Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Treating Your Employees Like Customers

Recently, someone I don't quite respect suggested "Just treat your employees like they are your customers" twice within a two week period.  The first time I heard it, I felt that it was somewhat of a platitude that didn't really address the situation but I thought it was a fairly reasonable suggestion.  The second time I heard it--I realized that it was this person's tag line. So I needed to understand what this meant.
Several months ago, in fairly quick succession, I encountered Don't treat your employees like your children and then Treat your employees the way you would your children.  I wondered, how did this person land on this as a pat phrase.  We tend to live by The Customer Is Always Right commandment would that mean that the Employee is always right as well?  That doesn't sound quite right.  I polled several managers and the general thought was no we can't treat our employees like our customers.  We have customers have a full range of customer behaviors that we often tolerate for short periods of time for good customer service.  With adults we walk a fine line and tolerate considerable bad behavior.  We only correct if their behavior is egregious--which would be behavior that would end in the termination of a civil service employee.  I'm sorry sir, there are children around, can you please use that computer over their to look at your porn. / I'm sorry ma'am but please do not use that racial slur when speaking with the staff. / Yes, I can smell the cannabis permeating his clothing as well, but no one else is sitting around him, maybe it will dissipate soon. 
In this manner, it doesn't seem reasonable to treat our employees as we would our customers when it comes to allowing ongoing behavioral issues.
One person suggested that we should treat our employees like we do our teenage customers.  We want to give them free to act independently but when their behavior is disruptive then we correct their behaviors with somewhat more authority.  But then we are back to treating our employees the way we would our children.
My next step was to go to the internet so see what has been written on this.  I found an article by Fast Company that gave me a better idea.  This leadership article speaks about creating an organizational culture where the organization that believes that it's culture is it best products.  The culture hires employees with this in mind.  I can of course work on the micro culture of a particular space, but I don't see this being demonstrated in the current organization culture.  In fact, the person offering the advice has in fact in my opinion demonstrated just the opposite to date.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hosting a Successful Book Club

I have to say that I am very proud of the book club I host.  It is amazing, I never have less than 20 people attending each month and can have up to 32 people discussing the title.  I can have over 50 people reading the title in any given month.
I began the book club almost 4 years ago, from the start we had a good turn out with about 10 regulars.  Gradually it picked up steam and then since January 2013 the club has been incredibly robust.  I have pondered what has made it so successful?

  • First, I have to give credit to the community.  I have an engaged community that are joiners.  Several of them attend other book clubs.  People in the community enjoy reading, they are joiners and they want to support the library.
  • Also, it seems that a long time book club in the community had run its full cycle and disbanded, my book club received several of these members.
I have no real control over the above elements--of course it could be argued that I have control over the first and I believe I do.  I am recognizing that I live in one of those great communities where a significant number people already have a sense of ownership and belonging.  My job is to continue to foster that sense and to reach out to those who are not yet involved.  So, it is important for me to understand why I have been so successful with this book club.  Specifically, I want to understand what I am doing that makes people choose to read the book, come each month and also tell their friends about the book club.  

Here is what I have come up with:

  • Each monthly selection is determined at the end of the previous year and published as a list.  This gives people the opportunity to know what is coming up.  I have one member that spends half the year up north in a small town in Yosemite.  She follows us along and while she is away.  I have another member that can only attend on alternating months because due to his busy schedule it takes him two months to finish a title, so it is important for him to know what is upcoming, so that he can get a head start.  I also have several other people that have conflicting schedules, but they enjoy reading along and if their schedule opens up they can attend.  
  • Although, I compile the list and the members do vote on what to read for the year.  This give the members a sense of ownership and control.  In the fall, I compile a list of about 30 titles, I search the internet for lists and think of books that I have read that might create an interesting discussion.  Once I find a title that might be interesting, I search the system's catalog to see if there are enough copies to support the book club.  This has become increasingly challenging because now I am searching for titles that have more than 50 copies.   Once the list is compiled, with a brief synopsis, I distribute the list and have people vote on their top 10.  I then tally the results and arrange the titles for the eleven months that we meet.   
  • I look for variety.  I always try to add titles from a variety of genres, fiction & non-fiction, teen books and even once a children's book.  This feature is highly appreciated, because people tend to read certain types of books and enjoy being challenged to read outside of their comfort zone. 
  • I provide a list of questions with the title.  I recognize that people want some guidance and what to know what is happening at the book club.  Quieter people will fill comfortable discussing the title because they have had time to organize their thoughts. I generally try for about 10 questions that cover not only the book but also bring in some personal connection to the title.  I either write my own questions or adapt published questions.  I find that published questions have too many parts for the purpose of the book club.  I also want to add the personal questions for two reasons, if someone hadn't finished the book, didn't like the book or even hadn't read the book, they can contribute something positive to the discussion.  And the second reason, is that by sharing that personal connection with others in the group, the group coalesces.  
  • I go for moderation.  I through out the question, and then let members discuss.  If I see that someone wants to say something or hasn't contributed, I will ask that person what he/she thinks.  And sometimes, I will add my own thoughts, stories to the conversation but I try to only do that to move the conversation alone.  For the most part everyone is very polite, take turns, build on the other's discussion and sometimes the discussion goes in directions that I never expected. 
  • I provide refreshment and when possible themed for the book.  I find that people really appreciate making the connection between their refreshments and the book we are discussion.  It also gives them the sense that I really care enough about the book club, to put special effort in the snacks.  
  • There is a book club display of the current title for anyone to check out.  I call it the Book Club Corner, but members know that they can pop into the library and pick up the title.  And more importantly, non-members can pick up a title with the questions and may choose to attend.  
  • I foster a safe environment. The safe environment is established with everything that happens above.  I support other ideas, try to balance the conversation, provide people with an expectation of what will happen. I know that I am successful, because people continue to come, feel comfortable with bringing in more to the discussion: for example, one member invited a couple of people who had direct experience with the topic of the book and once several occasions people have brought in newspaper articles, pamphlets, photos and other items to share with the everyone else.  
Below is the list of titles that the book club will be discussing in 2015. 

Tuesday, January 27—The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
In 1939 Nazi Germany, Death takes time out of his ever busier schedule to pay attention to Liesel, a foster child that finds meaning in life through the theft of books.  January 27, 2015 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

Tuesday, February 24 — The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty   What if your husband writes a devastating letter to be opened only
after his death?  What if you stumble upon it while he is still alive? 

Tuesday, March 24 — Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  by Ransom Riggs   A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A collection of very curious photographs.  It all waits to be discovered.  Read an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction with found photography.

Tuesday, April 21— Under Wraps Book Club   Select and
unwrap one or more selections for discussion at this month’s book club.

Tuesday, May 26 — China Dolls by Lisa See   Grace, Helen and Ruby, three very different women brought together by circumstances.  Follow their friendships as they try to succeed as glamorous nightclub dancers in the 30’s.   

Tuesday, June 23 — The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by
Gabrielle Zevin   On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of
a Victorian cottage is the motto No Man Is an Island, Every Book is a World.
A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

Tuesday, July 21 — Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingby Sue Kane   Although they are often labeled quiet, it is to the introverts that we owe many of our great contributions to society.

