Week 3 – August Wilson Century Series – Fences (revised)

There is a lot to unpack in all these plays and Fences is no exception.

Late with this week’s blog post. I guess it took some time to process the play, the text I read twice, and the film adaptation we watched on TV. I want to begin by highlighting an August Wilson quote from Samuel Freedman’s foreword to my edition of Fences that I call “found poetry”:

"I found myself trying to figure out 
the intent of these lives around me.
Trying to uncover the nobility
and the dignity I might not have seen.
Part of the reason I wrote Fences
was to illuminate that generation,
which shielded its children from all 
the indignities they went through.

I have to confess that until our group discussion laid it out on the table with multiple inputs, I hadn’t really plumbed the depths of the use of the play’s title “Fences” as a metaphor. That is what I’d like to address in this week’s post. But first, let’s recapitulate the pre-class notes:

  1. Market forces that influenced the play: advisors recommended a play with a nuclear family, something “more accessible.”
  2. Wilson’s insistence that the film adaptation have a black director was not well received by the entertainment industry.
  3. Who is the central protagonist in Fences? Is it Troy Maxsom, a “big man” who “fills all the empty spaces” in the lives of everybody around him?  Or is it Rose, the constant, steadying influence, the glue that holds everything together and nudges the men around her into true manhood? Or maybe Cory, the future, the promise, the unflawed character?
  4. The name of the play is Fences, but there are only occasional mentions of fences, or even of a single fence. Is the fence something central or merely incidental to the play? A metaphor?
  5. What about Bono? He gets better as the play progresses, better at dominoes, better at being a husband to Lucille, better at being a friend to Troy and Rose. He progresses through the timeline of the play. His character develops.
  6. This week we introduce Freytag’s Pyramid. A useful way to unpack and track the development of the play’s plot.
  7. What is the play’s introduction? Does the Troy-Bono dialogue (with Rose entering part way through the conversation) at the beginning of Act 1 effectively set the scene for the entire play?
  8. Rising action: Cory’s football hopes counterposed with Troy’s laments about his failed baseball career. Troy’s efforts to get a promotion to driver at work. Troy talks about past successful struggles with Death.
  9. Climax: Troy’s announcement that Alberta is pregnant, followed by a heated discussion with Rose and Cory’s entrance and defense of Rose in what he perceives to be his father’s physical attack. Strike 2.
  10. The Falling Action: Gabe gets arrested and institutionalized. Alberta dies in childbirth. We never see Alberta, but she is always lurking behind the scenes. Troy comes to grips with his new responsibility.
  11. Resolution: Rose adopts Alberta’s daughter, Raynell. Cory leaves home and joins the Marines. Troy dies. Lyons goes to jail but returns for the funeral. Cory also returns home for Troy’s funeral. Bono organizes the pall bearers.

But back to the Fences metaphor. Bono says early in Act 2, “Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you.” There is only one fence being built in the play, but the play has many fences, hence the plurality of the title. Troy and Bono met in prison, where they were “fenced” in, so to speak, in a hyper-controlled environment with rigid boundaries. That controlled space is also the place that gave Troy the discipline to learn the game of baseball, a sport with an infield for base running and an outfield generally enclosed and contained by a fence. Batting the ball “over the fence” is considered a score, a home run.

Troy considers his own marriage a type of prison to which he has been sentenced, a prison bounded by a fence, but at the end of an 18-year sentence, he wants freedom from “the same place’ where he has been standing still. He says towards the end of Act 2 Scent 1, “Then I saw that girl . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand, after eighteen years I wanted to steal second. [. . . .] I  stood on first base for eighteen years and I thought. . . well, goddamn it . . . go on for it.

On the other hand, and extending the metaphor, “fencing” is the crime of buying and reselling stolen merchandise. The person who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to resell them is known as a “fence.” Troy, using baseball imagery, refers in a conversation with Rose to his adultery with Alberta as “stealing second base.” Troy himself, in this sense, is the “fence” who purchased stolen property (Alberta’s affection and attention) and resells it as his own image of himself.

We can debate about whether Troy was a sympathetic or a despicable character. Professor Shannon points out in her book, The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, that Troy “reverses a stereotype found in portrayals of the black family: the conspicuously absent father,” but that he is also an “amalgam of blues personalities,” i.e., a railroad man in his infidelity, a bluesman who is depressed and finally, “womanless,” and a trickster (you pick the poison). You gotta read Professor Shannon’s book.

