How often I see words or phrases like “positive energy” in library job descriptions
How frequently I have heard the refrain “respectful workplace” used to squash critique
The effect of forced positivity from library leaders on lower-level library workers and their trust in leadership
A couple of things I’ve encountered online recently are making me think about this even more. In what ways do library managers who insist on a culture of positivity create barriers (interpersonal or structural) for their staff?
Food for Thought:
Susan David’s 2017 TED talk on emotional courage:
Toni Morrison’s essay “The Source of Self-Regard”, but especially the section on how elision and indirect language used in slave narratives contributes to people’s assumption that the treatment enslaved people endured was ‘not that bad’;
Slave narratives were very much like nineteenth-century novels, there were certain things they didn’t talk about too much, and also because they were writing for white people whom they wanted to persuade to be abolitionists or to do abolitionist type work, did not dwell on, or didn’t spend a lot of time telling those people how terrible this all was. They didn’t want to call anybody names, they needed their money, so they created an upbeat story.
I’m thinking about the silences and the shaming I’ve endured in the last 12 years in this profession, and I’m thinking of what it has cost me.
It took me three years to read Beloved. I tried on my own as a college sophomore but couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t until I took an African American Women’s Literature course, taught by the then president of the Toni Morrison Society1 that I was able to make it through. I was surrounded by my contemporaries, led by an older, wiser Black woman who helped me see the gutsiness, the sheer defiance and love it took to call that which is most reviled Beloved. I could never have learned that lesson from a white woman (or a white man, for that matter).
I am thinking today, on the occasion of her death, of how Morrison emphasized Blackness and centered Blackness in her work, daring to call Blackness universal when the world tells us in no uncertain terms that we are the margins, and therefore strange. Unworthy. And I am thinking of the beginnings of stories, of essays, of keynote speeches that have gone unwritten because at their heart they’re about Black people but because I could not whitewash those words and make them palatable to a white audience, I thought I was a failure.
(I am also thinking about how many of my story ideas came from dreams where Black people could set things on fire with their minds, and I chuckle, but I digress.)
My upcoming keynote in Australia has vexed me for months because I received the advice that I should try to make it universal. And I couldn’t. No matter how I tried, I could not get away from the pain, heartache, and self-doubt this profession has caused me, a Black woman, and others like me. Keynotes are supposed to address solutions, they’re supposed to set a tone. My tone is righteous(?) anger, and a desire to tell anyone like me to abandon the idea of universality. Do it for yourself. Do it for US. Let the rest burn.
I will set them on fire with my mind and I will not apply salve to their burns. And as things burn and are destroyed, I am also creating a path forward for others like me. That’s what my instructor did for me with Beloved. And that’s what I’ll do for others.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me occasionally post links to my morning Get Ready With Me songs. The songs are usually tunes from my youth that lift my spirits as I start my workday, but I am also a woman of a certain age who sometimes feels a disconnect and a tiny bit of auntie-ish disdain for modern music.
I was an inveterate Anglophile as a teen/twenty-something, and I’m also fascinated by Black people who make homes in places like the UK or Canada, where the Black experience is vastly different from my own Black American one. The other day I tweeted that I wanted a playlist of nothing but 90s British soul music and so I present the fruits of that labour. You’ll notice that the list isn’t limited to the 90s, nor is it limited to soul music/R&B. Some of the best Black1 music to come out of the British Isles wasn’t made by Black people.
Because I’m the Internet’s Auntie, and because I sometimes have a secret desire to show that I’m still cool enough to listen to new music, there are a fair number of newer British artists on this list. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. Lists are available on Apple Music and Spotify because I can think of nothing better to do with my disposable income than to have subscriptions to two music services.
Not all of the artists on this list are Black people, but they are all performing styles of music that are associated with Black cultures. I acknowledge that this is some messy-ass shorthand, but :shrug emoji: ↩
The week is over, I have a four day weekend, and it’s unseasonably chilly in Vancouver. The roller coaster that was this week was full of peaks, valleys, and loop-de-loops, but at this particular moment, it feels good. Onward.
VALA 2020 Keynote Speakers – I’m pleased to announce that I’m one of six keynote speakers at the VALA – Libraries, Technology and the Future Conference that will take place in Melbourne, Australia in February 2020.
Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, She’s Gotta Have It) shared the official lyric video of Cry Today, Smile Tomorrow, the (incredibly moving) song he performed during season two of She’s Gotta Have It.
Apple’s Memoji Makeup Tutorial, featuring Patrick Starr and Desi Perkins. Initially, I hated this video, but the more I watch it, the cuter I think it is. I especially love that they worked in Patrick’s head wrap.
If you follow me on Twitter1, you saw as I opined about career precarity in Gen X librarians, talked about how I managed to improve my credit score over the last 5 years and went on and on about how Phil Collins’ ubiquity in the 80s gave us some of the most memorable pop and rock music of all time.
My account is currently locked, but I review new follower requests carefully at least once a week. ↩
“It’s been years since I’ve blogged regularly. Let’s see if I start again now. (I might. It’s a good warm-up for writing and I’m looking forward to being a writer again.)” @neilhimself
I am trying the same, a regular blogging practice, which in hopes will get me writing daily.