Tuesday, August 25 —The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood  
Two women, two eras, two stories of uncertainty trimmed in sadness laced with hope. 

Tuesday, September 22 —The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick   For 38 years Bartholomew has lived with his mother, but when she dies Bartholomew wonders how a man whose entire life has revolved around his mother, Saturday Mass & the library can learn to fly.  A humorous selection.   

Tuesday, October 27— Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafron   A tale of love, literature, passion & revenge in 1957 Barcelona.   

Tuesday, November 24 — A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki   Bullied by classmates,16-year-old Nao feels life is unbearable in Tokyo.
A diary is Nao’s only solace & will touch lives in ways she cannot imagine.    

December — No meeting — see you in 2016!  


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What It Takes to Be a Great Leader

An inspiration to get out of ruts, to widen our comfort zones and to take initiative in our own development; today's Ted Talk is What It Takes to Be a Great Leader. Rosalinde Torres explores two questions:  Why is the leadership gap widening when there is more investment? and What are successful leaders doing differently?
Where are you looking for the next change?  Who are we spending time with, reading, visiting to determine where the next change is.  Great leaders see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.
What is your diversity measure?  How can you develop relationships who are very different from you?  Great leaders understand that having a more diverse network gives you better access  to varied solutions.
Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past? If you keep doing what is familiar and comfortable which means that you won't be moving forward.  Great leaders are able to withstand others telling them their new ideas are crazy.
Great leaders prepare themselves for the realities of today as well as the unknown possibilities of tomorrow.
Now, to explore what I am taking away from this talk.  First, the world is a fast moving place, organizations need to explore non-traditional methods in development in order to narrow the leadership gap.  I would have to say that the recent, Leadership Development Program is a step in that direction.  But added to that, it is important for us be active in looking for changes, widening our networks, developing a support network.
Hmmm...an idea, yes a wee idea is percolating up to the top here.  What if...?  Would that work?  Just might and I won't know unless, I go for it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

It seems that I have an intellectual crush on Mr. Sinek.  I might even begin to cyber-stalk him. Here in How Great Leaders Inspire Action he speaks about how leaders use the Golden Circle to lead because  people follow others not because of what they do but because of why they do it.  If you understand what you believe and why you do something, then you can articulate that to others.
He states that the limbic brain is where we have our feelings of trust and loyalty.  The limbic brain has not capability of language.  When we talk about why we do things rather than what we do, then we are address the limbic brain and can inspire loyalty because we can hire people that believe what we believe.
But what if we have people who were hired before we ever arrived and don't believe what we believe?  Personally, I don't have a lot of control of who is hired to staff the library.  I am gifted employees and some of them have been transferred to my library because for a variety of reasons they could not remain where they would have preferred to be.  So how can I make a difference and inspire action this environment.  To tell the truth, I have been struggling with this for a while.  I can say that I haven't had enough support--and indeed I haven't--but I need to own this.  I need to find a way to inspire my staff to work together better, I need to find a way to inspire the staff to be better than they think they are.  The only way that I can get a better result is to have the staff do a better job because they want to, they believe that they can.  First they need to feel safe.

So why do I do what I do?  Being a Librarian is WHAT I do. WHY am I a librarian?  Is it to get rich? Silent belly laughter here.  For job security?  This makes me pause because I often use this to answer the why question.  But, clearly, I am willing to throw long term security under the bus.  I had security in Hawaii at the language school, yet, I still went to graduate school.  I wanted to become a Librarian.    WHY?

I became a Librarian because I believe that I can improve people's lives as a Librarian.  I believe that I can make the communities I live and work in better.  I believe that I can create positive memories and those memories can go on to have a bigger impact in the world we live in.  This is why I became a librarian.

As I struggle with staying engaged, remembering WHY I do what I do will help me through.  Last week, I had a customer tell me that her friend from San Diego attended last year's Holiday Mother Daughter Tea. The friend was so inspired that she took the idea back with here and now there is a Mother Daughter Tea in San Diego that wasn't there before.  She said "I wanted to let you know that your influence is changing the world."

I always hark back to the one library program I attended as a child with my friends.  I have such warm memories of watching Riki Tiki Tavi in the darkened meeting room, I want share that sense with others.  As a teen, I challenged myself with reading a set number of books during either summer or winter vacations. I poured over the stacks looking for books that would improve me.  I remember being especially fond of the Emily Post's book on etiquette.  I couldn't believe that there was a world where such things mattered.

In order for me to change the behaviors of my staff, I need to share that vision frequently and enthusiastically with them.  Maybe just maybe the spark will ignite one or two and if it does maybe we can get a tipping point where the others will follow along.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

Today's TED Talk was by Simon Sinek, the author of the best seller Start With Why.


Since it is well known that there is a palpable culture of fear in the system, I was drawn to this talk.  Sinek is a not only a compelling writer but also a compelling speaker.  He puts forth that great leaders make their team feel safe.  If someone acts or thinks "If I don't follow the rules, I could lose my job." That is a red flag that the staff does not feel safe.  Not feeling safe is a bad system for survival.   It is the leader that sets the tone and depending on the tone the team may feel trust and cooperation or fear and uncertainty.  Through the millennia we have developed a deep-seated contract within our species.
 If we feel that our leader will sacrifice us to meet her own agenda, then we feel that they have violated this contract.  This is the reason we feel outraged at the huge bonuses that CEO's receive when they are laying off their employees.  We understand that they have not made their team safe, that they have engendered neither trust nor cooperation which clearly goes against our ingrained moral code.
It is up to the leader to create a circle of safety.  Leaders need to create opportunities, provide education and discipline when necessary with growth as the goal.  Sinek commented that when times are tough, you don't decide to lay off a child from your family.  When the child comes home with a C on the report card, you don't fire the child.  Well, we all know that there are all types of families out there, but clearly we recognize that it would be good parenting to do so.  But then isn't what we recognize as good parenting actually good leadership.  Good parents want to create opportunities, provide education and discipline when necessary in order to develop strong, capable, well-balanced, contributing members of society.
When we use our authority to force own agenda, we are not developing trust and cooperation and the team will not follow when a critical situation develops.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Coopertition


