busy, or some Eddie Haskell-grade faux-feminist nonsense about how I was doing such a good job they didn’t think I needed their help. Yet, if I accept the compliment, I reinforce the idea that, as long as you tell a woman she’s pretty, you can get away with anything.
But mostly it made me angry because it reminded me of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Because if I go back and watch Twin Peaks and discover that David Lynch hates women after all? I am going to be pissed.
Now that I have the training and (some of) the experience of a librarian, I recognize that the decision to become a librarian was one that should have been researched quite a bit more thoroughly before committing. Certainly, it should not have taken becoming an information professional to realize that a program devoted to churning out librarians would present the prospects of the prospective librarian in the most positive light, but I suppose that it did only serves to underscore a point made many times over the course of my library school curriculum, which is that without libraries and properly trained librarians no one will ever learn how to do research.
Regrets aside, the bright side of this terribly deep hole that I seem to have dug for myself is that it provides a focus and scope for any future job search I might conduct; in library speak, the topic has been selected, leaving the only the task of identifying resources that might point me to a valuable conclusion. My last non-library job search had no such focus, and, consequently, I had to review just about every ad on Craigslist. Or, at least, all the job-related ads.
There’s a certain repetition that comes from reading ads on Craigslist, partly due to the fact that, in order to stay on the first page, some companies will place the same, or slightly edited, ads over and over again; another part of that is probably that some of those companies are just terrible places to work, and so are in a constant process of replacing departed employees.
I don’t know into which of these categories Circles falls, and, despite having read their company information at least once a week for several months, I don’t have any idea at all what it is that they do. I thought, vaguely, yet unshakeably, that they probably were some kind of cult. Like an H.P. Lovecraft story, the language in these cryptic ads was entirely straightforward, yet something was being plainly obscured by their very everday-ness; no matter how many times I read them, the key to understanding that sense behind them remained elusive.
I really liked the idea of getting a job at Circles. That it might possibly have been a cult was part of the appeal, but what I mostly I wanted to find out what it was; I would plumb the depths of Circles and surface rich with knowledge, and if the secrets of Circles into which I would be initiated were worth keeping then I would keep them, and if not, then I would probably complain about them for a little while. My sister liked the idea, too, because if I got involved in a cult, then she could lead the effort to deprogram me. And vice versa. It was fun to think about, as long as you studiously ignored the fact that we both were somewhat seriously considering a cult as a viable alternative to our respective employment situations.
Every day when I left that respective employment situation, I would walk past the old Sears, Roebuck building on my way to the bus stop. The size of the building made clear, or possibly I read it on a plaque, that the building had been a major warehouse and distribution center for the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and that countless modern, time-saving marvels had been shipped out from that building to homes all over the country. Walking past that building in the early days of the internet, when the primary purpose of this new technology seemed, as I understood it, to be to allow people to shop for things without ever leaving their home, it was hard not to consider how little innovation this actually represented, and how much of progress is really just people moving in slightly widening circles, with families making things on their own being replaced by trading and purchasing from their neighbors, which is enhanced by being able to purchase things via catalog, which becomes mostly obsolete by department stores expanding into smaller neighborhoods so everyone can buy things immediately, which then gives way to the convenience of staying home and avoiding crowds by using the internet, which is now home to an ever growing DIY community of people trading and selling handmade goods and homemade things, which walks hand-in-hand with the urban homesteading and localvore movements, which is undoubtedly already in process of pupating into something else that I likely won’t hear of until US Weekly reports that Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it.
Twitter strikes me, too, as a point on a large circle, as free verse and the beats exploded the rigid forms of writing and poetry, and in the face of such limitless freedom of expression, people rush to confine themselves to 140 characters or less. Only now, instead of the format forcing people to think carefully about what they want to say, now we can use it to say everything we think, without putting any thought into it at all. But Twitter didn’t exist back then, so I rarely thought about it while walking to the bus stop.
The next job that I managed to get was not in a cult, but in Watertown, and to get there meant taking the 70 bus. I have hated that particular bus route since the ’90s, when it was one of the very few ways a car-less student could make her way from Waltham into the actual city. Rarity did not unfortunately make it a very good way to get into the city – the 70 is a really long bus route, that makes a lot of stops, many of which are very close together and could easily be eliminated. Riding that bus end to end is a good way to meet some interesting characters, one of whom told me how the Lotus Flower blooms and seeds at the same time. But it is also a powerful way to feel your life passing; the three stops at the mall are enough to make you abandon hope altogether. And while most people use “going places” when speaking career-wise metaphorically, it seemed a particularly bad omen to me that, despite my new job, I was not, in fact, going any place I had not already gone before.
