Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Third Verse Same as the First...

Tomorrow I work a full day and then take Amtrak north to the final MLIS residency. While I'll certainly miss the inherent decadence of a forty minute flight to Seattle, I'm not missing the cost of a last minute ticket. I'm still hoping to get some funds from the travel scholarship, which would make my life so much happier and easier. We'll see.

In anticipation of residency I'm trying to ease myself back into a work cycle. It's amazing how easily the concentration and time management muscles atrophy with the slightest break in practice. Both my courses don't look terribly difficult, though I'm sure they'll be plenty challenging - I'm naturally nervous about them, but there's none of the abject fear brought out when I first read the Information Behavior course site. The only reading I've done so far is on metadata, which is a term that I admit I've thrown about with much abandon and very little understanding. While some the reading is floating in that nebulous philosophical area above my head, much of it is interesting on a practical level. I suppose that's what I find so attractive about cataloging and the like - how do I take this stuff and arrange it so people can find it and use it? I love the idea of making things easier to find and thus easier to use, be it by helping to clean up authority records in the catalog or updating a patron record.

One article*, which is an overview of metadata schemes in the library and museum world, there was a brief discussion about user-created metadata. Particularly in small communities (hobbyists), the shared understanding and, most importantly, shared language can be a boon for tagging. But, as I've seen in other studies, the lack of control can be an issue in terms of accuracy. I know of colleagues who dislike the idea of user tagging in a library catalog, not out of a sense of "Keep off my lawn, you crazy kids!" but more from the the realization that what is added might not be all that useful. A value-add should add value, not clutter things up. Getting a good base support of users to tag can be a challenge. An empty catalog doesn't spur on participation (if no one else is doing it, why should I?). While I know that I could probably hunt this down, doesn't anyone know of a successful user-tagging projects within the confines of a library catalog?

When read the article I was struck by the underlying calling for expertise. This shouldn't be shocking as the article seems geared towards nascent professionals. The idea of arrogance connected with expertise, the "I know what the user needs better than they do" has reared its controversial head in a number of my classes so I suppose I'm a bit sensitive to it. Is metadata a place where the user doesn't belong? At least, not directly. Clearly metadata and other features of the organization of information exist to serve a user based, which must always remain in the back of the mind. But I'm left wondering if you achieve the ultimate metadata goal (according to the article I read) of "rich, consistent, carefully crafted descriptive metadata" without some level of expertise and thus control. Does the creation and maintaining of the swarm of information surrounding information demand professional control or does it demand the creation of a controlled system that can be used easily by nonprofessionals (like Dublin Core)? How do you balance it all?

I doubt this is something that can be answered in ten weeks, but it's a start of something...

*Gilliland, A. J. (n.d.). “Setting the stage.” In Introduction to metadata: Pathways to digital information. Online Ed., Version 2.1. Murtha Baca ed. Available: http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/standards/intrometadata/setting.pdf.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nicholas Hughes

When the news of his death appeared in my news feeds, I was saddened to hear of it. I felt that his sister certainly didn't need any more death in her life. I also realized that it was the first time I knew anything of the man who so neatly absented himself from the poetical spotlight of his family.

But, his death wouldn't be news unless the obituaries turned to recounting the death of his mother, his father's mistress, and his father. Judith Flanders says it better than I ever could:
Yet the "curse" idea is repellent. Repellent to those afflicted with depression; repellent to those whose friends or family have been so burdened; even repellent to lovers of poetry. Sylvia Plath killed herself after many years of psychological instability - she had attempted suicide in her teens, had undergone ECT. Her marriage had broken down, she was living with two small children through one of the coldest winters for decades. Like all too many others, before and after, in a desperate moment, she killed herself, having first carefully set out bread and milk for her two toddlers in their cots. That she had just written some of the great poems of the twentieth century is neither here nor there. She was a great poet, and a depressed person. She was not a great poet because she was depressed; she was not depressed because she was a great poet.
He was a professor who, according to the University of Alaska website, was well loved and dedicated. Let's remember that instead.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Food that You Eat

I wish I had an excuse for not posting over this somewhat relaxing spring break. Well, I have scoured areas of the apartment never before scoured (you know you have some sort of compulsion issue when you're using toothpicks to get at grime on a part of the stove no one will ever see). Break usually means reading, and I have been devouring books as best as I can (including an autobiography of a woman bullfighter and some Sarah Vowell).