This is the post that I intended for yesterday but had to get past yesterday's events to get back to this place.  
I have been invited to be a judge for a First Lego League Robotic Competition.  On Wednesday night I took part in a teleconference for judge training.  The judge panel for the competition I am judging is made up solely of professional women in the area. Since this competition is sponsored by the Girl Scouts of America, the organizer stated that she wanted the panel to be women in order to inspire girls with breadth of professional women in our community.  I felt honored to be selected for the panel. I am am quite sure I will also be inspired by the opportunity to meet and work with my fellow judges. 
The trainer was excellent and I found myself relishing her phrasing.  I also found myself really looking forward to the event.  Prior to this training, I was a bit concerned because what do I know about robotics?  But she put those fears to rest when she said: There is no expectation that judges will understand every mission.  Have the teams tell you, talk about strategy, how they chose their missions, you will find teams can have chosen their missions very differently. 
In these comments there are several elements that I took away: 1) I don't have to be an expert, I am there to listen to the kids' stories of their experience 2) It is expected that the kids will have arrived at the competition via very different routes and that is OK.  The goals is judge how well they can convey that path. 
The trainer made us comfortable with what to expect by walking us through the day.  The next point that resonated with me was to listen for comments that indicated that the coach had the kids do all the heavy lifting.  This is after all their competition. Although it is would be easy for the coach to do all the work with the kids watching, that isn't the point, the kids need to experience the hurdles and roadblocks on the way to the path of success.  The kids need to learn to celebrate failures and learn from them.  
I will be one of the research project judges.  Here the kids can choose their own topic within a parameter with the goal that as a team they were able to come up with a mutually agreed upon topic as well as demonstrate that they are passionate about this topic.   The trainer went on to let us know that there is a particular challenge in this, as an individual it is fairly easy to find something that we are passionate about but once you start adding other people into the mix, it becomes increasingly more difficult.  The ultimate goal here is to make the case in a very short period of time for their topic and make it well enough that some one would want to do it and then share that idea with others.  
This was followed by: The teams need to demonstrate Gracious Professionalism which means I want to help you compete with me and I want to compete with you fairly.  She went on to say: We are here to have fun through Coopertition.  Yes, this is a competition and the teams are competing side by side but if a team does assist another team in meeting that team's goal, then as judges we need to recognize  and reward the demonstrated graciousness.  
The trainer continued on with a discussion of the rubrics and a reminder that any comments that we enter on to the rubrics should be positive because the teams will get them back because: we want to inspire these kids.  
In the midst of everything that is happening, this is a particular bright spot and I am grateful that I have the opportunity for this experience and I am really jazzed to see what fantastic things kids between the ages of 9 and 14 are capable of.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Trying to Stay Engaged

I am a professional and I take great pride in providing quality service to my community.  But I am finding it challenging to remain engaged and this is frustrating.  Once again I have slammed up against the system and feel bruised.

I want to work in a system that values and trusts its professionals.  I want to work in a system where fear is not the first impulse and a place where professional development is encouraged and supported.  I want to work in a system that is dynamic and innovative and one that not only recognizes but celebrates the good service that the professionals are doing.

Several weeks ago, I spoke frankly with my new supervisor.  I took a risk and then yesterday, I discovered the consequences.  I had requested to attend a conference at the end of January on my own time.  There was a sale on airfare, so I quickly grabbed the last seat thinking there couldn't be a reason that I might be denied the opportunity for professional development.  Yesterday after a meeting, the supervisor took me into the hallway and expressed his extreme regrets that he could not send me to the conference.  The stated reason is that the staff really need my leadership at this time with the retirement of one, and the possible promotion of another.  The approved transfer that I have not yet seen, can not be in charge apparently because she will be new to this library but not in the system at that time.  Yes, I understand that the management has every right to refuse a vacation request.  Apparently it was refused because "it was for a conference."  If I had just put down travel--would it have been approved?

At any rate, I know now the consequences of taking risks in the current environment.

At the last full managers meeting, our leader indicated that they will be going outside to fill several newly created positions.  A fair number of people took away from our her comment that the system is looking outside because no one is qualified to be promoted to the newly created positions. I rarely attend conferences.  But I am striving to fill in the knowledge gaps and become a better leader. Meeting with peers, sitting through sessions and visiting vendors is one of the best ways that I can fill in those gaps and add to my leadership tools.
This is not the first time that my attempt at professional development has been thwarted.

Here was my first go:

I sent this last week, but haven't received a response.  Is it possible to obtain a letter of support for the Leadership Institute?  If not please let me know, so that I won't continue to wonder.

I just spoke with XXX;  she said that she will discuss with in the Executive Meeing on Monday 2/24/14.    You will get an answer after that, but don't get your hopes up because this may or may not be approved.   

At the time, I felt the above comment was just mean.  To be fair, I did get approval 8 days after the meeting it was to be discussed in, but there was no mentioned of the requested letter of support.  Almost a month had passed since the initial request, deadlines were approaching and I just didn't have the energy to pursue getting the require letter of support because I just didn't feel that the support was actually there.

Shortly after this both, one of my staff and I wanted to attend a nearby annual conference.  I submitted both of our names, but was told that only one of us could actually attend.  Of course, I want to give my staff all the opportunities that they can get so I forewent attending with the thought that I would go to midwinter conference.  Hmm...that thought stream did not work out so well.

Yes, yes, I know that I was approved to attend the in-hourse Leadership Training Program.  This was a valuable experience, however, we best develop when we also have outside perspectives and despite the willingness to outlay my own funds, the efforts have come to naught.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Technological Woes

Although, I use technology at work and am fairly proficient in troubleshooting problems, I never really thought that I was dependent on technology.  I don't even have cable TV or stream video for crying out loud.  I send maybe 20 texts a month, and I am not a huge e-mailer.  But then, I spent 6 days fairly painful days in near unconnectedness.  I can only imagine how I might have felt if I had been truly unconnected.  The problem here is that I expected to be connected.  I was in an urban setting staying at a hotel that provided complimentary wifi hookups each day.  And I reasoned if for some reason I couldn't hook up with my laptop, I have 4G on my phone.  I intended to download a book on my phone to occupy myself during down time so I didn't take one with me.
The first night, I tried to log on with my computer, but Safari wouldn't accept the connection.  We were able to get my travel companions logged on to their computer after a few tries.  I wondered aloud if I called down and asked for someone to help me if they would be able to.  Everyone cracked up laughing so I decided not to trouble the poor probably less savvy than me hotel employee.   All that I had my phone.
But then I couldn't get my phone to load in the hotel.  For the next 6 days, when we were off doing something, I became familiar with the pinging sound indicating that I had e-mail.  See here is where the near  unconnectedness comes in.  I got e-mails, text messages, and voicemail hours after they had been sent and generally when I received them I was either too busy to respond or had become irrelevant.
Text:  We are going down to eat.  Where are you?
When I received it 2 hours later:  I'm right next to you, hungry.  Was it good?  
Actually the entire vacation, not just the last 6 days, was a technology nightmare that resulted in me getting lost in Oakland, after dark, twice.  I was returning from wine country on my way back down to LA.  I had just crossed the Bay Bridge--a nightmare for anyone who doesn't particularly like crossing bridges (ME).  I needed to do three things, calm my nerves, get gas, and use the facilities.  I got off at an exit, gassed up, and asked the convenience  store attendant if I could use the restroom.  He indicated the bullet proof box he was in and said that there was no access from the outside to the restroom.  I asked if he had ice-cream and he held up 4 types for me to choose from.  Once I paid for and received my ice-cream via the plexiglass mechanical drawer, I returned to my car only to find that neither Google Maps nor Imaps were cooperating.  The entrance to the freeway was no where in sight.  I ended up driving south and/or east in Oakland with a pressing bladder until I found the freeway.  Back on the freeway, I realized that I would need to get off again and fairly soon. Hence getting lost in Oakland A SECOND TIME.  This from someone that has always felt that there is no real good reason to visit Oakland.  Prior to this, I had only been to Oakland twice.  Once to catch the train to take me to Dallas when I packed up my life in San Francisco for Slovakia.  And then again when I was living in Hawaii to turn down the opportunity to open my very own language school in Oakland.    I turned down the Oakland school opportunity, because I hadn't accomplished my goals in Hawaii and also because I had walked around both Oakland and San Francisco for the weekend mulling over the decision and realized that I was constantly wanting to get back to the safety of my friend's apartment before it got too dark. This compared to Hawaii where, with the exception of walking around in Chinatown, after dark held no real safety concerns.  Ok, not that I am going off tangent, I will close.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Lollipop Moment

