I was the kid who will ruin your school year.

As the library empties for two of our slowest months, I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood excitement as the school year approached. I suppose it’s no surprise that this present day librarian was unceasingly enthusiastic, kindergarten through senior year, about the first day of school. Even as a kid, I loved the fresh start of the new year, which when you’re eight, happens sometime toward the end of August, not the beginning of January. A new school year meant a new backpack and new crayons and new folders and notebooks. Just as neurotic as a child, I loved how clean everything was. All the crayons were freshly sharpened and there were no graphite smears on my kitten folders or tears in my new backpack. My new classroom was freshly decorated with fun themes that hadn’t yet faded into the background. I had a room full of potential friends awaiting me and I couldn’t wait to meet them and my new teacher.

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In the early years, when my mother put me in cute Disney-themed princess clothes, did my hair in pigtails, and helped me navigate the waters of childhood friendships, I imagine the feeling was mutual and that I blended in quite well with the rest of the class. I was too energetic and talkative to be the class pet, but I was well-liked and fit in with the other kids… until about halfway through the second grade. Indeed, it is a bittersweet realization, that as excited as I was to meet these new people every August, for the majority of my school years, they weren’t very excited to meet me.

I was eight when the shift occurred and you can actually see it in family photos. At the beginning of the school year, I was just an average kid. My clothes were never overly stylish, but no one’s were in the 90’s. I got in trouble on occasion, probably sitting out recess once a week or so, but I wasn’t a problem child. My parents weren’t helicopter parents, but they were involved and had me in after-school activities. As the year progressed, however, I gained weight, stopped bathing and brushing my teeth regularly, started wearing dirty clothes to school, and acting out. I once snapped at my teacher to stop calling our workbook by that name, because it was just a book and we weren’t babies. I made her so angry that she went to the classroom next door, grabbed a textbook, shoved it under my nose and told me that this was a textbook and that it was much harder… to which I rolled my eyes.

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That was the year I began picking on other children, ruling my friendships through fear of being on my bad side. I continued to do so in third grade and by fourth, when the district transferred me to a new school, I don’t imagine I had any friends who would miss me. I wore a dress on my first day of fourth grade, because I wanted to look nice and fit in, but had no concept or understanding of how to do so. Overweight and the victim of unfortunate genetics, I should have been wearing both deodorant and a bra, but wore neither. I made my teacher a present, because I just really wanted her to like me and I thought that a pickle jar full of Easter grass with her name on it was the key. It was not. She didn’t like me. I smelled. I was bossy. I was a bully. I made good grades and always turned in my work, but I was absolutely the kid in the class that every teacher seems to have, who keeps the year from being perfect. I was a hall kid, sent out for interrupting and mouthing off, for picking on other children and bossing them around. By fifth grade, I was no better.

I ate fast food every night and put on more and more weight. My fifth grade teacher blanched when she bought KFC for everyone as a reward and I asked for my usual of two breasts and a leg, something I wouldn’t order now. I was fat and I was mean. By middle school, I had few friends and anyone who rejected me was the recipient of my own cruel bullying, like the boy who didn’t like me back… who I threw soda on at a school dance, or the girl he did like, about whom I spread rumors. It wasn’t just one teacher who dreaded having me in their class, anymore. It was seven.

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What none of those teachers knew, of course, was that second grade was the year my parents began spending every evening fighting in the garage. There were no more family dinners at the table and my Gramma brought us fast food nearly every night, in an attempt to bring some happiness and normalcy back into our world. That was the year my mother stopped washing my clothes on the regular and checking to make sure I was bathing myself and brushing my teeth, because I was eight and incapable of taking care of myself.

Third grade was the year my dad snapped at me that I stank and was disgusting for not wearing deodorant, the first time anyone had mentioned I should and still, neither parent helped me to remember consistent and proper hygiene. It was the year I got lice on Thanksgiving and my aunt bought me my first training bra for Christmas, because my mother hadn’t thought of it.

Fourth grade was the year I decided to sleep in my clothes each night, so I wouldn’t have to get up early to get dressed and went to school sweaty, rumpled and tired. It was the year my mother took us to Disney World alone, because my father refused to go. I hit puberty that year, before the other girls, and was embarrassed that I needed to shave my legs and confused about why I had hair in other places that only grownups did. No one had told me it was normal, so I shaved it with a secret shame. I still have the scar from where I shaved my arms, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. That was the year that the golden boy everyone liked began to bully me relentlessly when no one was watching. When I told the school counselor, she didn’t believe me. 

I’m sure my teacher knew about my mother’s brain surgery in the 5th grade, followed closely by her grand mal seizure, during which I called the ambulance, myself. I doubt she knew my father left a month later and that my mother got me up at midnight every night to pray over a statue of Saint Thomas Moore that she buried in the flower bed, as if it were a magic spell that would bring my father home. She was convinced it had worked, when he returned a week later… and devastated when it didn’t after he moved out for good and took my brother with him, leaving me alone with her. That Christmas break, I broke my arm and my father refused to take me to the ER, dragged me to see Patch Adams in theaters and yelled at me for falling asleep. Despite being a nurse, my mother didn’t stand up to him. It wasn’t until two days later that my Gramma told her they could take me to the hospital or she could take me… and they discovered my arm was broken in two places. That was the year the other girls told me it was gross that my tongue was completely white, because I didn’t brush my teeth. I got my Gramma to buy me a new toothbrush, chose medium bristles instead of soft, and went home and brushed until my tongue and gums bled.

When middle school started, I couldn’t understand why my old friends, no longer forced to include me, had chosen not to do so. After a boy told me my shirt was too tight, early in the year, I wore a jacket every single day to cover my disgustingly fat arms. The boy down the street, who had chased me and kissed me on the playground in the first grade, now threw rocks at me when I took my dog for a walk. When the popular boys at school were over at his house, they joined in… even the ones who were usually nice to me. It was in the 6th grade that I started cutting myself. In the 7th, my mother told my father that she’d only get back together with him if I agreed. When I didn’t, he refused to come to my birthday party and we didn’t speak for several months. That was the year my mother started hitting me. That was the year I started sucking my thumb again. It wasn’t until the next year that my mother told me unspeakable lies about my father molesting me, to keep me from leaving her abuse for him. I wouldn’t speak to him again until my senior year of high school.

For most of my formative years, when my crushes, my friends, and even my teachers didn’t like me back, there was no one around to teach me how to handle the disappointment, the rejection, because my parents were too busy with their own drama… and it wasn’t until 8th grade that I was able to somewhat navigate these interactions for myself. Until then, no one liked me at school. No one liked me at home… except, perhaps, for my Gramma. No matter how angry and hateful I was, no matter how badly I smelled, no matter how dirty and mismatched and unstylish, I always had a warm hug from Gramma and that was my saving grace.

