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My Own Personal Wasteland

March and November are always bad months for me. November because it’s the anniversary of my dad’s death and March because we almost shared a birthday so it’s a constant reminder that every year I am older and he is still dead. Most of my childhood birthday memories are of having my own birthday parties with my friends but always sharing family birthday with my dad. He always let me pick the cake because he honestly didn’t care as long as I was happy. This year is exceptionally hard because my relationship with my mother has deteriorated to a point that breaks my cold dead heart. My relationship with my mother has never been stellar but she is the only parent I have so I have tried hard to not repeat history. But she is apparently to old to change which I suppose means I am officially too old to put up with this shit anymore.

My dad died when I was 19 at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. I was taking some ridiculous English class with a professor who I am relatively sure was smoking way more pot than the average student. It was an intro to English lit class, which I had for the most part enjoyed, being the English lit nerd that I am. And the assignments were usually pretty bullshit. The last one of the year was to write our own version of TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland”. I will be the first to admit that I wrote my share of super angst-ridden poetry in my teens. Most of which is god-awful and should probably have never seen the light of day. This one though, this one is one that has stuck with me over the years. And year after year I dig it up and read it again. And year after year it helps. It doesn’t soothe the bone-deep ache of grief that I still feel but it seems to round out the edges. My grief becomes more of a dull ache rather than the sharp, stabbing pain of a new injury. It becomes the pain of poking the bruise as opposed to the initial slamming my knee against my desk injury that caused the bruise. I do not by any stretch of the imagination consider this to be some sort of great work of literature. But it is a thing which brings me some small comfort and in the interest of trying to be less emotionally awkward and broken it is a thing which I have finally accepted means something to me because it is one of the few times in my life I have managed to accurately capture exactly what has led me to a point in which I began to refer to my heart as a cold dead thing.

So I am going to post this thing on the internet. Which likely only seems like a good idea because I have had three glasses of wine. But let’s be honest, I am a person who is only ever able to admit to the world in general that I have feelings when I have sufficiently numbed myself with alcohol. And at 33, believe me, I realize this is no point of pride. But it is what is.

“My Own Personal Wasteland”

November is a month of lies,
False words and bullshit stories,
Of why we should all be thankful.
Thankful for the turkey,
Too bad it’s still pink in the middle.
Thankful for the mashed potatoes,
Those were dad’s favorite,
Too bad the peels clogged up the sink.
Where’s the damn plunger when you need it?
The snow that falls outside the windows,
Mirrors the frozen, silent tears that slide down
Each cheek as the drugs begin to wear off.
Thankful for the pills that get me through the day,
More thankful for the ones that get me through the night.
Thankful for sleep that is dreamless,
I have only my thoughts to contend with during
The never-ending daylight hours.

December is a swirl of exams and greed.
Funny how the birth of Christ,
Is less important than the hottest toy.
Lists of CDs, DVDs, clothes and cars
Populate the hands of parents everywhere.
I think this year I’ll just take a favor from Chronos,
Stop, rewind will you?
So I can go back and say goodbye.
Or better yet my dear old father time,
Just fast forward to the end,
So I can begin again,
Maybe as a cat this time.

January is a blur,
Except for those ever pitying looks,
And the voices they think I can’t hear.
I’m grieving you Cro-Magnon,
Not deaf and blind.

February flies by,
A plethora of fights.
I’ve never screamed so much in my life.
My friends all got roses,
But all I’ve got are these damned dead petals,
Funny what we take away from funerals.

March is here,
And I’m pretty sure it went well.
I couldn’t really tell you.
After all, I spent my 20th
(Should have been his 54th)
Drinking myself into oblivion.
Because oblivion doesn’t give a damn
How much you cry.

April brings a light blue robe,
The color of the sky on Beltane,
Wrapping him in graduate pride.
The prodigal son has finally managed
To get his damned diploma.
To bad there are only six of us,
Instead of the lucky seven that we should have been.
Pride hosts her heroic battle against despair,
It’d be nice to get through one event without
The oh so common tears.

