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Summer haze

Moving to Boston has kept me busy as I worked until the end of the school year at Cambridge Friends School as a substitute. Finding that school made this move feel right as I found a community where teachers and students welcomed me and I was able to reconnect to my Quaker background.

After the end of the school year, the majority of my family came to visit me, everyone fitting into my tiny apartment as we spent time together in parks watching little boys run around and seeing my growing nieces take care of them. In Boston, I’m constantly looking at more ways to find my community in terms of theater and other job opportunities as my friends in Boston have welcomed me. My fandom life has been full of Star Wars and Rogue One, where I’ve been writing fanfiction and finding the strength to look for ways to push against the dangerous currents in our government. A major sign for me that this was the right move is how creative I have been feeling, when I’m in a place that I feel I can grow, the words flow.

One of the pieces of writing that I’m happy to share is from the annual Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, RITA Reviewer challenge where I read Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas. I found it to be a pleasant read but it didn’t really stick with me. What I did enjoy was reading the other review of the same book and the conversation in the comments. Communities and people where its possible to talk about the good and bad of the media we’re consuming are places I want to create and love being in. Boston has helped get me closer to people who I can have these discussions with as well as finding schools and libraries to help young people find communities for themselves.

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Almost and Missed Opportunities

I lost a world the other day.
Has anybody found?
You’ll know it by the row of stars
Around its forehead bound.
A rich man might not notice it;
Yet to my frugal eye
Of more esteem than ducats.
Oh, find it, sir, for me!
Emily Dickinson
Almost
Within my reach!
I could have touched!
I might have chanced that way!
Soft sauntered through the village,
Sauntered as soft away!
So unsuspected violets
Within the fields lie low,
Too late for striving fingers
That passed, an hour ago.
Emily Dickinson
 Last week was a difficult one and when I found these poems after a disappointing movie about Emily Dickinson, they captured how I felt. A possible world is suddenly farther out of reach, I don’t know what’s going to happen. As I’ve been reading my various friends’ lists and hearing the fear and worry and knowing that I’m a fairly privileged position which means I need to find ways to step up. For me as an educator and librarian, that means teaching young people to be highly critical of the world around them, think about what sites they get their news from and to do all I can to promote and consume diverse media.
These past two weekends and week were the Rehoboth Film Festival and this year, many of the films felt like missed opportunities; not horrible, but not great. I’m going to start with the two films that actually made me incredibly happy and hopeful.
Fire Song is a film that felt like watching an incredibly well made contemporary YA novel come to life and was a perfect example of own voices. Fire Song happens within a small town in Northern Ontario with a focus on a hurting community of Anishnabe youth with at its center, Shane, a gay young man who’s sister recently committed suicide. This wasn’t an easy film to watch as it deals honestly with poverty, addiction, suicide, homophobia and sexual assault but the ending was hopeful.

The other film that made me smile was about the creation of Austin City Limits, a wonderful movie called A Song for You. This movie was made with the full cooperation of everyone involved in Austin City Limits and is full of music and wonderful pictures. One of my favorite aspects was how much the actual archive was highlighted as they showed where all the episodes are stored away. It made me smile because its a reminder of how a local show can become national while still having at its heart sharing good music.

A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story SXSW World Premiere Trailer from keith maitland on Vimeo.

The third film that I want to talk about is one that felt full of missed chances and also in some ways hit too close emotionally to what happened with the election. A Quiet Passion is a biographical movie about Emily Dickinson and it was frustrating. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, she didn’t travel far from home throughout her life but carried on long term correspondence and did become reclusive in her later life. The movie takes this information and turns Emily into an unhappy and tragic figure with dialogue that feels recited.