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In the next month, as I’m introduced to my new after school crowd at the library, I’m going to remember the angry, smelly bully I once was. I’m going to recall how much it hurt to be so disliked by everyone, how devastating it was to try to face it all alone… and I’ll remind myself that not all of those kids are going to be blessed with a saintly Gramma… to insist someone take them to the ER, to hold them when the bullies make them cry, to buy them toothbrushes and new bras. This fall, I’m going to try to remember that these aren’t the kids who keep my year from being perfect, but the ones who give my professional life the most meaning… because the smelly kid, the bully, the girl in the ill-fitting dress… they look to us, their teachers and librarians and school counselors, to be the few people who want them. I’m going to remember that it is so hard to be unwanted. We are their safe haven. We give them hope that things will be better, when no one else does.

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The Blessing and Curse of a Near Perfect Memory

When I was two and a half, my mother enrolled me in a Catholic preschool. I remember playing with the toys, while she signed me up and I remember going every day. I remember the stern, black nun, holding my hand. I remember thinking that black people must sweat a lot, because her hands were sweaty and at age two, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people of color. I remember when Santa came to visit the preschool. He brought me a Fisher-Price drum and I wore a dress with Scottish terriers on it, because #90skid.

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I saw Jurassic Park in theaters when I was five years old. I was so scared that I tucked my head into my teal and purple Aladdin t-shirt for the majority of the movie, and sat in my mother’s lap, terrified. That same summer, I saw Hocus Pocus with my Gramma, who hid an entire sleeve of gas station brownies under her coat, because she’d do anything for her grandkids, no matter how ridiculous… and just like Jurassic Park, I saw little of the movie with my face hidden in said coat the entire time.

When I started kindergarten, my mother wasn’t able to take me to school on my first day, so the weekend before, she had me don my First Day Outfit, did my hair, and loaded up my backpack. She took me to the school and had me walk up to the locked doors while she took pictures and had me pose in front of the school, insisting that years from now, I’d never remember it wasn’t really the first day of school.

For much of my life, it’s been a running joke that I remember everything, with friends and family and coworkers, but only in the last few years have I realized that I truly have a capacity for memory beyond what is normal. Though I’m sure I could map out our trailer house from when I was five, I don’t think it qualifies as an eidetic/photographic memory. You see, I can vividly recall far more than just imagery. I don’t just remember when my grandfather died right after I turned five. I remember being confused about why we had to bury him, instead of just propping him up at family events and pretending he was still alive. I remember asking if we could keep the body and my parents (probably confused and a little creeped out by the question), telling me it was illegal. I remember reasoning, in my five-year-old brain, that we could hide grandpa in the hamper if the police came, because that was the best hiding place in the house. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, because I was too young, but considering these other thoughts, I think it might have helped me to understand.

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I could go on and on about the detailed thoughts and feelings and conversations and events of my childhood, despite the fact that many people tell me they don’t really have memories before the age of 7, but these aren’t the only years I remember with such clarity. I can recount, verbatim, entire conversations and events from middle school and high school. I can precisely quote multiple nights out with friends in my early twenties. I can remember what I wore, what Jake wore, which side of the table we both sat on, what we talked about, on our first date, our second date, our third date. While it is, indeed, a blessing in many ways, in others… well, not so much.

I am the best at arguments.

“Don’t you tell me that the last movie we saw in theaters was a Belle Movie, when I remember perfectly well that it was absolutely a Jake Movie. I did not want to see it just as badly as you did and in fact, I told you that it had bad reviews… and come to think of it, the one before that was also a Jake Movie, so you don’t just owe me one Belle Movie, but two.”

“I asked you nicely four times on four separate occasions to go through your mail, before I threatened to throw it all in the trash, so don’t act like I’m being unreasonable. It was so four. I asked on Thursday, when you came home for your lunch, before I went to work. I asked on Friday before dinner. I asked yesterday after work and I asked this morning, when we got up.”

“Two months ago, you agreed that the next time we went to a rodeo, if the Christmas store was open, we could go there first. Just because you didn’t think it would be open in September, that doesn’t mean you aren’t bound by your promise, mister.”

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I get embarrassed/angry/stressed out about interactions that no one else even remembers.

In the 11th grade, someone called me “squinty-eyed.” Sometimes, I’ll randomly wonder, 15 years later: Am I squinty-eyed? Was it just my contacts? Did Lasik fix it? Is it just my face?

I still remember, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to be 270 pounds, at 22. I remember that no one was ever cruel to me, because they saw right through me, like the time the video store clerk called to the man behind me, that they could take the next person in line. I remember looking around a college classroom and realizing that I was the fattest person in the room. I remember staring at myself naked and thinking that I didn’t even look like a woman anymore. I remember paying more for plus-sized clothing, being hot all the time, not being able to breathe, my feet constantly hurting, and every time I gain five pounds, I fear I’ll wake up right back there.

Catherine once said, about her best friend, “She’s just being a bitch, because she can’t get pregnant.” At my 30th birthday party, she went on and on about how Laura was crazy and her kids were afraid of her and Catherine was going to change her own locks so Laura couldn’t get into her house. Gail didn’t even remember these conversations, but every now and then, it really pisses me off that Catherine acted like was the only Mean Girl in that group of Mean Girls and I’m sure it still will in 10 years.

Last Christmas, Jake’s cousin and his wife wore matching Willie Nelson Christmas shirts. I made a reference to Duck Dynasty, not because I didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but because the shirt made me think of it. I still stress out over the idea that Jake’s very country family thinks I can’t identify Willie Nelson.

I’m more introspective and focused on self-improvement.

It’s a lot easier to acknowledge a need for change, when you can vividly remember every shitty thing you’ve ever said or done. I think, for people with average memories, it’s easier to put these things off on others, claim that someone else started the conversation or told that secret or made that joke. I, however, can remember all of the times I  found a reason to mock people I didn’t even know, to be catty about family and friends, and how I used Facebook as a visual aid… and I can remember how often other people did it, too, that this was normal social behavior.

These glaring recollections are the reason I did away with social media and this behavior entirely… and my perfect memory is the reason I can see how much my life has changed. I remember how much time I used to spend staring at my phone, talking about people I didn’t know or care about, and how ugly my comments tended to be, as a result. I remember that I talked about people instead of ideas and instead of doing things I actually found fulfilling, like reading, writing, crafting, and spending time with my husband and family.

Though my escape from social media has been hugely impactful, even just my innate ability to acknowledge that I’m guilty of being hypocritical or impulsive or lazy, helps me to improve. When I see the statistic that only 37% of Christians attend church weekly, it’s much harder for me to convince myself that I’m following my faith. When I tell my husband that we need to start spending less, it’s not as easy to ignore the $10 I spent at the gas station on beef jerky, or that book I bought on my Kindle. When I get frustrated that I haven’t been successful at losing weight, I can’t deny that it’s because I’ve been sneaking ice cream and candy all week.

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I have more trouble moving on.

As I get older, I realize that there are seasons in life and it is perfectly natural and healthy to drift from one to another… but I think I struggle with it more than some. When I was 24, my whole world revolved around school and Gail and my guy friends… until my guy friends and I started to move in different directions. Gradually, they stopped inviting me to do things with them, and didn’t make the same effort to keep up with me. At the time, I had to find fault in them doing so, telling myself that they were jealous of my academic and career success or that they didn’t want to move forward with their own lives, so they resented me for doing so. Now, I realize that we were all just growing and it was okay to do so in different directions.

