culture & society

Lightning in a Bottle

Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls; for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community, a generation — in Nirvana’s case, several generations — in the echo chamber of that collective howl, and Allen Ginsberg would have been very proud, here. — Michael Stipe

The speech Stipe gave to induct Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought tears to my eyes. Since the 20th anniversary of Kurt’s death (and Marlon Riggs’), I’ve been in a very somber mood. Stipe’s words pushed the floodgates open and created the space for me — and so many others like me — to grieve and celebrate.

libraries, social media

A Brief Survey: Library Social Media and Multilingual Messages

I’m trying to decide whether we should start promoting library events in multiple languages on the Library’s social media channels. Given that the number of fans/followers we have whose default language is anything other than English is quite small, I’m a bit on the fence about it. I know it isn’t purely a numbers game; we create printed events brochures in other languages, and it’s important to reach out to all communities. Still, I’m not sure whether this is the right strategy for our social media audience.

If you wouldn’t mind completing this very brief survey, you’d help me out a great deal. Sure, it’s anecdotal, but sometimes anecdotes are helpful.

black folks

This tweet from @Librarianry caused a flashback to my first year of graduate studies in Africana Studies at Clark Atlanta University. One of my professors not only made us carry an unabridged dictionary around with us, but he made us memorize Countee Cullen’s poem “Heritage“, and required us to sing James Weldon Johnson’s  ”Lift Ev’ry Voice” at the end of each class — all of the stanzas.

I was never sure whether I was in graduate school or in 3rd grade.

Like Acid Flashbacks, But With Kente Cloth

cycling, personal

Scenes From a Commute – A Boy and His Bunny

I don’t exactly recall how this exchange between strangers turned into one of my favourite things about my daily ride through my neighbourhood, but I’ve lived long enough to know that life will always find ways to surprise me.

Because I don’t cook much these days (standing for longer than 5 minutes at a time is too difficult), I spend a lot of time going to the faux-fancy market down the street from my apartment for ready-made meals. I usually stop on the way home from work, park Rizzo out front, and hobble my way inside without so much as a second glance at other people on the street. But when someone is sitting in front of the store with a tiny tan and white rabbit,  I can’t help but notice.

The rabbit’s owner is a youngish man, probably in his early 30s, and is in a wheelchair. He keeps his hair buzzed short, and the most brilliantly blue eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re the kind of blue that can’t be disguised by nightfall. Yet as bright as they are, some days they seem a little vacant. I say that without judgement, because I have no idea what he has to do to make it through his day, but it is something I notice whenever I see him.

I wanted to know more about this man, and about how he and his tiny little friend found each other, but I was shy and he was wary. It wasn’t until the third time we saw each other in front of the store that we finally exchanged words.

“Hey, you weren’t limping like that when I saw you the other day,” he said as I awkwardly dismounted from my bike. His voice was friendly, but concerned. I didn’t want to give him my life story, but I explained how I get these shots in my bad knee and for a few days afterward, walking is really difficult. He gestured to his legs. “I know,” he said, with a heartbreaking amount of tenderness in his voice. I felt like an oblivious and privileged jerk.

I asked him if he needed anything from the store, not because I’m hesitant to give panhandlers money, but to make this encounter a little more personal. I thought he’d ask for something to eat or something for his pet, but instead he asked for lemonade drink crystals, the kind of sugar-laden goodness that I haven’t been able to enjoy for years.

On a different night he saw me leaving the drugstore. “You’re walking pretty good today!” he said as I walked to my bike. I was on the way to meet friends and couldn’t stop to chat, but as he saw me riding away he called out “You’re riding pretty good, too!” I rang my bell as a salute and pedalled away with a wave.

On Thursday, at the end of an emotionally and physically demanding day, I saw him in front of the grocery store. Part of me was happy to see him. He had some track lighting in his lap, and his little brown buddy was sitting at his feet, calmly sniffing the sidewalk. I was having a hard time finding a place to lock my bike when he wheeled over and parked his chair at the end of the bike rack. “Hey, why don’t you just leave it here? I’ll watch it for you.”

And even though I eventually found a place to lock up, for the briefest moment I trusted him enough to seriously consider his offer. I can’t explain why, but I did.

He said, “You’re limping pretty bad today,” and this time I could clearly hear the concern in his voice. I tried to downplay it, to divert attention away from it, but he wouldn’t let me. “I know what that’s like, to enjoy something that seems so easy, but then you have days when you just can’t make things work. One day I was jumping my bike off stairs and trails, and the next day I’d lost everything.”

The silence was awkward and pregnant, and all I could do was sheepishly agree with him. For some reason I felt ashamed, and I most certainly felt exposed, seeing that the mask that I wear every day had been so artfully and carefully stripped from my face by someone who didn’t really know me at all.

