Categories
navel gazing

cultish

I started listening to the Conspirituality podcast today, a show that interrogates the overlap of the spirituality/wellness community and conspiracy theory-driven groups, in particular QAnon. I’ve just gotten through the first episode and part of the second, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has interest in mis/disinformation, critical wellness discourse (e.g., The Dream), conspiracy theories and extremism (from a, y’know, healthy distance), mythology, and/or human psychology. As I was listening to it and walking through the urban wilds of southwest Boston today, I couldn’t help but remember the time I was almost recruited for a cult.

It was in the fall of 2016, when I was going through a bunch of life changes and still healing from some personal challenges in the two years leading up to it. I was volunteering with the Friends of the Somerville Public Library at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, selling used books under a tent and drinking a hot cider on a dreary, wet October day. At some point, two people, a middle-aged woman and a young man closer to my age (28 at the time) approached me. We talked for a long time about books and reading, and at some point once we’d been going on for quite a while, the woman asked me if I wanted to get together with them to talk further. I thought this was just Somervillain friendliness, and didn’t think too much about what their connection to each other was, and I gave her my number.

The three of us got together for a drink at a bar in Union Square maybe a week or two after we met. I can remember a coffee meeting a week after that, another dinner meeting not long after, and a final meeting where I think I ghosted them, but it’s been a few years and I’m not sure on the specifics of what happened when. At some point, it became pretty clear to them (in particular the woman) that I was going through a tough time, and I think a) that’s why I was their mark and b) the older woman/younger man duo was 100% orchestrated with the intention of grabbing the attention of someone like me (a single, lonely young woman who probably had all kinds of vibes of needing to be mothered and loved).

I was experiencing a drawn-out falling out with my roommate that I don’t want to detail explicitly in a public place, but suffice it to say she and I were very close before that and something happened that fundamentally altered my view of our friendship. I was about to change jobs, too (and I think this overlapped with my time at my new job), and I had begun planning to defect to East Boston to live with a couple I’d become close to in the last half a year. It was a very lonely and confusing time of not being sure I’d made the right choices and not knowing which changes I should make (years of precarity didn’t really get me thinking clearly about, like, buying a car or anything). When I started my job, I was immediately overwhelmed, isolated, and in over my head, and the 90+ minute commute I now had vs. my speedy one to the North End was kicking my ass. After those long days, coming home where things were feeling tenuous and awkward was just… not awesome. And of course, a week before I started my new job was November 8, 2016.

Anyway, back to the cult duo. I don’t know what I pegged their relationship to be when I first met them – maybe mother and son? maybe dating? – but it became clear that they were united by something else by the second time we met up. The third time we got together was when the woman pitched the … thing to me. I can’t for the life of me remember what she called it now. The Plan, The Question, The Answer, The Practice, The … something. The fourth and final time we got together, I remember they shared some more details about it with me, including a piece of advice the woman had received from her… cult advisor about being on time, after I mentioned I was chronically late. She said something about how her… cult advisor admonished her for being late because it made her look selfish and like she believed her time was more important than others’ – I’m not pointing this out because it was particularly unique or insightful, I just remember it so clearly. It’s been long enough now that I don’t remember many other specifics about it, but I recall these snippets:
1) “it” was “held” in rotating locations around the Boston area
2) there was some kind of group component as well as some kind of teacher/student or mentor/mentee situation
3) they did seem to have some sort of active recruitment effort
4) they made me swear I wouldn’t mention it to anyone

A couple things happened after this that probably got me out of harm’s way with these people (although my intuition was going AW HELL NO for quite a while before the end), but I think were entirely reflective of my mental state at the time. One is that I did move to East Boston, and that sort of put the nail in the coffin of my friendship with my roommate, though it took a while to actually get to that point. I was exceedingly unhappy there and of course that led to a whole other mess that I don’t have the energy to delve into atm. The other is that I found myself in a relationship with a married father of three, a person who identified me as a mark in much the same way as the cult duo had. I was lonely, overwhelmed, and all kinds of vulnerable. That’s why the fact that this person, who I’ll call Randall Exeten, is still able to find directorships in Massachusetts libraries is especially bothersome to me – he’s a manipulator who preys on the vulnerable, much as a cult tried to in my time of need. Instead of the actual, literal cult, I guess he became a cult-like presence in my life. I didn’t snap out of it until a series of misfortunes and a memory-wiping brain injury finally knocked some fucking sense into me.

I’m writing about this because I think it’s important for folks to realize that we’re all vulnerable to manipulation, even people like me who have been cynical and agnostic-if-not-outright-atheist since adolescence, and there’s a lot of shit we go through that we might not call a cult or a conspiracy mindset, but it’s not so very different after all. This is part of why the whole info lit/fake news/media literacy convo going on right now feels so inadequate to me. We’re all somebody’s marks at some point, and QAnon and the like are, at the very least, trying to cast a wide enough net to appeal to everyone’s vulnerabilities. And sometimes we really want to believe, or we just do believe, and we’re sure as hell not going to check the credibility of our sources.

That said, I was remarking to CS last night that I can’t imagine a reality in which I ever would have subscribed to the QAnon bullshit, but that’s probably because I am 1) not a white supremacist, 2) not a disenfranchised man, and 3) generally have empathy for my fellow human beings. Unfortunately, I have relatives who have bought the whole QAnon farm, and I’ve seen other people I used to follow on social media slowly delve deeper in it; maybe most surprising of all is a certain guy who used to be a central figure in Boston’s electronic music scene. This post is not suggesting empathy for these people, just positing that responding to or trying to push back on this is tied so thoroughly up in beliefs borne of vulnerabilities we may never be able to see or understand, and that’s what’s scary as hell about it; I’m not sure I buy that more/better information can cure it.

tl;dr: Don’t join a cult.