Today, I find the same has happened with Gail and I. What was once a relationship that defined me as a person is now comprised of sporadic text messages and the rare meet up at the mall for lunch. It’s not that either of us is truly at fault, so much as it is that we live on opposite sides of the city and Gail has grown passionate about veganism and travel and charity, while I’m further on the traditional path for which I always longed; buying a home, having babies, getting involved with my conservative church, connecting with my siblings and their spouses. While I’m sure we’ll always be connected in some way, it’s still hard for me to move forward, without Gail, when our lives were once so entwined. I so clearly remember having lunch several times a week, texting each other throughout the day, discussing every decision, big or small, with her, and its unlikely that that’s what our future relationship holds.

I’d imagine the same will be true when my dog has to be put down, or my Gramma passes, or my children grow up, or my dad dies. While I think these trials are tough for anyone, I think I remember life’s stages more vividly and while that’s nice when you’re looking back fondly, it also makes for some much more painful longing.

It makes me better at my job.

“They should know better.” I hear this so many times a week, in my job as Teen Librarian and each and every time, my response is “Why?” Everyone expects to have to explain behavioral and social norms to children, but never to teens. Teens should “know better.” I remember being confused as to why I suddenly went from cute to annoying, sassy to mouthy. I remember every conversation being colored with patronizing tones and preachy, subjective religious stances. I remember adults refusing to speak to me like I was a person with feelings, capable of extreme embarrassment and regret and heartache, because “teenagers are stupid”… and it makes me a lot better at my job.

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Just yesterday, I sat in the teen area at work, talking to my kids, when a woman came back and rudely snapped “You guys don’t have your own room, you know.” I firmly replied “This actually is their space,” to which she responded that we were being really loud. No, we weren’t. The building is just stupidly designed in a way that funnels sound into the computer area. “We can be quieter, but this is the teen area.” I don’t think anyone ever championed me like that as a teenager and that just made me angrier and it made my life harder. My ability to remember exactly what it felt like to be 15 makes me so much better at my job.

Nostalgia hits me harder.

It’s a good thing I’m so happy with my life, y’all, because sometimes, I really miss being 16 years old, riding around with Gail and Malik. I remember my 17th birthday party so vividly, giggling as we played a pathetically PG version of “strip Twister,” when we were all virgins, who’d never been kissed, before any of us were divorced or addicted to drugs or had babies that died. I remember life before any of us made any real mistakes and I remember how it felt to have all of those decisions ahead of me. Thirty seemed so far away and I pictured my life so differently… because I couldn’t comprehend how great my life could be if I spread things out a little more, but I miss that naivety.

From what I understand, most people have vague impressions of childhood, their teen years, and even now their twenties… but I remember it all in extreme detail.

I remember my mother making me birthday pancakes every year, before school, even though she worked full time as a nurse. I remember how she volunteered for every field trip and put little green foot prints all over the bathroom on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remember, when I was 9, how my best friend teamed up with a boy down the street to lock me in a van and beat the crap out of me, because she didn’t know how to tell me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I remember not telling my mother about it, when she picked me up, and how much it hurt that she was too distracted with her own life to notice something was wrong.

I remember my middle school crush and how horrible it felt that he didn’t like me back. I remember the embarrassment when his friends made fun of me. I remember how relentlessly I bullied him in revenge.

I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, making nerdy jokes and having spinning contests, finally feeling accepted and welcome. I remember how much I loved those friends, who I no longer know and I miss them… not the 30-year-olds, but the 15-year-olds.

I remember the black cat I had as a teenager and how heartbroken I was the day she died, along with all of my other pets in the fire set by my ex. I remember exactly how the charred house smelled and the feel of warm water on my pants and I tried to salvage what I could. I remember everything about that day and exactly how horrible it felt.

I remember Grace, Gail’s daughter, and how much I loved her and how hard it was saying goodbye. I remember Gail and I leaning on each other during the hardest times in our lives and I miss that bond.

I remember being single and free to do as I wished, crafting and reading and Netflixing all night, and eventually waking to a feeling of emptiness and longing for my life to start.

I remember the uncertainty I felt in dating my husband. Was I texting too much or too little, did he really like me as much as I liked him, should I play hard to get, was I really as awkward as I thought I was and did he care? Yes and no, by the way. I remember the first time I told him I loved him and how badly I wanted to take it back, because it made me so vulnerable and I remember falling in love with him all over again a dozen times. I remember his proposal and the joy I felt walking down the aisle to him.

For better or worse, it seems I really do remember it all… and there are no rose colored glasses with a memory so clear.

A Librarian’s Reminder of Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Fifty Shades Freed is officially in theaters. This means, of course, that bloggers and reviewers are rushing to be the first and cleverest to insult the series and anyone who enjoys it… despite the fact that there exists no comparable male term to the literary genres of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or the film genre of “chick flick.” I can give my professional word that the former is not because men only read weighty historical tomes, either. So, in the spirit of such sexism, I remind you of the ways you tend to offend women, as a whole, by insulting the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

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Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, itself, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien twins who formed their penises into one giant penis. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch The Bachelor or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

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Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

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When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my psychotic ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.
Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active must be asexual or worse, somehow abnormal. Until two years ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut, perhaps more so.


Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While literary Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat (I found his movie persona far less abrasive), I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together, to take charge, to be assertive. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends (not television trends, which explains the dated Carrie Bradshaw reference). This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new and it’s unsurprising that it’s a fantasy growing in popularity, in a society full of over overgrown frat boys who couldn’t be assertive or successful if their futures depended on it, which they do.

Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice… and it’s a complete double standard, because no one shames men for fantasizing about winning the lottery and becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through no effort on their part. At least the women fantasizing about Christian Grey and the like also dream of love.

Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.
Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injury. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What year is it? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them, because adult women are allowed to be sexual too.

  • I originally posted the this blog on March 5, 2015. It has been updated for currency.

I LOVE New Year’s.

As a society, we have a tendency to mock the mainstream, be it Taylor Swift, Uggs, Gilmore Girls, and of course… New Years Resolutions. Personally, I care so little about whether or not I’m considered “basic”, that I had to Google “things basic girls like” to construct the previous sentence. I admit, without shame, that I can rock out to some T Swift, relish the few days when the weather’s cold enough for Uggs, and am currently on season 4 of my big GG rewatch, but I must say that I love New Year’s. 

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For many, New Year’s is the consolation to the holiday season. The presents have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten, the decorations are coming down, so here’s one last hurrah.

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For me? New Year’s is a celebration all in itself. I get to reflect on the last year and assess all I’ve been through and all I’ve accomplished. Essentially, I get to grade myself and if you followed this blog when I was a grad student, you’ll recall that grades have always been one of my favorite things. I’m proud of 2017 Belle, because in 2017, I achieved a lot. In fact, it seems lazy to call 2017 transitional, because it’s just so darn accurate. In 2017, I…

  • started a new job
  • moved to a new city and said goodbye to my single girl apartment
  • planned a wedding
  • got married
  • moved in with a boy
  • went on my honeymoon
  • worked at three different libraries through my system’s grassroots restructuring
  • changed job titles
  • saw my best friend get married
  • moved on from unhealthy friendships
  • reconnected with old friends
  • ended my relationship with social media

Zetus lapetus, y’all, 2017 was exhausting. In hindsight, the year was good to me, but it was intensely stressful all the time. If I was shocked by what a disgusting boy Jake can be, he had to have been shocked by what a total basket case I could be.

