Sunday, October 29, 2023

I am a bulletin board

for Halloween, a last-minute Do-it-yourselfer costume that I find online. What you do is take a corkboard-colored shirt and hot glue a bunch of post-it notes to it. Wah Lah. Bulletin Board. The reason I had to make a costume was I was invited to a Halloween party. The people who host the Halloween party are very creative people. 

I like to think of myself as a creative person, but lately, I am not feeling it. 

I don't know why. It's raining. I'm listening to too many political podcasts. My husband's been out of town for the past few days and the alone-ness is getting to me. In the morning I walk down to the farmer's market and spend a distressingly long time looking at potatoes. I walk the dog in the drizzle and then I flounder around in the house, listening to more podcasts and despairing about the state of the world.  

Less than two hours before the party, and I still haven't put together my costume. Last week a friend suggested we do the Artist's Way again. This is a 12-week course with exercises to help you unblock your creative self. I've done this course three times over the years and it has always worked for me, but this time, I'm skeptical. 

One of the exercises is to write out positive affirmations, such as, I am allowed to nurture my artist, and I am willing to create. I find these affirmations kind of woo woo and weird. 

Also, each week you're supposed to take yourself on what the author calls an "artist's date." The artist's date is supposed to be fun. A couple of hours where you give yourself permission to play. I always struggle with this exercise. It just seems...silly. 

After I bought the potatoes at the farmer's market, I walked past a booth where a woman was selling homemade mini sweet potato pies. She had a big sign hanging behind her that said, YOU CAN BUY ONE, BUT WHY NOT BUY TWO? 

Yeah, I thought. Why not buy two? 

I turned around and went back to her booth. I eat a pie while I hot glue post-its onto my corkboard-colored shirt, and let me tell you how delicious that pie is and how very very glad I am that I bought two. At the Halloween party I feel silly walking around with all of my colorful post-its flapping. But I quickly decide to embrace the silliness. 

I am surrounded by creative people.

I am creative myself.  

Sunday, October 22, 2023

In my dream I am late for work

I have two minutes left to get ready, and all of the clothes in my closet are unfamiliar. Shirts that don't fit. Pants with holes in the legs. Finally, I grab something and rush out the door, but almost immediately, I take a wrong turn. I'm on a strange highway, speeding in the wrong direction. Now I am farther away than when I started.

All week I've been talking to a friend about writing. Or rather, how I've been struggling with how much I am not writing. My old perfectionist tendencies have come back, and I find myself stuck, churning over and over again through the same passage until it feels "right." 

The problem is it never feels right. At the library (in reality, I am never late for work, but I am usually cutting it close) it's my job to handle books. Check them in and check them out. Shelve entire carts of them. I have so many more not-written-yet books stuffed up inside me. But how do I get them out before it's too late? 

Well, here's a solution: Sit down and write them, one sentence at a time. But KNOWING this and DOING it, I can tell you, are two different things. 

Meanwhile, I am helping kids and their grown-ups in the youth department. The other day a young patron asked me where the radio books are. This is a little four or five-year-old girl I've interacted with before, but she's still shy about talking to me. "You want a book about radios?" I said, because I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly. 

"A radio book, yes," she said. 

"We might have a book about radios," I said.  

"Not about radios!" she said. She was getting frustrated. I was getting frustrated. She comes in once a week with her father who speaks another language and sets up at one of the tables and works on his laptop. When they first started coming in, she'd scurry away if I even looked at her. But eventually, I wore her down by smiling a lot and showing her how to do the scavenger hunt and where we keep the audio books--

Wait! She didn't want a radio book. She wanted an audio book! These are picture books called Vox books with an audio component that reads to you as you turn the pages. We had recently moved our collection to a different part of the youth department and here she was, trying to find them. I pointed them out, and we were both relieved. 

The same day, a toddler kept giving me pizza. The library has a pretend kitchen with plates and trays and plastic food. Silently, she walked over plate after plate of pizza and set it on my desk. I had a long conversation with her that consisted entirely of me thanking her and telling her how great it tasted, and sure, I'd like another slice, while she answered the only word she knew apparently, which was Meh. 

