Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sarah Louise and the City

In my new life as a city dweller and city worker (as opposed to my old life as a city dweller and suburban worker) I have noticed a few surprising fringe benefits.

(Not all of the fringe benefits are surprising, since I worked downtown in an earlier life.)

But here's one I didn't expect: I have started running into people I work with on the street, in city neighborhoods besides downtown. Last night, on the way to dinner, I ran into a library clerk that works at our branch, and this morning, on the way to the Busway, I ran into a woman who works at the offices in the East Liberty branch. She was presumably walking to work. It was just fun to see these folks on the street, and just say hi. That glimmer of recognition--you are someone of my tribe--was delightful.

And last night, after dinner, at the bus stop? I met an opera singer from Central Europe. We started talking about European cities we had in common and didn't stop talking until our buses came. These are connections that do not occur when you are sitting in your car in traffic. 

Other fringe benefits include more built-in exercise, as running for the bus is now a part of my daily life. Some days I take the neighborhood bus to the Busway, some days I park closer to the Busway and walk. I never take the neighborhood bus all the way downtown, as it takes 45 minutes as opposed to a variable 33 minutes to take the neighborhood bus and the Busway. It's not just the time factor: the buses are old and uncomfortable. I prefer to walk for five minutes, sit for 10 minutes, walk for three, and sit for 10 more minutes. I think once spring comes, I might try walking to the Busway from my house, approximately 2 miles, but I need to purchase better walking shoes first. I am potentially looking at the bike angle. (Although I don't bike or currently own a bike.)

I am purchasing less gas for my car, but since a Zone One bus pass costs $97, I'm not really ahead on commuting costs. Once my bus pass is taken out of my paycheck pre-tax, I will recoup some additional monies, but I'm not sure how much. Every paycheck is a surprise--the first paycheck just had the normal deductions, Social Security, Medicare, City tax, State tax, Federal tax. The second paycheck, I started getting my Flexible Spending monies deducted. The third paycheck, I'll start paying for my health care. I think the fourth paycheck, I'll be starting to pay for my pre-tax bus pass.

Unexpectedly, I miss driving my car. I miss catching up on NPR news, listening to my music, and just driving. This weekend I drove home to see my nephew Max (not his real name) and to celebrate my mother's birthday. Being out on the open road was a thrill. Yes, I was thrilled to be on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, who knew? And last night, driving home from a surprise trip to Wilkinsburg, I got to listen to Jian Ghomeshi, who is one of my favorite radio personalities. Last night he proved he can get out of a hot spot quickly with an interview with singer and British celebrity Boy George. Who would have thought that Boy George is now 52?

***

Reading right now: The Help by Katherine Stockett (umpteenth time); Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins; Calling me Home by Julie Kibler; and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. All but the last title are fiction.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The toil of thy hands...

Remember him -- before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring. (Ecclesiastes 12:6)

I have been putting my Raggedy Ann piggy bank back together. She lost some ceramic orange hair about a month ago when I was trying to get to one of my jewelery boxes. Poor Ann, I broke her before, when I was a girl, and put her back together again, like Humpty Dumpty. I don't have all of the pieces, so the hole in the back of her head is larger than before, and she has a triangle of air in the middle of her cheek. But she still smiles. I haven't used her as a piggy bank for years, but she is someone that has been in my life for a very long time.

The sugar bowl I bought it in Prague when I was 20 has a broken lid. It was to be the sugar bowl for when I got my first apartment. And it was. And it is. Until recently, I didn't have the proper glue in my house, so the broken pieces are all together in one place, waiting for me to glue them back together. The bowl part still holds sugar, and I am fortunate that the only bugs I have to worry about in this apartment are stink bugs and the occasional fruit fly, and neither species cares about dry sugar.

The golden bowl will break. The pitcher will be shattered at the spring. And the silver cord will be severed. (I wonder if the silver cord is our life, I haven't done any research on this verse, but you will find it underlined in just about every Bible I've ever owned.) I find it comforting that the writer of Ecclesiastes knew these things. I wonder if he ever owned a sugar bowl with a broken lid.

***

This morning, I couldn't sleep. I woke up at 4:57 and used the commode, tried to get back to sleep to no avail. I thought, oh, this might be a good time to read the Bible! and pray! (It is Lent, after all, when we are meant to put more energy into prayer...and it's been forever since I've opened a Bible outside of church.) But when you are rusty and out of practice, restlessness takes over again. I'm not used to being quiet anymore. I opened my Bible to Ecclesiastes and read some bits, but I still was too restless. So I came here. I think writing can be a kind of a prayer, so here I am...and I can hardly believe it's been since October that I've posted here, but there you go.