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2017 in a gif

2017 was a time for change, but New Year’s doesn’t just offer the opportunity to look back. It gives me the chance to look forward, to plan. If there’s anything I like more than grading myself, it’s planning. The aspect of New Year’s that has the rest of society rolling their eyes, is what I love best. I love the positivity that comes with a new year. I love the fact that we change a single digit and the world is full of hope. I get to realign my ambitions, who I want to be and what I want to achieve. Sure, I can do that any time of year, but there’s something about the first of January that wipes the slate clean. We can all start over with a new marker for our success and we can do it together. There’s a sense of community in the new year, a fellowship of people ready and willing to encourage each other to do their best. How can I not love that?!?!

Where 2017 was transitional and life altering, I aim for 2018 to be settled and comfortable. In 2018, I hope to:

  • swear less
  • buy a home
  • save for a car
  • use my time for things I truly enjoy
  • read more
  • lose weight

I also have more abstract aspirations, such as being:

  • physically healthy, by exercising more consistently and eating right
  • emotionally healthy, by managing stress better and building up my healthier friendships
  • a good friend, through genuine kindness, affection, and follow-through
  • a good wife, offering my support and love and making the most of our time together, while it’s just the two of us
  • a good daughter and granddaughter, by initiating more contact
  • a good Catholic, by going to Mass and practicing what’s preached

I know there are a lot of curmudgeons out there, scoffing at the New Year and everyone’s resolutions, declaring these things will never happen, but I can honestly say that I accomplished more in 2017 than I thought I would on January 1st, so I have every confidence that I can do the same in 2018. At the very least, there’s hope and effort. So here’s to 2018, a hopefully less exciting year than 2017!

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Surprises of Lasik: A Librarian’s Tale

With exception to the extremely liberal political beliefs (libertarian, here – both sides be cray), I would openly admit that I fit most stereotypes of librarianism. I post more pictures of my cat on Instagram than I do of my husband, mostly because the former is more photogenic. Children toss my gifts aside, knowing that they’re books or hats I’ve crocheted. I care more about your Hogwarts House than your astrological sign and own more than one item that brands me a Ravenclaw. I wear more cardigans than Mr. Rogers and am forever the proud nerdy girl… with the 20/1100 vision to prove it.

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I got my first pair of glasses in the second grade and if my parents had been present enough to make me actually wear them, my vision probably wouldn’t have been near as bad as it was by middle school, when I finally got contacts. By high school, I’d embraced my bespectacled nerdy identity, though, and rarely chose contacts over glasses. I actually enjoyed glasses as an accessory and still miss the bejeweled red cats eye pair I wore in the 10th grade. As an adult, I’ve owned several cute pair and once readily and confidently told a man off for trying to “neg” me about them.

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Me: “Thank you. I look cute with my glasses, too.”

I bought my favorite pair last year and regularly received compliments on them, with their touch of sparkle on the corners and on the temples. I like wearing glasses. What I don’t like, is not being able to see without them, at all. When I lived alone, forgetting where I put my glasses was a unique hell. I’d stumble around checking all the routine places I could’ve left them: on the back of the couch, the kitchen counter, the shelving in my headboard. Since Jake and I got married, it hasn’t been a rare occurrence for me to call to him from the other room, because I’ve misplaced my dark brown glasses on our dark wood furniture, before getting in the shower.

Awkwardly adding glasses to any activity best enjoyed sans glasses isn’t much better. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold when Jake and I went skiing, because wearing goggles over glasses didn’t work nearly as well as placing 3D glasses over them… which also sucks. Just last month, Jake and I went canoeing with my family and when the canoe tipped, I was lucky I didn’t lose them entirely, especially considering the fact that I hadn’t brought another pair. Sure, contacts might be an option, but they cost $50 per set and aside from my wedding day, I could never justify them as a priority. Even then, I wore the trial pair and never actually bought any, because while I might prefer the photos and can generally enjoy outdoor activities with contacts, they don’t allow me to focus on anything up close. My vision is just not sharp enough for anything but glasses. Or it wasn’t, until now.

After 10 years of longing for it, I finally got Lasik last Friday. It was actually one of my conditions for having children. Yes, I want kids, but I don’t want to chase them around the bathtub or the lake or my grandmother’s pool without the luxury of sight. I’m also not fool enough to think $4,600 elective eye surgery is going to be anywhere on our list after we buy a house and have babies. It was sort of a now or never deal in my mind and the realist in me had begrudgingly accepted it as the latter, until this past June, when I had the opportunity to max out my flex account. I made an appointment with the major Lasik provider in the area, was approved for $2000 in zero interest financing, and the surgery was scheduled. After years of frustration that I couldn’t even function without my glasses, of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this would be my demise in the zombie apocalypse, it was actually happening!

Y’all, for a long time, I have prided myself on my awareness of advertisments. My bachelors degree was heavy in marketing and nutrition, so I’ve always been critical of claims like “gluten free” and “natural” and “30% free!” There’s never been gluten in sugar; the word natural has no legal definition; and it’s not free if it’s more per ounce. So I’m a little disappointed in myself for being as surprised as I was by some of the consequences of Lasik that don’t seem to be widely published. Such as…

It fucking hurts.

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Zetus, lapetus, you guys, Lasik is painful. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to downplayed how awful this procedure would be. All of the ads and doctors told me I’d feel some “discomfort.” My “discomfort” expectation was having a tooth pulled. My reality, however, was having all of my wisdom teeth out. While the actual surgery didn’t hurt, by the time Jake and I got from the Metro to Cherokee, I actually thought something had gone  wrong, I was in so much pain. My eyes were on fire and Jake immediately turned around and drove back to the surgery center, where they told me everything was fine. I was healing “beautifully” and “discomfort” was to be expected.

As much as I wanted this procedure, at one point, I actually told Jake that I wouldn’t have gotten it, had I known how much pain I would feel. When I texted the doctor to tell him I felt like I had sand in my eyes (downplaying that it really felt like someone had ground sand into my eyes), he said it was totally normal. Every source online agreed, stating that while it wouldn’t be painful, I’d feel like I had something in my eye. SINCE WHEN IS THAT NOT PAINFUL?!?! They all suggested I just sleep all day, but it’s hard to sleep when your eyes are melting out of your damn head like you’ve just looked at the Ark of the Covenant. It’s also hard to sleep sitting up in sunglasses, which is required for the first 24 hours.

Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe I’m a little bitch and Lasik isn’t that rough. Maybe, though, everyone just forgets how much it hurts, because they’re so glad to be rid of glasses. Which brings me to my next point.

I kind of miss my glasses. 

