Saving Grace

This post was originally published on my old (and now defunct) blog on 24 September 2006. No, that’s not a typo: it was about four months after Neal and I married that I finally discovered home.

Tonight, on the way home from B&N where Neal and I do work now and again, I saw lights glaring up into the sky. I, being from Illinois, wondered what stadium was nearby that I didn’t know about that would have lights glowing that bright into the night sky.

Neal asked, “Are those northern lights?”

Brilliant me asks, “Where…? Oh! Yes! They are!” (Yes, complete with all those exclamation points because I was quite excited.)

I still remember the first time I saw the northern lights, standing with Neal in front of his old apartment building, a beautiful old stone house. I was leaning back against him, gazing up at them in wonder and awe, excited by this display that I couldn’t see back “home” in Illinois.

I’ve written about contentment (or lack thereof) in my sense of place, which has been my state for pretty much all of my life, no matter which state I actually lived in. My motto has always been Wherever I am, I am there, which basically means that I could fit into, could feel comfortable with any place I found myself. During my admissions job, I slept a new place almost every night and was fine wherever I was.

But nowhere seemed like home.

Tonight, I finally felt a sense of home, leaning back against Neal, now my husband, and watching the pale green lights flicker up and down the sky, shooting fingers of grace into the heavens.

I didn’t know where I would end up, if I would ever find such a place as “home,” a place I’ve often heard others speak of but one that I’ve never truly experienced with complete contentment before. A place of pure belonging and satisfaction in being.

For me, it appears that this is a place with night water that glows with lights from the city and large ore boats, shining brightly on the lake’s corrugated surface. It is a place of unexpected grace, brightening a darkened sky with feathery wings of diaphanous and ephemeral splendor. It is a place where I can lean back and see all this, spread out before me, and be held tightly by one who cares beyond seeming possibility.

When life hands you lemons (and you really like lemons)

fresh cut slice of lemon

Just take the lemon and enjoy it!
Photo credit: Public Domain (via

Someone at work asked the question that elicits a long story full of odd explanations: “How did you and Neal meet?” (It’s a timely question, because we are both celebrating our anniversaries this week.)

There’s the short answer: “We met online.”

But that only tells 1/100 of the fascinating story, so there needs to be more.

The longer answer is interesting and just weird. I used to be a regular blogger, back in the 20-aughts when blogging began and was less commonplace. I read dozens of blogs and, longer story shortened, met Neal in the comment section of one of these blogs. One day, that blog became boring and less interesting, so I dug into the blogroll in the guy’s sidebar and discovered a very interesting blog by some guy who claimed to be a writer.

Wait a minute…this is the guy from the comments! He’s pretty funny and seemed open to feedback on his story, so I commented. And he replied. And I responded. And thus our friendship began.

I say friendship because that’s how it all started–no romantic inclinations or overtures. We began emailing regularly (using weird lines from movies and TV shows as the email subjects) and progressed to calling on the phone. Neal was finishing grad school and right after graduation was dealing with some pretty heavy things (death and disease of family members). We spent a lot of time on the phone to discuss these things and life in general.

We finally decided to meet in person, and my friend Misty warned me that I’d end up pickled in a barrel in Neal’s basement. I was excited about seeing Duluth in person, because I’d heard so much about its wealth of natural beauty. We went up the North Shore to Grand Marais, where it proceeded to rain, causing Neal to worry that I wasn’t enjoying my time on the volcanic rock on the shore of Lake Superior. He was wrong and learned that I love walking in spring rains, in fact I was still in love with spring rains and would often rush out to dance in the first real spring rain each year. (“Real spring rain” means one that smells green and earthwormy and is completely full of all the essential spring smells.)

This meeting was a bit weird for both of us, because I think we were feeling out the boundaries of the friendship. Was there something more there, perhaps? But no. Neither of us felt the other was his/her type, so we moved along and continued the friendship. (To be fair to both of us, we definitely weren’t each other’s idealized physical type.)