Categories
navel gazing

cmrb 2020 annual report

(Note: I’m stealing this idea from Ashley Blewer because it’s a good one, and because I think it’ll be a useful exercise in a year that was especially tough to wrap anyone’s head around.)

We’re down to the last 48 hours of 2020, and I’m not joining in the chorus of people saying we’re sure to have a better 2021. I’m not sure we will, frankly, and I’m not sure which spheres of existence (personal, social, political, economic) folks are expecting to have that better year in. And better in the eyes of what beholder? I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently, but I’ll get to that. I remember thinking 2019 was a pretty tough one, too, between a shitty living situation and some, let’s say, occupational ups and downs.

For some context, in February 2019, one of my colleagues was killed in a fatal bike accident about a mile away from the branch I’d just spent the last 6-8 months helping renovate. At the time, I was riding my bike just about every day, and we’d often lock up next to each other outside the building when I was working over there. Less than a year before, while riding my bike about two miles away from the scene of my coworker’s accident, I had been knocked unconscious and woke up in the ER with a severe concussion and a broken arm after a motorist slammed me into a fence before driving off. In the months following her death, a series of disappointments at work got me thinking it was time to leave, and opportunity presented itself, and I took it. I regret how that went down, but we managed to get that water under the bridge for the most part.

Within half a year of changing jobs, though, it was clear I’d done the whole “frying pan into the fire” thing, which I can describe no further in a public blog post at this time, but suffice to say it was incredibly stressful and disheartening. Meanwhile, Chris and I were still living in an apartment in Jamaica Plain that had been a nonstop nightmare since we moved in. After contending with a broken oven for a month, clogged plumbing, broken laundry machines, and general fuckery from our landlord, we discovered we were also paying over ten times as much for heat in our apartment as the units on the lower levels because of a faulty boiler that the owner had neglected for 3+ years. The heat intermittently stopped working throughout November and December and we had to call Boston ISD on New Year’s Eve (which we spent at home, because we were both so worn out by 2019).

We moved out of that place in mid-January and I posted something on Twitter at the time along the lines of “Goodbye, terrible apartment. I hope getting out of this cursed place brings us better luck for 2020.” And we all know how that worked out!

So, that said, 2020 wasn’t the worst year for me personally by a long shot. 2019 may have been worse. 2016 and 2014 certainly were. 2020 was strangely a lot like 2009 for me, which had its ups and downs, a world in the throes of another type of societal crisis that did have a much more dire impact on my economic prospects. But in the spring, I spent a good amount of time watching Chris play Halo and chat with his friends, which was how many evenings went down when I first moved to Boston and had zero dollars and no one to hang out with. I also spent hours upon hours wandering around my neighborhood, just as I did back in the Great Recession days.

Before lockdown began, I managed to squeeze in two trips – one to Brooklyn with Chris for my birthday weekend, one to Nashville for the Public Library Association Conference. I spoke at PLA to more people than I ever had before, and I spent a good chunk of time not far from where the Christmas Day bombs went off…ugh, that poor city. I think the last live show I caught was Opeth at the stunning Ryman Auditorium, flanked by library pals. When I left Boston for that trip, covid was an increasing rumbling; by the time I got back, the Biogen thing had happened and the mood and response was noticeably changing, at least at the local level.

I had been selected to speak at the 2020 SXSW Interactive, but then it was cancelled for the first time in the festival’s history. Then other conferences, a few months off, started to cancel. Then we sent all of our students home in the week leading up to spring break. Then the grocery shopping with masks and gloves and the going-absolutely-nowhere-else-for-any-reason began. And then it became clear that not everyone was working at a library or for a town, city, or college that took this as seriously as my employer thankfully did. So I did what I could to try to help people fight to stay home or at the very least negotiate safer work conditions.

The first major effort I helped with was insisting that the Boston Public Library close all of its locations and allow its employees to work from home with no docked wages or furloughs. A group of area library workers in the New England Radical Reference Collective Slack channel worked together on advocacy with the assistance of other community supporters and the stalwart efforts of the BPLPSA union. We were successful. From there, a loose collective of activists from that group as well as the broader “Library Twitter” world joined in the fight. We targeted institutions and municipalities, imploring them to #closethelibraries. We wrote and called governors, mayors, college administrators, directors, and trustees. We put the pressure on our professional organizations to take a stronger, pro-worker stance. As time went on and restrictions started to be reversed, we adapted the advocacy and campaigned to #ProtectLibraryWorkers. I believe we saved lives. I also believe we challenged our organizations to make an effort to speak in more transparent language about workers and the importance of their health, safety, and livelihood; I’m not sure what difference that has made or will make yet, but if it gets even one fewer person to assume there are invisible elves stocking the shelves and not, y’know, humans with immune systems, I guess that’s something.

In May, I co-hosted and co-organized a conference called #LibRev(olution), a day-long series of presentations aimed at exploring “collective resistance & communal resilience” among library workers. It would not have been possible without an amazing team of speakers, moderators, and co-organizers. We tried to keep the conversation going via Discourse but have since moved to Slack. A bunch of us also contributed to libraryworkers.net, a resource site for people looking for help with their own advocacy and campaigns. When I was personally targeted by the board of trustees of one Boston-area library, I admit I did dial back my outward-facing efforts. But through #LibRev, the Library Freedom Project, and the state and regional associations I’m part of, I still will fight for library workers.

I also finished co-writing a book for ALA Editions that was released this fall, Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach. I hope it isn’t bullshit.