I watched Drew Dudley's TED Talk  where he talked about a time at university where he impacted another student's life which involved a lollipop.  He didn't remember the event, but his everyday actions changed the lives of the people that he came into contact with--some of them significantly.  He discusses how this is leadership, it isn't something out there, an ideal that few can reach, but rather  everyday we can chose actions that they may have a positive impact on others.  And when other's actions do have positive outcomes in our lives, we should celebrate them.
Since his lollipop moment resulted in the marriage of two people who might otherwise not have met, I remember my own moment.  I had a student that was in her last 20's, she was an account and had to deposit receipts almost daily.  She found that every time she went to the bank she often had the same teller.  He eventually asked her out and they went on a date.  On the date, he revealed that he was in his early twenties.  During class she told me she thought she wouldn't go out with him again because he was too young for her--this was pre-Demi/Ashton days--she asked my thoughts on the subject.  I told her that only she could know if he was too young for her or not.  I told her the story of another student in Japan who was actually 14 years older than her husband and that they had one of the best marriages that I knew of.  I also explained that it only made since for women to be older than men because women lived longer than men.  If the woman is younger then she will more than likely become a widow.  If the woman is older then they will more likely die closer together.  Maybe not the soundest logic in town.  I am not sure which story swayed her more, but I was invited to the wedding a year later.  My words changed lives.  I forget this fact.
As a manager, I know that my decisions will impact others, but I don't always remember this from day to day.  In November, I want to be more mindful of my own words and actions.  I want to remember to Use my words for Good and Not for Evil.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Preparing

If the future looks like me being a Library Director, what can I do help prepare myself to take on that role.   When searching the web, I found the Handbook for New Public Library Directors in New York State. I am impressed at how thoughtful this document is.  I doubt I will end up in New York state--but I have learned not to disbelieve in any possibility.  When I am offered a position, I will use this as a guide to ensure that I am not overlooking something during the learning curve phase.  
Having the tools to ensure success of a project is essential.  Tools may be as simple
as the right pair of shoes doubled knotted. 
One of the gaps in my knowledge is grant writing.  I think the key here is that this is a knowledge gap.  I am intelligent, able to identify gaps and then work to fill them.  Grants demand planning and a process.  The skeleton of that process is:
  • Statement of need
  • Project Description
  • Evaluation
  • Sustainability
  • Budget
  • Documentation
  • Compliance
  • Reporting
The project might be long and at times uphill and the signposts few
and the route at times unclear but as long as the goal is kept in
mind and the route is one where lessons are thoughtfully considered and learned the
success can be had. 
One of the most valuable experiences, I have ever been part of was the Accreditation process.  I had less to do with the building of the accreditation document--Andrea, a very competent instructor was tasked with that.  But when the gaps in the process were identified, I worked on filling them.  This included the long range and short range planning process, documentation that specific policies changes had been implemented, and a narrative of the compliance process.

The planning process was the most enlightening.  I worked with the small but effective executive team--me the director, the assistant director, head teacher, and the office manager to create the plans.  After we had crafted a document we were comfortable with to guide us, I found that we were then making decisions based on whether it met the goals of the plan or not.  This was liberating and streamlined the should we or shouldn't we conversation.  

Grant writing is similar in that there is a process.  Outside bodies will be evaluating the process and what is most needed is to take each step one by one methodically to be successful.  And to have a plan with specific goals will assist in the grant writing process because it will identify needs that we can search for grants to fill.

No matter what, I will not be on my own in any of this.  There will be other staff that can be part of the grant writing team.  Depending on the place, I may take a more active role in the process but my primary function in any case is to support and guide the process in a way that will allow for optimal success. 


Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Sun



One day during the Leadership Development Program (LDP) we spent about 20 minutes out of the classroom and on the beach--the only day we were at the beach--quietly taking in our surroundings.  When we return to the classroom, we were then tasked with choosing an object that we had observed during our meditation and then relate that object to ourselves.  I chose the sun.


  • Power over life.  I too have tremendous power over my life and depending on how I use that power I can either grow myself and others so that we thrive or we can wilt and wither
  • Strength--similar to power but in this case I want to remind myself like the sun I can be strong
  • Focused--by maintaining my focus I can move forward
  • Shining--by shining a light on my strengths and weaknesses, I can build the one and minimize the other
  • Routine--the sun comes up and goes down, seasons change with predictable regularity with out the routine there would be no life.  And so only through routine can I effect changes on myself.  

I also want to add that when the sun is covered up for an extended period of time the quality of life is effected.  In this manner as well, if I walk around with dark clouds swirling in my head because I am not satisfied with where I am, not only is my own quality of life in doubt but the butterfly effect comes into play.  Could it be that my bad mood today results in war some place else later?  Something to ponder and at the very least a reason work on changing what I can change.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hope

Yesterday, October 30, 20114, marked 10 years since my classmates and I escaped from a devastating flash flood.  In the aftermath, the university arranged for a grief counsellor to visit the class.  The counsellor told us to focus on the fact that we survived, we were library students and to seek ways to accomplish the greater good we were spared for.  I don't dwell on the flood very often and I go weeks without thinking about it, but it is always in the back on my mind.  In April, the only significant rain fall we had was one that dropped 5 inches.  On that day, at one point, I found myself fixating on the rain.  I both mentally and physically shook myself, reminded myself that I lived on the second floor and then hopped in the shower to take my mind off the weather.  Periodically, I remember the words of wisdom uttered to help us reframe the situation.  These words remind me that I have the tools to give more meaning to other lives and at times change them.
In the past week, two potential pathways forward, have presented themselves.  I could say that next week I will start down a diverging road, but in reality I believe that the split has been there for some time.  I had been just stagnating at the split, unable to move forward on the road that this life, here and now is on and somewhat too trepidatious to embark on the unknown path.  In the past several weeks, I have decided to embrace the unknown and set myself down that path.  Now another split has presented itself.  Both possibilities are ones that I want for myself.  I find it amazing that the first challenge for both come on Wednesday, November 5.  The first I present myself for at 3:30 and the second at 5:45--I am grateful for daylight savings time--otherwise, I might have needed to choose one over the other.  Events are lining up which confirms my belief that if I think positive and start working toward a direction then, possibilities will present themselves.  Sometimes, the path I choose is one that presented itself unexpectedly.  But I have always been able to connect that path to the focus and energy spent working for the change.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Concerned

As I search for the path forward, I realize that my place in not here.  I see a peer forced into retirement, administrators shuffled around like a failed cabinet, and realized that lessons learned by me during the LDP were not learned by others.  I had a difficult meeting yesterday but overall I would determine that it was successful.  The objectives I set out for myself were met. Regretfully, the assumptions that I had hoped could be chalked up to unnecessary worry were instead confirmed.  Changes sometimes retain the status quo.  I learned a lot yesterday and was able to get what I wanted out of the meeting but it was a challenge.  It is difficult to find a way for the other side to hear when it doesn't want to listen.  And even though I believe that I was heard, I do not know if the message will be reflected on in a constructive way.