Last but not least, Riley Temple, in his book, Queen Ester’s Children Redeemed, included Troy Maxson in a reference to the Wilson Warriors, characters who “take a journey – a pilgrimage of redemption to find and to reconstitute who they might have been, and what they have become. . . . These men and women are warriors in fact, and not merely in spirit (but certainly in that as well), and have that Warrior courage. They make mistakes. Bad mistakes. They pay the price for them. Yet, they are not victims. They are fighters.”  Temple includes in that list of warriors, from plays we have already completed, Boomer from Jitney and Levee from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Another book you gotta read!

Well, I’ll stop here because time is passing, the weekend is approaching, and play #4, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, awaits my discover.

 

Week 2 – August Wilson Century Series – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Time flies and already I am half way through my first reading of Week 3’s Fences (I am finding I need to read through these plays at least two times to really “get” it). But before getting too far away, I want to put down on paper some reflections on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

I mentioned towards the end of the session a proposal that the star of the play is not Ma Rainey. I believe the star is Levee, even though his end at the play’s conclusion is not a pleasant nor a pleasing one. Levee is the modernist, he represents the avant-garde, the next wave in musical composition, while Ma represents the old, entrenched way, the “old jug band music” to which Levee repeatedly refers.

But Levee has his own issues. He was emotionally traumatized as a child, forced to watch the gang-rape of his mother, then physically traumatized when he tried to stop the rape with a knife and was slashed with the knife across his chest. He was further traumatized when his father, seeking to exact revenge against the rapists (and successful in killing four of them), was caught, hung and burned in the woods. Wilson describes Levee in the scene-setter as flamboyant and buffoonish, as playing the wrong notes frequently, and as often confusing his skill with his talent.

Still, he is the star of the play, the archetype for Louis Armstrong, who as a young man played trumpet in Ma Rainey’s band.  See Louis Armstrong, the First Great American Modernist here: Was Louis Armstrong the First Great American Modernist?. My question is, was Wilson gently leading us to this conclusion?

We also took note of Levee’s obsession with shoes, getting into arguments twice in the play when band members “stepped” on his shoes, the final act resulting in an enraged Levee committing the knifing murder of the band leader, Toledo. We discussed in class the possible symbolism of Levee’s fixation on his shoes, although the class did not all agree that shoes may have symbolized mobility, transportation, moving out of a bad situation and moving towards a good or better one. I personally thought the shoe symbolism concept was one with merit, and I found myself on YouTube listening to Robert Johnson’s original “Walkin’ Blues” and more recent covers of the Johnson masterpiece by Eric Clapton and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) (videos below).

Levee has yet another thematic connection to Robert Johnson. It is said that Robert Johnson “sold” his soul to the devil in exchange for his music talent. Levee mentions in two separate conversations his willingness to “sell” his soul to Satan in conjunction with his overall rejection of Christianity and more traditional beliefs. We saw that “skepticism” expressed by Becker in Jitney, and we’ll see it again with Troy in Fences. Maybe this is another conclusion Wilson himself is leading us to – skepticism as a humanist element of modern thought.

OK. As promised, the Walkin’ Blues videos:

Robert Johnson original

Eric Clapton cover

Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia) cover

Week 1 – August Wilson Century Series – Jitney

First, and before I misplace it, here is a link to the episode of Theater Talk that featured the Tony-award winning cast of Jitney in 2017:

This one is also good:

It was interesting the way we focused our discussion on relationships, the peripheral relationship between Turnbo and Rena, the complex and layered relationship between Becker and Booster, and the evolving, dynamic, almost dance-like relationship between Rena and Youngblood. Relationships are such an essential, human thing, always transforming, always reflecting the environment that surrounds them, for good or ill.

We could have easily spent the whole class period on Becker and Booster’s father-son relationship, Becker’s deep disappointment in the mistakes that his son made and the consequences of those mistakes, the hopes that Becker placed in Boomer, and the energy he attempted to transfer to the future where Boomer might have more and better opportunities than he had. But I also think that at some level, Boomer’s “acting up” and the decisions he took that incarcerated him was a rejection of the pressure he felt from his father, and a not so subtle decision that he was going to live his own life, not the one Becker tried to transfer over to him. At the play’s end, Boomer starts toward the door to leave the jitney office, but the phone rings, and after a negligible hesitation, Boomer goes over and answers the phone, “Car service” as the light fades to black. I think that motion and action symbolize that there is hope for Boomer and there is hope for the jitney operation.