Meanwhile, at work, I tried my best to take advantage of the situation and soldier on. We converted to a new ILS at the beginning of summer, replacing a horrendous excuse for one that was making the simplest tasks (like placing holds!) impossible. This meant we joined an area library network and now have our cataloging outsourced (we are a team of 3) and access to Overdrive. This was not nearly as painful as it could have been, and the fact that we weren’t physically open was a blessing. I believe I weeded around 11,000 books from the collection (14,000 of our total had never circed in 20 years) and the majority made their way to Better World Books – praise be to student workers. I reconfigured the downstairs layout of the library, moving 3D printers out of our space and over to the shops and expanding our sewing area setup. More furniture changes are coming once the shelves cleared by weeding are removed; all of these decisions were made based on results from last year’s strategic planning survey. The student workers and I did an aggressive deep-clean of the workroom and we began organizing and cleaning the archives, a room left to fester for several years.

When I was at home, I worked on improving our website and moving us over to the college’s Linux server. I spent an untold amount of time gathering stats and putting stat site logins into a Pinboard list. I cleaned up our record of current subscriptions, negotiated with just about every vendor, rolled with budgetary punches, and got us up and running with OCLC’s hosted Ezproxy. We also had a huge amount of scanning and digital book buying to do as physical reserves weren’t available this past semester. I’d say the big problems at the library that are within a certain range of fixable have been fixed.

On a more personal level, the apartment we now live in is such a vast improvement over the last place, I can’t even tell you. My cats have been lovely and hilarious, and Avey’s brush with death in October was devastating but has me so grateful for every day I wake up with him half-smothering my face. We were fortunate to visit our families and a select group of friends a few times over the summer, and we had two vacations to Maine that involved lots of kayaking and bike riding. A few days spent at Drakes Island Beach and in Denmark (the Maine one!) were especially perfect. The summer was gorgeous and I’m missing it dearly. We squeezed in one last trip before we got too freaked out, to a three-season cabin in New Hampshire for Chris’s birthday. As I mentioned yesterday, I got to read a ton of books this year (a ton for me, at least). Many of those happened in front of a fire with WMBR streaming on our crappy Bluetooth speaker. And I started a new weekly radio show, Outback Witch House, broadcasting live on bkfst.org from 9-11 PM EST most Fridays.

Less fun to report is the amount of injuries I sustained this year. I broke my foot in August (it was dumb and involved a shopping cart), I fell off my bike and got pretty banged up in October, and I threw my back out at least three times, most likely because of the physicality of weeding, scanning, boxing, and shifting books. I haven’t been able to see a chiropractor since we moved, but I got a bunch of back exercises and stretches from the latest doctor I saw that are saving my shit.

So, from all of this, what did I learn, what did I take away? Well, I’m enormously privileged to have been able to take as many vacations as I did, to stay healthy and keep away from dangerous circumstances as much as possible, and to have the time to read, walk, and focus. I learned that management is a two-way street, and if people aren’t receptive to being managed, that’s not necessarily an indictment of the person doing the managing. I learned that you can never be too careful with separating your personal and professional identities as much as possible online. It was reinforced for me that you have to find ways of celebrating your own victories and congratulating yourself in the absence of external appreciation (not gonna lie, this post was a little bit that for me).

In terms of allocating my energy differently in 2021: I apologize for the vagueness, but I’m going to stop bringing horses to water they won’t drink, or at the very least I’m not going to try to get them to drink it as often as I have been. In non-work-but-professional matters, I’m going to try to listen, follow, and assist more than to lead–except in matters where white female gatekeepers desperately need to be redirected. I’d like to publish something in an academic journal. I’m going to keep myself open to changes, possibly big ones. I want to keep reading, walking, and writing as much as I have in 2020. I’m going to keep trying to figure out how to get better at sewing, and I’m going to get better at all the other maker-y tech we have lying around the library.

Above all, I’m thinking back to how in the days after the aforementioned library renovation was finished but before the death of my co-worker, my boss and I fantasized about having a “quiet year” – not trying to do anything amazing or new or special, just managing things as best we could. It was no one’s fault that we didn’t get that in 2019, but I’m hoping I might try for one in 2021. 2020 wasn’t personally that bad in many respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.

Categories
navel gazing

benefit of the doubt

Hey! I’m bad at this, but hopefully you’ll forgive me for not being in a place to sit down and write this past weekend. Friday was still in “how long is this going to drag on for” mode, then Saturday came along and we heard about Four Seasons Total Landscaping and the dancing and drumming in the streets began. Things are, probably naively, starting to seem kind of normal today, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on the emotional experience of this past week and the month leading up to/surrounding it.

First, I saw a bunch of exchanges on Twitter about people being too happy, going back to brunch, celebrating imperialism, showcasing respectability politics, etc. etc. I even got ensnared in a few of these myself. At the risk of people thinking I must be infectious white lib lady waste, I really don’t think we should be saying people are complacent if they’re experiencing positive emotions for the first time in what has been 7+ months of a neverending onslaught of shit for most of us. Most of the people “giving up the fight” were never in it in the first place. A friend asked how fellow folks on the left can want a broad movement for everyone, but yet carry such a cynical view of the people. That’s my question, too – it’s not a matter of denying to see why people are angry, hurt, gaslit, and exhausted, or having some sort of Pollyanna-ish view of a person we don’t even like. It’s a matter of looking at how awful 2020 has been for just about all of us and saying, yes, I can take this female Gritty hula-hooping in the street at face value and smile at that, not because I love Joe Biden but because I fucking forgot what it was like to laugh with strangers in public.

I think the left can be dangerously humorless at times and we need to celebrate battles when they’re won – and there was a huge outpouring of activism that made this possible. Getting Trump out was no small feat, and we shouldn’t forget that. The people dancing in the streets were, yes, white middle class people, but they were also people of color, trans people, BLM activists, socialists, and working class folks. I’m not going to tell you to not grieve and be angry. You can even flip out at people who popped champagne on Saturday. But maybe don’t assume they’ve never lifted a finger to advocate for change in their lives, just because they sashayed through some confetti and blew bubbles for 12 hours and then in all likelihood got right back to work. This is where the cynicism comes in – the assumption that everyone who partied is a spoiled trust fund kid who can just hang up political engagement whenever because nothing’s on the line for them. I think we need to be careful with throwing buzz phrases around like “respectability politics” when what we’re talking about is just “not being a dick.” And I’m sorry, but you’re a dick if you assume I have been sitting on my ass eating bonbons since March just because I shouted on my porch on Saturday morning.

