Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from your Lazy Ass Librarian

Okay, so I woke up at 4:00 a.m. this morning with an inspiration for today's post: I'd make up silly Thanksgiving trivia-type facts. Like, maybe ten of them.

Three hours later, when I was still trying to think of one, I realized I really had no interest in thinking.

Fuck it, people. It's Thanksgiving, I've got the day off, and I'm going back to bed where I belong.

But just so you don't feel slighted, I'm re-posting one of my very very oldest posts about How My Blog Got Its Name. Well, that's sort of what it's about.

Whatever. Got your popcorn? Your tissues? Your unabridged dictionary? Here goes:

“The subversive librarian.” Now, that's an oxymoron . . . . or is it?

The archetype librarian is about as subversive as, well, spinster Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We all know the stereotype, and there’s no point in flogging it to death here.

Librarians take great pains to prove that we’re really nothing like our stereotype. In fact, listen in on a library listserv and sooner or later, someone will start a thread about how utterly cool we really are. First, there will be a picture of a librarian on water skis. A flurry of comments and photos will quickly follow. Before it’s all over, somebody will post a picture of a half-naked librarian sporting his huge Marilyn Manson tattoo and multiple tongue piercings. Ok, I concede. There are some cool librarians.

Unfortunately, none of that silliness undermines (or subverts, if you will) the one stereotype about librarians that has spawned all the rest: Librarians love their rules – at least when it comes to books.

This rule thing has nothing to do with coolness. I don’t care if your librarian did get arrested in Juarez last May for peeing in the fountain at Plaza de Armas. He’s still not going to let you check out more than two books with the same call number. Why? Because it’s The Rule. And that’s why the words “subversive” and “librarian” just don’t seem to go together.

I’m not here to defend your librarian’s peculiarities. I’ve been to library conventions and frankly, some librarians are just plain weird. Especially law librarians.

But (and isn’t this predictable?) I do want to tell you why I think librarians are cool. Our coolness lies not in our hobbies, or what we look like, but in the profession’s fundamental subversiveness. And yes, I do mean that as a compliment.

What does it mean to be subversive? Well, according to my Brand X dictionary, to “subvert” is to destroy completely; to undermine character, morals, or allegiance; or to overthrow completely. I checked a couple other dictionaries and they said basically the same thing.

But that’s not what subversion means to me. The word “subvert” comes from the Latin sub, meaning below, and vertere, to turn. To me, that doesn’t say destroy. To me, it says dig, explore, and turn the soil if you need to. Even – especially – if someone says you’re not supposed to. And isn’t that just what librarians do?

I’m not the only one that thinks librarians are subversive. Author Michael Moore thinks so, too. We revealed our true nature after a publisher threatened to drop his book because it contained comments criticizing the President:
I didn't know who any of these people were. They -- this one librarian found out about it, and she got in a, I don't know, library chat room. Or she sent a letter out to a list of librarians, and they sent it out to a bunch of people, and the thing kind of mushroomed from there. . . . I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. . . . They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them.
Now is that cool, or what?

Of course, some people are afraid of subversives, but that just means they think we’re powerful. A few years back, the American Library Association came out opposing mandatory Internet filters on library computers. Dr. Laura Schlessinger accused the ALA of “boldly, brashly contributing to sexualizing our children. . . . [a]nd . . . mak[ing] sure your children have easy access to pornography, under the guise of free speech." We did all that? Of course not. But I figure if we got that kind of reaction from Dr. Laura, we must be doing something right. By the way, whatever happened to her?

At any rate, that makes at least three people – Michael Moore, Dr. Laura, and me – who know just how subversive and powerful we librarians are. And while I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, I sort of like being feared for my unbridled power.

My job as a librarian is to help you dig and explore so you can turn the soil if you think it needs turning. It’s really none of my business whether you want to start a new chapter of the Communist party or just find a recipe for cabbage au gratin. Do I make judgments about you? Well, yeah! But do I tell you what I think, or discourage you from digging, or censor what I give you? Nope. I just give you a wise and mysterious look – kind of like the Mona Lisa – and wonder why on earth you would eat cabbage if your mother isn’t making you.

