Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Dating Bernie Sanders

2016.

First-date advice from DCSingles:

Dress up. Keep it short. Don’t talk about politics, religion, or your ex.

Hmmm…not talking about politics is a bit of a challenge especially when you live inside the Beltway. And not talking about it in an election cycle seems really hard. A political  junkie, with seven news apps on my iPhone, this is going to be darn near impossible. But I will give it a try.

Hmmm…religion is off the table too. So what kind of kabuki theater will this single vicar have to perform to avoid this topic? Well, I will obviously have to state the obvious about my profession.  But I will try to table the religious debate as far as I am able.

And not talk about my ex?  This one is way easy for me. William and I parted ways amicably more than a decade ago. Since then Joani has cherished her independence and loves being mistress of her own domain. Joani thoroughly enjoys her own company.

Only men of a similar ilk need apply.

This particular week, my DCSingles matchmaker matched me with my very first match: a guy named Glenn.

5 foot 8 inches, dark brown hair, a retired environmentalist, Jewish, and age appropriate.

What’s not to like?

A quick conversation on the phone, we make a Starbucks date — to coffee we will go.

Guardedly optimistic and game for my new sport, I consult my fashionista- dating coach daughter Colleen. She approves my dress, my flats and accessories.

“Necklace or no necklace?” I text her.

“Necklace.” she decrees.

I Uber downtown to case out the joint. I grab a table near the door.  I try to look all nonchalant as I read my book. Fluffing my hair — also as attractive as I can.

I sit and wait for this first blind date.

There is a Santa Claus looking guy checking his phone anxiously by the door. “Waiting for someone?”  I ask. “And you might be?” “Steve,” he says. And in my head I say, “Thank God, I thought that was him.”

And then right on time, in walks Glenn.

The date is blind. So sight unseen, I was not sure what to expect.

But I wasn’t expecting Bernie Sanders.

First impressions matter most they say.

Uh oh, so here we go.

I am pretty sure he slept in his clothes: grunge jeans, baggy shirt, shoes older than my children. He sported a fisherman’s cap and carried a grocery bag that looked like it had washed up on the beach. If he hadn’t been my date, I would have mistaken him for a homeless guy. To call him rumpled would have been a compliment.

“Okay, Joani,” I tell myself, “Bernie Sanders is awesome! Don’t judge the book by his cover. Maybe this guy is riveting. So yeah, let the conversation begin.”

An environmentalist, maybe his clothes are recycled? Hmmmm….no. Maybe he drives a Prius? Hmmmm….no. Solar power in his house? Hmmm…no. But he did once work on a solar project for water treatment plants. The globe is way too short of fresh water so that’s one good thing.

Do-gooders are definitely up my alley.

Okay, my turn.

“Well, I serve a local church,” I tell him. “It’s a happening, progressive parish.” Being a lady vicar is a tough sell, you know, so I give Bernie points for just showing up. His being Jewish though, I knew he would have questions. But I wasn’t expecting this.

“You know I am a biologist and we believe in evolution,” he says somewhat condescendingly.

“Well guess what? So do I. Episcopalians believe in science.”

Surprised by my answer, it seemed he had never met an enlightened Christian before. Possibly  he thought we were some rare species that had gone extinct.

Wow, Bernie, this is going great! Let’s move on.

“So now that you are retired, Bernie, what do you do?”

He leans forward in his chair — smiling and definitely trying to impress.

“Well, I go the the gym twice a week and I swim half a mile, turn around and in an hour and a half I am back home!”

Satisfied with his answer, he leans back in his chair.

“Well, Bernie, I’ve walked two half marathons and am getting ready for my third.”

“You have to go out of town for those?” he asks.

“Yes, Bernie, I love going new places.”

“Hmmm, well, I don’t get much out of my neighborhood anymore.”

“Well, Bernie, good luck with that.”

I don’t want to belabor the point but  Bernie proved way too suburban for my urban tastes. He had never heard of Uber, SXSW, or the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. Though, in his favor, I am pretty sure he did know how to use the Internet.

By this time, I am definitely eyeing the exit. Keep it short, remember?

Bernie slides his card across the table, not so subtly asking for a second date.

I in turn do not slide mine. Not so subtly telling him no.

“Thank you for the conversation,” I say shaking his hand. “Gotta go to meet my daughter Colleen.” (Yes, Colleen, you are my default escape plan.)

Ducking out the door, I take refuge in the book store down the block. Ah, in here I can breathe. I order a latte at the coffee bar, sit down, and think.

If nothing else, it was interesting. A social experiment. A learning experience. A good first try.

But bye-bye, Bernie. You lost the primaries. It’s 2016 and you’re not getting my vote.

One candidate down. There were still five more on my DCSingles plan.

(Or this year a couple dozen if you count all those 2020 Democrats!)

Its still early in the election season.

Let’s see where it goes.


Pentecost & Pride: June 9th @Emmanuel!

This year the Feast of Pentecost and Pride month overlap. Pentecost celebrates the gift of understanding. Disciples from all over the ancient world opened their ears to hear and to listen to their brothers and sisters whose language and culture were not their own.