As a person who manages other people in a predominantly white and vocationally liberal institution, I can say that a (presumed) Biden victory will positively impact staff morale at a critical time, as we look down the barrel at spiking covid cases, pressure to reopen, and layoffs on the horizon. If the alternative had happened, trying to lift people’s spirits would have felt insurmountable. You can chalk some of this up to naivete or Pollyanna-ism, or white liberal complacency – people may well be overselling Biden to themselves right now – but the fact is, it would have been another crushing blow to folks who have been struggling for well over half a year. I’ll take it, I tell you what. Trying to keep people’s spirits up has been the hardest part of this “new normal” since the spring.

And, look, I’m not going to deny that I’m a little defensive of my relative happiness right now. A little less than three weeks ago, mpow announced its plans to reorganize the college, ask people to separate voluntarily, and most likely engage in layoffs from now until the end of the fiscal year. I’ve been marinating in the stress of others and myself ever since, and right as that news came out, we started to see the covid numbers spike again while conversations about reopening plans for next semester began to ramp up. On the Friday before the election, my darling boy Avey, as mentioned in my last post on here, almost died after a random complication at the vet and I spent two days glued to the phone for updates, unable to focus on anything except last year’s GBBO (ugh, so good). From that frying pan of anxiety, we jumped right into the fire of our fascist president declaring he’d won the election and the early maps looking to back that up. So, when I had a chance to bike around Boston and see people screaming and jumping and clapping and singing on a freakishly beautiful November day, I was eager to take it.

It’s important to make sure we don’t fret too much about other people’s reactions to, well, anything – they are rarely intended to be a personal indictment of any one of us. Everyone is entitled to their emotions, which are not “right” or “wrong.” Everyone is walking their own road. But while the “we need to heal” by hugging Trump supporters bullshit is just a major “fuck no,” I do think it wouldn’t hurt for those of us on the left to let each other hurt, and let each other be happy, and not write people off because they do one or the other when we’re doing the opposite.

Categories
navel gazing

kitties

Last Friday, I brought my cat Avey to his vet for a routine dental cleaning and they somehow managed to almost kill him. He had a massive asthma attack and a bad reaction to the long-term painkillers they gave him, and he had to go to the emergency vet for the whole weekend so they could get him breathing comfortably again. Against all the 2020 odds, he pulled through and is doing great now, but it was an awful couple of days. I was really upset because this came out of nowhere–he has never had any known medical issues–and while I’m sure I’ll be devastated when I actually do lose my cats, I hope I’ll at least have a chance to see it coming.

I’ve had Avey and his sister Panda since they were six weeks old. They came to live with me in Boston about two weeks before I started my MLIS and they had little kitty colds that my ex’s dad, a renowned upstate NY vet, readily helped us cure. In retrospect, they were probably too young when I got them, but their clumsy, fuzzy stage was wonderful to behold. The two of them, a good 25+ pounds of cat today, used to fit on my 13″ laptop and Avey was fond of sleeping in my shoe.

2-ish-month-old Avey in a shoe

They’re 10 1/2 now, and both of them have now had near-death experiences, so I’m hoping we just coast comfortably for the rest of their lives now. I was a bit re-traumatized by having to take Avey to the same emergency vet that butchered Panda four years ago, but that place didn’t disappoint this time. A former roommate of mine slammed Panda in a drawer and broke her leg, and somehow was able to commit to a multi-thousand-dollar procedure to put an “extraskeletal fixator” on my cat instead of putting her leg in a goddamn cast. Four months and thousands of dollars later, after her contraption got stuck in the side of her kennel and she mangled herself even worse than before, I wound up taking Panda six hours west to my hometown smalltown vet. Dr. Corcoran laughed at the overthinking of her big-city counterparts (“we always say if you put a cat’s bones in the same room, they’ll heal”) and put a (leopard print!) cast on Panda’s leg. We brought her back for an x-ray in a couple weeks, and… she was fine.

Panda in her misery cone in her misery cage

So, both of these baby beasts are doing just fine today, but almost having to say goodbye to a cat that has slept on my head or under the covers with me every night for a decade was not something I wanted to add to the anxiety docket in 2020. I have a hard time not thinking of my cats as my chlidren, and if you think that’s nuts, I guess cool for you(?). Avey’s licked the tears off my face, man. I’m not sorry for loving his tiny butt.

I’ve lived with cats since I was three years old. The first cat we had was Shadow, a chubby gray lady who started hanging out at my house when she found a generous friend in the form of my mother. She was always kind of a mystery. We don’t know where she came from, but doctors told us she’d had kittens by the time she wound up with us. Next up came Data and Figaro, the first cats that were really mine. I loved the crap out of those boys, a perfect gray tabby and a ragdoll that couldn’t have had less in common. Shadow died in my senior year of high school; Data and Figaro passed the year I graduated from college.

Lionel, a fluffy orange fellow, showed up when I was in seventh grade and my best friend and I wanted to name him Axl, but my mom was having none of that. He used to be called “Buddy” and lived with a pair of Pomeranians, and his owner left him behind on our street after coming over and yelling at my mom about taking care of him one night. Lionel lived a long life; he passed only a couple years ago. There was also Graeme, a very Nermal-to-Lionel’s-Garfield character who became our cat and vanished without a trace in the duration of the summer between high school and college.