I just finished Mark Bittman's latest, Food Matters. Bittman is the only reason I even bother with the food section of the New York Times. His How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are staples in my kitchen. His recipes are simple, delicious, and come with handy sidebars on the variations you can do with dishes (which has lead to some successful "toss some stuff together and call it dinner" meals of late). In Food Matters, Bittman argues for a new approach to food and what we eat. I've known since I was seventeen and reading up on vegetarianism that the commercial meat industry is pretty heinous towards the environment. I know that the Food Pyramid developed out of marketing for the beef and dairy industry (even wonder why those sources of protein get to hang out on their own?). I try to avoid HFCS, and have all but banished white bread from the house (except for the occasional homemade baguette, because really bread doesn't get much better).

Bittman presents all of this, and more, in his defense of a better way of living. That's what I like most of all about this work, which is a type of diet book. He's advocating for a lifestyle change. It's absurd to think that a few weeks of something odd will leave you skinnier and healthier and able to go back to your old eating habits (I remember my parents going on that odoriferous cabbage soup diet years ago and my father dabbled in Atkins until the kidney stones hit). To improve your body, you have to improve your diet, which means long-lasting change, not just abstaining from sugar until your next weigh in. Bittmans' approach is interesting - essentially you bulk up on the veggies and plant matter, remaining vegan (or so) until dinner, when you can eat as you will. This approach makes sense to me, though I'm not sure how to work it around my own weird eating schedule (breakfast late at work, lunch as the primary meal, and dinner made primarily to produce leftovers for lunch). Vegetables and fruit are full of all the good stuff we need to survive, and are what our meat-poor ancestors lived on for centuries. Meat used to be flavoring, not necessarily the focus of the meal. And somehow along the way, with subsidized farming and a booming fast food industry, that idea was lost. Vegetable production (even the megafarms) is less harmful to the environment than meat and, in this crazy town of Portland, I have plenty of local and sustainable produce options available.

Though I think I might be hard pressed to give up on dairy as a whole (I love plain, nonfat yogurt and I'd honestly rather go without cheese or milk than head towards the soy), I think I could easily live like this, and live happily. However, food is a complicated and delicate subject in my house. I live with perhaps the pickiest eater on the planet. Imagine a typical four-year-old boy - big on the burgers, Cheerios, and pizza, and not so keen on much else. Now imagine he's grown up and can use a stove by himself, but is usually too lazy to do so, but has a car and knows where to get what he wants. That's my husband. I love him more than pretty much anyone else on the planet. He's intelligent, incredibly kind, and fun. But his diet is appalling in general, and in particular for a thirty-five-year old man.

When I was newly married, my mother passed on this bit of wisdom: if you love each other, you'll only fight about money. Well, in this house we rarely fight about money (Lego budget aside) and more often come to verbal blows over a 24 pack of Coca-Cola and Wendy's bags in the foot well of a car. As the using a toothpick to clean a stove incident might suggest, I am a touch on the neurotic side. Since my fencing has decreased to almost nothing and my running is a twice weekly affair, I've had to abandon my "I'm an athlete and I can eat whatever I want" attitude towards food. I've mostly vegetarian, bring lunch everyday to work, and try my best to eat something other than coffee for breakfast. I read food labels carefully (which is why there are two boxes of Girl Scout Cookies stashed in the freezer, since I discovered that two cookies filled about half of my daily saturated fat intake) and have been trying to cook more for myself and the husband. This is still a challenge. Tonight I feasted upon roasted beets and a tomato and red lentil soup (spiced up with cumin and garam masala). The husband might have a large bowl of plain pasta (no sauce... ever) or, if he's feeling adventurous, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the ubiquitous can of Coca-Cola. While he recovers from a late night of coaching I will be in bed, imagining that I can hear his arteries hardening and his blood sugar rising.

I know he's not going to drop dead in the next week, but I can't help thinking about what his intake of red meat and ultra-refined carbs will mean for the future (for both his body and the environment). I've managed to change in whole-grain pizza crust and whole-wheat/seed packed bread for sandwiches, but I can't seem to do much else. Yelling is ineffective, as are carefully placed articles on the amount of sugar in soda and the recent study on the dangerous of red meat. But I believe my husband isn't alone in this resistance, that his diet mirrors that of hundreds of thousands of other people in this country. How do you shift a country where the American Dream is celebrated by a steak and potatoes and washed down with cola? At times like these, I feel that I'm just a liberal urban hipster jumping on the next great alternative thing that will soon appear on Stuff White People Like. But it still remains that we are, inescapably, what we eat.