We had a blast walking in the rain, strolling along sandy beaches, and just hanging out. We talked about everything: literature, nature, astronomy. It was odd to find someone who understood and also enjoyed the feeling of smallness in a vast universe, who read and could discuss the same things I’d read, who wanted to hike in the rain without talking or stopping–just taking in nature. Odd, but I took it as a sign that I’d found a great friend and we moved along.

We continued to talk on the phone regularly, email less regularly, read each other’s blogs, and visit each other. I was vehemently anti-dating anyway (another, much longer story), so I encouraged Neal when he’d consider dating someone. I’d give him suggestions about getting up his nerve to talk to someone or ask her out, even though he never acted on my suggestions.

Neal was my best friend, so any time the thought crossed my mind, I quickly removed it. I didn’t want to lose such a good friend if a romantic relationship went sour, and these things so often do when romance enters the picture. When offered the choice of losing a good friend while gaining a short-term romance, I firmly chose the friendship each time.

Then one day during a regular phone call, Neal asked a question that surprised me: “Have you ever thought about the two of us dating?”

And my answer frustrated him: “Yes.”

That was all I responded at first, because it was the truth and I didn’t know how to continue the rest of the sentence that should follow. “Yes, but I don’t want to lose my best friend”? “Yes, and I want to see if we can make this work”?

Yes, but…?

Yes, and…?

We started talking about the fact that we both had considered it, but neither of us made a specific move toward “Yes, we should start dating. Now.” It became a weird limbo move as we chatted about our thoughts, but with neither of us making the next move.

Here’s the thing about our phone calls: they often took place fairly late at night. This was still in the stage where I only needed about four hours of sleep a night (believe me, I’m making up for that in my old age), and Neal often had later-morning classes to teach. The talk-around continued for quite a long time, until Neal finally pushed the issue to the forefront.

“So. What do you think about the two of us dating?”

Ah, this was a completely different question, now wasn’t it? And now I had to answer the real question instead of a work-around question he had originally asked. This led to another discussion, because we both had similar fears. Here’s a person that we can and do talk to about anything, so…what if adding the weight of romantic entanglement crushed the friendship? Neither of us wanted that to happen.

But we both realized that any time we worried about something or were really excited about something, we each immediately wanted to tell the other about it. And, really, wasn’t that exactly what people looked for in a spouse? Shouldn’t that be an immense plus, along with the fact that we could and did talk about anything and everything? We decided to take the plunge and hope it worked out.

Obviously, it’s been working out. Twelve-and-a-half years ago, Neal and I started dating (and some friends and family asked, “What took you two so long? We figured it out months ago!”) and then we got married.

But that’s another story for another time, isn’t it?

For now, it’s important to say that Neal is still my best friend. We still talk about anything and everything, without running out of things to discuss in the 11 years that we’ve been married. Whenever something good or bad happens, Neal is still the first person I want to talk to and the first person I turn to for help or consolation or a high-five. I don’t even want to consider where we might be if we’d decided not to chance it, because I can’t imagine being married to anyone other than my favorite person in the entire world.


Books (and librarians) change lives

This StoryCorps video did my heart good, so I want to pass it along.

Here’s also an NPR story about Storm Reyes, whose story is in the video. The best part of all is how she ended up working in a library system for more than 30 years, all thanks to one bookmobile and one welcoming and giving librarian.

“I took them home and I devoured them. I didn’t just read them, I devoured them,” Storm says. “And I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books, and that started it.”


Distinct Possibilities 2

Photo credit: elviskennedy via / CC BY-NC-ND

I feel a self-divide that is hard to explain to many people, much like Holly Genovese discusses in this article. Coming from a blue-collar background in a rural, poor household, even the decision to go straight to college from high school was different enough to start a schism that has only gotten wider. Both of my parents worked on factory floors until their jobs moved out of the country or the company wanted to hire younger guys at a cheaper price. My dad worked at the same place from March of the year I was born (that December) until just a few weeks before I got married in May of another year: 27 years and two months, he worked there, with differing shifts and on differing lines sometimes, but still always there. We lived anywhere from an hour to 40 minutes from this place, keeping us near family and in the same school district and county my entire life, even though he worked in a different county himself.

