Molly under cover

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The Eames children could not bear to be without their mother. Simply losing sight of her would set one, and then all of the children to wailing. Even after she returned to the room it took a good ten minutes to assuage them.
It was a worrisome thing. You’d expect it from babies. They are so helpless. Their every need has to be taken care of by an adult, and often that was their mother. It stood to reason they’d think she was God. Plenty of adults acted the same way, come to think of it. When everything started to go sideways they forgot themselves and made it worse with all their worrying.
Perhaps it was because the children were so close in age that it kept happening, the self-reinforcing feedback loop. The boys were only a year apart. For Molly Eames it felt like she was pregnant two years running. She had no intention to make it three so she simply told Mr. Eames that there would be no sex for year (at least) until she felt like going through that ordeal again.
She’d not expected marriage to be like this. Her mother, either out of modesty or meanness, never told her where babies came from, or more accurately how they got there in the first place. She was horrified to learn the secret and was incredulous at first. How was that even possible? Much of her life was a mystery to her. Her parents were conservative on many fronts and had homeschooled her to keep her from being “infected by the disease of the world” as they so often informed her. It was for her own good, they said. It was like she was a time capsule, a frozen moment in a fictional time when everything was safe. Their greatest hope was that she’d be a beacon of light in the dark times they knew were soon to come.
Her lack of education chafed at her once she realized it. If she could get pregnant from contact with a part of her husband’s body, then what else could happen? What else had been hidden from her? After her first check up at the obstetrician she went straight to the library and got every book they had on biology. Three weeks later she returned them all and decided to start at the beginning of the nonfiction section and work her way through the entire collection.
She told no one in her family what she was doing, least of whom her husband. She even made sure to confirm that her library record was private when she got her card. She figured if her family had hidden important knowledge from her then they must think she wasn’t worthy of it, or that it wasn’t worth their time to tell her. So she decided it wasn’t worth her time to tell them otherwise.
Molly Eames couldn’t hold off from sex indefinitely, however. Her husband was becoming insufferable, acting as if he was a prisoner of war in his own home. If he’d had to endure what she had – months of nausea, clothes not fitting, and even swelling in fingers and feet (not to mention the painful and embarrassing ordeal of actually giving birth) he might have thought differently about sex. Ten minutes of fun wasn’t worth nine months of feeling possessed by an alien being.
Giving birth was the most difficult thing Molly had ever been through. It wasn’t joyful at all. She simply didn’t understand the chittering from her neighbors and friends who gushed about how wonderful it all was. Maybe they were lying. Maybe they were insane. Maybe the whole experience had turned them permanently crazy with no hope of recovery. The worst part wasn’t even the pain, which was so bad it created a whole new category of suffering. It became her new ten on the pain chart, a place formerly occupied by having her arm set without anesthesia at 12 after she fell out of a tree.
She never climbed a tree again after that. Just like with sex, the risk wasn’t worth the fun. It’s not like her husband was any good at it anyway. He called it “making love”, never “having sex” but it wasn’t lovely at all. It was sweaty and awkward and strange. Perhaps other people were used to being naked in front of others, but Molly wasn’t. There was nothing exciting about it. She was always trying to cover up with the sheets. She wasn’t trying to hide how she looked so much as not be cold. Her husband wasn’t much to look at either, and he only took a bath once a week, and then only if she insisted.
The “being naked” part of being an adult was a great shock. Her parts most certainly weren’t private when she had to go for her checkups when she was pregnant but at least that was just the doctor who saw. When she gave birth, it seemed like the whole hospital was staring at her nether regions. She briefly considered selling tickets to offset the bill.
Even though her two children were very clingy, she had agreed to produce three when they had that discussion before marriage. It was important to work out such things. Children or not, standard of living expected, minimum expectations of signs of affection – all of these needed to be negotiated before you said “I do”. Too many folks didn’t see marriage as the legal contract that it was, hoping love would right all wrongs and mend all wounds. Without clear agreements it caused more trouble than it cured.
But she’d promised three, so three it must be. There was nothing to it except to do it, so she determined her most fertile time from some of the research she had done and had sex once more to provide her end of the contract. Better get it out of the way, like ripping a Band-Aid off. To prolong the suffering was pointless.
Walter Eames wanted a picture of the children, but not of his wife. He was sick of who she had become – no longer meek or mild. She seemed more confident, more aware. She certainly wasn’t the person he had married – someone he could push around all day long with nary a peep. Not like he thought he was pushy, no, never. Being assertive and decisive had gotten him to where he was at work, but it was getting him nowhere at home. Debate and compromise weren’t part of his repertoire.
But there was no way to photograph them without her. The moment she would walk away from them, they’d set up a wail worse than a tornado siren. It was ridiculous. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom without them pitching a fit. It was embarrassing to go out in public with his family, so he didn’t. Far from being a source of pride as he had expected before he got married, he now frequently left them at home and went out by himself. Even though he’d worked all day and she stayed home with the children (that one attempt at day care changed any plans they might have had of her working outside of the home), he was happy to spend even more time away. This was not turning out to be the life he’d planned as an adult.
So when it came time to get a portrait made, he had to get creative. His parents had asked to see the kids for years. He refused to make the six hour drive with her, and his parents were too frail to make the drive themselves. A portrait would have to do. He looked around the studio and his eyes landed on a backdrop. “That’ll do!” he exclaimed, and snatching it up, pushed his wife into the chair, dropped the fabric over her, arranged the kids around her, and ordered the photographer to snap away. Other than the sound of the shutter release, the room was silent. Nobody other than him could believe this was happening.

