Dave Wallace, Nice Guy, 1962-2008

Saturday evening, the news came through on FriendFeed that iconic author David Foster Wallace had died, apparently by his own hands, on Friday night, September 12. The friend who posted the news was a huge fan and others followed with expressions of genuine sadness and shock. I had taken several stabs at Wallace's fiction, but always gave up, feeling distinctly unmo and unclever enough. Even so, I grieved along with DFW's fans.

Why am I writing about the passing of one of the most influential authors of our time if he's never been on my Must Read list? Even though his writing was anthemic to Team C & I (Cynicism and Irony), it's not at all how I experienced David Foster Wallace. I guess I'd like you to know that he was just a really nice guy. Dave taught at Illinois State University in Normal, and lived in my hometown, Bloomington, IL until he left to take an endowed creative writing chair at Pomona College in Claremont, CA in 2002. I became acquainted with Dave through a coworker who was close to him as a friend, and who also did a lot of research for him. Even though I don't think I ever formally met him, I do a have a vivid image of him at the reference desk, scruffy and bandanaed, talking to my friend.

When my friend was in the process of a cross-country move, she asked if I could take one of Dave's requests, as she was without internet access and up to her waist with U-Haul boxes. I was pretty excited about helping out Perhaps the Most Influential Writer of Our Generation, and in no small measure intimidated, for fear of a sudden reference skills failure. Who wants to look incompetent to a Macarthur Genius? As is, I performed adequately (phew!) and was rewarded with an acknowledgment in Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity. Unfortunately, as difficult impossible as Infinite Jest was for me, this book was all alien script, given my distinct unmathiness. Regardless, I'm pretty proud about being even a minuscule footnote in such a rich sliver of literary history. All of our transactions were via email, and I was very surprised to find him a charming, chatty, gracious and warm correspondent.

After my friend got settled, I was retired as a reference pinch hitter to the literati. Maybe a year or so after that, I decided that I wanted to take a writing course at ISU and was sort of thinking about an MFA program. Dave was in the English department and teaching a 200-level fiction course. Of course I wanted to take a class with him, but he said that I would be frustrated and way out of my element, and suggested I start at the 300-level. Several weeks into the class, I was glad to have taken his advice and was particularly pleased that he passed along that another student in the class, a friend of his, was impressed with my work. I know that it wasn't Dave saying he was impressed with my work, but he trusted his friend's opinion. As a teacher and a writer, he had to know that this casual comment would be a great motivator for me, and it was.

I'm still slightly mortified about the one time I had a conversation of any length with Dave. By that time, he had left for his new teaching gig, and my friend, who had relocated to Florida, was back in town for a funeral. Despite the sad occasion for her visit, we had a small party, . In keeping with the theme, let's call it a wake. Which we used as an excuse to pass a bottle (okay two bottles) of tequila around and around.  Somewhere around midnight, both deep in our cups (aka "grunk"), my friend decided to call Dave. Apparently more incapacitated than me and unable to string a sentence together, she passed the phone to me. I did my best, a semi-lucid drunk talking to a recovering alcoholic, thinking, "this is both inappropriate and incredibly embarrassing." But, you know what?  Dave was as gracious and kind on the phone as he was via email and wound down the conversation by tucking me in and gently stepping back, like a parent leaving a toddler's room at bedtime, wishing me a good evening, but making it clear that it was bedtime.

Dave deserved such a gentle end to his day on Friday, but who knows why he felt that alone. People with chronic, clinical depression become so adept at masking that they frequently give those around them little or no opportunity to help.

Recently, another friend started talking about a suicide plan. You hear something like that and think that it's just venting during a crappy patch of life. We all have bad, bad days, but clinical, black dog depression is not something that's going to get better with a Hallmark "coping" card and a hug. I knew that my friend had cut his partner out of any discussions about how serious his depression was and decided it was my responsibility to put his partner back in the loop. I called and emailed his partner and shared every detail I knew, even if it meant making my friend angry. He did make an attempt, but people were around to intervene and get him help. My friend is alive, and we're still friends. If you value your relationship with someone like this, learn the signs and don't be afraid to intervene, even if it means losing a friendship.


