Monday, June 28, 2004

Most exciting news of the weekend: We had our very first conversation ever with Calliope.

I brought her out to breakfast, and after her milk, and during her Cheerios, she asked for company, as she usually does. Mostly it's her tiger. "Ty-Gee." This morning, she asked for a "Dahl."

"Which Doll?" I asked. "Would you like Daphne or Emmaline?"


Ruby figured it out. Troll. "Would you like red hair troll doll or blue hair troll doll?" I asked.

She thought for a moment.


A conversation!

To cross the streams, which I try never to do: If I have minis out on the table in the morning, which I sometimes do, I tell her they are my little mens when she asks. She never, ever fails to waggle her finger at them and proclaim them naughty. No! She jabs her finger at them emphatically. Which hurts my feelings to no end.

They are nice little mens. Despite the weapons and teeth. How come my dolls are naughty?

Friday, June 25, 2004

One of my pet peeves as a librarian is theft.

It always gives me a teeth grinding pause to find an article ripped out of a magazine or a cover ripped off a book and jammed in the stacks higgledy piggledy. Hippie exhortations aside, it is neither progressive or cunning. Libraries are understaffed and underfunded. It's just obtuse. Like picking one's own pockets.

When the library suggested, two or three years ago, that it might circulate laptops, I thought about how easy it would be to steal them. I raised my hand and asked: "It's really easy to steal something that size from the library? Don't you think it's too expensive to circulate?"

I recieved a blank stare and an assurance that the library could afford the losses.

Although, at the time, they still couldn't afford raises.

Now it looks like this will come to pass, and it looks like people are giving my coworkers who ask the same questions the same blank stares. So, instead of stealing hundreds of dollars worth of books or DVDs at a pop, they'll be able to steal a two thousand dollar computer on one go.

I am a cynic by nature. Despite the fact that they officially can't leave the building, and the computers disable themselves, I think people will steal them. I think that the only thing that will prevent it is more staff. And that is an impossibility.

Here's hoping I'm wrong, because it's a good idea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

So I called the Kalamazoo Honda dealer today, because Hondas are rated tops for safety and customer satisfaction by Consumer Reports. Perhaps this is not a wise move, because they regularly recommend Dell computers. But what other authority is there?

The salesman is a nice guy, and not pushy, but he's chatting me up. I mention that I'm moving to Portage, MI from New York, and he says something like "Oh, you're moving from the biggest to the smallest." I think there was the phrase "biggest time," or something like that.

I've gotten a lot of that during my job hunt. People who ask me why I'm visiting. All four interviews I had around the state have gingerly danced around this topic in one form or another. "Are you sure you want to come here after living in NEW YORK CITY?" I'm sure I'll get more, as I settle in. There is a sense of exoticism about New York that seems to touch its residents, as if by living here I've been forever stretched out of shape.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think anybody's being a rube. There is a qualitative difference to life in New York. The museums are great, the theater is ubiquitous, the restaurant are wonderful. The thing I think I will notice the most is the homogeneity of the population, although I don't think many places in the U.S. are as lilly white as they were when I grew up. Especially not Southeastern Michigan.

But here's the thing: except for the flavor of the landscape, if you are of the middle class EVERY PLACE IN THE COUNTRY IS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME. For one thing, nobody ever visits their own tourist attractions, so they don't count towards defining the reality of a locality. I will get just as much out of New York if I visit for a week every year as I do by living here. I can't afford the theater or the restaurants. Nightclubs are the same everywhere once you've turned thirty. How many times can you visit even a really great museum exhibit?

Having lived in a couple of places, and visited a few more, I don't have a need to live in places just because they are different anymore. Maybe I just don't have the scratch, but money and need are so closely linked as to be a force near like physics, and I'm not going to argue with physics. I couldn't live the high life on a middle class salary in Tampa, New Orleans, or Chicago either. I am much better off visiting the high life from my suburban redoubt. I imagine most of the people living in those places would be, as well.

I am realistic. There are things I will miss. There are also things I will not miss.

Things I will Miss

My Cupola
Built in reading time (what else do you do on a subway?)

Things I will not Miss

Homeless people on my doorstep at work
Having choose between owning a car and anything else
Subway trips to the Bronx
Brooklyn parenting advice

Monday, June 21, 2004

Today I resigned my current position with the New York Public Library to take another in Michigan. After 11 years in the stony bosom of NYPL I am feeling strangely naked inside. There is an effervescent pressure under my rib cage. I feel like a seed pod about to burst. Or some nightmarish horror dredged up from a mid-oceanic trench (about to burst).