The card catalog is gone. Get over it.

I checked out a lady’s grandson today, and then she lost her mind. He was 7, and had three picture books. I should have known from that alone that something weird might happen. These are way beneath his reading level.

I gave him the books and gave her the slip that tells when they were due. She looked at it and said “I hate this.”

It could have meant anything. Maybe the books were due when they were going to be on vacation. Maybe she thought he should have checked out more than three. It could be anything, so I said nothing. Better to not give people ideas about what to hate.

She continued, shaking that slip of paper “You have to keep up with this. You can’t just look in the back of the book.”

I said nothing. I’m not responsible for these new-fangled computers. I’m not the reason we use them to check out books. I can’t fix it – and more importantly, I don’t think it is broken.

I said nothing, as I am wont to do when people are venting. Often saying something only makes it worse. Often, they just want to be mad, and I’m a nearby target. It is one of the dangers of working with the public.

She wandered towards the door, continuing to mutter. She looked back at me, with my stunned face, and said “What – you don’t remember that?” Of course I do. I grew up in libraries. I’m a lot older than I look too. I remember back then. I also know now.

Now is better.

I said “You can renew online – and you couldn’t do that before.” It was the first thing I could think of. She scoffed. She rolled her eyes. She left.

The way we have it now is better. I wasn’t working in the library system then, but I’ve heard the stories. Getting books from another branch was very difficult. Having a hold on a popular book meant the librarians had to keep a long list and check people off. This is impossible with a 21 branch system, with thousands of circulating items.

These days, you can check out and return at any branch. These days, you can check out 100 items. These days, you can request and renew items online, any time of the day – even when the library is closed. You can even download an ebook, and audiobook, a movie, or an album.

You couldn’t do any of that before “in the good old days”. The good old days weren’t even good. This is a lie we tell ourselves.

People were really upset when we got the self-check computers. “I’m computer illiterate!” they’d howl. “This is going to put you out of a job!” they’d screech.

They learned. We kept our jobs.

They were really upset when we did away with the card catalogue too. But they like being able to order books from other libraries. They like being able to know if the book is on the shelf or checked out before they go look for it, too.

Computers can make things easier. It is people that make things hard – on themselves. Adapting to change is the most important life skill that can be learned.

And for the love of all that is holy – don’t yell at the clerk behind the desk. She can’t fix it. She didn’t even cause it. You’re only making her day harder by your need to complain.

Hair covering butterfly

In thinking about my new (sometimes) practice of covering my hair:

I’m comparing it to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It has to cover itself up in order to transform.

The funniest thing is that it is the easiest way to color my hair. I can have blue or purple hair quite easily and change it very simply. No chemicals, no risk.

I’m of mixed opinions as to people commenting on it. Most people say that they like it and I like to think that what they see is not the covering or the color but they like the fact that I am transforming myself and trying to make myself better than I am. I like to think that what they’re noticing is my practice of self-improvement rather than my fashion sense.

I’m being transferred to a small library in a very close community. I feel that it is very conservative. I’ll be under the microscope for a bit, from the staff as well as the patrons. They are very protective and proud of their library, and they don’t want some stranger in there. I’ll have to let them know early on that I’m OK. Sticking out isn’t going to work.

Nothing sticks out more than covering your head, but it is for religious and modesty reasons. Thus, even though it is unusual, it is unusual in a very conservative way.

