Thursday, October 23, 2008

Work clothes

In 1995 I quit my library job under disagreeable circumstances, and burned a couple bridges as I left. This was during my divorce and once I moved to Wilmington, NC, I went in search of support groups and counseling, and found an absolutely delightful counselor, a Methodist minister with a weird sense of humor.

In one session I complained about one of the more trivial annoyances in my old job, the wardrobe thing. For some reason, my boss had decided that we should dress like corporate execs. Kind of. We were expected to wear a jacket over every slack-or-skirt ensemble. I've never before or since set foot in a library in which librarians dressed like the cast of Law & Order.

I thought this was absurd, but I dutifully put together a tasteful working wardrobe with jackets. In the final report that the boss wrote up on me, she wasn't content to accuse me of insubordination and similar offenses, but had to throw in a bizarre statement that I refused to dress as ordered. Considering that I'd done exactly as ordered and, in this case, had the credit card balance to prove it, I was still fuming about this as well as about other matters, some months later in the shrink's office in Wilmington.

My counselor said simply, "Why don't you send them to her?"

I gave him a confused look.

"After all," he explained, "you bought them for her. Why not send them to her?"

How I wished I'd thought of it, but it delighted me. With glee I did exactly that. I just happened to have the perfect box, one from the library's book supplier -- anyone who worked there had a garage full of Baker & Taylor boxes -- and I neatly folded most of my ensembles with their coordinated jackets, placed my 10-year county service pin on the lapel of the top one, and shipped them without explanatory enclosure or return address to my former boss. At work.

This apparently caused something of a stir. There was no doubt that I was the sender; my clothes were recognizable. I only wanted to make sure nobody could easily send it back as "refused." So the boss and some of her underlings went through the box, but found no note or explanation. A short while later a friend of mine, with whom they all knew I was still in touch, got pulled aside on a library visit and asked, sotto voce, "What do you know about the clothes??" He feigned utter confusion, then happlily told me about it.

All that for a post about cleaning out my closet. When I mailed off the Mystery Clothes box in 1995, I kept a few items I really liked, but their fashion day is too long past. The short version is that the towering plastic closet shelf was close to collapsing, and has led to a complete closet dismantling and a general cleanout of stuff I'll never wear again.

Flowery droopy skirts and long, boxy 1990 blazers. Gone.

Pleated slacks with tapered ankles - gone.

Lacy collars, 1980's L. L. Bean dress, Wednesday Addams dress? Time to go.

Elaine dress...? Well, I loved my Seinfeld dress-like-Elaine era. I confess, it stays.

I love my dumb baggy Forenza pants and there's a very nice poor girl's version of the black Princess-Di-Dancing-With-Travolta formal that I just can't part with. Most qualify more as "costumes" than as clothes now, but that's OK. They say the '80's are becoming a theme for costume parties.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Enough with the present tense

The oddest things annoy me. One is this [insert creative phrases that would ruin my cuss-o-meter score here] trend of writing novels in the present tense :

She opens the letter. The handwriting looks familiar but she cannot place it. It is unsigned. "What's that?" asks Floyd. He puts down his gun and looks over her shoulder.

I used to love Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries. But sometime in the past few years she quit writing normal and started the whole walk-through thing.

(Well, OK, I also got sick of Scarpetta pining for Benton Wesley or Wesley Benton, or whatever her dreary mopey boyfriend's name is. Even emotionally-anesthetized psychiatrist Alex Delaware and his emotionally-unavailable eternal girlfriend Robin are functional compared to that pair. But I probably would've stayed with the series just because the plots are often interesting. I still read Kellerman's novels and no matter how much Robin irritates me, Kellerman never present-tenses his books.)

Present tense has ruined for me other books that I ordinarily would love. I like historical mysteries, lapped up Instance of the Fingerpost, which dragged for some people, heard about Crimson Petal and the White and couldn't wait to read it. Then I saw it was a walk-through. I put it back and moved on.

Why am I calling present-tense novels "walk-throughs"?. Because I think I have diagnosed the origin of this virus which is now running rampant through publishing. It's rooted -- just my opinion -- in gaming. Originally, in Dungeons & Dragons player manuals, then in guides for video gamers which include blow-by-blow "walk-throughs." Present-tense fiction is not a new invention, but it has mushroomed in the past few years, or so it seems to me. Something's up. I diagnose it as an attempt to sell fiction to gamers.

I never got into video games much, though I did find Need For Speed hysterically funny. But Larry did for awhile and I therefore have read enough game walk-throughs to see the similarity :

Enter the cave. Straight ahead, you see a door. Do not open it! Dick Cheney will shoot you! Look right. You see a freezer. Open the freezer and remove banded bundles of cash. Turn around and walk toward the curtained doorway in the far wall. Six trolls come through the curtain. Quickly throw blocks of frozen cash at them and escape up the silver ladder to your left.

