I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 2

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, half of which were not dragon erotica. Since my library teens still have to read the classics and I never actually read any, myself, I decided those 26 titles would be undoubtedly considered classics. I’ve surprisingly enjoyed most of my choices, as evidenced by my review of the first seven, here. So, I present, books 8-13.

8. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy ⭐

I’ll be blunt. I have never before finished a book I hated as much as Anna Karenina. I am so tired of people who loved this book telling me that I just didn’t understand or read it thoroughly. Classics are almost as bad as politics in that, if someone doesn’t agree with another person, they must be less intelligent or not know all of the facts, because we’re all arrogant assholes, incapable of respecting different opinions. Not only did I read this book, I also read many analyses on this book, to make sure I fully understood it, after these insistences. I did and I still hated it. If you love this book and consider it the greatest work of literature ever, I respect that, but you might not want to read further.

Anna Karenina tells the story of Russian socialite, Anna’s, affair with Vronsky, some dude she saw for four minutes on a train and for whom she decided to throw away all of her social standing and clout, cuz feeeelz, despite knowing the society she lives in and the consequences of an indiscreet affair. Women are stupid that way. s/ As Anna falls deeply in love with Vronksy, her husband, Karenin, essentially demands discretion or divorce. Selfish cow that Anna is, she denies both and nearly dies birthing Vronsky’s child. Karenin forgives Vronksy, which embarrasses him and he tries and fails to kill himself. Ultimately, Anna and Vronsky run away together, with Anna forfeiting her son, because she is a horrible, wretched person and ultimately being shunned by society, no matter where she goes, while growing more and more insecure of Vronsky’s affection. Finally, in the best scene in both the terrible book and the terrible movie, she throws herself under the train and I have a new fandom: the train from Anna Karenina.

Alongside this story, we read the tale of Kitty, Levin, and farming. Kitty, Anna’s young sister-in-law is also infatuated with Vronksy, so certain that he’ll propose to her that she turns down the good and honorable, if provincial, Levin, only to have her heart broken, when she realizes that Vronsky never had any true intentions toward her. Over the next year, she spends time in grief and self-reflection, mourning her mistake, and because she’s a very good girl, Levin comes back and asks her to marry him again. She says yes and they move to the country, where there’s farming and tilling and plowing for entire chapters, in a needlessly drawn out symbolic message of “idleness and city life bad, hard work and rural life good.”  Kitty ends up happy and Anna ends up dead. The end.

This book is 864 pages long, so the above summary is of course oversimplified. I’ve read that the book isn’t supposed to be about likable characters and I get that. I liked The Great Gatsby, because it was beautifully written about awful people. This wasn’t. Anna Karenina is the kind of classic that makes people hate classics, because everyone claims it’s amazing.

Why is Tolstoy above reproach for the writing tropes we mock today? Let’s start with the instalove. There was no explanation for Anna’s affection for Vronsky. I get it, she wasn’t really given the chance to choose her path, but poor women weren’t either, and many of them remained faithful, even after four minutes on a train with another man. Her husband wasn’t abusive or cruel. Despite the ridiculous arguments I had on Reddit about this book, there is zero evidence that Karenin mistreated Anna. He even raised her illegitimate child. He was kind, if distant, and she had literally every thing she wanted. She was doing pretty damned good for 19th century Russia, so when she threw it all away, I needed a reason… besides boredom. If Tolstoy had written a compelling love story between Anna and Vronksy, I could’ve felt a lot more for Anna, torn between her head and her heart. However, she literally throws away everything, including her son, for this man she barely knows and we’re never told why. Even if it was adventure and excitement, which I don’t buy considering her unexplained obsession with Vronsky, she didn’t do anything with Vronsky she couldn’t have done with Karenin. No. It was instalove and vaginal tingles and that’s just as stupid as when modern romance novelists do it.

As for Kitty and Levin… I don’t hate their storyline, but I’m often told that this book was feminist and are you fucking kidding me?!?! There is not a single point, in this book of 732 characters, where Tolstoy introduces a woman who is more than one-dimensional. His lead females are The Madonna and The Whore. Kitty keeps her legs closed and her eyes down and gets the life she wants. Anna follows her passion and ends up under a train. Even the female side characters are vapid and shallow hens. This book is not feminist, no not even for the time period, in part because we get no compelling reason for Anna’s actions. She’s just a bitch in heat, as far as Tolstoy is concerned, a slave to her baser nature. The fact that society treats her differently than her lover doesn’t even garner much feeling, because she was the one who was married. While her brother was treated differently for his affair and that might have had some merit with different telling, the execution of this tale just painted a picture of a horrible woman I was glad to see die, as opposed to a woman caught up in a double standard. If the reason this book was empowering was Kitty’s personal growth and self-improvement, Louisa May Alcott told that story much better, and much more quickly, in Little Women.

Then there was the length. So much of this book is filler, dragging out a poorly told story about awful people, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’ve read long books. I’ve read books about horrible people. I’ve read long books about horrible people. I’ve mentioned several times that I love Steinbeck, but his filler is interesting or pivotal to the storyline. Tolstoy is just in love with himself and takes full advantage of a lack of more entertaining pastimes to ramble on about nothing for almost 900 pages, because the people of the 19th century couldn’t discreetly download alien erotica for a better time.

So there you have it. I hated everything about this book, aside from the Kitty/Levin plot, which was still simplistic and preachy. I hated the characters, the writing, the oversimplified themes, the Poor Little Rich Girl plot, the length, and my favorite character, by far, was the train. I’m glad I read this title halfway through the year, because this is truly the kind of classic that makes people hate classics. I give Anna Karenina a single begrudging star.

9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, I Googled “shortest classics” again. However, I surprisingly enjoyed this audiobook, which was only two hours and some change. It told the depressing story of a fisherman who meets his ultimate opponent, the marlin that will bring him glory, only to hook him but fail to reign him in, as he’s pulled further out to see. Eventually, both the old man and the marlin face defeat, as the man makes it to the shore, his glorious catch mostly devoured by sharks.

That’s pretty much it. There’s not much more to the summary of a two hour book, nor was there a way to avoid that spoiler, but it was well-written and engaging, as it painted a picture of ultimate futility. Honestly, it’s brevity was what I liked most and not just because I wanted to check another book off my total. It made for a more exciting story and a more relatable protagonist. It was a simple tale, told simply, with no forced happy ending. I give The Old Man and the Sea three stars.

10. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle was assigned to me in my high school AP U.S. History class. If I recall, I read about half of it, before the English teacher everyone hated ruined the ending for me and I quit. I do remember thinking it was boring and depressing and that the names were all very confusing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, this year. Y’all, this was one of my favorite books. While the Lithuanian names were indeed a bit confusing, I listened to the audio, which substantially mitigated my troubles and I’d highly recommend the same, if you have similar struggles.

The Jungle tells the story of Jurgis Rudkus, who starts off as a brawny, hardworking immigrant, eager to support his family. Despite overcrowding of immigrants wanting a job in the Chicago meat packing district, Jurgis finds work immediately, as a strong and hardy man, as do the other members of his large family. Despite their dreams and willingness to work for them, however, the Rudkus family is doomed from the start, by the sheer number of every day villains, waiting to take advantage. I can say little more about the plot, without ruining the story for you, but I found Jurgis and his family to be compelling portrayals of immigrants done wrong, who can therefore never catch a break. The only criticism I have of this story is that the last chapter reads as Upton Sinclair’s personal Socialist manifesto, which really didn’t fit the tone of the book, regardless of my political opinions.

Speaking of which, I am a Capitalist. I consider our system flawed, of course, but I also think it’s the only political system that will ever work in the United States, agreeing with Theodore Roosevelt that “Radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist.” That being said, the political themes of this work didn’t turn me off until the end, when they became overtly preachy. Before that, they were both organic and historically accurate. The turn of the 20th century was a dark time to be alive and anyone who says we haven’t come a long way isn’t paying attention, as The Jungle is largely credited with the creation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, due to the deplorable and stomach-churning conditions outlined in this book, despite Sinclair’s intent to call attention to the absues of workers. In time, however, that has clearly improved, as well, since pickle factory workers no longer lose their feet. I give The Jungle four stars and warn the reader that there really is no happy ending.

11. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck  ⭐⭐⭐

For me, John Steinbeck is the author I love, while completely understanding others’ distaste for him, as he’s often overly wordy and descriptive. This was a novella, however, so I got all the bleak joy of Steinbeck in just a couple of hours.

The Pearl tells the story of poor pearl diver, Kino’s, discovery of “The Pearl of the World,” that one pearl that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, just when he needs it most. His fortune almost immediately turns sour, however, with the doctor he needs trying to overcharge him, market buyers trying to swindle him, and even blatant thieves coming after him.

As Kino and his wife, Jauna, escape into the night to find somewhere to sell the pearl, tragedy strikes and Imma just give you the #deadbaby trigger warning. Kino and Juana make their way back to their home, realizing that the pearl was never a blessing, but a curse as Kino heartbrokenly flings the pearl back into the ocean, scorning mans greed and inate evil.

