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August 2008
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October 2008

The Guardian Of My Solitude

The emotional locus of our wedding anniversary is always the welcome reception at the annual MCMLA Conference.  That's where we were married.  It was in the program.  Kenny O piped us in, the Wabbit read the ceremony in the garden, and we popped the champagne.  This year we'll celebrate next Saturday in Cody.

But the legal date, the day that we signed the license, the day that we became official in the eyes of the law (assuming the Wabbit remembered to file the documents) is today.  Given our usual fall travel schedule, as often as not we're on the road somewhere when 9/26 rolls around.  We've had wonderful anniversary days as far afield as Boston and Salvador and Denver.  This year, by the luck of the draw, we're between trips, so we're doing something very special -- taking a vacation day to stay home.  We have extravagant plans.  Champagne at lunch and movies in bed.

I remember talking with Mark about Lynn, at a hotel bar in San Antonio, in those first months.  He said, admiringly, "She has whole cities inside her."  Then I loved the poetry of the line, but what sticks with me these many years later is the accuracy.  She remains mysterious and mystical to me, a force of nature, beyond understanding.

We are, neither of us, particularly easy people.  We are not sociable and are fiercely independent. The first question that we had to wrestle with wasn't:  Why would I want to spend my life with you; but, Why would I want to spend my life with anybody?  It's a question that the majority of people don't find to be a question. 

It seems to have worked out.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke


Living Spaces

I don't know where I first came across it, but I'm fond of the notion that you should get to celebrate your birthday for as many days as the number of years that you've reached.  Why should a baby get more than a day or two?  But once you've reached sixty, celebrating for two months is perfectly well deserved.

Typically, the rule that I follow (feel free to make up your own), is that it should be an unbroken sequence of days, with your actual birthdate falling anywhere within that sequence that you find convenient.

Sometimes you have to break the rules, of course, and we did that this year for Lynn.  Back in May, which is when her birthdate occurs, I bought WrightPlus tickets for us.    That's the one day each year when a number of the private homes in Oak Park that were designed by FLW or some of his contemporaries are opened to the public.  Miraculously, in 2008 it was held on the Saturday of the MLA meeting, when we were going to be in Chicago anyway.  We didn't have time to do the whole tour, but on a brilliantly beautiful spring day we took the train to Oak Park and toured several of the houses and had a wonderful time before dashing back for our meetings.

Although the private homes are only open on the day of WrightPlus, the ticket is good for entrance to any of the public buildings in the area for the rest of the calendar year.  Since I was in Chicago for the MLA Board meeting last week, Lynn came up and we had an extended Frank Lloyd Wright weekend.

On Saturday we took the bus down to the University of Chicago and toured the Robie House.  On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel in downtown Chicago and transferred to the absolutely delightful Write Inn in Oak Park.  That afternoon, we visited Unity Temple.  On Monday morning, we walked over for a tour of the Wright Home and Studio.  Then lunch at Hemingway's, a cab to O'Hare, and the flight home.  Three days and three magnificent Wright buildings brought a wonderful closure to the birthday.

We've had the good fortune over the years to visit a number of Wright buildings (including both Taliesens), and we've each read a couple of biographies, so we bring a lot of background and context, but we've had great guides every place we've visited and we always learn new things, or get a new slant on something.  Say what you will about the man himself (and there's plenty to say!), his influence on the way that we think about architecture and, perhaps more importantly, the way that we think about our living spaces without thinking about architecture, is vast.  As I sit here on the couch, I look out over the lake through five floor to ceiling windows.  They are the direct descendants of the line of six windows over the entryway of his home in Oak Park.  I doubt you could find a home in the US today that doesn't contain something that you can track back directly to Wright.

Pervasive as his influence is, the buildings still feel radically new.  The Robie House is undergoing major restoration on the inside (they've finished the outside), so it requires a bit of imagination to get a feel for it, but the home & studio have been meticulously restored.  The sense of comfort and pleasure at being in a brilliantly conceived living space is inescapable.

The most dramatic impact comes from being in Unity Temple.  Unlike most Wright buildings, Unity continues to function just as it did when it was built, a most marvelous melding of form & function, the blending of spiritual and secular.  To move into the sanctuary, out of the shadows and into the grand open space is to feel one's own spirit move upward within, even if you're someone as nonreligious as I am.

