Saturday, November 30, 2002

Writing from Atlanta, which is sunny but not tremendously warmer than it was in La Crosse when I left: it's supposed to get up to 58 today. My sister Ellen, who is always cold, keeps her apartment at 78 degrees year-round, which is cozy when you first walk in, but after awhile gets suffocating. So I opened the window last night. It helped.

Ellen has a talking AFLAC duck, which which I have become enamored. (Go see--there's a nice picture. These ducks also benefit the AFLAC Cancer Center, which is neat.) His soft fur is trimmed in just precisely that uneven, fuzzy manner of a real duckling's baby feathers. When you press his nether regions (why is it you always have to sexually assault stuffed animals to get them to talk? Wait, don't answer that), he says, "Aflac...Aflac...Aaaaa-FLAAAAACK!". He is about the size of Colleen de Loon, the stuffed loon that Owen gave me, so we've been making a comedy routine out of their companionship. "Ellen, Aflac Duck tells me he and Colleen traveled to the top of your entertainment center while we were out today, just to see the view. Do you want me to tell them this isn't allowed?" "Well, yes...he knows he's not supposed to do that, he just didn't think you'd tell me." "What should they do instead?" "The view from the deck is nice, but they'd have to ask us first so we can let them out the patio doors." "Okay, I'll let them know." *sigh* Who knew, so early in her young life, that I'd have to deal with Colleen's dating...

By the way, are all my readers aware that I am fully cognizant that neither Colleen nor Aflac Duck are real? Yes? Good. Just wanted to get that straight.

We had a really nice Thanksgiving. The turkey was delicious, and Ellen made a huge variety of accompaniments--cornbread muffins, two different kinds of vegetables, artichoke casserole, yams, cranberry sauce, pickles/olives, mashed potatoes, two kinds of gravy, and stuffing. She invited over a friend, who is going to school in Atlanta and is very far from home, and we all had a great time stuffing ourselves. Then Mom's friend Barbara and her husband came over, bringing the most delicious cranberry streusel pie and vanilla ice cream, and we shoveled in even more.

More updates soon. It really is very nice to have my own room in Ellen's condo, complete with brand-new computer and Internet access, so I can check e-mail at will.

Monday, November 25, 2002

I was thinking tonight about information. There are several metaphors for information that are apropos for me as a librarian: I navigate information waters, I breath (or eat?) information, I weave it or fish for it. Then there's that ubiquitous cry of the copyright-ignorant: Information wants to be free!. Conjures up images of Nelson Mandela, doesn't it? (Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope is famous for his correction to that saying: "Information doesn't want to be free; information wants to be bundled up and sold for $12.95 at a store near you.")

All people really mean is that it's hard to keep strict ownership of information. This is because information, once committed to some storage medium (ink on paper, magnetic traces on a computer disk, the brain of someone who views or hears it), is easily transmitted away from its originator or recorder, possibly to be incorporated into some new work or process. This was true even before the digital revolution. Think about how easily you can mail a photocopy of a book page to someone around the world. Or even, for that matter, your handwritten notes taken as you read the book.

Information doesn't really want anything. But those of us who love it, like to ascribe feelings and needs to it. (Aren't we cute? Yeah, I know. There are library geeks just like there are computer geeks...and I may be both.) Tonight, I was looking for five discrete pieces of information, answers to questions that came up this weekend at Bardic Madness South. I was highly motivated to find them, and my searching resembled navigation, breathing, eating, weaving, fishing, and probably a lot of other verbs. As proof of how deeply into my search I was, I didn't even notice that one of those horribly boring new sitcoms was on CBS.

I found all five. One of them I found just a moment ago, while cleaning up the open browser windows from the search; I noticed one more crumb of information, leapt on it, and it took off with me hanging on. (If you'll allow me to frappe a couple of metaphors together.) After a short and creative negotiation with the Internet, each answer seemed to leap to meet me. The thrill was enormous. Why do people do drugs when they could be reference librarians? I got up, did my equivalent of the victory dance, and then hissed to no one, "Information doesn't want to be free, it wants to be...found."

That's my thought for the evening.

Bardic Madness South was an incredible amount of fun. I observed as the Bardic Cohort (I'm not currently calling it a cabal, and won't until it begins to irritate me again) took over and enlivened an event which, last year, struck me as an oddly quiet version of Bardic Madness. I daresay such things as the bardic activities at Pennsic this summer, the twin Laurelings that made us so happy, and the wonderful time at the Known World Bardic/Cooks event are responsible for this bardic explosion. We can no longer simply say, "It's the's the Northshielders...". It's not. It's all of us. It's all the talent and heart of the Sons of the Dragon, and it works.

