Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wild Side of Library Services

You know how much I love the random and unexpected.  I am often delighting in it and compelled to share it like I did here or here.

So here I am again, sharing what must be told, if only because I love the way it maxes out my random meter and makes me laugh.

I was subbing down at the Monument library and my coworker casually said that there was something alive in the book drop.

I thought that was so cryptic....something alive?  Are the books rustling?  Did she hear a squeaking?

This is what I peered in to see:

What IS that??!!

Can you appreciate how funny we thought it was that this creature was crawling all over the book Wild?  I love that so much.  I started laughing and shrieking and oh-my-goodnessing it in that hand-flappy way like I was 13 all over again.

So we had our coworker John take care of it.  Naturally.  And just as I turned my grinning self away from him he pretended to stick the little pincher on my back and made me scream like the easily startled teenager I always was.  (Who am I kidding?  I still easily startle)

John is probably close to twenty years older than I, but in these few moments of random hilarity, I felt like he was my little brother and I was the melodramatic older sister.

I love working in a job where you just never know what you'll find.  I love working with people who will make the fun stuff fun, and I love that these long-buried bits of our childhood selves come out like a burst of crazy string in the middle of an ordinary day at work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Self-Taught or Professionally Instructed?

Like many of you who don't grow bored with the nuances of sports or music, I don't mind looking at writing as a craft to be studied from many angles.  When my kids fall asleep in the car or I am driving alone, I listen to a college professor giving a class on writing creative nonfiction.

I am learning there is a technical side to writing that I was barely conscious of.

Certainly, as readers, we can all spot "bad writing" the way you can instantly see the gap for a missing piece in an otherwise completed puzzle.  Even if we don't know what, exactly, is on that piece, it is obvious that it is missing.  As readers, we can't always articulate the exact thing that makes the writing seem "bad" to us, but the feeling is as obvious as that missing piece.

I don't have to be a professional singer to be able to hear when one is singing off-key and I don't have to be a professional writer to be able to sense that something is not working with the story I am reading.

But I DO have to know what is going wrong if I'm the one trying to produce something excellent.

So the instructor describes in painstaking detail what good writers are doing to make the whole thing work.  It's the difference between eating a satisfying, perfectly plated meal and standing in the kitchen and watching the chef juggle a dozen complex tasks in a sort of controlled chaos.

We readers get the very best of it all served up between two lovely covers of our book or Kindle.
The writer was a scrambling slave to the craft of writing shedding blood sweat and tears to get it right.

And this leads me to the thing I am really wondering (and craving conversation about) these days:

Can taking a class that teaches these technical aspects of writing backfire and do more harm than good?

We've probably all met the cook who seems to have a sense about what goes together and cooks with creative experimentation and flair.  Without recipes, she leans on intuition, experience and her own preferences.  She seems confident and unaffected in the kitchen, moving almost effortlessly in her element.  Not everything she ever cooks is a home run, but she consistently produces great food with a happy ease that causes the rest of us to miscalculate its true complexity.

What if that same cook attended a fancy cooking school and was given all kinds of new jargon for her procedures, recipes to follow precisely, and proper techniques and tools for everything she had previously only experimented with or mastered without being entirely conscious of it?  Would this grow her or hinder her?  I truly don't know.

And I compare that to writing.  What if "someone" who has been writing her whole life, and loving it the whole time, goes to a fancy writing class and learns all kinds of new jargon for writing, new rules to follow precisely, new techniques to try to consciously implement....would this grow or hinder her as a writer?

Really, what do you think?  Do writers need to hone their craft one freewheelin', experimental recipe at a time, or should they go to writing school and learn how to take the art and craft of it to the next level?  Do we make up the method, or learn writing techniques and try to use them?

I don't consider myself a professional writer, but like a sports fan or music aficionado, I'd love to hear what other people think or have learned about this question.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Orbiting the Same Sun, From Different Worlds

She was a cute-as-a-button little girl who looked like she could have just stepped out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog.  Walking and talking, but still enough baby left to have the hints of dimples on her hands and chubby legs.  Seriously, so cute.  "She's your little doll!" I observed to her mom, and she didn't deny it.  "Pretty much.  Making her clothes is my creative outlet."  Wow, then.  That mama has a lot of creativity to let out.  The dress was a piece of art.

And then there was the hat.

This picture may not do it justice, but basically it was a sweet little bonnet that reminded me of Little House on the Prairie.

"Did you make the hat, too?" I ask innocently.
"Oh, no.  That hat was seventy dollars."
I make a concerted effort to keep a straight face.  "Did you just say seven-zero?" I ask, trying to keep the question casual and light.
"Well, yes.  It started out at fifty, but then I had to get the monogram and shipping was 10, so by the time it was done, yes.  But I just had to get it."
Naturally, yes.  I can see that.  

