Back in My Day…

Historical reenactment has always seemed a weird yet compelling activity to me. Sure it is easy to laugh at grown adults in period costumes trying to recreate a bygone era, but you have to admire the commitment. As a person of many compulsions myself (yes, there is a large schematic of the USS Voyager hanging above the fireplace at home), I definitely understand the desire to live out the obsession, if only for a brief time.

But there is a danger: Do reenactors want to know what it was like to live in an era or do they actually want to go back to that time? Worse yet, do they think of that era as a golden age that needs to be applied to today’s world? It is this possibility for toxic nostalgia that lies at the heart of Sarah Moss’ excellent, haunting and ‘disturbing in a good way’ novel, Ghost Wall.

Sylvie finds herself in a remote location in Northern England with her enthusiastic and domineering father, Bill, and her compliant mother, Alison. They are there for a two-week ‘holiday’ reenacting the lives of Iron Age Britons. As you might guess, wearing an itchy tunic, foraging for berries, and eating cold porridge is hardly a dream come true for a young adult. Luckily, they are joined by a group from the local university (a professor of ‘experimental archaeology’ and three students) who provide an outlet for Sylvie to escape her family from time to time.

The author slowly reveals that Bill’s relationship with his wife and daughter is clearly abusive. Worse still, his passion for recreating the lives of Iron Age Britons extends to a rather disturbing ritual: human sacrifice, complete with the disposal of the body in a local bog. Sylvie, due to years of living in an abusive family, has a tendency to accept her father’s bullying behavior even when it becomes extreme. After befriending Molly, one of the students, she begins to see that there is another way of living.

While the plot of this short novel is excellent, it’s really the author’s mesmerizing use of language that stands out. To get a feel for it, a lengthy quote is in order:

Of course, that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs and hope that some of their thoughts, their way of understanding the world, would follow the dance of muscle and bone. To do it properly, I thought, we would almost have to absent ourselves from ourselves, leaving our actions, our re-enactions, to those no longer there. Who are the ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds.

There are many such elegant and thought provoking passages in Ghostwall, making it a excellent use of your limited reading time. No period costume required.

Art, Literature, and Incarcerated Youth

If you take a stroll through the Main Library past our DVD section, you might notice some bright, engaging art on display. Move a little closer and you can read about the artists who created these incredible pieces:

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For the past eight months, I have had the immense privilege of making monthly visits to the Denney Juvenile Justice Center, along with some of my colleagues, to work with incarcerated youth. Among other things, we bring new books to the Center’s library and talk about the ones that we think they will enjoy. Many of the students I meet with are enthusiastic and passionate readers who devour books in their long hours of down time. They have strong opinions about the books they read and are fearless in letting me know when I bring items that interest them and when the books I supply miss their mark.

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At times, these trips can be challenging. I have strong feelings about America’s criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to the treatment of youths. During and after each visit I am reminded that I get to leave the Justice Center, get in my car, and enjoy my comfortable life, while the teens I work with may not leave the center for months or years. I am also aware that I am seeing one part of their lives, and that while many of these young people might themselves be victims, others have made choices that have hurt people, choices that – were I to know the details – I would struggle to understand and would likely find difficult to reconcile with their warm smiles, quick wit, and playful demeanors. That said, I am fortunate to be in a position to meet with them where they are and engage them using the same energy I bring to meetings with teens in more conventional settings.

The introspection, resilience, and creativity of these young people continually impresses me.

There are many great books that deal with incarcerated youths, documenting their struggles, telling their stories, and highlighting some of the problems in our juvenile justice system. Among others, I’d recommend Susan Kuklin’s No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row and Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison. Rather than talking more about these books, however, I’d like to share a few of the books that have excited the students at Denney.

