Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yellowstone.




Here's the scoop on a hobby of mine: I constantly have stacks of photographs laying around my desk (and probably always will), and every now and then I pick one up. It's always a surprise what will be in the stack; sometimes they're from a month ago, sometimes from years ago, but regardless they're all waiting for me to go through. 'Going through' them involves a somewhat anal process of labeling the back of each and every photograph with the place and date of the picture before I can put them in chronological order in a series of photo storage boxes (I have been doing this since high school). It also involves deciding which ones are worthy enough for me to scan. Once those are scanned, I then go through all of my digital pictures from that same time or excursion (although I always like the print photographs better, with the exception of night shots), and begin the process of creating a gallery of all of them for my website.

I have had this website for ages; I pay a decent amount of money for ownership of the domain each year; and organizing one of these galleries of pictures? Takes me a long time. Between going through all the photos, scanning and organizing all of them, making thumbnails of each one for the left frame of the webpages, and then typing up all the HTML. It takes me a long time to do all of this, and I know that no one ever looks at any of them. Seriously. But the thing is, I don't care! No, really! I used to make long LiveJournal entries back in the day and then be hurt when no one commented, so if I said I didn't care that nobody read, I'd be lying. But this is different, because I really enjoy this big waste of time I've been doing for years. I document my life through pictures, and creating a gallery of pictures from an experience for my website is my way of reflecting on that experience, of remembering it and putting it all together in a way that makes sense, a neat little box to wrap it all up in, and it is immensely satisfying. In fact one of my favorite things is picking up a pack of photographs off the desk, and hoping that whatever is inside will be as random as possible, something I will be surprised by: "Oh, man, I remember that. That was awesome. I can't believe I was actually there. Regardless of whatever crap is going on in my life today, I have done all these cool things, and my life is good."

But anyway, now I have this blog here, and I can do whatever I want with it, so why not shamelessly promote these photo galleries from now on? So, after a few months of working on it off and on, I just uploaded a gallery from Wyoming, from our cross country trip in 2007. Devil's Tower, big empty spaces accompanied by big towering mountains a few miles later, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons, abundant wildlife I'll probably never see again (grizzly bears, elk, bison, oh my!), a huge looming perfect blue sky full of perfect puffy clouds at every turn. This place was wonderful. Weird, very weird, and somewhat disconcerting--all that bubbling mud, all that steam rising up from cracks in the ground at every turn, man oh man!--but wonderful. I'd go back in a second. Now let's just hope Yellowstone doesn't blow up in our lifetimes and kill everyone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Multnomah County Library: An Update.

It occurs to me that in addition to continually posting new awesome things I like, every now and then I would also like to do some updates concerning things I've already liked. This time it's Multnomah County Library, which I wrote about way back in January. But when I read this article in the Oregonian this week, I felt the need to brag about how awesome it really is. In other words, We're number 1! We're number 1! We're number 1 (still)! I also read this article last week about how there are over 1,000 holds on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at MCL, even though there are already 200 copies of it in circulation. I know the article was mainly talking about readers' frustration at having to wait for copies, but I came away with only thinking (no matter how you feel about Stieg Larsson), Over 1,000 people in one place really want to read a book. And that, in my opinion, is really cool. I like that a lot.

I realized how truly lucky we are, however, when I read this amazingly depressing article about Camden, NJ. Although I realize libraries across the nation have been struggling and cutting back due to the recession, Camden will be the first place to close ALL of its libraries due to budget cuts. Libraries closing anywhere are a huge loss for society, but they are especially needed in cities and towns that are troubled and poor--like Camden. As the article says:

"Of all places, they're one of the places that needs free public libraries the most," said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association.

The city of about 80,000 residents across the Delaware River from Philadelphia consistently ranks as one of the nation's most impoverished. It's a place where most families don't own computers, where just one big bookstore serves the local colleges and where some of the public schools don't even have librarians.

