Thursday, December 25, 2008


It's been a fairly typical holiday for AK and me - meaning we pretty much lazed around the house or worked on individual projects. Our nod to the season was a walk in the fiercely melting snow (a second walk was cut short when we both sank up to the ankles in melted snow), a tree drawn in washable markers on the sliding glass door, and the surprise win of the Lakers over the 19-in-a-row-win Celtics (and Phil Jackson shaved off his beard! neither of us can cope with this fact). We didn't do presents this year because we're both horrible about asking for gifts and the procuring them in a timely fashion. We pretty much stick to the "Oh, I saw this and now it's yours five minutes after I've purchased it" school of thought when it comes to birthdays and other major gift giving events. This isn't necessarily a stand against commercialism and the acquisitive nature of society, since we do buy stuff. I am never left safely alone in Powell's (even when doing class research there I had to try to focus on the "serendipitous exchange of information" instead of what was newly remaindered) and AK has a serious problem when it comes to fencing shoes. Expressing love through gifts isn't something I inherited from my bargain hunting grandmother (it all went to the twin sister). I'm better at feeding people or finding them books or other bits of info (there's a bit in the JFW podcast mentioned below about how librarians express love through neat bundles of information and I am someone who routinely brings home articles on fencing or interesting bits for her husband in neat pdf form).

While walking today I talked with AK about a number of conversations I've had/blogs I've read lately about people "de-cluttering" - clearing out the garbage and excess possessions in their lives. One blogger I've been following calculated that in a little over ten days, she and her husband took nearly three-quarters of a ton of stuff to the dump or Goodwill. It's difficult for me to wrap my head around that amount of stuff. I get cranky and stifled sometimes when I look around our apartment and realize that it would take me more than a few hours to pack everything up and ship it out (a product of living primarily in dorms, even over the summer, for five years). The husband does hold onto stuff for a while, but it's never gone beyond the level of "Let's take and hour and recycle the soda cans and this room will be normal". What else is going on if you have that much excess in your life?

Maybe what it comes down to is that I find stuff to be overwhelming and often expensive. Some stuff in life is necessary. Some stuff in live makes the act of living more enjoyable. And some stuff seem just to be there for the gathering and collecting. There are a number of pursuits taken up by friends (often of a geeky nature) that seem wholly about acquiring things. Not experiences or knowledge or personal growth, but stuff. If you're into BPAL, you buy and trade imps of scent. If you're into roleplaying, you buy a number of expensive hardbacks. Boardgames have expansion packs. Films keep coming out with special editions or high def versions. Some knitters have stashes that are probably half the size of my local (tiny) knitting store.

Yes, you can certainly get pleasure from a scent and personal growth from problem solving games. These are not empty pursuits. But where's the limit? At what point do you stop enjoying the objects and are just gathering them to have them? Lately I've been clearing out some old magazines and books, including back issues of Victorian Studies. Did I subscribe to this journal because I really cared about the content or because I wanted to be the sort of person who subscribed to the journal? The clothes make the man and the possessions the person. The Ipod and trucker hat makes the hipster. The limited edition BPAL and SF hardback make the geek. What I'm trying to figure out is what exactly makes the M and am I made out of stuff I actually value, stuff I actually need? Do I need all my old notebooks from college? Do I even need the photocopies of my readings from this past quarter (I should probably finish the degree before I start pitching things). At what point do you stop owning stuff and it starts owning you?

This is perhaps not the merriest of Christmas themes, but I'm in the middle of Dickens' "The Haunted Man" and it's not exactly the most cheerful tale I've ever read.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow snow snow snow...

Sometime today I believe Portland broke a 40 year record for the most snowfall in December. Outside is just unending white, with that sharp wet smell I associate with fall finals as an undergrad (often a blizzardy time of year). I've baked a few half-hearted batches of Christmas cookies (adjusted to the particular tastes of AK), finished a book, made great progress on Nicholas Nickleby, and bought my texts for next quarter (a most expensive expedition). Since his work is still closed, AK has turned nocturnal again, slipping his cold feet under the covers just as I'm ready to stumble into the kitchen for a pot of tea. I shouldn't complain, since it was in just such a wintery situation that we decided that being together in the long term wouldn't be such a bad idea (he coached late into the night and I was fighting with the dreaded undergraduate thesis).

Things seem to be improving outdoors, and I say this after attempting a four mile walk this afternoon where a friend and I managed to completely cross paths, each arriving home cranky and exhausted two hours after we left. The snow has taken on that dense slushiness that forewarns a great thaw and that also seeps deeply into old running shoes that anyone might be using instead of snow boots for traction. Hopefully all will be approaching well in time for my flight to NY on Friday evening. Trips home are always complicated - I want to see my family, but they also drive me insane. I own that this is by no means an original complaint and I do love my family. I've just lost the ability to understand them. It's mostly my fault - I've moved on from them willingly, both emotionally and geographically. For a very long time I wanted to be someone different. I had a very specific vision of this new person: skinny, well-read with an appropriate quote at her fingertips, well-dressed, possessed of a strong voice that was vaguely sweet and which lacked even a hint of Queens, an Important Job with an office that had a door, a couch, and some art on the wall. Nothing of substance, as you can see, but that's as far as I could see as an awkward eighteen-year-old who was very conscious of her jeans, her hips, and her lack of Milton.