Pride Month celebrates the diversity of voices in the LGBTQ community. It is a time to hear and open our ears and to give thanks for all of our gay, lesbian and transgender sisters and brothers. Pentecost and Pride together celebrate our common humanity and love of neighbor.

For my parish, a congregation of the Diocese of Virginia in the Episcopal Church of the good old U.S.A., theologically this celebration has been a long time in the making. Generations of Episcopalians have wrestled with a variety of angels over the years and now wholeheartedly endorse the full inclusion of gay persons in the life of church: in the pews, in leadership, in ordination and in marriage.

June 9th, Emmanuel will celebrate Pentecost & Pride in prayer and song, in scripture and sacrament at both the 8:00 AM and 10:30 AM services.

Following the rector’s homily, the congregation will lift up in prayer the LGBTQ community with these words:

Litany of Inclusion

O wildly inclusive God, you love all that you have created, and with you we celebrate the diversity of your creation. Throughout history with your people, you have reminded us that those whom the world has unjustly seen as the least are cherished as the greatest in your eyes. We ask that you give us the grace to uplift our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as they live authentically in the world. Teach us to honor and appreciate their gifts and help us to create a world in which all who are equal in the eyes of God are also equal under the law: loved, accepted and celebrated. We remember especially members of the LGBTQ community who have been marginalized in our churches and victimized by hate. We ask this in the name of the Holy One, in whose image all are created.

Celebrant Blessed be God, who loves all creation!
People God’s love has no exceptions, Alleluia!

Celebrant We are the body of Christ! Justice seeking, bread breaking, hymn singing, risk taking
People The Body of Christ!

Celebrant Baptized by one Spirit, we are members of one body.
People Many and varied in culture, gender, age, class and ability, we are members of Christ’s Body.

Celebrant None of us can say to another, “I have no need of you.”
People For only together can we find wholeness.

Celebrant None of us can say to another, “I will not care for you.”
People For we are connected like muscle and bone. If one suffers, we all suffer. If one rejoices, we all rejoice!

Celebrant Come in, all are welcome. Come with your longings, your questions, and your fears.
People Come with your dreams of a better day, one with dignity and safety for all!

Celebrant Thanks be to God who in Christ has made us one!

Amen!

Join us this Sunday, June 9th at Emmanuel Episcopal Church 1608 Russell Road Alexandria, VA. 8:00 AM early service or 10:30 AM with music. All are welcome! Hope to see you there!



DIY: A to-do list for what-to-do when the world falls apart (sort of.)

Recently I got hit by a tsunami. I thought I might drown. Good news! I did not. Though I am still getting knocked over by stray waves, I am getting my land-legs back. And I am getting back up to my usual hypomanic magnificent speed. Down but never out. God be praised!

The nature of my personal tsunami does not matter. It needs no explanation. We all know what it feels like when the earth beneath our feet disappears. To lose all control. To gasp for air. To struggle to find a port in the storm.

Navigator, navigator, please tell me what to do. And the navigator said, Look within yourself and see. Your creator created you with all that you need. Pick up pen and paper. Write it down and make a list!

So I did and this is mine. A work in progress, not totally done.

A to-do-list for what-to-do when the world falls apart (sort of.)

  1. Sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
  2. Dress up weekdays in your Sunday best.
  3. Call your loved ones.
  4. Eat dinner with friends.
  5. Write a snail-mail letter or two.
  6. Rattle some rosary beads.
  7. Go to church.
  8. Write a sermon or two.
  9. Ride your bicycle.
  10. Jump in the pool.
  11. Get your hair cut; polish your nails.
  12. Put a peacock feather behind your ear.
  13. Tell some stories.
  14. Perform on stage.
  15. Check in at the office.
  16. Volunteer.
  17. Pass on those fabulous frocks that no longer fit.
  18. Buy some more. (Hello, Anthropologie!)
  19. Weed your books and color code your shelves.
  20. Reorganize your underwear drawer.
  21. Sort through your socks.
  22. Vacay on a staycation.
  23. Get out of town.
  24. Clean that oven which you hardly ever use. (Baking soda and vinegar!)
  25. Deep clean your toaster. (Shake upside down for 10 minutes. Wash the crumbs down the drain!)
  26. Declutter your kitchen counters from all that kitsch.
  27. Alphabetize your spices.
  28. Retire dusty photos and frame a few more.
  29. Remove sticky tape from stainless steel fridge. (Equal parts vinegar/ dish soap!)
  30. Rearrange the art on the door.
  31. Shred all that stuff that needs to be shredded.
  32. Shampoo your clean hair.
  33. Pop that short story (to yet another publisher) into the mail.
  34. Rehab your (35-year-old) daughter’s doll house.
  35. Scrub the miniature floors.
  36. Wash the tiny clothes.
  37. Play with your cats.
  38. Read some trash.
  39. Binge watch whatever you want.
  40. Eat some chocolate cake.
  41. Shed the shame.
  42. Refrain from blame.
  43. Talk about it.
  44. Cry about it.
  45. Laugh about it.
  46. Go to therapy — as much as you can afford!
  47. Hand out $20 bills to homeless folks.
  48. Donate to your favorite lost cause.
  49. Be god-damned grateful for your 23,145 days on earth!
  50. Dance like no one is looking and shout for joy!

