The Wobbly Tripod of Library Faculty-Ness: Librarianship, Research, and Service

I wish I’d done a better job of writing down my thoughts when I came up with the title for this post. Let that be a lesson to you.

I think, though I can’t be certain, that this comes out of conversations with a number of masters students (those seeking doctoral programs and not), as well as early career professionals looking for some guidance, as I sometimes fancy myself helpful to folks, and hopefully am to varying degrees. I came back to it partly because of this Librarian Parlor post. Maybe I will never shut up about this, who knows.

I’m entering what I guess I would call “mid-career” phase, and have been through the promotion process (context: faculty at MPOW are not tenure-track, we are a faculty series with continuing contract, we’re not union, etc.) which is close, but not anywhere near as intense as what Sarah (see link above) wrote about going through. If I look through my promotion packet, like her, I don’t think it’s particularly reflective of the essence of “me” as…an archivist, a librarian, something in there – broken down into the familiar three categories: librarianship, research, and service. Like her, I’ve done a lot. Like her, a lot of it doesn’t show up in these documents. I’d wager that’s true of a lot of us. The relationships we begin and sustain, the communities we belong to and build. Not only the innovation, but the maintenance. The maintenance. The m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e. Building and maintenance.

Don’t get me wrong, innovation is great. I’m all for (context-appropriate) innovation. I’m all for (calculated) risk. But I also spent the better part of the first half of my career chasing innovation at someone else’s (a lot of someone else’s, not just one someone’s) behest while also trying to build and develop sustainable infrastructure, without sufficient resources to do either well. But the publications, presentations, and service I’ve done over my career, the work (a lot of which isn’t in my CV) I’m most proud of, is about building (sure, maybe you could call it innovating) and maintenance. The bit that makes this all wobbly is a lack of commitment to a shared vision, and a lack of commitment to one another. That commitment is dearly won, and when it goes, it often goes bit by painful bit – often only visible in retrospect, when things have unraveled.

I don’t want to build what i can’t maintain, and if I build it with you and we can’t maintain it, I want us to tear it down together, and use it to build something new. That’s what I want the second and third chapters of my career to focus on. That’s what I’m looking forward to. If that sounds like a plan, then let’s build together. Let’s maintain, together.

Maybe I initially intended this to be a meditation on the three prongs of academic librarianship, but – nah. Let’s do something outside those boundaries. Let’s do something way more meaningful, way more fun. Let’s do this.

 

Archives, Art, Mortality, Ephemerality, Empathy, Trauma…and Memorials

Longest blog post title ever. Today is Memorial Day – it’s been awhile since I’ve written – and the reason I am writing today is twofold.

Photo from “Steve Gordon, Denver Artist Remembered,” by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

One: it’s a three-day weekend and for the first time in months, my house is semi-clean and groceries are bought and – even though I have a million things I do still need to do – I am not in a fog of simple carbs and caffeine and anxiety over how behind I am on seemingly everything. Two: I attended a memorial service yesterday/Sunday for Denver artist Steve Gordon.  I never met Steve, though I was somewhat familiar with his work – but I do know one of the people who dedicated herself to his care-taking during the last months of his life, Katie Taft – so I went, for her.

As an archivist, I spend a lot of time thinking about – and with people who are thinking about – their legacies and their mortality. I’m also the child of parents who are/were hyper-aware of mortality; for context, the most recent e-mail from my dad is a detailed update to his medical power of attorney documentation.  My mom died of lung cancer just over 10 years ago. I teach with professors who structure their writing classes around the rhetoric of memorials. You could probably say I’m steeped in an awareness of and, to a degree, am comfortable with talking about, death. I’m amazed I wasn’t goth-ier as a teenager. Still, we’ll see how I feel about it when mortality is closer at hand in my own life.

In any case, Katie and I talked a bit during the service, and she shared that she had been working with Steve to collect some of his materials to donate a time capsule to ArtHyve, a community arts archives that we’re both involved with, which is also how we met. Steve, an artist to the end, chronicled much of the last year of his life in a journal and a series of artworks that are still being released, called End/Stage, some of which is available via BandCamp. In the readings from Gordon’s journal, you hear:

“What do I do? Plan my legacy somehow? What the fuck does that look like? My art? My music? My instruments? Are those my contributions? So be it.”