The life that Lynn and I are living these days is as busy and frenetic as ever, and even more emotionally complex.  It requires a particular amount of discipline and focus to tend to the things that are required.   Spending a bit of time in those buildings, walking around them, being silent within them, and then sitting together over a bottle of wine and talking about them was just the kind of soothing and healing experience that we needed.

There are spaces alive and sacred all around us, if only we take the time to look.

Categories and Exceptions

Siva has some typically insightful things to say on the myth of the digital generation.   There are, of course, broad generalizations that can always be made about classes of people.  And humans being love to classify (I was reminded the other day of one of our IT guy's favorite tag lines: "There are only 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't.")  One might suppose that librarians are more prone to that than people in some other professional groups.

So we can classify by race or nationality (although one of the more intriguing things about Davies' Europe is how he represents ethnicity and nationality throughout Europe's history as being driven much more by cultural and political factors than anything intrinsic).  In the US we have red states & blue states and coastal & heartland and urban & rural and so on.  We can divide ourselves in innumerable ways.

But within librarianship, the hot division is generational.  Whether we're bitching about the stodgy, change-averse old boomers who won't get out of the way of the hip, tech-savvy millenials, or desperately trying to turn our libraries into Myspace-listed gaming parlours so as to attract the youngsters whose multitasking brains have been completely rewired by constant exposure to the internet, we seem all too often to fall into the trap of thinking that those very broad generalizations actually speak to some truth about the individuals that we bind into categories.

You'd think we might learn something from the insidiousness of racism -- the pernicious habit of making judgments (usually negative) about someone based solely on their membership in a particular racial group. 

We spent some time on the topic at last week's MLA Board of Directors meeting.     There's been a focus in the association in recent years on encouraging people who are making their first career decisions to consider librarianship, and, in particular, health sciences librarianship.  Within the governance structure itself, there's a focus on figuring out ways to get newer librarians more involved in shaping the direction of the association.   But it is tough to even have those discussions without the language pushing us toward talking as if all of librarianship can be gathered into two groups, separated strictly by age.

Whatever truth there may be in broad generalizations about differences between generations, it would be well to remember what those generalizations tell you about the individual in front of you, whether that person be 27 or 57.


Evidence Based Librarianship?

I have this naive, idealistic notion that librarians, moreso than the members of most other professions, should be particularly scrupulous about facts.  My idealism is often tested.  The latest disappointment comes from the rising tide of hysteria in the biblioblogosphere over Sarah Palin's attempts to ban books when she was mayor of Wasilla and for trying to fire the city librarian for failing to do so.  But a careful reading of the facts reveals no evidence for either of these charges.

The fullest account that I'm aware of is in the Anchorage Daily News, but even a careful reading of the Time magazine article, which appears to be where most people picked up the charge, gives a subtly different picture.

Palin clearly inquired of the librarian, at least three times, what her position would be if she were asked to censor books.  The librarian was aghast at the very suggestion.  Given Palin's background, I think it is reasonable to assume that if a case had arisen where a citizen wanted something removed from the library, Palin would have supported it.  My guess is that her questions to the librarian were intended, at least in part, to get an idea of how big a fight she'd put up and what kind of process was in place.   But there is no indication that an attempt to ban or censor anything ever actually occurred.

Palin definitely tried to fire the librarian, as she did other city officials.  She did fire the police chief.  Both the librarian and the police chief had publicly supported her opponent in the mayoral election.  The police chief had nothing to do with banning books, and Palin backed down on firing the librarian.  Did the librarian's response to the inquiries about banning books add to Palin's concerns about her "loyalty"?  It certainly didn't do her any good.  But there isn't any evidence that it was the primary cause for the attempted firing.

Palin's speech on Wednesday was a breathtakingly cynical array of exaggerations, misleading statements and outright lies.  There are lots of good reasons to be opposed to her election as Vice-President, and I would not want to be misinterpreted as trying to defend her.  But I suffer from this quaint devotion to the facts and it's hard for me to see how claiming that Palin attempted to ban books and then tried to fire the librarian for failing to do so is any different than claiming the Michelle Obama hates America or that Barack is going to raise everybody's taxes or any of the other ridiculous claims that set democratic supporters frothing over the terrible misdeeds of Republicans.

If those who support Obama can't do any better than that, one could almost be forgiven for sitting this election out.  I won't, because I think the issues are too important, but I'm often not much happier with those who are supposedly on "my side" than I am with those on the other.