Torn

I can’t decide whether to keep reading or start writing some stuff. This post doesn’t count.

It feels like I’ve read a lot over the break. More than I read this last semester, but I know that’s not true. I hope that’s not true.

Interesting how I’m an English major and my only solid A was in French. I recently asked my professor if I could use him as a reference for something, and he replied he couldn’t think of anyone he could more highly recommend. Very nice of him.

Yes, I complained a lot about French class, but don’t the French gripe about their passions? Couldn’t you tell through my spitfire how much I love the language? I felt a little cheated with the A I received, only because the 100-level classes seemed so much harder. I thought this class was going to really whip me. And coming from a 7-week 102 course during the summer, 201 felt like a breeze. Plus, the 100-level classes prepared me pretty well for 201; perhaps they made me smarter, after all.

Brit Lit History was odd. I don’t know how else to describe it. We read a lot, we discussed stuff and wrote papers. I got to translate 15 lines of Old English Beowulf. The exams should have done me in, but somehow I squeaked by with a very merciful non-B. What I loved most about the class were the personal critiquing sessions for papers. We signed up for 15-20 minute appointments, we handed our papers to the professor, and she read them while we looked up information in the MLA Handbook. Then we talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the papers with the professor. Admittedly, at times it felt like a big thrashing – hung, drawn, and quartered – and I wondered during these sessions what the hell I was doing and why I couldn’t write anymore. But the professor provided some really constructive and encouraging ideas, and each time I left her office a little dejected but with more resolve to write better. She gave us a holistic grade at the end of the semester, so she didn’t give us number grades during our appointments. That was helpful for me, only because I correlate such numbers with my worth as a person.

Kidding. Mostly.

Then I took this Brit Lit class, which covered authors from 1603-1660. I commented on this class before. Just the other day I sent an email to my professor:

Professor [Super Cool]:

I just want to thank you for a truly delightful semester in English 385. While familiar with many of the names we studied, much of the literature was new to me.

The material and your presentation of such invited the Spirit, which I haven’t felt so abundantly in a classroom, even compared to the religion classes I took hundreds of years ago.

Instances:
-Jonson and his deliberate (non)usage of names in his poetry
-Milton and Areopagitica – thoughts on censorship and agency
-Milton and Paradise Lost – enhancement of my temple experience
-Herbert’s “Love (3)” in conjunction with Thanksgiving – eating of the meat means I’m no longer at the kiddie table
-Traherne – my newest big favorite

Even though I didn’t test incredibly well in that class either, that class left quite an impression on me.

Finally, I took a short story class, which, if you know my love for short stories, was better than cookies for fourteen weeks. We read dozens of amazing stories. We talked about them. We wrote about them. The professor was pretty rad and quite funny. My quizzes in that class weren’t the best, and neither were my papers, and yet I managed another squeaker. Maybe I cemented it with the final. Who knows.

This semester I’m taking French 202, which is a literature class.

Then I’m taking French 321, which is a grammar class, and the thought of it seriously freaks me out.

The second half of Brit Lit History should be interesting. I mean, fun.

Then I’m taking a Myth, Legends, and Folklore class. I love that this stuff counts toward an actual degree.

This semester is going to be great.

Oh, yeah. I have real entries to write. Two prompts, one personal essay and the other, fiction. But I guess I’ll work on those later.

I do think I’ll read a little more. It’s been nice to relax and escape these past few days.

Oh, but wait. I have to post this photo. Basically the only photo I took with my camera during the Christmas break. (Our waitress attempted this photo three times, and this was the best of those.) I’ve known these girls for 20 years now. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Biscotti’s (is not a girl, but a restaurant in the Riverside section of Jacksonville. It’s our “place.”). Sarah, May, and Jenny. Lots of memories and laughs, long passed and more recent.

Horrible Sonnet for Jenny’s Birthday

For her thoughts I’d give a penny
Or even a nickel or maybe a quarter
To hear from my good friend Jenny
Her brain a sponge, her will of mortar.

Today is her observed birthday
Wish her well: touching or funny
She’s listened for the past three days
To my mistidings, good friend Jenny.

As a librarian, her voice ain’t tinny
But assuring behind the reference desk
Cardigans create my good friend Jenny
A strong silhouette statuesque.

In all the world there aren’t too many
Wonderful friends like my good friend Jenny.

And she proclaimed with abandon, from the depths of her soul, “I….am a librarian!”.

by Jenny, Guest Blogger

(Note: I have heard that May, one of my oldest and dearest friends, often refers to me as her friend Jenny the Librarian, so when May asked me to be a Guest Blogger, I had to start from there…..)

Years ago, as I was nearing the end of my undergrad degree in English, I began to consider what I was going to do with my life.

Great time to start thinking about it. But I come from a family that never thought too much about careers, and I could never clearly see myself doing anything in particular….I wanted to do something, sure….something that let me think a lot, because I like doing that….something that was pleasant…..and that allowed me to be in places I liked to be….and that used whatever talents I had….but what that something was, I didn’t know, and I didn’t give it that much consideration.

It feels good to admit this, because aIthough I am not dumb, I’ve always worried that this characteristic is not one that “smart” people should have. My friends are valedictorians and salutatorians and doctors and PhD candidates and writers and musicians and teachers of all persuasions. And many of them knew exactly what they wanted to do. They laid the groundwork for their future careers, they applied to the best colleges, they mapped out their course loads, and they built resumes with all due seriousness. While I feel fairly confident that my brain works well, I always felt as if I lacked whatever intellect it took for them to launch so confidently down those chosen roads. Why didn’t I know what I wanted to do? Why wasn’t it more important to me? Was it possible that I was a carefree hippie disguised in a black cardigan and that I was more suited to meander through the world in the passenger seat of a VW bug?