This quote, independent of context, makes Steve sound far more sanguine about dying than he was – his journal is raw and honest, full of fear and reckoning – it’s beautiful. His musings also made me realize how, probably inevitably, my own personal history and narrative gets into my thoughts and conversations about the intersection of mortality, legacy, and archives. My family’s own history with illness and archival donation comes up a lot; my mother’s chronic illness (diabetes), and then her terminal illness (cancer) is ever-present. I frequently reference my maternal grandmother’s meticulous notebooks when I talk to donors, using them as examples of how personal papers can be used for research and teaching. My mother was born in 1945, and was part of the first generation of Type 1 diabetics for whom the diagnosis was not a death sentence – these notebooks are invaluable to anyone studying what daily life was like for a diabetic in the late 1950s. Gordon’s journaling about alone-ness, loneliness, and facing terminal illness as a single person with no children hit home as well, both in my own life, and in a number of donor relations conversations. I was also reminded of Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez’s amazing presentation on suspended grief and trauma as part of the “Radical Empathy in the Archives” session at the 2017 Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting. All of this is there, in whole or in part, whenever I think about or discuss archival donations. I really do mean it when I say that my main goal is to find the collection its best possible home – sometimes it’s not with any of the archives I’m affiliated with, and that’s ok.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the necessary incompleteness of either art or archives as a documentary record, and also how art and archives, together, as a form of creative inquiry, can memorialize and extend legacy while reckoning with trauma. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is not only an illustration of his father’s experience of the Holocaust, it is also Art’s exploration of his own experience as a child of survivors. Colorado artist Kaitlyn Tucek’s most recent works have engaged with her experience as the mother of a daughter with a serious congenital heart defect. There are countless other examples of people who have taken their broken heart(s) and made it into art, which I love, have always loved.

This brings me back to ArtHyve, its mission, and the community that it aims to represent. Katie will be submitting a time capsule of some of her work, which will live alongside Steve’s, and hopefully many other of their artistic collaborators. She also shared with me that some of her students had made her some folded paper cranes while Steve was sick, and that she was going to burn them in remembrance and commemoration.

So on Memorial Day, I say:

Not all memorials should be permanent.

Not everything should be saved.

Sometimes the best home for a collection isn’t an archives.

Show up for people you love while they’re here, and honor them when they go. ❤

Taking Care

Hey y’all. This post has nothing to do with research, teaching, or service, but it is related to all three. As I’ve moved into more public services-facing work and the more I’ve worked with graduate students, the more I’m reminded just how mentally unwell I was during my last year of graduate school, and in more years than not in my early professional life.

For some context, I come from a life that’s pretty darn privileged – my parents were academic librarians/administrators with PhDs. I ultimately decided to follow in their footsteps, for a variety of reasons. However, I wanted very much to avoid being defined by my parents and their careers as I was establishing myself, and so I chose to work outside of libraries (partly because – benefits, hello) full time during graduate school, which I went to almost-full-time. During my last year of graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with advanced, and ultimately terminal, lung cancer. She passed away as I was completing my final semester. In addition, my generalized anxiety disorder and depression, which I had been diagnosed with during my undergrad and had largely been managing with medication, flared up with a vengeance due to accumulated stress about my mom, my job, and completing my degree. Everything began to suffer – I felt like I was falling apart. Even after I got through all of that and got into my first professional position, I was so focused on establishing myself, earning promotion to Associate Professor, and generally “not letting anybody down” during the first part of my career that I realized I needed to build “taking care of myself” into my life or I just flat out won’t do it. It’s really only now, in my mid 30s, that I’ve started to take an active, planned approach to taking care of myself. Most of my tools/techniques either don’t cost money, or are things you’d need to do anyway, like eating, etc.

Habit Tracking/Journaling

One of the side effects of my generalized anxiety disorder is procrastination and avoidance. I’ve tried a variety of techniques over the years to capture all my to-dos and keep track of progress, and this year I’m yet another person on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I decided to try it when several other folks I know and trust whose brains work how mine does, more or less, recommended it (thanks Ruth!). I’d tried “Getting Things Done” several times and become flooded with anxiety – but despite my over-reliance on my cell phone and a variety of apps, this analog method of keeping track of what I need to be working on seems to be working – so far so good. It’s FAR less pretty than almost anything you’ll find on an image search if you search the phrase “bullet journal” online, so don’t despair if yours is also ugly but functional.

The “Habit Tracker” is one way to use a bullet journal (or any journal, really) and all it is is a dated list of entries with all the habits you’d like to be doing on a daily basis. Mine are:

  • kettlebell/bodyweight workout or yoga (AM or PM)
  • hydration (3 40 oz water bottles/day)
  • eating 3 meals of actual, real food per day
  • journaling (not bullet journaling, just “thoughts for the day,” which I keep separate)
  • leaving the building for min of 15 (ideally 30) min/day
  • 2 15 minute breaks during workday
  • 2 magnesium before bed (I take these-most magnesium is citrate which upsets my stomach)
  • text or talk to a friend (not at work)
  • give myself a present
  • in bed by 10
  • read book
  • daily chores:
    • make bed
    • empty/fill dishwasher
    • empty/fill washer
    • empty/wipe sink/counter
    • pick up/put away
    • sweep (I have a lot of animals, this needs to happen daily)

In case you’re wondering – the “give yourself a present” is absolutely a nod to Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.

Sunday “Prep”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I don’t prepare almost every aspect of my meals for the upcoming week, I will end up eating takeout. A lot.

Every week on Sunday I:

  • hardboil 6 eggs
  • rough chop a few peppers, onion, etc.
  • make either:
    • tuna salad
    • egg salad

That way I have emergency food for breakfast/dinner and could make a salad for lunch so I don’t resort to takeout unless I just can’t stand it. I will also usually put on one slow cooker recipe of some kind.

Usually it’s:

Or, soup. I end up eating a lot of pureed vegetable soups because, like a small child, I prefer my vegetables to be hidden. All of these can be made vegan with veggie broth or are vegan. I usually put shredded chicken or beef in mine for protein.