May brings freedom from classes,
And the rapid delve into work.
Who ever thought retail could be so mindless?
People really are just like sheep,
Too bad they don’t have golden fleeces.

June and July follow fast paced
Upon one another.
Twins who just can’t seem to separate.
Between the melting heat
And the inability to stop thinking
The short nights seem
Longer than even Odysseus’
Trip back home.

August sees us back in class,
Good little pupils hiding our dunce caps
Behind sarcasm and our flexibility,
So nice of him to sit so close.

September gives us no relief
As I trudge the dusty paths of habit
And my personal solitude.
But at least my nights are quiet
When I drown my thoughts in
The scent of boy on my pillow,
And his warmth against my back.

October brings fear,
And the ever present anger.
Why am I the only one capable of making myself
Completely miserable?
Good bye my boy.
Farewell sweet momentary peace of mind.
Hello emptiness
Empty bed
Filled up head.
Bring on the liquor
And the mindless games.
Ignore the day of the dead.
They don’t listen anyhow.

November again.
Be thankful.
Survived a year.
Just 50 or 60 more to go.
Thankful for my memory.
Still hurts like yesterday.
I’ll be spinning my sorrow,
As long as Arachne keeps spinning her webs.

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Some thoughts on #MedicatedandMighty

I’ve been peeking in on the #MedicatedandMighty thread the last few days but haven’t participated in it because, quite frankly, the anti-medication people fill me a lot of rage.

I started taking anti-depressants when I was 19. Do I think antidepressants are the solution for everyone? No. Do I think all antidepressants are good? No. Do I think medication can be detrimental? Yes. Do I think some people are capable of managing their depression just fine without medication? Yes. And most of the people that I have spoken to in my life who take medication for depression feel the same way. If medication helps, by all means, use it. If medication doesn’t work for you, by all means, don’t use it. I wouldn’t dream of telling someone how to manage their depression. Will I tell them about my experience if they ask, of course. Will I support them if they choose to try medication, of course. Will I support them if they don’t want to use medication, of course.

Which is where my rage with anti-medication people tends to start popping up. Because my experience with anti-medication people has been mostly being shamed for taking medication. Or being told if I just exercised or ate better or spent more time outside or thought happy thoughts, that I would be so much better than what my medication was doing for me. My experiences tend to get shut down or ignored and I’m told that I’m buying into big pharma or taking the easy way out. There is no live and let live with most of these people, there’s just I am wrong and bad for taking medication and they know much better. What is especially irritating to me is that many of the people I hear these things from have never actually struggled with depression.

My depression is stealthy and insidious. It’s quiet and patient. It sneaks up on me when I’m not paying attention. I just realize one day that for the past two weeks I’ve hardly slept, that eating seems like a lot more work than it should, that I’m spending inordinate amounts of time on my couch staring at my tv and thinking about all the things I should be doing but not actually able to muster the will to do any of them. I realize that I’ve stopped talking to people, that I have no interest in going out or working on projects. I find myself putting things off over and over again. I find myself constantly wanting to talk to someone but not being able to find any words to use.

My medication does not make me happy. It does not turn me into a peppy, upbeat, Stepford wife ready to tackle the world. But it does mean that when my depression rears its ugly head that I can still get out of bed in the morning and go to work. I can still make sure I’m eating enough to not make myself sick. That I can function enough to keep my job and pay my bills. That I can make it through the work day being grumpy instead of crying in my car during my lunch break.

Could I survive without my medication? Yes. But I don’t see any point in making my life more difficult than it needs to me. Even when things are going well my depression makes things difficult. Even when I exercise every day and watch what I eat. Even when I spend at least an hour outside a day in the sunshine. Even when everything at work is going well. Even then my depression still makes things difficult. And if medication makes it easier for me to handle that depression, makes it easier to keep going, then why would I not use that? And more importantly, why should I feel ashamed of that?