There is of course a lot to be said about Youngblood and Rena. One thing we didn’t discuss today was the tenderness of emotion Becker displayed in his conversation with Rena and Youngblood. Becker says towards the end of Act 2 Scene 1,

When you look around you’ll see that all you got is each other. There ain’t much more. Even when it look like there is…you come one day to find out there ain’t much more worth having.

Here we see that despite the gruff Becker displayed towards his own son, he never stopped developing as a father, never gave up on his own emotional development, and we are left wondering if one day he might overcome his great disappointment and be able to show a similar level of affection for Boomer that he clearly has for Youngblood.  Alas, Becker’s potential for development is arrested on the factory floor so we will never know. As Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.”

We will see more of this relationship dynamic in Ma Rainey next week.

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Week 1 of my collaborative close read study group on August Wilson’s Century Series. The first play was “Jitney.”

1. First class went well. But we jammed together introductions and close read discussions in this first meeting and we ran out of time. I had hoped for 8 group members but we ended up with 18. 25% of the members are retired attorneys who know all about unpacking language!

2. Implementing “The Community is the Curriculum” from #rhizo15 was/is a big hit. There are two high school english teachers in the group who have taught Wilson’s plays. There is a college professor who actually knew and was acquainted with August Wilson.

3. Not everybody was able to access the Google Group where I had stashed a lot of background material. We hope to remedy that by 1) getting everybody a gmail account so they can access the group and 2} mirroring the group on a publicly accessible blog site here:
https://wordpress.com/view/raymonddmaxwell.com.

4. Versioning presented a slight hiccup. Members had three versions of the play, so page # references didn’t align and we lost a minute or two in each presentation trying to get everybody on the same page (literally!).

5. It was interesting the way the group immediately seized on drawing general principles from specific instances in the play through the close reading process. (The play is about a small black community in 1970’s Pittsburgh but the group decided that the principles were/are universally applicable).

6. Next week is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Will be posting notes here weekly and thinking about ways to move the course to a bigger virtual audience.

 

Preview of 2018

The holidays afforded me some useful downtime to work on the structure of the 2018 novel. If you know me, you know the structure will be a rhizomatic, a root network, and not arbolic, or tree-like. The overriding narrative arc will be non-linear and sometimes invisible, although subplot elements will be self-referential, autobiographical almost. The snippets of my poetry that appear epigrammatically will actually be chronological, but since most readers won’t be familiar with all the elements of the underlying plot sequence, it may not be readily apparent. And it will begin and end in a library, or a museum, or archive, or some combination of the three. Where else would I take you? And what’s the difference anyway?

Still working on a way to incorporate real-time reader participation. That will require some thinking, some work.

Finally, the idea will be to make it comprehendible across all reading levels, like my two favorite novels, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Ellison’s Invisible Man. I know. A tall order. But would you prefer a short order? Besides, if my 8-yr old nephew can’t read it (he’ll be nine by year’s end), I will have missed the mark.

Ok. Get your tickets early if you really want to ride!

p.s. The process will be arrangement, then description, i.e. gathering all the pieces, doing the research, etc., which will take until early March. Then I am taking a hiatus to read the August Wilson Century Series (10 plays) with a group. In May there might be a road trip to the Great Smokies, if I am lucky. Then, hopefully by June, the knitting can begin in earnest.

Ten books I have enjoyed reading on my subway commute in 2017

https://www.goodreads.com/dolphinfish

1. Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
by Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray

2. May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the Drama of August Wilson
by Alan Nadel

3. The Smear: How the Secret Art of Character Assassination Controls What You Think, What You Read, and How You Vote
by Sheryl Attkisson

4. The Circle
by Dave Eggers

5. The Administrative Threat
by Phillip Hamburger

6. Hooper’s War
by Peter Van Buren

7. The I-10 Incident: Book 1 in the Going Away Parties Murder Mystery Series by Kim Marie Coleman

8. Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice
by Randall Jimerson

9. The Total Work of Art: from Bayreuth to Cyberspace
by Matthew Wilson Smith

10. Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation
by Nicholas Guyatt

AP Top News Stories of 2017

AP Poll: Sexual misconduct allegations voted top news story
Associated Press
DAVID CRARY
Associated Press
December 21, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) — The wave of sexual misconduct allegations that toppled Hollywood power brokers, politicians, media icons and many others was the top news story of 2017, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story was Donald Trump’s tumultuous first year as president. A year ago, Trump’s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election was a near-unanimous pick for the top news story of 2016.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII as the top story.

