24 June 2007

'Shiny Child' & 'Genius Grandmother'

The best thing happened today. The BEST thing happened!

And my joy is in no way diminished by the fact that no one is going to appreciate how ‘best’ this is, except for me. I don’t care if you get it or not. I’m so happy. (How often do you hear me say that?)

As I have mentioned before, I work in a library. And as good as that is, it is not the best thing today. I work in a really small branch of a library that is housed in the local community center. There are many advantages that fit my nature perfectly about working in this tiny library. One advantage is that it completely fits my desire to control. I can be a true freak about control if I’m not careful. At this library, most everything peripheral and superficial is influenced by my opinion. I have a lot to say about how things get shelved, what items go on display, what items get moved where and so on.
I love this job.

When I got this job, I inherited some factors from the previous branch assistant. One being the acrylic rack that hung on the wall in the back corner by the door that has that 'Alarm Will Sound' warning on it. You know, the corner that gets hardly any foot traffic. Anyway, these two shelves were home to our ‘free’ periodicals. Magazines and newspapers that are free of charge: listings of the local farmers markets, upcoming events for the elderly, the local parks & recreation department's calendar, etc.

These acrylic holders bothered me from day one, two and a half years ago. They sucked, as far as I could tell. All the magazines and periodicals fell over in the holders. They would stand up straight the first day, but then gravity would rule all the days that follow. I hated looking over to that corner and seeing all those floppy periodicals, much less having to go over there and try to make it look better, which by the way was not humanly possible. Eventually my frustration got the best of me and I begged someone with string pulling authority to ‘fix it.’ She ordered new, free standing acrylic book shelves to solve my problem and the free stuff now looks great. Order & beauty restored. Whew.

The empty shelves that completely failed to fulfill their free periodical destiny were moved to another location in the library with my hopes of finding different library material that would not flop upon display and stand up shiny faced instead, for all our patrons to admire and check out and possibly even read.

Well, I tried everything in those shelves: talking books, non-fiction DVDs, paperbacks, board books. Nothing worked, not because they flopped but because of the nature of the shelves; they faced down toward the ground. So unless you were lying on our industrial strength multi-colored carpet and looking up admiring the speckled, universally generic ceiling tiles, you would never accidentally catch a glimpse of the cover, much less the title of anything in those holders. I officially gave up. But couldn’t really put that resignation into action yet, so they've hung on the wall empty and defeated for months.

When my string puller stopped by one day, I mentioned to her the futility of these shelves and my belief that whomever in our library system who ordered these useless items had probably worked for the pentagon in a previous life, ordering gold plated toilet seats and diamond tipped screw drivers or hammers or what ever they were. She wondered aloud if maybe they had been assembled incorrectly and we both stood there for a few minutes trying to figure out in what other configuration they could possibly be put together. We came up with nothing.

That was a month or two ago.

Today a young patron, I’d say she was about seven or eight years old, was in the branch with her grandmother. Now this library is tiny so I know the names and astrological signs of almost everyone who steps into our magical ‘Libraryland.’ But these two patrons were unfamiliar to me. As the grandmother browsed through our adult fiction section, the grand daughter sat on a small stool close by and read a book. She saw me shelving near by and asked me what those empty shelves were over her head. I explained how I’d tried but failed to find anything that displayed well in those shelves and that I really needed to just take them down and send them away, out of my sight. She looked at them as if she too were trying to think of something to put in those shelves. She ran over to a table and grabbed a book she planned to check out and put it in the middle shelf. I complimented her on her choice of books but showed her how unless you were a Chihuahua looking up from the floor or an infant gliding by in an adult driven stroller, and likely without the ability to read and probably without possession of a library card, no one could really appreciate this great book she picked because it faced the ground. I mentioned how I had even tried to figure out a different way to assemble them but that I was stumped.

It was then that all the planets aligned and all the library gods joined hands and the grandmother, that I will from now on refer to only as Genius Grandmother, said "Maybe they are put together backward." I studied the shelves, trying to picture them 'backward' but still saw nothing. I looked back to the grandmother and then back to the shelves and that's when I saw it.