I may not have found the bus route to be particularly ominous had I not known from the outset that I wasn’t going to like that job. Yet I had similar trepidations, perhaps unwisely overlooked, when I made my (rash?) decision to attend library school and discovered that the school itself was in the very same neighborhood as the job I had just left, and, while I would no longer be walking past the Sears, Roebuck building, I would be riding that same bus, just a few stops farther than the one to which I had walked for so many years.
My very first library job, at The Smaller Institution of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, too, was in that same neighborhood, just two blocks or so away from the Library School. Which was in a sense convenient, particularly on Saturdays, when I had class in the morning and then worked in the afternoon. But, as much as I liked it there, it did more and more seem strange to me that, with all of the city before me, I just seemed to be caught in a circuit between two points.
The Illustrious Institute changed that. Of the many reasons I was excited to work there – I could walk to work! It was a full-time job! I have a Memento-like inability to remember problems that are not my own and so had completely forgotten how utterly unhappy Derbs had been there for almost all of the years that I’d known her! – one of the most important was that it was in a brand-new neighborhood, one I had never worked in before.
While I will grant that the outdoor stations on the Blue Line are more picturesque, I firmly believe that the Red Line is the best of all of the MBTA lines. Yet, I have nothing but scorn for the people who ride the Red Line only one stop. I tell myself that I don’t know them, or their lives, they may have had a really long day, or walked really far to get to the station. And no one can argue that the train will get you from Porter to Harvard faster than any of the buses that go that way. And it’s not particularly crowded. And it’s going to stop at the station anyway, so why not?
Because I would never take the Red Line only 1 stop, not within Cambridge, anyway. So no one should. The distances for which it is acceptable to take public transportation have been very clearly defined, by me, making everything else within walking distance. Which is the reason I walk to work; it’s not because I enjoy walking, although I do. And it’s not because there is no public transportation option conveniently available, because there is – it’s the bus that, eventually, goes to The Library School, The Smaller Institute of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, and to the stop just by the Sears, Roebuck building.
It was inevitable, I think, that excitement would wane over the course of years, but it was an enormous surprise, to no one more than myself, how suddenly, and violently, mine was crushed a few months ago. Certainly, there will be good days every now and again, but then I’ll remember how my new and internally promoted boss would refer to one of the library users as Dirty ShitPig, and, when I stop wondering how I ever thought this job mattered, I realize that I have that same desperate urge to flee that I had 10 years ago, when I actually spent time pondering the merits and relative drawbacks of brainwashing and deprogramming. And now that I’m back where I started, I’m anxious to find something that holds the same intrigue that Circles did, the mystery, the promise of discovery, the secrets. Because I think that, what I’ve learned, is that the only way to beat the circles is to join a cult.
Many years ago my then-boss and I stood in the parking lot behind the building we worked in, taking a break to smoke and talk about anarchy. Said boss was of the genial sort of fellow who upon moderately close inspection reveals himself to be little more than a self-aggrandizing nitwit, which, while that would certainly be tiresome today, was a fully age-appropriate novelty a decade and half ago. And so, despite his rather pedestrian view on the banality of ties, I did quite enjoy our conversations, Joe’s and mine, and can recall them fondly today without wondering what that might say about me and my development as a person.
While I don’t remember all of the details of the anarchy conversation, I do remember the broad strokes being that Joe was Pro and I was Con, and while Joe painted a pretty picture of the freedom to do whatever you want, I really hung it on the wall by pointing out that the lack of order would apply just as equally to those with darker impulses, and once you give those guys free reign, I would be the first to die. If for no other reason than because it takes me an unbelievably long time to realize when someone who seems nice is in reality a self-aggrandizing nitwit, making it seem unlikely I would be any quicker identifying an actually harmful entity. You take away the rules, and I immediately become the dumbest zebra at the watering hole.