Today, this photo from Chaco Canyon resonates with me.  I see myself metaphorically where I stood to take this photo of the sacred space of Casa Bonito.  I am approaching the doorway, I am not there yet and I cannot clearly see what is next but I am ready to proceed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Going After What I Want

The title presumes that I know what I want.  Sometimes, what I think I want isn't what I actually want.  For example, what I think I want is a big bowl of ice-cream.  Of course, I want a big bowl of ice-cream--who wouldn't, right?  But if I just get myself to drink a glass of water, I don't need that bowl of ice-cream.  Why?  Because I was actually thirsty.  So what I thought I wanted and what I really needed are not the same.  Of course, we all know this and play this sort of game: if I can just have that designer purse then my life will be perfect--perfectly in the debt, that is.  Let's say that I get the designer purse, as we all know, my life is the same--just more in debt.  Which is the saying that my life isn't the same, it's actually worse--because now I need to pay for said purse. What I actually want was a change in my life but what I needed was probably not the purse.

The challenge is to root around for what is actually needed.  We are so accustomed to working on satisfying our first impulses that we have to drill down so deep it's almost like excavating a secret hidden Egyptian tomb.

I'm going to take a minute and look at what Maslow told us about the hierarchy of needs.  I have co-opted this handy little photo from the internet. [Properly cited, of course.]  Meeting our needs should drive what we want.  The problem happens when we are not clear about what needs we are seeking to meet.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg
What happens when our basic needs are not being met?  Looking at this list, I think I should be working on Esteem and Self-actualization.  But clearly, based on recent posts, I may be working on these part of the time, but I keep getting dragged down to the lower levels.  Why?  What is missing in these levels?

Could it be as basic as food?  Maybe.   Although I am eating enough--more than enough--food like products, I'm not eating actually eating a lot of food.  Could it be as simple as changing my diet?  Probably not. This is one thing--one thing--that I need.  But, I have to dig a little deeper than that.  Theoretically the physiological is being satisfied--I'm hungry, I eat.  I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  The question is why am I making poor food choices?  I am coming to realize that when some of the higher level needs are not being met, it is masked by a lower level need.  For example, thirst is actually a higher level need--we can live longer without food than water--but when we need water, this need is masked by a lower level need--in this case hunger.  

What is not being met in my life?  I think that probably right now Safety is my primary concern.  Not security of body, health or property.  But rather that of employment.  When I go to work, I don't feel safe.  I am constantly worried that the other shoe is going to drop.  I don't think I am going to lose my job--it could happen but it isn't likely.  But I am not safe and secure in knowing that I am valued, that my self-esteem will not be knocked off the block.  We humans are a complicated lot.  I would say that you have to have phycological safety as well and the more immediate physical safety. 

What I really want is to have this psychological sense of safety at work.  Today, I have a meeting with my new supervisor and it is my goal to be able to communicate this need to him.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Future Desired State

Over the past several months I have been involved in a Leadership Development Program (LDP) with a cohort of peers.  It has been a good program overall.  For me it came at a time when I am contemplating where to go, what to do next.  Last week was the end of program so in our final days we covered political acumen and next steps.  One of the trainers recommended describing the Future Desired State.  This resonated with me and I want to take a few minutes exploring what that would look like.

I don't see myself in the current system that I am.  I have gone around and around with this.  Civil Service security vs finding a position that I can make a real difference.  Previously when speaking with one of the trainers, I voiced that I was leaning toward the former.  During a break, I indicated that I was leaning the other way now.  One of the trainers, said "At what cost does the civil service security come?"  There is a cost and I am not sure I want to bear that cost.

I have been chaffing in this system for a while.  I can see the value in the way the current head of the executive committee runs her system.  When she took over there were some pretty shocking ways of doing things that desperately needed to be addressed.  I also have great respect for the way that she handled the financial melt down several years back.  But I tend to use the analogy of Cuba when speaking about what is going on now.  When the revolution occurred, Cuba had serious inequities that needed to be addressed.  Castro did go a long way in raising the educational and economic levels of the general masses.  However, he never trusted the people and he became dependent on power.  As a result, Cuba has stagnated and the people have suffered. There is a delicate balance to achieve when making sweeping changes that require a tightening of the reins.  Once the course has been set, trust is required.

One leader that I greatly admire is George Washington.  He was a man that walked away from power and look at the result.  Had he been a different man--almost any other man--the greatness of the US might never have been achieved.  He trusted that what he started would continue.

If I am comparing my current system to a dysfunctional state, then perhaps this is not best place for me to be.  So what is my Future Desired State? As indicated above that would be something on the lines of Washington leading the US.

I want to take the tools that I have added to my tool box over the past several months in the LDP and apply them someplace where I have an ability to utilize them to the fullest extent.  I want to work with a Library Board, develop partnerships in a community and lead the library I am charge of into excellence or if the case may be continued excellence.  I want to be able to encourage a staff into doing more than they thought possible.

I want to be able to flex my wings and soar within my community.  I do not want to worry that the next step that I take is one that will be my downfall.  I don't want to worry that I didn't go through the proper channels or or enough channels or that I made a mistake by talking to the press about the wonderful program that we are having.  I want to be able to make partnerships or encourage partnerships without going through levels and levels of permission.  I am a professional with customer service as my primary motivating factor and I would like to be treated as such.  I want meetings that I go to to be collaborative and engaging and not a sit and listen event.  Again, I am a professional and so are my peers.  If a mistake is made, address that mistake with that person.

That is my Future Desired State.  I want to be the Director of my own system, however, small.  I have the skills, I can learn what I do not know.  I have so many strengths that are not being tapped and that is becoming a roadblock for me professionally.

Like a budded rose, I want to bloom.  I need to find the sunshine and rain to allow that.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Week Ahead

Today I have a big meeting that I guess could go either way. I am optimistic that is will go well.  I want to spend a few minutes thinking about what I want out of the meeting.  Of course, I want show up well.  I want to seem professional, calm and collected.  If I am triggered, I want to take a few seconds to get past the trigger.  I also want to get my point across.  That point being that I want both sides to grow, to get something positive out of the meeting.  I want to clear the path and start fresh on both sides.  I want to take lessons learned and to implement them.  Again, I am optimistic that it will turn out well.  And if it doesn't, oh, well as long as I keep my promises to myself that is really all that matters.  I can deal with anything else.

The meeting was interesting.  I would say that it was successful and that goals that I wanted to achieve were indeed met.  But, there didn't seem to resolution that I could see.  Perhaps, I was just a step in the greater agenda.  I am not sure.