Here are 2017’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. Sexual misconduct: Scandals involving sexual misdeeds by prominent men are nothing new in America, but there’s never been anything remotely like the deluge of allegations unleashed this year by women who were emboldened to speak out by the accusers who preceded them. Luminaries toppled from their perches included movie magnate Harvey Weinstein, media stars Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and several celebrity chefs and members of Congress.

2. Trump-First Year: The controversies started on Inauguration Day, with the new president challenged over his claims on the size of the crowd, and persisted throughout the year. Trump’s approval ratings hovered around record-low territory, his base remained fiercely loyal, and his relentless tweeting — often in the early morning hours — provoked a striking mix of outrage, mockery and grateful enthusiasm.

3. Las Vegas mass shooting: A 64-year-old high-stakes video poker player, after amassing an arsenal of weapons, unleashed a barrage of gunfire from a high-rise casino-hotel that killed 58 people and injured hundreds among a crowd attending an open-air concert along the Las Vegas Strip. Weeks after the massacre, questions about the gunman’s motives remained unanswered.

4. Hurricane onslaught: In a four-week span, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. Harvey killed more than 80 people in Texas and caused an estimated $150 billion in damage. Irma killed scores of people in the Caribbean and U.S., including 12 residents of a Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning. Maria damaged more than 200,000 homes in Puerto Rico, caused lengthy power outages, and prompted an investigation into whether the official death toll of 64 was vastly undercounted.

5. North Korea: At times the taunts had a schoolyard flavor to them — a “dotard” versus “Little Rocket Man.” But they came from two world leaders with nuclear arms at their disposal — Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Fueling the tensions were North Korea’s latest tests of a hydrogen bomb and of ballistic missiles that potentially could reach the U.S. mainland.

6. Trump-Russia probe: Trump fired FBI director James Comey, but a former FBI chief, Robert Mueller, was soon appointed to investigate potential coordination between Russia and Trump’s election campaign. By mid-December, Mueller’s team had brought federal charges against four people, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

7. Obamacare: Despite repeated efforts, majority Republicans in Congress failed to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law and replace it with new plan. At one point, a deciding vote against a GOP replacement bill was cast by Republican Sen. John McCain. But questions remained as to how Obama’s plan would fare going forward without substantive help from the Trump administration.

8. Tax overhaul: Without a single Democratic vote, Republicans in Congress pushed through a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that would cut corporate taxes while producing mixed results for individuals. GOP lawmakers, backed by Trump, said the bill would have broad benefits by accelerating economic growth. Critics said consequences would include higher budget deficits and the potential loss of health care coverage for millions of Americans.

9. Worldwide terror attacks: The first big terror attack of 2017 came on New Year’s Day — a gunman killing 39 at a nightclub in Istanbul. Subsequent targets of global terror included an Ariana Grande concert in England, a bike path in New York City and the historic La Rambla promenade in Barcelona. In October, a truck bombing in Somalia killed more than 500 people; in November, an attack on a crowded mosque in Egypt killed more than 300.

10. Islamic State: After lengthy assaults, an array of forces drove the Islamic State from its two main strongholds — the city of Mosul in Iraq, and its self-styled capital, Raqqa, in Syria. The defeats left the Islamic State without significant territory in either country, but affiliates elsewhere in the region, particularly in Egypt and Afghanistan, continued to operate.

Life at work

Halfway through the final pass and three quarters through the entire process, it is probably a good time to assess the work left, pat myself on the back about the progress, and start to jot down some content and scope notes and lessons learned from the project.

My involvement in the Jim Graham Papers project was an incidental event. As part of preparation for the Mayor’s late June visit, I offered to identify all the piles and rats’ nests of unprocessed collections occupying space in the various corridors and corners of the place. Then, being Navy-trained, I proposed a timetable for working through the assembly of clutter, a POAM if you will (Plan Of Attack and Milestones).