Have you ever read those stories about people who win the lottery, only to have it completely destroy their lives? That’s essentially The Pearl, as Kino’s world is torn apart by finally acquiring the riches he’s spent his life seeking. No amount of wealth can overcome the doctor’s racism and avarice. His community and friends turn against him. Strangers chase after him, bringing the ultimate tragedy down on him. It’s not a happy tale and doesn’t have a happy ending, but I enjoyed the bleak symbolism, despite occasionally feeling that the better path would be obvious, even to Kino. I give The Pearl three stars.

12. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not a single person has recognized this title, when cited, but Alas, Babylon is a classic post-apocalyptic novel, set in 1959, during the Cold War. The premise sees the scales tipping, when through a series of unfortunate events, the Soviet Union perceives a first strike and attacks the United States, wiping out all power and communication in fictional Fort Repose, Florida.

Randall Braggs is living an aimless life when his older brother, an Air Force Intelligence officer, warns him that the world is essentially about to end and sends his own family to Florida, in hopes of securing their safety, while he stays behind in Nebraska, knowing he won’t make it, himself. Randy finds himself the keeper of his grieving sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, in addition to a band of townspeople, including the spinster town librarian (fuck you, Pat frank), the Black farmers up the road, his girlfriend and her family, and the local doctor after “The Day,” when the entire state has become a contaminated zone. Throughout the book, the group faces many threats, from lack of food, to illness, to highwaymen, as they try to survive the aftermath the blast.

I won’t lie and tell you that this book necessarily holds up well in 2020. At times, it’s both racist and sexist. Though Randy is considered a “progressive” in his rural township, in the context of Alas, Babylon, that just means that he considers Black people to be humans, ranking slightly above women. I do not have a hard time putting these things into context, for the day they were written, but I could certainly understand if they weren’t someone else’s cup of tea, so consider that a trigger warning of sorts.

Aside from the above, Alas, Babylon is a great read. Where many modern post-apocalyptic media leans too heavily on clichés and tropes of the genre, such as the diabetic and the prepper uncle, this one stars a protagonist who has very little warning of the coming blast and actually regretted some of the preparations he forgets. Since many of the men are recent veterans of the 1950s, their survival instincts are far more organic than that of Rick Grimes. The struggles they face are ones few would consider today, such as a lack of salt and their solutions are clever, without reaching. Jake hates when I read this stuff, because I always want to order bugout bags and that backpack you can put your cat in for travel, but if I could find more titles like Alas, Babylon, I’d devour them. I give Alas, Babylon 4 stars.

13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley ⭐⭐⭐

I think I mentioned, in my last post of reviews, that 2020 was the wrong year to read a bunch of weird political dystopian novels, but I must say, Brave New World was probably my favorite of the genre, due to it having so many parallels to modern day society, while still managing to be delightfully bizarre.

The book begins with world building, as we see different classes of society being conditioned from birth to appreciate their lot in life, from babies being trained to fear sunshine and flowers to older children learning acceptance and docility through “sleep learning.” These things are a stretch for modern civilization, but Huxley then goes on to describe a society that encourages children to experiment with one another sexually and derides adults who practice any sort of monogamy, including playing favorites with one of their many lovers. The concept of parenthood and pregnancy are ones of shame and disgust, as are aging and religion and it is the societal norm to dose oneself with Soma to rid the mind of all negative thoughts and emotions.

Upon threat of being sent to Iceland for his vocal criticisms of World State, our protagonist Bernard takes a trip with his favorite gal, Lenina, to visit the “savages” on a New Mexico reservation. There, they feel disgust for all they see as these people value religion and actually repair their clothing (shudder). It’s here that Bernard and Lenina discover a woman from their own society, who was abandoned years ago and committed the disgusting and shameful crime of birthing a child. They return to London with her and her now-grown “savage” son in tow and all hell breaks loose.

I read Brave New World in college and it remains my favorite dystopian novel. Both U.S. political parties like to compare the other to 1984, but I find that to be much more far-fetched than the general societal norms of Aldous Huxley’s world of mandatory promiscuity, waste, and assumed drug use. Meanwhile, there are just enough weird quirks, like the engineered classes of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons to keep this book firmly in science fiction territory, as opposed to relegating it to the more political fiction of Orwell or the symbolic story of We. I give Brave New World three out of five stars.

I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 1

At the beginning of this year, I set a lofty new year’s resolution, as I tend to do. Last year’s resolution was to finish 52 books, in an effort to end my habit of beginning seven and maybe finishing two. I accomplished that goal… barely. I literally finished listening to Little Women on New Year’s Eve, at double speed, but I did it. So, this year, I decided to take it up a notch. Not only would I read at least 52 books, half of them would inarguably be titles of substance, meaning not werewolf/mafia/motorcycle club/time travel/alien romance novels. Since my library teens still have to read classics for school and my one and only act of rebellion in high school was to put more effort into not completing assigned reading, than it would have taken to actually read the books themselves, I decided that all 26 books would be classics. It seemed an overly ambitious way to make myself better at my job, of course, but then a pandemic hit, freeing up an awful lot of time for me to read 26 classics, so you don’t have to…

  1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dracula was my first classic of the year and, if I’m honest, I was dreading my entire project at this point and wasn’t enthusiastic about a book that is essentially a compilation of diary entries and letters. I don’t even like graphic novels, because the writing style takes me out of the story. Fortunately, however, I was able to download the audio for free, from work, and that completely removed the distraction. While I was confused, at times, as to why something was being shared, I did find that all of the pieces ultimately lined up into a genuinely scary tale. Jonathan Harker looking out his window to see Dracula climbing the side of the castle was quite possibly one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It was refreshing to experience horror without gore or smut, despite the many trashy movie adaptations, with all their genitalia. I give Dracula five stars and it’s easily one of my favorite books, now.

2. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve never loved stories told through weird mediums, like court documents or interviews. It’s done in non-fiction for transparency and in fiction, to better resemble non-fiction, but I don’t enjoy either. I find it really difficult to get into a story, if I’m still putting together the puzzle while reading. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I feel like that’s the author’s job, before publication. That being said, it’s ironic that my first titles, of such a lofty goal, were both written in this style.

When I started In Cold Blood, I assumed it would be dry, as was the way of most non-fiction of the time. I had also had dental surgery just a few days before, so I was high as a kite when Jake came home for lunch and found me sitting on the couch, crying.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Nothing.”
Jake: “That’s not true. You’re crying.”
Me: “They were just all so scared! Even the dog was scared and then all of his owners died and it doesn’t even say what happened to him!”

While I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on hydrocodone, I can attest to it being not only engaging, but truly disturbing, as you’re made to empathize with two vicious murderers. In fact, only after I’d finished this title, did I discover that Truman Capote was actually somewhat obsessed with the killer, Perry Smith. Some speculated that he held romantic feelings for him, while others theorized that he saw himself in the man. That’s… even more disturbing, so kudos to Capote for taking it to the next level. Simply for the slow pacing that is unavoidable in most non-ficion, I give In Cold Blood four stars.

3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding ⭐⭐

Lord of the Flies has always sounded fascinating to me. Just the concept of an utter breakdown of society amongst young boys, who aren’t as strictly indoctrinated into social constructs of acceptable behavior, sounded thrilling and I never understood why all of the teens I worked with hated it. Color me surprised when I, too, was driven far more insane than the main characters, by my complete and utter boredom.

Y’all, nothing happened throughout most of this book. The first 10% of the story revolved around establishing a rudimentary society of gentlemanly norms, while the next 80% depicted the destruction of said norms, and the last 10% revealed the consequences. The beginning of the story was interesting, as young boys scrambled to build a way of life and a hierarchy that closely resembled the only one they knew. About 10% out of the next 80% was engaging, as the carefully constructed society devolved, while the other 70% was largely internal monologue. The final 10% woke me up, with an exciting chase scene and a surprising twist. Despite the rousing ending, however, over 2/3 of this book was simply filler and a failed attempt at suspense. While I enjoyed the concept, the execution left me wanting… three more stars. Two disappointed stars for Lord of the Flies.

4. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I were hard-pressed to name a favorite author, who doesn’t turn out cozy and predicable romances, it would be John Steinbeck. I understand that people dislike him for being too descriptive, but unlike certain contemporary authors (here’s looking at you Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King), Steinbeck is actually good at it. Like Tolkein, Steinbeck isn’t wordy, because he’s in love with himself, but in love with the world he’s creating, specifically his characters. Can that be tedious, regardless of his motivations? Sure, but I love good characterization so much, I find I don’t mind. Of Mice and Men, however, hit a sweet spot, managing to have deep characters, despite its novella length.

