Saturday, December 27, 2014

100 Word Increments: Growing Old is Mandatory.

Next week is my birthday. I’ll be 32.

“Does it make you feel old?” my mother-in-law asked me after Christmas dinner.

“Not at all,” I said. “I’m aiming for thirty five. After that, I’ll celebrate the anniversary of my thirty fifth birthday every year.” I told her about my favorite Oscar Wilde quote: “Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.”

“Wonderful!” she said. “I enjoyed being thirty five for about twenty years.”

We had a good laugh about that.


When I was five years old, I decided being a kid was awful. No one listened to my opinions on world events. I couldn’t buy my own toys or set my own bedtime. I had zero say in what was for dinner.

Worse yet, I was bad at being a kid. I was bad at playground games and making friends. I was bad at being stupid and impulsive.

However, I was brilliant at self-denial, planning ahead, and budgeting my allowance.

I just knew I’d be good at being old, in a way that I was never good at being young.


One day in November, as I entered the Goodwill store, several vibrant signs proclaimed, “Senior Day: Twenty Percent Off for Senior Citizens”.

“Are you eligible for our senior discount today?” I heard the cashier asking a tiny black woman who was very obviously eligible for the discount.

“Oh, no, honey,” the tiny woman said. “I’m only 39.”

Lady, are you kidding me? Pride is one thing, but twenty percent off is something else altogether! If you’re not going to take the discount, at least give it to me! For crying out loud, I could have saved, like, three whole dollars!


As we drove to the art museum earlier this month, my grandmother regaled me with descriptions of the delightful senior’s luncheon to which she had escorted an older woman she knows from church. “It was great!” she said, then hastened to add, “I wasn’t old enough to go, of course. It was all for Dottie.”

“Of course,” I said, motioning for her to continue.

I wisely refrained from commenting when, upon arriving at the museum, grandma bought herself one senior admission, and didn’t pay until after checking with the girl at the counter to be sure her discount was applied.


“It’s great getting old, because you don’t have to pretend anymore. You can say whatever’s on your mind. People expect you to be cranky at my age, so I get away with it,” an older friend from work told me not too long ago. As she finished speaking, she ran her fingers through her hair and came away with hair on her fingers. She ‘tsked’, as if the situation, while disappointing, was not unusual. “Just FYI,” she said, catching my horrified gaze, “when you get old, your hair falls out. Wouldn't want you to be surprised.”

“So noted” I said.


Last week, Randi lamented that, while she was stocking up for our New Years Eve party, neither of the liquor stores she visited carded her. “How many bottles of wine do I need to bring?” she asked sadly. “I have three, but I would kind of like to drink one tonight.”

I winced for her but I’ve never been carded myself. As someone who was bad at being young and impulsive, I was at least twenty-eight – well past the point of carding – before I ever bought anything at a liquor store.

…I wonder if liquor stores have senior citizen discounts?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bunnies Must Die

The article came out in December of 1996. I know this because I ripped it out of the National Geographic magazine and kept it in a file. I still have it. It was the picture that did it, you see: two men standing in front of a truckload of dead rabbits.  

No, literally. There was a truck. The bed of the truck was loaded end to end with expired bunnies.

The article explained, very briefly, that Australia had a severe rabbit problem and that hunters like those in the picture killed millions of rabbits - a nonnative, invasive species - each year in an effort to save the native Australian animals that the rabbits were eating out of house and home. Now, scientists were creating rabbit-specific viruses in order to protect the Australian environment, but were subsequently putting such hunters out of a job.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, such controversy over so small (and fuzzy) a thing. Seriously, rabbits? Who knew?

Not long afterwards, I discovered a different magazine that had more to say on the topic of Australian rabbits. Apparently some clever Aussies, realizing how hard it is to look good while killing small defenseless rabbits, were trying to rebrand themselves as the savior of the adorable, rabbit-like, 100% native-to-Australia Bilby. There was even a petition to replace the Easter Bunny (with an Easter Bilby, of course). This article, too, with its headline that read simply “Bunnies Must Die!”, was ripped from its magazine and placed in a file.


Sometime later, my tenth grade English teacher made an announcement: we were starting our nonfiction unit, which would culminate in a research paper. We were free to choose any topic we wanted.

Oh, I could not wait.  

Finally, a chance to tell my classmates about this topic that had been so much on my mind for so many months! One cannot (or could not in those days) simply walk up to one's friends and say, “So have you heard this thing about the rabbits in Australia?” It just wasn't done. Now, I could lay it all out for my peers and foster a genuine discussion.

On the one hand, I loved animals, and rabbits were animals, and hunters were killing them in droves! On the other hand, I loved animals, and koalas were animals, and the rabbits were killing them in droves too! Plot twist: rabbit hunting created jobs, jobs easily attained by aborigines and unskilled laborers, while government-created rabbit-specific super-viruses not only killed defenseless rabbits but also destroyed jobs!

This would be the most thought-provoking paper of all time!


When it was time to present my report to the class, I was ready. I had an essay. I had sources. I had pictures. I felt that my cause was just and that my ways were justified. I volunteered to go first.

“And so, as you can see,” I said, “when you consider the research costs and the potential for dangerous mutations, these viruses aren’t the answer. Keeping the hunters employed is better for the economy. Either way, the bunnies must die.” At the conclusion of my report, my classmates and teacher stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment.

“Well, that was certainly interesting,” said my teacher as I took my seat. “Thank you, Tori. Who's next?”

That was it. So anti-climactic! No discussion, no questions, no arguments. Total silence. And into that total silence, my friend Ryan, who sat behind me, whispered, “Oh my God, Tori! Do you have any idea how heartless you sounded just now?”

“No. Why?”


“Rabbit killer,” they called me.

For weeks, I couldn’t sit through lunch in the cafeteria without saying, “No, you don't understand! It's only the ones in Australia that matter!”

The idea that you have no interest in killing ALL rabbits, only those in a specific geographic region, is apparently too broad of an idea for most 14-year-olds to grasp. Pictures of adorable bunnies showed up in my locker like fluffy accusations. One vegetarian classmate refused to speak to me at all. My best friends thought the situation was hilarious and cackled with glee as they chanted, “The Bunnies Must Die!” in their best maniacal voices.

I fumed, and I seethed, and I waited for the whole mess to go away forever.


“So can we talk about this thing with the rabbits in Australia?” a classmate asked before school one day.

“Oh, can we not?” I said, rolling my eyes.

“It’s just that I saw this and thought of you.” She held her hand out to me. “Blue’s your favorite color, right? Go ahead, take it. I got it from one of the prize machines at the grocery store.”

It was a lucky rabbit’s foot.

“Thank you,” I said, tying it to a zipper of my backpack. “I’m, uh…” I fumbled for something suitable to say. “I’m really not a rabbit killer, you know?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “Just the ones in Australia. I get it.”

And that was the last I ever heard of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Santa Claus Incident

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I noticed that my fifteen-year-old niece was upset with a TV show. “Dang it Attack on Titan... Whyyyyy would you do this to me?” her status said. She had just watched episode 5, where one of the main characters dies dramatically. “They ripped my heart out!” she said, posting a picture of herself in full ugly-cry mode.

“I recommend you get used to it...” one unsympathetic friend commented.

“Really??? Your kidding?” she replied, with a cavalier approach to grammar.

“It gets a lot worse...” said another.

“I don't think I can prepare for more,” she lamented. “I mean, this is worse then Game of Thrones...”

Oh, you sweet summer child, I thought, laughing as I wondered how she’d react to the rest of the show, in which almost everyone dies horribly.

But when my laughter subsided, I sighed. I was being unfair: this might be a Santa Claus incident.


When I got home after second grade one day, my mother asked how my day had been and I told her about the argument between my classmates. Half of them had decided they were too cool to believe in Santa Claus anymore, while the other half clung to their beliefs with a zeal that could have rivaled the Spanish Inquisition. The argument had eventually spiraled out of control, derailing the math lesson for nearly half an hour while the teacher sent the chief instigators to the office and calmed several other children down.

“And which side were you on?” mom asked me.

“Oh, neither,” I said. “I read a storybook while they talked.”