Jim Graham had only recently passed and it made some sense to me that his collection should be the first one we attacked. So there were 18 boxes in one place, and 13 boxes in another, and on and on, and before we knew it, we identified well over 200 boxes.

Late in July, I wrote this sonnet –

There are no spirits lurking in the aisles
and corners. Just cartons of documents,
​details of lives. Whether well-lived or ill,
these papers tell the story – marriage, birth,
land acquired, taxes. Death. It’s all there.
No need for the rattling sound of zombies –
ghosts of events yet to come – in graveyards.
Might this be the judgement we fear? The words
and deeds, archived records we leave behind
won’t deliver us to any heaven –
or hell. It’s just a mirage, this image
of hereafter we’ve been trained to accept
as truth, the certain object of our faith:​
​d​ried, folded, faded, in a dusty box.

By the time I finished the first pass, I had generated over 30 boxes of emptied three ring binders of various sizes that we trucked to surplus property, many with the fancy steel hinges. All together I removed a couple of boxes of office supplies that got entrained in the mix, along with a few boxes of unmarked duplicates of various documents (the marked duplicates we kept!) and some unidentified children’s toys. And there was that stack of Whitman-Walker Clinic folders and documents and AIDS-related books we separated for deposit with the GW collection that focuses that part of Graham’s life in DC.  And that was the first pass.

It is worth noting that I began the project armed only with librarian logic, but in August I began Archival Management, a CUA graduate course that met at the Library of Congress, and in late September, I began my practicum in Special Collections at DC Public Library. As I actually learned how to process a collection, I suppose I got better at it. Let’s hope so, anyway. In the arrangement phase, it appeared clear to me that the later boxes made much more sense and were better organized than the early boxes. I hope we corrected for that slight imbalance in the second pass.

In the arrangement phase, speaking of which, I initially came up with 37 categories of records and documents by subject. But I knew that 37 was too many, and as a former colleague used to say, “if you have too many foci, you lose focus.” So we consolidated categories that made sense, ending up with nine (9) general series, that included correspondence, Council service, budget approval, Metropolitan police, education, OIG reports, artifacts and plaques, photos and slides, and newspaper articles. The bulk of the collection would end up in series 2, Council service, which would include the committees Graham chaired over his sixteen years on the City Council, and which would map out both the sequence and the progression of remarkable influence he was able to establish during his ascent to and subsequent fall from local power. But we will save that for the biographical note.

Series #2 Subseries #6  (committee chairmanships) is proving to be a real challenge. I am making constant and real-time tradeoffs between original order, committee subject and chronology.  We are looking at 25-30 linear foot boxes total and so far I’ve broken it down to three overlapping tranches, 1998-2006, 2004-2011, and 2008-2014. But beyond this, it will all be downhill. Truly. The light at the end of the tunnel is what sustains me.

 

From the archives: Farewell to Luanda (the year 2000 c.e.)

Farewell to Luanda!

Dear friends and colleagues,

We are packing out and already I am missing this sad, strange place. Luanda. No place like it. No place like it in this world.

Coming down with malaria is a pain that I won’t miss. Nor will I miss that illness we get from time to time that fakes out the malaria test. The locals call it catolotolo, while I call it total physical misery. But I will miss the peaceful sunsets and late dinners out on the ilha, the hypnotizing popular music, dancing (more like watching them dance) the kizomba and the high-fives shared when one hits that out-of-sync step with rhythmic perfection.

I’ll miss the taste of zindungo (a spicy sauce made from peppers, garlic and whiskey), the smooth harshness of Angolan coffee, the sweetness of overripe pineapple sold at inflated prices by the women on the street who swear it will last until tomorrow, and the bitter-sweetness of gimboa (a type of local greens) fried with onions and olive oil. More than anything else, though, I’ll miss the effusive, infectious enthusiasm of our local employees, their willingness to learn, their professional dedication and loyalty.