When I told friends that I was reading this story, many of them shared that the ending made them cry. Judging by reviews online, that was Steinbeck’s intent, as he painted a rather dated picture of the plight of Lennie, a man who was likely on the autism spectrum. In 2020, however, I felt little for Lennie and all sympathy went to George, because I know several people on the spectrum… and zero of them are psychotic. I know, I know, he was a big guy, who didn’t realize his own strength, and was misunderstood. That’s the story described by George, anyway, as he recounts all the jobs and plans that haven’t worked out and all the times he had to take Lennie and run, because George is the real MVP. His life could’ve been so much simpler, were he to have Lennie committed to some sort of home, but he was loyal and acted as his protector, through all of his mishaps… until the very end.

I realize that Steinbeck meant for Lennie’s final actions to be an accident, a tragedy beyond his control, but I don’t accept that, with the understanding we have for special needs people, today. I’ve met too many of them, in my line of work, to believe that murder is such a small step, regardless of strength. Lennie had severe anger issues and was truly dangerous. He got what was coming to him. My heart went out only to George, in the final scene, as he bestowed such heartbreaking mercy on his lifelong friend. I give four stars to Of Mice and Men, despite feeling very differently about the characters than basically all of mankind.

5. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I admit it. There was a month, where I Googled the shortest classics, so I could more easily accomplish my goal and Metamorphosis was one of them. Unlike most of the titles I’ve chosen this year, Metamorphosis is a symbolic, artistic piece and I loathe that stuff. As a teen librarian, I spend all of April, National Poetry Month, ranting about how poetry is stupid. I’ve been known to declare that it’s not art, if I can do it. I’m simply too direct for metaphors and beautiful prose, so I figured an art piece wouldn’t be my jam and researched what it was supposed to be about, before reading. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing that Kafka intended this novella as an allegory for his relationship with his father, painted a portrait that was both haunting and heartbreaking. Even Kafka’s mother and sister apparently had their limits on their affection for their source of income. He was a meal ticket and when he wasn’t that, he was an insect. Four painful stars.

6. We, by Yevgeny Zamyat ⭐⭐⭐

This might not have been the year to read a bunch of disturbing political classics, now that I sit here in terror, sporting my foil hat, beneath my bare lightbulb; but I’m a sucker for classic dystopian and I’ve always wanted to read the source material on which virtually all of them were based. We tells the story of One State, a supposed utopian society made of steel and glass, removing any and all sense of privacy from a totalitarian state. There are no individuals, only parts of the whole, as is reflected in the one and only pronoun: we. The only delineator for each of these parts is a letter/number combination, as we see in the spacecraft engineer, D-503. Society’s laws and rules are based entirely on mathematic formulas and emotions and dreams are considered a sickness, of which the consequence is death.

Y’all, I think one of the reasons I love these books so much, is that they’re all so very bleak. No one gets a happy ending in a world of government corruption, far surpassing anything we could imagine in our modern society. In this regard, We is no different than the books it inspired and I quite enjoyed the overall plot, as D-503 rebelled against his beloved One State, with the help of a beautiful woman, I-330, in a tale as old as time. Much like Eve, I-330 offered D-503 the curse of knowledge, inducting him into Mephi, an organization plotting to overthrow One State, despite the risk that they could both be destroyed by the Benefactor’s Machine. I won’t ruin the ending for you, since no one has actually heard of this book and I genuinely enjoyed the story, but I can attest to it being a somewhat confusing read.

Perhaps because it was translated from Russian or due to the fact that it’s literally 100 years old, We wasn’t a leisurely read. Much of the story is told in prose and imagery, to the point that the reader is not always entirely sure what’s happening and what’s metaphorical, a disruption only compounded by the use of invented terminology, along with words that have simply fallen out of fashion in the last century. There was some definite rereading required and that made for a tedious experience. I’d ultimately recommend the book, but it’s by no means light. The juice is still worth the squeeze, however and I give We three stars.

7. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I tried and failed to read this book about 10 years ago, when I was going through my divorce, and that was probably for the best, because this is not a book to read when you’re already depressed. Flowers for Algernon was another title that was told entirely through first person journal entries and medical reports, so I’m thrilled that I spent the last couple of years training my brain to comprehend audiobooks. People often judge the quality of an audiobook by the reader, but unless it’s either really good or really bad, I rarely care. The narrator for Flowers for Algernon, however, was fantastic. As the book progresses and simple-minded Charlie Gordon undergoes the same procedure as test subject mouse, Algernon, the narrator becomes noticeably, but gradually, more articulate. As Charlie surpasses his colleagues, his voice becomes more arrogant, espousing scientific jargon and passing judgement on everyone around him. As he sees Algernon failing and his own mind begins to degrade, he sounds frantic with terror and humiliation. This is a good book, but an excellent audiobook and quite possibly one of the few that left me near tears… at least without a dog dying. Five devastating stars.

How Luck Prepared Us for Disaster

Right now, I have a firm grasp on positivity… which of course means that later, I’ll have a firm grasp on a bottle of whiskey. My highs are really high and my lows are really low. I half-ass nothing.

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So, in my latest up moment, I’ve been considering all the ways that I’m at an advantage during this pandemic, either by good decisions I’ve made that have ultimately prepared me for disaster, or the more likely scenario of pure chance. I’m a firm believer that where liberals tend to underestimate the role of moxy and self-determination, conservatives tend to underestimate the role of luck. So here’s a mix of both.

We’re used to eating at home.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people eat out all the time. Jake and I split a McDonald’s burger and fries (no drink) to celebrate Easter, since it was already the lamest holiday ever and it cost $7.26. That’s why we never eat out and y’all are crazy. Fortunately for us, this means we’ve got quite the cache of recipes, because we’re used to cooking. We’re not eating pasta night after night, but instead we’re eating soups, stew, salmon, enchiladas, salads, burgers, garlic green beans, battered fish, fries and tots, coconut haystacks, chocolate chip cookies, cake mix cookies… We’ve developed a lengthy menu over the years. Since we come home for lunch, that includes lunches. We are not scrambling for meal planning ideas.

I’ve been cutting our hair for years.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people get your hair cut all the time. A few years ago, I decided I wanted bangs, but I knew they’d need more upkeep than my twice annual haircut, so I bought some hair sheers on Amazon for $15 and started doing it myself, with tips from YouTube. A year ago, Jake asked me to cut his hair, so we could save the $20 every couple of months. For the cost of one of those haircuts, I bought a trimmer on Amazon and have been doing it ever since. Despite all salons being closed, there are no shaggy folks in the Granger household.

I own walking shoes and workout equipment.
I’ve had an elliptical for years and purchased my rowing machine about a month before the pandemic really hit. I also bought a good pair of walking shoes about six months ago and live in an older neighborhood with large lots and wide streets, so walks are a great way to get out of the house.

We don’t have kids.
We want to do the baby thing soon, but we haven’t gotten around to it just yet and I’ve gotta say, what a time to be childless. I cannot imagine going through the highs and lows I hit in one day with small children in tow. I miss my job and the days feel long and meaningless, while I’m constantly terrified that I’ll get news that there won’t be any paychecks after a certain date. I can’t sleep, because I wake up and remember we’re in the middle of the apocalypse. It’s exhausting and I’m so glad I’m not solely responsible for another human’s health and well-being at this very moment of my life.

We have stable(ish) jobs. 
They’re furloughing nurses and doctors in my state, during a pandemic. No job is 100% safe. Jake and I, however, have been lucky enough to keep our jobs and pay thus far. While I’m home, I am doing three remote programs a week with my homeschool kids, to justify that pay and none of my managers seem worried that we’ll lose it, let alone our jobs. Jake is essential, if people want to continue getting water in their homes, and he goes to work every day, as per usual.

I have a contingency plan.
If the bottom falls out, I just passed my school media certification test to add another subject area to my teaching certificate, which I’ve kept going all these years. They will always need teachers and I can always teach… even if that means eventually relocating to Jake’s home state, where teachers are better compensated.

We already bought a house.
Realizing that Cherokee property values were soaring and recognizing that if we waited to buy until we had a 20% down payment, we’d price ourselves out of the market, we purchased our 2,300 square foot, 1980’s flip on over an acre, for $210,000 with 5% down in 2018. Since I have no idea what Covid-19 is going to do to the housing market or mortgages as a whole, I’m really glad we’ve already bought a home that we plan to stay in for at least the next 15 years.

I just refinanced that house.
Literally, two weeks after the lock down, we signed the paperwork on a lower fixed interest rate and a lower monthly payment, which stated that we’d already earned 10% equity. We won’t have to make a mortgage payment until June and can use those payments to secure our financial position.

We’ve paid off a lot of debt and are now nearing an ideal financial situation.
I married a man with a nest egg and that is pure luck. Do any of y’all remember my rants about Fifty Shades of Grey and how I’d let a man hang me upside down and gut me like a deer if he’d only pay off my student loans? That happened!

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Not that part… the part about the student loans. While I still owe on my federal student loans, they’re on an income based repayment program that only counts my income and comes out to about $220 a month, while the remainder is due for public service student loan forgiveness in 2024. My private student loans, however, were killing us. We were paying $300 a month just to keep the phone calls at bay, because we weren’t even touching the principal… that is, until my romantic hero swept in and paid them all off, along with my car and credit card, ultimately lowering our overhead by quite a bit. We’ve also paid off multiple credit cards since then and managed to secure a car payment of about $200 per month, while maintaining a sizable emergency fund.