As I said, this is a work in progress. Never ever really done — but I am feeling my soul restored — more and more — with each and every item I check off.

So, dear readers, when the tsunami hits and your world falls apart, take a look within and make a list.

Healing is a DIY project. God built into your body and soul all the tools that you will need.


The Parish Priest & the Manic Maid of Orleans

I believe in reincarnation. At least professionally I do. Career wise I have been reborn three times. My first incarnation was in the education field as a Montessori schoolteacher. My second incarnation was in the business world as a Systems Development Manager. And my third is an ecclesiastical calling as a parish priest. Three times seems to be a charm or maybe just good karma. I am now into my 25th year as a parish priest.

For those of you who may not know, the priestly vocation is one of the last generalist professions around. We are according to the Book of Common Prayer supposed to “share in the renewal of the world as pastor, priest and teacher.” Pretty heady stuff on a cosmic level. But down here on earth, we get to work with people of all ages and at every stage of the faith. We get to celebrate life’s greatest joys and to be present at life’s greatest sorrows. And we change hats. We change hats a lot. Pastor, priest and teacher are just three of them.

There is also administrator, supervisor, coach, cheerleader, truth teller, tear dryer, master of ceremonies, volunteer coordinator, choreographer, confessor, bartender, party planner, mediator, crisis counselor, shepherd, building manager, parking lot attendant, babysitter, coffee maker, janitor, plumber, secretary, editor, publisher, facilitator, fundraiser, community organizer, liturgist, preacher, chaplain, wedding coordinator, funeral director and bandleader.

Give me a little more time and I can think of some more.

Bandleader is really the best metaphor for what a parish priest does. The priest doesn’t make the music, the parishioners do. But the priest makes damn sure the music gets made. And to be a good bandleader — with God’s help — you sometimes have to do a little bit  or a lot of all of the above.

On a day to day basis, this calling can be head-spinning-hectic. But I can also honestly tell you it is never boring. Sundays come round and round but no two days are ever alike. And I get bored very easily.

So twenty-eight years ago, as a Systems Development Manager, I called my staff into a meeting to announce my departure. But before I tell you about the meeting, let me tell you a little bit about my second profession. I worked for Freddie Mac in the IT department, back when IT meant mainframes and COBOL and Fortran and JCL (and no, I will not explain these terms, you can Google them.) My team of a dozen programmers supported the financial systems of this Secondary Mortgage Giant. General Ledger. Budget. Payroll. And I was their bandleader — Joani who didn’t even balance her own checkbook.

So I called a meeting of my dozen disciples.  All of them nerdy, techie wizards. I told them how  gratified I was to have been their manager. I applauded all their hard work and thanked them for all they had taught me. But it was time for me to go. I would be leaving at the end of summer to start seminary in the fall. Most of my staff, knowing of my churchy involvement, congratulated me and wished me well. But Julie, the newest member of my staff was silent. Perplexed she paused for a moment. And then she asked me this question.

“Joani, do you hear voices?” A bit taken aback, I too paused and then I answered her. “No, Julie, I don’t hear voices. Do you?”

Joan of Arc in the Cathedral at Reims

Now my namesake, of course, is Joan of Arc. In fact, a WWI poster of Joan of Arc hangs on the wall behind my desk in my Emmanuel office. Mounted on a white stallion, banner furling, sword drawn, Joan is beautifully decked out in shining armor. The poster boasts “Joan of Arc saved her country, so can you.” Well, Uncle Sam, eat your heart out. Who better to lead the charge than the Maid of Orleans.

The Maid of Orleans who heard voices.

Joan heard voices — the voices of angels, the voices of saints, the voice of God. At least that is what she proclaimed. And these voices led her at the tender age of 17 to leave her tiny village. So Joan followed the voices all the way to the court of the defeated Dauphin. And there in King Charles’ court she proclaimed herself a soldier and the savior of his kingdom. The voices gave her the balls to demand an army and the king was so desperate he agreed.

Led by voices, saintly and angelic, Joan did win a glorious battle or two. The glory quickly faded. Captured by the English, Joan was abandoned on the battlefield and crowned a heretic.  And we all know what happens to heretics.

Burned at the stake.

Now the truth be told all of us hear voices. We all have voices in our heads prodding, reminding, encouraging, calming, chastising, urging — lots of voices clamoring for our attention. And it’s a spiritual matter, discerning these voices. Which ones should we pay attention to? Which ones are on our side? Which ones are making any sense? Discerning voices is something all of us do just about all of the time.

The only problem is when the voices seem not your own. Joan of Arc heard heavenly voices — St Margaret and St Catherine and the Archangel Michael. She said this is not me talking, I take my orders straight from God. And in the Middle Ages only crazy people heard voices. In the Middle Ages only the possessed heard voices. Crazy, possessed heretics were burned in the Middle Ages.