The war, which resumed in earnest two years ago, continues in earnest. The rebels continue to wreck havoc and random mayhem in the distant and not-so-distant provinces. The government continues to blame the rebels and, by extension, the war for all the ills of the kleptocratic society it leads. Luanda’s majority continues its struggle to survive and overcome desperate, oppressive poverty. Luanda’s privileged elite continues to revel in opulent, ostentatious wealth. International oil companies continue to discover and suck out black gold, Texas tea, like there’s no tomorrow. And then there are diamonds. Diamonds are forever. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Diamonds. Y’all know the rest of that story. The American Embassy continues its bifurcated operation in the Miramar trailer park and on top of the downtown garage known as Casa Inglesa. Continuity, for better or for worse, is Luanda’s most obvious constant. The strong get stronger, the weak go further off track. Or, if corruption empowers, then absolute corruption empowers absolutely.

Angola diz basta, Angola quer paz. Angola vai vencer. Or so says the steady flow of local media propaganda. Angola says enough. Angola wants peace. Angola shall win. An associate with party connections gave me the red, black and gold t-shirt that repeats the mantra. That makes it so.

The NOB didn’t start on time and may or may not start in the foreseeable future. While I am buoyed by our accomplishments of the past two years, I am a little disappointed over the NOB delays and the failed prospect of being personally involved in yet another building project in yet another former Portuguese colony. Never mind. A luta continua e vitoria é certa (translation: the struggle continues and victory is certain).

We are coming up on ten years of official USG presence in Angola in the post-Cold War era (1992-2002). I am soliciting information, anecdotes, photographs, etc. from folks who have served in Luanda, and from PMO’s, FBO Area Managers and desk officers who have paid Angolan dues, so to speak. While talking with people in Luanda and in Washington, I’ve made interesting discoveries regarding the colonial-era Luanda consulate and its employees (1952-1975) and the Benguela and Luanda consulates that supported US Navy ships (the African Squadron) involved in slave trade interdiction efforts in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Keep those cards and letters coming and let’s all meet for a big birthday bash in Luanda in 2002!

A trip down memory lane…

Here’s my blog post from November, 2013

Library Student Day in the Life

Home studying most of the day. Short trip to the Instruction Manual Factory retirement processing office to drop off old divorce papers. Reviewed notes from 555, including Access practice. Reviewed notes from 551, including thesaurus construction project. Gathered some thoughts for tomorrow’s meeting with the oral history folks at ADST. Mostly dithered with 644. Had a brief Baghdad flashback, nothing to be too concerned about, though. They come and go. Here is a link to a review of the play we saw Sunday, The Iceman Cometh. Highly recommended.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/review-eugene-oneills-the-iceman-cometh-at-quotidian-theatre-company/2013/11/06/ec88634e-4711-11e3-95a9-3f15b5618ba8_story.html

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And from 2015

The agile librarian recuperates after a fall

I haven’t written anything in over a month, two months, because I haven’t had too much to say, just very busy with life and living. Oh, and there is the blackout walking home for lunch, and the breaking of the wrist in the resulting fall, and the lengthy recovery and the therapy to learn to use my wrist again. More detail here. Do y’all know how versatile a joint the wrist is?

But back to librarying. During my recovery, I have been maintaining a part-time schedule at the reference desk of a nearby university library. It’s been a distraction from pain, but it has also been an instructive period of the semester when students are cranking out research projects and leaning heavily on the librarian at the desk. And I have learned a thing or two, about research design theory, about ethnography and user experience (which necessarily includes librarian experience), and about using QuickTime, ScreenFlow and Youtube, all of which has informed my agile practices in the library. So it has carried me off in a different direction, in several different directions. For starters:

1. Digitization/electronification of information has liquidified the learning resources/assets that used to be part of our domain. We used to be “administrators” of learning assets. No more. Now information is being accessed everywhere and all the time. The definition of “the library” has changed.

2. As librarians, we were pretty much content with getting students started with developing their research question and initial search terms, then setting them free to conduct the iterative research process. No more. Now students have an expectation that we will provide them information support throughout the research process, and we have an obligation to do so. The identity crisis is over. The librarian, like information, is and has to be everywhere and all the time. The definition of “librarian” has changed.

3. User experience has necessarily become ethnographic. Correspondingly, ethnography emcompasses both the learner and the teacher/librarian, the interaction, the form and structure of the interface, and how both sets work together to accomplish the learning goal/objective.

