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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thoughtfulness

Carrying newspapers down to the first floor this morning, I met the Dean of Library and Media Services on the stairs. As always we exchanged greetings. Today he remarked on the weather.

"It's so fine outside," he said. "So gorgeous."

I assented.

"And you have to be indoors all day." He was very concerned, very sympathetic. The Dean always is.

"Most of the day," I corrected. "I'll go outside for my lunch hour."

The Dean looked relieved. "You make sure you do that," he urged me. And then he headed out the door and across the street for his morning coffee.

I'm sorry he's retiring, because, like I said, he's always solicitous. Always thoughtful. Always concerned about us.

The other morning I got to work and they hadn't unlocked the doors yet. I stood there waiting with another student, and then the Dean joined us, morning coffee in hand. We waited. The other student called the front desk, finally. And, finally, they unlocked the doors. The Dean and I climbed the stairs to the offices on the second floor. "This will make a difference with when you clock in, won't it?" He asked (concerned).

"Well, a little bit," I said. "But not much."

"But that's not right. You were here on time. You should really be compensated. I'll speak to the office manager about that."

At noon, when I clocked out for lunch, I noticed that someone had neatly revised my morning arrival in the margins of the time card. It had been off by two minutes.

The Dean's retirement party is tomorrow. And I don't want him to leave. It's not that I don't know any other thoughtful, considerate people. But it is always a treat to have such a person in one's life. They navigate relationships, not with the grandiose gestures of generous charlatans, but with small charities which show care. And it works.

University Yen

When I'm not working, I'm reading. It's a funny impulse that will drive a person to this: to consume massive amounts of print on paper during the summer when almost all sorts of books are supposed to be taboo. On my fifteen minute morning break, during my lunch hour, in the afternoon at home, come evening--bath time or bedtime. I'm swallowing novels whole, still dabbling away at philosophy, neglecting that much needed afternoon walk for the couch and the mental blur of a story-starved brain. I had forgotten how much I love the swift pace of a corking tale. I don't bother to stop and dissect (most of the time), I just find the rhythm and read. And it makes me happy.

Then, this afternoon as I sat outside with my Hume and my lunch, a breeze whispered through the Grove. It felt like fall. Fall with its books and its classrooms and its papers and teachers and talks. I'm ready. Despite the novels and that summer reading list; despite the days at the library (which I still love). I want to be back. I'm feeling starved for my daily shot of the college experience. Four weeks is too long, dreadfully long. I want to take my time ball in hand and yank the thread. Just four weeks forward. Only four weeks forward. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Isn't this beautiful?

“Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.” C.S. Lewis

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cataloging

Yesterday one of our LT2s started teaching me how to catalog children's fiction. He handed me a stack of instructions fifteen pages long. "I'll just walk you through a few, and then set you loose," he told me. I nodded carefully.

Cataloging, even at this level, is a nit-picky, detail-oriented kind of job. There's no room for error, and one should be very good at catching misstep's--either one's own or the mistakes of others (like, say, the mistakes made by the resident catalogers at the Library of Congress).

I spent nearly five hours cataloging. My right hand--my mouse hand--got very cold and almost numb. My left hand, kept busy flipping through books to find publication info or managing the shortcut keys, stayed toasty warm. One of my coworkers said I ought to wear gloves. It's a thought.

Today, in just a few minutes, I'll be heading back to those children's books. My right hand is already cold.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Guilty nothings

"I can't remember the last time I did this for a whole day. Did nothing."

We were sitting on a blanket, in the sunshine, beside a blue lake. Kids were playing in the sand along the shore; the girls were sculpting mermaids and the boys were knocking them down to make the girls cry. It worked. On the dock, there were queues of eager water skiers, daredevils ready to risk their bodies on knee boards and their next night's sleep on bruised shoulders or ankles. We were reading though, stopping every so often to move our blanket into the newest patch of sun.

"Those books are for fun, aren't they?" someone admonished us, passing by.

"Of course," we said.

"Do they all know how serious we are about school?" she asked me, puzzled. "I don't recognize 90% of the people here."