The lethality of total chaos, however, does not prevent me from enjoying the occasional controlled societal breakdown. On the contrary, the low-level havoc created by a brief suspension of the rules of order is, strangely, an environment in which I thrive. The need for a leader suits my natural inclinations toward bossy know-it-all-ness, while the temporary nature of the leadership position ensures that no one will have an opportunity to discover that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
The blackout that hit Cambridge back in November, for example, was exactly the sort of moment in which I shine. Being in the right place at the right time made me one of the first to be informed that the Illustrious Libraries were to be closed, and I rushed back to my primary library location, bursting with the importance of being the bearer of vital news. Once arrived, though I did first inform the ranking members of the library staff, they allowed me to inform our users of the situation. Which, not to toot my own horn (on the internet? the scandal!) I did with such aplomb that those users left in the library greeted the conclusion of my announcement with a round of applause.
Thusly justly fêted, I made my way home through the darkened streets of Cambridge, illuminated only the headlights of the cars that stretched, bumper to bumper, unmoving along the length of Mass Ave, enjoying the company not only of Devin, whose weekend had just gotten an unexpectedly early start, but of hundreds of others who recognized that without power the conveniences of modern transportation had become a burden, and that, in these reduced circumstances, the people with the most power were those who could do for themselves.
However, while the unexpected nature of the citywide blackout is part of its allure, it is, at best, a fickle beast. Its unpredictability is what makes it so welcome, yet occurring only once in the 2 decades I’ve been here makes it an unreliable source for the rush of self-worth that accompanies the exaggerated competence of laughing in the face of little-to-no danger.
Fortunately, winter comes every year, as does the thrill of a potential weather-related emergency. As a person who is not even moderately outdoorsy, I recognize that my opportunities for nature-related victories are limited : I’m not going to hike the Appalachian Trail, or scale Mount Everest, or purposely put myself in a position that could result in losing my mind in the wilderness or having to amputate my own arm. Nature and I have, for the most part, reached a detente in our conquer-or-be-conquered relationship because, up against elemental anarchy, I know that, for the most part, I would lose.
But when Nature brings the fight to me, when the whole city – yay, even the whole state – decides to back down, that’s when I have to step up. Climbing snow drifts and tumbling down the other side for the purpose only of ending up with a vegan cupcake may not be on par with doing so to find shelter or escape from a sabre-toothed tiger. But when the populace at large must stay indoors or risk being snowed upon, it is an act of heroism simply to walk out one’s front door, and I am the hero for those times. And it is with great gladness and pride that I share the plowed but still snow-covered streets, closed to vehicular traffic, with my fellow, foot-traveling champions.
The summer after my freshman year, I had a job telemarketing. I was not particularly good at it; despite the one day I was the top seller in the office, thanks to the 8 cups of coffee I drank out of a ceramic demi-tasse with a black exterior and white interior which I stole at the end of the day and which today I regret not knowing what I did with, I never was able to sell enough to meet the minimum weekly quota to earn a bonus. So, while on the down side that meant that I was not making a lot of money, it should be noted that I was at least getting rejected a lot. People do not like telemarketers, I tell you what.
In retrospect, it’s obvious that the main problem with my sales technique was that I apologetic about the invoice : the way I hit the would in our scripted “After two months, you would be sent an invoice,” let them know that I wasn’t really behind the product. Sure, they would get the Non-Profit Board Report for 2 months, and that’s cool, but, even if they enjoyed it, they’d still have to deal with this invoice in 2 months time. Like, you’re a non-profit organization and that we respect that, and our publication might help with the management of that organization (I think? I don’t know if I ever saw a copy of the Non-Profit Board Report). But we are not a non-profit organization, and we will charge you. Of course, you could cancel the invoice, but the way it was set up, we were basically coming as close to ripping you off as the bounds of the law would allow. All of that, conveyed with a simple would.
However, sometimes the problem was that the leads weren’t very good. That was the culprit the week we were selling The Marketing Report and all of the businesses that the list of contacts spit out were slaughterhouses.
As it turns out, slaughterhouses are not really all that concerned with marketing, for the reason eloquently provided by the gentleman on the other end of the phone who, in response to my request to be connected with the marketing department, drawled “Lady, all we do is kill old pigs.”