I participated in three challenges (the blazon-your-device, the Period Piece, and Bard-Scribe-Illuminator). One thing I noticed is the enthusiastic patronage: I gave my normal Bardic Flashlights as patron for the blazon-your-device challenge, and when I had read my entry (well, I wrote the thing like ten months ago, I might as well use it), I couldn't believe the sheer number of tokens thrust at me. Throughout the day, I received: pieces of homemade candy in a tiny red silk bag with a note saying, "Your efforts have inspired me", pewter rosettes that turned out to have been made at the metalwork event last weekend in Caer Anterth in the Northshield, necklaces of several different types, a hematite ring, two small handcast pewter figurines of ladies in sideless surcoats, cookies, and a real egg, drained, filled with hematite cabochons, sealed with tape, and painted gold. (That last was from the same lady who draped a pearl and garnet necklace over my head at the event in Skerrstrand in June, while apologizing that she had nothing of more value to give me. This is a woman who knows how to do tokens right! Also obviously a very wealthy woman. But I digress...) No one need worry: Pentamere is down with the token thing.

Dahrien made the lucky mistake of assuming his wife made the whitework capitals on our Bard/Scribe/Illuminator entry. To have my work mistaken for that of a calligraphy/illumination Laurel (especially that particular C&I Laurel), even by someone who claims he is not knowledgeable in that area, is pretty neat. He got a big hug for that one.

The scroll itself turned out great, something I can't take much credit for: Mysie wrote a lovely song; she taught the tune to me, laid out the scroll and did the calligraphy, then let me do some fairly harmless leaves/vines and four whitework letters in gold/blue/red before she added a lovely miniature. We sang it together, in harmony, during the challenge. Queen Fina wanted to see it, then exclaimed, "Eliane, I didn't know you did C&I...". That's when I remembered that She herself does C&I, and started to quaver a little. She seemed impressed. I later heard from Mysie a quote that makes me quaver even more: apparently Fina told her that I scare her. My reaction: I WHAT? Scare the Queen? Yes, apparently I scare her because (and I quote from Mysie) I do so many different things, and I do them all so well.

Wow. There can be no real reaction to that, besides (brief) fantasies of entering A&S just for the chance of hearing the Queen tell me in person, "Eliane, you scare me...that's excellent work." Sigh...

The post-revel was amazing. (I don't believe I've been to a Bardic Madness post-revel that wasn't amazing.) We were all cuddled around one of those fake campfires with the polyester flames lit by an orange light and blown around by a tiny fan, in the autocrat's basement. I had a good conversation with a very tired Cerian, about his experiences as Provost of the last few Bardic Madness South events. When I got cold, a very cute Ealdormerean allowed me to lean against him, for what turned out to be most of the evening. (Hey. I get cold easily.)

Singing "Three Words" at the post-revel was interesting: I had grown used to the feeling of hearing Northshield sing it with me. This time, there was respectful silence: though some in the room had heard it once or even a few times before, none came from an area that encouraged singing along. So, I sang and Flori (bless her) sang along quietly by way of support. As I went into the second chorus I happened to glance at John Inchingham, who had not heard the piece before. He was dancing in his seat; his eyes were closed, and there was this inscrutable smile on his face. When he opened them, I think I saw respect. That was worth driving ten hours for.

Not that the driving was a problem. I had some good, fun conversations with Heinrich, Chandler, Mysie, and Dahrien. It was really nice to drive only the La Crosse/Milwaukee leg of the trip, especially when the snow hit only between Chicago and Milwaukee (it conveniently disappeared as we arrived in Milwaukee itself, and was not seen again). There were some tense moments, a lot of cars in ditches, but Dahrien is an excellent driver and I'd trust him to the ends of the earth.

I'll tell you, I'm definitely looking forward to Bardic Madness, not just as Provost, but as an attendee! Cerian tells me that he has been more stressed out over the course of his tenure; he thinks it's because as he gets the basics pretty much down, he worries more about the more complex and intangible aspects of the event, and how to make them go well, too. If that ends up being true for me, I had better do my best to enjoy Bardic Madness Lucky Number XIII, my first as Provost.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I had a weird dream last night, that I had been diagnosed with cancer. Not sure what kind, but it was one of those systemic ones, lymphoma or something. In the dream, I was in that twilight period when you have had a diagnosis but have not yet had the follow-up appointment to plan treatment and find out what your prognosis is. I was spending time at a medical center (I don't know which--it was just a generic medical center lobby). My family had pretty much taken over, which is odd because a) they live elsewhere, so they probably wouldn't be there quite so immediately after a diagnosis, and b) I don't think they're the type to barge in and take over someone else's medical care.