I like my husband… and for some reason, he likes me.
I’ve seen a lot of memes and articles citing the stress that this pandemic is putting on marriages. Maybe it’s because Jake is still going to work each day or because we have a lot of space to offer each other, but I just don’t feel that way. I have thought a hundred times how much worse this pandemic would be if I were single. I could barely handle getting iced in all alone during Southern snowstorms in my twenties, and those only lasted a few days. I would go crazy with no one but my pets, sitting around 24/7 reading articles about the end times.

During Armageddon, Jake gives me a reason to be in a good mood, to be sober, to keep a clean house, to make healthy meals, as opposed to my famous single girl dining experience of Lotso Snack Foods. Marshmallows and maraschino cherries for dinner anyone? Jake provides comfort and company and someone to share sad McDonald’s burgers as we celebrate Isolation Holidays with video games and drinking. For some reason, he’s grateful to have me around too and I’m beginning to think that’s it’s just his provider instincts. When crisis hits, he needs something to take care of… enter me. 

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Minimalist Pandemic Goals

Three weeks ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two weeks, in the face of Covid-19. One week ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two more weeks. Last Thursday… I think, the days are beginning to run together… I got the news that my library would be closed for the month of April.

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Text to My Boss: Can we just stage a coup and go back anyway? Open the library, welcome people inside. I’m tired of being a part of the solution. Let’s be part of the problem.

In that first week, I posted an adorably ambitious list of pandemic goals. In hindsight, I now realize, of course, that this is the equivalent to a Google search for the most popular New Year’s resolutions. So I’m here to revise…

Goal 1: Do Everything I Can to Keep My Job

I am being paid, in full, while still accruing leave. I have a paycheck and health insurance through the end of the month, guaranteed. None of my managers are concerned about our jobs. We have a very secure funding model, similar to that of teachers. That being said, my state is on the list of potentials for the next Covid-19 hot spot and the president is about to advise that everyone wear masks in public. I bought gas for .99 cents a gallon yesterday. Sam’s Club doesn’t have meat. It’s the apocalypse, yo. Anyone who thinks their job is totally secure isn’t paying attention.

There aren’t a lot of ways to librarian from home, folks. I’m doing remote programming with my teens two days a week, listening to classics and reading YA novels, researching programming ideas for fall. I’m jumping at every chance for a video conference, internally and externally and planning to do some some software training on YouTube. I’m writing bi-weekly reports of all of my contributions and sending them in unsolicited. I’m obsessively checking my email, even though it’s been mostly crickets from management, all in the hopes that if this goes on long enough to require tough decisions, they’ll layoff anyone else.

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Goal 2: Don’t Get Fat

Call me vain, I don’t care, but directly below keeping my job comes the goal of not getting fat in isolation. Y’all, I am literally holed up all day, with all of the food ever. There’s almost nothing I could want to eat, that I couldn’t eat. I have ice cream and cookies and Easter candy and fried chicken strips and frozen pizza and very little to do, beyond cry because the world is ending.

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Forget yoga. Forget zumba. Forget healthy eating. Methodology no longer matters to me. If maintaining my weight means I walk around the neighborhood listening to audiobooks for two hours a day, so I can’t raid the fridge, so be it. What else am I going to do with my time? If it means drinking nothing but coffee until 1:00 in the afternoon, while doing an impression of Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka, fine. As long as they don’t have to roll me out of isolation, like Violet Beauregarde I’m happy.

Goal 3: Be Nice to My Husband

As essential personnel, my husband is still going to work every day. If anyone is going to get me sick, it’s him. If anyone is going to take care of me, it’s him. If anyone is going to keep me from feeling totally isolated, it’s him. It’s not his fault that I’m home, all day, theorizing that the evangelicals might be right and this could be the Rapture… at least beyond the point that he married me. He has to live in this incredibly stressful world, too… and he has to actually venture out into it. I don’t have to be the perfect housewife, but the least I can do is keep home pleasant.

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Goal 4: Don’t Destroy the House

I am a homebody, y’all. I love my house. There’s no place I’d rather be… except maybe work these days. This house is 2,300 square feet, though, including the converted garage and it sits on over an acre. If not properly cared for, that becomes a huge chore. So, while Jake takes care of the lawn, it is my goal to keep our home comfortable… since we’re possibly going to die in it.

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Goal 5: Don’t Destroy the Pets

Jake deserves 100% of the credit for the fact that our pets are not insufferable. He has trained them quite well, not to beg or get on the furniture without permission. They’re not allowed in the kitchen when we’re in there and they’re just generally much nicer to be around than many other people’s pets. Thackery Binx will meow at me first thing in the morning, because he wants me to hurry up and sit down with my coffee, so I can snuggle him. He seems to understand, however, that these snuggles have a time limit, because I have to go to work… until now. Now, I am home 100% of the time, to respond to everyone’s every whim, so I’m making it a goal to be slightly more emotionless, so as not to utterly destroy my pets in the time I’m home, however long that may be.

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Goal 6: Don’t Spend Money

Times are simply too uncertain for retail therapy. Jake and I were quite fortunate to have started a refinance on our home six weeks ago, and to have finalized it just Wednesday, which means we’ve saved $300 on our mortgage and now have a 3.375% interest rate. We actually had to send in our most recent pay stubs, again, just to prove we still had jobs, the day before we signed, though. The economy has tanked and while I do still have my teaching certificate, because I love contingency plans, we don’t know what the future holds. So, spending less money is important right now. The mortgage payments we don’t have to make, the stimulus checks that are on their way, the extra paychecks we’re expecting in a few months… these are all going to securing our financial future, so that if things get bad, they’re not as bad.

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Goal 7: Read Books

I have no more goals about what I should read, simply that I should read something that isn’t the news. It can be a romance novel I’ve read three times, as long as it’s not staring at a screen, crying over the end times. It probably shouldn’t be the next Left Behind novel or anything else that’s actually about the end times, but I’m not going to be that specific in my parameters.

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So there we have it, my minimalist, realistic goals. If I can make it through this apocalypse employed, human sized, married, with a home and pets that don’t suck, without wasting all of the money we’ve saved, and without driving myself crazy by reading about Armageddon all day, I will be in a better place than most. They aren’t stimulating goals, but they’re goals all the same.

Apocalypse Librarianship

So, I just read over my last post, to gauge the status of my Isolation Checklist. It’s day 11 and…

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It was a bad week, y’all. I was in tears by day three. I suppose I did make some progress on Vampire Diaries… perhaps the only real progress since that particular activity allowed for curling up on the couch, while I obsessed over the news, as the number of infected in my state doubled each day.

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I wasn’t even good at self-isolation. Nearly each day, I managed to convince myself of another vital errand that had to be completed, from grocery shopping to returning packages to Amazon to getting gas in preparation for not going anywhere. I felt a sense of purpose as I made trip after trip, for sandpaper and Funfetti icing, talking myself down from the remaining food-hoarding tendencies I earned in my poverty-stricken early twenties. When I wasn’t preparing for Armageddon, I was frantically texting my husband news updates, exclaiming that the world was ending… and yes I did read that article about taking a break from the internet if you’re feeling stressed, but I’m a researcher! This is is what I do… when I’m not staring into space, contemplating the end of civilization as we know it.

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What can I say? I read a lot of YA novels.

Speaking of which, I am a teen librarian. While I’m unbelievably fortunate to be receiving full compensation for this time at home, there’s not really a way to be a public teen librarian from home. The bulk of what I do, on a day-to-day basis, is interact with teens. I’m not allowed to interact with anyone, right now! My inbox is brimming with suggestions for children’s and adult librarians to help their communities, through remote story times and resource sharing for tax help and Covid-19, but when it comes to teen services, it’s crickets. Shocking. That’s totally new.

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Folks, I love my job. If I’d been offered two weeks of paid leave, I probably would have turned it down. I don’t want to be away from my kids and my work friends. I want to plan Minecraft relay-escape rooms, despite thinking Minecraft is stupid. I want to act as GM during my bi-weekly Teen Table Top Time, without having my apocalyptic role-play interrupted by the actual apocalypse. I want to recruit summer reading teen volunteers. Being a teen librarian is as much my dream now as it was 10 years ago, even more so now that I know what it looks like…

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Me… every day… if my boss trusted me on a ladder after the great guillotine paper cutter incident of her third day.

I know these are drastic times, but oh em jingles, y’all, I could not stay home, as a general state of being. Despite my rapidly developing depression, I did finish reading my 99 cent romance novel and listening to Lord of the Flies, which by the way, I recommend skipping when you already possess an irrational fear of the breakdown of society. I cleaned my house multiple times and upgraded my cell phone, which is not an easy task when Earth is closed. I took the dog for several walks and even attempted a few myself, before I was attacked by a hawk.