The brilliance of that response, of the unconcerned deliberation that made it clear that the foolishness of my question would not be entertained, has always made it one of the great joys of my life. However, as much as I appreciated the laconic verbal smack-down that put my self-hating would to shame before it could even be uttered, what I did not realize until this past week is that what I truly admire about that gentleman is the simplicity of purpose expressed. This is not someone who’s ever had to worry about an elevator pitch, of breaking down an overly complex process into its component parts, who has to chase fads, keep up with the latest technology, or worry about obsolescence. As long as there is an old pig that needs killing, this guy is in business : that is the hedgehog-like focus that proves elusive for most companies.
It’s the professional equivalent of my gastronomical envy of pandas, who only eat bamboo; fortunately for the panda, bamboo is only eaten by them. I enjoy the lovely natural symmetry of that relationship, in no small part because it relieves all of panda-kind of most food-related stressors : a panda never has to figure out what to do for lunch, or what it’s in the mood for. There are no ethical implications to panda’s diet, it doesn’t matter if the bamboo has been humanely raised or if it’s locally sourced. The question of what to eat has been so solidly settled for pandas that it never even needs to be raised; a panda only gets as far as “what” before it realizes that the answer is “bamboo”. It’s bamboo; it’s always bamboo.
Make no mistake : I don’t want to switch to a diet of only bamboo any more than I want to make a career of killing old pigs. Or pigs of any age. It’s just that, every now and then, instead of answers, what I would like is a lack of questions.
(Warning : portions of this blog have appeared elsewhere. Like on Facebook. Yesterday.)
I had a weirdly aggressive encounter with a patron yesterday. Although a recent arrival, she has quickly become a frequent visitor to the library; while it’s difficult to make assumptions about people, I would guess, based on her behavior, that she is neither Illustrious student nor faculty nor staff, but instead is of the sort of person who eschews the public library despite being the sort of person one imagines when coming up with reasons to eschew the public library.
Or, I suppose the difficulty lies in accurately judging a person about whom you have already made assumptions. Whatever the case, my very first interaction with this particular woman resulted with her thinking that my answer to her very bizarre question about my bracelet (which I no longer remember, except that it was off-putting) was an invitation to grab said bracelet which, having an elastic band, she then snapped against my wrist. And, while we may go into detail on physical contact in the library another time, the short explanation is : No. Even the great Colonel Mustache, who stole my heart by being the answer to the question “What would Yosemite Sam look like if his great-grandparents on his mother’s side had been Norwegian alcoholics, and his paternal great-great-great-grandfather had been a Lorax, who spoke not for trees but for mustaches?” was invited to remove his hand from my arm as I demonstrated how to use the scanner; there are no exceptions to this rule.
Subsequent interactions with this woman – who so far has not exhibited enough personality to earn a nickname, although perhaps we should start working on something tissue-based – have, now that I think of it, been fairly limited. At least on my watch, her pattern seems to be to establish herself in front of one of the computers, do whatever it is that she needs to do, and then leave, without requesting assistance from the staff. However, before heading over to the computers, she likes to stop by the desk to stock up on tissues. And, to her credit, unlike many library users, she does seem to realize that the tissues are kept on the desk not because we want to be a part of your nose-blowing experience, but so that they’ll be easy to find.
However, unlike most – if not all – of our other library users, when she stopped by the desk yesterday she glared steadily at me as she pulled tissues singly out of the box, as though daring me to stop her. One after another, it seemed like her whole purpose in coming to the library was to prove that she could remove as many tissues from the box on the desk as she wanted. It seems weird to describe anything involving tissues as defiant, but there doesn’t seem to be any other word for it.
And I almost took up her challenge. When she got to 4 and showed no signs of stopping, I inhaled, preparing to say Ok, lady – that’s enough with the tissues. And then I exhaled, wondering if that was really the life I want for myself? Do I want to be a person who restricts access to tissues? Kind of, but under the guise of wanting to ensure adequate tissue availability for all of our library users at all times.
However, that’s not a realistic goal – no matter how many or how few tissues an individual person takes, it is inevitable that the library will one day run out of tissues. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tissues in the world. And as long as there *are* tissues, the library will get more.
It may be, though, that her aggression yesterday was a result to regain some face after the tissue-related ordeal of last weekend. The difficulty then was not because of the tissues themselves, but because she was attempting to take all of the tissues. At once. Using only one hand. I don’t know why she had set this unusual challenge for herself, but I worried for a bit that she was not quite up to the task. As she struggled, unable to get her hand fully inside the box, and then unable to get it out, I wondered whether I should intervene – should I try to help her? She was having difficulty, but then she was trying to take all of our tissues – I didn’t want to encourage that. On the other hand, what she was going through was so very fascinating that it didn’t seem right to try to stop her either.