The situation in the dream was that there was some sort of cancer support group party in the medical center lobby, and my mom thought it was really important that I attend, so I was there for a good part of the day. At a certain point I realized that I had missed the doctor's appointment to try to work out treatment plans. I started panicking, and went over to the phone to try to call up to the doctor's office to re-schedule, but my parents were adamant that I should stay at the party and not worry, the decisions would be made for me. Just as I started to yell at them that my treatment decisions should be my own, my alarm went off and I woke up.

Of course, I hit the snooze button (I am a real snooze button afficionado); though I didn't go back to the dream, I lay thinking in that kind of wide-ranging way people will when they are technically asleep, but thinking rather than dreaming. I thought of what I would say to my family if they tried to assume responsibility for my treatment decisions. I thought of all the research I would do and how it might feel different finding/reading the material for myself, not for someone else's reference question. (After all, finding health information is my job.) I thought of the ways having such a disease would change my life and priorities: would I quit my job? Move back to Madison for treatment, or stay here? Quit going to SCA events (or, only go to SCA events)?

Luckily, after the normal 6 minute lag, the alarm went off again, and I emerged from this line of thinking. I'll admit that it was interesting to dream/imagine that I was facing cancer, but although I remember feeling worried and upset, I don't think my reaction was totally realistic. For one thing, I don't remember having the invasive and painful testing/biopsies/etc. that I almost certainly would have had to go through for such a diagnosis. I also don't remember having any symptoms--in fact, I remember thinking, "this is the last time I'll feel healthy for a long time". Also, I remember that I actually felt sort of like I was embarking on an adventure, something new in life that I would be able to experience, something to provide a change. While I might feel that way if I were diagnosed with cancer, I doubt it would be my predominant emotion!

Maybe this dream was simply trying to tell me that I need a change in my life...?

Tomorrow: leaving for Bardic Madness South. The trip will be a multi-stage affair: I'll drive to Madison and get Chandler and Heinrich, we'll drive to Milwaukee and transfer into Dahrien & Mysie's van, then proceed on to Michigan. Should be an excellent event--lots of folks I met at the Known World Bards/Cooks event in October, plus musicians and such from some of the northern Illinois/Indiana groups. Not to mention the trip. Long trips with friends are the whipped cream of life.

Monday, November 18, 2002

There's a new SCA-related news website, SCAToday, set up like a news feed--it's even something that can be set up to feed headlines to your personal webpage. I don't think I'll be going that far, but I'll put it in my bookmarks and re-visit. There's something neat about seeing news snippets from all over the world. I notice Their Royal Highnesses of the Midrealm, Pieter and Nan, have announced Their winter/spring schedule. First I'd heard of it. Hmmm...guess it's back to the status quo; the current reign is the first and last time us Northshielders will find out anything about Midrealm Royalty without having to seek it out, huh? That's all right--soon we won't need to know anything about Midrealm Royalty at all. *smile*

Relaxing weekend: Friday night I went to a concert of the early music group at St. Olaf, which was very well-done. The theme was music from Antwerp. Who knew Antwerp was such a musical town in period? There were a couple of SCA members from the local college group who were taking part, but I couldn't tell which ones they were. The director and one student played the cornett, which I had never seen before in person; when I heard it, I instantly remembered recordings where I had heard just that same sound.

I proceeded on to Colin & Charissa's place in St. Paul, where I got their entire gorgeous attic room to myself. This is a spacious vaulted room, painted white, with a hardwood floor and something ridiculous like ten windows, two of them set skylight-style (well, large-skylight-style) into the ceiling. It was cozy warm, quiet, and I think the mattress they put out for me to sleep on was exactly the same model I have on my bed at home. I curled up under my opened sleeping bag, kissed Colleen (my stuffed loon), and slept like a baby. I mean really: having cool friends is a very wonderful thing, but having cool friends with a magically beautiful spare room that they'll let you stay in, that's priceless.

We got in maybe 2 1/2 hours of choir rehearsal. (Someone brought the Nordskogen Baronial Cornett, which made me do a double-take when I saw it. I got to hear three different cornetts played in the space of 24 hours!) We had been going to make some recordings for Christian's fundraising CD, but Christian himself went to a dance workshop and wasn't seen again until evening, so it didn't happen. Instead, we hung out together all afternoon, some of us napping, some of us talking politics, or SCA stuff, and some of us just nibbling at the meringues I'd brought and being comfy. At the end of the day I realized how little we'd gotten done, and then I realized how warmly I'll look back on that time years down the road, and I didn't regret it at all.

We went to a Chinese restaurant, then most of the company went next door to see the new Harry Potter movie. Not being a fan, I arranged to go home with Rosanore, who had seen the movie the night before with her daughter. She and I hung out for a few hours and looked at photos from her trip to London this summer. Then the moviegoers stopped by to drop off her daughter/pick me up, and we were back to Colin and Charissa's for an evening of hanging out in the attic. I thought it was going to be a bardic circle, but it ended up being mostly talking, though I did sing some stuff with Eve, who has a lot of musicality. Oh well--get Owen and Christian together, and what you really have is the planning of the future of the Kingdom of Northshield, not just some workaday bardic circle...!