Hey, Grandpa, What's for Supper? 8.31.2008: Jambalaya & Kheer

In the past few months, I've taken to posting the menus that are prepared in Tinfoil's Sunday (or Saturday) Kitchen. I've gotten enough requests, via Twitter and Friendfeed, for recipes, that I'm going to try to make it a regular feature here.  I may not have enough passion to write about library issues these days, but I can always muster enthusiasm for food! 

I'll try to post at least one or two recipes each weekend, with my customizations following strikethroughs.

Yesterday, I decided to make Jambalaya, in honor of my favorite city, New Orleans. Ever since I brought back The Gumbo Shop cookbook from my first visit to New Orleans, I've used the recipes for Jambalaya and Gumbo. Typically, Jambalaya is something that I like to make more than I like to eat, but yesterday's result was perfect. Not sure if it's because I had Andouille instead of smoked sausage or because I used tomato puree and fresh tomatoes instead of crushed tomatoes, but it was the best I've ever made. Here's the basic recipe (from raspberryworld.com):

  • 1 lb. 2-3 lbs. chicken breasts and thighs, bone in (or use leftover cooked chicken).
  • water to cover
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/2 lb smoked andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes 2 whole, very ripe fresh tomatoes and 12 oz. tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • (I added) 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup converted long grain rice (like Uncle Ben's)
  • 1 1/2 cups stock (from cooking chicken)
  • 1 2/3 lb raw peeled shrimp

Jambalaya is one of those very flexible recipes that you can adapt to what you have on hand. The only thing I no longer change is converted long grain rice (like Uncle Ben's). I've tried regular rice, and it's just not right.

I also made Mardi Gras Cole Slaw from the cookbook:

1 small or half a large green cabbage, shredded
1/4-1/2 small purple cabbage, shredded
shredded carrot, for color
(if you really want Mardi Gras color, toss in some yellow and green pepper matchsticks)
1 c. mayonnaise (I made homemade mayo this time, recipe to follow)
1/2 c. 1/4 c. creole spicy brown or horseradish mustard
salt, pepper, and hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste.

It was also my first attempt at homemade mayonnaise. Again, I used the Gumbo Shop cookbook, but probably should have used Alton Brown's recipe. The GS recipe uses 3 egg yolks and 1 egg. Alton's calls for much less, and this episode will tell you everything you always wanted to know about homemade mayo, including the shocking news that mayonnaise has no risk for salmonella, even if left out on the counter for hours.  Here's a link to the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/mayonnaise-recipe/index.html  I really like this episode of Good Eats because Alton demonstrates explains why it's better to adhere to the process of mayonnaise.

We also had the freshest, most tender corn of the season, and sliced tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

I thought about finishing off my NOLA tribute meal with a bread pudding w/bourbon sauce, but decided to go with Kheer, a soupy, sweet Indian pudding. I used to be able to get my Kheer fix at one of three Indian restuarants in Bloomington, but La Crosse is not exactly a hotbed of culinary diversity. As with Jambalaya, Kheer is a very flexible recipe, with endless variations. I used this Rice Pudding recipe from Gourmet magazine, making a few changes.

1/2 cup basmati or jasmine rice (I added 1/4 c. long grain rice for the last 20 mins of cooking, for a less soupy version)
2 cups cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons ghee/clarified butter  (you can use regular butter)
2 tablespoons 1/4 c. golden raisins
1 tablespoon 1/4 c.sliced blanched almonds
5 1/2  4 cups (whole) milk
6 saffron threads (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground 6 cardamom pods

Variations include rose water, cashews, pistachios. To make it a healthier version, you might be able to get away w/skim milk, brown basmati rice and less sugar or a Splenda blend. Using brown basmati would require longer soaking. If you want to speed it up a bit, microwave the rice and water for 10 minutes.

Yum! Yum! 

For the post-boomers and highbrows among you who have never seen Hee Haw, there was a weekly feature with Grandpa Jones in which the audience would shout "Hey, Grandpa, what's for supper?" to which Grandpa would rattle off a typical old-fashioned southern menu. If any of you can find a video clip, I'd love to link to it.