So it was a very long time, centuries in fact, before a reluctant church placed a halo on Joan’s head. In fact,  Joan was added to Holy Women, Holy Men, the Episcopal calendar of saints, just a decade ago.

It’s dangerous to tell people you hear voices.

But now twenty-eight years on, I need to change my answer to Julie’s question from a “no” to a a qualified “yes”. Yes, I have heard voices not my own. Tuned into the universe, riding wave after wave of manic bliss I have been convinced that God has important things to tell me. There is no booming voice from heaven. It’s more like God and I are on the same page. Lit up inside — as if by fireflies –my fingers fly like lightning on my keyboard. The Creator of the Cosmos inspires my every word.

One summer I wrote twelve sermons in ten days. Brilliant. Profound. Quotable. Publishable. For twelve Saturdays, I pulled them out one at a time before climbing into the pulpit each Sunday. Some of them were damn good indeed. Some of them not so much.

The bipolar brain does not walk in straight lines. The bipolar brain, at its manic best, zigzags and spirals. This brain is like a blender on max combining the most unusual things in the most unusual ways. “Touched with fire” bipolar folks have quite a history of being marvelously creative. Kay Redfied Jamison’s fabulous book “Touched with Fire”  is a veritable who’s who of poets, sculptors, writers, painters, musicians, composers — all of a manic-depressive temperament.

Where would all the art galleries and concert halls be if all this madness had been medicated away?

Emptier maybe but on second thought maybe not. Leave that blender on too long and the bipolar brain breaks. It splinters into a bazillion little pieces. Concentration shatters. You’re no longer sure just whose voices you’re hearing in your head. And whoever they are, they all seem to be clamoring for your attention. So instead of great art pouring out of your brain, out comes the ravings of a lunatic.

So yes, Julie, I have heard voices. Sometimes the voices are my own. Sometimes not. Sometimes maybe the voices of saints and angels. Sometimes maybe — I dare say — even the voice of God. The wisdom of course is learning to discern the difference.

This gift of discernment is by definition pharmaceutical and therapeutic. It is a gift best practiced at the psychiatrist office and on the therapist’s couch. It’s a gift best practiced with friends and family. It’s a gift best practiced each morning when you face yourself in the mirror. It’s a spiritual gift, given by the grace of God.

And for this gift, I am deeply grateful each and every day.

So friends, do you hear voices?


Nothing but cats. You’re welcome.

Have you read the news today? Not so good, right? How’s your love life? Nonexistent? And your bank balance? Kind of low?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Nothing but cats. Take a stroll through mindless bliss. Scroll through pictures of nothing but happy cats. Let me introduce you to the two drunk acrobats who share my space: Cheshire and Charlie.

They just turned two. And they have crazily done me a lot of good. Maybe they can do the same for you.

So….

Morning yoga.

Nap.

More napping.

Afternoon yoga.

Cat in a box.

Table cloth tunneler.

Toilet paper thief.

Cheshire Cat.

Trash Can Cat.

China Cat.

Cat who can’t get down.

Triangulated Cat.

Cat’s in the bag.

Cats in cahoots.

Dragon slayer.

Scaredy Cat.

Toilet Paper Thief, the Movie.

Litter mates.

Nothing but cats. You’re welcome!


Pajamas, a Personal Manifesto

I am addicted to pajamas.

I recently invested in a Pier One wicker dresser just for my pajamas. I have over a dozen pairs: short, long, cotton & comfy. I even have a linen red polka dot night shirt. Nobody ever really sees me in them but that does not matter. I collect them for myself and recently from my favorite store Bloomers — I brought home a brand new pair.

Sometimes spelled “pyjamas” and nicknamed “PJ’s, jimjams, and jammies”,  pajamas derives from the Hindustani word for lightweight drawstring trousers traditionally worn by Islamic Continental Indians.  Perfect for lounging.  Perfect for sleeping. Perfect for so much more.

Like interchangeable monastic robes,  each pair I wear depends upon my manic-depressive mood.

Mostly manic and  mostly mystical, in the sanctity of  my sacred space, I call home.

Yoga stretching.

TV watching.

Blog blogging.

Day dreaming.

Coffee drinking.

Netflix binging.

Life contemplating.

Psyche orienting.

Decompressing.

Soul relaxing.

Head raising.

Life strategizing.

Event planning.

MAC typing.

Day scheduling.

Church organizing.

Kid connecting.

Friend texting.

Book reading.

Breakfast eating.

iPhone tapping.

News consuming.

Pillow hugging.

Couch surfing.

Spotify hopping.

Coffee drinking (Yes, again, coffee drinking.)

Mood mellowing.

Evening praying.

Inward looking.

Brain cycling.

Tightrope balancing.

Politics pumping.

Crazy resisting.

Fire dreaming.

Self affirming.

Spirit restoring.

World saving.

All in my pajamas: fleece, flannel, cotton, short and long, worn through and brand new.

All in my pajamas, in an hour or two, I collect my thoughts and reconfigure my gut, at least for the next day or so.

I recommend it most highly  — in these exceedingly strange and stressful times.