We did get some talking done about Bardic Madness, and planned what I'm going to do for Christian's CD: tentatively, Three Words and Notte a Palermo. We'll see when we get around to recording those. The former does need an accompanist on dumbek or bodhran; the more people you have to coordinate to get a recording together, the less likely it's going to get done in a timely fashion...!

What treasures are my friends. I had had a terrible week and they spent a weekend listening to, singing with, and generally accepting me. They can't solve my problems, but they keep a lightness in my life that I might have completely lost by now if it weren't for them. Thanksgiving's coming up and of course I'll be glad that we're all together (My folks and I are flying down to Atlanta to be with Ellen), but after that I won't forget to say how thankful I am for my friends, SCA and otherwise.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

I'm not one of those obsessive comics fans, but I know what I like. The newest thing I like is Scary Go Round, an episodic, sardonic, yet kinda sweet strip about a bunch of English college kids getting into all sorts of trouble. The latest episode, Meddling, has adorable but scroungy hunk Ryan missing his friend, cute dead redhead Shelley, on Halloween. A weird old man sits down with him at a bar, describes a relationship he used to have with a librarian, then surprisingly offers to bring Shelley back from the dead! And by golly, he does. You'll just have to take it from there and find out what happens (here's the link to the current story again).

My favorite scene is when Ryan, confused by having his friend...well...sorta back, offers her a straw so she can slurp his brains while he sleeps, in case that's how she gets sustenance. The last panel shows her hugging his sleeping body in the dark, her eyes blank and grey, but definitely worried. Is she thinking? Do zombies think? Do they sleep? Is she worried she might actually eat his brains? Is she afraid to be back? Is she worried someone or something will notice she's missing and come for her? We don't know--she doesn't talk in her undead state. Poor Shelley.

Here's the complete cast. I think Ryan's a hunk. Tessa and Rachel are fun too--their dialogue is the quirkiest of all. They're featured in the first storyline, Gas.

Darn, I just saw on the news that the Rochester Repertory Theater is doing Pippin starting tomorrow night. I guess I could hit that on the way to the Twin Cities for the Northshield Choir rehearsal, but I was going to go to an early music concert at St. Olaf instead...hmmm...I'll have to think about it. I loooooove Pippin...

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Tonight I sat down and tried to write a poem about something I've been thinking of writing about for a long time, and totally missed the mark. It takes a complex situation with no tidy end in sight, and wraps it up way too neat and clean in the end. The end isn't exactly a lie, it's just a little too satisfied with half a solution.

My problem may have been that I wrote a sonnet. I like shortish forms like sonnets--I haven't yet learned how to shape the whole of a long work so that it's consistent, well-paced, and doesn't have blank spots with no content just to fill out the form. Sonnets just about fit my attention span. Unfortunately, as I knew before and discovered all over again tonight, some topics are too big for short forms. You end up speaking in abstractions, ignoring the meaty details that give life to writing, and wrapping up too soon and too neatly, just for the sake of the form. That's wrong. Form is a tool; it has to follow meaning, or the piece is a frozen, unrealistic sham.

Not that I want to throw out form altogether--especially not in the context of the SCA, where I want to use forms that are documentable to pre-1600. Maybe I just need to start to learn how to write longer forms. I don't think any one work of any length is going to solve or sum up the situation that led me to write the sonnet, but at least it should attempt to tell the story truthfully and not paint it as smaller or more-easily-solved than it really is, simply because the sonnet form demands it.

Anyway...the event this weekend (Stellar University of the Northshield, or SUN) was nice. My kumihimo class went VERY well--7 people attended, including an acquaintance with a Japanese persona, and each went away with a kit they could continue to practice on, show to friends, etc. I wound down after the class by spending a couple of hours (one in a class, one relaxing with a friend in the hallway) assembling kits from the remaining bobbins/looms that didn't get used in class. This turned out to be a good idea, since people kept coming up to me later in the day to say they couldn't make the class, but wanted to find out more about kumihimo. So, I'd give them an assembled kit with a handout, then show them personally how to do the stitch.

I did save one kit to give to the event provost, though when I handed it to her, she wasn't at liberty to stop what she was doing and find out how to do it. In the end, it didn't matter because I saw her at Court, sitting behind two people who had been in the class and were busily weaving along on their looms. She was leaning forward and watching their moves. This particular person is the Known World's only Mistress of the Laurel "in diverse arts"; I have no doubt that she was able to pick up the stitch just from watching (and if not, she's got the directions on the class handout!).