It’s been almost two years since I’ve written anything in this space, but thanks to a tweet from my friend Jen Hanen (and okay, also some words from Neil Gaiman) I thought I’d give this another try. I attempted a newsletter but for whatever reason it never stuck. I don’t like the idea of writing on a set schedule, especially if I’m not being paid for it. I suppose I don’t think the flexing of my own spongy intellectual muscles is enough of a reason to keep up a writing habit, which if you want to get all deep about it, is a sign of my mental health and feelings of self-worth in general.
Yesterday on my way home from work, I passed an apartment building where someone had soaped a message onto their window. “This is a lonely place without friends,” the message read and it would have stopped me in my tracks had I not been in traffic. It made me wonder how much pain a person had to be in to go to such lengths to write this message on their window, in reverse no less, so that other people would see it. Vancouver can be a very lonely and isolating place, and yet I’m still here, still trying to reach out, still trying to make friends. I’m making more of an effort to see people than I have in the past, and that feels good. It’s almost like I’m rounding a corner or something.
Here are a few things I’ve read/listened to lately and enjoyed:
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor. This novel is about a shapeshifting queer person and is set in the 90s, so it made my grunge queen heart go pitter-pat. The idea of being able to shift your shape at will is an interesting conceit, as it provides Paul/Polly with access to spaces that are usually segregated by gender. (Amazon | Powell’s | Audible | Public Library)
If you’ve never gained, then lost (then regained) weight, this metaphor may be meaningless to you. If you have gone through that experience, you’re probably familiar with holding on to an item of clothing that no longer fits, but you hold on to it because “It might fit again someday if I go on a diet/eat healthier/work out more.”
That’s what this blog has become.
I’ve been blogging across several different domains, across multiple platforms in some form or fashion since 1993. There are people who follow me on Twitter who weren’t even alive when I wrote my first blog post. And to spare you my middle-aged reflections about how things were so different back in the early days of blogging, I’ll simply say that my attention span, willingness to write, elevated professional profile, and fear of writing something that might run afoul of work supervisors doesn’t really make it seem worthwhile anymore. Still, I held on to this domain and to my web hosting the way I held on to that skinny dress at the back of my closet. It’s probably crumpled on the floor, buried under a mountain of other stuff by now, but I know it’s there, and it nags at me.
I think the time has come to throw this dress away.
I swear to the Lord
I still can’t see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.
“The Black Man Speaks” from Jim Crow’s Last Stand (Worldcat)
To say I’ve been feeling this acutely over the last few weeks is an understatement. I honestly think I’ve felt this way almost as long as I’ve been alive, but the feelings grow sharper the longer I live in Vancouver.
Today is Langston Hughes’ birthday. Hughes has long been one of my favourite poets/cultural critics, though I feel like he’s fallen out of favour a little over the last 20 years or so. Though he is better known as a poet, his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” has been a source of inspiration for me, more so when I was a young African American Studies scholar who was trying to balance claiming my place in the Black community with my feminist leanings and my queer identity.
If you find yourself in a despairing place, read a little Langston Hughes today.
I’m Cecily, I’m a librarian, and I’ve come to hate reading.
That’s not exactly true — my (barely) managed depression and (increased) anxiety have robbed me of the ability to process anything more than tweets, Facebook posts from the Hobonichi group, and texts from loved ones. Losing myself in novels and non-fiction is where I found comfort for so many years, but now it only adds to my already out-of-control anxiety and self-doubt.
I’ve found other pursuits in the meantime, like drawing and writing in my journal, but I miss the immersive experience of floating within a well-crafted story. Has this ever happened to you? What did you do to get back to reading?
Andrew Sullivan’s essay for New York Magazine seems especially timely, given that a few of my friends are taking hiatuses from social media at present.
I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.
This has been my reality for so long, I’m honestly not sure if I can imagine living any other way. I justify it by saying it helps me keep in touch with friends far and wide, but how in touch am I, really, when the majority of my updates come through the firehose of my Twitter timeline and are condensed to 140 characters?
A former romantic partner used to have a very active, very rich social circle that he kept in constant touch with through his laptop (and his phone, to a smaller extent). When I’d visit him in the Bay Area, his laptop was a third party in our bed. And I never felt like I could ask him to only focus on me, because those other people in his life were important too. What I eventually realized is that by taking advantage of the very limited time I had to spend with him and giving it to other people, he was showing me in no uncertain terms that I didn’t really matter at all.1 It’s now why I insist that current romantic partners put their phones away and silence any notifications while we’re together. As Sullivan writes:
Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully unplug. I want to get to a place where I can at least read quietly again, without sharing what I’m feeling at every moment with the ever-present dopamine injection that is my list of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I want to hold hands, feel skin against skin, notice the way someone’s forehead furrows, and the way their eyes sparkle with laughter. But how can I do that in an unmediated way without being independently wealthy? But the distractions of my online life aren’t doing me any favours personally or professionally, and I think I could benefit greatly from sitting with the discomfort of quiet long enough for it to start to fit like a well-loved pair of slippers.
I’m no saint here, either. The time I should’ve been spending with my spouse, I was spending it on the long-distance relationship and throwing my energies there. We live, we learn. ↩
The thought is that writing three longhand pages first thing in the morning will help clear your mind for the rest of the day. I’m wondering whether something like this would work for programming? Writing code longhand could be tedious, but it could be useful for memorization and for building confidence.