Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A life change

I recently reduced my hours at work, went from a 36 1/2 hour full-timer, to a 20-hour-a-week part-timer. It's been a little strange adapting to the change. Except for part-time jobs during my 3 1/2 years of college, year and a half of graduate school, and a year and a half when I lived in Maine the first time, I've worked full-time, 35-40 hours a week, my entire adult life, since I was 18.

But I'm adapting! To going in later, leaving earlier, not pushing myself so relentlessly. This is, after all, exactly what I was seeking, when I asked my Board if I could reduce my hours. Semi-retirement, the closest thing to the real thing I could afford at the present time. And in case you're wondering how the Starving Librarian could afford such a move: Social Security benefits are supposedly going to offset the reduction in income. I won't be making any more money, but shouldn't make any less, either, if the lady at the Social Security office and I got our figures right.

Truly, I'm worn out. I'm ready to be retired. I've had a lot of trouble with extreme fatigue, and I'm hoping this will help. If nothing else, it should help my mental fatigue.

Besides having to adapt to actually having more time for the rest of my life, I'm having to adapt to being more focused at work, less easily distracted, less inclined to do things that other members of my staff can do. I've never been so diligent about prioritizing. And fortunately, this change came at a time when there were no looming crises or deadlines, which crop up from time to time.

One thing that I am hoping will make this change even more successful is that I have hired, with my Board's approval, a person to handle the planning, scheduling and publicizing of programs for the library. As those of you who have followed this blog regularly surely know by now, arranging programs is my least favorite aspect of my job, of public librarianship in general. Librarian as social director, just not my thing. I can only hope it is our new staff member's thing.

My Board approved this on a trial basis; we are to see if the library can manage without a full-time director. Wish me luck.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A little touch of Greece

Well, it had been too long since we had a program at the library, so I again made a suggestion to the Friends, and in fact offered myself up as a sacrifice. I would give a slideshow presentation on the two trips I made to Greece in the early 90s. Of course, the early 90s is now a long time ago, but as I said to the group when I gave my presentation (last night): Greece is eternal. It doesn't change all that much from decade to decade. The historical sites are still the same, the islands are the same, Athens is basically the same, the people are still the same.

Getting the slideshow made was a challenge. I had a bunch of slides, which one of our Board members, who is also the city's historian, and an invaluable source of information for the library, said he would burn to a CD for me. However, I didn't have slides for all the pictures I wanted to include; in some cases I had only prints. So Sam had to figure out how to do slides interspersed with the occasional print. But he did it. Now I had to figure out how to get the pictures into the laptop we have at the library, since I would be using the laptop, connected to our LCD projector, to show the slides. Fortunately, one of the local activists -- he's a never-still member of the Hallowell Area Board of Trade, was the guiding force behind the city obtaining a grant for a project to put a bunch of the library's old photos online (the Maine Community Heritage Project), and so much else besides -- offered to help me get the pictures into presentation mode.

We (I should say he) tried a couple of different things, but nothing worked reliably, and then we discovered that our little MacIntosh ibook did have PowerPoint already installed in it. The procedure for getting the pictures into PowerPoint was time-consuming and tedious (there were 51 photos), but Bob did the first few, hovered at my elbow while I did a few, and I was then able to take the computer home and finish inserting the pictures over the weekend. Mission accomplished.

But what to say? I knew I needed to plan that, if for no other reason than that discussion of 51 pictures needed to fit into an hour's time. But in typical Melody fashion I kept avoiding the task, until late Wednesday afternoon -- the day before the program -- when I sat down with the computer on my dining table, and began rehearsing what I was going to say for each picture. I was still at it at 11:30 that night (I did take time out to watch Human Target on the Fox channel. The hero has an unfortunate, whimpy voice, but my, is he good-looking.) One reason for how long it took was that I kept having to check my facts -- digging out all my Greek guidebooks (whenever I travel anywhere I find it all but impossible to avoid buying the color guidebook that is available for sale at virtually every tourist attrac-tion), riffling through the pages -- I know it's here somewhere -- checking some things online.