Still, what’s so subversive about that, and what’s so cool about being a librarian? I mean, aside from the fact that last year I got to go to a seminar on mold prevention (as if that weren’t enough!).

There will always be someone who doesn’t want you to know something. In some cultures, women are prevented from reading – supposedly for their own good. The entity that’s trying to keep information out of your hands claims to have good reasons too. But being sincere doesn’t make it right.

Librarians get to right the wrong. We get to put the decision-making process back in your hands, where it belongs. We get to provide the digging equipment, let you find what you find, and let you decide what to do with it. And sometimes we get to watch your garden grow, knowing that we helped plant the seeds.

And if it’s bad? Well, then, soon enough, another of you will come looking for a way to fix it, and we get to help plant those seeds as well. In fact, every once in a while, librarians are the only ones willing to help you start digging. And if the government will let us (and for some librarians, even if it won’t), we even get to keep your secrets.

Quietly subversive. Just powerful enough. And very cool.

KEYWORDS for FBI file on Lynne Rhys: Subversive. Librarian. Communist. Cabbage.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goodbye, Old Friend

Southern Voice is no more. That’s old news now, but I can’t let this solemn occasion pass without a short eulogy.

When I started the coming-out process, I was around 42. At the time, I was living in an outer suburb of Atlanta with my husband of 22 years and my seven-year-old kid. If there were gay people out in Powder Springs, I sure didn’t know where to find them. I wasn’t willing to cheat on my husband, so learning-by-doing wasn’t an option. With so few outlets, Southern Voice, Atlanta’s gay newspaper, was just about my only link to, well, gay stuff. I was starving for information, and SoVo provided my weekly ration. SoVo was my primer in How to be Gay. Coincidentally, for a while, I worked in the same building as SoVo's office - and felt even closer to the newspaper, as silly as that might seem.

Last week, Southern Voice shut down suddenly and without warning.

It’s been ten years since I read my first issue of SoVo. I’m out now to pretty much everybody. I can actually say the word “lesbian” without blanching. I am actively involved in the gay community of my city. In short, I’m pretty comfortable with the whole gay thing now. You wouldn’t think I would still need the comfort of a weekly gay newspaper.

And yet, when I saw that barren newsstand last Friday, I felt disconnected, lost in Powder Springs once again. I felt that old hunger. And then, I felt emptiness.

Adieu, Southern Voice.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gift of Making Amends

I got to make an important amend yesterday to my daughter. At least, I thought it was just for her but it turned out to be an amend to myself as well. I took a friend (or more accurately, he took me) to pick up some important stuff I had left behind at my ex’s; mostly I wanted to get my kid’s stuff. Since it was a bit of a drive, my friend and I made a day of it, complete with long, leisurely conversations. After I came back, my kid and I had a wonderful, important conversation of our own.

No need to go into it any further, except to say that I have gained a new respect for the power of the ninth step.

Yeah. It was really good.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

AAAAAHHHHHHH!!! (Mommy Needs Some Terra Firma Now, Dear)

If I ran the world, children would not be allowed to drive or date until after their parents are dead.

What was I thinking, letting my kid get a learner’s permit? Somehow it didn’t really occur to me that she was going to want to, you know, drive.

But then three things happened. First, she started asking if she could drive. The nerve! Second, someone (you know who you are!) pointed out that when she’s 18 she won’t need my permission to drive and it might be good for her to get lots and lots of practice before then.

And third, her father lets her drive. Dad is great, but he drives aggressively. Frankly, I’d rather she doesn’t pick up his bad habits.

So, I let her get behind the wheel yesterday. And not just in our quiet little neighborhood, either. From home to Little Five Points to Phipps Plaza on a busy Saturday afternoon. And all the way home again after dark.

My kid will actually be a good driver. Considering it was only her third time on the road (as opposed to bank parking lots on a Sunday afternoon), she did really, really well.

As for me, though… Well, I had a death grip on the seat pretty much the whole time. But I met the nicest paramedics later, when they they pried me out of the car with the Jaws of Life.

