Friday, February 10, 2012


Hello, it's me.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 10:42:25
"perspiration.But I guess thats only partly right and partly modesty, declared Bill." (c) Chelsey wni63bc

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Object Lesson at the Pool Table

On the second floor of our apartment complex clubhouse is a pool table.  BB and I have gone there about half a dozen times to shoot around.  He's just learning, of course, and I'm rusty as hell, but we have fun.  It's a nice thing that just he and I have.

Tonight we headed over, and there were people already playing, a first for us.  As we walked in, one player (I think the others called him "Frank") was finishing up the table at the end of a game.  You know how they tell you never to bet against a guy who brings his own cue?  Frank had two; one for breaking, one for shooting.  In a tooled leather case.

I asked if BB and I could have the next game.  Frank, who was probably about mid-fifties, with a squint and a golf cap, gave us a little bit of a hard time, but said sure, we could jump in.  I assured him we wouldn't be long.

Frank's opponents were essentially frat boys.  Early twenties, in shorts and big shoes.  One guy had his sleeveless shirt slit down to the hem on both sides.  They ignored BB and I as we set up the rack and made our shots, but still, the kid was nervous with this many people around.  Heck, so was I.  Frank was clearly very good, and I was embarassed at my poor performance.  As the game progressed, though, he started giving BB pointers.  "Make your front hand steady.  Don't be loose."  "Too much stick between you and the ball."  He was gentle with his suggestions, not putting him down or making him feel foolish.  By the end of the game, BB was shooting better, and was more relaxed.  The frat boys mostly ignored us.

The last few shots seemed to take forever.  On my final ball, I sank the 11 and then rebounded and put the 8 in.  A loss.  Frank got quite a laugh out of that.  I thanked him for his time and advice, and so did BB

We decided to stick around and watch them play for awhile.

Frank was playing cutthroat with two frat boys at a time.  The first game, the boys never touched the table.  Frank sank a ball on the break, then proceeded to drop the other guys' balls one after another.  Break, nine shots, game over.  Every shot was precise, and he knew where the ball would be before he lined up the next one.  He had a rhythm and a smooth control that was a joy to watch.  BB was in awe.

The frat boys were grumbling. "We never get to take a shot.  Give us a chance."  Frank laughed.  He laughed a lot, in fact.  Just about every sentence he said all evening ended with a chuckle.

On the second game, he flubbed the break, so the frat boys got to try.  One had almost no skill, the other had some control, but neither could match Frank.  It wasn't long before he was back on the stick and running things again, but it was tougher with a spread table, so this game lasted a little longer.

The frat boys kept commenting.  "It's not fair!" said one, as if he were three years old.  They made offhand comments about how "lucky" Frank was.  How Frank was "cheating".  Frank kept laughing, kept bantering lightly back, and kept sinking their balls.  Click.  Click. Click.

We left after that game, and on the walk home I got to talk to BB about what he observed.  He's not played much sport, and his soccer team's discussions on sportsmanship were pretty much limited to making sure they said "Good Game" to the other guys at the end of the match.  This was a perfect opportunity to talk about losing graciously and admitting defeat.

Those boys were playing a master.  They could have been asking him how he did what he did, taking pointers and learning from him.  He was willing to show BB how he did it.  I'm sure he would have done the same for them.  Instead, they took the opportunity and made it an ugly thing.  What a shame.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

National Library Week Song

I had hoped to actually make a video of this, but there's no way it will be done by the end of the week, so I'm posting the lyrics for now.

With apologies to Tom Lehrer (and Neil Gaiman, Danielle Steel, and Hemingway, for that matter):

Oh, the e-books hate the print books

And the "snooty" books hate the "trashy" books
To insist your books are the best books
Is an old established rule

But during National Library Week
National Library Week
Danielle Steel and Hemingway
Are dancing cheek to cheek
Fiction or Biography
Makes no difference to me
I'll check your book out to you with a smile.

Oh, the poor folks and the rich folks
And those crazy middle-class folks
Are all equal at the library
It's American as apple pie!

And during National Library Week
National Library Week
It's National Everyone-Lend-a-Book-to-
One-Another-y Week
Neil Gaiman tells us all
To come and have a ball
At the library in your college, town, or school.

