Public Library 101

Being underemployed means that, yes, I have a lot of free time. Most of which is split between two places in town: Nature’s Grocer (this place is everything) and the public library.

In the years I was in Boston, the Rockville Public Library was beautifully redone. And bravo to whomever coordinated the endeavor, especially since the place really needed some love. Now I very much enjoy spending time there. Although, I’m not thrilled with the book selection; I’ve had to ILL quite a few books (a service which should never be on the budget chopping block). But I understand that, when it comes to ordering books for the collection, you have to make choices and you have to make sacrifices. There is only so much space and so much money.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in libraries, having worked at the Warehouse Point library for a number of years. And, fairly universally, I have a few library pet peeves. For instance, why bother even wearing headphones if your music is going to be so loud that I can hear it from across the room? Or why certain librarians feel the need to talk so loudly. Your office area isn’t soundproof. Then there are the books themselves.

You know that scene in the Sex and the City movie when Carrie and Big are in bed and Carrie sniffs the library book?

Carriebooksmell

That one? First of all, I don’t believe that Carrie Bradshaw even has a library book because, frankly, she’s the kind of girl who probably finds public bus travel icky (remember the episode with the Hampton Jitney? Or the bus home from Atlantic City?) and has never spent time with any book that wasn’t one of her own.

Rory Gilmore, on the other hand, I totally believe spends lots of time smelling library books.

Rorybooksmell

But no! Gross! Sorry. I’m not a germaphobe, but I am not sticking my nose in a library book. Are you kidding me? Ok, ‘mmmmmmmmm book smell.’ But I don’t need to get my face that close to enjoy it.

I was working at the Warehouse Point library when Fifty Shades of Grey came out, and got a little grossed out every time someone returned it. It’s not that it came back in poor condition, I just didn’t know, nor did I want to know, where it had been. And I feel that way with every library book, really. I know the majority of people who take books out are normal and treat the books respectfully and aren’t sneezing on them or dropping them in the toilet. But, still, sometimes I twinge just a little when I take a book out. (The best part of being a librarian was that I could take the new releases home before anyone else. Mwahahahahaha.) The paperbacks are the worst.

Inevitably, books degrade (incidentally, that’s what makes them smell so great). They’ve all had small mishaps, torn pages, or been dog-eared one too many times (WHY would you do that to a library book? It’s not yours! There’s a thing called a bookmark! Your library probably has plenty!). But paperbacks seem to get the worst of it. They’ve been shoved in bags and brought to the beach and held with grimy hands. Every time I request a book from another library, I pray it isn’t a paperback. (I’ve been told there’s a way to tell if it’s a paperback or not. Something with the ISBN number? Nooooooo I can’t tell from the little picture because it’s the same regardless of the printing or edition.) I know. It’s not the end of the world if I get a paperback book, and I’ll still check it out and read it. I just need to be especially carefully when I toss it into my own bag and not think about how it came to be so worn and/or discolored.

Fortunately, most of the books I’ve gotten recently have been hardcover or barely-handled paperbacks (goes to show the kind of books I read. . .). I just don’t understand why libraries even buy paperbacks. They get wrecked faster and libraries have to replace them sooner (if at all). (I’m sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons, e.g. cost or availability.) And I know I shouldn’t complain; the library is providing a valuable public service. But, sometimes, I want to show up at the library in gloves.

readingiwthgloves

That wouldn’t be weird, right?

Important Thoughts on Columbus Day

(I have none.)

bios_christopher_columbus_portrait

Roommate: Some people consider Columbus Day to be Italian Heritage Day.

Me: I didn’t know he was Italian.

Roommate: Yeah, he was from Genoa.

Me: Mmm. . .That’s where ham comes from.

Happy Columbus Day! or Italian Heritage Day! or Indigenous People’s Day! or Day You Don’t Have to go to Work/School! or Day You Remember How Terrible Columbus Really Was! or. . .You know what, just, Happy Monday.

Alexander is Entitled to His ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

I am so very bummed out by this. I love Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day (and its proper use of punctuation) by Judith Viorst. I have fond memories of reading it as a child. I think it’s an excellent book! Most people have strong feelings about the books they loved as a child, which is why I refuse to watch the movie adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, because it is nothing like the very excellent book that my brother and I loved so very much and always wanted our dad to read to us at bedtime:

cloudy movie poster        cloudy book

Who are those people? And that monkey? What would have been perfect is if I could have beat the producers/writers to it and made an AMAZING live-action and stop-motion film out of the book. Live-action in the real world with grandpa and pancakes, and stop-motion in the land of Chew-and-Swallow. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE! . . .But nobody asked me.