Making a movie about a major author is always complicated and using their own words can be a wonderful way to let them speak for themselves, but how the words are spoken effects everything. A Quiet Passion uses Dickinson’s poetry along with what seemed to be inspired perhaps by letters and other writing, but seems to have forgotten that even in the 19th century, people don’t speak how they write. Becoming Jane was able to show a vibrant world and capture some of the life in Austen’s writing as Shakespeare in Love did as well. Both of those movies took inspiration from the words but didn’t use them as strictures. I left the movie wishing that Emily Dickinson’s life hadn’t been presented as so narrow, it felt a great disservice to her. The reason that it made me think of the election is that the movie was written and directed by a man who seems to have only chosen to see Emily Dickinson through one lens and not presented someone who feels real. This happened with Clinton who had articles written about her likability which didn’t seem balanced by her competence. I’m planning on reading Emily Dickinson biographies and more of her wonderful poetry to find out all I can about this amazing woman poet.

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Talking books online and in person

As part of this gorgeous labor day weekend, I volunteered at the book stall run by the Historic Lewes Farmers Market and sponsored by Daedalus Books. All of the books were connected to the market from cookbooks, books about raising animals, children’s books with plants and grown up coloring books. This year the market’s in a new setting as the park its been on for years on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Society is closed for renovations. Due to being in a park with a pond and paths, new people who might not have found the market were walking through. I love all the various connections that grow up around books as people comment on how they have that one, wondering about age level for others and their laughter as my father called out, “Get your red-hot books!”

Due to the partnership, there’s an element of surprise to which books will be there as the market doesn’t choose instead the bookseller does. As the table with the books was near the main entrance, it was a way to see the diverse community that comes through the market from visiting families to people with houses all drawn by berries, bread and oysters.

This year for the third time in a row, I’ve participated in the RITA Reader Challenge on Smart Bitches Trashy Books a romance website that is a wonderful community to discuss books and media. For the first time this year, the books I reviewed generated conversation in a way they haven’t before. I loved that as part of why I love reading this site is how the comments are always full of thoughtful talks of what people liked and didn’t like. A large number of the books on my phone are pulled from their recommendations and I’ve discovered new genres and authors from these conversations.

Toward the Sunrise by Elizabeth Camden was a novella that I reviewed and I liked it, but the second reviewer detailed major issues of Orientalism and racism within the story. The connection between the hero and the heroine is that both of them read Marco Polo’s adventures as children and it gave them a desire to travel to Asia.  As I’ve often found online, this was a major moment for me to be quiet and listen to someone who felt a personal impact from the writing. This second reviewer showed how context is important as the novella was set in the 1890s when numerous conflicts between Europeans and countries throughout Asia happened creating scars that still remain. The comments were full of thoughtful discussions of how writers of historical fiction can balance the truth of history with an understanding of their readers.

The Marriage Contract by Katee Robert was my second review and this was a book focused on three Irish families involved in organized crime. In the comments of my review, it was interesting to see how others were put off by that aspect as well as the style of writing. I found it a gripping book which took on difficult topics and also had a charming romance, but not one for everyone.

I love how the internet has allowed for book discussions to grow from conversations at a market to online and how they continue and move off in unexpected ways.

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Where I don’t have to explain: Yuletide and Chessiecon

As I look forward into this new year, I keep thinking about how powerful it is to have places where I don’t have to explain what I love or why. I’m lucky that for me, most of the times when I have to explain are related to my hobbies but there are times I find myself defending online life, young adult literature and that genre media has value. This is tiring but I feel that its important especially for young people, being told that something that fills you with creativity doesn’t matter can be crushing. As a librarian, I strive to provide this for my patrons whenever I can, taking on the role of explaining to adults that this is why fandom matters.

In my personal life, I miss being close to people of like minds and find myself happiest when I find these connections. In the next year, I’m hoping to move to a part of the country where I don’t have to explain as much and so I can be an advocate for young people feeling as if their likes aren’t seen.

In November and December, I had two experiences where I didn’t have to explain myself that revitalized me. One happens every year, Yuletide, the multi-fandom fanfic exchange that occurs every holiday season, this was my fifth year writing in it and its become a big part of my holidays. The main reason I love it so much is that every story is written as a gift to a stranger in a fandom that’s shared by writer and giftee. This shared knowledge allows for stories that might not normally be written and when the archive is open and all the authors are anonymous, new fandoms are discovered. Every year that I’ve done Yuletide, I’ve stretched myself in terms of my writing as I examine a form of media I love from another angle and find others who adore the same characters and worlds.