Fortunately, my conundrum was easily solved by realizing that this very moment illustrated the guiding principle behind the Prime Directive, and since anything good enough for Jean-Luc Picard is good enough for me, I decided to let events unfold as they may. Eventually, as I watched with a rapt expression upon my face, she did manage successfully to extract all of the tissues from the box. It was quite a moment, and I quietly enjoyed her victory even though her face betrayed no recognition of her achievement.
This week, I had momentarily forgotten that Directive, but fortunately, I remembered it in time. Since I did, it is my hope that in the course of proving yesterday that she can take as many tissues as she wants, she noticed that I made no effort to stop her. Because it’s interesting for two weeks, but I am kind of hoping for an end to the tissue-related drama in my life. Unless it’s new life forms coming in to the library – I’m always ready for that.
One question I was asked over and over again the last time I was interviewing for a job was “What made you decide to become a librarian?” I did not at the time realize that the interviewers were likely looking to account for my sudden career shift as a way to buttress my limited library experience, but even if I had, I don’t think that would have altered by response in any way : that I was not happy with the direction my career was headed and, one day, on investigating the jobs on the B.U. website, the first 3 that popped up were in the library. And suddenly I realized “Oh, the library; I should be a librarian.” And then the interview would move on to my meagre library experience, the first part of my answer completely forgotten.
However, it cannot be overstated just how unhappy I was with where my career was headed : I hated the job that I had at the time. Although I very much enjoyed the way the lobby looked like The Movie Theater of the Future, as designed in 1950, I wanted to cry every day when I walked into the building. And, in addition to my job striking me as particularly useless – both in the sense of how it might benefit society in general (it wouldn’t, ever), as well as in a local sense of the value it presented to the company (none) – I was also incredibly bad at it. I’m sure the fact that I did not want to be good at it played a part, but, in fairness to myself, the skill set required of that position is completely outside the realm of things at which I am good : a Sweet Valley High reference would land just about as well as that plane Olivia’s flight instructor crashed, killing himself and paralyzing her and thus wrenching her plan to break up with Roger, who she no longer loved regardless of his newfound place in the Patman family, and the fact that I just mixed up plots and characters from several different books would have gone completely unnoticed.
Yet, despite my vast unhappiness, there were actually several positives to that job. For one thing, I made a lot of money; a lot. Upon receipt of the job offer, I may have exclaimed “Oh my god, I can buy everything I’ve ever wanted and a pony!” aloud, to an otherwise empty room, although several years having passed since the potential incident renders positive confirmation difficult.
In addition to elevating my lifestyle to an extravagance I can no longer afford, that job also provided a very interesting view into an organization that believes they can actually achieve a goal. Or, actually, that’s not entirely correct; most companies probably think that can achieve goals; otherwise, they wouldn’t exist. What was different about this place was that their goal was 100%.
And they took it seriously. There were reports about which I can provide absolutely no detail of systems running at 99.486% accuracy, and it was stunning not only that they would investigate into the decimals following the 99, which I think in and of itself would be enough of a measure for most organizations (at least the ones that are not Ivory soap), but also that that number, decimal and all, still represented room for improvement.
The most amazing thing about that was how quickly I got used to it. I mean, I was never going to be one of the people getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning for a software release, and I found it completely baffling that the people who were would follow up that release by coming in to work for a full 9+ hour day, a practice in which I also did not participate, despite the frequent urgings of my boss. Yet, however much I might have questioned their passion for a product that I thought ridiculous, I had come from an environment where we frequently set the bar at about 60 and were perfectly content to miss it most of the time. Working with these people was inspiring – their intensity, devotion and focus to their job was like watching Olympians. Of work, but still; it was impressive.
So, even though I was extremely happy to leave that job, yea the entire corporate world, behind, I did have within me a small glimmer of hope that, doing something I was devoted to, something I had actually chosen rather than happened into by default, I might one day be a finalist of some sort; perhaps even the winner of the work bronze.