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Every class I see asks me to bring more books by Simone Elkeles. The Perfect Chemistry trilogy is especially popular. The first of these books follows Alex, a young man from the Chicago area. Alex has had a hard life, and has found both protection and a sense of family in the gang he joined at a young age. Brittney has a “perfect” life. But she also has a secret pain and turbulence in her life that she keeps buried away. When Alex and Brittney are partnered in science class, conflict quickly gives way to passionate romance and they both must choose whether to be together, even if it comes with great personal cost. The second and third books in this series follow Alex’s younger brothers Carlos and Luis as they navigate their own decisions around identity and romance. All three books contain plenty of thrills, passionate romance, and interesting explorations of the pressures young people face in their lives.

blog (3)Dark and dystopian thrillers also remain popular. I get frequent requests for Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series that follows a young woman named Juliette, cruelly imprisoned because of her dangerous and uncontrollable “superpower.” The series follows Juliette as she escapes her prison and joins a rebellion against an oppressive, dystopian government. I have recently had requests for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and many others have requested Stephen King novels.

Other requests are for lighter material. Comics are often popular, particularly those featuring DC and Marvel heroes, along with manga, and laugh-out-loud romps like Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Ann Brashares’ beach-read romances are popular with many students, and all of John Green’s books are in constant demand.

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Some of the requests I receive feel like they might be very specific to a certain teen’s experiences. When I asked teens to write down requests, one wrote that they’d “like to read more books about teens who are in foster care and they run away because they don’t like it.” Another requested Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience, by Laurence Gonzalez. They wrote, “it’s a book about psychology. It teaches you about your brain. He writes stories from people’s lives and trauma they survived and why.” Yet another recently requested books on Esoteric Christianity, which means now I am educating myself about Esoteric Christianity.

I come away from each of my visits to Denney feeling that I have learned and grown from my time with these students. I hope that my visits have enriched their lives in some small way as well. Please take the time to stop by the Library and check out their powerful artwork while we have it on display. And if you see me, and have any questions about the work I do at Denney, please ask!

Did You Know? (Breathing Edition)

That softshell turtles can breathe through their bottom?

Turtles have a cloaca. It is an orifice on their bodies that they urinate, defecate, lay eggs, and (in some species) can absorb oxygen from. While it is not their main way of breathing, it helps while they are eating, laying eggs and especially when they are submerged for extended periods of time.I found this information on page 151 of The Totally Awesome Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham.

You will learn more details about this ability on page 208 of Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins by Ronald Orenstein. He also tells us there are about 30 breeds of soft shell turtles. One example is the Fitzroy River Turtle which lives in fast running water where it can remain submerged for days, or even weeks at a time. Mr. Orenstein’s book has wonderful photographs of all aspects of these amazing animals. It also explains the differences between turtles, including the different ways they pull their heads into their shells: the Pleurodira, which translates to “side neck”, fold their necks sideways while the Cryptodira, known as hidden-necked turtles,pull their heads straight back into their shell.

Sea turtles can be amazingly large. A sea turtle can weigh as much as a water buffalo! Mission Sea Turtle Rescue by Karen Romano Young is full of fun facts, photos and valuable information about conserving the species. This is a must read for anyone planning on vacationing near a tropical beach. Another great book is Sea Turtles by James R. Spotila.

Turtles aren’t the only ones with shells! Shell by Alex Arthur tells about all kinds of shells: sea shells, egg shells, fossilized shells and many others are all in this book.

Lastly, turtles “cry.” This is their way of forcing the extra salt from their bodies that they ingest from drinking sea water. I don’t think that “turtle tears” will catch on nearly as well as “crocodile tears” but who knows?

LA To Vegas

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It’s no secret that I’m always on the lookout for an entertaining new comedy. Thankfully, the quality of new television programs is higher than ever before. However, the flip side of this is that many sitcoms now have a mere 10-16 episodes per season rather than the classic 26. So if you’re a binge watcher, it doesn’t take too long to get through an entire season. Which creates a need for more high quality programs.

Fortunately, funny people are indeed filling this need. My discovery this week is LA to Vegas, a Fox sitcom that ran only for a single season. It’s not the best or the brightest of shining stars, but the premise is familiar yet unusual.

Each episode begins with the statement that many people fly regularly from LA to Vegas over the weekend. This leads us to Jackpot Airlines, a low-budget outfit that is based in Vegas and to a sitcom standby, the workplace comedy. The workplace in this case is a small aircraft with a crew of four. Rounding out the cast are three regulars on the flight: a gambler, a stripper and a long-distance dad. Additional plot material is drawn from other passengers who are not recurring characters.