Mom nodded solemnly, then took me out for ice cream so that she could soften the blow of telling me Santa Claus was not real. “Since your classmates are talking about it, I wanted you to hear it from me,” she said. “Your daddy and I are the ones who put out presents on Christmas morning.”

I took the news rather calmly. “Okay,” I said, and I really was okay with it. My older brother had already hinted at as much, and I had decided that Santa Claus could be not real if he wanted to be, as long as I still got presents.

I listened as my mother explained how heartbroken she had been as a child when she learned Santa wasn’t real, how she wanted more than all the world to spare me what she went through. “Just remember that Santa Claus is always real in your heart,” she said, choking back tears.

“Okay,” I said again, staring at my ice cream.

I felt bad for not feeling bad about it.

You see, for my mother, learning the truth about Santa Claus was an incident. For me, it was not.


My Santa Claus incidents, and there have been several, have not been about Santa Claus at all.

Do you have any idea how upset I was as a child to learn that Muppets were not real? We’re talking nuclear grade devastation. No amount of comforting ice cream was going to smooth this tantrum over. I was a wreck for weeks. To put it in the modern parlance, four-year-old me just “could not even”.

And can we talk about how I mourned for Optimus Prime? “Oh, honey,” parents and grandparents said. “The Transformers aren’t real, so he isn’t really dead.” This is surprisingly unhelpful, but thanks for trying.

There have been books I’ve literally thrown across the room because they didn’t end the way I hoped they would, leaving me feeling both traumatized and betrayed. Critics say, “It had to end that way for literary reasons!” Screw them.

There have been TV shows the left holes in my life when they were cancelled. “What am I going to do with myself at 7:00PM on Tuesdays?” I asked. “Just watch something else,” people said. IT ISN’T THAT EASY, YOU UNFEELING WRETCHES!

These are Santa Claus incidents. Not the big things, the real things like deaths or divorces or house fires, but the grief for things not real. Did anyone think to take you out for ice cream when Superman died? Did anyone lovingly comfort you after “The Reichenbach Fall”? No one did for me, but it would have been nice if someone had thought of it.


So I called my niece. “I saw your Facebook post,” I said. “Are you okay?”

She sniffled. “Yes.”

I made a mental note to buy her ice cream later.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Letter to Benedict Cumberbatch

Dear Mr. Cumberbatch,

I recently moved back to my hometown in Oklahoma, having spent several years as a librarian in south central Kansas. Most people know about Kansas from The Wizard of Oz, but, although we do often get tornadoes in this part of the country in the springtime, I’m reasonably sure none of them have ever carried me away to a magical realm. I say “reasonably sure” because it is apparently possible that such a thing has happened and I have forgotten. I am assuming I have you to thank for that.

You see, Mr. Cumberbatch, as I was working at the library one day, I came across this DVD:

And one item in particular grabbed my attention:

Namely, my name.

Now, to the best of my recollection, I have never been on a sailing voyage – or even a pretend sailing voyage! – with you. I am quite certain this is the sort of thing I would remember even if I were not known among my peers for my excellent memory (which I am). There was nothing for it but to watch this movie and see where I fit in, in the hopes that it might spark a remembrance.

Sadly, it seems all of the footage featuring me ended up on the cutting room floor (only to be expected, I’m afraid, as I am a terrible actor). Try as I might, I was unable to dredge up any memory of this nautical-themed period of my life or the adventures we had!

At first, naturally, I was devastated! How could I have forgotten our time together? The witty conversations, the high jinks on the high seas, the abiding yet entirely platonic relationship we very definitely had (I am happily married and doubtless you were a perfect gentleman at all times)! Why, if only this DVD had never come to my attention, hinting at all these things but shedding light on none of them, I could go back to my old life in peaceful obliviousness like Donna Noble at the end of season 4 of the new Doctor Who when the Doctor had to block her memories of him in order to save her life…

And that’s when it hit me:

You’re a Time Lord!

Yes! It’s so obvious! You’re a Time Lord and are currently living under an assumed name, cleverly disguised as an actor. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to names invented by aliens who haven't quite got the hang of human aliases, “Benedict Cumberbatch” is right up there with “Ford Prefect”.

(Yes, yes, I’m quite aware of your claim that you received this impressive name from your “parents”. “Parents” who are both actors, who have even – it begs pointing out – played the part of your “parents” on TV. I may not be as clever as an immortal Time Lord, but trust me when I say that no Earthling is going to fall for that.)

Of course, I’ve seen Doctor Who: I know how this works. Whatever you’ve done to block my memories of our time together is certainly for my own good. You miss me, I know, but while I may use the occasional Sherlock marathon to indulge in a bit of wistful sentiment for what could have been, I have no regrets, and neither should you.

Be strong.

You needn’t reply. I just wanted you to know that, while I may not remember any of it, I do know it happened.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Suitable Punishments

These are the secrets we librarians will not tell you.

It takes a very particular sort of person to be attracted to the proud profession of Librarian, the sort of person, for example, who naturally gravitates towards draconian rules and finicky organization systems. Librarians who may be fun-loving and slightly disorganized people at home become dictators when it comes to library rules. We process the books just so. We follow these procedures in just this way. We do not deviate. Ever.

It shocks and amazes us that other people can use the library with such callous disregard for the rules. When people return our books – our books, mind you! – in poor shape or several weeks late, we judge them. We sit in silent censure, dreaming of suitable punishments…

We dream that someday, when we are in charge, people who underline in their library books will be marked. It will be an unflattering tattoo, in a prominent place, and so their sins shall be known to all.

We bristle at the people who place twenty holds on books that are in, forcing us to hunt for them on the shelves before the library opens in the morning, and we imagine telling these people they can only have the books if they can cross the room with all twenty balanced on their heads.

We debate the proper penance for people who dog-ear pages: Do we make them walk a mile, doubled over with wrists tied to ankles OR give them an unflattering haircut?

We seethe at the people who circle all the items in the I Spy books and we picture them locked in a windowless room wall-papered with Where's Waldo pages. We’ll tell them they get to come out when they find the purple hat. (We do not tell them there may or may not actually BE a purple hat.)

We may pray our immune systems hold as we greet the obviously contagious people, the coughing people, the people with sick children who should have stayed home, but inside we imagine such people being dunked in sanitizing solution and made to breath deep.

We imagine telling people who use something gross as a bookmark that it's fine. We'll even take it out for them if they forget to do so before they turn in the book. But they have to eat that bookmark.

When people don't put the audiobook CDs back in the case in the proper order, we want those people to know: We are coming to your house. We are taking every individual thing you own - every single item - and putting each one in its own unlabeled box. And we'll stack the boxes in your garage. In no particular order.

We curse people who complain about small late fees, curse them to NEVER have exact change for any transaction EVER AGAIN, curse them to a lifetime of asking “Can you break a larger bill?” and being told they’ll have to wait for management approval, and we dream of the day, not far off, when our curses will WORK.

We dream of a dystopian future where we sit in prominent thrones at the races where inconsiderate people – such as those who checkout bestsellers and keep them for THREE MONTHS even though there are WAITING LISTS and the other patrons COMPLAIN – are made to run twice around a large and dusty track as they are chased by rather small but exceedingly angry dogs with shrill, yipping barks and with very pointy teeth.

We believe in the just and perfect world we will shape, of the favors we will grant to our favorite patrons (the nice ones, who either return their books on time or promptly pay their late fees). We continue to smile as we serve the guilty and innocent alike, but you will know if you look into our eyes that we are dreaming (silently, because this is a library after all) secret dreams of suitable punishments.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

An Unexpected Phone Call

It was Saturday night and I had no plans. (That’s not meant to sound as pathetic as it does: It sometimes takes very careful and deliberate planning to have no plans like that. I plan to have no plans all the time.) A bowl of ice cream and I were going to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and only one of us would come out of it alive. In my pajamas by 6:30PM, with my hair in a lazy bunch on top of my head like a Who from Whoville, I was under strict Lockdown Protocol, by which I mean, although we weren’t expecting company, if there was a knock at the door, I intended to ignore it until the interloper went away.

Somewhere around the escape from Goblin Town, my phone rang, buzzing loudly next to the now empty bowl.

