Jan 23 2014

Come See Me!

So Landry Park is coming out soon.  Like actual soon, not just I’m going to make surveillance reforms as soon as Congress helps soon or the next DMV agent will be with you shortly soon.  This is like proper soon.  Less than two weeks soon.  I’m feeling jittery about this, but I think it’s the good jittery.  I’m not sure.

But to help with the good jitters, my fellow librarians are hosting me at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park, KS on the day on Landry Park’s release, Tuesday, February 4th.  Event details can be found here.  I have already promised to wear real pants and not sweatpants, and I will also try not to ramble about scotch and Tom Hiddleston and other hobbies of mine.  So you should come and stuff.




Nov 27 2012

Come See Gennifer Albin, Lenore Appelhans and myself!

Come see us!  The panel is called DRAMA AND DYSTOPIA, but since neither Crewel nor Level Two fit easily into that category, it’s more like DRAMA AND SPECULATIVE FICTION.  But that didn’t have the same ring to it, and also didn’t fit onto the promotional handouts.

7:00 p.m.

Central Resource Library,

Overland Park, KS


Sep 21 2012

Today Sucked

Today at the library, the very first question of my roving shift came from a young woman.  “Can I use your phone?” she asked.  I did my usual Wary Phone Questioning.  “Is it for a ride?  Or do you have an emergency?” I asked.

“I’m sort of homeless and someone’s been mean to me, putting his hands on me to hurt me,” she said.  “And I feel like it’s an emergency.”

And so I embarked on a two hour odyssey of our city’s limited social resources.  We called over fifteen numbers–each place telling us they were full, no they couldn’t help, but here’s another number–and so on and so forth until we found ourselves given numbers we had already called.  An ouroboros of phone numbers, tired volunteers and no vacancy signs.  Ultimately, I was no help.  I called every number for every temporary housing/homeless shelter/church I could find.  And the only one that could take her was too far away for her to reach on foot (since she had no bus fare.)  I gave her all the numbers I could, numbers for employment networks and free cell phones and free counseling.  I felt like I was made of numbers, as if the only thing I could ever give anyone was numbers and names and addresses and scraps of paper–all flung fluttering into this abyss that could never be filled, not by paper, not by numbers, not by a handful of free meals and a job at Taco Bell and a completed application for Section 8 housing.  I just wanted to lay my head against the laptop and scream.  If I–with my upbringing filled with preventive health care and parents who sacrificed time and money so I could go to journalism camps and get black belts, with my education and job training in finding resources–couldn’t find one fucking useful thing, how could she ever hope to?  Without a phone, without education, without the confidence that comes from a lifetime of love and affirmation?

I handed her the paper of numbers and addresses.  “I’m sorry,” I told her.  “It’s not enough.”  I wanted to say more.  I wanted to tell her I was sorry that she never finished high school.  I was sorry that she didn’t have parents that cared if she did.  I’m sorry that she had to use her body to have a roof over her head.  I’m sorry that she had to live with her lizard brain–that portion concerned only with FOOD FEAR SURVIVAL–and that no matter what she did and what choices she made in the future, that her past choices would leave those telltales scars and shadows on her body and on her mind.

Yet.  And yet.

At the same time that I racked my brain for different ways to help, at the same time I felt this overwhelming despair and anger at our broken world–at the same time as all of this, I felt a part of myself recoil from her.  From her appearance which mirrored her circumstances.  From her speech, with its words curled in on themselves, with its stunted sentences, speech that would have been at home in the trailer park I grew up in.  From that kicked-dog expression and the way she said “ma’am” after every statement, question or request (how often do we in the middle-class call each other ma’am?)  I wasn’t just looking at one woman and at one abyss, but at a systemic problem, at legions of women, bruised and tattered with broken teeth and dreams.  I was looking at an abyss that spanned from California to Maine and even if I did help this woman, I could never help the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of others.  No amount of money or compassion could ever hope to fill a pit like that and suddenly I found this craven, wormy part of me thinking don’t feed the strays.  Don’t give them money–they’ll spend it on drugs or booze.  Don’t help them find a job–they’ll just get their first check and walk away.  There’s nothing you can do for these kinds of people.  They made their bed, now they can lay in it.

Why?  Why did this sightless, slimy, scaly part of me rise up?  Is it because this woman mirrored my origins?  That I still feel like the trailer park and southern Kansas City are these dirty skins that I’ll never quite molt off?  Or is it because when we face the abyss of need–of the mewling want of the hungry, the cold, the addicted–that it is easier to let the craven voice do the convincing than start chunking the stones in, hoping to make a bridge?

“I’m sorry it’s not enough,” I told her again.

She thanked me profusely and said I was the first person to be nice to her in a long time, and that I had helped her a lot.  And she left and I realized that I had never even asked her name.  I had stood next to her for two hours, she had told me painful details about her life, and I hadn’t even bothered to learn her name.  

I never even thought about it.  I never even thought to ask.  Here I was, allegedly the most helpful person she’d encountered in days, and I wasn’t even compassionate enough to extend her that courtesy.

When I got home, I was still pensive.  Still upset.  And I sat next to my husband, who looked as tired as me.

