Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Beatnik Phase

My first introduction to Beatniks was the character Maynard G. Krebs from the television show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He was funny, had a goatee, spoke using the Beat vocabulary, played the bongos - in short, did the things Beatniks were supposed to do.



I was a little young to be a Beatnik myself. I was only 9 when Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl was published. I was sort of a Hippie and I've always had a curiosity about Beatniks. While perusing the MassCat catalog looking for things to fix, I noticed the book Women of the Beat Generation and promptly requested it. It contains 40 short biographies of women who wrote during the 50s and early 60s and excerpts of their poetry and prose. Some of the women were wives (e.g. Carolyn Cassady) or daughters (Jan Kerouac) of notorious Beatniks. One was Diane di Prima. I liked her writing style and was curious to learn more about her. I then requested Memoirs of a Beatnik. The book is fiction, though based on her life. It is also pornographic. I would not classify it as erotica as it's too blatant, but it is well written.

The main character, who has the same name as the author, dropped out of college at 18 and moved to Manhattan where she had a lot of sex, smoked a lot of marijuana, spoke using the Beat vocabulary, lived communally, had a lot of sex, sometimes lived on the streets, wrote poetry, and had a lot of sex. While the stereotype of the Beatnik is dressed in black, Diane usually word blue jeans.

As I was reading her book, I kept wondering about the difference between Beatniks and Hippies.They appear to have a lot in common. Both were anti-establishment, supported free speech and free love, listened to music and used a lot of drugs.

The differences, I think, are mainly in style. Color was important to Hippies, the more the better. And bell-bottomed pants, the wider the better. Music was important to both. Beatniks preferred jazz while Hippies liked rock. The instrument of choice was also different. Beats banged on bongo drums while Hippies played the guitar. The Beat movement was based around literature, both poetry and prose. Hippies  sometimes read the psychedelic literature of Carlos Castaneda, but writing didn't have the same importance.

To round out my recent Beatnik experience, I borrowed the DVD Howl. This docu-drama is about Ginsberg's poem, the obscenity trial that followed, and interviews with Ginsberg (played by James Franco). The scenes flip back and forth from one to the other.

I have never read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, but that's on my list. How can I consider my Beatnik phase complete without reading that Beat classic?

As I said earlier, I was sort of a Hippie. I wore the clothes and the long, straight hair, smoked my share of marijuana and participated in other Hippie doings. Sometimes I think "Those were amazing and exciting adventures" and other times I think "How could I have done that?" Overall, financial security and basic comfort was important to me; I always had a job and an apartment.

I remember in the early to mid 1970s going to see the musical Hair which was playing at UMass. The music was great as were the costumes. And the cast "dropped trou" at the end. I also remember afterward thinking the play felt very dated. The Hippie years were over.



Monday, January 2, 2017

Self-Help Books

It was the tagline "Letting go of bad habits, guilt, and anxiety around food" that led me to request the book Food Freedom Forever by Melissa Hartwig.

Like many people, I respond to life's stresses by eating. When I'm happy, I want to celebrate with a hot fudge sundae; when I'm upset, I want to console myself with a box of chocolates. And when I'm eating something that tastes good, I don't want to stop, even when I'm no longer hungry. Though I've been better in recent years, food cravings can be an issue for me.

I'm not sure I'm ready to undertake the Whole30 eating plan, but reading this book gave me a lot of insight and many ideas about approaching eating. On the Whole30 program, for 30 days you "reset" your metabolism by totally eliminating grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, dairy and added sugar. "Added sugar" includes honey, maple syrup, steevia, etc. but the sugar that is naturally included in fruit is okay. After 30 days (there is some flexibility in this plan; if you feel like you need 35 or 40 days, do it), you re-introduce one of the food groups (e.g. non-gluten grains) for a few days and observe how you feel. Did your skin break out? Do you have gas? A headache? More energy? If so, your body is reacting to this food. Take notes. Stop that food and re-introduce another, perhaps dairy, and observe your body and mood again. Keep doing this with all of the individual food groups - which will take another 30 days or so. Now you have a good idea of how your body reacts to different foods and to different amounts of a food. The author has a gluten sensitivity, but has found she can eat ONE cupcake. More than one does terrible things to her gut. Other foods may have no effect one way or another.