Pajamas, my personal manifesto. A way of life.


Conjectures of a Guilty Librarian: A Brief Novella

In honor of National Library Week 2019, I offer this brief novella. “Conjectures of a Guilty Librarian” is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental and unintentional.

 Early Reader

 “Take up and read.” 

I remember my older sister reading me to sleep. My mother is AWOL, already tucked into her boozy bed. P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? is one of my not so ironic favorites.  But what really rocks me to sleep are the cadences of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.

I never make it to kindergarten.  I am no wunderkind reading at three. But I remember coming home from my first day of first grade screaming: RED! I can spell RED!

And from that day forward, I could read. Yertle the Turtle. Horton Hears a Who. Nancy Drew.

My dad’s library beckons.  The smell of pipe tobacco. Kingston Trio on the tape deck. So many books looking down at me.  Books of the Month Club. Heritage Press. Penguin Classics.

A playground for my gray cells.  In my dad’s library, I find my literary friends. Imaginary and necessary. They get me through school: elementary and high and launch me early into university.

Where I fall in love – head over heels in love –  with books.

For the Love of a Good Book

 “A library is a place where you lose your innocence but not your virginity.” 

My lover is an open book.

Currently I am intimate with White Noise by Don DeLillo “Hilarious, beautiful, and strange.”

It’s easy on the eyes, lovely to hold and stimulating to my gray cells.

The perfect companion to take to my bed.

Pillow talk with DeLillo is delightful.

Babette and I have turned our lives for each other’s thoughtful regard, turned them in the moonlight in our pale hands, spoken deep into the night about our fathers and mothers, childhoods, friendships, awakenings, old loves, fears. No detail must be left out, not even a dog with ticks or a neighbor’s boy who ate an insect on a dare. The smell of pantries, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin.

Such language, it makes me jealous.

Books are sensuous things.  Smooth pages, ragged edges, the whiff of oak trees and earth.

Printed words slither from left to right clarifying things in black and white.

Yes, books are quite the tease.  Breathless, I dream of what’s on the page’s other side.

And the best of books not only get into my bed; they get into my head.

I’ll never be an astronaut, but I have explored the cosmos. I’ll never be a philosopher, but I have pondered by Walden Pond

All for the love of a good book.

Tumbled between the sheets, my lovers lie spent. Their covers lost. Their spines broken. Their pages torn. Their corners bent.

No man can possibly compete.

Next semester, I begin a two-year tour at Library School. There I will see and taste all this temple has to offer: its collections and its history; its legends and its lore.

A bibliophile’s dream.

Library School

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They should be warned.” 

The campus and quad are verdant and fresh.  Fall leaves crackle under my feet. Muddy gray buildings loom overhead.  At the registrar’s office, I drool over the curriculum as I wait in line.

The first day of class arrives. I sit up front. Eager to please. The Dewey Decimal System is a bit of a bore. The History of the Book more tedious than I care to admit. But Libraries: Ancient and Modern is nothing less than a revelation.

I could listen forever to the professor’s Irish lilt.  His cable knit sweater could use a wash. His bristly chin could use a shave. Stereotypically rumpled, he is a virtual card catalog of information.

He dazzles the class with tales from ancient Alexandria to the Papal Library at the Vat.  I imagine him unrolling a parchment scroll or pulling down a tome from antique shelves.

I check the syllabus and read ahead.  I cannot get enough of this stuff. And to be honest, I cannot get enough of this Scholar-Librarian.

Occasionally, he graces my nerdy lunch table. No better banter than book banter. Banned book lists. Fights over first editions. Salty stories from the stacks at Cambridge.

Cracking jokes with my classmates, along with a professor is just plain fun.  Deftly deploying my tongue, I hold my own.

We agree on much. We argue even more.

The best arguments of my life. Intellectual and spirited. Brutally honest and exceptionally kind.

I am listened to and understood in a way that I have never known before. Like a rare book, I find my value.

I find my home.

In the Library.

Book Jockey

“Libraries should be open to all except the censor.” 

Second semester, lucky me lands a job at the front desk. The most menial job a library has to offer. But the hottest spot in town. Through the front doors stream a bunch of biblio-types: faculty, students, researchers. I love getting to know them. Their peculiarities. Their preferences.

I love to watch the preening professor holding court. I love hearing researchers excited about their books. I even love the occasional overly-long conversations at the desk.

And though I am the most verbose of library assistants, the hierarchy believes me deaf. Like a mic hidden in a house plant, I overhear faculty squabbles and gossip of student affairs.

Libraries appear tidy but really, they are quite messy places to work. Alive with an eclectic cast of characters. Haunted by the ghosts of their past.

Meander through the stacks, open a carrel door, run your fingers along dusty spines, mystery permeates the place.

Thousands of books, telling tales, stand silent on the shelves.

They never speak.

Shhhh, the Head Librarian whispers.

At the front desk, I sit in silence. Quietly in the know.

Like a pastor, I hand out bibliographic advice. But I keep my own counsel.

Public Services are private. Circulation is secret.

And there is no censorship in the library.