It was a surprisingly enjoyable conversation. 

After work, it's getting late, but I move my imperfect sentences around on the page. Unfamiliar words and paragraphs that don't fit. Unexpected turns heading off in strange directions. One sentence. Two. Time slows and stops, how it always does when I am writing. 

I might be closer than I think.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

There's a rumor going around about you

is what this guy said to me the other day. I was walking the dog and had my earbuds in. But I noticed out of the corner of my eye the guy walking up fast behind me. The dog doesn't like that, a stranger moving toward us. I don't like it either. I turned at the corner, figuring the guy would keep walking straight ahead, but instead, he cut across the grass, looking like he had something urgent to say.

Of course, the dog freaked out, lunging, barking. She's what they call "leash aggressive." When she's on a leash, she feels like she's an extension of me. I am her person and she's got to do what she's got to do to protect me. I love this about her. While at the same time, I don't love this. Some of those lunges have nearly pulled me off my feet. 

Anyway, there was urgent-walking-guy, right in front of us. I held up my free hand like a stop sign, explaining that he should stay back because my dog is nervous. 

That's when the guy said there was a rumor going around about me. 

I had one earbud out and was fumbling with the other. "What?" 

"That you've got your hands full." He laughed. 

I laughed in the way that you laugh when you're creeped out and wanting to get the hell away from someone. He laughed again and continued up the street. 

But I was unsettled for days. Replaying the conversation and trying out other possible responses that ranged from letting the dog loose on him to kindly explaining how inappropriate it is to approach women you don't know so you can say something weird. 

Cut to, I ran into him again. 

I was just home from work and literally had my hands full. Library books I'd checked out, my water bottle, my purse. And there he was, walking fast down the street, and almost at the sidewalk in front of my house. I decided not to make eye contact with him. 

But then, just as I neared my front door, he speed-walked across my yard. The only thing that stopped him from getting in my face was the giant patch of sunflowers I've got planted.

This time he laughed and asked me if I'd seen his beer. I glared at him through the sunflowers and told him to get away from me. And then I blurted out that familiar line well known to grouchy older people everywhere. "I mean it. Get off my lawn!"

He walked off mumbling about how he was only joking.

I did a little detective work and found out from a neighbor that he lives nearby. She thinks he might have dementia. "Did he tell you there was a rumor going around about you?" she asked, and I immediately felt sad and sorry for the guy. While at the same time wishing he wouldn't walk directly toward me ever again. 

I went to the farmer's market down the street. On the way back I had my hands full with bags of vegetables. One bag with two pumpkins, small ones, because that was all I could realistically carry. I hadn't paid for them yet. After I'd picked them out, the farmer said he didn't take credit cards. I told him I lived five minutes away and would run home and get my checkbook and come right back. 

I could feel him sizing me up. Was I the type of person who would take pumpkins and come back to pay for them?

I was. I am. But how could he know that? 

He let me take the pumpkins, and as I rushed toward home, I saw the urgent-walking-guy again, walking urgently toward me. I crossed the street and he hurried along without looking at me. Honestly, I think he may have been a little afraid of me. 

But there we were, both urgently on our way, him to presumably strike up odd conversations with strangers, and me to make good on my promise. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

The chicks went "back to the farm"

and the youth department at the library where I work is completely back to normal. Where did they go? kids and their grown-ups ask me, and I say, "Oh, the farm has people lined up who want pet chickens for their backyards,"

which I was not 100 percent sure is true.

When the farmer came to pick them up, I asked him. We had a nice conversation, and I learned a lot about chickens. For example, the adorable fuzzy yellow chicks grow into the white stereotypical chickens we all picture when we picture a chicken. And, yes, it is true that some people want egg-laying chickens for their backyards. And, you can't tell which chickens are female egg-laying chickens and which are male roosters quite yet, and statistically, our little group is probably fifty/fifty, and most people don't want roosters or they're not allowed in suburban areas, and even if they are allowed, a coop can only have one...

and suddenly, I could see where he was going with this.