My depression isn’t ever going to get better. It’s not going to pack up one day and go away. It’s going to be with me forever. It’s going to live in my head and follow me everywhere I go. That’s what depression does. Shaming people for taking medication to deal with that makes them less likely to ask for help. It makes people less likely to open up and talk about their depression. Writing this makes me want to vomit because in the back of my head all I can think about is, “No one cares about your problems” and “Oh ffs, how much shit am I going to get from anti-medication people because of this?”

If you don’t believe in medication, fine, that’s your right. But you have no right in any situation to dictate how other people manage their depression. And when you choose to take something like #MedicatedandMighty and try to use it to make people feel shitty for taking medication or to tell them they’re living their life wrong, then you’re contributing to a problem and doing absolutely no good whatsoever. So please stop. Spend more time listening to people and less time trying to be right.

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ILEAD U Thoughts

Well we’re a couple of days into ILEAD U and it’s been a really great experience so far. Team Spectra had a very productive meeting with Beck Tench this morning. Beck is a fabulous speaker who delivered one of our keynotes yesterday and spoke a lot about the ideas of failure, what failure means, looks like, and how we can better adapt to the possibility of failure. If you aren’t familiar with her, you should check out her site: http://www.becktench.com/

One of the main ideas of ILEADU that is oft repeated is the idea of a “safe sandbox”. ILEADU is an opportunity for teams to experiment, to play around with ideas, to see how ideas evolve, grow, and change. Failure is an idea that is difficult for many people to deal with and definitely an issue that I know many of my colleagues personally struggle with. Working in public service often involves holding oneself to an extremely high set of expectations because we feel that our failures are not just impacting us but are impacting those we work with and the public we serve. One of the things we discussed this morning with Beck was what we are most worried about project-wise and this brought up the concerns of expectations.

One of the comments made at the Autism Forum earlier this month was that if you know one person with Autism, you know exactly one person with Autism. This makes providing better service to the ASD community a very daunting task. One thing many of our team members have noticed when discussing our project with people outside the group is that there is often unconstrained delight at our project. This is both flattering and terrifying. The delight means that we are tackling a project that is in demand. But tackling a project so highly in demand contains great potential for failure or to let people down. What if our project isn’t good enough? What if it’s good but people don’t think it’s enough? What if it’s good but doesn’t get used? These are some of the questions that we discussed with Beck and one of the things she reiterated is how important it is to encapsulate our project. To define it and view it as a step. ILEADU is not designed for us to create a great Kraken of a project that answers every question and solves every difficulty. We have to remember that ILEADU has time and budget constraints. There is nothing wrong with taking small steps.

This is most likely something I will repeat to myself over and over and over again for the next nine months. Also, how did I just now realize that ILEADU is roughly a nine month project? Is that intentional? I will refrain from making bad jokes at this point.

So back to the project. The talk helped clarify a lot of things and I am developing a new fondness and appreciation for drawing. My best friend will be so proud. Even on a small scale, our project has a lot of moving parts so it’s going to be a long haul and a difficult one, but Team Spectra seems up to the challenge and seems passionate about our topic. We may not change the entire world, but I think we’ll make a difference. And hopefully, a seed that we’ll see grow long past us.

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Online MLIS Programs, Community (or Lack Thereof), and Twitter

After a wonderful time at ALA MW, during which I was lucky enough to meet many of the awesome librarians I follow on Twitter, I came back to a fair clusterfuck in my final semester of grad school. All that good feeling and fuzzy happy conference feels that I’d gathered over the last few days were replaced my a desire to slam my head repeatedly against my desk in frustration. At which point I started talking to my cat.

And that was when I realized what the problem was.

My MLIS is my second graduate program. I did a MA in English Literature at UNCG back in 2006-2008. All my courses were night classes since I was teaching full-time. So my day was often, teach all day, grade papers, pick up a sandwich, eat said sandwich while circling for a parking space, go to class, go the library, go home. Rinse. Repeat. It was stressful and busy and often made me want to pull my hair out.