I'm looking at verses in different translations, thanks to Biblegateway.com. The Message is a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. He has a way with words, he does. Ecclesiastes 5:18 contains this phrase: "what was the point of working for a salary of smoke?" (He's describing a rich man who loses all his money in a bad business deal and has nothing to leave his son. Naked he came[from the womb of his mother], naked he went./So what was the point of working for a salary of smoke?

I love that phrase: a salary of smoke. 

Part of why I went to bed restless and woke up with numbers in my mind is because last night I finally opened TurboTax and started my taxes. They were a little more complicated this year because I received the fellowship I think I told you about, to study rare children's books. Because I was not a student at the time, that money is perceived as self-employment earnings, and so I had to work on deductions and mileage and such. I was not reimbursed by work for a conference I attended in October. So I had to work on what the deductions were for mileage and travel and meals. My refund is half of what it was last year, and part of that is the fellowship and part of that is that I cashed in quite a few of my Savings Bonds. 

So it is helpful to read Ecclesiastes in the face of all this. The bowl will be broken. The cord will be severed. The pitcher will be shattered. And yet, the point of life is to enjoy the toil of your hands and then die. 

(I never said it was a cheery text.) 

The tax refund will pay for most of my tire bill and for my professional memberships. I was hoping that my refund would pay for all of my tire bill plus my professional memberships, but with a smaller refund, I have to divvy up the monies, and I can't put off paying for my professional memberships any longer. (I should have paid for them back in October.)

I have a new job, by the way. It is hard work, but mostly satisfying. I'm working as a librarian in a downtown location. The city shouts with beauty and dust, unlike the suburbs which try to make everything decent and tidy. I am faced with the disparities of life--people with more than enough, people with enough, and people with less than enough. These are the people I work beside and these are the people I help each day. I see how important the library is to people who cheerfully ask to borrow the dictionary from the reference desk. Or for young people who have big dreams and nowhere to express them but to borrow foreign films at the library. For the mother with a restless child who wants a copy of The Cat in the Hat. Eventually, I'll be working with children on a daily basis, but since there hasn't been a children's librarian at the downtown location for over a decade, I have to build relationships first. For now, my collection, the books, music, DVDs, these are the welcome mat I extend to the children and parents that walk into the library. It is a collection that someone else created, and that will be mostly replenished by someone else, but I am now its main mama. 

I digress. There is so much that can't be put into words. But the point I am trying to express, that I am dancing around, is that my work means I generally sleep at night. It means that I have the energy to work on my taxes on a weeknight, instead sitting in front of the television with my dinner. It means that even though I have no idea at the end of the day if I'm making more or breaking even with this new job, I am happier. And you cannot put a price tag on happiness. That is the point of the book of Ecclesiastes. Dust we were, dust we will be. But if we can find work we enjoy and we can sleep at night, that is good. 

Selah.* 

________________
*pause, and think of that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Monday movie madness (Wednesday edition) and is the Internet making us stupid? (FB to blog)

Monday Movie Madness, *Wednesday edition.* After 3 jam-packed days at PALA (PA library conference), today was filled with laundry, learning about Skype, grocery shopping and paying bills. 

So, to round it out, I spent 93 minutes sitting in a dark theater. I went to see "Enough Said," which made me laugh and cry and laugh some more. B, don't know if you will like it, as there were awkward moments, but you might. In the theater, we were all shouting at the screen, which is one of the wonderful things about going to the movies with a bunch of strangers in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. 

****

So...after a weekend at PALA where everything internet was touted as all wonderful and the wave of the future and YOU MUST JOIN, it was refreshing to listen to the following debate show on Q with Jian Ghomeshi. So far, it's 50/50, as to whether the internet makes you smarter or dumber. 

I loved hearing from the twentysomething father who has taken his family back to 1986, complete with "hockey hair," as described by Jian.

Q debate special: Is the internet making us smarter or stupider? 

****

EXHAUSTED. The end. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Agreeing with Neil Gaiman...on libraries.

This is fascinating. I knew there were studies saying fiction made you more empathic, and I know avid readers who are jerks, so I was wondering about that.