I asked him about the lights, and he told me some guys from the construction sites across the street gave them to him. “I’m going to take it home, put them over a little sod that they gave me, and plant her a little garden in my apartment. I know a little something about lighting. I used to work construction before.” He didn’t have to say before when, because we both knew when he meant. Before his accident, he had been a construction foreman. He’d also been something of a daredevil on a bicycle.

“Yeah, a couple of days before I had my accident over on the north shore, I jumped my bike off the roof of the convention centre onto the bike path below. It was CRAZY!” he said, and his eyes lit up and his face was more animated than I’d ever seen it.

I offered to buy him something from the store, and he accepted, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind “throwing in some parsley for her.” After I made my purchases and handed him a bag with a sandwich and some parsley in it, I stuck out my hand and said “I’m Cecily. What’s your name?”

“I’m Theo. Nice to meet you Cecily,” and he tenderly shook my hand. As I worked at untangling my bike from the pretzel of cables, handlebars and locks, I heard him mutter my name. “That’s a nice name. What’s that from?” I tried explaining the Cicely Tyson/Cecily thing to him, but he hadn’t heard of Ms. Tyson before, and that’s when I realized just how young he really was. “I’ll try to remember it but I might not always get it right. Don’t get mad at me, OK?” I promised him I wouldn’t, and said he could just call me “C” if it was easier.

We talked a bit more about bikes, about pets (the rabbit’s name is Babies), and then I turned to pedal home. As I rode away, he called out “Keep going, you’re almost home!”

I don’t know whether getting so familiar with a panhandler is a good or a bad thing, and I’m not really sure I care. Instead, I’d rather work from a position of trust and openness rather than suspicion. I may come to regret it at some point; I sincerely hope I don’t. But until then, I’m going to enjoy getting to know Theo and Babies a little better as I’m sure to run into them again.

Besides, I want to hear more about Babies’ garden patch.


picture of a dead tree stump


I felt a little strange picking up the camera again after such a long time away from it. I have to remember that just like any hobby, chasing light and shadows and trying to capture moments takes time, patience, and practice.


Light. Shadow. Texture.


How long does a person stay at a museum? A couple of hours? There are people who would want exhibits at a museum to have a whole lesson plan so you can poll people and ask them “What did you learn?” Then you’d judge the success of the exhibit based on how well people do on these exams.

I have a different view. The person is going to spend incalculably more time in a classroom than they ever will in a museum. So a museum shouldn’t be a supplement to a classroom. It should be a force to ignite flames within a person’s soul of curiosity. An exhibit should make a person say “Wow! I’ve got to find out more about this!” and trigger them to explore more advanced accountings of the topic, in books or science videos. Once the flame is lit, the learning becomes self-motivating. — (from “Why The New Cosmos Matters“)


Neil deGrasse Tyson on Museums (and Possibly Libraries?)

libraries, personal

With Great Exposure Comes Great Fear

I have been struggling with the amount of attention (and requests for engagement) that have come my way as a result of a couple of blog posts I wrote about intersectionality in librarianship. In an attempt to understand why I felt like I was slowly having the top layers of my skin flayed off, I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.

You know how you can read a text and find so much that resonates with you that the whole thing glows with highlighter marks and is littered with post it notes? If I were reading a paper copy, this would be one of those books. Alas, it’s an ebook.

Anyway, Brown, if you aren’t familiar with her work, focuses on the ways that shame and a fear of vulnerability keeps us from achievement, whether in personal or professional contexts. Early in the book she relates the story of her journey toward accepting the increased attention she received as a result of her TEDxHouston talk. Her inclination had been to shrink from the spotlight, not because she didn’t believe in her research, but because she was afraid to make herself vulnerable. She writes:

In a culture full of critics and cynics, I have always felt safer in my career flying under the radar.

Seeing this in print had such an effect on me that I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed and hobble over to my computer, I had to immediately peck this entry out on my iPhone.

I am as critical and cynical as the next person. That may be why I was attracted to UX work in the first place, and why I feel so comfortable with my position as the Merry Snarkster in #LibrarianTwitter. But if I’m being honest — and I think it’s time I do that for once — the level of cynicism I’ve seen on Twitter, blogs, and library publications of late is disturbing. It’s disappointing, and disheartening and the idea of opening myself up to these well-honed slings and arrows scares the shit out of me.

It isn’t because I don’t believe in what I have to say, or because I believe it isn’t important. I just don’t want to invite the negativity into my life, especially now when I feel ill-prepared to handle it in a mature and emotionally detached fashion.

I think the cynicism is dangerous, and I think it silences just as many people as the fear of racist, sexist, or homophobic reprisal does.

I don’t have any answers, and obviously, this is something I’ll have to keep working on in my own life, but at the risk of losing an audience who expects snark and sass from me, I’m going to do my best not to contribute to the bitter back channel anymore.

And while I’m at it, I’ll also work on stepping out from behind a persona and allowing you to see who I really am, scars, warts and all.