Sometimes I would be rattling along -- expounding to the pictures of my father, my paternal grandparents, and their parents, which adorn the wall over my dining table -- and I would realize I was just going to have to cut some of the information I was pouring out. There simply wasn't going to be enough time. And in some cases I realized I really should have pictures to support some of the things I was saying -- and I did have them, but not included in this presentation -- so I was just going to have to cut. It was just like writing! What to leave in, what to leave out.

I was very nervous about the program. As always there was the question, would enough people show up, though I was a little less concerned on that point than I usually am, since I've learned talks about foreign places are generally pretty good draws. But would I remember everything, the correct pronunciation for everything, would the machines work o.k. and blah, blah, blah. In other words, I had good old-fashioned stage fright, as I always do, as most of us do, when having to "perform." In the event there was a problem with the focus -- on about picture three it occurred to me that the pix were a little fuzzy, and I said, right out loud, "I wonder if we can improve the focus on these -- does anyone know how to do that?" And somebody in the audience did, and then the program went without a hitch, and the Greek food one of the Friends had brought as refreshments were a big hit, and everyone said it had been a great program, and several people expressed amazement that I'd been able to remember all that.

So, I put on a show, with a little help from my friends. And thank God it's over.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stand up and be counted

On St. Patrick's Day my census form came in the mail, and I was very excited. I think the census is cool. The way we learn how many people there are, in each community, in the country as a whole. It's cool to be part of such a big, important undertaking. It's like voting. And as someone who has been very involved in genealogical research, I know how invaluable census information can be. The best place for finding ancestors, finding out who all their children were, where everybody was born.

But wait! To my considerable disappointment, there were no questions like where were you born, where were your parents born, what is your occupation. It just, quite literally, counted me, and ascertained my race. Have they stopped asking the questions that could be so helpful to my descendents (whoops, no kids -- no descendents. But other people will have descendents. Who will surely be disappointed to have only address and names of children provided.)

One of my staff at the library mentioned that for the last census she and her husband had a very lengthy, detailed form to fill out. Was a decision made not to send out detailed forms anymore? Seems unlikely. Do they just send them out to some people? That wouldn't seem very fair...

I can't remember what the last census form I filled out was like; in fact, as the result of a completely disintegrating mind, I can't remember ever filling out a census form in my life, though presumably I've filled out four. Good grief.

The Census Bureau sent the library a bunch of posters to put up encouraging people to return their forms, assuring them of confi-dentiality, etc. I thought this was strange -- why wouldn't people return their forms? -- but was informed by another of my staff that many people do not, indeed, do so. Some people, apparently, feel that it is just another case of the government sticking its nose in where it's not wanted. Ach! This is a completely impersonal counting, with very important ramifications in terms of legislative representation.

And besides, it's cool...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The crap shoot of life

Watching the scenes of devastation following the earthquake in Haiti in January, and the more recent one in Chili, remembering the tsunami that literally swamped southeast Asia at the end of 2004, then the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, thinking of all the people whose lives were destroyed or traumatized by these events, I think 'Life is such a crap shoot.'

Most of us (i.e., those reading this blog) lucked out with the roll of the dice -- we got born into reasonably middle-class families in the wealthy, safe (if you don't live in the ghettos of some big, mean city) United States of America. If we're old enough we've undoubtedly had to deal with some of the inevitable tragedies of life -- losing parents, siblings, spouses, children, others we love, to death, or something like alcoholism or drug addiction; perhaps wrestling with these problems ourselves, or such things as depression, lengthy job loss, severe financial problems. As we all know if we live past the age of 20, life is hard, wherever you're born, whatever kind of circumstances you're born into.

But for some people life is astoundingly hard, and never lets up. One could be a woman living in Congo, subjected to multiple rapes by soldiers, having your private parts permanently damaged by the abuse. This, of course, is on top of being dirt poor. Or one could be one of the thousands living in the appalling conditions of refugee camps in Darfur and eastern Chad, there after having seen their menfolk tortured and slaughtered, their home villages destroyed, even now subject to rape when outside the camps trying to gather straw or water.