The Scholar-Librarian

 “To build a library is to create a life.”

I want to be James H. Billington when I grow up. A recently retired Librarian of Congress, Billington is also an acclaimed historian.

A voracious reader, I dream of being a prolific writer. About what yet, I am not sure.

But I know that a Scholar-Librarianis everything I want to be.

Master of collections. Mistress of catalogs. Scribbling away in my private carrel, some passionate brilliance.

But I am held back by library anxiety. Yes, that is a real thing:

Confusion, fear and frustration especially when lacking experience while facing pressure to master a subject.

It leads to procrastination. Timidity. Feelings of inadequacy.

So, how do I score? Much too high. Though I might ace a project, I fall all over myself presenting it.  I fumble with my notes. I look down and not up.

Practicing in my living room, I’m polished and funny. In front of the professor, I am an intellectual klutz.

Why?

Middle child, in a crazy household, it was best to disappear. Teacher’s pet in parochial school, I gave only the right answers. Rebel without a cause in high school, finally my questions started to fly.

But I am swatted down. Hard.

Which drives me underground. Secret and subversive.

And so, in college, I become an amateur philosopher – arguing with the sages of the ages.

Term paper wise, but never really in person wise.

Bookworm, I am drawn to the Scholar-Librarian like a moth to a flame.

Basking in his light, terrified of getting burned.

Bibliolatry

 “Anyone who’s worth anything reads just what she wants.” 

I love spending other people’s money on books.  Well, I don’t actually spend the money myself, the Head Librarian does but I do get paid – minimum wage – to find them.

There is a lot of down time at the desk. I flip through the Times Literary Supplement. I skim the Chronicle of Higher Education.I scour professional journals for the latest and greatest of books.

An academic pursuit. But not entirely.

When the first little Library of Congress burned, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his books. Jefferson had one of the finest libraries in the young United States. His shelves were packed with history, philosophy and the arts.  He had volumes on every topic: bee keeping, Italian cooking, magic tricks.

Congress balked. They just wanted the law books.

But Jefferson argued: “There might not be subject to which a member of congress might not need to refer.”

In other words, he was passionate about everything.

“I cannot live without books,”Jefferson famously said.

6,487 of them.

Reading cultivates desire.

I have long played it safe in my life. I am the girl next door hesitant to leave the house. I am a good girl with a crush on a bad, bad boy. My love life does not amount to much. Study groups. poetry readings, book store crawls.

And now I want more.

Epic poetry, mystery, astrophysics.

I fill out bunches of book-recommend slips for the Scholar-Librarian.

I write little notes.

Does he read them?

I don’t think so.

I really don’t’ think so.

 Reading People

 “One must be an inventor to read well.”

I am undercover. Circulation is not a simple as it appears. Like a secret agent, I take a read of everyone who comes in the door.

I am expert, of course, because on my break I read an article in Psychology Today. Look “past the masks into the real person. Logic alone won’t tell the whole story about anybody. You must surrender to other vital forms of information.”

 Surrender. I love that.

Pay attention to appearance, posture, movement, expressions of the face.

Trust your gut. Honor your feelings

Monitor the mood.

Tune into the tone of voice.

And eyes, of course, are windows to the soul.

Head Librarian?

Tweed suits. Oxford cloth shirts. Master of tasks.

Reference Desk?

Polyester mix & match. Counter of fines.

Rare Books?

Sweater sets. Tome duster. History buff.

Archives?

Dockers. Button downs. Glad hander. Ghost story teller.

Scholar-Librarian?

Here, I pay very close attention.

Not just to the sound of his voice but to sentence structure, punctuation. He laughs louder than he should, his sense of humor raw. His clothes are sloppy, on the preppy side. Solid as an oak tree, an inquisitive sage. Tenured and comfortable in his Ivory tower.

Sometimes he climbs down. His disciples as his feet.

Monday. Wednesday. Friday. First period. 8:30 AM.

Surveys, seminars, group discussions.

All four semesters, I turn my life upside down, so I can take his every class.

Every single one.

On the Shelf

 “Speed now book and make yourself known. A thousand hands will grasp you with warm desire.” 

Flipping through National Geographic, I happen upon an article about mating rituals in the wild. I read it, of course. The subtle art of seduction is what book displays are all about.

Maybe I can learn something from a preening peacock.

Apparently in the animal kingdom, Birds of Paradise find tickling a turn on. Hooded Seals blow up like pink balloons. And Bowerbirds collect tiny trinkets to lure females to their bachelor pads.

Thank you, Nat-Geo.

Displays are front and center. To entice you.  To tempt you.

Current affairs. Famous authors. Or maybe something more unorthodox.

Having closely read the Scholar-Librarian, I design a few.

October.  History of Halloween. Haunting, delightful.

March. Mental Health. A public service, of course.

And in May, the sexiest of all – Books about Books.

These are the books literally in the Z section— where only librarians go.

Books that make me weak in the knees:

A Gentle Madness

The Library at Midnight

Paper

Touch me.  Crack open my cover. Check me out.

I take note of the readers who stop by my display.