Waiting for Gustav

Three years ago this weekend, I sat at the reference desk before the library opened and read this apocalyptic weather alert from the National Weather Service.


Aside from having been to New Orleans twice, and having a friend in the area, I had no particular claim to the city. But having been there a couple of times was claim enough for me. Like many people who go to New Orleans for the first time, I fell in love with America's one pagan city. It wasn't beads, beer or boobs that grabbed hold of me. I can't even explain it, aside to say that I felt bewitched.  It doesn't even embarrass me to say such a corny thing. That's how strong the magic was.

So, when I read the above weather statement, I went numb and tried to process the message. Through the rest of my shift, I obsessively refreshed NOLA.com and Weather.gov. I furtively listened to the Neville Brothers and was close to tears and feeling helpless. When I got home for the remainder of the holiday weekend, I was glued to CNN and The Weather Channel, and reading the message boards on NOLA.com.

Everyone was relieved a bit when Katrina was downgraded to a Category 2 before it made landfall. It was still grim, but the weather report above seemed a bit sky-is-falling. Then, as folks started back to work after the weekend, the storm surge came, the levees started to fail and the real horror-show began.

For several days, with the rest of the world, I just watched in paralyzed shock as the apocalypse unfolded.

Eventually, I stopped crying and mourning and found a way to help by doing online outreach to the Gulf Coast library community, along with Jason the ZenFoPro and a few others.  We had a Yahoo! forum and a website, we were emailing like mad, and I created an ongoing blogpost with links. I can't even remember all what we did, but it was librarianship at its best. (If you worked on this with me, please give a holler!)

Yesterday, as unidentified victims of Katrina were finally laid to rest, Gustav began to gain strength and spin towards New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  As of this writing, even though a Category 4 is predicted, the warnings are not as dire. As with Katrina, it appears that the worst damage may come from the storm surge to follow.  I've been reading the news and forums on NOLA.com and it's been a relief to see that lessons were learned from Katrina. Massive evacuations have begun and everyone, bureaucrats and residents alike, are taking the threat seriously. My friend from the area is tucked away in a far-away cabin and will be hosting Gustav refugees, all, I'm guessing, relatively well prepared for this exile.

Meanwhile, I'm going to work some homeopathic magic at home by cooking jambalaya this weekend. If you've ever been bewitched by New Orleans, head to your kitchen and let's whip up a decadent love offering for the city we love best and its residents. We need po' boys, gumbo, craw fish etouffee, pralines and bread pudding. If you can't cook, light some candles for those in Gustav's path, say a prayer that there's no criminal negligence on the part of the government, work on a hangover, or make a Gustav voodoo doll and poke him into impotence. If you'd like, share your offering here.


Youth Services Coordinator: La Crosse, WI

Join a Raccoon, a Goon and a Hedgehog in the beautiful upper midwest as manager of a lively Youth Services department.  Full information here.  If you'd like more information about the job or the community, give me a jingle.

Can you leap from a lap-sit to a performance management discussion to a polished presentation at Rotary in a single bound? The award-winning La Crosse Public Library, located on Wisconsin’s beautiful “west coast,” seeks an experienced public library professional with a desire to create the best youth services department in the state (or come darn close!).  If you have a compelling strategic vision, strong team-building skills, a talent for effective communications, and a commitment to serving youth here’s YOUR chance to have a major impact on the future of this library’s youth services and programs.  The successful candidate will have an MLS and three years of professional experience in a public library, or the equivalent in education and experience.  You will also have superior customer service skills, a good sense of humor, a familiarity with pre-literacy skills, and a fearless approach to technology. In return, you will get the support of a seasoned team of library professionals, an excellent benefits package, a salary range of $44,000 to $56,000, and the chance to transform traditional library services.


Day in the Life: Liveblogging

Woke up, got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Found my way downstairs and had a cup.  And looking up (from FriendFeed) I noticed I was late

Really, that's pretty much how it started, minus the Paul McCartney narration. I like the idea of this meme because it will make me more mindful of how I use my time today. 