In a way, this premise is not much different from your typical workplace sitcom. There are the staff members who we see each episode and there are customers who appear only in a single episode. But the feel is unique, moving from LA to Vegas, sometimes being in an airport, sometimes in a strip club for a children’s birthday party. The revolving cast of characters creates a wide variety of comedic situations and the fact that Vegas is the destination means, well, anything goes.

In the greater scheme of things, I would probably not rate LA to Vegas in the top tier of comedies. However, the jokes are clever, the actors are talented and the situations are amusing. All in all, not a bad way to spend a binge day.

Sadly, the show ran for a mere 15 episodes, as has been the case with many recent highly-entertaining comedies. So the crew and passengers will remain trapped in this small yet amusing world until time immemorial…

But I digress.

With the wide array of platforms currently creating programming it’s hard to keep up with what’s out there, so keep your eyes peeled for new TV shows at Everett Public Library. And please, remember to return your seats to an upright position.

Depression isn’t forever

Writing of a personal nature— sharing a part of my life, I take the risk of allowing myself to be exposed.

I grew up in a big family and as a kid I felt loved and secure, but once I got into my teens my world turned upside down. During those years music and books impacted me. The spellbinding music of the 60’s and 70’s coupled with books like Go Ask Alice, published anonymously in 1971, and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, published in 1964, fueled my young easily-influenced brain, tightening the tentacles of darkness. I experienced a deep depression and was ripe for self-destruction. I considered thoughts of taking my life.

Sadly, there are many people (young, old and in between) who out of desperation view suicide as the only solution to their pain. Depression is a tough subject to discuss, yet it’s a conversation that cannot be ignored. Consider the character of Eleanor in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The reader quickly discovers that Eleanor is not fine. She fastidiously maintains her Monday through Friday job keeping to herself, then on Friday night with equal purpose she stops off to pick-up a frozen pizza and 2 bottles of Vodka which she proceeds to drink over the weekend.

It is easier to discuss a complex character in a book than it is to admit you may be struggling with depression or suicide. It’s awkward, no one knows what to say, so often nothing is said at all — It is my sincere intent to open up the dialogue in hopes that lives may be saved. Indeed it is a hard subject to discuss because those who suffer feel stuck and weighed down by the stigma of shame.

Today more and more resources are becoming available, which is encouraging, because the truth is that mental illness comes in a multitude of manifestations, depression being one of them. I recently came across two books in the Library’s collection that offer insight and hope.

Just Peachy: Comics About Depression, Anxiety, Love, and Finding the Humor In Being Sad by Holly Chisholm is a great little book, a quick read and an outstanding example of the power of art as a tool for recovery.

If You Feel too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped for is a collection of personal essays by Jamie Tworkowski. The book evolved after he wrote an earlier story about helping a friend in her struggle with depression, drugs and self-injury. The piece was called “To Write Love on Her Arms.The piece went viral and the outcome led to the organization TWLOHA an internationally recognized leader in suicide prevention worldwide.

Grace June’s “Phil”

Last October my daughter-in-law, who bravely admits her own struggle with depression, received grant funding to develop a forum bringing light on the subject of suicide. She used the medium of photography to convey a message of hope and healing dubbing the project Survivor Series. The photo essay was compiled into a book of individuals who had either lost a loved one to suicide or had contemplated taking their own life.

For the culmination of her yearlong project, she hosted an event inviting the community and those photographed for the project. Photos were on display with a brief synopsis of each story. A portion of the evening was an open mic in a second building where a poetry group kicked things off, followed by anyone who wanted to standing up and share their story.

The evening was successful and affirming for those in the infancy of their grief as well as for others who, like my husband who lost his brother 20 years ago, have been grieving for a much longer time. It also was a catalyst for change in the Spokane community. The exhibit is currently on display at the Spokane Public Library.

Next month my husband and daughter will team up with hundreds of people to walk through the night on the streets of San Francisco in the Out of Darkness Overnight. The walk serves to raise money and bring attention and support to our nation’s increasing number of suicide deaths.

Thank you for reading this blog. It takes courage and honesty to admit the need for help. We’re not meant to walk this life alone. If you want more information on suicide prevention, there are people who are trained to help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Hi, I’m Carol and I Use She/Her Pronouns

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog. I had an inclusion epiphany at the joint Oregon Library Association/Washington Library Association conference.