Delighted to see that the caller was Randi (who never calls anyone when a text will do), then disappointed to realize it was a Facetime request rather than an ordinary call (during a Lockdown dress rehearsal, of all times!), I answered. “Hello?”

On my screen, Randi had her phone tilted slightly so that I could also see her four-year-old daughter Ari in her lap. Ari, fashionable in a string of fake pearls and a long t-shirt over tights, waved frantically at me, smiling fit to startle a dentist. Randi’s smile appeared to have been dropped a few times and reapplied in haste.

“Hi,” said Randi, stopping Ari’s wave with her free hand. “So, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but Ari cosplays as you sometimes. This is her outfit for today.” In the time it took Randi to gesture at her daughter’s attire, Ari resumed her waving.

“It’s lovely,” I said.

“There’s a hat that goes with it.”

“Is there?”

“And also a jacket.”

“How practical,” I said. I wondered briefly what Ari must think of my Batgirl pajamas.

In tones of mild desperation, Randi said, “Would you tell her that you’re a librarian? She never believes me when I tell her you’re a librarian.”

I opened my mouth to say that, yes, indeed, I am a librarian, but stopped short. “What does she think I am?”

Randi sighed, rolling her eyes slightly as if to avoid eye contact. “She thinks you’re a princess.” Ari nodded enthusiastically.

I kept a straight face. I even sat up a little straighter, ensconced in the recliner as I was. It made sense, though. The only time she ever saw me was at parties and ren fair, occasions for which I took the greatest care with my appearance. “Well, Ari,” I said, looking into her big bright eyes through the phone’s unflattering camera. “As it happens, I’m a librarian princess.”

“Really?” Ari said in a breathy gasp, drawing out the syllables.

Behind her, Randi face-palmed.

I nodded. “Because princesses can be whatever they want to be and I decided to be a librarian.”

“Wow!” said Ari.

“I suppose that will do,” said Randi.

We said our good nights and hung up. I went back to my movie. Later, Matt passed by on his way to the kitchen, regarded me in my pajamas, and asked, “Having fun?”

“Yes,” I said. Because princesses can be whatever they want to be and this one had decided to be a hermit for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rejected Resignation Letters

“I know you told all of us that you’re leaving, but I need a resignation letter from you,” said Karyn. “Just a formality, that I can put in a file somewhere.”

“Okay,” I said.


My dearest library,

I'm leaving you.

It's not you, it's me. I just don't see a future for us together. We're only going to continue to grow apart. Like, 198 miles apart, if you want to get technical. The odds against long distance relationships just aren't good.

I just think it's time for both of us to see other people. Or rather for you to see other people and me to see other buildings full of books.

Listen, what we had was beautiful and special, but I think you and I both know it wasn't meant to last. A love like ours burns too bright and too brief.

I will hold your memory in my heart forever.




Dear library management,

I refuse to put up with these shenanigans even one more day.

You may look sweet on the outside, Andover Library, but I'm onto your games! Behind the giant books with the adorable napping bunny beats a heart of darkness. And just where is the tortoise, I ask you? "Late" indeed!

I see all manner of vile and evil schemes running beneath the seemingly placid surface of this place. The Friends "book sale"? Obviously a front for smuggling…something. I'm unclear on what exactly. But it's very definitely going on! And do you really expect me to believe that you aren't brainwashing the youth of Andover during these so-called "story times"?

Now, if you're thinking you can "hush me up" or make me "disappear", you're too late! I've taken steps and I'm going into hiding. Soon, everyone will know what I know!!!




Dear library management,

I've had it! That whiny patron this morning was the last straw!

What is it with the PEOPLE around here? Are you all crazy? It's getting to where I cringe every time the phone rings, wondering what fresh hell it is. There must be something in the water!

I just can't take it anymore! Cheri and her crazy questions, Tom's unrealistic expectations, the way Karyn's always silently judging me (and the way she raises one eyebrow when she looks at you – YOU KNOW THE LOOK, KARYN!). the way Benjamin is the "golden boy" and is always treated with such obvious favoritism, and how Kathy and Kristina are always talking about me behind my back... (Cathy's actually okay, but I can't handle how the patrons are always comparing me to her with her perfect hair and her Mary Poppins personality.) It's all too much!

For my health and sanity, I am resigning my position.

And good riddance to you all!



“What’s all this?” Benjamin asked later.

“My resignation letters.”

“Letters? Plural?”

“It took me a few tries to find the proper tone,” I admitted.

“So there’s a real one somewhere that you actually turned in?”

“Yes, right. Of course.” Because I didn’t turn these ones in. That would have been silly.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Second Book of Benjamin

For the First Book of Benjamin, click here.

Chapter 7 - Unlikely Sequels

On a Monday morning as we prepared to open the library, the return bin was overflowing. “This is going to take hours,” I predicted. It seemed everyone had returned the movies they’d checked out over the weekend, leaving us with stacks of DVD cases, each needing their discs removed and filed behind the circulation desk.

“I can help until my meeting starts,” said the director, Tom, grabbing a pile to check in and suddenly exclaiming over a movie he must not have known about. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2? What’s the story there? ‘Now with more meatballs’?”

“Maybe there was a higher chance of meatballs?” I said.

Benjamin nodded. “It's good that it's meatballs, or else it might be Cloudy with a Chance of Sugar 2: Everyone Gets Diabetes.”

“Still, how long can this go on?” Tom asked.

“Well,” said Benjamin, “there could be Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3: The Reckoning…”

“Or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 4: Atkins Revenge,” I said.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 5: The Paleo Protocol…”

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 6: Rise of the Gout!”

“I’m sorry I asked,” said Tom.

Chapter 8 - Maybe We Don't Know...

“So then I learned it works better if you actually read the directions,” said Benjamin as we emptied the return bin after lunch one day.

I nodded sagely. “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”

There was a moment of silence punctuated by the dual beeping of our handheld scanners as we each checked items in. Then Benjamin asked, “What's the other half?”

I stopped, mind drawing a complete blank. “You know, Joe never did say.”

“Who?” said Benjamin

“It's from the old GI Joe cartoons. 'Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Go Joe!'”

“Okay,” said Benjamin, obviously unimpressed, “But that still begs the question of what the other half would be...”

“I don't know. Fighting the battle, I suppose.”

Chapter 9 - Flight of the Money Bird

I turned toward the cash register but Benjamin was already standing there. I would have to wait until he finished his patron transaction before I could input my own. Oh well. My patron had paid three dollars even and then left, so I had time to wait. It was a good thing, too, as Benjamin hit the wrong button and had to start over again when the register squealed in protest.

As I waited, I pinched the bills in my hand by their centers so that the long edges flapped about as I waved. “Look, Benjamin!” I said. “It's the rare and majestic money bird! Note the glorious green plumage!”

Benjamin looked first at the money bird, then at me, then at the patrons as if to say “Do you see what I have to work with?” To me, he said, “There is something seriously wrong with you.”

Elbowing him out of the way so I could put the money bird in its nest in the register, I said, “It's not the first time I've heard that... today…”

But after the patrons left, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Notice I didn't offer any suggestions on how to fix it.”

I sighed. “Probably because you know it's beyond fixing.”

He shrugged. “Or I just like it. But, yeah, it's probably not fixable.”

Chapter 10 - Historically Accurate

The new fiction books for the week had arrived and Benjamin was not impressed, perhaps even offended, by several cheap paperback romances with beefy male models on the cover.

“I mean, really? Are you kidding me?” he asked, semi-rhetorically. “He’s practically naked! What’s he planning to do with that sword?”

“Well, I assume, based on the summary on the back,” which I read purely for argument’s sake and not because I might have been interested, “that he’s some kind of highland warrior and he’s going into battle.”

“Why? What’s the point of going into battle with nothing but a pair of tourniquets on your arms?”

“Oh, armbands like that were really popular among the Celts, so that bit’s historically accurate. And they had these sort of necklaces called torcs…” I said, pleased that I had managed to pick up some useful knowledge in my years of working the ren fair.