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True story, folks. After days of staring at the ceiling in despair, I decided to test out my new earbuds and call my Gramma, while on a walk. It was at the point furthest from my house, naturally, that I felt something hit me in the head… hard. I thought a branch must have fallen or someone had actually thrown something at me, but the only possible culprit was a giant bird flying overhead… which proceeded to follow me halfway home. Sure enough, when Jake got off work, he verified that there was a single long, bleeding claw mark under my hair.

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We’re in a pandemic and the birds are trying to kill me! Zetus lapetus, I can’t even leave the house! Just as I was graduating from Anna from Frozen to Jack from The Shining, however, I had an idea:

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While my public school teens are enjoying an extended spring break, before joining virtual classrooms with their teachers and a dozen friends, my homeschool teens are still following their normal curriculum. They don’t have cell phones and the ability to spend these weeks texting and sending booby pictures to all of their classmates. Their parents would never let them spend a month playing video games and streaming without end. Without their co-ops and sports and library time, they’re probably feeling just as isolated and bored as I am. If public school teachers could engage with their teens virtually, however, so could I! All I needed were some fun, remote engagement opportunities, and I could librarian during the apocalypse, y’all!

So, I messaged all of my regulars’ moms, asking if their children would be interested. After several enthusiastic yes’s, from stay-at-home moms who’d been trapped inside with bored teenagers all week, I arranged for a Neflix Party, through the Google Chrome extension. I would take movie votes, verify their appropriateness with parents, schedule a time, and send the link to a video I controlled. While I did sporadically participate in the chat, I mostly oversaw the kids’ behavior to make sure twelve teens weren’t driving each other crazy… and immediately proved the necessity of my presence when one of my regular girls started impersonating everyone two minutes into The Dark Knight.

Folks, this was really just me supervising a chatroom of my regular teens, but there was something so normal about telling kids I see nearly every day “No one is trash. You’re all beautiful little buttheads, now knock it off,” even via chatroom. There was something about explaining why we don’t joke about Coronavirus that made me feel a little more grounded. So, Friday, as we wrapped up The Dark Knight, I asked if they’d had fun, if it was something they’d want to do again and they all said yes. On Tuesday, they watched Avengers: Infinity War, while I watched New Moon (making my way through that Twilight Saga rewatch) and threatened to text their parents, so they could explain why it wasn’t funny to joke about Covid-19.

As the credits rolled, I suggested we try our apocalyptic RPG during the actual End Times (not verbatim), through Zoom. So it is, that I’m planning to video conference 12 teenagers later this afternoon, to discuss how we’ll fight off Zombie Hitler if things get really bad… and it’s my lifeline, the key to my sanity… just in time, because yesterday I received the automated text message that my library system will be closed, at minimum, until April 16th and we’ll continue to be paid “unexpected closure leave.” It seems, I have plenty of time to hone my apocalypse libriarianship skills and possibly be a little more productive these coming weeks. That or take up day drinking.

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“Hunkering Down”

Coronavirus has arrived stateside, y’all. There are 10 confirmed cases in my state, one in my county that’s been declared locally transmitted. Whether your claim is that “it’s just the flu” or the end is nigh, it’s become apparent that, globally, we’ve all slipped into a game of Plague Inc., 80’s movie style.

The flu has a vaccine and has still killed 55,000 Americans this year, by the way.

It’s difficult to predict how bad things will get in the US, but I must say, I’m getting scared, especially with the start of spring break. As the zoo, museums, and all of the other obvious attractions announced their closures over the past week, I was growing increasingly worried that the libraries would be the only thing open and we’d get an even larger crowd than normal. Fortunately, however, all three major library systems in my state have closed their doors for a minimum of two weeks and mine is providing all employees with unexpected closure leave, meaning I get full pay and benefits, without draining my accumulated leave.

While working from home has been briefly discussed, there aren’t a lot of ways librarians can work from home. Facebook story times have been mentioned, but I’m not a children’s librarian… and I refuse to participate in social media. Program planning and calendar entry deadlines will likely still stand, but I have mine completed through October. That leaves program prep, so I suppose I’ll be practicing my balloon animals and contact juggling for June’s Sideshow Skills, along with following an online painting tutorial for an eventual Paint and Pop program. I could also further my research for May’s Norse mythology themed LARP… assuming we’re open by then.

While my library has officially closed for a tentative two weeks, schools statewide have announced their closure through at least April 6th and the CDC has recommended we hunker down for the next eight weeks (not verbatim). So it is that I find myself with a surprise paid leave of an undetermined length. Since Jake’s job provides pretty essential services, even if things get bad enough to make the Good Ol’ Boys take them seriously and limit his hours, he’ll still be required to go in and perform some tasks. I’ve done the shopping: procured frozen meats and vegetables, canned goods, treats like chips and frozen pizzas and brownie mix, dog food and cat food, toilet paper and paper towels, cleaning supplies and medicine in case we do get sick. I’ve refilled my inhalers and informed my boss that I am not willing to empty the book drop, since asthma puts me in the higher risk category, according to the CDC. I even gave blood last week. The prep is done, folks. What now?

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The last time I had what felt like unlimited free time, I was in my mid-twenties and worked half time at the library, while substitute teaching. During school breaks, I only worked twenty hours… and I went stir crazy every time. There was the year I filled my apartment with art I created following YouTube tutorials; the spring break when I binged watched Sons of Anarchy to the point that I was screaming “Rape her with a billy club!” and realized that maybe I needed a time out; The Christmas I tried to teach myself the Single Ladies and Thriller dances; the summer I delved into string art. Zetus lapetus, I’m lucky my downstairs neighbors were always too high to murder me.

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Once again, with appropriate respect for the lives lost and suffering yet to come, I have to figure out what to do with myself for the next few weeks… and I won’t even be working those twenty hours. I’m a planner, y’all, a woman of action… but I just made my last trip to Wal-Mart before parking my Kia Soul for weeks. I’ve done all I can do to prepare for this pandemic, checked off the final items on the list. So… I guess I need a new list. Goals are important, folks.

Finish Vampire Diaries
I have been working on this series for the better part of a year, people. I am sooooo tired of Elena Gilbert and her confusion. It’s Damon already! It’s not a fucking Rubix Cube.

Take Up A New Terrible Teen Show
Maybe I’ll catch up with Riverdale or try I Am Not Okay With This on Netflix. It makes me better at my job to be able to talk to my teens about these shows. That’s totally the only reason I still watch them.

Reread Jodi Ellen Malpas’s This Man Series
I’m a lover of romance, but this is a terrible series, y’all. I mean, it is really bad… but the last book takes place 15 years later, after the heroine gets amnesia and the hero has to make her fall in love with him again, Notebook style. I can’t not read that.

Do This Yoga Thing
I bought the mat and blocks and checked out all the DVD’s we had on shelf, after attending one free session at work. I was pretty on the fence at first, but I’m willing to concede that yoga might not be all hokum.

Master Egg Drop Soup
I started thinking “Oooh, I could make a souffle!” Then I Googled it and thought “Woah… walk before you run.” Egg drop soup looked easy enough, though.

Play a Videogame
Jake always wishes I were more of a gamer, whether it’s Mario Odyssey or Skyrim. Maybe I can give one of these a real go now. At the very least, I finally have time for The Sims.

Complete That Afghan
It’s been sitting on the couch, ready to be worked on, since Christmas. This will not become a project I never finished.

Rewatch Every Nicholas Sparks Movie I Own
I’m a sucker for The Longest Ride, Safe Haven, and The Notebook.

Finish Lizzie Maguire
Oh my gosh, this show is still super relatable, but maybe that’s because I work with teens.

Complete That Painting
Last weekend, I bought the supplies to follow this tutorial. It seems I have plenty of time to do it now. I can even gauge whether or not my teens could follow a similar one.

Tackle That TBR List
Librarians have notoriously long To Be Read lists, but I promised myself I’d read 25 classics this year. It’s a lofty goal, but it seems I have the time to get caught up with this month’s selections, read that LGBTQ YA novel I downloaded, and start my reread of Kresley Cole’s Arcana Chronicles before she releases the final installment this year.

Watch All Five Twilight Movies
Haters gonna hate, but at 20, I was Team Edward. Today, however, I’m definitely Team Jacob. He was hotter and could have given Bella a normal life, without her having to change.

Watch All Three Fifty Shades Movies
The books are horribly written and Jamie Dornan looks like he’s physically pained during all of the sex scenes, but I just love the “rich man saves poor, naive virgin, with a pretend degree” storyline. It’s just so relatable. I can’t figure out why…

Learn to Contact Juggle
This is surprisingly applicable to my job.

Learn to Make Balloon Animals
See above.

Work On My Tan
I own a 2,300 square foot home with a gym quality elliptical and a rowing machine. I’ll get plenty of exercise, but I’m not so sure I’ll get much sun, unless I make a deliberate effort. Social distancing shouldn’t be much of a challenge on an acre and working on my tan should help to minimize the cabin fever.