It really was quality mother-daughter time, though (and I’m serious about that; it really was). We even developed some new special, secret mother-daughter lingo. Let me share it with you now.

ME: “stopstopstopstopSTOPSTOP!!!!!!!!!!!”
Translation: “Sweetie, could you please brake a little earlier?”

ME: “DRIFT!!!!!”
Translation: “Darling, you’re drifting to the right again and I’m afraid you’re going to rip the passenger door off of the car and then I’ll be impaled on that tree.”

MY KID: “Isn’t it nice that you don’t have to drive anymore?”
Translation: “If you don’t let me drive, I’m going to have Dad teach me.”

MY KID: “I am sooo driving us to Phipps.”
Translation: “If you don’t let me drive, I’m going to have Dad teach me.”

MY KID: “Dad was calmer than you.”
Translation: “I mean it, Mom! Dad’s gonna teach me!”

ME: “You did really, really well today. I’m proud of you.”
Translation: “You did really, really well today. I feel pride, sadness, happiness, fear, guilt, gratitude and wonder watching my incredible kid become an incredible, independent adult. And now, Sweet Pea, I'm going to go get my affairs in order. You know, just in case.”


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Good Ole Miss

Let me be very clear about one thing: I loathe team sports. I don’t care if I am a lesbian, I just hate them. I don’t care if it’s college or pro or football or hockey or baseball or volleyball or whatever. It’s all just so much bullshit to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I know from sports. Football is the one with innings and basketball is the one with the tight ends, right? Oh, of course I know that’s wrong. I’m just playing with you. Even I know that baseball is the one with the tight ends. (What the hell is a tight end, anyway?)

Okay, so I wasn’t a jock. Is that so bad? I admit, maybe I have some painful memories of gym class. And maybe I do resent – just slightly – every past president of the United States of America for that goddamned President’s Physical Fitness Test they made us do every year.

And I suppose I’m still not too fond of the teacher’s aide who felt it was her sworn duty, at said fitness test, to call out my weight loud enough for it to echo off Camelback Mountain and back again, just to make sure that everyone in Phoenix and Scottsdale knew that I was Officially Obese. Every single fucking year.

And perhaps I have just a teeny little resentment against every gym teacher I have ever had (except Mrs. Gans, who was perpetually pregnant and gave me a “B” for trying hard, to which my dad said, “Wow. How did you manage to get a B in gym?").

And okay, so maybe I’ve thought some unkind things about that big brute of a fourth-grade gym teacher who made me run around the field even when I told him I couldn’t, and I got my one-and-only-ever asthma attack and they had to call my mother. I told you so, asshole.

And maybe I do think that dodgeball is the funnest game since “Let’s Pull Everyone’s Teeth Out Without an Anesthetic and See Who Bleeds the Most.” I read somewhere that Bluto invented dodgeball just for Popeye and Olive Oyl, and then Benito Mussolini took it from there. Yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s true.

And all right, so the first time I ever had to undress in front of anybody was in the showers for gym class in a brand new town at my brand new middle school, and all the girls kept calling me a lesbian and since I didn’t know they were right it didn’t occur to me to just say “thank you.”

And by the way, I think history will show that the squat thrust was invented by some sick, perverted pedophile.

Umm, where was I?

Oh, yeah. Ole Miss. They’re not going to let the band play “From Dixie With Love” anymore at football games, because the crowd keeps yelling “the South shall rise again!” before and after. Good for Ole Miss.

What, you were expecting some insightful sports analysis? Please.

P.S. A great big thank you to the group of girls in the fourth grade who lifted me up while the teacher wasn’t looking so I could say that I had done one chin-up. I adore you all.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Oh. My. God.

I'm home sick today. And I fear it's very, very serious, because I posted a recipe on here this morning. A recipe, for God's sake! Is there a doctor in the house?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review! A Place Like This: A Memoir, by Mark S. King

I tend to avoid memoirs, especially Hollywood memoirs, because they can be so pretentious and tedious. Some people, though, have stories worth telling. HIV/AIDS activist and writer Mark S. King is one of them.