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I’m a librarian, folks. Glasses are part of the uniform. I’m like a superhero without a cape, over here. Without my glasses, my hair falls differently and my face looks weird. I’m seriously considering bangs, because I have too much visible forehead. I’m a makeup every day girl, for the most part, but with glasses, it’s not super obvious when you skip out on the eye makeup… which you have to do for two weeks after Lasik.

Glasses were a pain in the ass, as a necessity, but they were kind of fun and cute as an accessory. I just got health insurance in the past two years, so my cutest pairs are relatively new and stylish. Jake has always liked me in glasses and has suggested I get the lenses replaced with clear glass, but that feels a little silly… like wearing a fake cast and we all know where Ted Bundy ended up.

I wore contacts off and on through high school, but as an adult, it’s been a rarity to see myself without my glasses. It’s not that I don’t like the look. I chose to wear contacts at my wedding for a reason. It’s just that I don’t look like me yet and it’s honestly a little jarring. It’ll take some time to get used to Belle Sans Glasses. However…

It really was worth it.

I’m not gonna downplay it, because half the frustration was in the surprise. I had a bad weekend, y’all. A coworker told me the night before my surgery that I’d smell my own eyeballs burning and he was right. What he didn’t know, though, was that the sheer terror of moving a millimeter in the wrong direction, outweighed any disgust I’d feel. Everyone talks about Lasik like an in-and-out thing and it is… but it’s really scary. I wasn’t just awake for the procedure. I was an active participant. If I looked away from the green light, I can only assume that the laser plastic surgery scene from Logan’s Run would’ve been the result. It was tense and nerve wracking and there was only one chance to get it right. After the fact, for whatever reason, having my corneas burned down was shockingly painful and I was miserable for three days.

On Monday, though, Jake and I went to the movies. We saw Annabelle: Creation and for the first time, I was able to shove my face in his shoulder during the scary parts, without skewing my glasses. My eyes were tired and dry afterward, but I couldn’t wait to see a 3D movie wearing only one set of glasses! That night, I was able to read in bed for the first time, without worrying about falling asleep in glasses. I woke up and reached for glasses, but they weren’t there.

In February, Jake and I are planning a ski trip. I’ll be able to wear the goggles this time. The next time we go hiking, I won’t have to suffer through contacts, because I can finally wear just $10 sunglasses. When I give birth, I’ll actually be able to see my baby, cuz no one keeps their glasses on during childbirth. I’ll have slightly better chances of survival in the ZA, because sight or no, I’m still so much The Indoor Girl. The pain has mostly subsided one week later and while I wish someone had informed me of the cost, they were right about the benefits. Still, this librarian misses her cape a bit.

In Honor of Two Years Together: #JakeQuotes

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On my second date with Jake, I’d have sworn I was on my best behavior. We met at the mall, to see Jurassic World and I was cute and polite and I am certain that, on at least one occasion, I bit my tongue so hard it bled. Apparently, it was one time too few. Months later, Jake reminded me what I’d said, when I came upon him, flustered and yelling at the fancy soda machine.

Jake: “HI-C!!”
Me: “It’s not voice activated.

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What can I say? I’ve never been what you might call “sweet.” Fortunately for me, neither has Jake, which has led to my collection of #JakeQuotes, loved by my friends and his alike. So, in honor of two years of saying the wrong thing to each other, meet my husband. Meet us.

Me: “Ugh. I put my eyeliner on too thick. I look like a panda bear.”
Jake: “It looks fine.”
Me: “I look like Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Jake: “I like that movie.”

Me: “That one sweater makes me look bigger than I am.”
Jake: “The pink one?”
Me: “No. Not the pink one. If you don’t know, don’t guess.”

Jake: “Did you just send me a text message?”
Me: “What? No. I mean… yes. I just sent it while we were on the phone. It’s very important.”
Jake: “Did you schedule an automatic birthday countdown to message me every day?”

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“Why are you eating a sucker at 10:00 in the morning?”
“Why do you wanna buy a Christmas ornament? It’s September.”
“There’s a test to find out which Hogwart’s House you’re in?”
:: to the cat :: “Why are you sitting in a box?”

… ridiculous questions my husband asked one weekend… my RAVENCLAW husband…

Me: “My brakes are squeaking. I’m going to die.”
Jake: ::continues talking about Lord of the Rings::
Me: “You don’t even care that I’m going to die.”
Jake: “I’m pretty sure I hear that every day.”


Jake: “I can’t hear you.”
Me: “I work in a libra
ry.”
Jake: “What? I can’t hear you!”
Me: “I can’t talk louder. I work in a library.”
Jake: “What?

… when Jake calls me at work, annoyed that he can’t hear me. #librarianproblems

Me: “He’s a brilliant hunting dog.”
Jake: “Sure he is.”
Me: “You’ve never seen him tear the insides out of a squirrel and show them to its mother!”
Jake: “… neither have you.”

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Me: “This is why you don’t use my decorative towels. I washed it and now it’s a different color and I can’t use it anymore.”
Jake: “Why does that mean you can’t you use it anymore?”
Me: “Because it’s decorative.”
Jake: “Why did you wash it?”
Me: “Because you used it.”
Jake: “…. and why can’t you use it anymore?”

Me: :screaming:
Jake: “WHAT?!”
Me: “There was a spider!”
Jake: “Geez! I was going for the pistol!”
Me: “That would probably take care of the spider!”

Me: “We had cows when I was little.”
Jake: “What kind?”
Me: “I dunno. They were brown.”
Jake: “That’s… not a color used to describe cattle.”
Me: “Yuh huh. There’s a children’s book called ‘How Now, Brown Cow?’“.

Me: “I love the guy with the lantern!”
Jake: “Because he’s cute and helpful?”
Me: “Yeah, just like real bears.”
Jake: “I… don’t think that’s true.”

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Me: “Just so you know, if you add any more deer mounts to Buzz, I’m going to name all of them after Toy Story characters, too.”
Jake: “Great. I’ll have little name plates put on the mounts.”
Me: “Yes! I’ll hold you to that!”
Jake: “I immediately rescind that offer.”

– boarding the plane home –
Me: “Stop singing that!”
Jake: “What?!?”
Me: “”You keep choosing the most obnoxious song you can and you sing it for FOUR DAYS and I’m going to murder you!” ::to airport security:: “I mean… I didn’t say that.”
Jake: “You are REALLY bad at getting on a plane.”

– all night at the rodeo –
Jake: “This is my wife, Belle. We got married two weeks ago. We met three weeks ago on farmersonly.com.”
Me: “Stop telling people that!”

Jake: “I’m pretty sure we’re both too big for that.”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Jake: “I’m just saying we’re both stocky people.”
Me: “I’m STOCKY? Like a linebacker?”
Jake: “It was a compliment!”
Me: “Call every woman in your phone and ask if ‘stocky’ is a compliment.”
>> later that day
Jake: ::taps the small of my back:: “Take that, small part of your back.”
Me: “There is no small part of my back, because I’m so STOCKY.”
>> even later that day
Jake: “I’m sorry you don’t understand me when I say things.”
Me: “Okay, Google. Define ‘stocky’.”
Google: “Stocky (of a person) broad and sturdily built.”
Jake: ::cackles:: “Google doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”

Jake: “Yeah! How ’bout you Facechat THAT to all your friends!”