I also gave a kit to Her Excellency Astrid, Lady Heir to the throne of the Northshield, who came up with one of her retainers while I was relaxing in the hall, and asked if I would show her how to do kumihimo sometime. As luck would have it, I had a kit handy that was black with silver diamonds--about as Northshield-y as it gets. She had to hurry off, but I cornered her after Feast and showed her how to do it. She couldn't believe it was so simple. Her retainer grabbed my arm and said, "Do you have a card? How do we find you if we need more of this? It looks addictive..." I assured her my contact info was on the handout in the bag.

Her Excellency seemed really excited to have the kit. Or maybe it's just that she seems excited about everything. I don't think anyone in the Principality will forget her sitting and watching the last fights at Coronet Tourney, her small body bursting with nervous energy, bouncing up and down. Nor her tall, beefy ex-NFL-player of a husband striding up to her after he won the final bout, picking her up and swinging her so high, we thought she'd take flight. I hope neither of them ever loses that enthusiasm.

Overall, the event was nice, but I wasn't really into it. To be totally honest, I just got my period today and have spent the last week, including yesterday, not always being successful at supressing some bad PMS symptoms, mostly emotional. It meant that I would go from excitedly chattering away with friends to staring vacantly into space and trying to keep from crying, over and over again, with cycles varying from 20 minutes to an hour or so. I think I recall putting my head down on my plate before feast began, and complaining I was By the end of the meal I had talked off the ears of the nice Pelican who traveled all the way up from Indiana to teach a class on medieval medicine. She'll probably go back to Constellation saying, "Oh yes, they're very nice in the Northshield, in fact, in some cases perhaps TOO nice...!"

It all meant that even though it was an excellent event, I found it hard to enjoy. I was just edgy. I felt jealous, irritated and weirded out by things that wouldn't normally have affected me that way. During Shava's English Country Dancing class, I argued with her over variant steps, and when the ten-year-old girl I was dancing with repeatedly danced too close and stepped on my hem, I yelled that I was going to stop dancing if she did that once more--not an angry yell, sort of a laughing comedic yell, but it still wasn't a very nice thing to say to a kid. If nothing else, I should have considered how many other people that I admired were in the room watching. A person doesn't gain esteem in the eyes of others by yelling at ten-year-old girls. (The girl luckily didn't seem bothered, and sat happily next to me at Court, then wanted to teach me some Middle Eastern dancing moves after feast.)

I'm going to write off the whole weekend and pretend I wasn't an emotional wreck, and start from scratch at the next few SCA things I go to, which will be in the next two weeks--well within the hormonal envelope. And as for Boar's Head, which will fall right smack in the middle of the next PMS stage, well, I'll deal with that when it comes.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Just found a neat site selling Japanese candy and food items, among other things (warning, that link isn't really work- or child-friendly). Maybe the best thing about the entire website is the enthusiastic product descriptions, obviously written by someone who actually speaks English (though admittedly, this sort of thing is funnier when written by someone with two years of high school English from ten years ago).

I think it's so post-millenial, how fascinated we are by the bizarre inventions of the Japanese. It's okay again, even considering 9-11, to admire the products of Japan and not shop exclusively American (as if anyone can, these days). Everything's small, cute, clean, and invented for deep-seated cultural reasons we can't even begin to understand. I mean, potato-salad-flavored pretzels? Hamburger-shaped cookies with sugar sesame seeds? Mint eye drops? Dark chocolate pretzel sticks meant only for men? A cell-phone strap shaped like a string of chocolate mushrooms? And these are just on the first page (there are three). The Hello Kitty pork fried rice mix isn't until the second page.

Only those who understand my passion for weird food will realize how strongly I am salivating right now.

Let's stay with the Japanese theme for tonight's post. I am finished (at last) with preparations for my kumihimo class, which will be taught late-morning at SUN, or Stellar University of the Northshield, in Sheboygan, WI on Saturday. (For those unfamiliar, kumihimo is a Japanese cord-making technique.) My plan was to provide looms, bobbins, and floss for 18 kits: 16 for the class attendees, 1 to give away later in the day, and 1 for the event provost, who sounds really interested but can't attend the class. But I really didn't want everyone to spend most of the class cutting and winding embroidery floss (and dealing with the resulting knots and tangles). So I personally wound bobbins for 18 kits--that's 4 skeins per kit, 4 bobbins per skein, so...let me do the math, I can use the practice...288 bobbins with 1/4 skein of floss on each.