Similarly, I refuse to watch the movie adaptation of Alexander, despite the fact that it stars Steve Carell, because it looks so unrelated to the book:

alexander movie            alexander book

I mean, what is this?

But, back to Troy Patterson and his attack on my childhood. First of all, the “Gentleman Scholar”‘s assessment of Alexander reads like an overworked children’s lit term paper. Ignoring that, I’m going to defend Alexander, because we all have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, as children and adults. Troy calls Alexander a “pill” and a “brat.” Relax. You’ve seen Alexander on one day, on his worst day. I’ve been called much worse (and probably so has Patterson, or, maybe he hasn’t because he’s a man and would probably be called ‘authoritative’ or ‘stressed’ or ‘determined’ or ‘assertive’. . .but I’m straying from my point) on my worst days. We’re all entitled to our bad days; when we’re misunderstood and no one seems to listen, and nothing seems to go our way, and all our misfortunes seems to pile up and pile up and pile up until we want to explode out of anger and frustration. At worst this book is indulgent. Alexander sinks deeper and deeper into his destructive, depressive mood. Except, it’s not indulgent because no one is willing to give Alexander any pity.

What I find difficult about this book, as an adult, is the ending. At the end of Alexander’s terrible day, after being shunned by even his cat, Alexander’s mom tells him, ‘Some days are like that. Even in Australia.’

What? What kind of comfort is that!? This is a little hard for me to swallow. In the end, it’s a good lesson. We all have bad days, running away from them, even as far away as Australia does no good, and you can’t let yourself wallow in them, because tomorrow is another day. We’ve all been there. It happens. But, after my bad days, I’d like a little sympathy. Even if it only comes in the form of my cat sleeping on my bed with me at the end of the day. None of this, however, qualifies Alexander to even be a contender for the worst children’s book.

When my brother and sister-in-law asked for friends and family to give books to their sons in lieu of cards, I had a difficult time choosing a few favorites. (Those boys are going to grow up with an awesome library, by the way.) Of course I went with Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsBallDragons Love TacosHarold and the Purple Crayon, No David! and another one or two I can’t remember right now. What I didn’t choose was Alexander. I considered it for quite a while, because it is one of my favorites, but I also think it’s a book for a certain age, and maybe for a certain kid (clearly, I was that kind of kid). It’s not a bedtime book for babies. It’s more of a toddler book, I supposed. When tantrums happen and the kids start to realize that ‘fairness’ is a much more difficult concept in the real world.

Now, in the name of fairness, Patterson’s article isn’t just about Alexander being “one of the worst children’s books ever” (and, ultimately, he declares The Princess and the Pea to be “the worst children’s book of all time.” I have no strong feelings about that particular story. It didn’t sink in during my childhood the way Alexander did), but about the larger issue of finding ‘good’ children’s books. There are a lot of bad children’s books. And a lot of bad children’s books have been deemed ‘classics.’ The Giving Tree may be my pick for worst children’s book of all time. That book makes me furious. You take and take and take, from boyhood into manhood and well into old age, and then, when I’m all used up, YOU SIT ON MY STUMP?!? SERIOUSLY??

giving tree cover

You, kid, are the worst. Way worse than Alexander. At least there’s hope that Alexander can learn from his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But you, kid, clearly learned nothing.

More Thoughts on Impostors

Not to be a Holden Caulfield, but, aren’t we all phonies? You have to fake it ’til you make it; if you think you can’t, you have to project that you can; be yourself, but not too much yourself; be a better version of yourself. On a job interview, a first date, a roommate interview, any situation that requires small talk, really, aren’t we all phonies?

I don’t know how to project confidence. When I talk about myself, I start listening to the words coming out of my mouth and how they sound and I start to lose my train of thought, and by the time I finish whatever it was I was saying, I have no idea if I’ve answered the question. Ugh. I’m more comfortable listening to other people than talking about myself (which makes no sense because, clearly, all I do is write about myself). It’s just something I have to get over, I know. Job interviews are a part of life as an adult. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s the business. Small talk and networking and business cards and handshakes. . .

After I published my last post about impostor syndrome, I talked with my roommate about our penchant for self-sabotage.

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Why do we self-sabotage?

You know how in middle school you learn that if you laugh at yourself, and do it before your tormenters, then it hurts less? You acknowledge your flaws and your missteps and make fun of yourself to show what a good sport you are. Ha-ha, I get it, that was dumb. Self-sabotage is the career version of laughing at yourself first.