The most tragic of the cats my mom and I owned was Serena, the beautiful Maine Coon tabby with a heart of gold who showed up at my dilapidated apartment in West Utica when I was in college. When I moved in to a weird Tudor in the nice part of town with a couple of Boomer-aged roommates, I had to give Serena to my mom. She lived happily with her for a few years until she met a horrific end in the front yard of my childhood home when a pitbull off its leash from a few streets over mortally wounded her before she could find a way to disappear. My mom called me to tell me about it when I was working late one night at the MBLC. I cried and cried alone in those cubicles and then walked over to Modern Pastry and ate three slices of tiramisu and cried some more. I’d seen Serena a week before when I was in town for Thanksgiving. That same year, my grandma died in the spring and I got divorced at the end of summer.

My mom now has three cats, two orange and one black – Patsy, a rare female orange tabby with one tiny piece of white on one foot; Fox, a long-haired creamsicle boy, and Salem, a slinky black cat who loves everybody. Patsy and Salem were shelter cats and Fox was a stray who appeared a couple years ago when I was in town for Thanksgiving, and seemed like he didn’t have the street smarts to stay warm for the winter. I inherited my adoration for our four-legged, nine-lived friends from my mom without a question. Maybe I’m a crazy cat lady, but I’m okay with being an apple that didn’t fall far from that particular tree.

Avey and Panda will always mean so much to me. They were the first cats I had as a fully-formed adult human (I’m not counting Serena because she only lived with me for a few months). They became a part of my life when I was about to shift into a very different chunk of it, not just pursuing my MLIS but delving into my brief semi-serious dalliance with being a musician. I lived alone for the first time with them; I moved to Oregon and back with them; they’ve followed me to progressively less shitty Boston-area apartments. Though I love them both, Avey is practically my familiar, my daemon. As much as everything sucks right now, every time I see him in one of his usual sleepy places, I’m awash with gratitude that he came home safe and sound on Sunday.

Avey in his cave, beneath the covers
Categories
library mgmt navel gazing

wat

Okay, so I am trying to write something in an attempt at doing NaBloWriMo, which is a thing I think I invented but am guessing if I put it in ye olde search bar I’ll find I am not nearly so clever as I’d like to feel–ugh, I couldn’t resist. Yep. Well, no matter who can lay claim to the concept, I’m going to try to write in this here blog instead of banging my head against the wall attempting to write a novel, for which I have two ideas that both suck and are way too much about my dumb romantic travails.

I’m not sure that I actually have anything more to say in the form of blogging, but I probably should given the amount of turmoil at pretty much all levels of life at the moment. A week and a half ago, I heard there will be a reorganization and layoffs starting very soon at work, and it’s still quite unclear how that’s all gonna go down. This past weekend, our beloved cat Avey brushed up against death from complications after a teeth cleaning (because they anesthetize cats for that) and we spent the entirety of it, and a whole bucketload of cash, on making sure he’s OK (he is, thank fuck). Now, we’re onto night two of election anxiety, though things are looking relatively promising for Biden at this point. Massachusetts is finally putting some restrictions in place for trying to reverse the huge spike in covid cases, though what Charlie’s suggesting doesn’t seem like enough when you consider the number of cases is up almost 300% since Labor Day.

This is ostensibly a library blog, so I guess I’ll write about library stuff, though to be honest I’ve had my head down in my own library for so long that I don’t feel qualified to comment on others. We had some drama in the state association last month after it spilled onto Twitter, and I was super irritated to be dragged into it in part because I guess I’ve developed some kind of “controversial figure” reputation. It’s sad that advocating for workers’ safety and dignity is controversial, but whaddaya gonna do. Anyway, between that and uncertainty regarding the whole being able to keep a roof over my head thing, I’m mostly not raging against the library machine for the time being (or if I am, I’m not being publicly vocal about it).

It’s been really tough to be a manager through the duration of covid, which is not a thing I am saying to diminish the toughness faced by anyone else out there. I should say it’s at least tough if you’re trying to do the right things and keep your staff safe and relatively sane. I have been trying to do that, and trying to make decisions with empathy and integrity at the center, not some meaningless obsession with productivity or vocational awe (“these students just NEED us to be in the building for them!!”). But wow. Trying to bolster people’s spirits when your own morale is circling multiple drains and has been for eight months is not easy to do. Given our situation, I’m not sure how to help people going without giving them false hope, but if I don’t keep them going, things are going to get unsustainable very quickly.

I’ve got plenty of work to do so I’m not that concerned about staying focused on my various distractions right now. Since we’ve been back in the building, I’ve gotten another thousand books or so weeded and have shifted a huge chunk of the collection. I taught myself how to put protective jackets on books (we mostly have GOBI do that, but it’s handy for these emergency Bookshop and BWB buys). I rearranged a good chunk of the lower level, relocating the 3D printers back to the shops where there is proper lighting and ventilation and making space for our fleet of sewing machines. While I’m at home, I’ve been wrapping my head around the ins and outs of Sierra, using Create Lists to generate reports that Tind always made too goddamn impossible (we did an ILS migration over the summer). I spent a good chunk of time analyzing our database use in the past few months and trying to improve upon our methods for gathering stats. We’ve got a new digital repository up and running. I wrote about our progress on our Spring ’20/Fall ’20 action plan in the school newspaper.

I guess I’m saying all of this because it’s nice to reaffirm for myself how much I’m getting done, even if it mostly goes unnoticed. I also want other people to know that they, too, can succeed on projects like these, even when the world is a flaming pile of garbage and your predecessor left you with an effervescing volcano of bullshit you need to fix. So here’s the motivational speech I couldn’t muster in person this week: if you have maladaptive coping mechanisms that tend towards workaholism, you’re not alone. Alright, that wasn’t all that motivational.

This wasn’t much of a post, but I’m whipped and I’m going to bed and I think you should, too. Unclench your jaw and stuff.