Monday, March 16, 2009

ACRL - Post the Second and a Half

Onwards in our recap!

After the last stats presentation, I wandered up to catch the end of the PCC/PSU presentation on information literacy programs and standards. The brainstorming rubric they presented, which focused mainly on how to locate and work with other similarly minded librarians on information literacy, could easily be used in almost any sort of interlibrary collaboration (collection development could easily be replaced, with a little tweaking). I had a chance to chat with a number of the community college librarians from the Portland area (and there are a lot!). Mainly our conversation focused on the impending cessation of the residency program at UW (my friend/cohort member Maria is now a full-time tech at PCC). Though I can understand the rationale behind the administration's choice (it's an expensive adventure for many in the program and last residency's flooding fiasco showed that they could either record or sync-up class presentations), I will still miss it and wonder how the other cohorts will get situated without it.

At this point I think I finally made it down to look at the poster sessions, many of which I recall being fascinating, but none of which I actually wrote about since my hands were full with free ice cream and a free dictionary from the amazing and friendly people at the Oxford University Press. This is why I am so happy that the entirety of the conference proceedings is stored online. Also I should mention that at times I went down to the area they titled the "Cyber Zed Shed", only to discover that the presenter was not there (I sat through two no-shows and my friend informed me of a missed third!). There were topics at this part of the conference that seemed interesting (interactive subject maps) and some that weren't (Google Docs). The big tech event for this conference seemed to be Twitter. There were a number of presentations on this 2.0 technology and I saw people throughout the event (and during Ira Glass!) tweeting.

I am of a mixed mind when it comes to Twitter. I can see the point of microblogging, it's immediacy, and it's inherent succinctness. But it also feels like another version of my Facebook Status Update and I keep wondering if I have anything that amazing to say, something so terribly pertinent and yet easily crammed into 140 characters. I'm hesitant as well when it comes to libraries entering the 2.0 space of the user. A coworker who went to one of the 2.0 technologies and libraries presentation mentioned that the presenters gave a number of great hints, such as don't try to friend students. That means entering too deeply into their personal space. Instead let them become a fan of you, which means they get all the information they need from you and they don't have to worry that you're going to see their latest beer pong photos. I think so many libraries ran headfirst into these spaces without really thinking carefully about how to do it, and it doesn't help that the platform changes on a weekly basis (Facebook, I am looking squarely at you). As 2.0 technology starts to stabilize, it will be interesting to see what rises up.

At this point on Saturday I had the energy left for two presentations. The first was on the TIDES Experience (presented by Susan Clarke). This is a fascinating collaborative online image project. This grew out of a digitization of historical/archival images in a Texas university library and grew into an interactive project that develops and supports a wide ranging education curriculum for Texas and now Mexico (kindergarten all the way through university). What was interesting here is how a grant project on digitization turned into such a wonderful and sustainable project (how they got sponsors, broadened their collections and curriculum stores etc.). And this is really something that is for the average user, not the library or archive junkie. Most of the site's hits come from Google or Yahoo. They get requests from teachers to add images to support their classroom (and have started taking teachers out into the field to collect stuff themselves. Having worked in a very traditional (albeit fantastic!) archive, I was really intrigued to see such a explosion of ideas and images from one project.

Next up was a discussion of the challenges faced by distance students (something I'm very interested in on a personal level). Presented by Capella University, this presentation was the only one I saw where the presenters work in an entirely virtual library space. In fact, until 2 years ago all of the library services at Capella were outsourced. The library staff is responsible for 26000 "learners", 80% graduate and 20% undergraduate. From the presentation it seems that the library staff does a lot of troubleshooting for technology. A successful treatment for an ongoing problem (which they track through a database of answered questions) was to have a librarian go into a course space with a help guide and to offer assistance. So many students responded to this overture and the library found their requests for help go through the roof. In an online program it's often hard to know exactly where you should go with a question. Yes, you have a list of resources, but you've probably not tried any of them yet and it's always a bit nerve wracking to know that you might wind up in the wrong space and will be send on and on trying to find the right person. While the presentation wasn't helpful to me as a learner (and not really as a professional since I don't do any reference outreach), it was still really interesting to see how the staff tackled problems and worked to establish themselves within the university. Most of us at academic libraries take it for granted that we are an inherent part of the university structure, so it was interesting to see how the library staff worked to collaborate (the word of the conference!) and make themselves known to the rest of the administration.