But this is about innovation. Apparently, in China, they were missing out on innovation. (Really?) And they did a study. Well, I'll let Neil tell it:

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Yeah. Stretching your imagination helps you innovate.

Read the rest here. It's good stuff. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Agreeing with Roger Sutton...

This was going to be a comment on Read Roger. There's a study out there about "literary literature" being better for you than "popular fiction." But my comment got too wordy and I lost my nerve. But I'll post it here:

Studies are interesting animals. There is one out there that two cups of hot chocolate will fight dementia. Oh, and another one that fish oil actually ISN'T good for brain health. Well, I'm not going to start on two cups of hot chocolate a day (I think my cardiologist and waistline would protest) and I'm not going to stop taking fish oil, which does other wonderful things.

I used to think that reading made you a better person, but I have discovered that it only makes you a more interesting person to other people who read.

When I was a girl, I had a teacher who clucked her teeth that I read lots of Nancy Drew. She thought I should read harder books. But the reading that I did then? Was for escape. To get me out of my life. I actually remember some of the Nancy Drew plots MORE than some of the "literary fiction" that won awards. And I did read other books. I enjoyed BOTH Nancy Drew and Newbery Award Winning books. When I was a children's librarian, I always told parents, (especially the ones who thought Junior should be reading Anna Karenina at age 8), "Children read two levels below their reading level for recreational reading. And you WANT them to read recreationally, because it's the only way they will stay readers for the rest of their lives."



Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stolen (and slightly embellished) from my FB postings. This is a safer place to keep them...

The New York Times has published an article, saying that branch libraries could be our refuge from the next storm.

Of course I love this idea, as a librarian. But it makes *a lot* of sense. More disasters will come. A personal story: when a power outage wiped out a lot of houses near the Barnes & Noble where I worked in Virginia, the bookstore was teeming with people coming in from the cold. This was before wifi was something people even knew about. But we had chairs, coffee, and books, and our heat was working.

From the article: "The New York Review of Books, apropos the closing of neighborhood libraries in London, libraries are 'the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet.'"

****

Thinking of other "power" readers as I plow through a book I never thought I'd consider reading after the disaster that was Eat Pray Love: Elizabeth Gilbert's novel is GOOD. Maybe she should stick to fiction? LAF, Babelbabe, are you/have you read it? I'm halfway through. Of course, my father and I could discuss it b/c he'd read the book review. (My father is like the character Tom in the movie "Metropolitan," who only reads book reviews.)

The title is forgettable though. I had to just google it to get the link, below:

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/the-signature-of-all-things/


Oooh, but this link describes her research, which is what I'm interested in.  

And b/c I can't shut up about a book that could still disappoint me b/c I'm only halfway through, I'd like to point out that Eliz Gilbert has been publishing for 20 years!! So when she was "given" the book proposal money to go do Eat Pray Love, people in publishing knew she had the chops. If you haven't read EPL, I recommend ONLY reading the Italian part (Eat) b/c it really is lovely. 

(Which is why I hated the book in the end, b/c the Pray and Love parts were hideous, in my humble humble opinion.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ducks and author sites...and other news

I have not been down to da Point to see da Duck, but @janepitt has. Here is her Instagram of "Pittsburgh Duck", which I adore.

(Watch this space for pictures, the Duck is here in town for a month.)

Author websites, pro or con? I think Sara Zarr and Anita Silvey have proven that they can be done well and support the author's goals. The first time I googled Sara Zarr, I landed on her blog/site, and I have been in love ever since. She has changed the site with the times of her life, but I respect the hell out of that. Anita Silvey, author of the Children's Book-a-day Almanac, started her book as a blog. I can't remember when I discovered her, but we started tweeting back and forth and she shared some really fun stories about some librarians and publishers I was researching.

In other news, I'm back in the hunt for a car. A Jeep Cherokee hit the rear of my Hyundai Sonata and 9 days later the insurance adjuster said "eh, that's a total loss." It's Sunday in Pennsylvania, and you can't buy a car because of lingering Blue Laws. I'm grateful. I get to not worry about a car today. Tomorrow is soon enough. I'll change rental companies ($20/day vs. $24.50/day adds up), and my car is only paid by the insurance company through end of business tomorrow.

My mom may show up for dinner. She is one of the busiest non-employed people I know, but when she heard about my "terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day" on Friday, she offered to MAYBE come this evening through tomorrow afternoon. I hope she does.

That's it for now. Time to get ready for church.