Categories
librev navel gazing

The view from the ivory tower

The first time anyone ever accused me of being “Ivory Tower” happened in the last 24 hours, and I was leaving MPOW when I saw this statement for the first time. I had just stopped by to check on our book drop because I knew a lot of seniors were coming back to town to move their stuff out of the dorms and I had reminded them about dropping their library items off while they were around for that. I also got some measurements and mental models in my head for the sake of coming up with a concrete plan for social distancing, and practiced running between my office and the downstairs workroom, knowing it may well be part of my job to be vigilant on two floors very soon. Thing is, I have only two staff members, may have no student workers in the fall, and the library is one of the most well-loved and well-used places on our little campus.

I initially only got through the first few paragraphs of this post, a rebuttal to my LibraryJournal piece from earlier this week, and as I biked back to Boston, this is the part that stuck with me:

“The Ivory Tower mentality of privilege is blowing my mind. The emotional argument of ‘librarian as sacred being’ will come back to haunt us…No one else is in government work is exempt from doing that.”

There are two reasons why it stuck: one is that positioning a nationwide campaign to advocate for library workers’ safety in this moment as an “emotional argument of ‘librarian as sacred being'” is misleading, unfair, and wrong. As Donna Lanclos said more eloquently than I can right now, “#VocationalAwe is not a “double edged sword,” it is a description of the constructs used to oppress library workers when they attempt to assert that they have rights. ‘Don’t you care for your community??’ when library workers shelter at home is straight-up [vocational awe].” This accusatory language of “librarian (notice not ‘library worker’) as sacred being” is more of the same construct. And lest you think think this is a quote taken out of context, or that I didn’t read the rest of it when I got home, the post goes on to say, “There is a heavy and heartbreaking dose of privilege that comes with librarians expressing they are too precious to roll up their sleeves and get to work.” Is this what we are saying, or are we saying that library workers deserve basic dignity, rights, and safety before they roll up said sleeves? Is it fair to say that in advocating for ourselves, we’re ignoring every other type of worker out there? Or is this another fence drawn around cutting us off from broader labor solidarity?

The other sticking point is that to accuse me of being Ivory Tower is just absurd. I’m a fucking millennial daughter of the Rust Belt with crooked teeth and tattoos, not some pant-suited dean who hasn’t been on the front lines in 20 years. I empty the book drop, open the mail, and help my students with every single thing they come to me with, whether or not it’s “library-related.” Did I mention I have two staff members? I’ve used my position, privilege in being a director and at an institution where we’re expected to stay home, and connections to the Massachusetts library community to try to affect some kind of meaningful protection for my colleagues for the last two months. It’s defined many of my weeks, I’ve given it every brain cell I didn’t allocate for my day-to-day job, and it still seems like it’s been a drop in the bucket against the rapid pressure to reopen right this second. This image of me kicking up my (sneaker) heels and saying “nah, I’m too precious for this shit” is offensive, so belittling and dismissive of how I approach my work, and the path I’ve taken to get to this current job (though my LinkedIn profile is, intriguingly, linked to in the post).

But I wonder if there’s something more to this, something that even goes beyond the fixation of me as an academic library director up in my ivory tower, when we get to this part:

And why should people listen to “people who are no longer working making declarations about how we should direct our energy in the first place?” Because we just may have a clarity of vision about what it is really like, on the other side, to use the services libraries are providing their communities.

To me this sounds at best like, “We have decided who has privilege and voice in this current system and it is not you, o young academic library director who is putting uncomfortable pressure on those of us already in power,” and at worst like, “Oh honey, someday you’ll understand.” I have been in this game long enough to see this pattern of certain female-identifying directors worshiping the ground walked on by young male-identifying directors, but treating young female-identifying directors as if they are problematic trash that should be disposed of forthwith. I know this when I see it, just as I know the public vs. academic crap when I see it.

I was on the other side of the public vs. academic line not long ago, and I will readily confess that my perception of academic library life was way off base. Maybe I also believed in this ivory tower, but didn’t call it as such; I thought academic librarians had a work experience at a distance from their patrons and didn’t form relationships like we did with them at the public library I worked for at the time. I thought that there was a privilege and stability in academia that blanketed over all of the myriad realities of staff and students. I was wrong. I have developed deep relationships with my patrons now that go far and beyond what I experienced in the public world. And I am out on the floor in sensible shoes, not only emptying the book drop and opening the mail but reshelving the books, weeding, ordering, cataloging, working with student groups both in “traditional” instructional services and in the role of a community organizer, of sorts–we read books about systemic oppression’s influence on technology, and have long meandering conversations about the better world we dream of. I challenge students to fight their way through the anodyne trappings of engineering education and embrace activism. And you know what? I had no idea this kind of work was possible as an academic library director until I saw the need and found myself doing it.

My point here is, I get the divisiveness between public/academic, but SHUT. UP. Have you seen the common refrain on library Twitter that we need a national union like, a thousand times over by yesterday? While I’m not going to be the person to provide that, I can say that if we’re going to be pitting publics vs. academics, we’re getting nowhere fast – certainly not to the “disrupted, innovative” future. This past week, everyone’s favorite grievance bot had some juicy posts about the notion of vocational awe being a mechanism for academic librarians to oppress and criticize their public counterparts from positions of relative safety. Guess what? No matter what your thoughts are about the application of that term, you’re fundamentally undermining the future of your field by making unsubstantiated, intentionally polarizing claims like it’s an academics vs publics thing. And similarly, to claim that you are interested in innovation for libraries right now but do not want to produce this in alignment with worker needs, you are not acting in the best interest of your field! Like, I’m sorry that you’ve worked with people who have been “resistant to change,” but as a wise librarian once said on Twitter,

“I resist changes that are done to me, for me, in spite of me. I am usually a reliable booster of change done with me, alongside me.”