Sunday morning brought Ira Glass, who was totally on the escalator with me and who I tried very hard not to stare at! Once again, the room was packed. Glass began his talk entirely in the dark. Some soft background music played while he spoke about how "this is radio", about the intimacy of listening to a voice in the dark. Sadly, he was not encouraged to do his entire speech in the dark, so the lights went up and there he was, in a hoodie and with rumpled hair, two CD players, and mixing board. He spoke mostly on how to develop stories, how he arranges and presents stories to keep listeners interested. He works on a storytelling pattern that turned out to be sermon-like- action, action, action, idea, action, action, action, idea. It's about hooking people, keeping them interested, but keeping them interested in the people as well. The second I can really remember from this is that all of his tape archives are stored, just in boxes listed by show number, in a facility in New Jersey. They're not really organized or digitized (some are so old that he would have to bake them and the would only get one shot at copying them). He asked the room of librarians and archivists if anyone would be able to help him out with this and offered his email address. He shocked the room when he revealed that if he lost the archives, he wouldn't be that bothered. He feels the strength of This American Life comes in it's immediacy, in that it is so of the moment, of the now. The show isn't prepared with the long-term in mind at all, but how it will be and sound the night it's aired and 1.8 million people tune in.

The conference was a great experience. I got a sense for what it's like to walk around a hotel full of librarians instead of fencers. I learned a lot about a variety of topics and how to present. A number of panels or papers seemed so interesting when I read about them and added them to my schedule but then didn't really live up to the description, were too general to be very useful outside of broad conceptualizations, or were difficult to parse out (this is especially true when there are slide after slide of complicated graphs). It's really an art to get up on a stage with a PowerPoint and blast out in twenty minutes (you have to have ten left over for questions), a subject that you could have been studying for years. I'm hoping that the UW program, with all of the Pointecasting, will give me an opportunity to practice this in the coming years. What I found weird about being a student instead of a professional at a conference like this is that I kept wondering about my impact. I can't promise the vendors that we'll use their products. I really, really liked the project on staff information needs presented by the University of Regina, but it's not really something that falls under my job heading. But this has given me a lot of thought about projects I can do in the future and how I can start making little changes in the bit of the library when I can make an impact.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

ACRL - Post the Second

Friday night's keynote speaker was Sherman Alexie. I don't think I can even begin to summarize how wonderful he was. It's hard to take someone who is so about words, so deep in words and who has such a command of words ,and try to replicate them yourself in words. Suffice to say, he's a brilliant speaker, jumping between traditional speechy bits, poetry He spoke a lot about perceptions - how people look at librarians and have a certain set of beliefs, just as they look at Native Americans and have another set as well. He's a bit rambling as a speaker, punctuating ideas with poems and other asides. He's fluid, self-deprecating, and hilarious. I didn't take notes (this is not the sort of thing you could really write down), but the one bit that really stood out for me is when he answered a question about why he lives in Seattle. He said he loved a nomad woman (her family moved around a lot). He met his wife in Spokane and she couldn't stand living there. She would only marry him on the condition that they wouldn't live in Spokane. He got to choose out of a select list of cities where she would live and he picked Seattle. She got him to Seattle, but he was keeping her there.

On Saturday I went to a number of really good sessions. The first was a presentation by the library and IT staff at Bowdoin college on how they fostered communication and collaboration between the two departments. They took a very chill, almost friendly approach. The two groups spent a lot of time just getting to know each other and learning how to communicate with each other. The two departments have very different cultures and ways of working together, so it was essential that they take the time learn about each other so one culture wouldn't be "superior" and alienate the other. It was sort of a "touch-feely" approach, but they've been so successful in developing projects and aligning their goals that you have to think that this is certainly worth a shot (worse case scenario, you just wind up having a lot of group lunches!).