Free public libraries are simply one of the greatest ideas human beings have ever come up with, and even though I know budgets are hurting everywhere, the idea of them being completely closed down seems like an atrocity to me, something full of deep sadness. Unemployed people need those libraries to craft resumes and look for jobs; busy parents need enriching activities to send their children to during the summer; homeless people--or just people in general--need a warm, dry, quiet place to feel safe for an hour or two. Libraries are not just a bastion of knowledge; they are a safe place. Libraries are a bedrock of communities. We need them, especially now.
Szpila already is starting to work on plans for what to do with the 187,000 books and artifacts the library has acquired since it opened in 1904 with a $100,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie. They would have to be sold, donated or destroyed, he said.
Destroyed! My heart is aching. Hopefully the media coverage will garner some fundraising and donation efforts and at least one of the branches can be saved.

But to end on a more positive note, while I'm talking about libraries, I also need to mention The Unquiet Librarian. I had heard of this blog from a professor two terms ago, but only recently got around to actually adding it to my blogroll and reading all of the updates. It's written by Buffy Hamilton, library media specialist extraordinaire at a high school in Georgia, and it/she is amazing. Every time I read an entry, I feel educated and inspired about this field that I will hopefully one day devote my life to. It's especially nice to read now that my current studies for the next year are related solely to education and not necessarily librarianship (although the two are of course intricately and inherently related). Reading it brings me up to date on things I've been talking about/studying with other school librarians over the last year, so I don't lose sight of things. Honestly she does so much stuff for her kids and her school I don't know how she has time to maintain such a professional and up to date blog and internet presence, but I'm grateful for it. In fact, I am pretty grateful people like her exist. The more Buffy Hamiltons there are, and the more school administrators there are that allow libraries like hers to exist, the better off our next generation will be.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our rose bush.




Portland's official motto is the City of Roses, and it's easy to see why, whether you're walking around the incredible International Rose Test Garden downtown (see some of my numerous favorites) or simply walking around any of the various neighborhoods and glancing in pretty much anyone's yard. The things grow like weeds here: colorful, delicate, prickly, wonderful weeds. We are lucky to have a huge sprawling bush of our own in front of our apartment. (Being that we rent, saying "of our own" is a little misleading, but, you understand.)

We've lived here just about three years now, and when we moved in I was mainly excited about two things: 1) How much cheaper it was to rent an apartment here than in Boston, and 2) the ability to garden, to actually work with soil and green things any time I wanted. Our complex contained an abundance of huge, somewhat pointless, leaning towards ugly, monstrous shrubs--and the rose bush. I've since added a plethora of other plants and flowers, slowly subtracting the amount of space taken up by grass and adding in much more interesting and useful things, but the rose bush is still the big highlight. Depending on what time of year they bloom, they're always a combination of pink-turning-towards-yellow: yellow with pink on the edges, all yellow in various shades, almost all white, and I couldn't have chosen a lovelier rose bush myself.

As I've worked on developing my green thumb over the last few years I have spent countless hours trimming this massive thing, and, in the way that happens anytime you put a lot of time and effort into anything, I have grown somewhat possessive and proud of it. I love how good it smells, especially when the roses are right on the cusp on dying, I love the softness of the petals when I pick the fallen ones up from the sidewalk, I love how effortlessly the vines can grow right up to almost the roof if left untamed, I love how raindrops squat on the petals and are illuminated by our outdoor light on rainy spring and fall nights. It sits right in front of our big window in the living room, and when I lay down on the couch to read a book in the summertime, during those moments when I'm starting to not really read but instead fall into a half daydream nap space, it is always such a reassuring, peaceful sight to gaze out onto.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay.

My teacher was playing music this morning on his iTunes as I walked into the last session of our summer class. He often plays music as people walk in and get themselves situated and such, and one of the tunes that shuffled on today was Clocks. I had this five second swoooosh of emotion course through my veins and pulse into my face, which happens sometimes when I hear this song, and which was happening especially this morning due to hearing it in class. Let me try to explain this: this particular class had developed a really good community feel type vibe, a meaningful micro-culture within a room, as certain good classes do. When you have that vibe, or you have a good learning experience, you feel emotionally closer to some abstract thing, the abstract feeling that pushes us all to keep learning: whatever it is, it's something secure, something free, something nice. And so I was feeling closer to that, and that encompasses the way I used to feel when I listened to Clocks, all the time: freshman year of college.