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When a millennial marries a Gen Xer.

Me: “I’m sorry I’m irritable… and I’m sorry you think the best response to that is to play ‘I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.'”
Jake: “I didn’t do that… but I’m going to NOW!”

Jake: “This picture looks like it’s from a magazine.”
Me: “Is that a compliment?”
Jake: “It’s just that nobody’s that happy to put on earrings.”
Me: “Well, thank you for telling me I look fake in our wedding pictures.”
Jake: “That’s not what I… I’m making this worse, aren’t I?”
Me: “Yup.”

Jake: “‘The Dog Easter Egg Hunt.’ That sounds…”
Me: “… like so much fun! Where is that?!?!”
Jake: “… like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jake: “You’ve never used an electric filet knife?”
Me: “How do you see that ending? Do I have all my fingers?”
Jake: “They’re really good for fileting fish, if you catch a lot of fish.”
Me: “Oh, yeah. I catch a TON of fish.”

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… every time I have to explain to him that I’m an indoor girl.

Me: “I’m being serious!”
Jake: “I’m trying to lighten the mood!”
Me: “I don’t want to lighten the mood. It’s a serious mood!”
Jake: ::growls at me like I’m an angry kitten::

Jake: “Going to the doctor is not a waste of money. Cat costumes are a waste of money.”
Me: “They looked ADORABLE in those costumes!”

Me: “I’m sorry I ate your strawberries. I mean, I’m sorry you didn’t eat your strawberries.”
Jake: ::to the dog:: “I hope YOU’RE still here, when I get back.”
Me: “DID YOU JUST SUGGEST THAT THERE’S A RISK I MIGHT EAT MY DOG, BECAUSE I’M THAT FAT?!?!”

Jake: “They’re the same age.”
Me: “Ew. I can barely handle 32-year-old Jake. I don’t want to date 29-year-old Jake.”
Jake: “I wasn’t that bad at 29!”
Me: “What was the name of the last woman you had sex with, before me?”
Jake: “I… don’t remember… but she was from Louisiana!”
Me: “Okay, Google. What’s the population of Louisiana?”

Good news. He narrowed it down to 4.671 million.

womens-march-in-chicago-imgurReal footage of Jake’s sexual conquests. 

Fahoo Fores and the Best Christmas Gift Ever

For the last six months, as a manager at the Northside Library, I’ve flirted with tardiness daily, because I just didn’t want to be at work. I’d sit on my couch every morning, fully dressed, staring at the time, knowing I’d need to leave… and stay that way for ten more minutes.

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When I got to work, I’d smile at my coworkers, participate in my meetings, create my schedules, compile the program calendars, write my incident reports, lead my task forces, do every task assigned and do it well… only to go home and think about the fact that I went to college for seven years and took out $150,000 in student loans* to hate my job.

*All eligible for Income Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness in eight years.

I felt like I never had a single moment to enjoy myself, because I was always busy working,  worrying about work, or crying in bafflement at how I got where I was. It took up all of my time and energy to be that unhappy.

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I’m getting married in six months and I haven’t worked out since June, because when you’re miserable, there’s a part of you that thinks the effort it takes must be burning calories. It’s hard to fight the part of yourself that wants to stop for frozen yogurt after a hard day, when every day is hard.

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It wasn’t just working out I couldn’t make time for, either. I didn’t talk to my friends. I sometimes even ignored calls from my Gramma and Jake. I didn’t read my favorite books or watch my favorite shows. I was starting to experience genuine symptoms of depression, y’all. I just read news articles on my phone, while compulsively checking my work email, and lying awake at night wondering how long I could hold out. How many meetings about increasing employee morale and analyzing other people’s workflow and explaining to fucking grownups what work ethic means, could I make it through before I said or did something I couldn’t take back? I’d even attempt positivity and think of every eventual outcome or opportunity my management position might afford me… but they all sounded horrible.

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Then, it happened. On December 4th, I celebrated my last day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library… 11 months to the day from my first. I didn’t even make it a year before stepping down. For the last two weeks, I have been just a librarian at the new Jackson Library…

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… and it has been glorious.

Guess how many meetings I’ve had in the last three weeks, y’all. No really. Guess.

Zero.

Zetus lapetus, that’s like ten less than I had in a three week period as a manager!

When we were setting up the new library, I spent my days deciding where different portions of the collection should be located, processing and shelving and evaluating materials, and organizing things. When the circulation desk had to be relocated and Mayor McDouchington of Jackson wanted a say in every little detail of the grand opening and the pipe burst at the old building, it was not my problem!

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I’ve been 15 minutes early for work every day, because I, once again, look forward to my job! The only thing I’ve dreaded about working at the Jackson library was having to walk across the street to use the restroom until the bathrooms were installed. I spend my days processing materials, talking to customers about paranormal romance novels, printing color sheets for little kids, and brainstorming new adult programming ideas. When my former direct reports want to talk to me and invite me to parties, I don’t have to be their manager anymore. I can just be their friend. When my friends text me and suggest we all hang out, I actually have the will to leave my apartment! I’m able to enjoy my favorite time of year, because it’s no longer in spite of the unhappiness I’ve experienced all year, professionally. I want to see my family, because I can now answer the question “How’s work?” without crying!

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When I spoke to family and friends, no one understood why I would step down and take a pay cut, but I am so glad I did. You only live once and there is no point being miserable, when the only thing standing between you and happiness is a $1,500 annual pay cut and your own pride. I don’t even mind the commute, because being just a librarian is the best Christmas present ever. It has been fabulous.

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The Best Laid Plans…

I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.

I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.

Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”

The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.

Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and  hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.

I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.

In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.

Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.

The best laid plans… well, maybe not “best.”

Why My Boyfriend Will Never Be at Christmas

The holidays are my very favorite time of year. Jake enjoys them, too, though not with quite the overwhelming enthusiasm that I do.

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I’m insufferable during the last four months of the year and I know it. My text tone has been sleigh bells since mid-November, when I put up my hot pink tree and started playing Christmas movies around the clock. Every time I saw Jake, I talked him into watching at least one Christmas movie, and he did so in good spirits, even when said movie was Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. We did our holiday shopping together and Jake even waited in the obscenely long line to drive through the Springfield Christmas lights, just for me, despite having been awake for over 24 hours for work. He even did the walk-through portion. We traded gifts and had our own little celebration, after Jake made a trip to the mall the weekend before Christmas, just to get my present. Despite all of this mutual cheer, however, neither of us attended the other’s family festivities… and we spent the entire holiday season defending that choice.

Mrs. Granger: “We’re doing Christmas the 23rd. Is Belle coming?”
Jake: “That’s actually when her family is doing their thing.”
Mrs. Granger: “Is that going to be a problem?”
Jake: “What? No. We’re not married. Neither one of us is going to miss Christmas for the other.”

Dad: “Well, maybe if you guys had been dating longer…”
Me: “No. There is no period of time that we could date, when I would be willing to miss my family Christmas for him, nor would I expect him to do so for me.”

Cousin Delia: “You do have to bring him around eventually.
Me: “Sure, but we’re not married. I’m not asking him to miss Christmas for me. Would you guys be okay with me ditching our Christmas for him?”