After Thanksgiving, I went to Chessiecon, a science fiction/fantasy convention and as soon as I walked in the hotel door, I began to smile. Around me were all the signs of modern fandom; clothing, jewelry, costumes, small and large markers saying I love this world. I was slightly nervous as I’d never attended this con before but I knew that I would meet friends and one of my favorite authors was there. Once I was settled, I sat down to hear first Seanan McGuire and later Tamora Pierce read and answer questions from their fans. Among all these strangers were words and worlds created by authors who cared and I loved it. Later, I met up with my friends and throughout the con there were these moments of sharing and discovering fandoms. A step that’s often present of explaining the love for something was gone because the question was a matter of which fandom and which part and what do you create? I discovered authors, artists and heard discussions that wouldn’t feel out of place in the librarian community.

Yesterday, the Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA Midwinter and as the winners were a diverse mixture, I’ve thought of panels I attended at Chessiecon. One of the best panels was about diversity in young fiction with a focus and to begin with, the authors came from a mix of ethnicities and discussed that there are its important to use all types of diversity and make certain every character feels like a true person. At the moment, I’m dipping in and out of a wonderful anthology of ya lit about girls being engineers that was edited by one of the speakers called Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets and so far all the stories are great. Another panel that was intriguing but didn’t work as well as I think was expected was about young adult literature and what does it mean and how is it changing? The highlight of this entire panel was hearing Tamora Pierce talking about the history of young adult literature as she’s experienced it. It was a big reminder of how many of these distinctions are created publishers and that authors don’t have as much choice as it might seem. Another panel that has been in my mind due to discussions around Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about the idea of a Mary Sue. Much of what came out of that panel was that Mary Sue is an awkward label, that has outgrown its origins within the Star Trek fandom and the part that matters is to create well rounded and complicated characters.

I hope in the next year to find places where I can be among people that I don’t have to explain and where I can discover new angles on the world. A reason I’m a librarian and active in fandom is because in both places, there’s a joy in sharing what’s loved and an openness in finding something new that someone else loves.

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Rehoboth Film Festival

The film festival was quieter for me this year than others partly because there wasn’t the big tent and also not as many films caught my eye. I ended up seeing five films with three of them I would highly recommend, one that left me thoughtful and a last that I didn’t like.

Unlikely Heroes is a movie that is appropriate for the holiday and incredibly powerful. Its set in Switzerland over the holiday season with a story line that seems trite but never falls into that trap. What happens is Sabine, a prosperous but sad Swiss woman ends up volunteering to help a home for asylum seekers over the holidays. The plan is to put on a play and it ends up being the story of William Tell, the great Swiss hero. The power in this movie comes because every single character is respected and their story taken seriously. There are no true heroes or villains, there’s simply the world in all its complexity as well as the power of theater.

Unlikely Heroes trailer

Landfill Harmonic is a story about musicians who live next to a landfill called Catuera and the film is about the instruments made from recycled materials, the children and their community. Here on their website, there’s detailed information as well as a link to the orchestra’s website which is in Spanish. The movie follows them over the course of a number of years and is a great reminder of the power of music.

The third film that I enjoyed was called Passion of Augustine, a slow moving and lovely story of a convent school in Quebec during the 1960s with a focus on music. This is a story all about girls and women who are trying to figure out how to do their best by each other while working within a shifting time when what it means to be a nun is changing. The way the relationships between the students and the nuns felt familiar to me from my experience at an all woman’s college and as a teacher. This film doesn’t back away from how trapped by society women were in the 1960s.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine on the other hand was well made film that I found frustrating. Alex Gibney, the film maker narrates and talks about trying to understand Jobs who created devices with such power for connection and isolation. The parts of the documentary that are a biography are fascinating, I enjoyed the range of people that Gibney talked to and learning more of Jobs’ life.