Oh, there's research, and there's job help
There are movies, and music CDs
All free to use at your library
Let me tell y'all the news

This week is National Library Week
National Library Week
Academics love the publics
'Cause it's very chic
Think of librarians who
Have been helpful to you.
It's only for a week, so if you please
Remember to support your libraries!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gender and YA Book Covers

Some time ago, I watched a documentary called The Codes of Gender about the portrayal of women in advertising and popular culture. I know, of course, that women are objectified all the time in commercial imagery, but it was interesting to see some of the underlying tropes that are more subtle. The film is based on the work of sociologist Erving Goffman from the late '70s.

Many examples of this phenomenon can be found. There's an excellent collection at Essentially, women are, more often than men, shown:

  • in positions that are off-balance or precarious.
  • gazing distractedly away from the viewer.
  • passively receiving action, rather than taking an active role.
  • lying down.
  • in jeopardy or threatened in some way.
This all serves to reinforce the idea that women are weak and subservient, and must be protected by men. In fact, that endangered is the same as sexy.

Once I saw the documentary, I couldn't stop seeing these images: on billboards, magazine covers, and countless other places. What really disturbed me, though, was that I started seeing them on book covers in the YA fiction section of the library.

Here are some examples. I didn't seek these out, by the way. These are just covers that I noticed in the course of my regular work over a period of several weeks.

Here we see a woman (presumably Audrey) shown with her head thrown back and to the side and her body twisted uncomfortably.  This also demonstrates another trend in commercial imagery, showing women lost in emotion.  Often this is hysterical laughter.  Again, it presents women as out of control and unprepared.
Notice how the male figure presses down on the female, placing her in a helpless position.  Her back is bent almost painfully.  If this were a photograph rather than a painting, she would need to be supported to keep from falling over.
Here the woman's legs are unnaturally splayed, and she's seated precariously on a tilted skateboard.  Another common trope demonstrated here is the headless body.  Quite often women are represented only as bodies or body parts, divorced from personhood and easier to objectify.  One way to test our reactions to these images is to imagine a man in the same position.  What would your reactions be?
All we see are the backs of this woman's legs and the serpent.  She is apparently naked and completely at the mercy of the elements.
This cover shows multiple tropes.  The woman is clearly endangered, distracted, and off-balance, and the background image is of a disembodied bare shoulder.
A queen should be capable, active, competent, and in control.  The woman on this cover appears to have none of those qualities.  She looks at the viewer, but her eyes are unfocused.  Again, her body is twisted and tilted, her head in an unnatural position.  She looks as if she could fall over at the slightest provocation.
It can be helpful to see images of males to note the contrast.  Here, the man is aggressively active.  His naked torso is muscled and strong.  His gaze is directed off-camera, but is purposeful.  Here is a person who can handle himself in any situation.  Whereas the woman on the cover of Poison Ink is running away, he is clearly running toward.
These are just a few examples. I found many more. Granted, there are covers like Behind The Mountains that do a much better job at portraying women than those above, but I had to search for quite a while to find one. I think it's worth asking publishers what they are selling, here. What is the role of young women that they are promoting?

Take a look at your library shelves.  What do you find?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Restaurant Review: Brewburger

Last night I took my family to Brewburger for the first time. We go to church right around the corner, so we knew about it, but hadn't been yet. We had a marvelous experience.

The party was my wife and I, our three kids, and my in-laws visiting from out of town. My middle son has celiac disease, so it was important that there be no wheat in his meal. The server was a little harried, as we were part of a dinner rush, but she was friendly and prompt. Our food was served on time. Orders were correct. While fries were cooking for my father-in-law, she brought him some extra sweet potato fries to tide him over. She also brought out an extra basket of fries for the kids to share.

The food itself was excellent. Portions were just right, and the options were diverse without being overwhelming. I had a Brewburger, but my mother-in-law had a fishburger, and I definitely want to come back and give it a try! Sides were great as well.

I want to especially compliment the owners on the atmosphere. It seems that every restaurant now has a TV for every four or five tables. It was refreshing to go out and not have that distraction. Please, don't put any in! I also appreciated the coloring books, cards, and other things available to keep the kids occupied. I loved the art on the walls, particularly Lydia's drawings. She and I seem to have a similar aesthetic. :-)

The only thing that surprised me was that there were no local beers available. I would have liked to have a Choc or a Marshall with my burger. I understand that Oklahoma's ridiculous liquor laws can make this difficult, but if your brand is being one of the "small fries", you should make as much effort to support other local businesses as much as you can.