Um…..no.

So I looked around me in the Fall semester of my senior year and thought about the English degree I was so close to receiving and I realized, “I don’t know what to do with this.”

Undeterred at age 21 by a realization that would paralyze me at age 32, I began mulling over graduate school. Graduate school, that blessed place of respite allowing young adults with Big Thoughts to deter a big, scary decision just a little bit longer.

And once graduate school was decided upon, the path was clear: I would go to library school.

Yes, chuckle if you will. But deep down, doesn’t a part of you want to go to library school, too?

And, surprising as it was to me, I had stumbled into my perfect career.

Now, it wasn’t easy to allow myself to come to peace with librarianship, because being a librarian in this world is an exercise in developing a thick skin. Is there a profession that carries with it more stereotypes? Or one that is the butt of more jokes? It doesn’t help matters that I still haven’t married, making me not only a librarian, but, dare I say it, a spinster librarian?? Just typing the phrase makes me cringe.

And yet, all told, I love being a librarian. I get to wake up every morning and go to the LIBRARY. Every bit of knowledge, no matter how random, is useful in my career. I rock at Jeopardy. I can check out more books at a time than ANYONE. Heck, I don’t even have to check them out! If I want a book that the library doesn’t have, I can just buy it with library money! I can delete my own fines!! At one job, I could go back to the Archives anytime I wanted and freely peruse a 3-volume copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs from the 1600s, complete with a dedication in the front to Elizabeth I. At another, I got to eat lunch in a room housing the largest collection of Tiffany glass anywhere in the world. And at my current job, teenagers come up to me and ask me what book they should read….I love that. And not only do I know more about technology than my school’s technology specialist, I also know how to explain it to people so that they can actually use it!

And the possiblities for the future are endless….librarians are everywhere! In hospitals, schools, museums, working for newspapers and network TV stations, in tiny, rural public libraries and huge urban ones…..I love that my career could take me to any of those places.

So I write this blog post not to recruit new librarians, but rather to proclaim that I really do like what I’m doing and that somehow, even with no clear direction in mind, I ended up in the right place.

And don’t we always?

And doesn’t realizing that make it much easier to enjoy this crazy ride?

Guest Blog the Blogarian

People, Jenny doesn’t need much of an introduction, either. I know I talk about high school a lot, and Jenny’s definitely one of the key figures who’s strided with me since the 10th grade.

Also, I think her post is fitting, valedictory, somewhat. I admire this woman who made high school one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I admire what she’s done with her life. I appreciate her friendship, and her offering up anything of hers to encourage me to become a better person. She’s pretty amazing. I hope everyone gets a chance to meet her sometime.

Oh, the valedictory part. A month from tomorrow, well.

A month from tomorrow.

I’ll be taking a trip down memory lane over the next month. Listing a few things I’ll miss as well as some things I definitely won’t miss.

I Know I’ve Written About This Before, But

A few of my students have found me on facebook, and I’ve accepted their friend requests. This allows me to follow them when they write on each other’s walls. What do they write on each other’s walls, you ask? They write quotes. The deep stuff from literature class. They quote  movies; song lyrics, emotive, but not overly. Angsty? Sometimes. Depends on the artist.

They have facebook. My friends and I in high school? We had old-fashioned pen and paper. I’m not sure when it started specifically, I’m not sure who passed the first note to whom. Yeah, we had a few of the same classes and we even had lunch together, but something special, almost sacred was a part of reading a friend’s handwriting, either in perfectperfect cursive, or slightly erratic. Just slightly.

I had to make sure I finished my homework first. Reading my friends’ notes – letters, actually – and responding to them were my treat for after my homework. I was so much more disciplined back then.

It was typical to pull multiple pages from my backpack and unfold them carefully but quickly. To pore over the condensed writing on the college-ruled lines. Front and back. To start a response. To pause and reread the letter, inspiring as much as possible. The breathing and idea aspects of the word. To write late into the night.

Sometimes we also wrote on actual stationery. I’m still a big fan of nice writing paper. We turned note-writing-and-passing into a craft, an art.

What did we write to each other? Everything. Quotes and song lyrics and how angry we were at our parents or other friends and stories and musings and how scared we were of graduating and it was all brilliant. I don’t mean to boast, but that was our lives, what our pens could produce. It was pithy and imaginative and stimulating and self-indulgent. Above all, it was honest.

We sometimes ended our letters with drawings. About some inside joke or something hilarious that happened in one of our classes. I can see some of those funnies in my mind’s eye right now.

We exchanged letters a few times each week. The frequency varied, though, depending on what was happening. We must have started writing each other sometime junior year. We wrote over the summer and into our senior year. Then something odd happened and we had to take a break from each other for a while.

For the life of me I can’t remember what the hell happened. That’s probably for the best.

The writing continued into college. I even received a couple of mix tapes. As our lives started to take hold onto individual paths, as we fleshed out our identities, the letters tapered, faded.

The friendships, unsurprisingly, did not.

Right now as my facebook status I have some lyrics by Tori Amos. My old high school friends and I sometimes dive into deep, nostalgic dialogue.  It’s fun. We occasionally write on each other’s walls. Nothing too profound, but on each other’s walls? It doesn’t have to be.

I hope my students find their pens and paper and let the ink flow. Maybe they already have. There’s nothing like it. Nothing so vulnerable or exploratory or exciting or self-realizing, especially when you’re writing to discover and grow and strengthen friends and loved ones. Nothing will take its place.

Blogging comes close, though.