4. The learners are not just the students, and faculty/staff/librarians are not exclusively the teachers. We are all learning entrepreneurs, putting together various combinations of factors of learning production, some that succeed, others that fail, but all that expand the boundaries of previous static thought. There are no traditional monopolies. And the sage on the stage is no more. Both the classroom and the library are “flipped” in unique and fascinating ways.

5. Learning is rhizomatic, decentralized, and resistant to regulation. It exists everywhere and all the time.

A student came to the reference desk with some questions about research design models. I told her that was not my area of expertise, but I would help her with her research if she would teach me the models. After about 20 minutes of conversation (it was a slow Saturday) she said, “Thank you, this has been very helpful.” I was floored, because I learned a lot more in that 20 minutes than she did.

This is the journey.

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And of course, 2016 was all about the election!

An old friend asked me how was I going to spend Tuesday night, out on the town or at home with friends. I affirmed the latter, that we plan to hunker down and shelter in place, with hot buttered popcorn and our favorite adult beverage, as the states report their totals. And on C-SPAN, not MSNBC (which we only have via radio), ABC, CBS, PBS, or Fox.

Let’s travel back in time.

I remember the ’68 elections, not so much for the candidates, but for the tempestuousness of the primaries and the conventions.  A leading candidate had been assassinated, another had been shot on the campaign trail, and the eventual winner, a former vice president, was running against the incumbent vice president. And it was 1968. And I was all of twelve years old.

’72 was memorable. I was taking a social studies one-semester course, The U.S. Today, and we had regular heated discussions about politics. Dudley Sr. High had just integrated the year before, and the racial polarization of the ’72 campaign tended to inflame many of our class discussions. Watergate had happened, and it was absolutely clear that Nixon was guilty as heck. The voters elected him anyway. And we know how that all ended.

The first national election I participated in as a voter was in 1976. Bicentennial. Saw the play in ’73 (1776) and the movie that summer in Chicago, All the President’s Men. It was so easy to pull that lever and vote for the Sunday School teacher. A no-brainer. It was my sophomore year, and I voted in Curtis Hall on A&T’s campus where I was a student.

I voted for Jimmie Carter again in 1980, this time by absentee ballot from the Sub Base in Groton, CT. When you don’t actually go to the polls to vote, it all seems a bit abstract. 1984 was also abstract, and again I voted by absentee ballot, this time deployed on the USS Michigan. I think I may have even voted for a third party candidate, maybe a fourth party candidate.  It was THAT abstract. And the off years don’t really count, right?

By 1988, I was a naval officer and a declared Republican. It was issued in my seabag.  I voted for Bush and the dream of a 600-ship navy.

Bush washed out, but I wasn’t about to vote for a draft dodger. In ’92, I had just joined State,  where it seemed EVERYBODY was a Democrat. The draft dodger won.

’96 memories are hazy. I was at the London Embassy, and a full time student at SOAS, and dizzy as a sprayed cockroach.  I think the draft dodger won again, but don’t quote me on it.

2000. The election of the hanging chad. We had just departed Angola and arrived in Ghana. The Ghanaians were also having elections that fall and part of my job was organizing motorpool trips for embassy election observers all over the country. The whole Bush v Gore thing was a bit of a disappointment for me as it seemed Gore gave up too soon.  People underestimate the strength of the ship of state sometimes, I think.

Something screwy happened to the votes in Ohio in 2004. I supported Kerry. He lost after being swift-boated.

I got onboard with the winner early in 2008. From Baghdad I sent checks to the Obama folks to defeat the draft dodger’s wife. Once he got the nomination, it wasn’t even a contest against the admiral’s son and the crazy lady from Alaska.

And 2012 was an off-election. They don’t really count, do they?

Reflections on November 3rd

Last November I embarked on producing a blog post every day.

Last November was a month of momentous events, and I was working part time and had lots of spare time for blogging. I was also in docent training last November and the old brain synapses were constantly popping and making connections.  It was a fun time.

I miss my time being my own.

Today is the 38th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre. I lost a friend that day, a mentor, someone whose spirit I admired, whose vigor I envied, and whose intellect I completely looked up to. What might she have accomplished had her fate not been sealed by those bullets? It is a question that haunts me.

The resulting Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the first in the United States. Their website is still up.  http://www.greensborotrc.org/exec_summary.pdf

The New Liberator blog provides a good analysis. https://thenewliberator.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/the-1979-greensboro-massacre/