I’ve had employees who’ve refused to meet baseline expectations, too, but no matter how much they pissed me off on a day-to-day, I would NEVER want them on the frontlines with no protection and no cohesive guidelines for safe operation. The argument I can’t help but hear in this post isn’t so very different from the GOP ghouls who think it’s okay to sacrifice COVID-prone folks for the good of the economy. Wouldn’t it be convenient for some directors to get rid of the workers “who want to do a job that doesn’t exist any more, if it ever really did?” And the thought that haunts me through all of this is one Ruha Benjamin quotes in Race After Technology:

“[To] take the place of progress, ‘innovation,’ a smaller, and morally neutral, concept arose. Innovation provided a way to celebrate the accomplishments of a high-tech age without expecting…too much in the way of moral & social improvement.”

We’re in the same boat if we keep lionizing these stories of perseverance with no context about the jobs, health, and emotional and financial stability lost. But do go on about me being up here in the ivory tower. If we can’t band together behind the acknowledgment that 6,000-10,000 layoffs and furloughs is a professional crisis, all of our realities are about to get a whoooooooole lot more miserable.

Categories
navel gazing

A graduation speech no one will ever ask me to give and that’s ok

Hey Class of 2020,

Shit is rough, but you are wonderful. And the wonderfulness of you will endure, in the exact way that the rain pouring in my backyard right now will not. Uncertainty defines everything, yes, but I know this because I’ve seen who you are and what you can do.

I had a conversation with some of you today about how you come to trust people and the expectations you have for the relationships you’ve got and the ones you’ll build, and the courage that’s taught you how to understand and embrace criticism, and to speak truth to power. People might laugh this off as “wokeness,” or your would-be employers might avoid you because your school has a reputation for producing graduates that say what’s on their minds. That’s because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of embracing a new mindset, a new way of framing things that may require them making concessions or redistributing their power, a recompense for their own conservative actions and shortsightedness, especially in your chosen realm of STEM.

Though it may not happen immediately, and though you will no doubt find yourself at the unforgiving whims of a tanked economy, you will one day find workplaces that do not see your brave curiosity as a liability, but rather as a benefit, a key part in their strategy. Whether your work fulfills you or you yearn for something more, you can become an activist. You can engage with your community in so many ways that are sorely needed – you can volunteer, teach, discuss, mentor, build. The skills you have brought with you to your learning and have honed throughout your education will keep you going in this work, in ways that many folks (including me) have had to develop through studying and peer guidance much later in life.

If you struggle to find your feet beneath you as you move on to this next stage, fear not; this is the natural course of things. Maybe the most important things millennials like me can bestow upon Gen Z is that 1) the “insert college degree, expect economic prosperity” model has been proven a myth for some time now, 2) your life is going to feel like a series of fits and starts, “forever delayed,” 3) it’s really alright if you don’t go straight from point A to points B and C, etc., and 4) all of this is not a personal indictment of you. You are living through history, as are we all–and what’s more, subject to a timeline that is not human.

I want to spend a little more time on point 4 because this is where I stumbled the most when I graduated in 2009. Shit was rough then, too, but there at least was no global pandemic to contend with. I moved just outside Boston a few weeks after I received my degree on a frigid day in upstate New York. I tagged along with a group of people I hardly knew but, I thought, had the right idea in bouncing out of town. That summer was cruel, and our painstaking spring this year brings it back; it rained 27 of 30 days in June. I had nothing much to do, though, no job and no prospects, so I walked the streets of Waltham until I knew them like the hilly, curving roads of my hometown.

Eventually my money ran out and I took a job at the CVS in Wellesley that’s closest to campus. I was the photo lab manager, but I still felt a shame that I carried around like an unshakeable aura; I felt like I’d failed myself, my parents, my brother who was currently working on a PhD in computer science, my boyfriend at the time, a chemistry major who had snagged a job downtown. We didn’t have a proper darkroom at the store so I used to have to go down to the basement with the lights all turned off, stumbling over the off-season merchandise, to change the photo printer paper cartridges. I got told to smile more about 40 times a day. My shift leader, Elio, was from Peru and had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering but he was stuck working at this stupid photo lab-less CVS along with John, another 2009 grad who was trying to get on the fast track to store management. They tried to entice me down that road, too; at the time, the chain was targeting an expansion in Hawaii, and I remember being told I could wind up there if I wanted to stick with it. “They’ll need all kinds of managers in Honolulu, Cal!”

I quit a couple weeks into the new year, 2010. I had decided to go back to school at this point, to get my Masters of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons then-College-now-University. I still needed money–needed it more, with that first tuition bill in my hands–but a phone call with a customer on Christmas Eve, amidst all the last-minute purchases of tape and candy canes, so many candy canes, had put me over the edge.

“CVS Wellesley Central, this is Callan speaking, how can I help you?”

“I’m calling to see if you have any Snuggies1. They’re the last thing on my list and I know you have them.”

“Let me go double-check – I haven’t seen any in the store, but I’ll look around. One moment while I put you on a quick hold. … Ma’am, are you still there? We don’t have any Snuggies on the shelf or in storage, unfortunately.”

“(scoffs) Are you lying to me?”

“… What?”

“I said, Are. You. Lying. To. Me?”

“No, ma’am. I just checked our stock and -“

“I know you’re lying. I’m going to come down there and I’m going to get you in so much trouble when I prove that you lied.”

“Um -“

“Don’t try to explain yourself, liar. I’m coming down there right now.” *click*

For the record, she never came down, but after a few months of this kind of nonsense and men throwing newspapers at me when I asked them to walk five feet over to an open checkout station, I was all set. I left CVS and took a job north of Boston at a hair salon software company and built websites for stylists and spas in New England for a few months, and it was also terrible and unpleasant for a different set of reasons, and then started my program at Simmons almost exactly a year to the day after I arrived in Massachusetts. I lived in a different apartment with different people by then. I’d lost some friends and made some new ones. I got my cats.