I did this while watching movies, listening to music, and even, when I woke up unusually early one morning this week and had a few minutes to spare, while reflecting on life in the quiet of the early morning. That is, while trying to wake myself up. Turns out, repetitive motion: NOT good for keeping a person awake. I only got a few bobbins done before I had to rouse myself and go start my day. ;)

This won't be my first non-bardic-related class; I taught kumihimo this spring at Skerrstrand's event, though not on this scale and I didn't have to make the kits; I also taught an eventing class at a Newcomer's Seminar a few years ago. I'm doing this for the sheer fun of it, and don't worry, I won't mislead anyone into thinking that I actually know anything whatsoever about Japan, modern or medieval. I just like doing kumihimo. It's so easy to make something gorgeous. Why this art isn't better known in the U.S., I have no idea. It seems like something I'd have loved learning in Brownies in first grade. Who knows, I might even have stayed in the Girl Scouts longer than one year if we'd done cool crafts like this.

If I am a very, very good girl and beg the right people, I also think that maybe there might be a bardic post-revel after the event. I am so ready for one of these. I miss my bardic friends, particularly so since my last event (4 weeks seems like an eternity) was the Known World Bardic/Cooks event. Now that my voice is back, I want to sing more!

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

You will never believe it:, the irreverent and always informative library 'blog by Jessamyn West (she of the recent hoo-hah over her unpleasant but illuminating experiences with Google Answers), links to one of my library humor pieces. Specifically, she honored "Top ten ways to make sure potential applicants for your library job are immediately turned off when they read you ad". Now I'm regretting not linking from each piece back to the main humor page, or even to my homepage. But, of course, smart librarian types will backtrack the URL and get to my main page.

A not-unreasonable supposition, borne out by my index.html hit statistics: they went from 15 on Tuesday to 62 today. (Yeeps! Hi, everyone.) The stats also show that "Top ten ways" has been hit 299 times today, 46 times Tuesday, and 11 times Monday (presumably Jessamyn did Tuesday's update last thing Monday night, and caught a few vigilant fans at that time). Compare this to one hit on Sunday, 4 on Saturday 4 on Friday, and on in a similar fashion back into time, all the way back to January 1996, which was when I wrote and posted the piece (although Geocities was not quite sophisticated enough to keep stats in a neat and tidy way at that point).

To those who are visiting because of that piece, I should mention that I haven't touched either the piece or its commentary since I wrote them in 1996. At the time, I had put in less than 6 months at my first full-time library job, so I was fresh out of a year-and-a-half-long job search and still pretty bitter. I had submitted 65 job applications in that time period and had received two job offers, both of which were extremely far from my home and about both of which I had some pretty serious reservations, though I finally took one, largely out of desperation. Since then, I've gone through two job searches, and seen firsthand what a combination of a better library-job-seeker's climate and a bit of experience can do: my second search I submitted 6 applications and got a job offer in my home state, and my third search, I submitted one application and got two job offers in my home state (nice trick if you can do it!).

In short, yes, I know things are better now. However, I still stand by what I wrote in "Top ten ways". Although I'm not currently actively looking for a new job (why? a: I like my current one most days, and b: I'm more focused on a particular area of librarianship, so I'm ignoring most unrelated library job postings), I still see many of the same foibles in library job advertisements. My particular area (medical librarianship) is among the highest-paid specialties in the library field, so I don't see quite so many laughable salaries in ads, and most hospital-based positions ask for AHIP membership instead of a subject master's.

Instead I continue to see salaries "DOE" or "commensurate with experience", or mention of salary left out entirely, as though the applicants are supposed to be so honored simply by the possibility of working for the organization, that they would not even think of wondering what the position pays--that would be gauche. Or ridiculously large ranges are given (this was a standard practice at my first job, where I believe the pay range for my classification was $18,500-$36,000/year. Guess where I fell).

Short deadlines have given way to no deadline at all, which apparently provides flexibility for hiring committees--they can simply wait until they get as many/as good resumes as they think appropriate, then start the review process and store the rest of the resumes that come in while the process goes ahead. (Woe to those caught in the latecomer may not get a rejection letter for six months.) The habit of offering little or no information about the job has also metamorphosed: instead of "librarian for midsized college" I now see things like "Informationist at multi-site health care system" or "knowledge management specialist, major pharmaceutical research facility", which tells you just about the same amount (not much), except that you know the people on the hiring committee will wince if you happen to use the words "library" or "librarian" during the interview.