Once you know the effect different foods have on your body and mood, you can make wise decisions on what to eat and how much to eat because you know what will happen. And because you're eating mostly natural foods with no additives, food tastes different, tends to be more satisfying and there are fewer cravings for sugar. Sounds good, but does require at least a two month commitment.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I'm not ready for this program yet, but the book itself has a lot of good information and is actually fun to read!

I don't usually read two self-improvement books in a row, but I was caught off guard and the only other book in my "to read" pile was Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. There are several books at the library waiting for me, but given the limited library hours during the holidays, I haven't had a chance to pick them up.

I'm a pretty neat person and don't have a lot of clutter, but I'm always interested in other ideas to keep order in my life. Like Whole30, the KonMari method uses a specific approach. Most people start de-cluttering one room at a time. KonMari says to de-clutter by type of item and begin with clothes.

Bring all of your clothes into one place; then you can see exactly what you have. That makes sense. Most of my clothes are in the closet next to my bedroom, but I have off-season clothes in the closet in the spare bedroom and outer wear in the closet near the front door. Instead of looking for things to eliminate, focus on what you want to keep - which is anything that "brings joy". Take each piece of clothing (she recommends starting with tops), hold it, hug it if necessary, and feel if it brings you joy. If so, keep it. Maybe the article of clothing is worn, it brought you joy once but no longer. In that case, thank it for it's excellent service and let it go. I can truly say that most of my clothes bring me joy.

Like Whole30, there is flexibility in KonMari's program. She recommends hanging clothes in your closet going up from left to right (long stuff on the left, shorter stuff towards the right). I have found a way of hanging my clothes that works well for me. Certain types of clothes are hung together (e.g. long sleeved blouses, short sleeved blouses). When I wear an item and rehang it, or wash an item and rehang it, I put it on the left. That way I know I wore that item most recently. The next time I go to choose a short sleeve blouse, I first go to the right-hand side as that is the item that has been hanging there the longest. If I don't want to wear it, I work my my leftwards. The result is that if something stays on the right hand side and I keep passing it by, it no longer "brings joy" and I seriously consider finding a new home for it.

While Spark Joy was not quite as much fun to read as Food Freedom Forever, I found lots in both books to incorporate into my life. And I actually found the motivation to do a few things I've been putting off.

I think what I like best about both of these books is that 2 young women have found success doing something they like. Both are consultants or coaches of the methods they've developed and both have now written more than one book. I am not an entrepreneur, but I'm so happy when I learn what others have been able to accomplish.





Thursday, December 8, 2016

Recent Reading

While my reading taste is pretty eclectic, I read mostly a lot of mysteries and I read a lot of mysteries in series. And I like to read them in order. A valuable resource is the site Fantastic Fiction. There I can key in the name of an author and see a list of titles in chronological order.

Another perk is that the main character of that series is listed - like Kinsey Millhone or V.I. Warshawski. Author J.A. Jance has several character series going on simultaneously, and Fantastic Fiction separates them out for me.

I've recently discovered the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Flavia is an 11-year-old girl who lives with her father and two older sisters. The story takes place in the English countryside shortly after World War II, but the writing style is sort of Gothic and Flavia is a delight. She's nerdy and interested in chemistry, especially poisons. While she's not the sort of character with which I can identify (like Kinsey or V.I.), she's bright and quirky and fun. I just requested the second title in the series (The Weed that String's the Hangman's Bag) and it's on my bed table waiting its turn to be read.

Last night, I started an old Marcia Muller mystery, There's Something in a Sunday. I've been reading this series with investigator Sharon McCone for many years and decided to start at the beginning and read through it.

And I just finished Bleeding Hearts by Susan Wittig Albert. China Bayles is another protagonist that I've been following over the years and have decided to read (in some cases re-read) the books in order.

For a break from mysteries, I read Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. This was a long book, but thoroughly absorbing. However, it took me several pages to really become involved with the characters and the situation. I remember reading The World According to Garp many years ago and being immediately mesmerized. I think I made a mistake by reading the flyleaf which warned of violence; I then began the story with some trepidation. I was almost relieved when the killing happened fairly early in the narrative. It wasn't very bad in terms of violence and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the book.

I don't know much about John Irving, but I noticed a lot of parallels between his life and that of the main character, the writer Danny Angel. Danny taught at Windham College in Putney Vermont. So did Irving. A friend of mine was a student there and he was her English professor. Danny's fourth novel becomes a best seller and makes him famous. Checking the list of titles written by Irving, Garp was his fourth, a best seller and made him famous. And as the book ends, Danny is writing a new novel that sounds very much like Last Night in Twisted River.

