Is it Work or is it a Job?

Have you ever given any thought to the difference between a job and work? If we have a regular daily grind that we are rewarded financially for, in conversation we blithely say “I’m going to work” without taking the time to think about what that really means. I believe that having dissatisfaction in one of those areas (a job) doesn’t have to mean dissatisfaction in the other (work). Here is how I differentiate between the two:

A job is a series of tasks, usually directed by someone who holds a position of greater authority than your own. These tasks are intended to help an enterprise reach a certain goal. A job is a regular position that, if you’re lucky, comes with some sort of remuneration.

Work, on the other hand, is a thing that occupies your time, incorporating your interests, the things you love, and, if you’re lucky, will guide you toward a more fulfilled sense of self. Work is produced when you exercise your creative muscles, your curiosity and intelligence toward some sort of output that grounds you. This output centers you and helps you understand your place in the world.

I am thinking about this in the context of my professional life and my own feelings of inadequacy/feelings of failure. What I have one to understand is that as long as I use my job as the sole or primary performance indicator, I will never measure up. In a system that is designed to privilege a very few, I am incapable of fully being the person I am. If I can’t fully be myself, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to give my all to a concern that, by design, is not intended to benefit all people.

Coffee break (Gouache on watercolour paper)

What I have learned to do instead is to find work — things, experiences, and connections — bits of effort that produce items that bring me pleasure. I choose to engage in this type of work because it makes me happier and more fulfilled than a job ever could. I had to learn to divorce remuneration from measurements of success, because my mental, physical, and emotional well-being are far more precious than the number on my bi-weekly pay advices.

Perhaps this has been obvious to you for many years. I won’t beat myself up for not figuring this out sooner. I’m just happy that I’ve stumbled on a new definition of success that doesn’t leave me wanting.

The Case for Normal, Natural Emotions in the Workplace

A few things I’m thinking about today:

  • 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.

More to come.

Thoughts on the Universality of the Black Experience

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.

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  1. Dr. Carolyn Denard at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA 

Mama Used to Say – a British Soul Playlist

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.


  1. 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 Most Beautiful Part of Your Body Is Where It’s Headed

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.

Here are a few things I shared this week:

  1. Going Home With Ocean Vuong – an Atlantic profile on a young Vietnamese-American poet and novelist. The excerpt from his poem “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” stopped me in my tracks. It’s also the where the title of this blog post came from.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom details Lynda(.com)’s Privacy Problem. LinkedIn now requires library users to create a LinkedIn profile to use the LyndaLibrary technology resources, which appears to be a violation of the Library Bill of Rights.

  5. 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.

  6. If Austin Kleon says having a messy studio can make you a better artist, then I must be the best artist alive.

  7. 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.


  1. My account is currently locked, but I review new follower requests carefully at least once a week. 

Is This Thing On?

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.

keep it inside - acrylic on paper, copyright 2019
keep it inside – acrylic on paper, copyright 2019

deep exhale


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: