Reading

I Came. I Read. I Conquered.

As you may have known, I was on a state-wide book award committee this past year: the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. While I wish this was the sole explanation I had for my lack of writing (both here and in general), it isn’t. But I digress.

I knew serving on a book award committee would be challenging, but I am always up for a challenge. Over the span of 7 months, I read 60 books for the award alone and did so in a careful, measured fashion so I could take notes on the aspects of each novel that worked or didn’t work within the periphery of the award. It was tough. Especially when the title was one I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Sometimes reading something outside your comfort zone surprises you and gives you a new perspective on a topic or genre you wouldn’t have otherwise known. And sometimes it’s just uncomfortable.

But through the pleasurable and uncomfortable reading and one long meeting in Champaign, Illinois (and a nostalgic walk around my old campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), myself and a few dozen other school and public librarians, teachers, and retirees who previously worked with children, a new list of 20 titles has been picked for students to vote on next March.

Not every book I wanted on the list made it, and I didn’t want every book on the list to make it, but I am very proud and honored to have been a part of this process and to put good books into the hands of readers all across the state of Illinois (and beyond!).

And, though it was tough, I can’t wait to do it again and again.

And then, since after three years my time on the committee will be up, maybe I’ll find another committee to sit on or award to read for.

But only time will tell.

Life in General, Writing

The Art of Not Writing

This has been a difficult year to be a creative. And what is most interesting is that, in times one finds most trying, art is usually not only the best personal escape but also the best community builder when often community most needs building.

Try telling that to my fingers that cannot click away from an endlessly scrolling newsreel to the eternal chasm of a blank page and blinking cursor. Tell that to my thoughts so wrapped up in the unfathomable reality of now that I cannot bring myself to forge a less-than-perfect alternative.

I know that in any time, these are tried and true excuses for not writing, and despite my common fears and anxieties about my country’s newfound political situation, writing has happened and art has been created this year (and in other even more difficult times in history). In years past, I have learned not to give yourself an excuse to stall writing because instead of progress you will have nothing but excuses and that same empty page.

But this year, I learned that given exceptional circumstances, there is a time to give yourself space. There is room to allow yourself to just exist, to consume, to learn.

I haven’t created much tangible art in 2017, but in that space where creativity would normally dwell I was able to create something else. I have created an awareness I previously did not possess, an empathy beyond what I previously did, a new way of viewing and absorbing the world around me that would not have been possible if I hadn’t allowed myself some stillness in that space.

I’ve created the ability to achieve some sense of peace even within a tempest.

And in 2017, stillness and peace are of the essence.

So this is the art of not writing, and these are the fruits it bears. Not knowledge, but wisdom. Knowledge is understanding that idleness does not create art, but wisdom is appreciating that there are times and circumstances when mindful idleness can create something else instead.

Something bright and powerful. Something that cannot be held back. Something that will propel you forward into your next endeavor and through your next finish line.

Something to say. A story to tell.

And when you have something to say, a story to tell, you cannot help but speak.

It’s time to start talking.

Reading

An Assignment

Most all writers I know have, or have had, a day job. I pursued a day job not in writing, but in something very related to the act of writing: librarianship. And while no, being a librarian isn’t all reading and books (we do programs and digital research, too!), that does make up a sizable chunk of what I do.

Being the librarian-writer that I am, I like to think I bring a certain level of expertise to readers advisory (that is, recommending books to readers, building collections and book lists and displays, etc.) in terms of not only age and reading level appropriateness, but honest-to-goodness literary quality. And so that is the track I’ve set my librarian career on: book quality.

One of the ways I do this is by reviewing for the publication School Library Journal– I let other librarians know what a book is about and whether I find it worthy of purchase and, if so, under what circumstances. It’s great and I love it.

And above reviewing and recommending books for purchase? Is lifting up those most excellent titles with awards. Ah yes, the library and publishing world is filled with book awards, some more accredited or prestigious than others (read: National Book Awards and American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards [with such honors as the Newbery, Caldecott, etc.]). Many states have their versions (often voted on by library patrons and students) of awards for different age groups, and Illinois is no different.