But Benjamin interrupted me. “Fine, whatever. Maybe the no-armor thing is historically accurate and that’s how the nerds managed to survive. Because, you know what? I don’t care how many ladies that ‘no armor’ gamut is getting you. I’m going to encase my entire body in metal.”

I set the book back on the processing pile. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that’s how I’d do it too.”

Chapter 11 - Crown Pigeon

Someone had changed the desktop theme on the circ desk computer again, so, as is traditional, the circulation librarians all had to sit around admiring the vibrant background pictures.

“Awww! Kitty!” said Benjamin in a high pitched voice as a mountain lion appeared on the screen.

“I like how this set tells you where they’re from,” I said, pointing to the zoo logo in the corner of the photo.

“Yeah, but not what they are,” said Tiffany as the picture changed. “Like, what is this fabulous bird?”

“Oh, that?” I said. “That’s a Victoria crown pigeon.”

The two of them regarded me with suspicion. “No, really,” I said. “Look it up.”

Benjamin got on Google and typed it in. “Oh, wow! They really are!” said Tiffany. She leaned in for a better look. “Haven’t I seen these at the zoo?”

Benjamin clicked through to zoom in on one of the images. “Hey, yeah! They chase you in the jungle exhibit. I didn’t know they were called Victoria pigeons.”

I said, “My name is Victoria so I would remember something like that.”

Benjamin gasped, throwing his hands up in a hallelujah gesture. “When you become evil, you will slaughter hundreds of these to make a headdress for yourself!”

“I like how he says ‘when’ instead of ‘if’,” said Tiffany.

I sort of do too.

Chapter 12 - Friends and Anemones

It wasn’t terribly funny, but I couldn’t stop giggling about it. “That’s it,” I said, working on my book-review article for the local paper. “It’s break time.”

“You have been at it for awhile,” said Benjamin. “What’s so funny?”

“I started to write ‘enemy’ and it ended up ‘ememy’.”

He smiled. “Ha! That’s great! ‘Ememy!’”

“You know what they say: ‘Keep your friends close and your ememies closer.’ … and your anemones in the fish tank.”

We shared a brief chuckle over it before I closed the file and grabbed a few items from the processing shelf to work on.

Benjamin, hard at work processing some new audiobooks, asked, “Do anemones even have natural predators?”

I thought it over. “I think you mean: do anemones have enemies?”

He nodded. “Or if they’re rivals but on good terms, would it be the anemone’s frenemy? How do we regard the enemy of the anemone’s enemies?”

“Maybe that’s where the ememy comes into it?”

It wasn’t terribly funny, but we couldn’t stop giggling.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Night of the Cardboard Dead

With a Star Wars beach towel over my shoulder and a suitcase full of swimwear, I waited by the stairs up to our condo while Matt unloaded the ice chest from the car. At the top of the stairs, Matt’s parents stood smiling in greeting. It was the same condo we’d used last year, and the year before. And the year before that, as well.

“We’ve been coming to this park for more than thirty years, you know,” Matt’s mom likes to remind him. “Since before you kids were born, back when it was just the one water slide and a mini-golf course.”

This year, however, was bound to be different. We’d received a postcard from Matt’s folks well before our trip in June declaring that this year’s Hamilton Schlitterbahn trip would be themed (yes, we are THAT family), and the theme was zombies (we are also THAT family). “Oh my,” I said, stepping into the condo’s living room. “You weren’t kidding.” There were zombie apocalypse novels on the end tables, a red rubber brain on the countertop, a stack of zombie board games on the coffee table, even zombie-themed cups and napkins in the kitchen. “Where did you find all of this?”

“The internet,” said Matt’s dad. “Why don’t you put your suitcase in your room and we can play Zombie Dice.”

The moment I entered the room I saw him, all piercing blue eyes and a blood-spattered maw: a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie. “What?” I said.

“Nice,” said Matt, entering the room behind me.

“The internet again,” said Matt’s dad from the doorway, having followed us to see our reactions. “Were you surprised?”

Yes. For, you see, few things are ever as surprising as a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie.


In fact, there were three of them, and within a few hours Matt and his siblings were debating names. “I’m calling her Lucinda. Nurse Lucinda. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” said Matt’s brother, Curtis.

“I’m leaning toward a J name for this one. Justine or Josephine or something,” said their sister, Julie.

“What do you think, dear?” said Matt. “Want to help us name one?”

“I like Francis,” I said. “I think he looks like a Francis.”


They were the walking dead. Francis, Lucinda, and Genevieve (a J sound, though it starts with a G) moved around the condo all week long. We hid them behind doors and around corners, first to scare each other and then to relieve the monotony of the cleaning staff: You’d open the shower curtain and there would be Genevieve. You’d close a door and there would be Francis behind it.

But as the trip wore on, we’d become numb to their presence. What at first had been shocking soon faded into the background. Just another piece of furniture, a bit of the scenery, something to step around on our way to the fridge. Even the cleaning crew seemed to take the zombies’ presence in stride, with only a bit of resigned head-shaking at the strangeness of their guests.

On the last day, Matt’s dad gathered his children before the packing up began in earnest and said, “Your mom and I have decided that each of you can take one of the zombies home with you.”

“Dibs on Francis!” I said.

“I guess we’re taking Francis,” said Matt.


“I’ll just put him here out of the way until we decide what to do with him,” I said when we got Francis home. “Here” was “prominently in the living room, behind the armchair, posed as if he’s about to feast on the chair’s inhabitants,” where we again promptly became accustomed to his creepy presence. We ate dinner in front of Francis. We played board games in front of Francis. I sat in the armchair reading in front of Francis, like the oblivious victim in a zombie movie.

Only when other people came around did I remember he was there.

“That’s mildly disturbing,” said Benjamin, stopping as he stepped in the front door one night. “You know that, right? That this is not something normal people keep in their living rooms?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I honestly keep forgetting he’s there.”

On another night, Kristina stopped just inside the door and said only “What?”

“That’s exactly what I said the first time I saw him.”

“But… why?” she asked.

“He’s not staying there forever,” I assured her. “I just don’t know where to put him yet.”

The mild surprise of my friends was totally worth it. Complete strangers, though, are another matter. When the pizza delivery boy stood traumatized on my doorstep, hands locked in a death-grip on my dinner, too stunned to tell me what I owed him, I began to rethink my ways. After sending the delivery boy away with a generous tip, lest Papa Johns blacklist my address, I finally relegated Francis to the spare room.

“This isn’t forever, Francis. But in the meantime, no guest is ever going to inadvertently run across you in here.”


Crap, I thought, realizing only after I let him in that the exterminator is exactly the sort of guest who will visit an obscure room of the house that no guest would ever see, a room in which Francis was still prominently displayed. “Do you have any pets I need to worry about?” the exterminator asked.

“There are two cats, but they’re no problem. Just be prepared for the zombie in the spare room.”


“We keep a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie. For reasons. His name is Francis and he will not harm you.”

“Sure, lady,” he said, shaking his head at me and starting his job.

I sat on the living room couch listening to the sounds of his pump sprayer as he progressed down the hall: Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. The door to the master bedroom opened – Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. – and closed again. The upstairs bathroom: Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. Then the spare room door opened, Pump, hiss… and the noises stopped.

There it is, I thought.

I waited.

Finally, the noises resumed, traveling around the spare room and back through the hall where the exterminator gave me a long-suffering look before he headed downstairs. “I’m not gonna lie,” he said, “but even with the warning, that was creepy as hell.”


When we moved from Kansas to a new house closer to family in Oklahoma, Francis was among the first things to go. Being lightweight and able to fold down flat, conveniently the same size as the seldom used space between the backseat and the rear window, we loaded him up with the Christmas decorations, seasonal clothing, and other things we knew we wouldn’t need during the transition between homes.

“I’ll leave a key with you,” I told my mother, “and I know grandma already has one ‘cause she has a handy-man coming by later. We might bring another load up next weekend, but the official moving day isn’t until the end of the month.”

“No problem!” said Mom. “I’ll come over and clean your kitchen for you, and air the place out a little.”

“Okay, but Mom, there’s just one thing,” I said. “I’ve set up our life-sized cardboard zombie in the smaller bedroom where I piled our stuff. Don’t forget he’s there, okay? I know how easily startled you are.”