I want to add a flower to this post.  I chose this one because the individual flower isn't that special but when grouped together it becomes more than the individual.  I also like that there are a variety of stages to these flowers which in this case I want to represent the various stages that a team is in.  Some are just budding, some a full-fledged but each cluster works as a unit and the clusters support the whole.

Yes, I think this is a good image to represent how I feel about the tasks for this week.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Being Thoughtful

I have been considering my own management style quite a bit recently.  I have also thought about what I have appreciated in others that have managed me.  For the most part, I have had very competent supervisors that I have been able to respect and in whose opinions I value.  With several supervisors I have been able to have conversations with them about the employees working under me.  These were not conversations about a problem that needed to be solved right then and there.  They were conversations about what strengths and weaknesses an employee has and how we can leverage those qualities to get the best performance.  It was also a conversation about good employees and how to provide them with enough growth opportunities. And when needed there was enough previous context, to speak productively about how manage difficult employees.
I haven't had this kind of conversation in a long time and I have missed it.  But it is only through reflections that I have come to realize that it has been missing.  When you have something for a long time, and something different comes along, you know it is different but it isn't always easy to tell exactly how it is different.
I have a lot of decisions to make in the near future.  Where to go, what to do.  How to get where I want to go.  Where is that I want to go? For a while now, I have been letting the status quo pile up around my ears.  I have been casting about, knowing that I have little interest in pursuing more responsible positions where I am.  If I remain for the next 6027 or so days (16 1/2 years) then work would simply have to become only a 40 hour a week proposition and fulfillment would have to come from some other sector in my life.  This is a challenge for me, because by nature, I have embraced my careers as a teacher and now as a librarian.  I wanted to be a great teacher and a fantastic librarian.  I truly want to be a very good manager.  I know that I have a lot of growth in this area--realistically who doesn't.   I have tried to make a difference where I can make a difference when I can make a difference.  I know that my community appreciates this and I think some of my supervisees do as well.
One thing I am willing to do.  I am willing to turn the mirror inward and I am willing to correct my behavior.  But I also realize now that in order to do that effectively I need to feel safe.  It is has been a long long time since I have felt safe.
Since safety is the second rung on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I need to work on establishing a safe environment.  I think it will be a long time before, the environment is safe here, so I need to use some of those positive qualities that I possess: an ability to stretch, a willingness to adapt and change, a strong positive sense of adventure, a willingness to take risks, monitor course and change tack as needed.  I have done it before, I can do it again.  This life is an adventure and when I think about adventure, I want to remember impromptu hike down into the Grand Canyon.  This was the adventure of a lifetime.  I did that! That was me that casually decided to go on a 12 mile in the Grand Canyon!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Making Changes

Over the past few months I have been taking a leadership development program.  This week is the end of the program and we need to do a 1 minute presentation distilling what we have taken from the training. A while back someone made the comment that "It is rough and tumble when you get to this [administrative] level."  I have mulled this over periodically and chewed on it some more this weekend.  How does all of this fit with me?
Over the past 3 years, I have gained 35 pounds.  For a while when I arrived in LA, my weight was stable but then it began to creep up and over the past year I have gained 15 pounds.  I am a stress eater, so the weight gain means that I am stressed.  To be a good leader, I need to address the stressors.  I need to think about what exactly is causing me stress and then work on remediating either my response to the stressors or the stressors themselves.
My questions is why does it have to be rough and tumble?  Why do I feel that it is rough and tumble now?  Why do I spend a large part of my day in fear that the other shoe will drop?  Why do I feel, that I need to sedate myself at the end of the day with cheese and pizza sauce?  This isn't who I want to be.  So it is time to turn the ship--now luxury size--and establish a course that will lead me to a better place.
For a while now, I have been tossing around pros and cons of where I am right now.  But the pros are not going to help, if I am at the core not satisfied.  Why should I settle for safe and secure when it is dismantling me piece by piece?  Here are my assets, I am adventurous, I am willing to take the bull by the horns, I am able to see my faults and I am willing to work on improving them.  It is up to me to find the place where I can grow.  It is up to me prepare myself to be in that place.  So from this day forward, I will work toward that goal.  I will explore all the different facets of what makes me in order to become a much better me. Get ready world, I am here.

This was me during my first year in grad school.





Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dear Committee Members: A Novel

Several weeks ago, I was on the reference desk at another library when a reference call came through.  I don't exactly remember what the customers question was but she suggested that I read Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher.  She thought it was the most hilarious book that she had read in years.  While on the phone, I requested the book and in about a week it arrived.  It is slim with a minimal cover depicting a porcupine walking off the front--we get to see is hindquarters and it appears that some of his quills are up.
Three days ago I opened the volume and started reading the various LORs (letters of recommendations) written by Jay Fitger, Professor of Creative Writing and English, Payne University.  Dr. Fitger or perhaps he is just a professor--but since he has tenure I am swinging toward Dr.--takes his creative writing very seriously.  The LORs for the most part are the ones that many a writer would like to share with the world but generally don't.  Through his candid often tangential letters we follow that his university's department is beleaguered and becoming marginalized for the sexier programs like Economics whose department's renovation has created any number of hazards for the neighboring English Department.  Jay has had various relationships that have ended badly--primarily due to his own bad behavior.  He is somewhat garrulous and eccentric but perhaps not quite to the degree of some of his colleagues.  And he making considerable if unsuccessful efforts in propping up his last graduate advisee who has lost all of his funding which means that he cannot finish his novel.
for the most part found the novel amusing but not necessarily as brilliant as the customer found it until I reached the last 10 pages.  The twist that concludes the novel is shocking and snaps the previous 180 pages into perspective; thus making the overall memorable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In a Quandry

As I approach my 48th year, I am thinking about the future.  It is hard for someone like me to stay put.  And it is hard for someone like me to be satisfied with the status quo.  In a recent strengths finder assessment, I was labeled--Achiever.  Which means that I am always searching for the brass ring.  Always looking for what is next.  So, here is what I have got.  Try to go or try to stay--which is to say that both are an effort.
Why stay?  Well, simply put--right now is pretty good.  I am happy in my position, I love the community and the community is always giving positive feedback. So why mess up a good thing?  It's in my nature to challenge, to see the new, the different, the next thing, so on one level, I feel in a rut.  Why go? I don't know that I have anything more in my future here, and if it is offered, I am not sure that I want it.
I hate these mid-life quandaries.  If I stay, I have 16 1/2 years to having full medical coverage.  I might actually get to retire at something closer to 65 than never. Right now, I am 33% to that goal.  When I realized this, I felt like I was selling my soul for civil service security.  And to add to that I know that with my banked sick and vacation time, I have a pretty security time blanket to deal with any emergencies--family or personal that might come my way.  This is important for worse case scenario girl.  Really, really important.
But then I see things like--Director of Library Services in Cape Cod, State Librarian in Hawaii, etc.  Oh, to run my own show, to be challenged every day and energized by that challenge.  Oh, to shake up my world and get myself out of any ruts I might be in.  Stars in my eyes.  Sparkles and fireworks going off in my imagination.
Which way to go?  What to do?  If I log in to Facebook and play Bejeweled, then I can numb myself and pass the next 16 1/2 years. But really, I don't want to be numb.  Yep, that is right, I am an adrenaline junkie and I have Gypsy leanings.  I have met others in my tribe and many of them are in Hawaii--so I long to go back to my island home.  I was thinking yesterday, that Hawaii is the one place that has felt like home to me.  It was the first place that I chose to be and didn't just let serendipity move me there.  I baptized my stay the first night, when I cried wondering what in the world I had done, no job, no friends, limited fund--what had I done?  But then I stopped myself, bucked myself up and told myself it was going to be ok.  Within a week, I had a job, a car, a place to live, and an entire set of new life long friends.
Over the years, I found myself and I was given a new lease on life--literally.  The tenth anniversary of that horrible yet miraculous night is coming up.
So I can say that Hawaii is truly a magical place.   Maybe the magic is still there?  If I don't try, I won't know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Leadership