Or one could be an Afghani peasant, caught between the self-serving violence of the Taliban and the 'whoops' attacks of the drones, that seem to be forever hitting civilian targets; this, after having endured war in one form or another for most of the past 20 years...while wanting, of course, nothing other than to be left alone in peace. And obviously I could go on and on. The places whose inhabitants have it incredibly hard are legion.

And then I think of my mother, insisting that God had a plan for me, my brother (of the same religious inclinations), insisting that God wants me to be happy. Presumably, if God has a plan for little ol' insignificant me, then He/It/They (God is not female, or would never have permitted the kind of suffering women have had to endure down through the ages, in virtually all societies) has one, i.e., a plan, for every other person who has ever lived, and is living now, and wants them to be happy, too. But what kind of Plan permits the kind of suffering I mentioned above? Or, perhaps more importantly, how can one take any kind of comfort from a belief in such a Divine Plan? Surely one can do so only if one wears blinders as to the conditions so many people in the world must endure, have endured throughout the history of humans. If you just sit in your middle-class American complacency, enduring the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but nothing truly major, no true catastrophes, then maybe it's possible to believe there is a just God, a merciful God, who loves you and is watching out for you.

Otherwise you have to think you just really lucked out, in where you were born, when, to what parents. The luck of the draw.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The painful politcal process

I'm feeling very confused and frustrated about the health care reform bill. Where exactly are we? I'm a big believer in making ones voice heard, but to whom should I be writing, to voice my opinion? I fear writing my two senators is a waste of time. I very much like both Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- have voted for both, even though I rarely vote Republican, because they are women who really care about the people they are trying to serve; they are not just into playing the political game. This was demonstrated by Snowe's good faith attempt -- the only one from her side of the aisle! -- to try to work out a bipartisan compromise on the health care reform bill. But ultimately she could not bring herself to vote for the bill that was passed by the Senate, and I certainly doubt she will vote for any consolidation of it and the House bill that was passed.

Since my senators have to be viewed as a lost cause on this (I did, by the way, write to both of them back in the fall, when the Senate bill was still being worked out, and I thought voicing my opinion might possibly do some good), I was all set to send letters to all the Democrats in the Senate, urging them to vote for health reform NOW, saying you're not going to get the perfect bill; nobody's going to be completely happy; but we really must at least start the process of change now, and it's up to you because the Republicans are just going to keep saying no to everything but caps on malpractice suits (as if that would take care of the problem). But then it occurred to me that, besides the fact that a letter from a non-constituent is not going to carry much weight (I knew that from the get-go, but thought at least somebody would be hearing my voice), there was the fact that I wasn't sure where in the process we were. Would it make more sense to write to all the Democratic Representatives? But my god, there are far too many of them; I couldn't afford the postage.

The bill-consolidation process is where I'm assuming we are at present, though I'm not sure. President Obama came out with his version recently, and I thought, isn't this a little late? Has his proposal just muddied the waters, or provided options that most Democrats will find satisfactory? Are the Democrats going to try to combine his proposal with the two already-passed bills, or just use his? This is what I mean when I say I'm confused. I know there's talk of using the legislative "trick" called (misleadingly) "reconciliation" -- which the Republicans are objecting to mightily, even though most legislation passed using this "trick" has been Republican-backed legislation -- but I'm not clear as to what piece of legislation would be submitted to that process!

After hearing that several of the largest insurance companies had an extremely lucrative year in 2009, while covering ever-fewer people, and that they are now proposing premium increases of as much as 39 per cent, I wondered how on earth people could be so resistant to reform. Those guys need to be held in check so bad. I have long held that the insurance industry in this country is a racket anyway. Health care should not be a matter of profit and loss, any more than education should be. This is why I was supportive of a public option, which was included in the House bill that passed, but dropped from the Senate bill (and, presumably, will not appear in any consolidated bill). But I wouldn't refuse to pass reform legislation, just because that particular feature was not included. Come on, guys, let's do something now!

Whom do I call?