Today I put on a lady dress, in anticipation of meeting with our city's well-kempt grant writer. All my other looks-credible attire is more for fall and winter, so now I am wearing a nice, above-the-knee linen sheath dress, which will prevent me from sitting yoga-style at the ref desk. But, dang, I look pretty good.

8:30-8:45--Arrived at work, entered my status on digital whiteboard, gathered some notes and legal pad, then left to meet with city grantwriter/development guy to talk about writing an RFP for the library to become a Foundation Center Cooperating Collection. Grant writer is very excited about the prospect of having easy access to the Foundation Center's online database and will happily write a letter of support for the RFP.  It was also good to get out of the office and made me realize that I should be networking in the community a little bit more. 

10:15--Stopped by Co-op to grab some lunch stuff when I realized that I'd left a beautiful pasta salad on the counter at home.

10:30--Back in office. Logged into computer & checked phone messages (2). Sorted through pile on desk to check for unfinished ref questions and for stuff I don't need.  Looked at intranet and Incident Reporting System (IRS). Hooray! No incidents between last night and this morning. Amazing what a quiet place it is when there are no patrons. Responded to a couple emails.

11:00--Talked to boss lady about next year's materials budget (and about bringing spanikopita to her house this weekend).  Reported to her about meeting with grant guy and updated her on where I am in the process.  Started Day in the Life post.

11:2-noon--Responded to back-up call at busy ref desk. Hunted down source of loud audio coming from computer headphone 15 ft away. What I am learning is that most people are not used to having an actual knob for volume on a keyboard and choose to let audio blast rather than ask for help in turning it down. Even the bright orange sticker with + and - and directional arrow on the knobs don't seem to help much. My aural sensitivity does not serve me well in a lively, well-used library.

1-5 pm--Reference desk.

  • Trying to pick out fabrics & finishes for new office set.
  • Explained what email was to a guy who only wanted to play Spades on Pogo.com. Pogo requires registration to play, I guess.
  • Helped woman find phone for her public defender while she told me about living at Salvation Army and losing custody of her daughter to her crazy mother. Sad.
  • Tried to convince fellow that 973.03 and 973.3 are really and truly different numbers. Then I told him that libraries are really hard to use and not to feel bad about asking for help. And to please not reshelve the 973.03s into the 973.3s.
  • Several phone/address look-ups
  • Three Four Six "please turn volume downs"
  • Helped autistic boy find book about mermaids, because we didn't have anything age appropriate about Michael Jackson (young patron does not need to know about vitiglio, sleepovers and Jesus Juice). 
  • Several computer log-in assists.
  • A book pull or two.
  • Finally picked finishes and fabrics for desk set. 
  • Confirmed sighting of notorious trouble-maker who isn't supposed to be here.
  • Helped Crossword Lady: Peer Gynt (dancer)
  • Used Reader's Guide Retro to verify and ILL
  • Listened to patron's ongoing job search saga. I helped him set up email for his online apps. He's getting the hang of it.
  • Let patron use my computer to do a quick print-out
  • Was happy to see Miss14 show up at ref desk. We're going to Farmer's Market right after work.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, the library is now closed.


Twitter: Well, he don't beat me

I'm sorry to say, but this is the best thing that can be said about Twitter right now. Twitter is not beating us, not holding us hostage and not physically harming us.  But our collective relationship to Twitter right now is sort of like being married to an alcoholic. It's unpredictable, unreliable and opaque, but expects that we'll always be there, full of unconditional love.  We're supposed to live off the good times and be grateful that Twitter has given us a place to hang our Tweets.  You know what? 15 years ago, I left a marriage with two kids under the age of 3. My mom asked, "Sis, he don't hit you, does he?"  Nope, he didn't hit me, but I was deeply and unhealthily unhappy and knew that it would never get any better, solely based on what I needed.  He was and is a nice guy, a good dad, but I had to get out. 