Driving to my interview, I felt myself getting nervous. I was thinking, It’s just a job, it’s not a big deal, maybe I don’t even want this job.

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False. I want the job. I think I could be great at the job. But I start to convince myself otherwise so that when I’m informed that I’m just not the right candidate for the position, it doesn’t hurt as much. It’s not as much of a disappointment.

We self-sabotage because it’s the safe option. Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism. And particularly destructive one. It keeps us from going after what we really want. I mean really going after it, with abandon, without fear of rejection or failure or embarrassment.

Maybe this is just one of those things that comes with age. You’ll understand when you’re older. When you enter your thirties you become comfortable with who you are. Maybe. Or maybe practice makes perfect. The more interview and small talk situations I have, the better I’ll be at them and the less phony I’ll feel. Maybe. I need to aim for more Mary Tyler Moore and less Bestie Boy.

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I know there are plenty of people who don’t find these type of interactions phony. They’re naturally friendly and cheerful and can quickly think on their feet and impress people. And they’re probably the ones who get the jobs. And some of us are just better on paper.

Impostor Syndrome

On the train last night I overheard two high school girls talking about SAT scores and whether or not the schools they were looking at required the SAT subject test. Just hearing about standardized tests creates a giant pit in my stomach. According to the girls, they both have good SAT scores. And good for them. I didn’t. And that was hard for me to swallow. One of the girls was talking about going into computer programming. The other said, ‘I’d be so happy right now if I just got into college.’ I remember that feeling. I know that during high school, that’s the big goal. For some reason, I saw it as the endgame. Then what? I hadn’t considered. I didn’t have an answer. That’s part of why I went to grad school, why I didn’t think I was good at much except being a student. My consistently poor standardized test scores made me question that, though. What do you do when the thing you thought you were good at, maybe you’re not so good at?

I saw a Facebook post this week from Slate, via Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls about ‘impostor syndrome.’ I don’t like calling it a ‘syndrome’ because that makes it sound like you need to take a daily pill for it or immunotherapy. Although, a cure may require daily affirmations and active positivity. But ‘impostor syndrome’ is much more succinct than That-Feeling-You-Get-When-You’re-In-Over-Your-Head-And-Everyone-Knows-You’re-Not-Smart-Enough-To-Be-Here-Because-You-Believe-You’re-Not-Smart-Enough-To-Be-Here-And-Everyone-Can-Read-It-On-Your-Face.

I felt like an impostor for most of my time in graduate school. I didn’t feel like an impostor in college because I didn’t get into any of the schools I really wanted to. I went to a state school. A very good state school, but I felt like it was beneath me, like I should have gone to, what I had deemed, a better school. That took me down a notch, but I felt I did really well at that school. And I loved school and was good at being a student. So I decided to go to graduate school.

My undergraduate advisor told me, ‘Graduate school is for people who want to publish or teach, and you just seem like a person who enjoys reading books.’ That was a big blow. I let that one get to me. I waited a year before deciding that I really did want to, and was capable of going to graduate school. Then I bombed the GRE. I mean bombed. By typical grading standards, I failed. I cried the whole drive home thinking about it. I couldn’t bear to tell my father how poorly I did. Another blow. Then I similarly bombed the GRE subject test. BOOM. And I only applied to four schools, which, apparently, is not how you’re supposed to do it. But even after all those blows, I got into Boston College. I thought I had no shot at getting into BC. But I did. And I spent my two years there feeling like everyone knew I bombed my standardized tests and that they must have made a mistake admitting me. I had some great professors who did their best in supporting and encouraging me and making me realize that I was accepted based on my skills and merits, and I am exceptionally grateful for them. There were always times when I felt like a phony, though.

I don’t think it’s fair to say this happens to women more often than men (although I have a suspicion that’s true). Maybe women are more likely to be vocal about it, because we don’t necessarily believe that admitting weakness is, in itself, weakness. Women, like Maria Klawe, are more likely to reach out and realize that we’re not alone and that sharing our experience can not only be cathartic but helpful to others. I’m also grateful for that. it’s not just women in science and technology who feel like impostors. I think most women in most fields feel it at one point or another, or are made to feel it. Mansplaining has plenty to do with it. Being spoken down to has a lot to do with it. A lack of self-confidence and trust in ourselves has even more to do with it.

I have an interview tomorrow for a job I know I’m under-qualified for. I want to believe that I’m qualified. I want to walk in, knowing I can do this job, and do it well. At least, that’s the person I want to project. If I feel phony and like an impostor, at least I can mask it for the sake of the interview. Fake it ’til ya make it, right?