My dad got up early when he worked first shift (although he also worked third at times, years I remember not seeing my dad much and only recalling his tired face when I did) and his work ethic lives in me still today. You get up early and you leave early. There’s no excuse for arriving to work late, even a flat tire, so give yourself time to deal with those things on the way. If you arrive early? You just have some quiet time to yourself or to talk with others coming on- or going off-shift. It’s part of the package of keeping a job. Then one day they just lay you off “indefinitely” and you know that it isn’t a layoff like previous ones: this one is permanent, terminology be damned. Younger, cheaper guys are coming in to take your place, and you know it—but what can you do?

My mom went back to work when I was in elementary school, but she worked in closer locations: in the kitchen of a nursing home for a bit until a job at the local factory down the road opened up. It was closer and it paid a bit better, so does it matter which job you like better anyway? I became one of those fabled 80’s and 90’s latchkey kids, along with my older sister. We rode the bus for hours a day, gravel road dust pouring in the small cracks of the partially opened windows. We got to know the bus drivers really well as the last kids off the bus.

But the eye-opening realization for me comes in second grade: Mrs. Reed talks about college, like it’s an option for all of us—like maybe I could actually go. This idea takes ahold in my mind, because I prize reading and learning above all else, even above climbing a tree or rolling down a hill—even at that young age. I know that this is something I want to do, so I somehow get it into my mind that the only way to get to college is to get straight As from then on. My elementary-school-kid mind doesn’t understand what colleges are looking for, only understanding that we can’t pay for it and I need to carry this weight alone.

By the time I do begin to understand, the ideal of perfectionism is already rooted firmly in my mind. No pressure given from my parents or family members: it’s all from me. Even a small homework grade of an A- gives me the sweats, and a B+ might make me cry. My parents don’t get why I’m doing this to myself. By junior high, I know that I have to get a scholarship somewhere, or this whole thing is going to fall apart. By freshman year, I know a few places I’d like to go, but I also understand that they are out of reach. My sophomore year, I realize that public schools aren’t giving out scholarships that I’ll need really, so I start rethinking my plans, start looking at all the options.

I don’t know anything about college planning, and my guidance counselor is a joke. I know I have one shot to take the ACT, because one shot is all we can afford. I don’t know anything about potential fee waivers, because these aren’t explained or talked about. You know what else no one talked about? Application fees and how you can’t actually afford to apply to the places you really want to go, so I look for places that will give waivers if you talk to the visiting counselor. I have already had my sight set on valedictorian from second grade, thinking that this will make some sort of a difference, and this along with the great test score and my 4.0 GPA gives me the option of a couple full-tuition scholarships from small, private schools.

I’m in. I will be the first person in my entire extended family to attend and finish my bachelor’s degree, but the move to another state and the education seems to be another wedge that widens the already-started schism between me and some family members. I’m still me. I still enjoy tractor pulls and dirt-track races and a good dusty, gravel-filled backroads trip to nowhere in particular. I still like to read whatever I can get my hands on (except I can get my hands on a whole lot more now). I’m me, but they only see me rising above myself in a way that I can’t stop and I can’t retract. And I don’t know that I would if I could anyway.

Dessa, a singer and songwriter, gets this dichotomy of self and ambition. In “Fighting Fish,” she sings the following lyrics:

Around here we don’t like talk of big dreams
to stand out is a pride, a conceit
To aim high is to make waves, to split seams
but that’s not what it seems like to me, cause
I wanna try, I wanna risk
I don’t wanna walk, rather swing and miss
I’m not above apologies
but I don’t ask permission
got a lot of imperfections
but I don’t count my ambitions in ‘em

I didn’t come looking for love
I didn’t come to pick a fight
I didn’t come to wave or take pictures
pander to some benefactor, ring on every broken finger
Won’t extend my wings to be clipped
I know the culture here is to stay humble but shit
if we all go round bowed heads, button-lipped
if none of us go for the bell, then who is?