One of my classes was super small; there were just four of us and the professor. The professor was a guy who wasn’t always super with it. Sometimes kind of an ass to be honest. He would say these really ridiculous things sometimes and we would all give each other side eye like “Did he really just? What? What is happening?” We never really talked about it outside of class but it was nice to have that eye contact and know that it wasn’t just me.

In another one of my classes, we all signed up for rotating snacks. That way, every week we got a nice little snack and chat break in the middle of class. We’d all stand around and make jokes about those soft sugar cookies that must have drugs in them because they really aren’t that great but YOU CAN NEVER STOP EATING THEM.

It’s amazing the kind of community you can build through body language and sugar cookies. It was a sense of knowing you were never really alone. There was always someone who would understand why you had the “WTF?” look on your face or who was around to have long, ridiculous conversations about that one time that guy asked your prof if the pearl in the Shakespeare sonnet was a metaphor for a clitoris and we all almost cried we laughed so hard. And those are the things that matter because those are the things that get you through. And that is exactly what is missing for me from an online program.

Online programs often struggle to offer their students a way to build community. Students are scattered across the nation with schedules that have no sense of normalcy whatsoever. There are discussion boards and student forums but my experience with those has been largely negative. Oftentimes if someone posts an issue or a concern it turns into a huge argument with people being rude and abusive. It became even worse once students could post anonymously. Christ on a cracker, you’d think a bunch of a adults in a graduate program would know how to be kind to one another but apparently not. So then no one wants to post anything that might invite abuse or mockery. On top of that, you have students who will tell professors if a student says anything about them on the board. So now we have abuse and snitching. Not exactly an environment conducive to building supportive relationships. Not everyone does this. Some people are wonderful and kind and do their best to be supportive and helpful but we all know how much more likely people are to be impacted by the negative than the positive.

So what are online students to do? Oftentimes we’re at points in our lives where most of our family are friends aren’t in school, so while they may be sympathetic it can be hard for them to fully relate. Sometimes what you need is someone who is in the same position. Enter the Twitterverse.

Up until maybe 6 months ago, I wasn’t on Twitter much but a combination of people (I’m looking at you D) unknowingly motivated me to be on there more and I got hooked. Because see, here’s the thing a lot of people don’t know: There are a lot of really cool and nice library-world people on Twitter. There’s a whole bunch of other people on there too, some neat, some jerky. But I’m pretty sure we’re all pretty up-to-date on that fact.

So yeah, the Twitterverse and the Library World. So I start following some people. And I mostly just lurked at first. I, unsurprisingly, run my mouth about a few things, but I primarily lurk. And as I lurk I start to come across amazing things, like #libchat and #libtechgender and #librarylife. So I start to poke a two in, drop a comment here or there and this really odd thing started to happen where all of sudden I had followers. Like actual ones, not just friends who absentmindedly followed me because they’re my friends. And then it became not just dropping a comment here or there but having actual conversations with people. And I went, “Oh. Huh. I sort of belong here.” And it was wonderful.

I get a lot of grief some from of my friends about how much I love Twitter but Twitter filled a professional and programmatic community need for me that most of my friends aren’t looking for. They have fully fleshed out professional networks. They’re either not in school or they’re in an onsite program with other students. I am also significantly more of a socially awkward turtle than most of my friends. So to find this incredibly welcoming and kind community was a big deal for me. And then I went to ALA MW and would introduce myself to people as someone who followed them on Twitter and it was much less weird than I anticipated. Everyone was so nice and encouraging and polite. Because see, when you only have 140 characters it becomes hard to fake being a good or nice person. So those awesome people that you have found on Twitter are probably just as awesome in person.