If I could leave a relationship with two little kids, no job, and no permanent place to stay, I sure as heck can walk away from Twitter. It seems melodramatic, but I think that Twitter is banking on the fact that it has had tremendous loyalty from the start.  Up until yesterday, I was ready to stand by my API, but after watching how Twitter let my Twits down during ALA, I decided it was time for a trial separation. The "perpetual beta" excuse just doesn't cut it for me any more. I love Twitter enough that I would pay at least a few bucks a month for stable, reliable access, but don't see that happening any time soon. I'm encouraging all you other Twits to stage an intervention and join Steven Cohen, Josh Neff and others over at FriendFeed. You can find me under tinfoilraccoon or rochellehartman. I'll keep my access open for now. 

Dear Twitter: Please get your ass into rehab.  It breaks our hearts to see you like this, but we can't continue to enable you. You come in and out at all hours, don't tell us where you're going and you've let us down when we've most needed you.  It breaks my heart even more to tell you that I'm leaving, effective immediately. I'll be keeping track of your recovery efforts. We love you and wish you the best. xo --rh

Dear Horizon 3.0.8 OPAC: You're on notice, too.


Iowa Flooding 2008: A Father's Heartbreak

While I was looking for information about how libraries have fared during the recent flooding in the Upper Midwest, I came across this photo that is part of a Red Cross set on Flickr. No caption necessary.


Nellie Wilson: Wisconsin's Own Rosie the Riveter

On May 3, Juniorina finished her second year of National History Day participation, reaching the state level both years. Each year, students work on projects in support of an annual theme. They can present historical research in papers, performances, websites, exhibits and documentaries. This year, La Crosse Public Library hosted over 500 middle school students who came to the library for research visits in support of their projects. We were pleased to see that eight students from our region were state finalists, some of who will advance to the national event. 

Juniorina, an 8th grader, wrote a heck of a paper, and missed nationals by one spot, placing with a 1st Honorable Mention.  I'm going to publish her work here, not (just) because she's my kid, but because she wrote about a woman, largely unknown outside of Milwaukee, who had a signficant impact on her community. Mrs. Wilson also passed away shortly after Juniorina started her research. I'm pleased to shine a light on Mrs. Wilson's life and work. 

Wisconsin's Own Rosie the Riveter: Nellie Wilson and Her Fight for Equality in the Workplace

by Claudia Elvidge, School of Technology and the Arts II, Grade 8

“Nellie Wilson had a dream, too.  Wilson attended the 1963 March on Washington.  She had a dream that she could support her two young girls. When Wilson finally landed a job worth working at, she hoped that joining the union would make a difference. Then she found herself making a difference in the union - and in the lives of countless other workers.”1  

      That was a quote from the obituary of Nellie Wilson who passed away January 23, 2008, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the age of 91, after a lifetime of fighting for the rights of women and people of color in the workplace.  Nellie Wilson was one of the millions of women who went to work in factories during World War II at a time when, in the public eye, women were supposed to stay home or work in less demanding jobs.  Even more remarkable was that she was an African American woman.

Continue reading "Nellie Wilson: Wisconsin's Own Rosie the Riveter" »


Nice Catch, Dr. Google!

A couple weeks ago, I went in for my not-quite annual wellness exam. I told my doc I was feeling pretty good, aside from the usual intermittent stuff--migraines, fatigue, etc. I went in to the appointment with a list of things to talk about, and we finally got to the last item: my thumbnails.  I'm not sure when I first noticed it, but both of my thumbnails have been bumpy for awhile. I told her that it wasn't anything I was particularly worried about, but wondered what was happening in my body to make both thumbnails bumpy.  She noted that I pick at my cuticles and said that that can lead to infection and irregular nail growth. I said that I'd been picking at my cuticles for several decades and had never seen bilateral weirdness with my nails.