Right now, I think I can say that I'm happy. I have a cup of tea, a desk, and a rather welcoming postcard of Elizabeth Bishop (she's caught mid-sentence and seems so enthused by what I'm producing that I'm inspired to keep on going). It's trying to convince my parents, who aren't quite sure what a librarian or a fencing coach does for a living and who haven't seen how comfortable and happy I am in this small room, that I'm approaching content. At least the Little One (14, but that's what I'll always call her) is excited by arrival. I hope I don't disappoint.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes and Nigella

Okay, so this isn't the promise paean to JFW (as I'm now calling her, because we're clearly on a initial basis). Winter has visited its fury upon the Pacific Northwest and after a few days of cabin fevery, a frustrating day at work, and a two hour bus ride home, I'm a little too worn to do the task justice.

So how does a budding librarian shake off the cares and worries of the workaday world? By organizing her Documents folder and by reading Nigella Lawson cookbooks, of course!

My virtual and actual desktop both look rather similar at the end of a quarter/semester - covered with random copies of documents in various states of completion or usefulness and other detritus (for the actual desktop, this includes about 4 tea mugs and several empty gum packets). There's something soothing about tidying away your materials at the end of a project. You're replete with the smugness of completion and the knowledge that, should you choose, you never have to look at any of this ever again in your entire life. The hardest part of this program was realizing that my classmates would actually be looking at my work. My style as an undergrad was one of last minute flair and very little editing, so you can understand my apprehension. I gave myself plenty of time this quarter and while it all wasn't perfect, it was pretty damn good and I probably won't burst into tears when I take this all out again in three years for my portfolio.

I must admit that I am taken, every so often, to look back on old papers or assignments - I did this lately in order to show a friend what I thought an art history research paper looked like. I do this sort of archeological dig with my paper and online journals. It's a check to see how I'm growing and developing as a writer and as a human. While I appreciate my enthusiasm for the portraiture of John Singer Sargent in my Junior year, I wonder why it took three paragraphs to get to a thesis statement. The less said about my first research paper on Owen and Sassoon, the better (thought Craiglockhart is still one of my favorite words to say). My paper on L.E.L. and Felicia Hemans still sounds rather tight (even my bitchier sections on Greer and Armstrong still sound convincing). Will I feel this way about my discussion of context in IB? I've never really been concerened with readibility (at least for posterity - if it sounded okay when I was printing it and waiting to run it across campus, I went with it), so it's satisfying to see my prose coming together into something better. I have edited our more needless words (per Strunk and White) for LIS 510 than I have in my two previous degrees. Concision and clarity usually took a back seat to turns of phrase and enthusiasm. Yet, I'm still not sure if this is where I want my voice to go. We'll see.

How this ties back to Nigella Lawson? I could sit and read her cookbooks all day. Her prose is amusing, original, and frankly the next best thing to sitting down and eating something warm and freshly baked is reading about warm and freshly baked things (also, easier on the thighs). Her previous Christmas Specials (provided by an anonymous hero on Google Video) have provided background noise to a number of projects in the past few weeks. I love this woman. She's smart, she eats, she reads late at night with a snack at hand and seems rather happy, thank you. I was a little annoyed the other night (while reading in bed with a snack at hand) to see this rather dissapointing view of Nigella as a role model for women. Okay, she comes from the top of the Tories (this was a Torygraph poll afterall), her brother got her a sweet job, and she's married to an eccentric millionaire. She's not perfect and I don't think she really gives off that vibe - it's all quick because she's clumsy and lazy and would rather be off writing or reading a novel. She's suffered more loss than is fair and still manages to remain a powerful brand name. Stop hating.

And with that, I will retire with this cup of Lady Grey.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Future

Thanks to Maria, I am now falling in love with Joan Frye Williams. I'm listening to her podcast on the Indispensable Librarian (the link on her site doesn't work, but go to the ITunes Store, type in her name, and you'll find it for free download from ASU).

This is totally inspiring. This is why I'm in the field at this moment. Even though there is still a small part of me that is terrified of becoming obsolete, if we as a field can move forward with the patrons, we'll be fine. We'll be better than fine.

When I'm done listening I'll be sure to write something here of use.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The end of the quarter is here. I've handed in everything, I've had a few celebratory gins and some poutine, and I should be relaxing. But there's this small voice in the back of my head wondering if I am done, a voice that can't believe that I don't have any articles to read or lectures to listen to. It's strange to be free, and I'm sure as soon as I get used to it, I'll be on a train heading north with another bag of text books.