King has managed to survive numerous lifetimes of adventure and misfortune in his relatively few years on the planet. He weathered several of those lifetimes in the 1980s, the decade that is the subject of his book, A Place Like This: A Memoir.

A Place Like This covers a lot of territory: Mark King himself; his family and friends; a deadly disease; a movement; and an era. The narrative begins in 1981 with 20-year-old King moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting; it ends a little over a decade later when he moves to Atlanta to head the AIDS Survival Project. In between, the universe is utterly transmogrified, and King follows suit with relative grace, all things considered.

I note here that King has been public about his battle with substance abuse. While drugs are a part of this story, King wisely focuses instead on the transformative nature of the AIDS epidemic.

King’s portrayal is honest and unvarnished. That, of course, can be said of any good memoir. A Place Like This, though, goes much further: King not only lets us observe his seamy youth, but also lets us see who he is today because of it. And then, as a bonus, he shines the light outward, inviting the reader to recognize himself as well. Thus, unlike most memoirs, which only feign intimacy, this book truly is intimate. It’s the distinction between a good memoir and a great one.

Consider this passage, where King, in describing his successful foray into the gay phone-sex industry, talks about one of his female customers:
It would be easy to reduce her actions to something comical but I can’t, I won’t. It was a meaningful and well deserved Calgon moment for her, and when her calls suddenly stopped soon after she mentioned a possible suitor in her life, I was truly glad that her life might become less lonely and I missed hearing from her. I hope she’s happy.
Through most of the book, King skillfully balances pathos, sly wit, and bawdy humor. This balance changes once he begins to address the AIDS epidemic. Then, there is just enough humor and hope to keep the reader afloat, but no more; otherwise, the pain is unrelenting, just as it is in real life and just as it should be in the narrative. It is almost too much; but King resists indulging in maudlin self pity, thus shielding the reader from the final precipice. (For an excellent supplement to this book, I recommend HIV in the U.S. Epidemic's Darkest Hour: An Interview With Mark S. King; this interview provides a strong historical and cultural backdrop to the story.)

King is the best kind of writer of all: the kind you don’t notice. His style is conversational and seamless, allowing the story, instead of the writing, to take center stage. This is quite a feat considering his liberal use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. In less capable hands, the story would have been nearly incomprehensible. But King, remarkably, switches between time periods so gently that with very few exceptions, I didn’t even notice. I just knew.

I can only find two faults with A Place Like This, and I had to look hard for both of them. First, photographs would have been awfully nice. King has presented a family portrait full of interesting people about whom I came to care. As wonderful as it was to hear “Uncle Mark” tell all the family stories, I wanted to see the picture album, too. What’s more, King’s persona as an actor is a separate character in this book, and it needs a face. The cover graphics hint at it, but only just. And unless you’ve actually seen how impossibly good-looking King was (and, in fact, is), it’s hard to understand how the hell he got away with as much as he did.

The other minor fault is an occasional and slightly distracting change of voice. Once in a great while, a sentence popped out at me that sounded a lot like writing. Don’t get me wrong: they were perfectly good sentences. But they removed me, just for a second, from the action. Fortunately, within a sentence or two King always recovered and put me back in the passenger seat so I could continue to ride with him, instead of just watching him fly by. In any event, I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book that didn’t skip a beat here and there.

Mark King is the rare person who has a lot to say, says it exceedingly well, and then both gives and gains strength through his words. Perfection is merely theoretical; it does not exist in reality. But A Place Like This comes about as close as it gets.

(Updated to link King's book and to change the first sentence, which was driving me nuts)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

No Turning Back Now.

Well, I postponed it as long as I could. As I write, my child is taking the test to get a learner's permit. Along with a small army of other tiny children.

When did 16 get to be so freaking young? Shouldn't they have to be on solid food first?

Seriously. These little rugrats will be operating thousand-pound projectile weapons systems in less than an hour. It boggles the mind.

Oh, she's done! Gotta go see if she passed. Can you say "ambivalence"?