“I had to watch the full, unedited video of the Columbine shooting in training today,” he said.  “They made us listen to the audio too.”  He paused, and for a moment we both stared at the television.  “Some people are just evil,” he said quietly.  “Our whole training today was on stopping school shootings, and it was good but how do you stop people from being sick and violent in the first place?”

I didn’t have any answers for him.  How do you stop evil?  How do you stop the indifference of a society that wails about giant cups of soda being restricted while people exchange sex for a chance at a warm night’s rest?  The cop and the librarian, bound by their total inability to protect the public.  To protect them from bullets and illiteracy and the endless cycles of poverty begetting poverty and anger begetting violence.  But we still go back to our jobs, day after day.  Jobs with frozen salaries.  Jobs that are chronically understaffed, that overwork us, and hope that those fluttering pieces of scrap paper and active shooter strategies will at least save someone.  That they will build at least one bridge across the abyss.

It’s not enough it’s not enough it’s not enough.

I’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry.

Oct 25 2011

The Time I Drank Out of a Sandwich Bag (or, Once Upon a Library, Part 1)

In my last post, I may have mentioned that I once drank water out of a plastic bag in front of my boss.  Let me explain:

For three of my six years working for the county, I worked at the public library.  The library was in a fairly well-to-do suburb, but most of our clientele were senior citizens, aliens and half-human alien hybrids.   The library looked like an upside down boat, and sometimes potatoes or porn fell through our book-drop.  This is just to give you atmosphere.

At that point (circa 2005), the assistant branch manager was a lovely patient person, who deserved much better than to have me as an employee.  She was very, very sweet woman.

Anyway, after a long shift of putting books away and sitting in the stacks and reading the books I was supposed to be putting away, I found myself thirsty.  The important thing to remember here is that while, yes the library did have two or three or five water fountains, the water fountains do not factor in much to this story for one simple reason: I forgot about them.  When I was back in the staff room with its old couch and wood laminate table, all I could process in the midst of my thirst was the (chronically) empty vending machine and the water cooler.  We usually had disposable cups of the paper or plastic variety.  When that avenue failed, I dug under the coffee machine for the squeaky styrofoam cups that I hate because they are squeaky they are bad for the environment.

No cups.

Now I was forced to consider using other people’s dishes that they brought from home.  There were three or four coffee mugs in the sink, smudged with old lady lipstick and ringed with caustic-looking instant coffee stains.

There was no soap or or sponge to wash them.

It is a testament to how thirsty I was that I considered using the hand soap in the employee bathroom and paper towels to wash the cups, but somebody was in the employee bathroom and from the length of time they were in there, they were either working through a hangover or some bad Chinese food.  I looked back at the mugs and made up my mind.  I for the most part didn’t mind my co-workers, but I drew (and still would draw) the line at finger-and-tap-water-washing day old coffee and lipstick (or gross lip residue from the dude librarians.)  So, as any reasonable person would do, I tried kneeling down and drinking the water straight from the water cooler spigot.

This only resulted in getting water in my hair (somehow) and making a puddle on the linoleum that would later be called “a hazard for people trying to get their dinner out of the fridge.”

Tap water would do.  I hopped up on the counter and tried to bend my body under the sink faucet.  Nope — again with the water in the hair.  I tried standing in front of the sink and lapping at the faucet like a dog, but it extended deep enough into the sink well that it was impossible unless I cupped my hands and drank from them.

Why didn’t I do that?  Ah, because I spotted the box of sandwich bags.  They were the bad kind, the kind you have to fold over and tuck and will end up with a stale lunch anyway.  But they might just solve my beverage issue — after all, ancient people used to drink out of water skins?  Like, goat stomachs and stuff?  How hard would a horse-mounted Indo-European invader laugh at me turning up my nose at a clean plastic water skin?  Probably really hard before he rode off to torch tents in India.

Plus, with a water skin, I could return to the water cooler, She of the Chilled Filtered Water.  I filled up my water skin and drank.

Okay, I’ll just put it out there that the plastic sandwich bag is not designed to be a water skin.  The water skin — even of the animal stomach variety — has some advantages on the plastic bag, namely that it won’t lose all structure and pour freezing water all over your face and chest while you’re drinking from it.

So there I stood, water dripping off my face and shirt, half lapping, half swallowing the sandwich bag, when my boss came in.

She stood there for a minute, blinking at me and my water skin.  “Are you okay?” she finally asked.  “Do you need help?”

“Oh, no, I’m good!” I pulled the bag down, and gestured to my wet face and shirt.  “Just thirsty.”

She walked over to me and took my hand.  “No, I mean are you okay?

“Uh, yeah.”  Duh.  I wasn’t thirsty anymore.

“You know…we have water fountains…and disposable cups in the meeting room.”

Oh right…the meeting room…and the water fountains…

It was only later that night that I realized the poor woman probably thought I was drunk or high or possibly turning into an alien.  And ever since that day, I have never forgotten a water fountain, although I will have an edge on you all when the Mayan apocalypse comes and you have to learn how to drink out of plastic bags.