Publishers may be seeking novels that they think may appeal to the gaming population. That's -- I grudgingly admit -- smart. Cultivating a market that's still going to have both pulses and disposable income in 40-50 years is smart business, and might even get more young people reading books.

Anyway, dislike of present tense fiction may be a peculiarity of my own, but it irritates the bejeezus out of me, and here it came again this week. I was ordering something for Larry and had a choice between paying postage, or adding another book to get the over-$25 free shipping. Yeah, I know, like I need more books. Well, anyway, I ran across Away, by Amy Bloom. It looked tailor-made for my taste; female protagonist on a journey through 1920's America. Raunchy, some reviewers warn, but I like dirty books I don't object to explicit passages when a novel has literary merit. Then I checked the text. Present tense.

Why this annoys me so much is kind of a mystery to me. 30 years ago Ordinary People really grabbed me, and that as-it-happens structure worked like a charm. But something changed. Now I want to be told what happened after it happens. First versus third person? Don't care, like 'em both. But the tense matters.

Do I like "knowing" that the events I'm reading about, fictitious though they are, are over before the author tells me about them? Do I find some feeling of security in that?

That's not it though. I can enjoy following an as-it-happens story if it's written in past tense. There must be a literary term for that. What I mean is, each passage is written as though it just happened, but as though the next one hasn't yet. Like this:

Chapter 4

Elizabeth walked into my office and threw a pie at me today.

Chapter 5,

This morning Bingley told me that it was Elizabeth's parking space that I stole yesterday.

It really is the present tense itself that bugs me.

I'm going to order Away and give it a chance, but I still wish more reviewers would mention this tense thing while they're earnestly telling us what to expect if we buy this book. Not all books have enough searchable text to reveal it. Sheesh, doesn't everybody understand that if it's important to me then it's just plain important?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Making do in 1934

Here's one you really need to click for a larger view.

Magazines were BIG back then!

Magazine ad in the comic strip style, from Pictorial Review, August 1934, acknowledging higher prices for goods as a result of FDR's Recovery Program. Interesting use of "Okeh" instead of "Okay"!

Here's a full close-up of the magazine's advice centered at the page bottom:

Thursday, October 09, 2008

October 9, 1978, or: If It's Monday, This Must Be Stonehenge

It's rare that I'm able to document the date on which I took a picture, but in this case I had a trip diary!

(And I owe my ability to post the picture in this quality -- I took it with your basic '70's Instamatic -- to Larry who was able to make me a digital image from the original negative.)


EXPANSION posted 10/10/08:

The trip was a wonder to take, for one as provincial as I was, but very typical-tourist to tell about. Mom and I went. She'd been crossing the state of NC every week, trying to help her parents manage at home after her dad's stroke. I was between college and library school, and was due for a vacation after a year on the job answering phones at the local art museum. My brother was a senior in high school, plenty involved in his own, mostly environmentalist, activities, my grandparents were doing OK. It was a now-or-never opportunity that we had to jam into 2 weeks.

That Salisbury day trip was the most memorable single day for three reasons. One was Stonehenge, with a wonderful, druidically gloomy sky overhead (the photos are pinking-out - I need to preserve them). Recent discoveries indicate that Stonehenge wasn't really so gloomy, but I still loved the mood the stormy clouds imparted.

Second and third things that made 10/9 special were both in Salisbury Cathedral, where I got to see an official copy of the Magna Carta, and the oldest working clock in the world. That was cool!

Other highlights: Tower of London, where I was touched by Lady Jane Grey's name carved probably by her equally young (though rather whiny) husband, Guildford Dudley, while they were imprisoned for treason : a mournful little "IANE" in the stone wall. I'd played her in a one-act play during high school, and look the part too, so she always kind of intrigued me.

This rosary bead, in the British Museum, blew me away, huge for a "bead" (that photo may be enlarged a bit from life, but not a lot!) yet carved in such detail that the delicacy of the carving was breathtaking.

Harrod's. Plays. I noticed at the time that almost all the plays were of British origin but there were few musicals on and most were US imports.

We attended magnificent Sunday services in Westminster Abbey, and i remember the graves along the cloister, especially a group of monks who died of the plague in 1349. We also had trouble finding a place to eat lunch! So many places were closed on Sundays, which I found odd for a major city. Wonder if it's still that way. We ended up in, I'm not making this up, The Tennessee Pancake House.

And I learned never ever to get caught in a rain shower in Trafalgar Square without cleated shoes, because the thick layer of pigeon droppings turns into a slick more treacherous than standard mud.

Mom was an English and creative writing major, I was an aspiring writer and we did not go to Stratford-Upon-Avon! It was closed. Well, I mean, you know, not closed, but off-season, no events, tour days didn't work with our very tight schedule. "We'll just do that next time," we said, 30 years ago.

It was a fast, richly experienced couple weeks. I may eventually post more pictures but the quality is very low, and Larry, would have to spend a day working on them for me (my scanner won’t do negatives), so....eventually. And eventually I'll get one of those wonderful CoolPix thingies too.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Don't let the calendar regulate your activities!