Teach Myself The Thriller Dance
That living room was really way too small. That’s definitely why I can’t do the Thriller dance.

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The Only Millennial Who Hates Travel

Jake was born in 1984, so strictly speaking, he’s a member of the Millennial generation, a title he greatly resents. You see, my in-laws, Jake’s parents and aunts and uncles, were some of the first Baby Boomers, raising his cousins and sister (and he and his brother, by default) firmly in Generation X. While I watched Rugrats and played with my Bop-It and Furbies, Jake was like… playing outside or something. He never saw a single episode of Full House or listened to NSYNC or owned a digital pet. With only a three year age difference, it’s amazing how different our childhoods were and even our personalities and interests are today. He was Varsity Blues to my Mean Girls and I could probably fashion a Jake Granger drinking game, where I do a shot every time he grumbles about what a Millennial I am… and more often than not, he’s right.

Jake: “… and how are you going to figure out how to do this?”
Me: “YouTube? I learned how to crochet from YouTube, I can learn how to paint a house from YouTube.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “My Kindle died! My book is out of batteries!”
Jake: “If only they made a paper version.”
Me: “Ugh. Gross. Those aren’t even backlit. It’s 2019.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “I hate that show. Nothing happened.”
Jake: “It’s a slow build. You like Stephen King.”
Me: “I like his books. The show is boring.”
Jake: “We’ve watched one episode. You are such a Millennial.”

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In so many ways, I am my generation. I love new tech and all things Harry Potter. I took out six figure student loan debt, for a master’s degree, to work in a field I chose based on how much I thought I could Do Good and Change the World. I haven’t had cable in seven years and refuse to watch anything I can’t binge. I’ve hinted recently at the one stereotype I just cannot claim, though: the love of travel. Y’all, I hate travel. I hate it so much that “hate” isn’t even a strong enough term…

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… and I’ll tell you why.
Packing
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Jake and my travels for a family rodeo event, in a neighboring state, where we enjoyed the shenanigans of acting like college kids together. What I didn’t mention, however, was how much I hated leaving home for four days, in part because of the comforts I couldn’t take with me and the ones I could, but would inevitably forget.

Yes, yes, I know, I can’t take the cat, or so say Jake and Thackery Binx alike. It seems, however, that it’s equally impossible to pack the most basic necessities of home, without taking so much that I risk forgetting something important in a hotel room in the Rocky Mountains. On this particular trip, I remembered three pairs of boots, four different dresses in varying levels of fancy, two different belts, and four different sets of jewelry. I had a suitcase, a garment bag, the original box for my wedding boots, and a bag full of items to keep me entertained in the car. I, however, forgot most of my makeup, my hairspray, and socks. But you know, it’s a good thing I brought a physical audiobook, outside of the three I’d downloaded to my phone, and the crochet project I never touched, to potentially take my mind off the fact that I forgot my makeup.

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Transit
Just this month, I had the privilege of attending YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association symposium in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a riot, naturally.

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As a cost saving measure, and as good stewards of tax payer funds, our system-wide group of six drove the approximately seven hour trip, including stops, in the library van. While Jake and I had just driven an undeniably uncomfortable 10 hours in August, I correctly surmised that this was going to be an even less cozy trip. For starters, I was not in my own car and could not fully recline the seat to sleep, but instead had to sit in an appropriate position, no matter how much it made my back ache. I wasn’t driving with my husband, but several virtual strangers and colleagues and could not repeatedly complain that I was bored or ask how much longer the trip would be or request an unreasonable number of stops. No. I had to spend seven hours in a car, acting like a professional, and it sucked. The only benefit was that driving meant there was no weight limit to our luggage, and every one of us brought an empty suitcase to haul home all of our free YA novels… for the seven hour return trip.

I’m not convinced that a plane trip would have been any better, regardless. In fact, the last time I flew, was on my honeymoon and I spent the entirety of those flights with my head in Jake’s lap, too airsick to function. Seeing a new place and experiencing new things would be a lot more fun, if I didn’t have to actually get there.
Resting
Y’all, I’m a next level homebody and I know it. I don’t know if I’m just traumatized from the years in my late teens and early twenties, when I was forced to move every few months or if I’m just that basic, but I just cannot relax in a strange place. Still, I can appreciate the desire to see something new, or something ancient, to dip into another culture and hear another language. As with woodsy activities, however, I want to end my day in a comfy bed, preferably my comfy bed, because anything comparable is in a suite I can’t afford. While I might prefer a stay in a mid-range hotel room to camping, it still pales in comparison to a good night’s rest in my home.

I remember reading Ready Player One and thinking this is my kind of travel. I could fully experience entire worlds, without checking the bed bug registry or hauling around a comforter, because I know hotels only wash them twice a year. I could order sushi that I know I like, from the chain restaurant in town, and eat in an authentic Japanese restaurant. I could meet new people and learn about new cultures and shower in my own bathroom. Forget about the fantasy of flying cars and pet unicorns, that’s my Oasis: adventuring all day long and unwinding at home.

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People
Can I experience another culture, without talking to people? Seriously, I spend all day, every day, talking to people. Librarianship is surprisingly extroverted, so my idea of a vacation involves a lot fewer people than most of the traveling I’ve done, because at the end of the day, I want to see Thackery Binx and Jake… maybe. Yes, I can turn it on, quite convincingly, for $25 an hour. Vacation isn’t supposed to be work, though, and weaving through throngs of people in an airport or a theme park or a cruise ship or a hotel, mingling with strangers, is work. I don’t even like the first few chapters of a book, because I don’t know the characters yet, so socializing for several days in the real world, when I’m not getting paid for it, is incredibly taxing.

Sure, YALSA was a working weekend, but despite the thrill of being surrounded by teen librarians, each evening still found me alone in the hotel gym, taking a break from all the trying… trying to share honest, but politically correct opinions, trying to be friendly without coming on too strong, trying to strike up meaningful conversations and get the most out of a trip I knew cost taxpayers good money, trying to make a good impression with both my system and national colleagues. By the second day, I was so overstimulated, that I found an architectural anomaly in the form of a little nook, tucked away behind a pillar, where I hid from all the cardigans, read on my phone while drinking coffee, and even called Jake crying because I was so bad at this traveling thing and wanted to come home.

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Millennials love to travel. Zetus lapetus, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that stereotype referenced, I’d never have to pay for my avocado toast again, but I hate travel. I’m no longer convinced that I’m doing it wrong, either, because what seems to be a rejuvenating experience for most people is just exhausting to me. I don’t remember a time when I traveled anywhere, in fact, that I didn’t require an additional day to take a vacation from my vacation, whether it was my Alaskan honeymoon or the last time Jake and I drove three hours to see his parents. I don’t even have children yet and after a weekend away, I feel the way I think an average parent of three must feel after a week at Disney World. There’s so much preparation and upheaval and stress and so… many… people. I’d rather do porn… locally, of course.

A Terrible Summer and the Family Room We Sometimes Shopvac

I hate summer. That is not a seasonal declaration, either. On the coldest day in January, when my husband mansplains how to deice my car, while I tearfully scream at him to stop being an asshole and just take me to work, I hate summer.

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At 31, the majority of my life has revolved around the school year. For the first 28 years or so, this helped to mitigate my contempt for the season. Then, I began working as a librarian full time, which meant having an active role in Summer Reading. For those of you unfamiliar, a teen librarian’s schedule is the exact opposite of a teacher’s. Summer is absolute chaos. The library is packed at all hours, with everyone from teacher moms looking for a way to keep their kids busy on the cheap, full daycare classes, unsupervised children who should be in daycare… and it often feels like everyone under the age of ten is cackling or screaming or crying. In fact, every year, by the first of August, I’ve inevitably come to the conclusion that, if I even still want children, my body has probably developed some kind of immunity to procreation, as it does when exposed to chicken pox. All this to say that, the one redeeming quality that was once reserved for the summer months, a time of relaxation, no longer applies to me, as a public librarian wrangling 35 teen volunteers… and therefore, I hate summer.

Now folks, it would not be a stretch to suggest that I’m something of an “indoor girl.” My husband would tell you so outright, but I do enjoy some outdoor activities, such as hiking, swimming, bike riding, outdoor festivals, laying out… and zetus lapetus it is too fucking hot to do any of those things during a Southern summer. Add to that the plague of insects and insect paraphernalia

Me: ::screaming::
Jake: “What?!?!”
Me: ::spinning in circles:: “Spider web, spider web, spider web!!! It’s on me!!!”
Jake: ::raising a brow:: “Are you okay?”
Me: “NO! I am not okay! I need it to be October!”

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… and I hate summer.

Despite all of this, the assumption that I actually want to leave my home from June to August still persists among my family, because they’re all Lake People. They love getting away for a weekend to share space with a bunch of strangers at a hole full of dirty water and creatures. I hate getting away for a weekend. I don’t enjoy ransacking my bedroom to pack a bag, which will be both overfull and missing something, to sleep in a strange bed, or on the ground with no air conditioning. Y’all, there is no surer sign that someone has a charmed life than their insistence on being poor for a weekend. I’ve been poor. Fuck. Camping. As for the strangers, no thank you. I talk to strangers all day long and they pay me $24 an hour to do it. I don’t need to meet more people. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure every injury I had before the age of 10 happened at a lake. Why would I attempt to relax at the number one setting for horror movies?