Another pleasure of the book was the description of Brattleboro, a town that I love. Someone once described it as "a college town in search of a college". That's so true. It has all of the flavor that a college town has: boutiques, craft galleries, book stores - but there is no college. Windham closed many years ago. In its place is Landmark College for people with various learning disabilities. Plus Landmark is in Putney, the next town north. Marlboro College is a good 10 miles to the west and Keene State is east in New Hampshire. Still, I love Brattleboro and it has a great public library with an amazing art collection.

Brattleboro is a place I try to visit at least once a year. I think I'm due for a trip there soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Why I Do What I Do

Three days each week, 6 hours on each of those days, I sit in front of a computer at the Massachusetts Library System and work with (on?) the MassCat online catalog. This may seem like a boring and tedious job to some people (and sometimes it is), but it suits me and actually brings me much satisfaction.

I do several different things: I import bib records that library receive from their vendors when they buy new books and other materials; I find bib records via paid sources to which I have access; I create bib records when they don't already exist. All of this keeps a library's catalog accurate so patrons and staff know what the library owns and where the item is.

Most of my time is spent searching for and merging duplicate records. If you've spent any time reading this blog, you know I'm now on the letter "K". I started on titles beginning with the word "Kissinger" yesterday. (There were over 800 hits using that one word in a keyword search.)

As I find duplicates, I look at the records side by side to make sure they are exactly the same and then hit the "Merge" button. All libraries with holdings on either record are now all listed as owners of this one version of a title.

Okay, that's what I do; now for why I do it.

There are lots of benefits from merging duplicate records, but I'm sure most people - even most librarians - don't even think about it, so here they are.

Benefits to the Patrons: Whether in a public, school, or special library, if one enters a keyword search with one or two words (as in the Kissinger example above), the result is a long list of books, audio books, videos, and other materials containing that word. Sorting through that list can be difficult. Many books, especially popular titles like James Patterson's Private Paris, come in a variety of formats: regular print, large print, book on CD. There might also be a mass market paperback, a DVD, Blu-ray and/or an e-book.

Each of these formats needs its own bib record for Interlibrary Loan purposes. If I can only comfortably read large print, I don't want to get a mass market paperback; I don't want a Blu-ray disc if I don't have a player on which to view it.

It can be confusing enough navigating the myriad versions of a title, but having two or more bib records of the exact same thing only adds to the confusion. Hence, merging duplicate records.

Another benefit for the patron is having all owning libraries listed on one record, rather than each owning library having a separate record. Some libraries, particularly historical societies and other special libraries, do not allow their materials to circulate; a person can use them on site, but not take them out of the building. But if another library also owns the same title and does allow their collection to circulate, I can borrow that copy via Interlibrary Loan.

And if two different historical societies own the same item, which is often the case, and I can only use that item on site, I can travel to whichever is closer.

There are benefits to the library staff as well especially for those involved in collection development: If a particular title in my collection has been lost but several other libraries in the area own it (which I can easily tell by looking at the list of owning libraries listed on said title), I might not bother to replace that title since my patrons can borrow it elsewhere. That helps stretch my materials budget. Similarly, if a specific book is looking shabby, I can weed it knowing my patrons have access to it at another library. That keeps my library looking fresher and more inviting.

As I stand and stretch and take a quick walk because too much sitting can stiffen my joints, I reflect on what I've accomplished that day and think of my contribution - small but important - to MassCat libraries.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Kennedy and Khrushchev

Since I'm now working on the letter "K" in my alphabetical list of duplicates, a couple of weeks ago I arrived at Kennedy.

A search on the single keyword "Kennedy" brought up over 2,000 hits. It likely would have been more, but some of the problems were resolved in the "John" search.

Besides Jack, Bobby and Ted, there are lots of other people whose names include Kennedy, like William Kennedy who wrote lots of books found in library collections and therefore increased the number of hits.

Shortly after Kennedy, came Khrushchev. There weren't nearly as many hits, but there were several hundred - again, many having already been merged because they were found in the Kennedy (or John) search. My teen years occurred during the 60s, and I was acutely aware of the Cold War. I even learned how to spell Khrushchev (perhaps it was a school assignment). I found one bib record with his name misspelled, probably because the record had been hand keyed into the library's former catalog.