After that was a fascinating look at the OhioLINK collection analysis project. Working with OCLC Research, the consorta analyzed their monograph holdings with a view towards using this data to encourage collaboarative collection development in the future. By presenting clear data on how many copies the system has and how often they circulate, they hope to reduce unncesssary duplication and to encourage a diverse collection. Also in these tough economic times, if you can get away with not purchasing a title in favor of another, that's worth it. The conference got the first look at a wealth of data, which was presented in a very clear and coherant way (a true skill, I'm starting to realize). They took the holdings from each library, collected it onto single OCLC records (to facilitate analysis). Data for collections were broken down in really interesting way. Universities often wanted to see their entire collection, then administrative units, then individual branches, and even unique collections within branches! This clearly took a lot of effort, but I think it presented a really rich picture of the individual holdings in a instiution.

Two ideas stood out for me in this presentation. The first was how the collections spread out around subject. Law seemed to be the most heavily duplicated subject (due to accreditation requirements - each library is required to have the same set titles). Computer Science, perhaps not surprisingly, had a ridcidulous obsolescence rate. Titles in that subject need to be immediately cataloged and get out on the shelf, since they will be used the most when they're new and then checkouts gradually fade away. The second concept was the most surprising. I did learn in LIS 500 that 80 percent of your checkouts come from 20 percent of your collection (there is a core collection of the most popular or pertient items, which certainly shifts and changes over time). However, the analysis done here suggested that 80 percent of the checkout came from only 6 percent of the collection. The group will look at language (they noted that most foreign checkouts not in Spanish could be attributed to the foreign language departments of universities who use the same materials over and over), age of items, and will also look at publisher type to see if a suggestive pattern emerges.

A less enlightening statitical lecture focused on the recent ALA-LSSCP email survey. I thought the presentation would focus more on the actual proficiencies thatthe certification will require or sees as necessary in the library world. Rather it was a lightening fast array of charts, numbers, and more charts. The data was pretty rich, but rather complex and I'm not sure I walked away with a real understanding of anything (other than there are different skill sets in public and academic libraries, but that wasn't all that surprising). However, I did note the idea that support staff, in this survey, tended to give a higher value of importance to their tasks than MLIS staff or library directors. Why is there this break in perception? Clearly staff workers are proud of the work that they do. But why isn't that perception shared? Should it be shared?

Okay, this post is already overdue and already too long. More later (since Ira Glass is about to come on!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

ACRL - Post the First

Yesterday afternoon, Bonnie and I arrived in surprisingly sunny Seattle. We're at a small hotel within walking distance of the convention center and a Top Pot. Delish! After checking in and sorting our emails and other work stuff (I handed in the first of two final assignments), we went off in search of food. We stopped by the ACRL of Oregon happy hour, but the place was packed. We then wandered to the College Inn, one of my favorite places in the city (second only to Mary Gates Hall in terms of where I've spend the most time!). We joined the iAlumni group in the back and I had a lovely chat with a woman at the iSchool who work for Alumni relations/development. We chatted a bit about the recent announcement that the residency requirement will be removed from the program and she assured me that this was not a decision taken lightly, and in fact has been in discussion for at least two years. This makes me feel more confident about the decision, but I will still miss the opportunity to travel northwards to meet up with my cohort and other online students.

This morning, after breakfast at the aforementioned Top Pot, we headed to the convention center to check in. A snazzy tote bag and coffee mug were obtained (and the former is being progressively filled with fliers and pens!). I wandered around the exhibition hall and checked out some new microfilm/fiche readers and scanners and the dizzying array of vendors. It's a bit weird to walk around an exhibit hall like that knowing that you really have no say over budget lines (or real concern for budget lines). Everything appears shiny and amazing without a price tag.

After the exhibit hall, I headed out to the lectures. I caught the end of a discussion on information literacy, which I really hope will be posted online. However, I did see Campus Disconnect: Academic Libraries and the Information Needs, Skills, and Behaviors of Non-teaching University Staff, presented by Cara Bradley of the University of Regina. She undertook a survey of staff on campus (distinct from faculty and students) to try to understand why they did or did not use the library and how better to attract and serve this potential users and advocates. The difference in needs from the students was particularly noteworthy - instead of looking for what is cheap and fast (typically the undergraduate focus), staff members wanted materials that were accurate and current. Staff members want assistance with evidence-based decision making, locating the best data possible, and stress reduction. Bradley gave an example of how a staff member related how he spent 6 hours on the phone to locate data. Bradley went back to her desk and located the same data in 15 minutes! Since at my library we really do need a new space, it would be wonderful to pull more staff members into the library to not only assist them in their work, but to really make them see just what a valuable resource we are to the entirety of the university community.