I’m most interested in the middle school and teenage category of patron and literature, so a few years ago I threw my hat in the ring to serve on the evaluation committee for Illinois’ Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Award specifically geared toward grades 4-8.

And just last week, I got the call. Or, in this case, the e mail.

That’s right! My application made it to the top of the stack and I was offer a three-year position on the evaluation committee. I am not only honored to have been offered a position on the committee -as the 20 finalists they committee decides will be used in many schools across the state for reading assignments and libraries for book recommendations- but I am so excited to gain this experience and see where this opportunity will take me next.

I’m sure I’ll write more (or as much as I am allowed!) on this as the process unravels, but for now all I can say is… happy reading!

Life in General

A Day Without A Woman

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Today is International Women’s Day, an ideal day to hold the Women’s Strike, an ongoing participatory day spurred by the Women’s March on Washington. To participate in A Day Without A Woman, we are encouraged to:
Wear red in solidarity
Not engage in paid or unpaid work
Not spend money, with the exception of small/women-or-minority-owned businesses

I was scheduled to work the day of the Women’s March on Washington. If I wasn’t, I would have participated in Chicago’s sister march with 250,000+ of my allies. However, I made a decision that holds true today: if I am scheduled to work and the situation is not absolutely dire in terms of a march/strike/protest, I will go to work.

My profession as a public librarian is in and of itself a public service and the position I hold in that profession, working with children in a diverse community, make me unable to believe it is a better use of my time and resources to March or Strike or Protest than it would be to Serve. I did not March (but I stood in solidarity) and I will not Strike (though I stand in solidarity).

Not only will I not strike from my paid position out of respect to the position itself, but because I also stand in solidarity with my other part-time, hourly paid employees who do not earn sick time or PTO to use or who simply cannot afford to take the day off work. I will be frank: were I not married to my husband, whose salary is good, I would not be able to afford to take the day off from my job, either.

What I will do:
I will wear red in solidarity. I’ll even paint my nails and lips red.
I will refrain from spending money. I am committed to drive directly to and from work, not passing go or collecting $200. My coffee thermos is ready and waiting, my gas tank is full, my lunch is made and packed, and my groceries for dinner have been purchased. Granted, I will do some browsing on Etsy of women-owned boutiques (I am really feeling this African print clutch. And this antique skeleton key necklace. And I received this dog cutout book for Christmas and I know all you bookish types need an initial cutout book in your life.)
I will stay off social media. Seeing as I work a full shift and Wednesdays are crazy busy for me, it will be easy to avoid the internet at large on this day. The exceptions (as usual) are this blog post (pre-scheduled) and Instagram (because I rarely find it as stress-inducing as say… Twitter and Facebook).
I will cook and write, which are forms of unpaid work (at this point in my life), but are also enjoyable pursuits to me that I see no reason to limit myself from.

I hope that, had you head of A Day Without a Woman before just now, you chose to participate in whichever way you were willing and able to. That, after hearing about it now, you alter your day in any way you are willing and able to fit the movement. I additionally hope that you will join me in not casting judgement on others based on their level of participation. And I hope that, together, in glorious unity, we can continue to press forward in the name of progress, equality, and justice for all.

Life in General

Reworking Defeat

Today is inauguration day for a President I did not vote for. Until 2016, I have been very fortuitous when it came to Presidential elections; both of my votes were for Barack Obama first in 2008 when I was 20 years old, and then in 2012 at 24. I knew I would vote blue my first time at the ballot box, and things were no different when I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I might be called a sore loser because I have never before faced defeat of my preferred Presidential candidate. But I have faced defeat before. I have faced defeat in the many sports I played in my youth. I have faced defeat in my top choice college acceptances. I have faced defeat in the job market.

I have faced defeat before, but I have never accepted it.

When faced with defeat, I find a way to rework it.

When I lost a race or didn’t run as well as I wanted to, I turned up to practice the next day and trained even harder for my rematch. When I was rejected and wait-listed at my top choice colleges, I accepted my offer at the next best school and made the most of my experience there (and got three degrees out of the deal!). When I faced defeat in the job market, I took extra jobs, made ends meet, went to graduate school, faced more defeat, and am still working relentlessly toward a self-sustainable career.