The Dewey-Decimal professor.

The periodicals specialist.

And yes,

The Scholar-Librarian.

 The Librarian’s Apprentice

 “From this slender beginning, I have gradually formed a select library, the foundation of my works and the best comfort of my life.”

Unpacking a cardboard carton of moldy books, I find a hand typed term paper from 1976: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Case Study in the Role of the Mentor. A heaven- sent self-help title. Wearing library gloves, I unpeel it from the bottom of the box and begin to read.

The Scholar-Librarian, approaches the desk.

Books on Books. Are you the curator of this little display? “Well done,” he continues without waiting for an answer.

“Your work is really fine. Your projects. Your papers.”

“Would you consider applying for the Heritage Apprenticeship? Applications are due end of the month. Interviews start next week.”

Cheshire grin on my lips, I reply: “‘Thanks. I’ll give it some thought.”

I Google the program: Preservation. Oral Histories. Archiving, Digital Curation. Special Collection.  Rare Books. Museum Libraries.

Of course, I’ll do this. I download the application. But before filling it out, I do a little homework.

What sort of sorcerer is he?

Look first to Homer’s Odyssey the moldy term paper says.

Mentor is the caretaker of Odysseus’ household while he is away fighting in Troy. Mentor takes young Telemachus, the warrior’s son, under his wing. Like a spirit-guide Mentor opens doors for his charge to an unknown world.  Mentor walks alongside his apprentice until he is ignorant no more.

Socrates and Plato. Freud and Jung. Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.

Spring water gushes from the pump. Cold and wet.  Like a slap to a baby’s bottom, the apprentice is woken up. The sorcerer spells out words, his hand in hers.

Yes, I am Helen Keller. And he, my Annie Sullivan.

Application done, interview behind me.

I am appointed the Librarian’s Apprentice.

It starts off slow.

Typing up his research. Culling books from the shelves.  Xeroxing notes.

Busy work turns scholarly. More time in the classroom.  More time in the stacks.

I arrive early each day.  I linger late.

Intellectual tinder.

Road trip to a conference. Study tour at the LOC.

The sexiest organ?

The one between the ears, of course.

Borrowing Privileges

 “The Library is a candy store, and everything is free.”

Libraries are for lending.

You will be carded, of course but there is no cover charge.

Miles of books free for the taking.

At least, for a little while.

It’s an illusion, of course, the book is not really yours to keep. You have to give it back.

Borrowing privileges are ranked. Night school: 2 books for just 5 days. Undergrads: 25 volumes for 5 weeks.  Grad students: 50 volumes for 100 days.  Faculty: Infinity books, forever.

That’s a whole lot of trust.

Libraries did not start out this way. Medieval libraries chained the books to the desk. A kind of book-bondage.

Before then, monks squirreled the books away in their carrels – for only them to see.

Chaining a book to a lectern, tethers the book to a place. A more public place where any novice who passes by can read.

Basically, a biblo-tease.

I chain myself to my sorcerer’s schedule. I let him read me whenever he pleases.  His borrowing privileges far outweigh mine.

Trucking books up the elevator. Shelving in the stacks. Cleaning up a reading room.

A professor and his student, a literary liaison.

Forbidden, like a banned book.

Does he love me? Does he love me not? My yellow rose petals fall to the ground.

Truth be told, I have learned, that out there, somewhere is a mousy little spouse, cozy in a faculty house, of whom he never speaks.

Matter and anti-matter should never collide.

Office hours fly out the window.

One more sentence, one more paragraph, just one more book.

Working away in the professor’s carrell, it’s publish or perish.

The Scholar-Librarian, working on tenure.

The sorcerer’s apprentice, hoping for more.

With a borrowed man and on borrowed time.

Running the risk of overdue fines.

  Tattered Covers

 “Literature is my utopia.”

A very smart person just died. How do I know? I know because a van just pulled up out front. The driver gets out and starts unloading boxes. Liquor boxes, produce boxes, Ivory Soap boxes.

Intoxicating, bubbly and luscious fruit.

It is the library of a lifetime.

It is an intimate process – holy even — to unpack them.

Classics and comics. Plato and pulp fiction. History and mystery. Anais Nin.

Which were beloved? Here’s how you tell.

Cracked covers? Multiple reads.

Marginalia? Conversation.

Folded corners? Returned again and again.

Ephemera flutters to the floor.

Postcards and birthday cards, letters and electric bills, business cards and theater tickets.

Once, even a 19thcentury blank check from a Chicago bank.

Vacations, celebrations, obligations, and complications.

This is how the Scholar-Librarian and I become beloved of one another.

Our lopsided couplings, exciting and brief.

And for now, I believe this is all that I need.

It seems presumptuous to ask for anything more.

So now — back to the boxes.

Up go paperbacks and hard covers to the used book shelves.

Fifty cents for the former, a dollar for the latter.

Imperfect, vulnerable, and beautifully flawed.

Don’t worry, beloveds, I will find you new homes.

You will be cared for.

Not cast aside.

Bibliomania

 “When I have a little money, I buy books. If I have any leftover, I buy food and clothes.”