“You’re so silly,” she said.

After moving day, though, we got a mild lecture and “silly” wasn’t the word for it. “When you said ‘cardboard zombie’, I was expecting something cartoony! He’s really realistic! He about gave me a heart-attack! I forgot you told me about him! And did you hear about grandpa?”

I winced. “Was it bad? It never occurred to me to tell grandpa he was there!”

“The handy man too!”


As Halloween approached, I was still unpacking, and although I knew precisely where the Halloween decorations were, I didn’t decorate. With every available surface covered in boxes and things being sorted from boxes, I figured the decorations would only have added to the chaos.

What I did have was my porch light, my bowl full of candy, and one life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie.

At first I worried that he would frighten the little kids, but that wasn’t the case. As it happens, Halloween is the only time of year when it’s appropriate to greet your guests with a realistic cardboard zombie.

“Oh my gosh! That’s awesome!” the trick-or-treaters declared.

“I was going to compliment your friend there on his costume, but I see now he isn’t real,” said a mom.

Late in the evening, I opened the door for a tiny cowboy and knelt down to his eye-level, with the candy bowl propped on my knees.

“Happy Halloween!” he said.

I complimented him on his costume while his dad looked on from the end of the driveway. “Now what do you say?” I asked.

“Thank you?” he said.

“Aren’t you supposed to say ‘Trick or Treat’?”

But instead of “Trick or Treat,” he pointed over my shoulder and said, “Who’s that?”

“That’s Francis. He’s a zombie.”

“Is that a costume? Does he live here? Is he your dad?”

“No, he’s my friend.”

“Your zombie friend?”

“Yes,” I said, giving the tiny cowboy a generous helping of candy, though I had to open his bag myself as he was too preoccupied with Francis to be interested in sweets.

He leaned in close, narrowing his eyes first at Francis and then at me. “Is he real?” the child whispered.

“No, he’s not real,” I whispered back.

“Okay,” he said, running off toward his dad and the next house.


When the candy bowl was nearly empty, I turned off the porch light and settled in for a (mildly) scary movie. It was well after midnight before I decided to turn in. Candy wrappers, candy bowl, a few LED tealight candles, all could wait until morning.

However, I did move Francis from his post by the front door to the out of the way place behind the chair in the living room, for old time’s sake. “I’ll put you away in the morning,” I said to Francis and to myself. “I’ll remember you’re there, and I will not be alarmed.”

But in the morning, I was alarmed.

Because in life few things are ever as surprising as a cardboard cutout of a zombie.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Volunteering and Classic Literature

(This is the speech I delivered at the library's volunteer appreciation dinner, Friday, April 11, 2014.)

Today I'd like to talk to you about volunteering. But first, we're going to talk about Shakespeare.

I understand Shakespeare is not to everyone's taste - for example, Tom and Benjamin both suggested I should rather write a speech about cats - and I suspect they were not referring to the long-running Broadway musical. However, based on a lifetime's experience as a cat owner, I don't believe cats know the first thing about volunteering.

Let me start over.


When chatting with my best friend, Sarah, a librarian in another state, the discussion frequently turns toward matters of librarianship: which books we're reading, events we're planning, and – that eternal librarian conundrum – what to do about the summer reading program.

She told me, "At Springdale, they have the teens volunteer and help with the kids."

I thought about the teen volunteer group I recently started."I'm working on something similar hereabouts," I said.

She continued, "Yeah, apparently one of the camps nearby requires volunteer hours for the kids to get into it, so they have kids as young as 11 volunteering."

"Wow. That's intense," I said. "I was so shy at that age, I'd have been like, 'Guess I'm not going to camp.'"

Sarah said her younger self would have reacted likewise.

I sighed. "So many things kids are made to do just don't make sense! Kids don't understand volunteering, foreign foods, or classic literature."

"Yes," Sarah countered, "but are they ever going to understand them if they're not forced to try them?"

No, I said: "They should be a reward for growing up. Outlaw them, like drinking: No Shakespeare until you're 21! Then, they'll all take up literature and volunteering as a form of rebellion! They'll say, 'Screw "the man", man! I'm going to feed the homeless!'"


And this is where Shakespeare comes into it:

When I was younger, I read fantasy. Exclusively. If it didn't have dragons on the cover, or in the title, or if dragons weren’t hinted at in the cover copy, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I tell you this as a person who grew up to be a librarian, a person who now reads anything and everything in every genre: I hated every novel I was required to read for my English classes without exception. I still hate many of them on principle, because I bristle so at the memory of being forced to read them.

I specifically remember hating Shakespeare. With the Cliff's Notes in one hand and a fat dictionary in the other, I'd prop a play up in front of me and struggle through it, stumbling over the Elizabethan monologues. I could have lectured King Lear on the meaning of suffering.

I didn't understand the characters' motivations. Why didn't Hamlet just shut up and do something already? Why was Titania being such a nag? Why was there ANY ado about nothing, let alone much? Why? Understanding these plays required a range of life experience that I just didn't have at that age.

Years and ages later, idly flipping channels one day, I came upon the Kenneth Brannagh adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing and suddenly, it all made perfect sense. It was like the characters were speaking modern English. I soaked up every word. This led to several frantic months of Shakespeare immersion therapy. I read every play, every sonnet, rented every movie adaptation, bought my favorites on DVD. Monologues were memorized and recited at inappropriate times.

Remembering how much I hated it all as a teenager, I’m mystified that I grew up to adore Shakespeare. I love the poetic language, the depth of emotion, the changes the characters undergo. Now, I know what people mean when they say these stories are timeless. There is nothing better after a long day than to curl up under a fluffy blanket with a hot cup of tea (or, you know, “mostly” tea) while watching a Shakespeare movie.

When I say I love Shakespeare now but hated it before, don't misunderstand me: I was not a stupid kid. I was at least twice as clever back then and no less ornery. I just didn't GET IT, and no English teacher, however kind and even tempered - and I had some wonderful ones - no teacher anywhere had a snowball's chance of fitting those things into my brain at that time in my life.


I'm convinced volunteering is a lot like Shakespeare. Some people just don't GET IT, and therefore good volunteers are hard to find, as hard to find as good classic literature, as hard to find as good film adaptations of Henry V. Standing before all of you here tonight, I know you GET IT and that makes you rare and precious. You KNOW how it feels to do good work that needs doing, and that the work isn't just its own reward: it's your reward for growing up. You must be THIS tall to ride the roller coaster - you must be THIS tall to be a good volunteer.

We hope you know what you mean to us. When we have good volunteers like you fine people, people who have reached the point in their lives where they know what volunteering is all about, we make certain assumptions about your character.  

Therefore, tonight, it falls to me to tell you: We appreciate you. We're lucky to have such good-hearted, intelligent, stylish individuals, people with such excellent tastes and good manners.

And you know what else?
You rock.
You look great tonight.
That color looks fabulous on you.
Everyone was impressed with that thing you did.
You are a talented, creative, artistic person and you are SO put-together the rest of us should only hope to be so lucky.
When you walk into a room, people know you mean business.
Other people secretly want to be like you - if you ask them, they'll admit it, but we both know you're too classy to do so.
You're awesome and you're amazing and all of you are wonderful.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with the words of Shakespeare, spoken by Sebastian in Twelfth Night:
I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks, and ever thanks. And oft good turns
Are shuffled off with such uncurrent pay.
But were my worth as is my conscience, firm,
You should find better dealing.

Thank you again and good night.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hedwig goes to Hogwarts

Meet Hedwig.
"Owl selfie!"
Hedwig lives a quiet life on my book shelf. We've had a very comfortable arrangement since 2002, when we met in a bookstore at the mall.
"It's not much, but it's home."
Other than some additions in 2003, 2005, and 2007, nothing much changes for Hedwig.
"These weren't here when I arrived."
But then, last week, Hedwig had a wild idea: Hedwig decided to go to Hogwarts. She kindly permitted me to accompany her, as she didn't precisely know the way.
"If you drove a Ford Anglia, we'd be there by now."
Matt and I drove her to the airport.
"Am I doing this right?"
"So this is how muggles 'fly'?"
We stayed with Matt's grandparents in Florida. Hedwig spent a lot of time lounging by the pool.