I am not a fan of formalized meal planning – I’m too fickle, and I’d rather buy what’s on sale in the grocery store that week, which I often don’t know until that Tuesday. One bonus is that I have a pretty set flavor palate, and I know what works or doesn’t work for my guts/brain/body. I happen to be lactose intolerant, and while I don’t have a gluten allergy, I’ve found that my brain and guts function a lot better if I stick mostly to rice if I’m going to add in any grain or starch. In addition, rice forms the basis of most of my favorite cuisines – Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc. If you had to call it something I guess you could call it paleo, but I do still eat pasta, bread, etc. just not very often.

If I don’t want one of the things I make ahead, I usually have a defrosted package of ground beef (I would use pork or chicken but I haven’t found a reliable source of either that’s local and affordable). The ground beef often becomes bibimbap. It may look complicated, but try it once or twice and you’ll see that – provided you have the main ingredients (ginger, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, some red chili garlic sauce (can be Sriracha, doesn’t have to be gochujang), sugar)), it is WORTH IT. And it’s fast. I make at least a bowl a week, probably more during the winter. Ideally you’ll also have some kimchi, pickled onions (you can quick pickle red onions in the fridge), and you’ll have a meal that feels special (to me, anyway – it’s a staple in many Korean/Korean-American households), satisfies takeout cravings, is fast, and is still pretty healthy. My other go-to is this very simple Thai Beef with Basil recipe. Another is breakfast tacos – just scramble some eggs with garlic and hot sauce, add some avocado/guacamole, put ’em in 3 taco shells, and you have dinner. During the summer I make a lot of tuna poke as well, if tuna is on sale. I finally gave in a bought a rice cooker – totally worth it.

I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I do try to buy ethically produced meat if possible – which usually means I stock up on ground beef, stew meat, ribs, whole free range chickens, and pork butt/shoulder if I can get it. I then use the whole chicken to make my own broth, which tastes better than the crap you can buy in the store and is super simple to make – also in the slow cooker! Most of the really good ways to prepare cheap cuts of meat involve slow cooking.

Maybe someday I’ll get an Instapot. Until then, my slow cooker will have to do.

Building Movement into your Day

This is obviously super duper dependent on where you live, but one of the best things I’ve been able to do for my mental health is to shift as much of my “driving time” into “biking time” as possible. This kills many, many birds with one stone – first, I hate driving. It stresses me out. Without GPS I never know where I am, or which direction I’m facing. Other drivers make me nuts and it puts me into anxiety overload. Second, the more I move, the less anxious I am. I am not someone who likes to exercise – at all. All of my exercise routines are short, the longest is something like 25 minutes long. I would also rather eat my own hair than regularly attend a gym. I’m too big of an introvert and I am a cheap motherf&@!r. Biking solves all of these problems – I’m by myself, I am getting where I need to go, without being in a car, and I’m exercising.

I keep hearing about all these “walking meetings” tech people have, but I regularly need to take notes, and this seems to make about as much sense as a treadmill desk to me. This is also why I have a “to do” in my daily checklist to leave my desk for 30 min (lunch) and 2 15 min breaks – otherwise I will convince myself that I can’t possibly leave, I have too much to do, yada yada – which ultimately makes me less productive when I am working.

Bike commuting seems far less doable for those in rural areas or who regularly need to ferry children or other folks from place to place, but if you can swing it, it’s great.

Edited to add: here are some of my favorite YouTube or otherwise-online workouts. 

Neghar Fonooni is one of the few YouTube fitness people who doesn’t totally annoy me.

One of the (very) few good things from my last relationship is that my ex was a certified kettlebell instructor, and it’s one of the few actual workouts I’ve ever done that I liked. I don’t know if I’d recommend going straight into it without having a human walk you through it in person, but Neghar is one of the few people I’ve seen do a decent job of explaining it online.

A good, fast (15 min) workout, especially for someone still familiarizing themselves with kettlebells. She has several others, but this one’s my favorite for speed and efficiency. In and out.

I also really like the Nerd Fitness Beginner and Advanced Bodyweight workouts. They require very little equipment (dumbbell or milk jug, etc.) and are also fast.

I love the few free videos available on YouTube from Jessamyn Stanley. Fair warning, she curses a bit during this video, which I appreciate but wasn’t expecting at first!. She covers some necessary modifications for people who aren’t a size 2. I’m somewhere between regular and plus size, and I regularly need to do these kinds of mods – I appreciate her so much, most yoga instructors don’t deal with that!

Yoga with Adriene is also a great resource for a variety of free videos.

Works in progress: hobbies

I need to get a hobby. I don’t knit, sew, sculpt, write (outside of professional responsibilities), game, etc. That’s my goal for the year. We’ll see how that goes. I’m terrible at doing things that aren’t completely and totally practical, i.e. the antithesis of hobbies.

I’d love to hear from some other folks what their “care” routines are. Hopefully we can help keep each other honest. The school year’s starting, and that’s usually when my ability to focus on myself wanes, thus the impetus to write this post. ❤