I just finished my master’s degree, and as I debated whether to announce it to family and friends, my dad told me not to. “It’d seem like you’re just trying to brag about it,” he said. I’ll admit it: it hurt to hear that. I wanted to share a success in my life: a goal I’ve had for almost 15 years now finally coming to fruition. My parents have been completely supportive, even if my mom didn’t quite understand what I was doing or why.

It’s hard to explain the feeling that washes over you at that moment, where you are so proud that you finally accomplished something you’ve wanted to do for so long, yet you feel ashamed of wanting it and of striving for it. Even though I don’t want to count my ambitions among my imperfections, I know that some of my family members do. It’s a pull in two different directions that doesn’t make sense to those who haven’t straddled two worlds.

The pull gets stronger, the chasm wider. I have fairly decent health and dental coverage through my husband’s position; my parents can’t afford true health care or even partial dental coverage. Pulling a tooth that needs a root canal is the only option, because the root canal is too costly. Meanwhile, I have terrible teeth (childhood poverty and rural living on well water waving reminder flags) having had my first root canal at age 18 and the second shortly after I married at age 26 along with various and sundry fillings. Seeing other people’s white-picket-fence-rows of stark white, straight teeth is a reminder that braces aren’t commonplace everywhere or for everyone, although people around me often talk as though it were. Hearing people complain about doing without as children and finding out they mean they didn’t always have the latest gaming system as soon as it came out is disorienting still. Adults who complain that the Coach bag they wanted was out of stock, so they had to make do with this other one that wasn’t exactly what they wanted until the other comes in is still foreign to me, even after years of being around it.

When I go home, I feel a sense of belonging that doesn’t quite fill me in other places. Yet at the same time, I feel rough edges that don’t quite fit into the place I left, like I’m a cube being ground into a sphere to fit another space and time. There are gaps and holes around me the whole time. I fall back into speech patterns with my “y’all” and my vowels more drawn out. I am more aware of money, what things cost, how it fits, what my budget allows and how it differs from my parents.

I feel guilty. I want to give something to them, but I know they wouldn’t take it. That intense pride in making do as much as you can, even if it means you might need WIC to round out your kids’ diets when they’re young, it still fills me with a fierce independence that many don’t fully understand (particularly, I think, my in-laws). We make do with what we have. Making do becomes normal again.

But it still lifts my other self’s spirits a bit to hear from my dad’s coworker that he’s been bragging on my accomplishments, my new degree. It helps to hear that he cares enough to pull this accomplishment out and show it off, even if he knows others might not totally get it. It helps a little bit to know that he supports these dreams of mine, even if they are different than the dreams he once had.

But who knows? Maybe he once had these dreams, too, but couldn’t escape the rift—or couldn’t tolerate the thought of trying to. Even today, life is different. I recently worked in a college counseling office, where I saw the world of college search open up to me even broader than before: fee waivers for testing, fee waivers for college applications, summer programs for those whose family incomes don’t quite make the cut. Maybe my dad once had similar dreams, but didn’t have a second-grade teacher who told him it was possible. In the back of my mind, I always think about making the impossible possible and seeing dreams fulfilled, and I wonder more and more as I get older about the dreams deferred in previous generations. Instead of drying up or festering or rotting and stinking or even exploding, maybe, just maybe, it moves down the line to the next generation, planting a seed, just a small kernel of an idea in a young mind until one of our own catches hold of their own dream and rides it until it breaks and becomes instead a distinct possibility.

(If you want to hear the song mentioned above, and you know you do, listen to it below!)

Women, am I right? /snark

Yesterday, the United States nominated it’s first woman as the presidential candidate for a major political party.

Today, Kaspersky decided to celebrate that by releasing this ad:


Well, Kaspersky, you just made my decision for the security suite in my house a lot easier, since it was between one of two companies–and the other company didn’t release a sexist ad suggesting women know nothing about cybersecurity.