I have been pondering how to inspire people to do better than they think that they can.  This is a tough one for me.  I have come to realize that when I think I am doing a horrible job, which is most of the time because my bar is apparently exceedingly high, other people think I am doing great job, different location of that bar.  When I see people who la-di-dah through work, I have a hard time first understanding it and then second, how to address it.
I can theoretically understand that not everyone is motivated to do the best job that they can and that their motivations lie else where, but in reality I have a hard time getting to it.  I even try to frame the situation with my own short comings--for example, my weight and falling off the ole diet wagon or not even the diet wagon but doing things that actively sabotage myself.  But somehow, I can't translate that.  Somehow, my parents managed to raise three workaholic kids.  We all take great pride in our work,  we all try to do our best with our abilities.  We may not always be the best but there is great effort there.
Managing the human resources is the hardest part of the job, trying to motivate people whose interests lie elsewhere than the job is equally challenging.  This is something that I struggle with.  I would love to be inspirational leader No. 1 but I don't know how to get there.  So I struggle one with what feels like blindfolded and try to mitigate some of my negative characteristics in the process.
Oh, if everyone were just like me.  But, I know that if it were so, then it would be a very sad world.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall Has Arrived

Today is the beginning of Fall--my favorite season.  The only problem is that it doesn't exactly feel like Fall outside.  It feels more like summer has returned after couple of days of respite from the heat.
I am hoping that we have a cool Fall this years, but I believe that it might just be a pipe dream.
Earlier this year in April, I went on a hike at Deukmejian with my Sunday morning hiking partner.  Usually we do a loop that for the most part is exposed but on the advise of my friend's partner we took an alternate trail in search of waterfalls that were still flowing after the winter run off.  On the trail, I spotted this feather and leaf.  For whatever reason, I am fascinated by ground litter.  Here, I was struck by the variety of colors, the band on the feather, the darker edges of the red leaf.  On this warm first day of fall, I conjured up this image of a memorable cool day.
 The day started with an early morning mist--something we call a marine layer here and we felt transported from Southern California. My hiking partner commented that she was reminded of growing up in upstate New York.  
 I was transfixed. Everything seemed lush, green and beautiful.  It was hard to believe that we are in the midst of a severe drought.  I loved how all the flowers were wearing droplets.  Here is flowering Yerba Santa.  I love Yerba Santa because its pale fuzzy leaves hold great curative powers.  And its delicate purple flowers add a pop of color to the landscape.

On the way back down the trail, we ran into this little guy.  I love to see rabbits just before Easter.     Way back when, either my first or second year at college, I saw a rabbit in the evening as I walked on Campus on Good Friday.  Since I had never seen a rabbit on the campus before or in fact since, I took it as a good omen.  Since then, I feel a certain sense of joy when I see rabbits around Easter.  And this guy just took his time posing, nibbling, posing--allowing me to get a couple of good shots.  It was magical. 




Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ready for a New Season

Mostly what I miss living in Southern California is seasons that I understand.  Cool days bookended by hot days well into October are incomprehensible to me.  In Hawaii, I was  attune to the seasonal changes moving throughout the year in logical intervals.  Cool, wet springs followed by warmer humid summers.  By the end of September the humidity would abate leaving crystal touches of the fall.  Winters cooler that spring with more rain.  Generally the most unpleasant, unpredictable season on the islands.  
Here we have had our hottest summer weather at a time when the rest of the county and pretty much the rest of the Northern Hemisphere are unpacking sweaters and jackets.  Trees are beginning to turn and drop their leaves.  Pumpkins make an appearance and don't appear out of place.  Instead, my power goes out last Sunday because everyone was running their air-conditioning all day.  And I rarely turn my A/C on, for heaven's sake.
I am waiting for cooler weather, pulling out the sweatshirts and pulling on sweatpants.  It's not that I want snow, but weather that doesn't leave me drained would be nice.  I can't wait to walk around the Huntington and not yearn for the cooled buildings.
I miss Japan at this time of the year.  It is perfect, the trees turning, the humidity finally lowered.  Some of my best trips were during this time of year.  Sandan Kyo, Akiyoshidai, Kyoto.  Hikes and walks, clear crisp days that make you feel alive.  The changing leaves to mark another year drawing up to wind down in shortened days and lengthened nights. The crispness gradually turning into nipping and then biting cold before relinquishing its hold to the coming Spring.
Here, I feel discombobulated with the weather.  Summer that spits and stutters until it catches sometime in August.  Winter is a mercurial pest, packing punches one week and high tailing it the next.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Coming out...

OK. This is embarrassing.  In some regards I really don't want to admit it.  But yes, well, I must say that I am in fact a Francophile.  A lover of things French.  I never thought I would get to the point that I am declaring my dirty little secret.  The Frogs, those blasted French, the only good thing to ever come out of Frances requires you to get a triple bypass.  I spent years saying that I had not interest in France or the French.  I didn't particularly like the sound of the language, all nasally and rough.  I preferred the roundness of Spanish. And all those words that I had trouble spelling in English, I discovered were in fact French words that had too many vowels in strange orders and silent consonants that were always tripping me up.  And then I had heard all the stories of the French being pompous and refused to speak to English speakers trying their damnedest to communicate in their stupid ass language.  These were the pre-conceived notions I had been sporting for a good part of my adult life.
Then I went to France, and discovered that I was in love.  I found that in fact the French were actually very accommodating at least more so than the Germans.  Upon reflections, I found the German attitude to my inability to speak German much the same as many Americans--which made perfect sense considering how prevalent German heritage is in the US.  And then with further reflections, I realized that actually the French like Americans--they gifted us with the Statue of Liberty for heavens sake.  They remain grateful for the number of Americans who sacrificed their lives on French soil during WWII. What the French do not like is the English.  Hey, I thought, common ground, I don't particularly care for the English either.  ( I got really tired of hearing, "You're OK for an American" from the English.  What I always thought when I heard this was "Well, I guess you are passable... for a HUMAN!") I'm sure that there are unpleasant French, just as there are surely unpleasant people everywhere, and I am sure that there are French that don't particularly care for foreigners either.  But my overall experience during my 10 days in Paris was that, they were a gracious lot with rather good food, kick ass museums and a history that reads as the architecture for all that is good in Western Civilization.
 I was trundling around on the Metro reading From Dawn to Decadence: 500 years of Western cultural life from 1500 to the present by Jacques Barzun I realized how influential the French were in forming Western Civilization. Maybe because was reading this massive tome and then stopped at a station named after someone, I had just read about, I began to feel an infinity for the country.