So, long story short, Twitter provides a great opportunity for community, especially in the Library World. One of the things that comes up on Twitter sometimes is the fact that there are a lot of issues with MLIS programs the way they are now. People are very concerned about programs not being challenging or selective enough. Programs are turning out far too many graduates, especially online programs where it becomes easier to fill a class and expectations may not be quite as rigorous as in other programs. But I think another issue we need to worry about is how we can better build community amongst online students. Because I hate to break it to online programs, but that shit actually matters. My ability to communicate with my peers and form networks will translate into how well I can communicate with my professional peers and create a professional network. Which ultimately can have a huge impact on my future job potential as well as my future participation in my field as more than just a worker bee. And yes, in an ideal world all students would be naturally motivated and eager to reach out to their field, but let’s face it, it’s not an ideal world. Students need to learn how to network and it’s not a skill that’s typically covered anywhere in secondary or post-secondary curriculums. The professional world is a scary place and I think schools have a responsibility to help prepare their students for it so that it’s a little less scary.

Until then, I’m grateful for Twitter and the many Twitter-librarians who have helped me start to build my own community and have helped provide some encouragement to continue doing so. I’m doing my best to encourage others to give it a shot and to try and be more social at conferences. After all, every little bit helps and small steps here will hopefully lead to bigger and better things in the future. 

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REVIEW: Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

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Title: Seven for a Secret

Author: Lyndsay Faye

Publisher/Publication Date: Putnam, Pub. date Jul. 11, 2013

Seven for a Secret, the squeal to Faye’s Gods of Gotham, is set in New York City in 1845, shortly after the creation of the New York Police Department. Timothy Wilde, a talented detective, who gets pulled into a missing persons case by the lovely Lucy Adams. But there is much more to case than Wilde originally realizes since Lucy and her sister are of mixed heritage and New York isn’t exactly a staunch defender when it comes to preventing people from snatching supposed runaway slaves. Of course, there is always much more to the story than it first appears and Wilde quickly finds himself, his brother Valentine, and Lucy’s family, her sister Delia and her son Jonas, embroiled in a much larger conspiracy. The mystery as well as Timothy Wilde’s conflicts of conscious keep the plot moving along at a quick pace and never give the reader a chance to get board or distracted.

Not having read Gods of Gotham, I get the feeling that there were a number of things I may not have necessarily picked up on but overall the story is told skillfully enough that I wasn’t distracted by what I may not have known. For those of you that have seen Copper, there is a very similar tone given the comparable settings. Faye does an excellent job building her world and the descriptions of places and people serve as a real draw into the story. Her characters are also well fleshed out and tend to be good but flawed. One of my favorite things in a story is a character who is far from perfect but still manages to be a truly good person. Timothy and Valentine both fall into that category and it makes it wonderful to see how they navigate inside of a not necessarily upstanding world. Faye also isn’t shy about highlighting the issues present in the society of that time. 

Overall I was thrilled to have picked up Seven for a Secret and I am extremely eager to get ahold of Gods of Gotham and any future books in the series. Timothy Wilde strikes me as a character with real staying power and Faye obviously has the talent to develop storylines and characters to keep the series moving. 

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REVIEW: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Title: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books, Pub. date Mar. 19, 2013

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have once again put together an amazing anthology with stories from a fabulous group of talented authors. The fairy tale re-telling anthologies by them have always been some of my favorite. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells focuses on Gaslamp fantasy (a personal favorite of mine) and includes tales from some of my favorite authors, including Jane Yolen and Tanith Lee. The entire collection reminds me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so if you enjoyed either of those this collection should be right up your alley.

My favorite thing about short story anthologies is how easy it is for me to devour an entire story at a time but still always have something to look forward to on my next reading. They are the ideal book for busy people. The other wonderful thing about anthologies is the chance to discover new authors, such as Theodora Goss and Elizabeth Bear. With anthologies there are always some stories that you like more than others and, sometimes, stories that you just really aren’t fond of. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells was the first anthology in a long time where, while I did have my favorites, I enjoyed every single story included. I’m going to touch on just a few of my favorites.