Am I still bitter? Well, to a certain extent. I'm a curmudgeon at heart. I also have a bad habit of seeing corporate/governmental obfuscation for what it is, and occasionally indulge in exposing it. (Hey! Did you know that it was, during the '80s and '90s, official State of Wisconsin law that state agencies must spell "employee" with only two e's? Employe? It was only recently changed to allow departments to make their own decision. Some changed back; most haven't. No one has ever given me adequate justification for why our lawmakers' time and taxpayers' money was wasted on this legislation. Even if it's a legitimate variant spelling, which I believe it is, why is the State of Wisconsin in the business of legislating spelling? What are they, the Academie Francaise? Wait, I feel I'm getting off-topic here...) ;)

I can honestly say, however, that I've learned a few things since I wrote the piece. I've been involved in dozens of hiring processes since then, and written a few job ads myself. I understand that sometimes the writer of the ad is under certain constraints, in terms of how the duties/benefits/requirements of the position have shaken out, how these are supposed to be presented (or not presented), the library expertise (or lack thereof) of the people assigned to the hiring committee, and the marketing department's desired tone/design of the ad.

After all, like most other things that take place at "grown-up" jobs ;) , hiring someone is a business transaction: the organization benefits by attracting good workers who don't expect too much in pay/benefits, and the worker benefits by getting a good position with a good organization, hopefully a step up from what they had before. It really can boil down to a matter of marketing strategy. It's just too bad when even newbie professionals can see right through all the marketing strategy, and get bitter at what they see as bluster, deceit, or the de-valuing of the profession. That's all I was trying to say.

I should mention that all my opinions are mine only and don't represent my current or past employers or co-workers, so please don't bug them about this...! Anyway, for those who've read this far, thanks for visiting, and if you'd like to see more of my library humor (some curmudgeonly, some more, um, gently amused), visit my collection of short library humor pieces, which hasn't been updated in nearly two years, for which I apologize. My main hobby keeps me pretty busy these days (see also: regional website for upper Midwest, local group webpage).

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Had a nice choir rehearsal this afternoon, even nicer because I got to sleep waaaaay in before it (I was awake at 11:30, but relaxed in bed until nearly 1). I'm sure it looked odd that I arrived at rehearsal with still-wet hair, but I didn't care--it felt great to catch up on sleep.

Yes, I've been better recently about not staying up until 1 on nights when I have to be up for work at 6:30, but even so, I never do seem to get quite enough sleep. This has been a perennial problem with me: it's much easier for me to stay up late than it is to wake up early. If left to my own schedule, I stay up until 2, and sleep until noon. This does have its plusses: I am usually at my best at late night bardic circles, when some of my more normal friends are yawning and 'resting their eyes'. Also, returning from parts east (such as the east coast, or Europe), I have very little jetlag--I just stay up until it's the correct Wisconsin time to go to sleep, which then resets my clock.

But, as you might guess, it's tough to find a job (in my field, anyway) that gives me the 2 to 10 pm shift. And I don't know that I'd want to have it--I like prime time TV, restaurants serve their best menus mostly during the dinner hours, and choir rehearsals are always on weeknight evenings. So I muddle along as best I can, going to sleep just as I feel I'm in my productive part of the night, and waking up at a time that invariably a) feels too early and b) is too late (I'm an inveterate snooze button user). Who can blame me if I occasionally indulge in staying up a tad too late? And who can blame me if on the rare weekend when I'm in town, I stay up until 2 and sleep nice and late?

Anyway. After rehearsal, I went to China Buffet, then decided to go to an organ recital I had a flyer for. But where was the flyer? Tucked in my calendar. All right, where was my calendar? Checked apartment, checked car, realized I had probably left it in my locked drawer at work. Okay...where to find the info about the concert? I only knew it was by a Ukrainian organist, and was at 7:30--no idea where. I checked the Internet. Nothing. The so-called "events and entertainment" calendars for La Crosse only list things like karaoke nights, "Sesame Street Live" performances, and Gigantic! Truckload! Sales! Events! at the downtown conference center.

So I embarked on a hopeful trip to several places around town that I thought would have the same flyer on their bulletin boards. Jules' Coffee: no. The Co-op: no. I was trying to think if the other coffeehouse in town would have it, when I realized I was not far from the church where I'd gotten the flyer in the first place (the choir rehearses there) and I decided to swing by on the off chance that it was open and I could check the bulletin board. Of course when I got there, there was a crowd gathering, and I realized the concert was there. Duh. No wonder they were distributing flyers there...

The concert was good, but not the visceral, mind-bendingly loud affair I like organ concerts to be. This particular organ, or perhaps this organ in this particular space, didn't really fill the space to the extent of others I've heard. But the organist was very skillful and there was a lot of variety to the program.

After the concert, I decided to go back to Jules' for some coffee and reading (I'm partway through The Riddle and the Knight by Giles Milton, which is great, but I'll wait to review it until I'm further on). It's always interesting to see the assortment of people who gather there, too. It's a little like a coffee place on State St. in Madison, only with a smaller group of people coming in and out. (There was also a couple that I know from choir, young kids, obviously hanging out there because they both live at home and she's not old enough to go to bars...waaaay cute together. I was glad I was too far away to eavesdrop, because if I'd been close enough, I know I wouldn't have been tough enough to resist the temptation. Not a busybody by nature, but some couples are just too cute!) I had Torani vanilla syrup in my coffee, just like I used to as a treat at Espresso Royale on State St. when it was too cold to have an iced coffee. When it gets that cold, the taste of coffee with that particular vanilla syrup just makes me feel warm and comfy, I don't know why.