Since most of the MassCat members are school libraries, I have concluded there are lots of materials (mostly books) covering the 1960s. I have since learned that there was lots of money for public schools in those years and library collection were well developed. Unfortunately, that's not still the case. School libraries are chronically underfunded and since librarians want their libraries to look as if they have resources, there's not much weeding going on. I'd really like to see a chart or graph of the publication dates of school library collections. I can just about guarantee it would skew heavily to the latter half of the twentieth century.

I can attest those were interesting times that today's students should know about, but how often are most of these books read?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Shopping in Provincetown

M. and I just returned from a week in Provincetown where we attended the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. This was our 7th TW Festival and the 5th year in a row. We may take a break next year.

The festival organizers are looking for new ways to present TW's plays. Having organized plenty of conferences, I understand this completely. 2016 marks 100 years since Eugene O'Neill's first play was performed in Provincetown and half of the plays were his. The theme was "Beyond Success" because after both Williams and O'Neill were big hits, they tried experimenting, not always to great acclaim. These plays were the ones written later in their careers.

Next year's theme is "Shakespeare" so perhaps I don't want to skip that.

One of the things I like the best about going to Provincetown at this time of year is the shopping. It's post "season" when there are far fewer tourists and many store are winding down, some closing for the winter. There are LOTS OF SALES. As I look through my wardrobe, much of my clothing is from Provincetown.

This year's purchases include: Rubber sandals, a white tunic top with floral design, a white blouse with white embroidery, 4 pairs of earrings (M. bought 2 of them in the Turkish store that he likes so much), water shoes, a bandana (which I donated to the Hatfield Senior Center to use for stretching during exercise class), postcards, and a box of note cards.

M. bought another mermaid statue. He's beginning to develop a collection of them. He didn't buy any clothes for himself, though he has in the past.

I've just finished my morning tea and bagel and it's time to get dressed for exercise and work. I'm looking forward to wearing my new tunic. But which earrings to choose?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Recipes

I love to cook.

I find it creative and relaxing and, of course, I also need to eat.

Cooking is also a gift I give to my husband and friends.

Because I cook, I'm always looking for interesting recipes. I don't own many cookbooks. I used to, but realized I was only using a few recipes from each and books take up a lot of space. So I copied the recipes I like on 3x5 cards, put them in a file box, and gave the cookbooks to the Friends of the Library book sale.

As I read through the evening newspaper (it's really a morning newspaper, but I end up reading it in the evening when I come home from work), I sometimes see recipes I'd like to try. When the local food co-op sends out a newsletter, it usually has a recipe or two that I'd like to try. Magazines are another source of potential recipes. And I sometimes I'll borrow a cook book from my local public library, especially one on vegetarian meals, and look for recipes I'd like to try.

After I've tried a recipe, if I like it and M. likes it, I'll write it down on a 3x5 card and add it to the file box. Sometimes, I need to make adjustments and try it again before it gets written down.

Since I've liked to cook for a very long time (ever since I came to terms with the fact that a feminist can do something so traditional as cooking), I've been on the lookout for recipes.

After the recipe has been cut (or more likely torn) from the newspaper, or photocopied from the library cookbook, it sits on top of the microwave oven, in plain sight, until I've had a chance to try it. I used to put it in a drawer, but, alas, it would be forgotten and languish until I felt the need to hunt for it. Unfortunately, that pile on the microwave sometimes gets annoying and gets transferred to the recipe drawer to languish.

The recipe drawer is getting full and messy and it's too hard to wade through all of the recipes I've mostly forgotten about.

While trying to find a recipe I was sure was in there, I decided to at least sort through all of these pieces of paper and put them in some kind of order. That way, when I wanted to try a fish recipe, I could go to the fish folder and save myself a lot of time.

And so I began. I made piles: "breads", "breakfasts", "soups/stews", "salads", "pasta", "vegetables", etc. Then I took some file folders, labeled them, and stuffed the appropriate recipes into each. By then I was tired and was less than half way through all those bits of paper.

A few days later, I continued the task. I actually found pages of newspapers dating back to 1988! When I look at some of these recipes, I can truly say "I'll never make that" and just toss it into the paper recycling bag. That's where many of the fancy dessert recipes have ended. I need fewer desserts, fancy or otherwise.

My recipe pile is looking a little less daunting, though I haven't yet tried any of the recently unearthed recipes.

After I finish sorting through the "to be tried" pile, I'm going to weed out the file box. There are a lot of recipes I added 20 or 30 years ago that I no longer use. This project could take a long time. I wonder if I'll have any time to actually try any of these new recipes?