Great example of the classic comic strip style ad. From Better Homes and Gardens magazine, April, 1937. This really is the complete ad. And two interesting things jump out at me: the product itself is not shown; nor is the pharmaceutical company named.

Bayer owns the brand now but other ads at Mum (a website full of "OMG I remember that!" moments for us females) reveal it was then offered by the General Drug Company, first as a pain reliever, then as a remedy for hiccups!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Um ... Question!

It's not the most important Palin issue out there, but on this last night of Banned Books Week, it's worth looking at, since it's full of -- to me -- unanswered questions.

Did Sarah Palin ever ban a book? No, never. Did Palin ever even target a book and try to ban it? Why no! Certainly not!

Wait though! Just one more question ...

Did Palin fully intend to override proper book-challenge procedure, to the extent of firing a librarian who openly stated that she would prove an obstacle to such an action?

I strongly believe that Palin, or anybody, must be held innocent until proven guilty. I feel almost as strongly that heroes should get credit where it's due, and it is clear to me that the Wasilla librarian deserves credit for a bold stand. And the people of Wasilla do too, for standing up for that librarian. Democracy rocks.

I won't pretend to have all the answers, but these questions won't lie down:

Palin claims that quizzing the librarian in a town council meeting about how books could be banned was "rhetorical," and a "professional question being asked in regards to library policy." Was it?

Palin had discussed book banning with Emmons before this. Palin had also sat in council meetings as a councilwoman the year before that, when a book was challenged. She was actually quite familiar with the procedure.

Next question: Did Palin had every intention of stepping outside ethical, if not legal, boundaries as mayor and bypassing that procedure?

As mentioned above, Palin knew the book challenge procedure already. That fact, taken alone, does not mean that Palin was issuing a challenge to Emmons in the meeting. Palin had been elected with the support of local conservatives including the very conservative Assembly of God, whose members were behind the challenges to Go Ask Alice and other books. She'd naturally want to go on record with attention to their issues, which is only politics, not a step out of bounds.

But as a former librarian, I was initially baffled by Emmons' somewhat belligerent reply. I was ... um ... not known for my diplomatic skills but even I know there's a script you follow. If the council meeting was merely an on-record demonstration for the public, Emmons would have been equally savvy about that, and would normally just take her own opportunity to demonstrate that she and her staff would be responsive to patrons' concerns.

She'd say, "Of course materials may be challenged, we have a procedure that ensures all the questions are addressed, we are always willing to hear and carefully consider the concerns of community." Describe what it entails. Go home and eat all the Frusen Glädjé.

A rookie might have gotten defensive, maybe, but Emmons had been Wasilla's Librarian for 7 years, had dealt with many a local elected official, had fielded book challenges before. She was president of the state library association. She knew the political game. Why, I wondered, was Emmons so undiplomatic as to bring the drama out into the open? It only makes her look like the aggressor, it only works against her, doesn't it?

Not necessarily.

If the much-interviewed citizen, Anne Kilkenny, can be trusted to report accurately (and I accept that this is not a given, but others' actions support her version), Palin asked how she could get books banned. Via personal fiat. Emmons answered the question Palin asked.

If actual mayoral book-ban efforts were on the way, Emmons would want that out in the open before the fact. She'd have no reason to talk tough, other than the knowledge that Palin was serious about banning books and wasn't just making an "I tried!" show for her conservative constituents.

See, if you get fired, and then you say, "It's because I opposed an injustice," people get skeptical. They think, "Yeah, everybody's a victim. We don't know the real story." But if the specific nature of the conflict was public before the firing, then the reasons you're giving look a lot less like Disgruntled Employee.

Is that why Palin fired Emmons?

Go ahead, tell me that Palin fired Emmons over Other Issues. Loyalty to the administration may have been the stated reason, and in Wasilla any department head might technically work at "the pleasure of the mayor."

But a librarian serves the public directly. Other government offices certainly deal directly with the public, but they are doing it to further the town's (county's, etc.) agenda: they process business licenses, gather taxes, enforce laws. Libraries are for the people's use and pleasure, with a direct mission that makes what the individual wants or needs the end product. There's not much a library does that either supports or opposes a mayoral agenda. Well, I mean, unless that mayor wants approval-rights over the books purchased. Emmons was duty bound to protect the Constitutional rights of her readers.

Emmons had also demonstrated that she understood those rights to include questioning the propriety of a book. She was, in fact, pushing for a review board to hear book-challenges, a method that would give the citizenry, including the Assembly of God congregants, more power in book challenges than the previous method gave them.

Palin saw Emmons' strong local support and never pulled any book-bannings, which is one reason I've thought all along -- despite her fumbles during early Q&A's in her VP race -- that she's a very smart woman.

But having Palin for a boss sure sounds like one Dilbertian nightmare to me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008