We visited a museum exhibit about Da Vinci.
"This painting doesn't talk much..."
"I take back everything I said about the other muggle flying device..."
Finally, we made it to Hogwarts.
"I knew it was real!"
She bought a few postcards...
"I shall send it to myself!"
...chatted up the other owls...
"This is the best day ever!"
...and saw the sights.
"Are you seeing this?"
"They're singing my song!"
We picked up a few Universal Studios souvenir pennies on our way out.
"You'll have to help me with the crank..."
We spent a day at the beach...

...where Hedwig built a Hogwarts sand castle.
"I'm an owl, not an architect."
Finally, it was time to come home. I'm sure Hedwig will remember her trip fondly.
Say, what have you got there, Hedwig?
I suppose it was time for a change, after all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St. Pat's Greeting Card

This is what happens when I send greeting cards:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Collectors' Items

I collect many things. I don’t have triple deadbolts on my doors or guard griffins in my yard, so you’d never know that my home is actually full of very valuable collections. I don’t suppose it could hurt to tell you about them though…

To ward off the cold, I have a very fine collection of blankets. I have big ones and baby ones, old ones and new ones, fuzzy throws, patchwork quilts, colorful tapestries, and a few with seasonal designs. I have extra blankets on my bed and under it, and draped across every sofa and chair. They’re tucked in every corner, filling the top of the closet, the linen cupboard, a cedar chest, and two storage ottomans.

In the front closet, I’ve arrayed my collection of hats and scarves like the shining weapons in an armory, bright and ready to conquer the day. Which shall serve me best? The blue fish hat that looks like it’s eating my head as the tail flops about jauntily, or perhaps the pink knitted number with the kitty cat ears that I insist I’m not too old to wear? Shall I pair them with the softest ever purple scarf that was a gift from a friend, or the long pastel rainbow that Matt’s aunt knitted for me? Words like “subdued” and “color coordination” are not uttered here.

I’ve collected enough books to outlast the winter, and perhaps the apocalypse. There are childhood favorites, and childish favorites, and favorites that would probably offend my mother. I’ve paperbacks picked up for pocket change at used book sales and hardcovers picked up for cover price on long-awaited release days, books I haven’t got around to yet and books I’ve read more than once, and if all else fails, Amazon has my credit card number and I’m not afraid to use it.

I collect tea things. I consume a steady supply of herbal tea and black tea and white chai, loose or bagged, in decorative tins and little boxes (stacked against the wall in the pantry like a layer of insulating bricks), and I prepare the tea with my collection of tea things: pots and kettles and infusers and strainers. There’s a pot shaped liked a pumpkin and a creamer shaped like an elephant and a mug with an octopus on it.

I collect other things as well: I have an ever-changing collection of good chocolate, scented candles, and fancy soaps. I don't like to clean, so my corners collect dust. I collect friends, but only good ones, mind you: quality over quantity. I collect conversations, pressed like preserved leaves between the pages of journals. I collect letters and photos and texts and emails. Like a squirrel storing up supplies to see myself through the seasons, I collect memories of good days spent reading in front of the fire, of family dinners, of lazy mornings, and of heartfelt hugs.

Of course, I don’t have insurance policies on my 37 throw blankets or my 23 teapots. I don’t fear thieves or natural disasters or the like. Because most people wouldn’t consider these collections to be “valuable”, I don’t need an elaborate alarm system or magical wards or soldiers patrolling my (high and nonexistent) walls.

Though if there really were such things as guard griffins, I’d collect those as well.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

By Official Decree...

Dear Everybody,

We regret to inform you that Monday is cancelled.

All of it.

The decision was made earlier today by the higher-ups, the bigwigs, the grand-poobahs. The little people like us, of course, have no say in the matter.

This will undoubtedly effect the economy, but you won’t hear about it until Tuesday, since no one will be working on Monday.

Your political party will blame the other political party, and it is probably their fault after all, but they won’t be able to do anything about it until Tuesday, because there won’t be a Monday.

You might have resolved to start a new habit after the weekend, such as a healthy diet or a parkour program, but now you can’t, because no Monday. Maybe next week.

It’s going to look like Monday’s still happening – it’s still on all the calendars, and all the alarms are still going to go off – but it really is cancelled. Just take our word for it. There’s no need to get out of bed.

The Officials, Who Would Know These Things

P.S. Trust us! We wouldn’t lie about this.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meeting Media: Fairytale Daydreams

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Only Voice of Reason in a Cold, Cruel World

As has been mentioned before, I’m not a fan of winter. The darker days and colder temperatures leave me feeling depressed and apathetic. Usually, nothing sounds fun anymore from November to March. This year, I haven’t had that problem. I’ve had a worse one: instead of being depressed over the winter, I’m mad about it.

The day after the snow storm, I worked the circulation desk in the empty library, huddled over a space heater, wearing six layers of clothing, fuming over the knowledge that every patron who came in that day – all ten of them – was cog’s-loose crazy. No one would be out in this weather unless they were crazy.

Every time someone called and asked, “Are you open?” I responded with, “No, sir. This is a recording.” Then I laughed maniacally for several minutes. Of course we’re not open. I’m just sitting here answering the phone. These calls continued for the rest of the week.

The temperature has scarcely risen above ten degrees and I have become more than a little bitter.

Yet I still have to go out in it.

There’s snow all over the fields and the houses and the roads. I’m blinded by the glittering whiteness, wearing sunglasses indoors like a crack-addled movie star, hissing like Nosferatu as the sun’s reflected rays provide no warmth. I’m eating nourishing soups two meals out of three (and often hot cereal for the third) although I am not a fan of soup, nourishing or otherwise.

Yet I still have to go out in it.

I bundle up, so many bundles I can hardly move, clothes that are uncomfortable and itchy, that no one should ever have to wear, layers that don’t match, sweaters that look ridiculous (layered under a near fifty pound coat made of the skin and fur of actual dead animals). I remove the extra clothes at my destination – a process taking decades! – and I don them all once more when I leave. My feet are always cold and usually wet because my unattractive snow boots, while great for providing traction on icy walkways and clashing with all my other clothes, are crap at keeping the snow out of my triple layered fluffy socks.

Yet I still have to go out in it.


Because the library is still open.


Because people are still stopping by.

While they’re out.

Doing other things at other places that are also open.

And why are those places open?

To accommodate all the people stopping by.

Do you see the pattern here?

And I ask you all now, what are we all thinking?

What if we all just closed and stayed home?

The library, the bank, the grocery store, the schools, the department stores: What in God’s name are we doing open? Do you see that snow?

People don’t need to go to the library when it’s ten degrees outside and there’s snow all over the ground. They aren’t going to have a book emergency. If you don’t have a pile of unread books that you just haven’t got around to yet on an end table somewhere, you have failed as a human being.

People don’t need to go to the grocery store when the roads are icy and their tires are bad. They need to stay home and cook the stuff in their pantries. If you don’t have stuff in your pantry, what is wrong with you? Don’t you hear the news? Meteorologists were talking up this snow storm for more than a week! They’re fricking psychic up in that news station and you are the only moron in the world who didn’t listen to their prophetic mumblings. You deserve your fate.

People don’t need to go to the bank. Money is not an object right now. Let’s all agree to a pecuniary freeze: for the duration of the snow storm, no money is going anywhere in any direction to anyone and you should be neither earning nor spending. All the stores can stay closed and the workers can stay home, then other businesses can do likewise, and then larger corporations, in a sort of trickle-down event like our politicians are always promising us but never delivering.

Every day as I go out in the cold and the snow, I get angrier. Other people insist on going places and doing things and making plans – What are all these people doing out of bed, let alone out of their warm homes? What is so important that it’s worth braving this weather? Can’t it wait until spring?

Seriously, people. Just stay home.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Body and Me, Part II

For part I, click here.