Jake’s Family: “So, where’s The Librarian?”
Jake: “Well, first off, she has a name. Second, she also has her own family, that she wants to spend Christmas with.”

Why is this such a foreign concept?!?! Why must it be the case that Jake and I aren’t serious enough if we’re not willing to split our holidays?

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My whole family knows that, not only does Jake work one week on and one week off, but his family lives well out of town, with his parents actually living in another state. Had my family done one of their smaller Christmas parties on the 20th, he’d have gladly come, but since they did it the same day as his family, it wasn’t an option.

Laura: “Well, we used to spend less time at each and do both.”
Me: “No. That’s for married people.”

That, right there, pretty much sums up my and Jake’s views on the entire issue. I recently followed a link on Facebook, leading to an article dictating what not to say to newlyweds, because Guides to Not Offending Me were to 2015, what doomsday prepping was to 2012. One of the numerous reasons to sit in awkward silence with the Just Married was to avoid asking “Do you feel any different?” The article went on to elaborate that for most people, there’s really not much difference between their dating life and their married life.

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Now, I’m not knocking the decisions of other people. On the contrary, my entire point is one of “to each their own.” If my 15-year-old cousin gets to bring her boyfriend to the family Christmas party without hearing complaints of how she’s ruining our photos with that random kid who won’t be around in five years, or concerns about why he’s not with his family, though, then why can’t I come solo without insinuations that Jake and I must not be that serious?

I love Jake and he loves me. We’re actually planning to go away for a weekend together, to attend an engagement party, so I can meet every friend he’s ever had. We also acknowledge, however, that there are perks to dating, over marriage. One of those perks is not having to divide Christmas family time. If things keep going well, then the day will come when we do have to choose a Christmas day destination. We may be able to schedule my individual grandmothers’ parties around some of Jake’s family gatherings (something completely unreasonable if we’re not married, I might add), but on December 25, we will not be able to attend two different gatherings, in two different states.

As much as I love Jake, I’m really not looking forward to hiding tears over missing my own family’s giant Christmas gathering, for the first time in over ten years. We rent out the church gym for our crazy Catholic soiree. The kids usually put on a talent show and we play Dirty Santa and board games and eat until we all want to die. Sometimes, a few of us even go to a movie afterward. It’s a blast… and one that I’ll likely have to sacrifice, in the near future, on rotating years. Jake feels the same loving nostalgia for his own family get together and dreads missing it just as much. So why would we voluntarily sign up to do this a year or two earlier than absolutely necessary? To make a statement about our level of commitment to one another? Really? That’s worth missing Christmas? 

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Quite frankly, the same goes for living together before marriage. Jake and I have discussed it and it’s not going to happen. One of the joys of being in a serious relationship, that is not marriage, is continuing to live alone. If we marry, eventually, we will have to give that up and say goodbye to midnight CW Netflix marathons/Fallout 4 binges, at least on the scale we enjoy them now. I’ll have to start folding clothes and Jake will have to own furniture. I won’t get to have a pink Christmas tree anymore and Jake will have to deal with me decorating his hunting trophies. Why do that for any reason other than marriage, though? Ideally, we don’t get to go back, to be alone again. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the perks now, instead of playing marriage without any of the actual lifelong commitment? I don’t condemn those who do it. Gail and Terry have lived together for more than three years, scheduling hobbies and holidays around one another, and they’re happy. I’m happy for them. It just doesn’t appeal to me, and that’s okay too. One day, Jake and I might decide to join our lives, trading in all of the aforementioned for the joys of being husband and wife. In the meantime, though…my boyfriend won’t be at my Christmas and his girlfriend won’t be at his.

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Why Our Education System Fails, by a Fly on the Wall

After six years of substitute teaching, it’s quite possible that I’ve “taught” my last class. I use quotations, because I’ll readily admit that I was a moderately compensated babysitter. Sure, my bachelor’s degree was in education and I have a current teaching certificate, which raised my daily pay by $10, but my job has generally been to take attendance and make sure no one sets anything on fire.

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I jest… a little. I did just recently announce to a table full of teenage girls that they were going to have to change the subject, because I could hear every detail of their sex lives. There was also that time I didn’t really stop the teenage boys from paying each other to eat dead flies…

… but hey, they were quiet.

 

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I’m practically Dumbledore.

It’s not that I was a bad substitute. They knew my limits. I just also knew theirs. I dare you to go into a public high school classroom and tell everyone to put away their phones, when their teachers let them use them every day. Go ahead. Report back. I’ll wait…

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… which brings me to my point. As a substitute teacher, particularly one with a degree in education, I’ve had the privilege of a unique perspective. You see, no one really pays attention to a substitute teacher. No teacher worries that I’m observing the daily anarchy that is their class, as long as they get a good evaluation from their principal. No student worries that a substitute teacher is going to overhear them discussing their cheating methods. I have truly been a fly on the wall for the past six years, in a wealthy public district that scores quite well on state report cards. For this reason, I can declare, with certainty, that our public schools have hit a downward spiral, and here are my top reasons why.

Cell Phones
Zetus lapetus, what a cliche am I, lamenting the tragedy of youths with cell phones.

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Fine. It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason. I won’t even focus on that time “53 percent of boys and 28 percent of girls (ages 12-15) reported [viewing pornography]”, or that “four out of five 16 year-olds regularly access pornography online”*, or discuss those who’ve been prosecuted as child pornographers for taking naked pictures of themselves*.  For the sake of this post, I’ll limit my rant to school specific issues.

Every day, even the best parents send their child to school with a cell phone, where their teacher competes not only with it and all of the information, entertainment, and communication it contains, but with 24 other devices in the classroom seven times a day. Most people hear the opening statements of my rant on this subject and interject with “They’re allowed to have them out in class?!?!” Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to monitor whether or not 25 people are using their phones for 55 minutes? I’m only speaking from my experience giving tests. The teacher is actually trying to teach what’s on it. If he stops every time he sees a phone, demanding someone put it away/put it on his desk/go to the office, he’s going to accomplish nothing, particularly since he has to uphold this standard throughout the year, because as Sebastian the crab says, “you give them an inch, they swim all over you.” For this reason, most high schools have gone “technology friendly.”

Technology friendly simply means that we’ve given up the fight. If we forbid students from bringing the phones to class at all, their tax paying parents insist they’ll need it “in an emergency.” Keep in mind, these are the same parents who use said phone as a bargaining tool and confiscate it every time they get ticked off, despite the dread of these vague emergencies. The result of this is students discussing the fear that they won’t be able to pass their end of semester Spanish test, because they’ve been using Google translate all year. It’s students watching Netflix on the affluent school’s WiFi, because they know how to get around the safeguards. It’s teachers making the assumption that students will have the internet in their pockets when assigning work, because heaven forbid they create a thought, as opposed to regurgitating ones they find online. It’s students asking to be dismissed from class for a moment, because their parents are calling them. What, might I ask, is so important that you have to call your child’s cell phone, when you know they’re at school?!?

Ultimately, cell phones have created an environment where students are not learning.