Edited to add: And no, the fact that Kaspersky was co-founded by a woman (who later left or was ousted, depending) does not make me want to support the company. The faux pas is even worse knowing that a woman helped found the company. Additionally, the leadership team today contains no women with the exception of the head of HR.

Women are not required to support organizations who have once had (or even currently have) women in positions of power, especially when that company shows its true colors. This ad had to make it through several layers of acceptance within the company and its ad agency before being released, so it’s not a small oversight.

People have always been people

This is a short article, but I highly recommend reading it. I think we forget that people are just people, no matter when they lived. The world wasn’t black and white (literally or figuratively) way back when. People walked on green grass. They ate, slept, worked, and loved. They lived their lives and felt human emotions, just like we do today.

Isabel Allende said it the best:

“People in other times, in earlier times, were not less sophisticated than we are. They were just as we are, with less technology.”

We aren’t any better today than we were yesterday: we just have more technology that helps us figure things out. We are building on the knowledge of our forebears, so we owe them a debt of creating a ladder we continually climb in the quest for new technologies.

Philosophy of Librarianship

I still recall that a part of graduating from the education department at my undergrad institution included writing a strong philosophy of education. After all of the education classes, the analysis of education, the observations, the reflections, and my own student teaching, I still felt as though my educational philosophy was evolving and changing, so I was not completely happy with the outcome. True to life, my thoughts and feelings about education have grown as I’ve learned more and observed the ebb and flow of educational trends.

When I was asked to write a Statement of Professional Philosophy for my MLIS Plan B, I again felt shifting ideas brushing into each other as I considered what I should write. I finally decided to distill the three most important aspects of librarianship that I hope I have continually embodied even before obtaining my MLIS and that I hope to continue to embody as I move forward in my career.

Three values have cropped up over and over in my employment history: ensuring access to education, helping those who need assistance, and making information easy to access and understand. My undergraduate work was in English education with a minor in Spanish, and it was at my alma mater that I met Dr. Patricia Newcomer (AKA Doña Patricia) my first library mentor who also happened to be my advanced Spanish professor. When I graduated, Doña Patricia encouraged me to continue on and to obtain a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I, in my less than infinite wisdom, instead chose to go immediately into the working world.

Doña Patricia passed away shortly after I graduated, so I am sad to say that she will never see her hopes for me come to fruition. However, it is clear that she and the other librarians at my college’s library, where I worked for four straight years, have had a profound effect on my mental view of and development into a librarian. Beyond all of the mundane, technical tasks that were completed in that library, the ideals of education and assistance as well as warmth and kindness were taught to me on a daily basis. Being a librarian and an information professional means being open, inviting, giving, and helpful. Why else would a person go into a professional that prides itself on service to all and includes diversity among its chief values and goals for growth?

In the preface of his forthcoming book, Dr. Michael Stephens (2016) wrote the following words, words that have the ring of authority and the air of truth about them:

For me, the heart of librarianship is learning. It’s a cyclical process of support, engagement, and discovery with deep roots in the concepts of service, access, and freedom to pursue interests of all kinds. No matter what type of institution, someone is gaining knowledge, finding information, or creating something new based on our facilitation. And in my opinion, the role of facilitator and guide is best delivered with humanity and heart.


Libraries encourage the heart, which means we should lead from the heart, learn from the heart, and play from the heart. It means we are all-in all the time, not just when it’s convenient. It means bucking the status quo to do the right thing at the right moment. It means owning our actions as professionals. It means creating institutions that expand minds and craft futures. (pp. xiii-xiv)

These words of Dr. Stephens show a spirit of openness that librarians need to remain true to the value of service that our professional prides itself on. I am currently working with Dr. Stephens on a special studies section this semester, and viewing his work and his ethic has helped further solidify my own feelings about several important characteristics that I feel an information professional should have.