And then I went to the Louvre, I was never so amazed in all my life.  I of course, I wanted to see the Mona Lisa.  I grew up with a Mona Lisa print on my bedroom wall.  I also had a fascination for the Venus de Milo.  My mother had a mini reproduction of the statue in the library.  But I was stunned by the sheer size of the Louvre and for some strange reason when I approached the staircase with the Winged Victory of Samothrace, my breath caught.  I felt, I knew this statue but didn't know why.  I will never forget the feeling of this goddess of Nike. I am certain that my reaction was because I had seen the image of this statue but it never registered unlike my knowledge of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.  When I saw these pieces up close (Ok, not so close for the Mona Lisa), I felt like I was connecting with something pleasant from my childhood.  But the gasp that escaped as I mounted the stairs to see the Winged Victory comes from making connections that I was never fully cognizant of--it is magical and permeated my entire experience.
The company I share in my love for things French is many and there is no lack of literature to fuel my imagination.  From Julia Child's My Life in France to Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod and Cara Black's Aimee Leduc mysteries, I find myself in fine company.  
Recently, I finished Cara Black's latest installment Murder in Pigalle.  Each of Cara Black's books are set in a particular neighborhood in Paris.  Aimee is the owner of Leduc Investigations which has transitioned into a cyber security company in the late 1990's.  Although Aimee is not technically I gumshoe detective any longer, she is constantly pulled into near fatal situations.  She is hip, sassy, wears second hand couture and has a significant weakness for bad boys.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Wasp Factory & Confederacy of Dunces

Several months ago, I was reviewing Books You Must Read Before You Die lists. I am fairly broadly read, but I find that there are always more titles on this lists that I haven't read than I am comfortable admitting.  The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks made the BBC list.  Since I had never heard of it and the title is quite memorable, I put it on my reading list.  I have a tendency not to read the blurbs on the covers or to read what books are about.  And I never ever peek to the end. When I started the Wasp Factory at first I couldn't quite grasp time and place.  Was this a dystopian novel? It was so bizarre, it took me a while to understand that the time was the 80's and the place was somewhere in Scotland.  I found the book intriguing but so good that it ranked in the top 100 of any list, I wasn't so sure.  First off, I wanted to feel sympatheic for our very unusual very definitely disturbed protagonists whose brother has just escaped from a mental facility but the fact remains that in his own words, our young hero is a stone cold killer by his own admission with 3 murders under his belt.  In order to maintain control over his world, Frank, maintains classic OCD rituals which include sacrifice poles and the Wasp Factory that portends the future.  To say the very least this is a dark novel that is much like driving past a rather horrific accident--you don't want to look but you can't help yourself.  The twists and turns for such a short novel are substantial.  By the end, I have to admit that it is memorable and thought provoking.  Maybe, I do understand why this novel made the list but I do think that this list was compiled mostly by men.  It would never have made a list driven by women.
The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole made more than one list that I reviewed.  I had seen this novel before, but the sheer size of it made me reluctant to invest time in it previously.  But I am all about edifying myself, so I set myself to task.  Dunces was published posthumously and it is likely that it may never have come to light had Toole not committed suicide, leaving the manuscript to his mother who eventually succeeded getting it published eleven years after his death in 1980.  Dunces is a romp through unlikely coincidences with larger than life French Quarter characters who are both lovable and despicable.  Ignatius Jacques Reilly is a gargantuan of a man reminds us of a Southern modern day Don Quixote with a long suffering mother.  Highly entertaining overall.  But rather than feeling like a Looky-loo at an accident as I did in The Wasp Factory  this book felt more like seeing a huge catastrophe in the making but powerless to stop it.
Overall both books were worth the read but if I had to chose one over the other I would choose The Confederacy of Dunces.  There are some serious laughs and not the stuff of nightmares.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

I discovered Ruth Reichl when I decided to read only books about cooking for 6 months.  I had read memorable books like The United States of Arugula: How we became a gourmet nation by David Kamp and Julie and Julia: My year of cooking dangerously by Julie Powell before I happened upon Reichl's Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the table.  I loved her succinct style and elegant use of adjectives.  At the time, I really had no idea who she was, but afterwards I wanted to read more about her amazing life.  I quickly followed Tender with Comfort Me With Apples.  A few years later, my book club chose her books as a discussion topic and I read Garlic and Sapphires: The secret life of a critic in disguise.  As always, Ruth Reichl combines knowledge, erudition and humor into a compelling read.  The book club discussion was successful.  The participants had the opportunity to read one or more of her titles and then contribute to the overall discussion of her life and times.
Several weeks ago, I ran across her stab at fiction Delicious!.  I requested the book and jumped it to the front of the queue of books to read ( a list far too long).  I finished Delicious! last night. I haven't perused what other people think of the title.  I wanted to get my thoughts down before I traveled down that road.  I finished the book with a mixture of pleasure and disappointment and find myself confused about how I really feel.  On the one hand, I love the style--the elegant use of adjectives danced around my head pleasingly.  But on the other, I find the story line somewhat stilted and far fetched.  We meet Billie at her hiring interview at Delicious! a long time food magazine that calls Gourmet to mind.  Like Gourmet, Delicious! is also shuttered fairly early in the book.  But back to Billie, Berkeley dropout, who panics when she needs to cook, is in desperate need of a Cinderella makeover, writes unanswered letters to her sister the perfectly beautiful Genie and is a super taster who can discern the nuances of any dish.  Billie fills her massive amounts of free time avoiding her own troubled past moonlight at family owned Fontanari's as the first ever outsider allowed to work behind the counter waiting on regulars like Mr. Complainer--obviously the destined love interest.
The book picks up steam after the shuttering of Delicious! and Sammy's intervention when tweedy, flamboyant Sammy bounces back from his deep fugue state and returns to manse to pick up his belongings. Some late night exploring leads to the discovery of a hidden room in the long locked up library that mysteriously still smells of apples rather than moldering dusty books. The hidden room leads to a magical card catalog and the discovery of a serious of letters written during wartime Ohio to the legendary James Beard by a preteen girl.  The hunt is on as this set of letters has been hidden away.  Will Billie and Sammy find all the letters? Will Billie get a makeover and connect with Mr. Complainer?  Will she ever face the ghosts of her pasts and overcome the panic that entering a kitchen with purpose induces?
Of course, this is fiction where ends are more or less tied up in a more or less predictable fashion.  The writing remains the classic Reichl that I have come to hold very dear but the overall story is at times far fetched and at times mundane.  I smiled at the end of the novel, but really and truly wanted something a bit more from such an outstanding writer.
Now that this has been said, I will see what other people have to say about Delicious!