What I found less satisfying was that he started out intrigued by why so many young people mourned him as if he was a friend and asked what’s the power of these devices? Yet the film itself didn’t actually interview many of the young people who’s lives are intimately involved with Apple instead he spoke to Sherry Turkle and those of his generation who knew Jobs. Then he made pronouncements and thought more about his own connection while using video of young mourners from youtube or other places to be the only way those voices came through. It was a very personal documentary and his own meditations on Apple devices were beautifully presented and if he hadn’t asked a question he didn’t answer, I wouldn’t have felt frustrated. I’d be curious to discuss this film with other people to know what came through to them.

The Grandad, an Icelandic film was disappointing for me. It was one of those films that couldn’t seem to decide on its tone. Was it a comedy that made constant jokes about prostate cancer or a serious drama about a man growing older? There were parts of it that almost worked for me, but none of it really held together. The way it was filmed showed off Iceland which is a beautiful place that I wish to go someday. I wonder if some of the issues I had with the tone came from differences of humor from Iceland to the US. I enjoy watching films from other countries and sometimes it happens that they don’t work for me, but I experienced them and caught a glimpse of a place I don’t know.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/104290479″>Afinn ( The Grandad) Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/gudni”>Gudni Halldorsson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Overall it was a different feeling for the Film Festival, there were more days and venues. Some of them worked and others didn’t. I still had wonderful unexpected conversations and came across movies that touched me but not as many as in other years.

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ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

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Upgrading and new angles

I’ve begun this new year with the sense of upgrading as I prepare to head to Chicago for ALA Midwinter with a new phone and shoes, which allow me to clear away what isn’t working. As I improve what I can, I have a moment to reflect on what’s been coming together for me and what is to come. A major theme in my last couple of months has been the chance to approach the world from new angles. ALA Midwinter will be another wonderful opportunity to do that and if any of my fellow librarians who follow me across social media will be there, drop me a line on whatever platform works best for you and let’s see about meeting.

In November, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival was held and I had the chance to experience a number of films where I as an American wasn’t the primary audience. This is one of my favorite parts of going to film festivals and reading books that focus on experiences outside of my own. I saw two films that stuck with me and that I’ve been recommending since November which I want to mention here.

The first one is Lilting, a beautiful and complex film about the death of a young man and how his mother and his partner try to process it through difficulties of language and experience. I recently discovered through NPR that this film was actually financed by Film London’s Microwave Project that works to promote diverse films.

 

The other film that stayed with me was about Simon Bolivar and called The Liberator, its a glorious, epic movie, but what made such an impression to me was how little I knew. So much of the history it was assumed that the audience simply knew in the same way that would be true for an American watching a film like Lincoln. I love coming out of a film with a desire to learn more and see how much I don’t know and I look forward to reading more about Simon Bolivar.

 

I’ve also fact-checked a few more books and along the way found some great resources. I love fact-checking because it gives me a chance to go down fascinating research pathways that are incredibly site specific and find ways to learn the information from the primary sources. A type of site that I’m always happy to find are tribal websites for Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which allow me to find their history without the bias that comes from an outside source. For a book, I was able to explore the journals of all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, they’re posted here by the University of Nebraska. The internet provides wonderful examples of ways to connect to the original sources as much as possible which in terms of history is key as history is constantly being reexamined.

The other area of my life that has provided some new angles is that I’ve begun to work part time as a substitute teacher in the local school district. My first assignment sent me into an elementary school classroom which is a world I’m not completely familiar with. It turned out to be exciting and I realized that it was a place that I understood better than I realized. I found that from storytimes, I had a good sense of how to keep busy children on topic and that the rushing and then pause of the day felt like when I had worked as a school librarian. I’m eager to go into more classrooms and perhaps a few libraries since teaching has always been a part of my life. One reason is because that sense of helping a child or a patron understand something they hadn’t before never ever gets old. The moment that happened in the classroom was teaching a young boy how sentences fit together into paragraphs.

I know that in Chicago, there will be many moments of finding unexpected ways to look at what it means to be a librarian and a reader. An added benefit is that I’ll be traveling by train and so will see the country from a new angle.

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