So, happily ever after, right? Lol, no. It took me years, including a cross-country move, a stint in a mildly successful electronic goth band, a failed marriage, and the death of my grandmother and near-death of my brother to get me even close to “on track.” I went from point A to point Q to some point not even identifiable in this alphabetic system before I got to point B. When I thought I’d gotten all of the deliberate fucking up out of my system, I got involved with a person and almost ruined my career, or ran myself out of it, in the aftermath. The day the sense got knocked into me wasn’t even when I woke up in the hospital after a hit-and-run, but probably the night two months after that when a set of stairs collapsed under me in Allston while I was carrying my bike out of the house of a giant asshole who was not only two-timing me with someone half his age but also constantly texting her while I was around (thanks loads, Tinder). And even after that, I have continued to fuck up. I have fucked up prodigiously in these last ten years and I’ll probably fuck up routinely forever, but you know what? That’s the deal. We’re all on board for it. There’s nothing you can do to stop the majority of your own fuckups, but you can do one thing to help you through it. You can remember point 4.

4) all of this is not a personal indictment of you

I have gotten to know some of you better than others, but all of you are impressive to me. The things I’ve seen you build, the teams I’ve seen you working with, the speeches you gave before we all scattered to the four winds. Your tolerance for ambiguity, your willingness to speak up, your honesty and your knowledge of the importance of consensus, something folks my age and older struggle with, sometimes indefinitely. I didn’t have much time with you, but the 5-6 months I had was enough to make me a little weepy as I sit here and imagine not seeing you on campus anymore. “Man, your shoes are hard to replace.” But that’s part of the deal, too–you must go on, and you must fuck up outside the bounds of our campus, and that may well mean that for fuck’s sake, you must be the change you want to see, even if people might think that makes you a know-it-all fuck, because we’ve never fucking needed it more.

I’ve been sitting here staring out at the rainy dark for a while without many ideas for a good closing paragraph, so I’ll leave you with someone else’s words. They are a more eloquent way of stating the first sentence of this speech: “Shit is rough, but you are wonderful.” You were, after all, challenged to “do something” when you came to us, and I share this in the spirit of challenging you to keep at it after you go, even if your life is a mess because you’re stuck at point Q trying to placate the Snuggie lady.

“Nature teaches persistence and perseverance, because in the end nothing stops nature. If a rose can grow out of the concrete, so can we.”

Micah Hobbes Frazier, kind of quoting Tupac Shakur, quoted in adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy
  1. I’m pretty freaked out about how quickly culture shifts nowadays, so in case you don’t know, a Snuggie is an “As Seen on TV” sleeved blanket that became something of a cult during my CVS days.
Categories
navel gazing

Wtaf

What am I doing here? Idk, man. I’m a day late and a dollar short with this, but the WordPress block thing is pretty cool. Honestly, it’s kind of inspirational for getting the words flowing. I always like when a company doesn’t just talk about design thinking but seems to have actually created something with users in mind, y’know?

Well, okay, I have some real answers. On the one hand, my co-author and I are about to submit a final draft of the book we’ve been working on for the past year, and I don’t like the thought of not having something to write when I was able to make the time for, and enjoyed the time spent on, writing. In November, participated in NaNoWriMo in solidarity with a class at the college I work for, and I realized the void left in my life when I’m not writing regularly, which is a long story for another time (or never, who knows!). The last few months of rewriting, tweaking, and editing have been great, but we’re about ready to put a bow on this thing, so here I am.

The other thing is what I stuck in the “about” page for this blog: “This is largely an endeavor to stay off social media as much as possible.” I’ve been on Twitter a ton, and involved with a ton of different groups via email, and the whole “see the notifications, read the messages, respond to them, get pissed at the content firehose” cycle is just… not good for me. It’s not helping me hear my own voice, and I’m not saying that in some kind of weird self-aggrandizing way. Maybe it’s self-aggrandizing no matter what if you have a blog, but I’m okay with that, I guess. I like having an audience, or rather, the potential for one. It helps me write.

But what I mean by not hearing my own voice is, I’m tired of participating in the way that a company like Twitter wants me to, tired of sharing thoughts (especially in the current moment, with life being so very online) or thinking things that are all shaped and trapped by the structure and biases of the platform. And yes, I am writing this on a WordPress site, so I’m not saying this is beyond its own problematic paved paths. It’s just something else, somewhere else–a place where I can drop out a little, but not the whole way.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last month and a half thinking about how my profession needs to radically change in response to the ongoing crisis and writing about it in forms that generally haven’t taken a blog shape, and I don’t intend to just hang up my hat about that when it’s “done” or whatever, in part because it’s never going to be done but also because I want to help make that radical change possible, and I want to have a way of explaining thoughts and ideas I have that in a public forum because I don’t want this work to transpire in the vacuum of my own mind. I want to have critical conversations and hear constructive pushback and feedback; I want this to be a place for generating ideas as well. I’m going to do what I can to build this space to honor that, and I might mess up, and probably already have, but if you’re cool with bearing with me, let’s do it.

Just to give myself some kind of roadmap for what will be happening here, and to help anyone who shows up with figuring out if they want to stick around, this is what I expect I’ll be writing about:

  • a worker-oriented future for libraries
  • my experiences as the library director at a small, weird engineering college and a participant in library stuff at the local & national level
  • books and other things I’ve been reading & thinking about
  • music, inevitably
  • the unique anxieties of the present moment, both personal and professional

So there you have it. I hope I can hold myself to keeping this thing going because I’m excited to see where it goes. For now, I’m off to keep re-reading How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, the book that helped me wrap my head around how to exit the attention economy in part but not fully, and still be present to do the work that needs to be done. Goodnight!