Me: Know what would be great right now?
My body: A nap?
Me: That burrito from that one place!
My body: You mean, like, after a nap?
Me: We could get in the car and go to the place right now!
My body: That doesn't in any way resemble a nap.
Me: Maybe we'll get beans and rice to go with it...
My body: But we don't even like that burrito.
Me: Of course we do! It's spicy and cheesy and full of delicious chicken.
My body: The intestines disagree with you. Remember what happened last time? And the time before that and the time before that? Pretty much every time, really.
Me: Nope. No idea what you're talking about.
My body: Yes you do! I can see the memory over there, behind the algebra you haven't used since high school! You're just ignoring it!
Me: What algebra? I don't see anything.
My body: Preemptive Cramp Attack!
Me: Ow! Dammit! Okay! I’ll stop thinking about it!

The Day After Surgery
Me: How you doing in there?
My body: I feel like John Hurt after the dining room scene in Alien.
Me: Not that bad, surely?
My body: I feel like Frodo getting speared by that cave troll in Moria.
Me: I’m sorry you had to go through that.
My body: You know how sometimes you use the skillet to flatten chicken breasts because you're too cheap to buy a meat mallet?
Me: Cheap is a strong word, but yes?
My body: I feel like someone did that to my large intestines.
Me: So I guess going for a run is out of the question, then?
My body: Hahahahaha!!!
Me: I’ll just sit here and read a magazine, shall I?
My body: Best read it slowly.
Me: Why’s that?
My body: I won’t be getting up to get you more.

Counting Calories
My body: I'm hungry.
Me: You just ate.
My body: I'm hungry.
Me: The math says you can't be hungry.
My body: What is this math thing you speak of?
Me: Using our body weight-
My body: 180 pounds!
Me: Which is, yes, 180 pounds, and our age, I've calculated our daily calorie needs at about 1600 calories. Divided between all our meals and snacks...
My body: You told me before that you couldn't remember any algebra!
Me: Yes, but then SOMEONE decided to slack off on their exercise after a really rather minor surgery. You wouldn't know who that was, would you?
My body: Okay, you're talking, but all I hear is blah blah blah.
Me: No food for you.
My body: But I'm hungry!
Me: No you're not.
My body: I am!
Me: No you're not.
My body: I shall sing you the song of my people! *rumble rumble rumble*
Me: OMG, really? Eat this apple then but cut that out!
My body: *snarf* So good. *chomp*

One Month After Surgery
Me: Are we ready to get on this treadmill and be virtuous?
My body: Nope. Can't.
Me: And why not?
My body: Well, it's simple, isn't it? We just had that surgery.
Me: That was a month ago.
My body: And we're still in pain.
Me: What pain? We’re not in pain!
My body: We mustn't push ourselves.
Me: *starts the treadmill*
My body: Any minute now…
Me: WTF? We’re still in pain! Why didn’t you tell me?
My body: Now she gets it.

Sirius Thoughts
Me: Why didn't Sirius just write to Dumbledore after he escaped from Azkaban? Like "Dear Dumbledore, Pettigrew's at Hogwarts. Let me tell you all about it now in this letter, instead of letting him run free all year while I wander the countryside behaving recklessly and looking all the more guilty..."
My body: You're joking, right?
Me: Look, I know what you're going to say: "How would he get the letter to Dumbledore? " right? An escaped convict can't just hire an owl at the post office. But I've already thought that through. See-
My body: That's not what I meant!
Me: What then? Did I miss something?
My body: How about the fact that it's the middle of the night?
Me: Oh, that! Yes, I noticed! Isn't it great? So easy to think when it's quiet like this!
My body: Do you not see me laying here trying to sleep?
Me: This is both urgent and important. I don't expect you to understand.

Two Months After Surgery
Me: We should go running.
My body: Do tell?
Me: It’s been two months. Let’s go.
My body: I'ma ask you a very important question.
Me: Shoot.
My body: Do you actually want to go running?
Me: Oh, hell, no.
My body: That’s great! I don’t want to go running either!
Me: We’re still going.
My body: Can’t we talk about this?
Me: You’re just hoping if we talk about it long enough we won’t actually go.
My body: I would never behave that way!
Me: Great! We can talk about it while we’re running.
My body: Preemptive Cramp Attack!
Me: Dammit!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I had a teacher once who loved whales. She had whale posters hanging in her classroom and wore a tiny silver whale on a necklace. She would play whale-song nature CDs while we studied.

I had a boss once who loved otters. Her office was full of otter figurines in porcelain and carved wood and spun glass, while her desktop background was a picture slide-show of otters playing.

I have friends who love horses, or bats, or bunnies, or alligators. If we were at Hogwarts, this is what their Patronus would be. I never have to wonder what to get them for Christmas: anything with that animal on it. They collect the tchotchkes and can tell you factoids about the different breeds or species. This animal is the first thing they want to see when you take them to the zoo. They identify with these little beasts. They consider them lucky.

This is their totem.

I don’t have one.


We had cats when I was little. I'm sure it started with one or two, but then they had kittens, and the kittens had kittens, until eventually we had a small pride of friendly, outdoor housecats. The neighborhood cats hung around with our cats as well, all quite lazy and domesticated. I needed only to step outside to find a purring armful to love and play with. I knew all their names and personalities, and it was years before I understood that we personally did not own 27 cats.

My room was full of toy cats, and cat pictures, and cat coloring books. I had little-girl jewelry made of plastic, cat-shaped beads. I watched Hello Kitty cartoons. I always felt that Cinderella's problem with the cat Lucifer was that she just didn't understand cats.

You would think cats are my totem, but you would be wrong.


One year when I was very small the monarch migration came directly through my grandmother’s yard. It seemed as though the leaves on the big tree behind her house had turned October-orange until they lifted up and flew away.

I asked Mom over and over if I could watch the Katy the Caterpillar cartoon. I had a turquoise butterfly on a necklace that you can see me wearing in every picture of me between the ages of four and six. I still wear it sometimes. I have butterfly suncatchers, butterfly wall art, and preserved butterflies in glass cases.

They’re not my totem either.


As a child, I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and that was IT. From then on, it was all giant squids, all the time. It simmered in the back of my mind for years until scientists only in the past decade started finding them and filming them, justifying my childhood obsession with what everyone had assured me were mythological creatures. I read everything I could find about squid and octopuses, becoming a self-professed cephalopod expert. Go ahead: ask me anything.

Handy around the house with all those extra arms, yes, but not my totem.


 If you look around my house, you’ll find them everywhere: animals. Not just the cats and butterflies and octopuses, but others.

The peacock feather from when I visited a peacock farm as a child, as well as new ones I’ve acquired out and about, and the peacock-themed necklaces and earrings and one very impressive scarf.

The turtles I’ve collected since I first read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, where a flat world is carried through space on the back of a giant turtle. The stone turtles in my rock collection, the turtle art hanging on the wall, the toy turtle I keep on my desk – they make me smile, as does the toy orangutan I keep around, also due to Pratchett, who once declared that a certain orangutan was a librarian and the sworn brother of all librarians everywhere, and may have influenced, only slightly, my own career choices.

The things I’ve collected – the sea shells I found at the beach and not in the craft shop, the locust casing I plucked off a tree, the empty wasp nest and shed snake skin, the bright feathers taken from parrot and flamingo exhibits at various zoos (where I may have slipped my fingers, just a smidge, over the perimeter where the sign said “Do Not Cross”).

The tiny Hedwig owl I’ve posed in front of my Harry Potter books, and the owl salt and pepper shakers in the kitchen, and the owls that come out for decoration at Halloween and don’t always get put away until Christmas.

The toy elephant Matt got me when we were dating and the coin purse with the elephant embroidered on it and the elephant jewelry from India and the t-shirts from the zoo.

There are frogs and llamas and bunnies and pandas, even unicorns and dragons and dinosaurs. Penguins, sharks, chickens, dolphins, mice and moles, and birds, and even flowers and trees, depicted on my clothes and walls and coffee mugs. At Christmas, you could get me anything with an animal on it and chances are I’d love it. I have tchotchkes and factoids for all of them. I identify with them. The first thing I want to see when you take me to the zoo is all of it, because I love everything.

It’s not that I don’t have a totem. It’s that I don’t have ONE.