“The Memory Book” by Maureen McHugh is the story of Laura Anne, a governess for the Finches. Laura Anne does well with the children but these is something just a little off about her and the Memory Book that she creates and cherishes may be much more than it seems.

“For the Briar Rose” by Elizabeth Wein is a tale that beautifully mixes art and literature. The story focuses on Margaret Burne-Jones, the daughter of Edward Burne-Jones who painted the Briar Rose series. Wein cleverly blurs the lines between reality and magic that is so often seen around beautiful works of art and how that creation can tie into motherhood. 

“The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear examines the darker side of that career when one is part of a household in which the master believes himself entitled to the staff. Bear looks at what happens when a mother becomes desperate for the safety of her children and the choices that cross a moral or ethical line but must still be made. 

“The Vital Importance of the Superficial” by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer is a delightful and adorable epistoloary between Ms. Charlotte Fleming, the daughter of a master of the Experimental Arts, and Lord Ravenal, a talented inventor of a magic sort. They correspond quite humorously as Lord Ravenal attempts to thwart the evil plans of his arch-nemsis, Wulfstan, and rescue his sister, Priscilla. Charlotte’s quick-witted nature comes through clearly in her letters and she proves that she is more than a match for the many intelligent men populating her world.

So, as I mentioned, a really wonderful little collection of stories that I’m sure I’ll revisit time and time again. Well worth picking up for your own collection. 

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REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow, Pub. date Jun. 18, 2013

Neil Gaiman is an author that I’ve been reading for years and one where I tend to love everything he has written. My love of his books is tied up with a number of things in my life so I’m going to take a moment and discuss a little about that before I actually get to the review.

I actually come upon Gaiman’s work because of Terry Pratchett. My father loved Terry Pratchett and the fantasy genre in general. When I was a kid, my mom would bring home books for my dad and we had a system where I would start at the bottom of the pile and he would start at the top and we’d work our way through. As a result, I ended up reading things way above my grade level for a long time but it always meant that many of the warm and fuzzy feelings I have about reading are tied directly to those books. So enter Terry Pratchett and the fabulous Discworld series. I don’t remember the first time I read a Discworld novel but I know that I’ve loved every single one of them. So of course, when I stumbled across Good Omens there was no way I wasn’t going to read it. At some point during college a friend introduced me to the Sandman series but I didn’t really make the connection to the co-author of Good Omens. Fast-forward a few more years to a blind date just before a trip to London. The guy, very nice with a name I can’t for the life of me remember, shows up to our date with a copy of Neverwhere. I read that and then picked up a book of his short stories while I was in London and it was all downhill from there.

Part of what I love so much about Gaiman’s books is the mix of magic and realism. Even at the most fantastical, there is always an element of the real world in his books. It gives me eternal hope that no matter how dark reality may get there is always the potential for a little bit of magic somewhere. This is something that comes up prominently in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The narrator has returned to his childhood home after attending a funeral. He wanders down the road to the Hempstock farm and begins to remember the summer 40 years ago when he met Lettie Hempstock. The Hempstock’s are old, old magic and the darkness that Lettie and the narrator inadvertently bring back is also an old evil. This primal evil, known in the novel as Ursula, creates numerous problems in the narrator’s house between his parents and between him and his parents. But these problems, while new and odd to the narrator, are not terribly unusual to many readers. This idea that unhappiness and dysfunction are things which have been around forever and will be around forever is a sobering thought. But the Hempstock women are a sound counterpoint of hope, as is the adorable kitten that pops up throughout the novel. It is often the small things or the individuals that we meet throughout our lives that can make the biggest difference. Lettie, her mother, and grandmother are magic, but they are also kind and strong and a force to be reckoned with anyways. They are the family we choose, the hope that we find when we connect with others. And because of that they are beautiful and wonderful in the way that the universe is. 

I am an unabashed fan of Gaiman and Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of the best books that I’ve read recently. It is beautiful and sweet and sad and one that I will easily re-read every year. 

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