Her cherub's bottom grazes the sand as she squats down for a brief moment.  A minute later, she's distracted by something --though I'm not sure what because she has the most perfectly proportioned pink sunglasses I've ever seen on a child that small (and yes, all that alliteration is intentional because she was a girl who looked like she might have two middle names)

"Well now, that's the dirtiest she's ever gotten!" her mom told me.  "Now that whole outfit will have to be washed."

And we've hit that conversational impasse where I'm at a complete loss for words.

Because two things are flashing through my mind with sirens.  Now that outfit will have to be washed?!  This suggests that her child can actually wear something for more than seven minutes without it requiring a wash and stain-treatment if it is worn for eight.  Second: Your daughter dusts her bright white ruffled diaper cover with a little sand--a charming bit of cinnamon and sugar on an upside down muffin--and it is the dirtiest she has ever gotten?!

And as long as we're using semi-clunky food metaphors to describe kiddos, let me tell you what my own sweetness of a boy was looking like:  He was also playing in the sand.  And the water.  And I'm pretty sure he was thinking of chicken nuggets because he would get as wet as possible and coat his entire body with sand. His Entire. Body. Then, with glee and giggles he would find the muddiest part of the play area and stomp around in it because what else would a human chicken nugget do but find the dipping sauce?  

After the sand escapades he had used my water bottle to pour water over his head and laugh and laugh.  Maybe he was moving on to marinades-I'm not sure.  

By the time my kiddo was in proximity of this little beauty he was a gritty mess.  I was a gritty mess from having carried him.  We could have been extras in a film about homeless orphans and not stood out too much.

The gap between my world and hers stretches a little more in the silence and I don't know what to say to bridge it.

So I close the fashion magazine of her life and she turns the news channel off of mine and we say our polite goodbyes and move along.

She had a princess to attend to and I had sand to get out of my bra.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Does the Princess Ever Get it Wrong?

His employees seem genuinely frightened of him, walking on eggshells to stay on the better side of his moodiness.  His anger is like fireworks-big and loud and explosive.  He has a room in his house that is basically trashed from all the times he's broken stuff in it.

And yet, imagine my dear friend asking me if I think she can change him by her friendship.  She believes that her gentle kindness, general charm, and patient boundary-setting with this guy can change him from an angry, surly person into the man of her dreams.  She's a smart, ambitious girl who loves to read, loves her family, and has dreams of travel.  Her cheerful optimism about all this would be inspiring if it didn't seem so misguided.

And doesn't it seem misguided to you?  I mean, what would your advice be to someone for whom you wanted only good things and the best chances for relationship happiness?  Mine: I tell her to let the man do the hard work of some serious therapy.  Let him deal with those anger issues without slapping a flimsy band-aide of a new relationship on it.  Life will get stormy and band-aides don't stick when they're wet.  You can convince yourself that the anger will never be directed at you, but so did all the battered women out there.  They are brokenhearted to discover they love a man who is too broken to love them back.

Why embrace that kind of misery when you still have the option not to?  Doesn't it seem like a better ride to hitch your wagon to a star not likely to burn you up in its unresolved fury?

Unless, of course, your name is Belle.

In that case, sweet Disney princess of enduring appeal, by all means, stay with a beast of a man because unlike all of us women in real life, your kind charm really does have the power to transform him to someone extraordinary.  Not an encounter with God, work with a qualified therapist or counselor, not a personal journey toward peace and anger resolution.  No, none of that.  You, by your very nature, are absolutely enough to transform a violent angry man into an extraordinary one.  At least, you'll know he's something special because you'll have such great physical chemistry, even your first kiss will seem magical.  Everyone knows you can guarantee yourself a healthy, functional relationship if someone's a great kisser, right?

Well, if your name is Belle.

Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale. Just like we know that fairies aren't real, maybe we need to acknowledge that neither are most of the conclusions fairy tales ask us to draw about the world.

But if you watched this narrative more times than you can remember from the time you were too young to understand it til the time you had your first crush on a boy, don't you think some of the ideas might just settle into a reassuring place of familiarity that felt like truth?

Do you know any smart, ambitious girls who seem kind of misguided about the way relationships work?  Do you know anybody who believes she can change others?  I know we can influence each other, but genuine, sustainable growth comes from just that: growth.

I'm wondering if when we catch ourselves hoping to be the sun, rain, soil and time to affect all that growth in someone else, we might need to ask ourselves if a little bit of the tale found its way into our truth, too.