Now Jake’s family are not Lake People. They’re Rodeo People. These folks work too hard to understand the appeal of a weekend not spent working cattle or traveling to rodeos. Even attending a softball tournament is more acceptable than a weekend wasted lounging at the lake or anywhere else.

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Every man in Jake’s family.

As for me? When I was six, I wrote in my yearbook that my favorite place to be is “home,” and I stand by kindergarten Belle. While I enjoy being outside for limited amounts of time, when the temperature is between 45 and 75 degrees, it’s with the caveat that I can retreat to my own home, take a hot shower, lounge around in my falsely heated and cooled air, and sleep on my two thousand dollar mattress. Perhaps I love winter so much, because there’s a greater general acceptance of this behavior, but in the South, I feel it’s completely warranted from early June to mid-September, as well… and that’s been my default for much of my life. While everyone else dons far too revealing clothing for my taste and leaps into vats of stranger pee, for me summer is a time to crank the a/c and T-Swift, and dance around the house in my underwear, avoiding any and all people, because I met my quota at work this week. It’s a time to make some real progress on my Vampire Diaries rewatch, read 11 dark paranormal romance novels, and finally get around to that sewing project. I hate summer, but if I ignore all conventional social norms and behavior, it’s bearable… except not this summer. Nope. This summer has been truly unbearable.

Folks, when we bought our house, a year and a half ago, Jake and I decided to keep the converted garage as living space. It had a large closet, access to a remodeled 3/4 bathroom, and a heat and a/c window unit. Combined with the placement right off the laundry room, this allowed us to use it as a bedroom, creating a true split floor plan… with a little work and money. After painting, installing a closet kit, finding 96″ floor to ceiling curtains, it made a huge bedroom, both private and luxurious, with the thick pile carpet Jake insisted on installing. For a few months, it was awesome. Then… the rains came.

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Our house is built on the side of a hill, toward the top, preventing any possibility of flooding on the left side of the house, where the original master was placed, while necessitating a retaining wall on the right… next to the garage. In a normal year, this retaining wall would prevent the garage from flooding. This, however, has not been a normal year. If fact, I’d be willing to bet that this has been one of the wettest years on record for Cherokee, bringing several inches of rain in just minutes on multiple occasions… and ultimately flooding the bedroom.

The first time, in October, it wasn’t so bad. We put some fans on the carpet and Jake poured some tar. The second time, just after Christmas, Jake rented some equipment, dried out the carpet, toiled in the drive for a few days and was certain he’d fixed the problem. The third time, he dried out the carpet with a leaf blower while he researched and brainstormed, determined to put that hydrology degree to personal use, and resolve this issue, once and for all. The fourth time, he tore out the flower bed and put down more tar. The fifth time, he bought pipe to install a drain behind the retaining wall. As this went on, through much of winter and spring, I became more and more defeated, withdrawn, and downright depressed.

As much as I hate playing the role of The Damaged Girl, there was something about being uprooted from the haven of my bedroom, feeling as though my home was threatened, that opened old wounds. While anyone would feel a bit unsettled with their home in disarray, it was something deeper for me. Suddenly, I wasn’t a thirty-something homeowner, but a 22-year-old panicking at the sound of a doorbell, after being forced to move ten times in two years. The true homebody that I am, I had no retreat through the stress… exactly as I felt the day my home burned to the ground and killed all of my pets, leaving me with no place to even lay my head and cry. The circumstances were vastly different and yet, all of the emotions were an echo of those long forgotten heartaches. Just as I once lay in bed, watching my well-loved That 70s Show DVDs, on loop, I spent an entire Saturday unable to move, as I binge-watched The Office.

Jake was supportive and compassionate, showing me more care than I’d ever guess a hard-as-nails country boy was capable of, even though he couldn’t quite understand my distress. When I began to suggest abandoning our converted-garage bedroom, however, he would insist he could fix it, perhaps feeling as though he’d failed me or that he should have been able to resolve the issue, when he literally majored in water. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I could no longer sleep in our bedroom, too stressed from my obsessive weather analyses, though I traditionally love rainstorms, to find peace. When Jake woke up one morning, to find me sleeping on the couch, I quietly told him…

Me: “I think we need to move into the other bedroom.”
Jake: “Okay.”

… and so it began… more renovations, on the heels of the expense and stress of Jake’s attempt to waterproof the garage, which came on the heels of transforming the converted garage into a bedroom in the first place.

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Despite the coming projects and expenses, I was relieved to have a solution, even one that would make summer more stressful and miserable than ever, more expensive than winter and spring combined. You see, when Jake and I bought our home, there were a couple of odd design quirks, such as the kitchy, trendy barn door over the master bathroom, which I hated and immediately sold. Of course, this left us without a bathroom door, not that a door that neither latches nor locks really deserves its name. The master bedroom in a house built in 1980, is also substantially smaller than one built post 2000. While I measured and measured, there was simply no way our entire bedroom suite would fit in the intended master. Luckily, the media console fit beautifully next to the dining table, but there would simply be no room at all for a bookshelf. While most of my childhood mementos were lost in my fire, I cherish and display the few survivors… so I would need wall shelves.

Y’all, my husband deserves a big gold star. Whereas two and a half years ago, Jake couldn’t even discuss decor that wasn’t a dead animal, today he truly trusts me. Not only does he realize that I can envision things he can’t and that I’ll make choices that ultimately reflect him and his taste, he trusts me to dream it up and then make it happen, himself. So it happened, that he cut, stained, sealed, and hung 360 degrees worth of shelves for his mementos and mine.

Meanwhile, I organized… and painted… and organized, and painted. I started by switching the closets, which fucked up my back, to the point that Jake had to take me to the doctor, because I couldn’t drive myself. Then I painted and organized both the old bathroom and the new one… then the new bedroom and the old one. Jake scheduled an appointment with a contractor to install a pocket door, the only door that would fit. He flaked. I told Jake we should go with someone else and he insisted he knew how these guys worked, as he wrote him a check. The contractor flaked and we lost money. We fought.

Oh, how we have fought this summer. Summer is bad enough when I have a cozy hobbit hole I can hide in, until the worst of the heat and biblical plague of insects have passed. This summer, not only have I hated being outside, I’ve hated being inside, as our house has been in complete chaos. As if that weren’t enough to further ruin an already rotten season, I’ve spent the last two months going toe-to-toe with my best friend and the most stubborn man alive. He gets frustrated because I spend money on a project, when we aren’t done with the current one. I get frustrated because these are all projects we’ve planned and I’m following the agreed upon timeline. He tells me we don’t have the money for paint for the garage and then writes a check of equal value to a flaky handyman, without doing his research. He wants to save, unless it’s time to spend money on something he wants and I want to banshee shriek that it’s not just his fucking money. We rarely fight about money, unless we’re spending a lot of it and this year we’ve had no choice. Now we’re both so stressed that everything sets us off.

– Jake hangs up the phone in his work truck with his coworker. –
Coworker: “What’s wrong?”
Jake: “You know how a mockingbird will just dive bomb a hawk’s nest and get it all riled up, as it defends it’s home?”
Coworker: “Yeah?”
Jake: “Well, Belle’s nest is messed up… and I’m the Hawk.”

We’ve worked and we’ve fought and I’ve hurt myself and we’ve sweated and spent far too much money on paint and wood and stain and rollers. Finally, as Summer Reading comes to a close, as back to school supplies and even Halloween candy are appearing on Wal-Mart shelves, despite the consistently 90+ temperatures, there seems to be an end in sight. What was once a spare room with a TV and an elliptical in it, is now our surprisingly spacious bedroom, complete with pocket door and shelves all around. What was once our watery bedroom is now The Blue Room: a Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac. Jake told me I couldn’t paint it in one day, so I naturally threw out my hip and blistered my hands proving him wrong.

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The Family Room We Sometimes Shop Vac is more is more or less empty, for the time being and it will take us two months to catch up financially, but Summer Reading is finally over and Jake and I can stop being total assholes to each other. I can once again arrange my nest and Jake can stop fucking dive bombing it. Now, if only it could be October.

Library school didn’t prepare me for losing a teen.

Everyone hates teenagers. We all know that, I more than most, as their champion and advocate. They’re mouthy and hormonal and loud and mischievous… and that’s all most people see. Unlike the villainous dislike of children, everyone’s allowed to voice their disdain for teens… and they do, usually within earshot of their subjects.

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Adults don’t care about teens’ confusion and widespread abandonment issues, the extreme self-consciousness caused by the live streaming of their very existence, from their friends and parents and enemies. They don’t care that they’re coming into their sexuality in a minefield of consent and its constantly changing definitions, that their most private texts and photos are often traded among their peers like collectible playing cards, that they’re expected to trade them, themselves. No… most people just assume that if they could overcome their adolescence X years ago, then so can today’s teenagers.