I have to work every Saturday now, unless I ask off. That will be tricky, because there are only three people in the branch. There isn’t any wiggle room. Sure, they can borrow from another library in the cluster if needed. I hear it is slow enough that two people can run the library with no problems. This is amazing to me since having just two people in my department was an emergency in my previous library. My department was one of three in that branch.

I’d started covering my head at the library on the Saturdays I work about four months ago. It was my way of remembering that Saturday was the Sabbath, and keeping it different and special. I’d cover at home on my weekends off. I worked every other Saturday on average. It was awkward when I was at work. I got asked questions, people would comment. Generally they liked it. They didn’t really understand, but they were kind. Explaining something as personal as a religious conviction is hard. I had to explain it and get it approved by the branch manager because there is a library policy against head covering (except for religious reasons). I only stuck out at work 26 days a year because I only covered at work every other week on Saturday. Working every Saturday at the new place, I’m going to stick out more.

I remember Jesus says that we should not make our piety obvious. We should pray in private, and not show others our religious acts. They are to be seen by God, not others. Jesus also worked on the Sabbath, and said that the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around. Jesus also reminds us of the words from the prophet Hosea – “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

So should I worry about working every Saturday? Is Saturday the Sabbath, or is Sunday? Do I have to take a full day off from work to rest, or am I covered if I’m doing God’s work? Should I cover my head or not?

This is all a work in progress.

I think like Jacob, we are praised for wrestling with God. God wants us to actively engage with our faith and our practices. God wants us to be mindful and fully alive. Our practices should draw us closer to God and to other humans. If they put up walls, then we have to stop.

For now, I’m going to modify how I do it. I have seen that opinions vary as to if women are to cover all their hair, or just their head. It is not a commandment to cover – just a tradition, inferred from a story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Christian texts, Paul has his own things to say about it, but Jesus is silent on the matter. So I see it as optional – if it draws me closer to God and reminds me to be kinder to others, then it is good. Since I can’t see my headcovering, it is the pressure of it that reminds me to modify my actions. I can achieve that pressure by tying the tichel like a headband. I’ll be covering my head, getting the pressure as a reminder, but my hair will be exposed as it falls from the back.

I’ll see how this works out. Hopefully it will be seen as a fashion statement and not a religious one. I’m not doing this to make other people change their ways. I’m doing it to change my own.

Getting kids to read.

I know too many people who let their children decide what they are going to read or if they are going to read. This is the same as letting them decide what they are going to eat. No child is going to make good choices. They are going to go for the comic books and the candy. That is why you are their parent. You are there to direct and guide them.

Just like a potter with a lump of clay, the potter shapes it and molds it until it is tall enough and strong enough that it will be useful. It has to be shaped in such a way that it can endure the heat of the kiln and the wear and tear of use.

Children have to be shaped so that they can be strong too. They need to be shaped so that that are good people and helpful and kind. They need to be shaped so that they can survive out in the world and not crack.

So in the same way that you wouldn’t let a child pick out all of his food when he is only going to go for cake and chips, you can’t let him pick out his books when he is only picking out what is essentially junk food for the mind.

Now we all need a little junk food reading every now and then. It is important to let kids have some control over what they select. They need to learn that reading is a pleasure and not a punishment. They need to feel that it is fun and not work. But a solid diet of junk food results in a sick body. A solid diet of junk food reading results in a sick mind.

If you let children have total control that is the same as the potter letting the clay have control. They will be an unformed lump at best. They will be spread all over the place at worst.

Don’t know what to recommend to your child? Go to your local library and ask a librarian. They are there to help. You don’t have to do this on your own, but you do have to do this. The mind you save will be your child’s. The world you will save will be your own.

American Untouchables

There are people in India who were known as the Untouchables. It was a caste. If you were born into a family of Untouchables, you were an Untouchable. You were the poorest of the poor and you weren’t even considered a person. There was no chance of ever bettering your lot – that was just the way it was. Nobody challenged this system for many years because the people who it bothered had no voice in the system, and the people it benefitted created the system.

We too have a system like this, but we don’t talk about it. If you are born poor in America, there is a pretty good chance you will remain poor. Sure, we talk about the American dream, that anybody can become anything. Through determination and hard work you can achieve your goals. We have as President right now a man who was born to a single mother and is of mixed race. That is pretty Untouchable by American standards. That start virtually guarantees poverty and being kicked around by the system. But he went to school and worked hard. He had drive and incentive and became a lawyer, and then a politician. I don’t really care what you think about his policies. What I’m impressed by is that he went from a very low position to a very high one.