Today was lazily productive. I cleaned a bit and traveled to the knitting store with LBA. I acquired some yarn for last minute Christmas gifts and I'm only halfway done with my holiday cards. I should have started on all of this weeks ago, but I've been feeling so out of it lately - it being the normal flow of life. I feel so disconnected from the normal flow of the seasons and the holidays. Maybe it's a byproduc of growing up or maybe it's the last twinges of my lapsed Catholicism that causes this craving for a deeper connection with the passing of the seasons. Sometimes, when completely underdressed for the weather, I look up in surprise at the leafless trees and wonder how the hell I got here. I suppose the same could be said for my schoolwork. I'm still not exactly sure how I didn't crash and burn or hand in things late. I'm still surprised by my focus and my sanity. Mind, not that I want to continue on without them.

I should probably head to bed and nurse this cold instead of doing a few more repeats on a scarf or reading more of Dickens' Christmas stories. I promise to be more coherant and meaningful in the future.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Corner of One's Own

I am both easily distracted and easily engulfed in a project. Some days I sit down to work (work-work or schoolwork) and can easily conquer the world before my coffee is cold. Other days it is pulling teeth to eek out at least an hour's worth of salvageable dreck. For me, the environment quickly changes a slackful mood into a workful mood. There must be auditory distraction - as little as the sound of the dryer or as loud as the TV. It is impossible for me to work in absolute silence (or sleep in absolute silence for that matter... I blame my twin sister). I should be neither too warm nor too cold. Distractions for when the words stop or the ideas jam must be easily at hand, but not so easily accessed that I lose all will to do anything but play Solitare. Some days I'm a social worker and other days I need to be several layers away from people. It's a difficult balance. I think my best consistent environment was the British Library. I usually had BW nearby for tea breaks and lunch. I could switch between a well-stocked IPod or the shufflings of pages at the desk next to me. A novel was never further away than a look up computer and a willing staff member's trip to the stacks. When I had enough of Victorian Spiritualism or Scientific Romances, I could trudge downstairs to the cloakroom and then make my way home to my dorm room. Absolutely idyllic (in hindsight, of course).

This quarter has been absolutely experimental in terms of creating a space for schoolwork. In anticipation for the start of my new program, a friend and I ventured to Ikea, where a small folding table was purchase and then ceremoniously placed in the middle of a bedroom wall. I think I sat at it exactly twice for schoolwork. The desk sat parallel to the bed, so the chair barely fit, and it was too easy to unplug the laptop and curl up on the bed. I started sprawling out in the living room instead, losing my readings under the coffeetable while my lectures fought with the XBox for aural dominance. Wretched, but at least effective enough to allow me to complete my work (admittedly, AK would scurry off to his office when I started shouting at the screen).

In a fit of making space and time for finishing the last of my class presentations, I cajoled a sleepy boy into shifting the dresser so I could move my desk to the corner of the room. To get to the bed, I actually have to stand up and walk. I can't see the TV or the door, but there is a window. I've two lamps and all my papers. It's actually rather snug and I've knocked off a fair amount of work this evening (and this post). I still wish I had an office proper, but I lost that battle three years ago when we moved in and his drumset won the office. I dream of having a proper work office, with a door and a filing cabinet and artwork and everything. Really, that should have been on the top of my goal sheet for LIS 500.

But enough of this. I've more presentations to watch before I sleep tonight.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The Great LIS 510 Group Project of Doom (TM) is finished, and involved surprisingly less doom than anticipated. My group really pulled together and we turned out a product that I think is pretty spiffy. It's amazing how fast 15 minutes speed by when you're recording a presentation. I think I've started nearly every project this quarter with the gnawing fear that I would come up short, and instead have spent the final hours tweaking and editing and reducing the content to pithy perfection. I know as an undergraduate I had a tendecy to go on and over the page limit, but I was never reall strictly enforced. We were expressing and evoking! But here it's clear that the limits are absolute and I find that I've responded by tightening my prose and by taking better care in how I compose my thoughts and sentences. It's also telling that I begin my writing earlier than ever. It's actually strange for me to have mutiple days if not weeks to consider and mull over a question or problem. I no longer end papers surprised at the conclusion. I go into a paper with a stronger idea of what I want to say and how to say it.

That being said, I'll still be thrilled when the end of the quarter is here. I'm pretty much done with my database design course and have a little more editing and layout organizing to do on my webpage for my web design class. I should also go and listen to the other presentations in my class. That's more than a little nervewracking. I've never really been in courses where classwork is laid out so openly. The idea that other people are looking at my final projects bothers me because of my own insecurity. "What if all the other presentations are awesome and it just makes me realize how crappy my voice/ideas/etc. are?" Pathetic? Quite possibly.

But dinner and then another step away from procrastination and towards several weeks of knitting and reading!