At that point she turned to her computer and said, "As a patient, I don't know how you feel about Google, but let's see if we can find anything."  I laughed and said, "Well, as a librarian, it's my starting point for a lot of research, so let's give it a go."  I think her initial search was something like ridges thumbnails which pretty quickly brought up the term "washboard thumbnails," also known as "transverse ridging of the thumbnails."  I gave her some search tips, like taking away quotations marks, and pretty soon, we kept seeing results that had the words thyroid and hypothyroid in them.  Ah ha! I have a diagnosis of chronic fatigue/fibrymyalgia, so wouldn't ever think to overly complain about brain fog, fatigue, headache, etc, since it's stuff that comes and goes. But, there's a huge amount of overlap between hypothroidism, chronic fatigue and perimenopause (another thing we've assumed was going on).  Given the addition of the bumpy thumbnails, the doc decided to test my thyroid levels.

Last week, while sitting in the hotel lobby at Computers in Libraries, wondering why I was feeling so absolutely crappy when I hadn't been up til 3 am doing karaoke, I got a call from my doctor's nurse. She was telling me all the stuff that came back okay, and I kept thinking, "something didn't come back okay or she wouldn't have called me to say that stuff was okay." Finally, she said that my thyroid test had indicated that I have clinical hypothryoidism and that the doctor wanted to start me on Synthroid.

Jeeze, that sucks, I thought. But after a few minutes, I was pretty happy about it because it explained so much. Admittedly, I am older than most of my CiL peers, and past my partying prime.  Excited as I was to be at CiL and as much as I was enjoying it, I felt really out of sorts. I really pushed myself to participate, socially, as much as I did, and was wiped out for much of the conference. It seemed out of proportion the other factors--age, amount of sleep, etc. I was also getting bummed out by my lack of motivation to be more professionally active, compared to my peer group.  Intellecually, I want to be in the game. I want to be writing, presenting, creating.  My friend Matt always asks me "what are you working on," when we haven't talked for awhile. For the past several months my response has been, "uh....nothing."  Inevitably, we talk about projects we could work on together, but  the conversations have never gone past that.   

Everything makes sense now, or at least I hope it does, as I'm feeling pretty relieved to know that there's a reason behind my lack of energy and engagement. There was a prescription for levoxothyrine waiting for me when I got home, and I fired up Doctors. Google and Ebscohost to learn what I could.  The downside is that it could take several months for me to start feeling better, depending on how long it takes for the medicine to get my thyroid levels back to normal. The upside is that I can stop beating up on myself for not doing more more more. I'm going to cut myself some slack, say "no" without feeling guilty, and give myself time to heal and feel better. And, yes, I already have a follow-up appt scheduled with my doctor, the real one, to supplement what I've learned about online. I'm most grateful for Dr. Google, though, as I'm not sure I would even know that I had a problem if it weren't for such immediate availability of information. 


CiL Day 1

Oh, where to start?  Last night I slunk up to my room early, tired, socially overwhelmed, and wanting to go home.  Today, I'm back in the groove and very much appreciating the Computers in Libraries experience.   Attended two sessions that gave me lots to chew on and one that had me cracking up the whole time. The chewy ones were: a) how the New York Observer overhauled its website from straight-up news reporting to become more of an online community, using open source and social networking tools; and b) a quick, but dense overview of how mobile search and searchers are different, with a quick overview of bunches of search mobile-specific search apps.  I will wait till I can get my hands on full-sized keyboard before I tackle those notes.

The presentation that had much of the room in stitches was the Library Society of the World panel discussion and demo.  All I'm going to say about it right now is that it was a powerful, if silly, example of community-building via social networking applications (with bonus Rick Astley soundtrack). Outside of making me laugh, I was particularly pleased at being given an opportunity to do some outreach before the session. I was headed into the room when the door monitor stopped me and asked, "are you one of the bloggers?" As I proceeded to give her an entirely too-complete answer, she politely stopped me, dropped her voice and confessed that even though she had a blog, she didn't understand RSS. I gave her as brief a jargon-free tutorial as I could. After a couple minutes, her eyes lit up and she finally understood what RSS was. She had more questions, all of them very basic stuff, so I gave her my email address and said I'd be happy to help her along. It was a great interaction and an excellent reminder of how the patrons I provide service to daily aren't necessarily looking for the newest and hottest stuff. It's good to be mindful of this as I run around the CiL candy store this week.

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