That's a pressurization joke.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Of all the goony things I do: Playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading comic books, going to science fiction conventions... by far, the gooniest is collecting Dungeons and Dragons brand pvc miniatures.

It is gooniest because it is the most passive. No interpretation is required from me. I simply open the boxes, and admire. Or not.

As a hobby, it doesn't even have the saving grace of industry, which unpainted lead or pewter miniatures have. If you need to paint your own, you can at least point to effort, and possibly mastery of craft, to somewhat justify the paltriness of your habit. Not me.

DND minis are sometimes pretty little toys, but because they are mass produced, they are sometimes not. Boxes are randomly sorted, and the figurines are divided by rarity, which adds to their collectibility. It is the randomness that interests me: rooting around in a box for god knows what little creatures. Will it be a pretty one? Ruby bought me a mixed case for my birthday. I open them one or two at a time in the mornings, which reminds me of digging around in a cereal box for toys. That was always an event for me because my parents didn't want me coked up on sugared cereals.

Instead, I got coked up on science fiction and caffeine. Hopped up on goofballs, as a friend used to say.

I opened a box with a large red dragon in it - my rare for the box. It was a lovely toy. The next box I opened had a rare Gauth, of which I already owned two. Some people would say: Three Gauth's! What a lucky bastard! While I would welcome a third red dragon, I have so little use for two Gauth's that three was something of a disappointment.

The agony, and the ecstasy. It makes for an exciting morning. The act of discovery is part of the reason I enjoy the minis so much. Probably the passivity is another: I do so much for myself, it is nice to be a pure spectator sometimes.

To my recollection, this particular escapist genre has never been so liberally manufactured and marketed. When I was a kid it was science fiction toys, spurred by the Star Wars figures. Really, except for a little collection of action figures based of the Dungeons and Dragons television show, Epic fantasmagorical fantasy has never had it this good. There are some other sets out there right now, specifically designed for children. But although they look fun, they aren't so pretty as this set, designed primarily for adult collectors. In my heart of hearts, I am a Prospero.

Unlike many of my geek peers, I didn't collect toys until these came about. Although I have seen many super-hero action figures that would have made me drool as a child (how I longed for good superhero action figures as a kid), they've never really captured my attention in the same way that these little toys do. Were I more energetic, I would be inspired to create little dioramas from them. Each little man or creature has implications. They tickle greedy little stories sleeping in my head.

Reading: Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Because I am a jerk, and analytical by nature, I found that her introduction was a little too avid and self-promoting for my tastes. I tend to think of child care books as being in the same vein as self help books: everybody's got an axe to grind, and if given a format in which to grind it, will grind it to nothing. Unlike self-help books, I feel I need to read child care books. Nothing is as mystifying as deciphering the needs of a pre-logical proto-intellect. I can use all the help I get, and so regularly strip-mine my co-workers for ideas. I feel irresponsible if I do not consult the experts.

After rooting around amongst all the over-generalizations, I am finding Ms. Kurcinka's book is very interesting for a couple of reasons. It discusses individual personality traits in fairly exact chunks, and encourages taking them seriously for what they are rather than what we would like them to be. It looks at concepts like Extroverted and Introverted personalities, and talks about how they work in the world and how you can work with and channel them as opposed to how you can change them.

I actually think Raising Your Spirited Child is a pragmatic way to think about personality types in adults as well as children. Ms. Kurcinka conflates a lot of personality traits that don't necessarily have to be in order to create a pseudo-classification or syndrome: the spirited child. But she does think about each trait in exact ways that allow the reader to mine her thoughts for clues about how to live with people, children and adults, who have those traits, or how to live in the world if you have them.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

I've been back from vacation for exactly a week, now. My brain is in good shape, finishing off one short story quickly and sharply, giving me the beginnings of another. I've had dozens of ideas for mini-essays. Right now, they are gone, but they will come back.

My life is otherwise so full of portent lately that I am unable to write about it. I am just sucking on it like a lozenge, waiting to get to the medicinal tasting center of it all. Then perhaps I can write about it.

Tomorrow is my birthday.

While I was writing this on the reference desk, some guy was actually break-dancing in place while he was asking me for printer paper. Is that a medical thing?

Under the general heading: Poppyhead.

We met an Asian-Anglo couple and their daughter at the airport on the way home (to Michigan). As we were leaving, Poppy waved goodbye. In response, the woman, who was carrying baby, picked up her daughter's arm and puppeteered a good bye from her.