I will not start accepting defeat now.

I will rework this defeat just as I have done in the past.

Reworking defeat does not make me a sore loser.

It makes me a force to be reckoned with.

In previous elections, reworking defeat would have meant becoming more politically involved. Making more phone calls to voters during campaign season. Donating time and money to causes I believed in. Frequent communication with my representatives. While this election calls for those same actions of reworking defeat, those actions are a slow burn toward progress.

But this campaign was different. The opposing candidate did not just hold the opposite views than me and my candidate like they had in the past, but was openly hateful, ignorant, seemingly power hungry, and so many things I have never seen and never expected from a Presidential nominee.

No, reworking defeat in this campaign calls for something more to counteract the hateful platform and outrageous rhetoric of a man and administration who seem more intent on putting specific peoples in their place and wielding power than working toward the collective people’s best interests.

So I will do something more. I cannot attend my preferred peaceful demonstration: the Women’s March on Washington. Not even the Chicago event. I am scheduled to work that day and, being a children’s librarian in a community heavily populated with immigrants, Muslims, and low-income families, I feel that my place that day is at my job, where I am only beginning to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive community and more perfect union.

I will not march tomorrow. But I will protest today.

This past Thanksgiving, I was asked what good protest was; what could stirring up all this trouble do? After all, the results were in and flooding the streets wouldn’t change them. Beside, don’t we all want the new President to succeed? Isn’t that what’s best for us all? And I agreed: I wanted nothing more than for the sitting President to be successful in keeping our country safe and whole, though our definition of success in that might differ. And the opposition peacefully gathering and raising their voices wouldn’t change anything concretely. It might not even change minds.

Protesting isn’t always meant to change something immediately, but it is always meant to send an immediate message.

On November 9, 2016, those protesting sent a message to the marginalized and disenfranchised who don’t live in a sea of blue that they are not alone in their dissent and fear. Protest tells the closeted gay teenager in a conservative household that they are not alone. It tells the sole Mexican or Muslim family living in a nice (read: white) community that they are not alone. It tells those who have lost lives due to gun violence, especially at the hands of police, that they are not alone.

It reminds us that we are not alone.

Protesting on November 9 sent a message to the masses who cast their vote that day. Protesting today does that with an added bonus: it sends a message straight to the top. It says that we are vigilant, we are watching, and we will hold the new administration accountable every step of the way.

I am not naive enough to think with this new administration comes a backlog of America’s problems. America’s problems are inherent and institutionalized and it would take much more than a new President to bring them back from the dead. But to have a sitting President who so brazenly embraces and even seeks to further ingrain these problems into the fabric of our democracy? That is something I will protest.

I will protest foreign interference in the election in whatever form they take or impact they make.

I will protest constant voter restriction and the ever-present hurdles of democracy our government continually puts into place and was even founded on.

I will protest restricting access to affordable healthcare and the repeal of laws that help more than they hurt without a sustainable substitute.

I will protest my worth being 21% less than a man’s and a woman of color’s worth being 40%-45% less.

I will protest social and legal disregard for my body when it comes to my choices concerning it and people taking advantage of it.

I will protest hateful rhetoric.

I will protest widespread social and economic inequality.

I will protest white supremacy and xenophobia and misogyny and ableism and homophobia and… there are so many ands.

I protest all of the new administration’s “ands.”

I protest because I believe in the good in people, and I believe in the good in this nation and its democracy. I protest because I am hopeful. I protest because I believe in U.S.

You can call me a liberal snowflake and say that my protesting and outrage is just a sore loser tantrum. I will remind you that the act of protest, organization, and dissent are inherently American. And I will point out that snowflakes are uniquely intricate and complex, and that many of them together, acting as one, can literally move mountains.

You can desire and mock my liberal tears, but I will remind you that my tears are not just of rage and frustration. They are tears of hope and they will do me far more good than they’ll do you.

Don’t believe me?

Just watch me rework.

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