Were I the sort of person who cottoned to things a bit faster, I might have noticed that this attitude did not especially pervade library school. Which : is strange. Librarians for the most part like to tout themselves as busy and engaged, up on what’s going on and passionate about connecting people and information. But the loudest voices in library school are the ones that stay with you, and so what rings in my ears is a refrain I heard from several instructors, who would follow up the description of any particular Librarian’s task with a put-upon “Which you’ll do in all of your free time”.
Of course, budget cuts have left libraries understaffed, and that is a very real issue, but this self-image of the Librarian who is just too busy to actually do her job bothers the hell out of me. For one thing, it often results in an Ur-Millenial need for praise whenever something gets done, which offends my latch-key Generation X sensibilities to such an extent that it might lead to a rumble if I weren’t so desperately in need of a nap.
More serious is the frequency with which this attitude affects users. Obviously, an underfunded library does not have the same resources to divert toward a problem as does a large multi-national profit-driven entity. However, the number of times I have received a response of “We know,” to a report of a problem is extremely discouraging. That’s a difficult message to pass on to a user who points out that our system is confusing – yes, it certainly is confusing. No, we’re not going to anything about it. Because we’ve gotten to a point where something works well enough; there’s no need to push it to actually working well.
The plan for this week was that, every morning when I awoke, I should be greeted with applause. As with most plans of such obvious importance, this one evolved from a very serious conversation had while driving around a mall parking lot during the holiday season, at one point during which Dave firmly clapped his hands, creating a very authoritative and satisfying report. (Dave, it should be noted, was not driving.)
I should probably mention that Dave and I have a long history of clapping in cars together. On our second cross-country journey, we announced our entry into every new State by lightly clapping then pulling our hands back as though ending a game of patty-cake in an abrupt but not unfriendly manner, while saying the same of that State. And I should probably further explain why we started doing that, but the origins of that tradition are lost to the hazy mists of time. All I can offer is that when you’re driving across the country, not to sight-see but simply to get to the other side of the country, you establish a lot of rituals to mark the passage of time spent in the car : not just for entering a new state, but getting back on the highway, turning the page on your AAA map, making it to the next point on the unbelievably complex schedule of when to smoke without smoking; each accomplishment gets its own ceremony just to celebrate that bit of progress you have made toward your goal.
It was not this sort of ceremonious clap Dave issued in the mall parking lot; nor, I don’t believe, was it laudatory in the traditional sense. However it began, the clap moved quickly into the realm of hypothesis, becoming a potential way to solve all of your problems; not constantly, but if all of your problems could be solved simply by clapping once a minute (and making an accompanying exclamation), happiness could be within everyone’s grasp.
Of course, this would be impractical, and, especially when discussing a hypothetical situation, one must still consider the practical. What about over night? Would you have to wake up every single minute to clap and exclaim? How could that possibly lead to happiness? It probably could not. But we allowed that, instead of clapping overnight, one could simply start the day with a round of applause immediately upon waking, and that would suffice. And so, having so carefully worked out the formula for a happy life, we decided that we would put it to a test : every day for the next week, we would wake up and cheer and give ourselves a round of applause.
While I was serious in undertaking this experiment, I noticed on the first day that I might have to modify the parameters a little bit. Because, although I do have an alarm clock, I actually wake up every day to Oola Belle reminding me that it’s breakfast time, and one of my sterner methods of disciplining the World’s Most Wonderful Kitten is to clap loudly in her face, which she does not enjoy. It cannot be that the secret to happiness is to begin each day by upsetting one’s kitten, and so instead of applauding, I raised my arms overhead exultantly and said yay. With, you know, more gusto than one normally would upon waking.
Ridiculous as I’m sure that sounds, it did actually work. Perhaps because of its ridiculousness; it’s difficult not to enjoy yourself when you’re purposely acting the fool. Briefly, at least. It didn’t last, but even on the days when I was ill, I was still happy to be awake at the outset of the day.
Now that the control period has ended, I must consider how to proceed. The results clearly indicate that, as we supposed, there is a link between applause and happiness. However, confining applause to the morning does not yield sustained happiness. It may be that the original hypothesis is correct – that one must clap frequently throughout the day – but I fear working in a library will make that difficult to test. Or it could be that we had the right idea on the road trip : that I should establish not only more points of celebrations but also more methods. Fortunately I have the research skills necessary to further this experiment; you can expect infrequent field reports on my progress.