Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Books changing lives...? (or yet another writing prompt)

Recently, I got an e-mail from the listserv at my old library school. It was a general message from the SLIS Network. Anyhow, the message was as follows:

>>SLIS would like to hear from its students and graduates about books that have changed their lives.

If a book has significantly altered your life, personally or professionally, please consider telling us about it for an article in the fall issue of the alumni magazine, SLIS Network. Let us know how and why reading the book has made a difference for you.<<

Then they give the usual instructions of what to put in the subject line and request a paragraph of no more than 75 words "explaining how/why reading the book changed you." As a writer, and a reader, it is the type of reflective exercise that is hard to resist. It is kind of like that party prompt where someone asks which books would you take with you to a desert island if you had a choice, which seems kind of impractical because if you are shipwrecked, you probably won't have a choice of reading material, assuming you even salvage any reading material. When people ask that question, I think I like to imagine it more in terms of me going to a retreat or a sabbatical (there is wishful thinking, a sabbatical, ha), a place where I choose to go to get away from it all. In that case, I have a few titles in mind, some of which are listed in my favorite books list on my profile.

At any rate, I think for this prompt, I will send them a note choosing Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. I have my reasons for that choice, besides the fact that it is a simple, yet very good book. I got my job last summer; I started in mid August of 2004 after what turned out to be a grueling summer of travel and job hunting. There is a lot of talk in the library profession about how a large number of older librarians will be retiring soon, leaving their jobs open for younger folks like yours truly. Don't you believe it, for it is not quite as simple as that. For one, like many other professional fields, including education, when a vacancy occurs, very often the workplace chooses not to fill it, instead spreading the workload to others left behind. Of course, the powers that be call that "increasing productivity." (Others might call it "exploitation, slave labor, etc.," but we won't go there now). What that little fact translated into for me is that I had to "pound the pavement" quite aggressively. I graduated in May of 2004, and I was sending out resumes and applying for jobs since January of 2004. Note that I mentioned I started my new job in August of 2004, 8 months later. I was one of the few lucky ones. I know some of my classmates who had to go on much longer on their hunt, although given the strain the process put on my life, I did not feel that lucky. I do feel lucky that I got a good job.

The reader at this point may be asking, "so, what about the book?" Well, I am getting to that. Maybe I should post some of my personal journal entries on the job hunt, you know, to help out others getting ready to look for work in library science, but that may come later. In retrospect, I think I had a bit better odds of finding work in a timely fashion because I was willing to relocate. However, this meant that I applied to various places. I got a few interviews, which meant I had to do some serious plane travel. Now I hate flying. Not because I am afraid or other such nonsense. I hate flying for the simple reason that airline service is the worst service you can get. Their total disregard for passenger comfort is appalling, and this does not include the ridiculous hoop games you get to play with airport security of taking your shoes off, and so on. I don't mind the security. I have learned to take my shoes off by now (wear easy shoes), empty my pockets, and put anything extra in the handbag or the luggage. It's when you get to the plane, they cram you in that seat like another piece of cattle, and they don't even feed you. Needless to say, with all the travel I did this summer, I have had enough plane travel to last me a lifetime. As far as I am concerned, the airline industry can go broke. Not because they can blame it on 9/11 or other excuse, but because their service is lousy to put it mildly. I provided service with the bad attitude and conditions airlines do, I would not be in my job very long. I am driving everywhere. And if I ever get the urge to go to Europe, I am taking a ship if I can help it. I know, wishful, but I can dream.

So, to the book. Those of you who fly know you can spend a lot of time in the airport. I had to take connecting flights, and those who arranged them for me this summer did not always pick the most expedient times or connections, so I did linger at airports more often than not. I always like carrying a book or two to read for those long lingering moments. However, you can only sit still so much at an airport, so you get to pacing after a while. I picked up my copy of Coehlo's book at one of those airport bookstores. I can't recall where now, but I know it was on airport waiting to take the final leg of a flight back home to Indianapolis so I could go home. My mother is a Coehlo fan, and I had recently bought her a copy of another Coehlo book. I went into the store to browse, and I found a nice paperback copy of the book, is Spanish. Coehlo is Brazilian, and he writes in Portuguese. Since I know Spanish, I preferred to read a Spanish translation to an English one, reasoning it would be much closer to the original. At any rate, the copy was there, and it was not terribly expensive, even for something sold at an airport. So, I bought it. I remember it was a four hour flight home, give or take, plus I still had about an hour to wait at the airport, give or take. So, I sat down, and I opened the little book, and I began to read the fable of the young boy who decides to go after his dreams and search for the alchemist. The book was an easy read. Its simple language was beautiful and lyrical, a pleasure to read. I found myself not wanting to put it down once I started it, wondering where the journey would lead the young boy. His journey was, and for me still is, an inspiring journey. Many times he could have chosen to settle down, but he always moved in the search of his dream, his personal quest. The book spoke to me while I sat in that airport and while I sat in that cramped couch seat on the plane. I had an epiphany. I realized that all this time, through all the stress and aggravation, in spite of the long trips, the grueling interviews (I had a really bad one at a certain southern school I will not name now), I was in the pursuit of my personal quest. Or, as Mr. Spock told Captain Kirk, I was pursuing "my best destiny." Those of you who are Star Trek fans know what I am referring to. I found the book at the time when I could most use it, at a time when I needed a little inspiration to go on. The hunt was taking a toll; I had to find a job before my lease ended, and I had to move out. And then I read that book; I was enthralled by it, I saw so much of me in it, found reassurance to pursue my own dream, to learn to become the wind (this last will make sense if you have read the book; if you have not, read it). I knew then that I would find my bliss, that I would get a good job, even if I ended up cutting it close. Because this was my personal quest, my personal destiny. I had done other things I liked; I enjoyed teaching very much in high school, but that was not quite it, there was something more. And in my case it took me quite a while to find it (there is another story, how I got to library school). Because it may take you time to find your personal quest, but once you do, you must pursue to know happiness. And this little book, with its simple message delivered in a simple yet moving fable did it for me.

Of course, I am not sending this rambling note to SLIS, but I will send them Coehlo's book and a little note explaining how it reassured me and helped me on my quest to become an instruction librarian. Because, contrary to what many say, about those who can do, and those who can teach, in reality, it is the other way around, those who can teach, those who can't, do whatever else. Remember that the next time you hear some legislator or business person say that this or that will fix the schools. Remember that they have never stepped into any classroom, and they would not dare to do so, and, if they did, my bet is they would not last five minutes. So, I will look over this, and I will make a small note and send it. And we'll see what happens. If it gets chosen, I will try to include the link here for others to see. If not, well, it was a nice little excuse to do a little writing.

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