It took this unique pair of patrons in the library at that very moment, my shelving in that specific area, my leaving those empty shelves hanging there all that time (thinking something would come to me), this inquisitive, socially shiny child and her Genius Grandmother converging at exactly that moment in the cosmic magic of library destiny. Like the library version of the Big Bang theory.

I could see it. The slots were in backward. I had tried to picture them reversed before but my logic couldn't make it work. She was right. They were all backward.

I pulled the top shelf and turned it around, then all the rest. I was giddy. If Nancy Pearl had been there, she'd have 'shushed' me.

I asked the child to help me pick books to fill the born-again shelves. She said her favorite animals were zebras, so we found all our junior non-fiction books on zebras. Genius Grandmother said hers were elephants, so we threw a couple of those in too. I went skipping around the stacks, all the typical daily burdens temporarily lifted from my shoulders.

Singing Tra-la-la. Okay not really, although I could have because these two magic people were our only patrons.

And so for the rest of my day, no matter what else happened, I was so happy. The zebras and elephants in our branch have never looked better and all is well.

09 June 2007

Unhealthy Debate

A long time ago, I had an interesting conversation with someone I loved deeply, and later managed to treat questionably. And I've carried that talk around with me since.

One day Kevin, the guy I was seeing in college, and I were walking on campus and talking. It was a relaxing, quiet Sunday afternoon and we'd spent the last couple of days together, looking ahead to another week of class. College was an amazing and difficult time in my life. I certainly wish I'd done it all differently.


Somehow the topic of selflessness came up and it turned into perhaps our biggest argument. It was my contention that there is no truly selfless act. That even an act that 'appears' to be selfless, is not. A very cynical belief at any age. I have never been above debate for the sake of debate, but this wasn't the case that day. I believed fully in my point.

Kevin asked about a person who would dive into frigid waters to save a drowning person and wouldn't that be a selfless act? I claimed that it would not be, even if he were to lose his life in the act of saving the drowning person. Because if that person were to stand there and watch someone drown when he believed it was in his power to help, he would hate himself for the rest of his life if he didn't try. He would not be able to live with his action, or in this case, non-action. So, it still comes back to how it effects the would-be rescuer.

It was a memorable discussion and started out friendly enough. He kept trying to come up with scenarios that would prove me and my theory wrong. There was nothing he could find that I was unable to turn around to an act that ultimately served the 'selfless' person, in one way or another. It started to get heated, and Kevin got pretty pissed off at me in the end.

I confess to enjoying, through out my life, winning a debate. It feels good. But on that day, there was something sad inside me because I could see that it was indeed a sad and unfortunate belief to hold. The fact was, however, that I couldn't see any other truth. Kevin was disappointed in me and quite frankly I think he hated that I felt this way. It wasn't a deal breaker for 'us' but it definitely didn't add to the magic of our relationship.

Today, twenty five years, one marriage and three children later, I still can't find an exception to this theory. Can you? I think I would like to be proven wrong. I think I would like to have been proven wrong that day. Maybe things would have gone differently for me since then. Maybe not.

Some might say the act of having children is a selfless act, because there is so much to sacrifice along the way. However, I don't think so. I don't think people have children for selfless reasons. I won't go into the reasons I think most people, myself included, have children because it would only reveal more of my cynical nature and how much it has in fact evolved, but I definitely do not believe it to be selflessness.

What about donating a kidney? Giving all one's money to charity? Pushing a child out of the way of a speeding car, only to be killed yourself? No, I'm not buying it. For these potentially 'selfless' people, to do otherwise would have been unthinkable. They would never be able to be happy being a person who wouldn't not have acted in the moment of need.

I wonder what Kevin thinks now. I presume he has gone on to marriage, career, children and more. Would he still disagree with me? I wish I had the opportunity to ask him this question and a few others.

Do you disagree with me? Is my thinking warped? Dark, harsh, twisted? Defeatist? Does it enable me in dysfunction somehow? I would LOVE your thoughts and your help in this. Another perspective might be more important than you could imagine.