Friday, July 28, 2006

Image of an Archivist

Portrait of an Archivist in Middle Adulthood

Next week I'll be at the big professional conference that archivists go to every year. I find myself agonizing over my wardrobe, something that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago. Before working at The Job That Ate My Life, I looked professional and never cared what other people thought of my dress. But TJTAML came with a supervisor who scrutinized my image, and I've been self-conscious ever since. It's been a year since I left, a year since I've been in academia, home of the happily rumpled and casually shod. But still I find myself worried over dress.

I have always envied the UGA archivists. A few of them have dyed hair, or unconventional glasses, or have worn chunky boots to meetings. They are comfortable with themselves, and with their professional positions. I used to be that way; I had navy blue hair when I got a perfect 5 rating for my job at Harvard. I want to get back to that place of comfort with myself. Not necessarily the hair (although I do miss having blue hair, it was a pain to keep up) but the level of self-comfort and self expression. I've told the husband I want to finally get the tattoo I've always wanted for my birthday. I've never been able to afford ink before, and now that I can indulge in the luxury of body modification, I plan to wear some art.

I look forward to going under the artist's needle with great glee. I've learned so much about myself these past few years, and I have become settled enough to commit to permanent ink.

Friends have helped me learn a lot lately. I had one of those big reveals in the past few weeks about friendships. Most of the best friendships I have are often distant, with visits at most once a month, and sometimes only once a year or so. In the past couple of years I was concerned about this pattern of visitation, but now I have found great joy in distance.

Who are my friends? What does that word mean to me, now that I'm getting on 30, and have a baby?

My friends are those with whom I get along because we give each other the space to grow and learn and change. When I was in college, friendship was all about getting as close as possible with someone. Now that I have grown into the next stage of my life, friendship is about accepting the time and space between people. It's about having lived enough to recognize the stages of life and the room we all need to move from one way of thinking and seeing without friction.

The people whose friendships I value most understand that right now, sometimes it's enough to just be around each other only every once in a while. Deep discussion is wonderful and needed from time to time, but right now we need to be off on our own learning. Discussion of things we learned/texts we enjoyed to follow.

That's what friends are; the people who will hold hands with you (but understand that this can be done at a distance) as everything, including yourselves, change. I used to think that my lack of constant socialization these past few years was lamentable; now I realize it's just a sign of maturity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


It's mid-July in Atlanta, and we didn't have a good cold winter this year. So the misquitoes are out in full force, biting welts as big as a nickle should I be so bold as to water my tomatoes at dusk or dawn. So far I have managed to keep the bugs away from the baby, but I dread the inevitable appearance of her first bite.

In mid-summer here the sun is bright and fierce and everything will break down: our air conditioner, the dead small animals in the roadway, communication amongst difficult parties, the temperment of tested children and relatives. My computer broke last week after my sisters used it for MySpace, and the site overloaded my PC with spyware and adware. This has cemented my opinion that MySpace is of the devil, and also that I am old. I love every new shiny internet toy, from friendster to Lj to wikipedia. But now I'm old, because I dislike MySpace.

My sisters visit; my friends visit; we visit with extended family. I don't know what else to say about July, other than that I'm working and caring for my household. I wish I was more interesting this month. I'm not.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Returning from Maternity Leave

Libraries and Maternity Leave
With Devon and Alestar on the side

I returned to my archives work at Comfortable U. last week. I can't believe I was so naive as to think that going on maternity leave wouldn't affect my work, or how people perceive me as a professional. I have been profoundly disappointed to discover that now I am no longer expected to be the best I can be at my job, and that my boss has effectively tried to bench me from big projects.

The week before I returned from leave I emailed out meeting requests to my co-workers, along with my new work availability. The Library Director (L. D.) didn't respond. I emailed and called her the Friday before my return to try and set an appointment again. No answer. The L. D. then sort of dodged me for the next two days while I was back, again neither answering emails or phone calls. I had a meeting Tuesday afternoon, for a project I've been working on since November. At the meeting it turns out that the L. D. changed key components of the project while I was away. Everyone in the meeting knew about the changes but me. I was horribly embarrassed in front of co-workers and project team members. I think that was the L. D.'s intention. When I tried to talk to her about how I was embarrassed, and tried to ask for better communication, she stated that she didn't *ever* have to email me or call me if she didn't want to. The next morning, she cited me for insubordination.

I went out and bought a digital recorder. I'm now recording all of our meetings. The L. D. has terrified me into worrying that I could be fired at any moment; again, I think that was her goal. A person with an infant on staff is a liability, and worse, she's made it clear through side comments and actions that she thinks women with small babies should be at home. Never mind that my husband quit his job to take care of Dot full time. I spent most of last week sick to my stomach about work.

I woke up this morning dreaming about working at Borders again. If the bookstore had been able to pay me more, I never would have gone to grad school at all. I always had a good work environment at Waldenbooks and Borders; in fact, I still keep in touch with a number of old co-workers there, and sometimes when I'm in Nashville I stop in and say hi to my old bosses. I also had good working relationships with my bosses and supervisors in Boston, enough that I keep up e-mail correspondence with Jack, who taught me loads about library work. I'm still looking for that kind of good management here in Atlanta.

I shouldn't worry so much about this kind of stuff. Most people dislike what they do, and I actually love the *work* part of being an archivist and librarian. I even like sitting my shifts at the reference desk (although to be fair, I should mention they're short shifts). Most people have some sort of friction at the workplace. There's no mythical workplace Shangri-La where everyone gets along and all is lovely routine. If there were such a workplace, the lottery wouldn't be so damn popular.

Devon and Erin came to visit last week. Aisling came with them, wearing her bunny ears and hiding on my staircases with books. As always with visits from Devon or Erin, they brought with them a surge of tremendous creative energy. We ended up sitting around and talking about how in the past three years none of us has been satisfied with our creative output. We all decided it was because we'd been squished; Devon and Erin both had a horrid writing professor at UTK who tried to get everyone to sound like Hemingway, and that squished their ability to write; I had the peer reviewer from hell at my other job, and that squished my ability to write. We're all of us trying to regain the joy of writing, and none of us quite knows how. We're all devoted to trying to get the joy back.

Erin showed me a picture, a white page with the beginnings of a sketch of moutains on it. Just gray lines, the ghost of an idea of mountains. "This is where I broke down." she said. And she told me a story about sitting in a cafe in Italy, and how she looked at the mountains and instead of enjoying them all she could think was: "What can I produce from this?". And that's when she broke down she said, because all she could think about was product, and turning her experiences into something. She wasn't enjoying Italy or traveling because all she could think about was using the experience to produce a product.

She pointed to the page with the ghost of a mountain drawing on it. "This is where we are." she said.

That's where I am.