How anyone could become a librarian without having an indefatigable sense of curiosity and an overwhelming urge to always be learning is incomprehensible to me. From the time I was a young child, I have been curious about how things work and how to help things work better. I am quite lucky that my parents allowed and cultivated this sense of curiosity by allowing me to take things apart, put things together, and read whatever I could get my hands on. Curiosity is one of the essential traits that all information professionals must have and must continue to cultivate throughout their lives.

We information professionals should be seeking curiosity in its many incarnations. Education never stops, and reading is an important part of this ongoing, adult education. Technology is changing at a rapid pace, and emerging technologies are coming along quickly. Asking ourselves questions and being able to find the answers quickly and efficiently will only allow us to learn more and to help others learn as well. If we aren’t curious and aren’t willing to ask questions and to seek the answers, how can we expect our patrons and users to do so?

When I was a Fall 2014 LIBR 203 Peer Mentor, I wrote a blog post titled “Curiosity and the Information Professional.” I still firmly believe everything I wrote in that post, including the following important points:

Dig in! Don’t be afraid! If you can’t figure something out, ask someone who might know or even Google it. As future information professionals, curiosity is our calling and finding out new and helpful information is our trademark.


Remember, curiosity didn’t really kill the cat. And even though what he was curious about just might have (it was probably a venomous snake or something), technology doesn’t have that power and won’t strike, so go ahead and seek more information and gather more data. Curiosity is knowledge-seeking, which isn’t such a bad trait in a librarian. (para. 11-12)

In fact, I would argue that it’s not just a good trait for information professionals: it’s essential.


Diversity and inclusivity go hand in hand throughout the world, whether you are a library professional or not. That said, librarians are on the front lines of ensuring access to all, no matter a person’s socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, and so on. Education and information are extremely important to ensure the growth of our profession and to help each person with her/his own personal educational goals.

I am disappointed to live in a country that does not prize learning a second language from childhood, because I feel that this is an important part of helping others feel included. I myself began learning Spanish in high school, minored in it for my undergraduate degree, and took the Advanced Spanish for Librarians course while at SJSU to help refresh my skills and to learn the library-specific language and jargon that I may need in a professional capacity. Although it is not possible to learn every language that we may find ourselves needing, learning even one additional language means that we can reach and help more people. In such a global society, it becomes even more important to open ourselves up to new experiences, different cultures, and differing ideas. F. Scott Fitzgerald (2005) once wrote (oddly enough, in the same essay in which he would also later describe some of his own prejudices) the following:

[L]et me make a general observation – the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (p. 139)

This seems to be a great description of what librarians should strive to do: maintain as many ideas, opposed or similar, as possible to help all who come seeking assistance without regard to any supposed differences. We are not called to believe all of the ideas or to hold any specific, but we are called to move beyond the mere idea of tolerance to a far greater respect and empathy for our fellow human being—to becoming advocates for the unheard and voiceless in our communities.


Empathy requires each of us to gain the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to move beyond our own feelings to hopefully better gauge what someone else is possibly feeling and thinking. Dialogue with others and self-reflection are key first steps on the road to empathy. “It has been shown that empathy plays a clear role in facilitating more effective communication between library staff and users, whether or not English is their first language” (Birdi, Wilson, & Tso, 2009, p. 87).

What do our patrons need and want from us? What are the needs of our surrounding community, and how can we fulfill those needs to the best of our ability? This can and will differ in each community: it will depend greatly on the makeup of your surrounding community and the needs of the people who use our facilities and services. I believe that this is a circle of knowledge that needs to be consistently monitored to ensure that the library is offering services that the community needs in order to fulfill and help plug any holes in community services that can be provided by the library.

Librarians are, without a doubt, ensconced within a helping profession. Altruism and a desire to meet people where they are coming from are essential requirements for a truly empathetic nature, so keeping current with social justice issues along with a knowledge of local community needs and issues is required to ensure our ability to meet those needs and to address those issues in our own communities.


Birdi, B., Wilson, K., & Tso, H.M (2009) The nature and role of empathy in public librarianship. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41(2), pp. 81-89.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (2005). My lost city: Personal essays, 1920-1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.