Something I didn't expect from this lecture was how useful the comments and question portion would be. Many librarians who have undertaken similar projects or outreach efforts related some of their solutions and strategies, many of which I scribbled down. A conference is of course intended as a place to share information and ideas, but I guess I didn't realize the ideas would be so practical or audience-generated.

After lunch, I attended a session on E-books, where the presenters (Andrew Revell and Aaron Shrimplin from Miami University Library in Oxford, Ohio) spoke on their research regarding user perceptions of the format. They utilized Q methodology, which is a fascinating mixed-method approach. What I took away from this lecture was the realization that out of their 4 generated viewpoints, 3 contained the idea that people do not like reading off of a computer screen. It will be interesting to see how readers like the new Kindle will impact this opinion, but I think it will have to come down substantially in price before we see a larger user base.

Up next is Sherman Alexie's keynote, which I've been looking forward to since I registered.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ACRL - Preconferencing

Tonight I'm tying together the last bits of final projects (oh, purposive sampling, how you vex me!) and avoiding the empty suitcase on the floor that should be filled up with clothes for the trip to Seattle tomorrow. I should probably also do practical things like get together snacks for the road trip, gather up extra business cards and think of a classy way to store them other than banded in my pocket, and then locate and pack away my conference schedule so I won't forget it.

Or maybe I'll update my blog.

At least my iPod is fully charged and full loaded?

I am nervous about what is essentially my first professional conference. There's a lot going on, both in terms of the actual presentations and the socializing and networking in the evenings. There's the desire not to miss anything fighting against the anxiety that it will be all too much to take in. There are a number of programs that look like they could be really valuable (on topics like student workers, tagging, the role of support staff), but do I want to sit back and take it all in or be the crazy girl furiously scribbling notes. I used to be an inveterate note taker, but I'm relaxing more of late. Or maybe my handwriting has simply deteriorated too far.

The sensible thing would be to go to the first time attendees introduction, but there's something almost too organized about that for my taste. Maybe I will just have to quiz my ride (an experienced professional) and maybe compose an entry on this very topic in the future.

But right now I really need to pack something.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Clearing Out

The new rule in our two-bedroom apartment is that if you bring stuff in, you must remove an equal amount of stuff. Our apartment has a ton of closet space, which we immediately filled up with boxes randomly tossed together with all the bits and pieces that comes from moving rapidly from one coast to the other and then jumping straight into work and finishing a grad program. Through the years we've cleared out the boxes that AK simply tipped his office drawers into and recently I cleared out all my old notebooks and crap from Vassar. But slowly the entropy builds and the floor of the office becomes obscured by papers, fencing equipment, and the detritus of life. And yes, I am panicking about the Great Sibling Visitation 2009 and how my apartment will appear for the first visitors from my family. I come from a family that deep cleans twice a year, vacuums every day, and cleans out closets and cars as a pleasant Sunday activity. My years with an art major who is naturally messy has tempered this impulse (though I think it's telling that I'm seriously considering cataloging and organizing information as a profession).

Today AK and I worked on clearing out our respective office space (mine is a corner of the bedroom and his is the guest room). We recycled more paper than I thought imaginable. We're both such pack rats when it comes to documents. I can't bear to let go of photocopied readings and he has probably two dozen partially filled notebooks, each with scraps of story ideas or fencing progressions. Now the office closet looks like a storage space instead of a pit and I can find my notes from the quarter (key for revising and doing finals). There's something so soothing about cleared space, neatly stacked boxes and alphabetized items. Tidy room, tidy mind?

But maybe this entry is just more procrastination/distraction from the end of the quarter. Only two more projects to go, both of which are well-under control. I think.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


When I applied for my current job over three years ago (how did that happen??), I was uncertain that I could take to a job whose schedule is primarily Tuesday through Saturday. I soon learned to embrace the brilliance of shopping and running errands early on Monday mornings and spending the Sabbath as I think was originally intended, essentially curled up in bed with novels and without worrying about work the next day. I love being virtually alone in our apartment complex on Monday mornings - the same feeling of mischievous quietude that filled the dorms where I lived during Fall and Summer breaks. There's something just so pleasing about knowing that you're by yourself in a space meant to house so many others. It's almost bested by the frisson of surprise that courses down your spine when you do run into someone else (tinted pink by embarrassment if you've been singing Guster at the top of your lungs before you turned that corner).