Conferences have name badges, and often there are also trays of different colored ribbons representing different interest groups and jobs that a conference attendee can select and adhere to the bottom of their badge. At the OLA/WLA conference, there was a bright yellow ribbon with a blank spot underneath. The top read, “My pronouns are” and you could write your personal pronouns below. I loved the idea, but didn’t want to take a ribbon away from someone else who needed it.

Yup, I actually thought I was doing everyone a favor by not using the ribbon, since I use she/her pronouns and I’ve never been misgendered. However, I quickly learned that by taking the lead in stating your own personal pronouns you’re showing allyship and normalizing this type of exchange of information. You’re laying the groundwork for change. This was my inclusion epiphany.

Luckily, as with many complicated and nuanced issues, there’s a well-written book to help us understand. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson packs a lot of information into 60 pages. This book succinctly explains what pronouns are, how to use them, and why they matter in the first place. Hint: misgendering someone is demoralizing at best and demeaning at worst. And no matter how inclusive you think you are, you can always do better.

Archie and Tristan, the authors, are longtime best friends and offer two different perspectives on gender-neutral pronouns. Archie is a genderqueer artist and explains from the perspective of someone who uses they/them pronouns and wishes the world would get on board already. Tristan is a cisgender dude who wants to start introducing gender-neutral pronouns at work. He explains from the perspective of an ally and friend who wants to change his and his organization’s habits.

Both Archie and Tristan want to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. They know that understanding and talking about personal pronouns is a simple way to offer support and understanding.

Written in graphic novel format, this book is a fun and informative way to get up to speed on how language has changed and what you can do to be supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. Archie and Tristan run through everyday scenarios they and their friends have experienced. This helps the reader understand what it’s like to be non-binary and constantly misgendered, as well as how difficult it can be to change old habits even if you want to do better.

It can be a struggle for everyone, but the only way to affect change is to keep working on it. In the back of the book there are a couple of quick reference sheets you can practice with until this becomes natural to you. For instance, there’s a list of different ways to ask for someone’s pronouns. One point the authors make is something I’m still correcting myself about. For a while I was saying, “What pronouns do you prefer?” but that suggests that gender is a preference. The authors are clear that asking, “What pronouns do you use?” is the best way to go.

There are also ideas for how to recover when you mess up someone’s pronouns. Hint: don’t make it a big deal, just apologize and move on while remembering their pronouns for next time. Also, for those of us who grew up with parents who taught us that showing respect meant using gendered words like sir and ma’am, there’s a list of non-gendered words you can use instead.

Other ideas to create more inclusive environments for non-binary folks:

  • Be the first: introduce yourself to someone new as I did in this post title:
    “Hi, I’m ___ and I use ___ pronouns.”
  • Add your pronouns to your email signature and/or business card.
  • Begin a meeting with a new group by asking folks to go around the room and state their name and pronouns.
  • Talk to your boss about gendered language in policies and handbooks that could be neutralized.
  • If you work with official forms, ask if references to gender binaries like male/female can be removed.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. Just keep moving forward, keep trying harder, and have those conversations with friends and coworkers. The more work you take on, the more you’ll clear the way for everyone else.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see about getting my pronouns added to my name badge at work.

Ruff vs. Fluff by Spencer Quinn

Ruff vs. Fluff is the first title in the Queenie and Arthur series of children’s books by Spencer Quinn.

Arthur the dog and Queenie the (perfect and beautiful) cat have a family that consists of twins Harmony and Bro and their Mom. They all live at the Blackberry Inn. Generally life is good, until a man checks into the Inn and involves the kids in a mystery from the days of prohibition. He also happens to get murdered in the hills behind the Inn.

Harmony and Bro’s cousin, Matty, ends up being the prime suspect for the man’s murder. Arthur and Queenie help the twins sniff out the clues to clear Matty’s name, in addition to assisting the police in solving the crime.

Ruff vs. Fluff is narrated by Queenie and Ruff. Spencer Quinn has another children’s books series titled Bowser and Birdie and an adult series called Chet and Bernie. Both are told from the animals point of view and are very enjoyable!