"I do," I said. "And they know me."

"So I'm guilty by association."

"Something like that."

Friday, August 03, 2007

A little truth, a grain of fiction

In Daisy's final term he went to an open day at her college. The young lecturers there like to dramatise modern life as a sequence of calamities. It's their style, their way of being clever. It wouldn't be cool or professional to count the eradication of smallpox as part of the modern condition. . . In the evening one of them gave a lecture on the prospects for our consumerist and technological civilisation: not good. But if the present dispensation is wiped out now, the future will look back on us as gods, certainly in this city, lucky gods blessed by supermarket cornucopias, torrents of accessible information, warm clothes that weigh nothing, extended life-spans, wondrous machines. . . But for the professors in the academy, for the humanities generally, misery is more amenable to analysis: happiness is a harder nut to crack.
--Ian McEwan, Saturday

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Coffee and "The Man Who Was Thursday"

It began innocently enough. I tried to get him to read a book. It was Chesterton. "You'll love it," I said. And he groaned. He makes a point of staying away from books that I like. "If you like it," he says, "I surely won't."

"It's science fiction . . . -ish," I said. "Trust me. This time, it's really good."

"Nope."

"But, please, you're missing out on one of the. greatest. novels. of. all. time."

"Nope."

"It's got anarchy. It's got sword fights. It's got underground caves and mistaken identities and espionage. Yeah, it's got espionage. The guy was a mastermind. You have to read it."

"Nope. Well. No. Unless. . ."

"Unless what?"

"Unless you drink a cup of coffee every day for the next fourteen days."

This was a hard bargain. I am not a coffee drinker. I like the smell of coffee. I like the idea of coffee. I do not like the taste of coffee. And no one can change my mind about that. But I said yes. "If you read the book," I said, "I drink the coffee."

He then tried to make the bargain harder, thinking this was surely too easy. "You have to drink it black," he said. "No sugar."

I said no. And he relented. On Tuesday morning, I mournfully ignored the tea kettle and woefully pulled out a coffee mug. Fourteen days. My sister made me coffee with sugar and cream, the way I like my tea. But the coffee was bitter and I was losing face. I drank the stuff in large gulps and then brushed my teeth. Coffee has an aftertaste.

I don't like coffee in ice cream, cake, or even icing. I can taste the flavor even when it isn't there. If you don't want me to eat something, just tell me it has coffee in it. I'll leave it alone.

On Wednesday morning, Mama fixed me a cup: she put sugar and cream and peppermint syrup in it. She also gave me a smaller mug. (We didn't tell my brother. He was still in bed.) I dutifully sipped away. It was still bitter, but the longer I sat at the table, the more that insidious caffeine began to warm my insides. I felt happy by the time I finished the cup. Then I went and brushed my teeth.

Today, after coming home from school, I made my own coffee (because they taught me how to work the machine). Still bitter . . . bitter-ish. It was hot though, and it smelled good. I drank it all, and then wrote a long email and some blog-posts. I haven't gotten around to brushing my teeth yet.

What my anthropology teacher would call "liminal space"

I just got back from my last final. No more summer classes. And, no, I'm not too sad. I liked my classes, and now I'm glad they're done. I'll still be learning though. The philosophy books from that summer reading list are piling up.

Next week I begin a seven-week stint as a full-time government-worker. Which is code for saying that I'll be at the library eight hours a day. I'll bandage books, sort newspapers and periodicals, talk with my co-workers, make money. Seven weeks is not so very long.

I'm trying to decide if this is the end of my first year as a college student, or the beginning of my second. Credit-wise, I'm a sophomore now. But I feel as if I just ended something (and it was very good). So maybe, mentally, this is the end of my first year and, technically, it was the beginning of my second. What a strange in-between time I've gotten myself into. Summers, dictated by the lazily frenetic rotation of the school year, are always like that. I am neither freshman nor sophomore; neither student nor professional; caught in the middle of a pleasantly nameless space: reading without sanction, living without deadlines, waiting, patiently, for the respite to be over.