Because of Spring Break (whoooooo!) and the brilliant comping of time for ACRL, I not only find myself off on a Saturday morning, but on a Saturday morning that begins a three-day weekend. I had originally planned to wake up with AK and join him at his Vancouver class, but the idea of finishing a novel for the first time in two months while drinking fresh coffee in a silent (if somewhat messy) apartment was too good to pass up. He'll forgive me if we can manage to get into a showing of Watchmen tonight.

It's not a decadent and leisurely a day as I would like - I keep forgetting that the quarter isn't yet over. So the rest of today will feature coding and grounded theory homework and finishing the draft of a final project, but I am still determined to fit in both a run and a hot bath. A few hours to myself - in the tub, on the road, at my desk - is the sort of treat I allow myself lately. Not that I was a bit spender before the economy decided to start tanking (the box set of Little Britain was completely justified, though). I just like having space of my very own, space to fill with my own stuff and my own thoughts and my own ITunes and my own empty mugs. I'm not sure if it's nature or nuture - am I predisposed to this from my genes or from having shared a womb/room with a twin sister?

This is cleary something that should be contemplated in the tub.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Playlist for an Impromptu Evening Run

Warm Up
Celebrity Skin - Hole

The Drama You've Been Craving - Sleater-Kinney

Turn the Corner
Shh - Frou Frou

Coasting Home
What Went Wrong (In Your Head) - Supergrass


In order to thank my work for helping out with the cost of ACRL in Seattle and allowing me to travel north (for what will be probably the second of five trips this year), I'm planning on creating a series of entries on my experience. This is my first professional conference, so expect a few "OMG, I got completely lost among the vendors" posts along with some reviews of lectures and other events (like Sherman Alexie!!). I am now extremely excited about this trip. Just have to hope that the wifi holds out.

This is also a reminder to update my UW site. Mrp.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Day of Rest

When I was a child, Sunday was the most fraught day of the week. We were up early and out in the dark morning to get to mass, where I would fight to stay awake during the homily. True, breakfast was excellent (made by my father or eaten at a diner), but after that you faced a long dark afternoon of golf on the TV or homework ignored since Friday.

Sunday is now the beginning of my weekend and the day when all my homework is due. I'm awake by 8, alternatively typing and scrubbing the apartment by 9, and usually ready to turn it all in by 3 or so. Nothing is better than being able to stay curled up in bed while turning in homework. No running around trying to locate a printer or tracking down a drop box for a professor. Few things in life are more satisfying than that that sweet little green checkmark indicating that you've made it in under the wire.

This Sunday I'm finishing one of my final five assignments for the quarter (infinitely less exciting that the BSG Final Five, but more useful in a library setting). It's still difficult to grasp that assignments and final projects do not have to be tense affairs with last minute Herculean trials and panic attacks. My mother noticed that my sister always did better in school during the volleyball season. There was something about the rigour of practices and games that made Kate focus up and plan things out. After the final game she would sink back into her old lethargy. Work and school might be producing the same effect for me. Or maybe I'm just older. I really hope it's not just because I'm older.

Last Sunday was infinitely more exciting than today. I finished my search assignment while watching an excellent and bizzare documentary on Henry Darger. He's billed as one of the big names in outsider art, but I think the documentary clearly shows that he never really thought of himself as an artist. He was creating his only world for sanity (though I suppose that can be an artistic drive as well). The conditions he grew up in - the poverty and the ignorant treatment of what was probably a very excitable and very intelligent young man - was appalling. Though I have to say I'm sure that the same conditions exist somewhere else today in the world. Reading authors like Dickens really builds up an appreciation for what childhood does for human in general, artists in particular. What if John Dickens had remained solvent? Would his son still have that drive, that never sated need to move and move? The Darger film made me think about my relation to Catholicism as well. Darger was as devout a Catholic as you could get - a continual presence at Mass, lead a chaste and humble life. His appeal to God for the return of a photo clipped from a newspaper and his belief that he was being punished when it didn't return reminded me of myself as a child. His devotion, his confidence in Heaven was that simple - not simplistic, but rather uncomplicated and true. As an adult with a liberal education and agnostic view on life, it's hard for me to imagine what that must be like. An 8 year-old girl to praying and fearing and believing with that level of intensity - that I can grasp. A 60 year-old man doing the same? That's somehow harder for me to wrap my head around and I can't help but think it's my fault.