Apparently, life is my totem.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


It’s not every night that one goes to bed with the promise of dragons tomorrow, but this was such a night. In the dark of early morning I lay awake in bed, thinking of hobbits and adventurous dwarves and the two long-anticipated-movie tickets safely nestled in my wallet on the kitchen counter. For more than an hour, I’d lain there using my phone to read Tolkien trivia and look at hobbit-hole floor plans, listening to my husband’s even breathing next to me. Now I had only to wait another ten hours for the show.

With a sigh, I put the phone on the nightstand, flipping my pillow over to the still-cold side and burying my face in it. Still, sleep would not come. Then I remembered: Hadn’t I heard something about a meteor shower? I checked the phone again. Yes, the Geminid shower, occurring tonight from dusk to dawn but only visible after moonset, just after four, local time. It was 3:59 already.

 “It will be an adventure,” I thought as the wind howled outside. “I can tell Matt about it in the morning.” Determined not to wake him, I slipped from the covers in the dark and crept, like a ninja, toward my bathrobe in the closet, cursing under my breath as I tripped over my shoes in a most un-ninja-like fashion.

In a voice as clear as though he himself had been lying awake and needed only this excuse to remedy his own boredom, Matt said, “What on earth are you doing?”

“Couldn't sleep,” I said, “and there's meant to be a meteor shower.”

“Say no more.” He threw the covers aside and reached for his workout sweats. I fetched my robe and his from the closet, stepping into my fuzzy slippers for good measure. Tying my sash as we walked down the hall, I said “It's been going all night but the news said it wouldn't be visible until the moon set at four.”

“You have good timing then.”

“I've been awake since two at least.”

In the kitchen, I heated water for tea as Matt lit the propane stand-heater on the back porch. When the heater glowed with blue flames, Matt came back inside, shivering. “It's cold!” he said, heading for the coat closet.

“Twenty five degrees when last I checked,” I said, keeping my voice low although there was no one else in the house who might have been disturbed. “Thus the tea.”

A few minutes later, we stood on the porch, gasping against the wind. Bundled in our thickest coats, over bathrobes, over pajamas, I cupped my hands around the ceramic mug, the air leaching the heat from my freshly brewed tea, as Matt fiddled with the settings on the heater. Only then did we look up at the completely overcast sky.

“Well,” Matt said, clucking his tongue the way the repairmen at the garage do before they tell me how much my tune-up will cost. “Which direction is it in?”

“Over by the constellation Gemini,” I said.

We both looked around at the constellation Cloud Cover, stretching from horizon to horizon, a solid blanket of gray-green rather than the inky black of sky.

“It's okay,” I said. “I couldn't pick Gemini out of a lineup anyway.”

“So,” said Matt, wrapping an arm around me as we huddled under the heater. The flames coming out of the top more than a foot above Matt’s head whipped furiously in the wind, their heat not reaching the lowly peasants on the porch below. “How you feeling about life lately?”

“Pretty good,” I said, sipping tea.

We chatted about bosses and holiday plans and video games, and looked at the cloudy dark sky in the hopes of seeing more than cloudy darkness.

“Tea's gone cold,” I said, eventually.

“Couldn't be expected to stand up to this wind.”

“Want to go in and light a fire?”

“I thought you'd never ask.”

After reheating my tea, I perched beside my husband on the ottoman in front of the fireplace, slippers off and feet propped close to the flames. We shared a blanket, though I had two others all to myself. “So much for having an adventure,” I said.

Matt nodded. “It's too bad about the weather.”

“Want to see if anyone on the other side of the world has posted the meteor shower on Youtube?”

He pulled his phone from a pocket of his robe. After a brief search, he said, “Well, what do you know? They have.”

I snuggled in close and laid my head on his shoulder to watch. Outside, the chill wind beat the windows; inside, stars shot across black and indigo skies.

When the videos were done sometime after five, I kissed my husband's cheek. “I think I could sleep now,” I said.

Returning my kiss, he said, “I think I could, too.”

And we slept through a clear and cloudless dawn with a story to tell in years to come of the night we braved the cold and the wind to see a meteor shower that wasn’t there, and how we hunted it down where it was, and we went back to bed with extra blankets and the uncommon promise of dragons in the morning.

So perhaps it was a bit of an adventure after all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

You and Me and the Manatee

Just you and me, on the way to the sea,
with the sun so bright and the day so fine,
“My darling, I love you, and think fondly of you,
most all of the time.”

Just me and you, by the water so blue,
having our lunch at a seaside cafe,
when what should we see but a grand manatee
strolling up from the bay.

“By jove!” said he, “How delightful to see
sophisticated city folk here by the tides.
Let's dine here together, discussing whatever
our fancies decide.”

He pulled up a chair. When the waitress got there,
he ordered an “L” and went on to explain,
“An 'L', you see, is like a BLT,
only rather more plain.”

He started to chat about this and that
but mostly the virtues of life in the sea.
“You’d like it,” he told us, it’s charms he extolled us
most eloquently.

“Mermaids,” he said, with a nod of his head,
“are simply the finest, most talented folks,
with all the best graces, the loveliest faces,
and funniest jokes.”

He talked facing you, but I nodded too,
tapping my foot and grimacing toward him.
The manatee’s stances on my significant glances
was that he ignored them.

I said, “It’s been great, but this is sort of a date.”
As though I weren’t there, he went right on conversing:
“You’d love the whale songs! They sing all night long,
and spend all day rehearsing.”

Just you and me, and the manatee,
as I sat and I waited to slip in a word
but the manatee blurted out praises and flirted
as though undeterred.

Then “Dear one,” said he (to you, not to me),
“I feel we’ve connected. Do you feel it too?
Come swim by my side as my beautiful bride
In the ocean so blue!”

I said "I object! Sir, you've been too direct!
Or the likelier case is that I've been too slow!
My darling," I said to you, "I'd like to be wed to you!
Please tell him no!"

Complete silence followed. I sputtered and swallowed.
You blinked in confusion, and I’m sure so did I,
But the manatee laughed and he patted my back
With a wink of his eye.

"My boy!" He professed. "What a thing to confess!
I had no idea! Well, now I suppose
That it would be rude for me to intrude
While you properly propose."

He wished us best wishes, then returned to the fishes.
I struggled to find the right words for awhile,
then I shrugged a small plea and got down on one knee,
And you gave me a smile.

Just you and me, heading home from the sea,
With the manatee waving goodbye from the sand.
Just me and you, with the sky so blue,
And your hand in my hand.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

If you give Tori a task...

(With repeated and heartfelt apologies to Laura Numeroff. This is the last one, I swear.)

"And when you do, chances are… You'll end up giving the ferret some fudge." So ended my tale, conveyed to Sarah via text message. I was planning to post it to the blog, but couldn't wait to share it with my best friend. It added up to a wall of text I could have used to defend a city, filling up my phone's tiny screen as it scrolled on and on. I anxiously awaited her feedback.

Given the size of the text message, I waited a long time. "Wow," she said eventually. "That's kind of dark and awesome."

"Someone had checked out a stack of Numeroff books," I explained, "and I was like, 'What is this woman's obsession with giving her pets people food? Doesn't she know it's bad for them?' And the story came out of my mouth, fully formed, as patrons and coworkers looked on, so I had to write it down."

"That's a valid point I hadn't considered. I always saw them as allegorical, cautionary tales about toddler attention spans," said Sarah.

"I'm sure that's how they're intended," I said. "Of course, it looks an awful lot like my own attention span..."

Another wall of text followed:

If you give Tori a task, she'll feel responsible and set out to do it. 

While she's working on it, a new patron will want a library card. They'll need help finding a book. 

While Tori's helping them, she'll see the messy shelves and stop to fix them. Some of the books she finds will belong in nonfiction, so she'll take them to the shelving cart. 

The carts will be full, so she'll decide to do some shelving.

While she's shelving, she'll find books that need repair. She'll go fix those. 

At the repair desk, she'll see new books that need processing. She'll get to work.

One of the new books will look interesting, so Tori will want to add it to her list of books to read. The list is online, so she'll go back to her computer.

At her computer, she'll find the library card application she was typing up, and when she does, chances are...

She'll remember the task you gave her to start with!

"That's about right," said Sarah.