Last night, I learned that one of my daily library kids didn’t overcome his teenage years. I don’t know the circumstances of his arrest, his guilt or his innocence… but I knew him and I liked him. I hadn’t seen him since a program in January. I was beginning to worry, but I was looking forward to having him as one of my teen volunteers this summer. I knew he was looking forward to it, too, since he was the first to register… but I won’t see him this summer. I won’t see him ever again, because he died this week. He was alone and scared and thought he had no future… a self-fulfilling prophecy, because he was discovered hanging from a light fixture in a county jail cell… and that’s all anyone will remember. They’ll whisper about rape charges and suicide and they won’t question why or how it could have been prevented. They’ll only condemn… and my heart is breaking, because I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t that person, wasn’t in a position to do so, but I wish I could have helped him navigate whatever it was to which he was lost. Could I have been clearer, that time on the patio, when I talked to him about the rumors the girls were spreading and the behavior that might lead to them… about respect and consent? Could I have been clearer with the girls about the consequences of such accusations, when upon further investigation, I realized their terms weren’t entirely fair or accurate? I tried, within all my power and professional boundaries, to explain it as thoroughly as I could, without accusation or dismissal… and one of them is still dead.

I wish I could help my teens more, without crossing a line. I wish we were all more invested in protecting them, providing them with the love and care we were so intent on giving them just five years earlier. I wish we were more comfortable and transparent in guiding them through their social and sexual interactions. Mostly, I wish a sixteen-year-old boy hadn’t killed himself in a county jail last week… that whatever landed him there hadn’t happened… that he had a chance to make better decisions and figure out who he could be… that I had any idea how to process this.

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The Curse of Ambition

When I was in pre-school, I overheard my parents talking about my brother getting “straight A’s,” as though it were impossible. In my childhood literalism, I understood this as a reference to handwriting (“A” was, like, the easiest letter to write) and confidently declared that could make straight A’s. Something about the way my dad responded that he wasn’t sure if that were true, because getting straight A’s was hard work, alerted me to the idea that there was clearly more to it. Regardless, at four years old, admittedly uncertain as to what I was being challenged, I essentially clapped back with “It’s on, bitch.”

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Not verbatim.

As I grew up, I became used to being, if not the best at every subject in school, one of the best. I hated P.E., because it was rooted in the only area in which I couldn’t excel. It didn’t matter to me that I always got an A in the class. I wanted to be on the National or Presidential Physical Fitness Award wall. If I couldn’t, I didn’t want to fucking play.

I always viewed athleticism as simply unattainable… which to some extent, was an accurate assessment. I was born with asthma, in lieu of any innate grace. I was blessed with a broad rib cage and enormous breasts, at a young age, as opposed to a naturally svelte form. I couldn’t change the fact that I was slow and short of breath, so I was an inattentive daydreamer, which does not make for the best team member. If I tried my hardest, I was middling, so I chose to save my energy and just not try at all. Of course, this meant that I not only missed out on the sport itself, but all the benefits that might have come with it, such as exercise, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills, just to avoid the embarrassment of being not one of the best. 

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Intellectual endeavors, however, were totally my jam. I was overweight, antisocial, and lazy, but straight A’s came easy… more or less. The only time I received a C, was a 79 in reading, because I refused to follow the totalitarian Accelerated Reader regime, a stance I still proudly hold as a public librarian, today. While I struggled in math (a failing I credit to my parents’ claim that the Addin’ Muscle resides in the penis), I always managed at least a B. In high school, I was able to enroll in AP courses and, for the first time, I felt somewhat challenged. Not only was the subject matter explored more deeply, but my classmates were actually engaged and competitive. I was no longer certain of my status as the smartest person in the room and that sparked my sense of ambition. I wanted to continue to be one of the best, and I was willing to work for it, knowing it was at least possible. Unfortunately, these AP courses only made up two or three hours of my day, so I largely found high school to be only slightly more demanding than all that preceded it. Although Rory Gilmore promised college would be different, I did not go to Yale. I went to the third largest public university in my state, and while I did eventually feel engaged, I can’t say that I ever felt truly challenged, until I began my master’s degree.

Lacking social, musical, or athletic graces, prior to graduate school, my sense of ambition was almost exclusively rooted in academics. I’d have ceaselessly climbed that ladder, too, had I been offered more rungs, or encouraged to pursue the areas in which I struggled, like science and math. It should come as no surprise, though, that I gravitated toward an intellectual field and, in hindsight, that I eventually did so well… perhaps too well.

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When I started as a half-time circulation clerk, my goal was simply to gain experience working in a library. Originally, my dream job was to work as a middle school librarian, because I didn’t even realize that teen librarian was a job title. Once I learned what this job entailed, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that working in my system was both more stable and more lucrative, while lacking many of the headaches of working in the public education system. I set my sights on a new goal and for two years, I substitute taught, worked 20 hours a week at the Southside library, and pursued my MLIS.

After graduation, I was fortunate to move, almost immediately, into a half-time librarian position, no specialization… where I stagnated for two and a half years, because there are plenty of 70’s and 80’s feminists, who haven’t recovered from the mentality that women must tear each other down to succeed. Truly, this woman had a list of people she didn’t want to destroy and I was just one of many who failed to make that cut. When the time came for her to retire to her cave and eat puppies, however, my ambition was reignited and I jumped at the chance to move up, as surprisingly to some, there are many opportunities for upward movement in the library world.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that at the end of 2015, I accepted a new position, advertised as 80% librarian and 20% supervisor… and rocked it for eleven months, before succumbing to the fact that I just could not be a manager any longer. If I had to tell one more grownup that she couldn’t wear her jammies to work, I was going to be on the news. For the first time since the semester I took 22 credit hours, I realized that my ambition had bitten me in the ass. I had thought long and hard about stepping down, about the possibility that I might never get the chance to be a manager again… and ultimately decided that I’d prefer that to never being a librarian again. So, I became an adult librarian… and as the result of a grassroots restructuring and an impassioned speech on my love for teens, with no experience as a teen librarian, I was eventually mapped into my current title: teen librarian for the five Satellite Libraries, primarily operating out of the Cherokee branch.

In those first few months in my position, I had the following conversation with my immediate supervisor:

Me: “I am wildly unqualified for this position.”
Supervisor: “There’s… room for growth, but I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Me: “If this job had been opened for interviews, I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

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My sense of ambition had been more than sparked, y’all. I was petrified. After all the years I’d spent yearning for the title of teen librarian, only to feel as though it had slipped from my grasp, when I became a manager and then an adult librarian, I finally had my dream job… like my ten year plan dream job. I’d been willing and eager to head the teen programming for one library, in one community, not five. Although, I’d worked as a substitute teacher for six years and enjoyed the teens there, I had no actual experience working with them in a library setting. What if they didn’t like me? What if I completely missed the mark and became the guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks to them, never actually making a difference? What if I never built a following and decimated the teen attendance in the Satellite Libraries?!?! I’d been forced to take a bite, much larger than what I felt I could  chew.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my initial home school teen book club from an average attendance of four to 17. Moms comment in Facebook groups about how much I do for my teens and how much they love me. One of my regulars has decided she wants to cut her hair like mine. I remember the names of more than thirty teenagers who come in and out of the library, in a given week. We’ve had murder mystery parties and nerd trivia battles and played Clue and improv games. We’ve debated Doctor Who vs. The Hulk and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. My teenagers are the highlight of my work day, every day. I’m no longer overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me and have long been making jokes with Susie, the children’s librarian and my good friend, about how we’re both going to die at the reference desk of the Cherokee branch.

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For years, I’ve been joking about how I wanted to get a teen librarian position and simply stagnate. In actuality I just wanted to get the perfect position and be really good at at it and never move up again. It seems that’s a perfectly reasonable and delightful plan, at this point, except… there’s a possibility that a librarian position might soon open in the materials selection department at our downtown location. The pay would be approximately $11,000 more a year, though the commute would increase by at least 45 minutes round trip… but the position would entail selecting books and materials for the entire system, digitally and physically, ensuring we have a balanced collection. It’s one of the few titles I’ve ever said could tempt me away from Cherokee and the Satellite Libraries, my teens and my non-existent commute… but no one ever leaves materials selection. They all stay until retirement, which means that these jobs almost never open… and I see that little spark of ambition in the girl who once cried over a 98.5% . She just wants to put in an application, when the time comes, and see what happens. Except this time, I’m not working for half the hourly pay as a circulation clerk or half time as a librarian, desperate for benefits. I’m not miserable as a manager or being forced to choose an age group with no knowledge of where I’ll end up. I’m happy and if I vacate my job, it may never open again… but I also know I’m at least a decent candidate and I may never get another chance… and yet, there’s always the possibility that I’d regret it. I suppose it’s a good thing the position hasn’t actually opened yet. I still have time to try to lift the curse of ambition.