My Facebook photo is a tower of book boxes.

Emptied, depleted, and totally spent.

I have caught the book lover’s contagion. I covet classics as well as the trash.  So, I steal a few books now and then.  (Actually, free for the taking.) They pile up in the backseat of my car.  Three grocery bags full in just a month’s time.

Inside my apartment, I can barely cram anymore. But somehow, I do.

Bibliomaniac. A hoarder of sorts.  Intervention is needed. But there is none to be had.  I am surrounded by addicts of a similar kind.

Book junkies. Library rats. Closeted collectors.

Just can’t get enough, we get it wherever we can find it.

Libraries, book stalls, drugstore paperback racks.

Now Bibliomania is an actual diagnosis. You can read all about it in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.

Among the gently mad, I find my truest self.

Reading reveals the inner life.

Deflated, I barely focus on a dust cover.  Caffeinated, I buzz through a book in a day. Inflated, I consume half a dozen tomes at a time.

Surely the New York Times will ask me to write a few reviews.

I will dazzle the book world with brilliant commentary.

Utterly delighted. Hopelessly distracted.

This must be what passion feels like.

Touched with fire,

I have fallen madly in love with the Scholar-Librarian.

Romance Novel

“What wild desires torment the hapless soul who feels the book disease.”

Headlines scream:

CHANLER ESCAPES. Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man. Former Wife, Also Insane.

This is the dark and delicious tale of Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age.

Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, heir to the estate of John Jacob Astor.

Amelie Rives is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee.

Archie’s family fortune was built on ‘the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned, Archie and his siblings were “a wild and willful bunch.”

Intellectually curious, a romantic and eccentric soul, Archie“was an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.”

Amelie Rives was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. Her first novel The Quick or the Dead? both shocked and impressed reviewers of her day.

Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France.

A siren, Amelie cast aside her corset for flowing robes. “A sizzling vessel of molten lava, she made her reviewers blush and her suitors swoon.”

Archie madly pursued her, proposing three times.

Like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed from the start.  The first two years the couple was more unsettled than not.

Amelie seemed to love Archie most when he was absent. And when together, Archie never quite knew how to rekindle her heart.

Eight years later, Amelie runs off with a penniless prince.

Divorced and disgraced, Archie, still hopelessly in love, supports Amelie until the day he dies.

The truth be told, they drove each other mad.

Their marriage was heaven and hell. Episodes of bliss.  Bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms. Overwhelmed by sadness.

It could not possibly last. Indeed, it did not.

Sheer madness.

Biblio-therapy

“Many people feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

Books are the answer to everything.

When lost at sea, I grab a book. To navigate my way.

Having never written a book, I bought a bunch about how to write one.

The Art of Memoir.

Fiction Writing.

How to Write a Novel.

I confess that I have not read them. Really, I have just skimmed the tables of contents.  The Art of Memoir,I managed to read a third. Mary Karr is very good.

This seemed enough to get started. But I keep them close just in case.

As Jane Smiley says, “Many people feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

It’s reading for healing’s sake.

Often self-administered.

Also, a field of psychology, “Biblio-therapy can help people with the emotional challenges of existence.” 

Dealing with acute physical pain, Ceridwin Dovey took the cure. He was doubtful at first.

The insights are still nebulous but therein lies its power.  I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of myself, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.

Lose  yourself in a book to find yourself. So, what to read?

Flipping through The Novel Cure, I diagnose my maladies– alphabetically.

Without editorial comment, here are a few:

Anger:   Old Man and the Sea.

Breaking Up: The End of the Affair.

Cry, in need of a good: The Fault in Our Stars.

And we are only up to letter C. From A to Z, there is  enough therapy between these covers to last a lifetime.

“One sheds one’s sickness in books” D.H. Lawrence wrote.

Read. Return. Repeat.

Two years of biblio-therapy, I break through, leaving the Scholar-Librarian behind.

At least, so I think.

Dominatrix of Library Science

“This is a library. Crossroads of civilization. Refuge of the arts. Armory of truth.  You stand on sacred ground.”

Decreed my MLS, I am at last a Mistress of Library Science.

Not quite a Scholar-Librarian but on my way.

And I have arrived here alone and on my own.

I take the Librarian’s Oath:

I solemnly swear to execute professional practices to create, select, organize, manage, preserve, disseminate and utilize collections in all formats. I promise to pursue scholarly endeavors that may benefit the Temple of Learning in which I serve. In the name of Demetrius of Phalaeron, the ancient Librarian of Alexandria, this is my solemn vow.

I sign my name with a feather quill.

A name I have not told you and never will.

Out go resumes to libraries great and small.

Then I shoot for the stars.

The Library of Congress.

The Bodleian.

Leaving Library School is just about the best thing that has ever happened to me.

My car’s overloaded with boxes of books.  A suitcase of clothes. A carton of kitchen stuff.

I turn the key in the ignition.

I leave no forwarding address.

Not even for the Scholar-Librarian.

 “Betsy returned to her chair, took off her coat, opened her book and forgot the world again.”