Even though it was a shortish day, it felt well-spent. Now: watching SNL. There is an irritating band with big afro hairdos on, but otherwise a good show. I'm about halfway through making paper bobbins of embroidery floss for my kumihimo class next Saturday at Stellar University of the Northshield. So I'll go work some more on that.

Friday, November 01, 2002

[Warning: movie spoiler follows.]

Still with me? Well, I have a bone to pick with a movie I unwisely rented tonight. I took out Leaving Las Vegas, on very scant information--basically that it starred Elisabeth Shue and Nicholas Cage, and had a drunk and a prostitute discovering love and hope in Las Vegas. Hey, sure, I said to myself. I like star-crossed lovers. I like love in the face of hopelessness and really-messed-up-ness. I'll get that.

I didn't quite know what I was getting into, obviously. Basically, the whole movie can be summed up like this: Ben is an alcoholic who is trying to drink himself to death, and Sera is a really lonely prostitute whose pimp has been murdered; they decide they love each other and then they proceed to live their lives pretty much as before. Whatever happened to the redemptive power of love? Whatever happened to courage bolstered by sudden hope? Or for that matter, whatever happened to common sense?

All this would not be such an issue if we liked the characters. Sera is really into self-defeating behaviors--aside from turning tricks, she will do anything to keep someone, anyone, near her, including splashing herself with bourbon so the man she loves will have sex with her. Her spinelessness leaves her for one second, when after catching Ben in her bed with another prostitute, she tells him to get out. Then it comes back--she searches vainly for him, then comes running when he calls her.

Ben is completely soaked in alcohol at all times in the movie, which made it really hard to tell whether the character was basically any good at all. We know he was in show business of some kind, we deduce from a repeated shot of him burning a photo of himself with a woman and child that he was married, and, well--that's it. He spends the entire movie either drunk or having DT's, with the occasional pause to tell Sera he loves her and that she must not, under any circumstances, ask him to give up drinking. While this may be an accurate portrayal of someone in the last stages of killing themselves with alcohol, it's not very conducive to good character exposition and development. Read: I couldn't see the character through the alcohol.

I should also mention that I have personal reasons for not enjoying anyone's portrayal of a drunk, in a movie or anywhere else. If I had seen this in high school, I would have had nightmares for weeks. Now, when at least I have been exposed to a few more things in life (not a lot, but a few), I'm not freaked out, I'm just really irritated at the unremitting drunkenness of a character I would have liked to be able to like, on whatever level, even a little bit. I don't enjoy it. There's no point.

And there truly wasn't any point, in the end of the movie. I didn't know how it would end; I figured there would either be some attempt (successful or not) on someone's part to dry him out, or some spectactular end would befall him: drowning in her pool after writing her a barely readable apology on a liquor store receipt, getting taken in by the police/beat to death in the drunk tank after following her into a casino where he'd been told not to return, having a heart attack or stroke while dancing flamboyantly with her down the boulevard. Knowing what he'd intended to do when he moved to Las Vegas in the first place, the end shouldn't have surprised me: he died in a motel room bed in the dark, having finally had (oh thank heavens, I guess this constitutes a happy ending) sex with Sera, and having told her once more that he loved her.

So where is the inspiration there? I guess it's like a public library reference question someone once told me they'd gotten: a woman, obviously drunk, asked to see photos of cirrhotic livers, to see if she could scare herself into finally going clean. A movie like this has only two purposes: to "tell it like it is" (that's assuming any of us want to see this portrait, which I didn't) and to act as a warning to those who may be going down a similar path (which I'm not). No beauty, no moral value, no touching scenes, no real love story, no characters you love (or love to hate, or even know).

At least 28 Days showed a character going through the various stages of deciding/not deciding/deciding again to stop drinking, with her withdrawal, rationalizations, moralizing, dismay as she watches others relapse or lose themselves, and her ultimate agreement with herself to change, and to stick with that change day-by-day, even though it meant letting go of someone she loved. Hey! Grim hope is all I ask!

Overall, I'd have to say the only good part of the movie was the sad jazz tunes crooned by Sting. I'd listen to Sting read from the phone book.

Next movie I rented: A Beautiful Mind, which someone who works in the mental health field told me is an excellent and hopeful portrayal of someone with a gradually disabling mental illness. Hmmm. I may not be up for this. We'll see--I have it out until Tuesday, so I've got some time to recover.

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