Interestingly, the Brewburger website lists Choc as one of their draught beers. Wonder why there wasn't any on tap last night?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Musical Musing

I've never been very confident when talking about music. I always seem to be out of step with what everyone else thinks is good, worthwhile, or important. As an example, one of the local radio stations has recently changed to a "Generation X" format, which is all music I heard on the radio in college. A lot of it I love, but I feel like somehow it's not supposed to be "my" music. My music should be the stuff that was popular when I was in high school, the heyday of MTV. But I hated almost everything that was on MTV and contemporary radio at that time. I was listening to Kansas and Bad Company and Pink Floyd for the first time, even though their music was, by then, already "classic rock".

So I tend not to talk about what I like, other than quoting random earworms on Twitter and facebook statuses. Recently, though, I've had some angst-filled moments surrounding music and musicians, and I thought I'd share them.

I'm a huge fan of the Pandora music service. It's a great alternative to trying to load up my BlackBerry (my only MP3 player) with all the things I think I might like, or putting a bunch of CDs in the car. One of the things I decided as I've been exploring new music on Pandora was that I had to figure out why people seem to be so enthralled with The White Stripes.

In a recent documentary film, Jack White shares equal billing with The Edge from U2 and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. Obviously, somebody thinks he's important. But everything I've heard from him just felt like noise (I know, stereotypical old guy reaction) or something trying to be interesting and failing. So I plugged in a title that Rolling Stone seemed to think was significant, "Seven Nation Army" as the seed to a new Pandora station. Some of the songs by other artists sounded good to me, but there was only one White song I liked, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", and that was really about the lyrics and the sentiment behind them more than the music. If anything, I felt like what I wanted the song to be had to fight its way out from behind his singing and playing.

"So what," right? I don't like The White Stripes. Big deal. But here's the thing. I WANT to like them. I feel like, somehow, I SHOULD like them. And I dislike them, not because they don't play music I like, but because I'm missing something fundamental. I'm not getting it. Not liking The White Stripes isn't a personal choice. It's a failure.

In a similar way, I've been avoiding listening to the music of Amanda Palmer and her duo The Dresden Dolls. For those who haven't heard, Ms. Palmer has been dating the author Neil Gaiman, and they've recently become engaged. I know that Neil and Amanda collaborated on a book based on her solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, and presumably, he likes her music.

The trouble is, Neil is also close friends with the musician Stephin Merritt, and I feel the same way about his band The Magnetic Fields as I do about The White Stripes. I just don't like their music. I want to, very badly, because it seems like I should. It has many of the same elements that I like in other kinds of music, like They Might Be Giants, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to stomach it.

Somehow, all of this gets bundled up together. I like Neil Gaiman's work. In fact, I ADORE it. Sandman, American Gods, Neverwhere, Good Omens, Don't Panic... Everything he's written fits perfectly with my tastes. Because of this, my dislike of The Magnetic Fields feels like a failing or a betrayal. Again, I'm missing something. I'm too stupid or I have no taste or I have some other fundamental flaw that makes me unworthy.

So I didn't want to listen to The Dresden Dolls, because I was afraid it would be The Magnetic Fields all over again. I finally did it, though. I seeded a new Pandora station with the band's name and gave it a shot. So far, I've liked one of Amanda's solo songs, but the station is rapidly steering away from her and the Dolls toward artists I really like. Regina Spektor, in particular, who I would just about follow to the ends of the Earth.

So in the end, I'm not sure how I feel about all this. Intellectually, I know this is ridiculous. Neil doesn't know me. Even if he happens to be steered to this blog entry by Twitter and reads it, I'm sure he would just shrug his shoulders. Different people have different tastes, after all. Nobody is universally adored.

But still, deep down, I feel like I've failed as a person because I didn't click the thumbs up on a single Dresden Dolls song.

Does this kind of thing happen to anybody else?

Friday, January 15, 2010

So I say to myself, how did I get here?

I recently heard of a project called Library Routes that's asking librarians to document how they became librarians: what led them to the profession, what path they've taken, et cetera. I realized that this is a story I haven't shared here, so I thought I'd post it.

The story begins with my library heroes. When I teach the ODL "How to Think Like a Librarian" class, the icebreaker exercise includes this question. I have two. The first is my mom. She was an elementary school librarian for more than 20 years, working in public and private schools, doing storytimes, felt boards, puppet plays, bibliographic instruction... the whole package. My first experiences in libraries were summer days spent helping her. I shelf-read, processed withdrawals, sorted cards (yes, actual cards) and even inventoried A/V equipment. All for the princely sum of a can of Coke with my lunch that day. My mother was dedicated to her student patrons. She would tell me stories about their lives and how it felt to see them light up when she found the book they wanted.