This so impressed Poppy that for the last week, she has been, when she remembers, reaching over with one arm to grasp the other when she waves bye-bye. Waving her own arm as it were. It never fails to impress me how literal her baby-brain is.

This week, Calliope had my cold from last week, and was a little crabby. We had a couple of beastly hot days, and Ruby has been taking her to the park to splash around in the sprinklers. I have missed all of that. When I got her up this morning, she was eye searingly cute, baby Vogue-ing all over the place. Do other people's kids strike a pose? Perhaps VH1 isn't an appropriate influence for her.

She has this dress with blue cornflowers on it in which she is the prettiest little girl in the world. Really. If I had been smart enough to take a picture of it, I would have empirical proof.

Reading: With Friends Like These, a collection of short stories by Alan Dean Foster. Mr. Foster has always been rather hit and miss with me, but I mostly do like these short stories of his.

And an old issue of Parenting, which made me worry about autism (actually, that I might have it), and an old issue of Scientific American.

And this, which is so funny it is unholy. And is filtered from the NYPL due to language content, so do be aware.

Coming out of a meeting Friday morning, I also found out that Donnell has a rocking great graphic novel collection. I got out two volumes of Boneyard, two of 100 Bullets, and The Hiketeia (A Wonder Woman story). I liked the heavily mythology influenced Wonder Woman story. I think it was an interesting example of what a magically enforced moral system might look like concretely, and also of the strange differences between ancient and modern morality. The first issue of 100 Bullets I am less sure about. It seems more like crime soap than crime noir, more melodrama than drama. But comics are easy to read, and I will give it a try. I have yet to get to Boneyard. Ruby is liking it.

Oh, by the by.

I did go see The Day After Tomorrow. It's a perfectly good dumb science fiction movie. I actually thought their kludged-up pop-science explanation for the insti-freeze weather was pretty elegant.

Also saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Unlike apparently everybody else, I don't think it was the best of the three. I thought it threw out too much of the character interaction for the sake of the plot. I don't think that was the director's fault: It's hard to stuff one of Ms. Rowling's very busy books into even two and a half hours. It was entertaining, but I think I would have liked it better had I not read the book first. I am on the fence as to whether or not the camera work was precious or engagingly kinetic.

Friday, June 04, 2004

I've been on vacation for just exactly a week now. As much as I love the city for what it is, the 'burbs are where I was born and raised, and thus my spiritual home. My natural habitat, if you will.

I suppose that sounds empty, but there is something transcendent about the choices you have here. Needing a car also means that you can take off whenever you want to, and not have to put another expense into the budget. Mega-stores beat out bodegas by offering so many different products in the same place. No rooting around in a bunch of tiny corner shops for something as simple as potato chip dip.

In fact, there are so many choices in the 'burbs that my resistance to impulse buying is weakened. God knows I won't find "it" so easily in Brooklyn. I get giddy in a Meijers Thrifty Acres. Though it would be an overstatement to say I can find anything there(curiously enough, I couldn't find Dayquil), the sheer number of choices (so many different kinds of frozen foods...) leaves me feeling battered by possibility.

Though I have spent too much time juggling audiences with my friends who remain here, and job hunting, I did get to drive that beautiful green stretch of I-94 between Detroit and Kalamazoo. And I went to a craft fair with my parents (and wife and child. "Oooh," says Poppy. "Flowers." Yes, there are many flowery things at craft fairs). Craft fairs are wonderful examples of the beneficence of capitalism: people actually make their living by making whimsical crap. Really, it's all very unnecessary. But some of it is still very appealing. Even the stuff I find cloying or unimaginative is interesting to me for the simple fact that people can do something so peripheral to the culture at large and survive doing it. That is the very definition of freedom. Without the immense muscle of market forces working on a huge surplus of wealth, whim couldn't carry so much influence. As a wannabe writer, I think it's nice that our culture can support people on the force of their imaginative detritus.

Still reading Galilee. Boy. Some books just aren't good enough to love or bad enough to hate. The only thing you can do is read them until you don't have to anymore (The End), especially if you are a oeuvre completist. Galilee finally got interesting after about page 300 (two thirds of the way through!). Between the pages of my copy I found a note from one of my fellow Books to Remember committee members back in 1998, who shared my general impression of the book:

Galilee: I got as far as page 227 and the story still hadn't truly begun. Very Anne Rice in its approach. Readable if you have plenty of time and nothing else in your book bag, but not a BTR.
By CP? Must be Christopher Platt.