I missed a day with the chickens because I agreed to co-present at a school librarian conference with a friend of mine. The topic was Banned Books. Almost ten years ago the two of us put together a presentation for another conference on the same subject, but back then, we approached book banning as kind of a kooky, fringe thing that mostly happened in the past. 

Our concern was that school librarians might soft-censor (meaning, not purchase certain books for their collections) out of a perceived fear of confrontation or controversary, but we assured them that the book banning thing was way overblown and to keep in mind how many kids in their communities really need these books.

I was stunningly naive. 

For our presentation this year we focused on procedures for handling book challenges, how to find allies who are also under attack (such as community theaters), and ways to justify and defend book purchases. After the presentation some of the librarians confessed that they've already dealt with the problem and it is time consuming and demoralizing. 

I went back to work the next day. It was the last day of Banned Book Week and our library had a display of banned books, something we've done every year, but this year, I had wondered if we'd still do it. And I worried about how I'd handle a complaint about a book. Except, I already know-- (see: my unsettling interaction at the library a few weeks ago). 

Suddenly, I realize that I have been sorta lying to little kids about what happens to chickens. 

It's not easy to face the hard truths about the world--and about ourselves. And how do we decide when it's appropriate to expose our children to what we've learned? I want to say that a three-year-old isn't ready to hear that Mr. Fancy Pants might end up in his chicken nuggets. 

Mr. Fancy Pants, I suspect, may have a different opinion. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Six joyful things that happened this week (and one bummer)

1. The chicks hatched in the library and I am in love with them. This is a program we do every year called Bring the Farm to You. A local farm sends us seven eggs and we keep them in an incubator in the Youth Department until they hatch and then we put them in a big cage and they wobble around and chirp and look adorable. 

2. A second bonus butternut squash grew in my garden and I didn't even know it was there because it was hidden by the windy vine and floppy leaves, but the other day when I was digging around, pulling out the spent tomato plants, I found it. I will never get over these surprise veggie gifts. 

3. I reconnected with an old friend and we had such a lovely time catching up. Do you know how certain people remind you of certain times in your life and when you talk to them again, those parts of your life come back and you wonder how you ever lost touch with them (the people, the parts) in the first place?  Well, it was exactly like that. 

4. Friends invited my husband and me to a fundraiser dinner for Franklinton Farms, an urban farm that grows food for people in an impoverished area of the city, and one of the speakers talked about how conversations about gardens and food have led to deepening connections in the community. I've found this with my own garden, how I want to talk to people about what I've grown and give stuff away (butternut squash, anyone?) But also, how nice it is when a more knowledgeable gardener shares their wisdom with me. 

5. (The bummer) I had a routine bone scan and found out that I have osteoporosis and for a day I was so distressed about it, thinking about holes in my bones and feeling weirdly fragile and then joking about how what if I fell down the stairs and broke into a bunch of pieces like at the end of that movie Death Becomes Her. But now, I'm mostly okay with the idea. I mean, I've been walking around like this for years and not knowing it, so what does it really change? Except, be careful around stairs. 

6. Back to the chicks. We had a contest of sorts where kids could suggest chick names and we got lots of cute ideas like, Pumpkin Spice and Butterscotch and Mr. Fancy Pants. But also, one joker wrote:

Chick name: Butt Hole

Your Name: Your Mom

Which we didn't choose, but it still makes me laugh, and to be honest, Butterscotch does sorta give off a Butt Hole-ish-y vibe. 

7. Another invite from a different friend-- (this NEVER happens to us, TWO invites out to dinner in one week!)-- to see a play she wrote (which was great, funny and moving and thought-provoking), but first, a dinner out to meet her friends, and as we were all getting to know each other, one of them asked me if I was a writer too. This is actually a hard question for me to answer because what do I say? 

Um, yes?

But then the inevitable follow up is What do you write? And that is always harder for me to answer. My husband piped up and said, She writes a blog about whatever random things happen to her during the week.

One of the people said, Like tonight? Like us? My husband laughed and said, Yes! And tomorrow, you might be in it! 

And here we are. 

This is for you, new friends.