Anybody can do this. But first, you have to believe in yourself. You have to put a value on yourself. And then you have to work hard towards a goal.

There are two ladies who have just started coming to the library. They are dirt poor. You can look at them and tell they are poor just by looking at them. Their clothes are ratty. Their hair is wild and unkempt. Their teeth are crooked and stained. Their speech is substandard.

I’ll call them Jackie and Diane. Jackie has to drive Diane around because Diane has an ID only. Diane’s husband is chronically ill and stuck at home. Diane picks up movies from him. It is always movies. Movies are the staple of the poor at the library.

We have a lot of DVDs at our library. Not all of them are movies. Some are TV series. Some are documentaries. The poor rarely get anything educational, and they even more rarely get books.

When they do get books they get romance if they are female, and it is usually low-end romance like “urban erotic fiction” and stuff like the “Grey” novels. The plots are the same in all of these. The story says that you, as a female, are nothing, and will remain nothing until you get a man, who will treat you badly and then leave you, so you will then be less than nothing.

These selections guarantee that the person will stay poor. They guarantee that the person will remain exactly where they are. They are escapism in name only. If they truly want to escape they will better themselves by getting material that is educational. But first they have to see themselves as worthy of escaping.

We may not have an official caste system in America, but we sure do have a self-enforced one.

Book sniffer

I am a book sniffer. The older, the better. Perhaps that is part of why I chose to work in a library. I love the smell of books.

Now, I didn’t get hired at an old library. It was new when I started. You could say it and I started at the same time. It is now 13 years old and the books are just starting to smell pleasant. Fortunately we are part of a system and we get old books in on hold all the time. Every now and then there will be a special one.

A good book smells like fall leaves raked into a pile. It smells like the pile of leaves after you have jumped into it.

A good book smells a bit like vanilla pound cake, fresh out of the oven and cooling on the windowsill.

A good book smells faintly of pipe smoke from your grandfather, while he is warming up by the fire after coming in from the rain. He is sitting in a soft worn leather armchair, wearing his tweed jacket. It is a little bit of all these smells.

A good book smells comfortable and friendly. These smells are the smells of safety and home.

There was a coworker once who shared my love of smelling books. When we’d find one, we’d share it. We’d take the book in our hands, admire the cover and the patina of age on the pages, open it up and have a good sniff.

The branch manager saw us doing this once and openly wondered about our mental health. But, then again, she never read a book to our knowledge.

Now, not all books smell good. Some smell of feet, and cat spray, and the sad sickly smell of too many medicines and ointments and not enough fresh air. Way too many books smell like cheap cigarettes.

But it is the good smelling books that I cherish.

How can you spot a potentially good-smelling book? Covers like this are a sure thing. The original covers have been taken off and the book has been rebound in this amazing stuff. It is beyond the hardness of a hardback. This kind of stuff is going to last forever.

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The spines are embossed, either in gold or silver.

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The edge of the book looks like this. Note the worn nature and the color.

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The corner edge is rounded. That is always a nice touch.

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All these different bits point to really old books. That is what you are looking for. Smell the edge, and if that is OK, then open it up and smell the gutter (the inside, opposite the spine) of the book.

Modern books with their fancy ink and high quality paper just won’t do. You are looking for old books with old-fashioned paper.

Happy sniffing!

Evolution of a sinkhole

We have a sinkhole on the land that the library is on. The prevalence of sinkholes is possibly why the family that owned the land donated it to the city rather than selling it. There is a really cool area just past the parking lot that serves as a sort of drain for the area. Heavy rains pour into it, and then sink down. There is a lot of limestone in this section, and trees grow up around it and protect it from (some) erosion.

But then there are other areas away from it that are developing subsidence. There are small sinkholes developing. I’ve taken pictures of one area over time, and just now thought to put a few of them here. I’ll try to keep an eye on it and add more to this story as it develops.

The first time I noticed the extra sinkhole, they had put a barricade around it. They roped it off to prevent people from accidentally falling into it while they got an engineer to figure out what to do.

This is what was decided.
sinkhole1

They put a huge tarp in it, and drop boulders into it. The idea was not only to plug up the hole but to prevent more dirt from washing away. They had at least twenty boulders to put in it. It was an all-day event. I’m glad saw this going on because it was pretty cool.

This lasted about a year. Then they had to add more rocks on top of the area, as it had sunk down. They are smaller than the first batch. Here’s the “after” shot.
sinkhole2

That was about six months ago. That too has started to subside.
sinkhole3