College Preparation
My bachelor’s degree was specifically in family and consumer science education – occupational and career technology. Translation: I could teach at a career tech (vo-tech) center as easily as at a high school. Unlike most teachers, my degree focused a great deal on those not going to college. Here are the facts, according to the US Census:

86.8% of Americans have a high school degree.
28% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree.

Why the fuck are we teaching 100% of our high school students as if they’re going to earn a college degree!?!?! 

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This is a blatant waste of funding. You can argue all you want about a “well-rounded” education, but why can’t we redefine what “well-rounded” means? Why does it have to mean five core subject classes and two classes that potentially prepare students to immediately enter the workforce? Why aren’t we allowing students not planning for college to sign up for two hours of core classes and five hours of real world skills? In my state, we have an amazing career tech program, but it’s poorly promoted. We encourage the kids who aren’t “smart enough” for college to take advantage of the free welding, nursing, and computer programming courses and that’s ridiculous. There are skills involved in auto mechanics that I don’t know that I could ever possess. I couldn’t tell a carburetor from a… I CANNOT EVEN THINK OF ANOTHER KEY CAR PART.

We need to end exclusively college preparatory public high school. We need to have real discussions with students about their interests and capabilities. We need to admit when they aren’t suited for a four-year degree and stop implying that that means anything other than that every person has different skills and capabilities. I have a master’s degree. I sit in a temperature controlled library and offer customer service all day long. I have a dozen uncles who lay pipe in subzero temperatures. Could I do that? NO. Could they smile politely when a man hurls a DVD in their face? NO. Does that make either of us less intelligent? NO.

The problem with the current system is that a good 50% of students feel public school curriculum is entirely irrelevant to them. They enjoy their career tech courses, if they’re in them, but get nothing from literature courses. They’ve found a use for marketing class, but chemistry has been a complete waste of their time. So, why are we funding it?!?! Is our society any better for the Shakespeare forgotten by your plumber? NO.

 We’re Wasting Instruction Time
I would vote for a complete removal of funding for art classes in my district.

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I know. That statement doesn’t make me popular, but you substitute a middle school or high school art class and tell me what you see. No matter the instructor in my A+ school district, art class has always been a total waste of time from my vantage point. It’s not because what they do accomplish isn’t worthwhile. It’s because they accomplish so little of it. I get it. These are the Freaks and Geeks, the kids of Empire Records. They’re the outcasts and this is the only place they feel they belong. I wore overalls all of sophomore year. Believe me, I get it.

Art class, however, should be a place for self expression. You don’t have to let students come and go as they please, without a word of explanation, just because you want them to feel accepted. If this is a place of creativity, then they need to be doing something creative. I know I was only substituting these classes and I didn’t get the most accurate sample, but never have I taught another class where students just followed their whim to walk out. Never have I seen them blatantly watch Netflix as I have in art class. They do this, because it’s okay with their teacher and that is not okay. Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive and it’s harmful to suggest otherwise.

Art class isn’t the only place I see wasted instruction time. Remember when I stressed a need for strong life skills courses for those immediately entering the workforce after high school? Well, those exist as electives. Leadership is a great example. What a wonderful course to teach, even to those pursuing college. Or so I thought, until I subbed it and my students informed me that all they’d been doing for the last three weeks was painting banners to hang around the school.

A leadership student should be gaining public speaking skills by delivering presentations on effective leaders through history and the impact they’ve had on the world. They should be finding ways to be leaders in the community and possibly spending the occasional field trip volunteering at the local food bank or running winter coat drives. Leadership students should be presenting the awards at ceremonies and taking part in presentations on real world issues that effect teens, such as the consequences of texting while driving. Leadership students should not be spending three weeks painting banners. In fact, that’s actually a great activity for those art students!

Perhaps you’re thinking I’ve just proven we don’t really need those elective courses. You’d be right, were it not for the fact that this regularly occurs in core classes, as well. Because we don’t want to admit that some students aren’t cut from Shakespeare reading cloth, our high school English classes are paced for the mean, or average. If four students can finish Othello in a week and two need three weeks, we write the curriculum for two weeks, which leaves four students playing on their phones for a week and two in tears, because they don’t understand this Shakespeare Shit. We even add whole class blocks for “study hall” or “advisory”, which end up essentially being recess. Kids sit, talk, play cards, or play on their phones. At best, students spend four hours a day learning and another three waiting to learn.

We’re So Top-Heavy
There are a lot of reasons I never taught in a traditional setting and I’ve just outlined three. Another, however, is that my state has nearly the lowest teacher pay in the country. It’s still a living wage, but I make about $16,000 more as a librarian and the benefits are substantially better. Our cost of living is also astoundingly low, but even those states with a lower cost of living often pay teachers more. The result is a few days a year, when teachers rally at the state capitol over the injustice of it all, which I categorize as fitting into the previous heading of a waste of instruction time.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more. I’m simply saying that they’re protesting at the wrong location. While we could certainly use a little more state funding, the problem is primarily a district one. I just counted my district’s administrators and came up with an astounding 34. If I average each of them at $80,000 per year, that’s over 2.5 million dollars. If I’m averaging too high and it’s closer to $60,000, it’s still over two million dollars in a suburban school district with low teacher pay.

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What if, and this is a crazy suggestion, we actually give the teachers the ability to discipline their students so we don’t need as much on-site administration and enforce consequences more effectively, overall? Why do we allow repeated problem students, particularly when they’ve reached the state’s legal dropout age of 16, to continue coming to public schools? If a student ditches detention X number of times, why not tell him he still has his right to pursue an education, but he’ll now have to do it, either through another district or online schooling? Over 98% of public libraries have Internet access. If that’s inconvenient, so what? They had their chance and got plenty of warnings. Should their behavior impede the learning of other students, add stress to their low paid teachers’ day, and create a need for a more top-heavy district as a whole? NO.

I’m not talking about basic discipline problems here, to be clear. I’m talking about the student who punches his teacher, repeatedly gets in fights or makes threats toward other students or staff, or gets a designated number of detentions for other behaviors that disrupt class. I’m talking about a decision made by a panel, with the opportunity to appeal in one calendar year. Perhaps, in this case, the parent would suddenly care that their child was misbehaving, were they faced with the possibility of having them at home all day and being responsible for helping them pursue an education until age 16. Why don’t we expel students anymore?!?! When we do, it’s always for something that doesn’t effect the big picture or anyone in it, such as a student having a buck knife in his truck, because he forgot it in his truck after his hunting trip or a girl who carries her asthma inhaler on her, even though it’s not allowed. Let’s kick them out, regardless of their lack of previous discipline problems, but nooooo, not the guy who screamed at his teacher that he was going to set her cat on fire.

If the major problem students were gone, usually a very small percentage of the school and a very large percentage of the discipline issues, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to cut administration. If my district cut half its administration, we could afford to raise every teacher’s salary by over $11,000. Carry on with your protests at the state capitol, though. Maybe they’ll designate an administrator to teacher ratio.

Citations

http://www.internetsafety101.org/pornographystatistics.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/21/n-c-just-prosecuted-a-teenage-couple-for-making-child-porn-of-themselves/

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html