My second library hero was Michael Printz. If you know his name, it's probably because of the ALA award, but I knew Mike personally. He was the librarian at my high school. He was the one who taught all of the freshman English classes how to do basic reference. It was Mike who put the Oxford English Dictionary in my hands for the first time. He was a close friend of the author Gary Paulsen, and he loaned me an ARC of Hatchet so that I could read it before it was published. He was an extraordinary librarian, with great passion and compassion for his students. Later, I learned that his heroism had another level. As an out gay man working in a Kansas high school, he endured criticism and abuse that I can't imagine. But he never let anything distract him from the real goal, connecting young people with great books.

Because of these two, I am that rare librarian who never wanted to be anything else. If you had asked me in second grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said without hesitation, "a librarian." At the time, that really meant that I wanted to work at a job where I got to read as much as I wanted. But by the time I encountered Mike, I understood that being a librarian meant helping people, answering questions, and knowing a little bit about a lot of things. These were all things that I wanted very much to do, so my path was set. When I took the ASVAB test, it told me I should be a cartographer or an archivist. Based on that, I arranged for an independent study: a 9-week internship with the head archivist of the Kansas State Historical Society. I saw amazing things in their collection, including ledgers from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad, private Super 8 film footage spanning decades of life in Lawrence, bound newspaper volumes that predated statehood, and much more. Mike's passion for oral history had led him to put in a video editing lab at the library, so my final project was a video of all the things I'd seen and done there. I still have it in my own archive.

When it came time to choose a college, it seemed logical to me to major in English. I was going to need a Masters to be a librarian, so I should just take the path of least resistance and get a Bachelor's that wouldn't be difficult for me. That led to the big detour in my library route. My advisor suggested that I get a teaching certification so I had "something to fall back on" while I was waiting to go to graduate school. This was not good advice. Believe me when I tell you that the worst possible teacher is the one who doesn't want to be there.

For three years after college, in Tribune, KS and then in Polo, MO, I taught high school and middle school English. By then I'd had more than enough. Looking back, I learned valuable things about myself and about teaching that have served me well, but I still can't help but wonder what might have happened if I'd gone a different direction.

I gained my MLIS at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. When Kim and I were looking at library schools, we realized that we were newlyweds and we could go anywhere we wanted. Returning to my northern roots (Mom grew up in Fargo, Dad in East Grand Forks, and my grandmother still lived in Chaska) seemed like a great idea to me. Of course, two years in, we had our first child and realized we were ten hours from the nearest grandparent! My library school track led me toward teen services, based on my love of YA lit (Mike again) and my teaching experience. It was then that I discovered something really scary. Most of my classmates were already working in libraries. They were associates, circ clerks and others who already had library jobs. I didn't get my first paycheck from a library until after I graduated. I worked one shift as a sub for reference in the Dakota County Libraries, where my colleagues learned that I'd been working as a secretary for three years. The secretary in the Director's office was going on maternity leave, so I interviewed (on September 11, 2001) and got the job. From there, I began looking for jobs back in Grandparent Territory, and eventually I landed work in Tulsa.

For my first five years with TCCL, I was the Business Reference Librarian at my current location. Not exactly the best fit for someone with all that teen-oriented experience, but I've always prided myself on having knowledge a mile wide and at least an inch or two deep, so it worked out well for me, and eventually I was given responsibility for teen services, and I couldn't be happier.

So, that's my "library route". If you've managed to read this far, I'm glad you're still here. Thanks and happy reading!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Breaking the Cycle

The defining trope of my childhood was that I was the underdog. I was the picked-on, the teased, the friendless, sitting alone on the playgr
The defining trope of my childhood was that I was the underdog. I was the picked-on, the teased, the friendless, sitting alone on the playground with a book. This shaped my self-image for a long time, and is still something I struggle with today.

From conversations with my father and brother, I know that they had similar experiences, so I have been, consciously or unconsciously, waiting for the same thing to happen with BB.

This morning, he and I had a long talk on the way to school, about friends and teasing and getting along. It seems to be that he's a pretty happy kid. I asked him about a teasing incident he'd mentioned to me fron a couple of weeks ago, and he seemed surprised that I remembered. It hasn't affected his friendship with the boy in question. I asked him if he had a best friend, and he told me it was hard to pick one, and he has at least four candidates. My best friend was always just the one who picked on me least.

I'm beginning to have some hope. Not just that BB himself will escape his school years with self-esteem intact, but that maybe the whole system has gotten better. At the very least, I feel proud of my son, who is growing up to be a good and decent young man who has a hard time even grasping the concept of bullying.