Kathy had a much more different freshman year experience at Emerson than I did, and perhaps a more typical one: she bonded with her roommates and floormates in our dorm and was already compiling her list of really hilarious and/or meaningful College Life Moments to reminisce about later. I started compiling my own list sophomore year, and it is a really awesome list, but my freshman year more adequately aligned with my previous adolescent experience: kinda awkward. I liked my roommate a lot but we were also different people; she was already really cultured and confident and attractive - boys always came to our room looking for her and then looking disappointed when she wasn't there - whereas I was mainly the small town girl in the new big city. Although after writing that, I realize that my own description of myself is belittling and inaccurate. I was cultured and confident and attractive in my own way; I just wasn't her. I didn't know many people on my floor; I made some friends in classes, but everyone knows that class-friends don't always materialize into friends. What I did do was walk in the city. A lot. In between classes, at night, on weekends, I picked up my music and walked. I believe the reason that I will always hold Boston more dearly to my heart than to any other place is because, in addition to being the place that I began my independence for the very first time, I knew it and it knew me because I walked it. Walking allows you to see the little details as well as the bigger pictures; walking lets your mind wander; walking is personal. And so many times that I walked, I listened to this album.

The album as a whole always takes me back to this place in time, to this place in my mind, but Clocks in particular usually really hits the spot. I've already mentioned my connections between music and memory in past posts, but this is a particularly strong connection, perhaps because it was a particularly big time in my life. With those first few bars, I am walking down the Esplanade next to the Charles. In my mind I am always there, first. And then maybe I am walking up Boylston Street, down Mass Ave, in the South End, in Faneuil Hall. And I am feeling the way a newly independent person feels: open, and free.


PS. As a closing thought, I had forgotten until just now just how terrifying this album cover is.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt


I had big plans of getting lots of J/YA lit read this summer, but due to school and work and almost constant visitors, I have failed considerably. But I just finished The Wednesday Wars, and so I haven't failed too much, because it is one of my favorite things I've read in a long time. It won a Newbery Honor in 2008, but I've heard rumblings from some (and when I say this, I mean from nerdy people on Goodreads) who believe it really should have won the medal over Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! that year. I haven't read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, but I'll put in my vote for Gary Schmidt anyway.

It takes place in the late 1960's and the basic plot premise is simple: protagonist Holling Hoodhood (what an amazing protagonist name, first of all) is stuck with his seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, on Wednesday afternoons (who he is convinced hates him), and eventually, they start to read Shakespeare together. There are so many good things about this book, the first being that it made me laugh a lot of the times and made me cry other times, but I feel like this is what I say about all of my favorite books. I'm trying to think of some better way to describe it, that quality that makes one laugh and then cry, other than just saying once again, I laughed! I cried! I think the only other way to describe it is just good writing. I think good writing involves having a sense of humor and a heart, and being smart, and that describes this book. Second of all, I feel like the first-person point of view of this book is really spot on and realistic. Holling Hoodhood is living in a world of Vietnam, a world where Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are about to be assassinated, and he is also living in a world of really mean spirited eighth graders and deceptively cruel fathers, and the lens through which he shows us all of this seems true to reality: not overly mature or cynical (as in many YA novels), but at the same time, by the end, (as most children are), more mature than most adults. Third of all, I love the development of all the secondary characters, especially Mrs. Baker. Mrs. Baker is one of those amazingly complex characters that I wish I could have written, and I love her. I also love Holling's best friend Danny Hupfer, and Mai Thi and Mrs. Bigio.

Other things I loved: Schmidt's surpisingly lyrical descriptions of the changing of the seasons; Holling and his sister's day in Central Park; the Mickey Mantle scene; the camping trip. Oh, and then of course there's the Shakespeare. Shakespeare is hiding behind everything, and Holling's interpretations are all brilliant. Like I said, it's a pretty brilliant book.

I am also thankful I found an old hardcover copy with the old cover, pictured above. The chalk-script-on-a-blackboard cover with Holling and the Bard facing off is a million times better than the paperback version, as discussed here. Granted, the paperback version isn't horrible, but something about the white background and brighter colors seems cheesy when compared with the original cover. Why do publishers do this to us? I'm sure the answer somehow involves the word "money," but still, I'll never get it.