Confessions of a School Librarian – Part I

The Artist's Sister at her Window

“Sometimes it seems that kids don’t really understand what books are anymore, and they sure as heck don’t know how to find them,” Agatha reflected.

“I see a lot of bewildered students coming into the library and not getting their work done. They don’t look bewildered. They look like they’re playing computer games, or talking loudly with their friends, taking outrageous selfies with dramatic expressions, laughing too loudly and doing things deliberately to get my attention. Like going out the back doors that they aren’t supposed to exit through. Like eating chips or drinking frapuchinos near the computers. Like trying to do cheerleader formations, or play-fighting in the library. I approach them and remind them to tone it down so others can study. One or two of them like to back-talk and tell me that they aren’t bothering anyone, asking the nearest student who is working on a computer, ‘Hey, are we bothering you?’ to which, of course, the student replies no, but then packs up her stuff and leaves.

“How do I know they’re bewildered? First, because life is just bewildering for a lot of kids in high school. The cooler they try to look with their friends, the more pain and fear of looking dumb they are trying to conceal.

“Second, I know that even a lot of the “smart” ones are bewildered, because they really don’t understand libraries or how to use one. I guess no one has ever taken the time to show them how to use a library catalog. Of the three students brave enough to ask how to find a certain book this week, none of them knew how to use the catalog. I had even made a sign which I put right beside the two catalog computers, with very clear directions.

“But I was glad that they asked, because it gave me something to do. I walked them over to the computer, showed them how to get to the school library system’s global website, how to locate the school, and then how to click on the “Catalog” tab. Then I showed them how to type in an item and search, using the category icon (Author, Title, Key Words, etc.) Could they have gotten there by reading the sign? Of course. But did they read it? No. But they really seemed happy that they were able to find what they were looking for. They felt a sense of accomplishment.

“And you know what?” Agatha mused to herself, ” I get it. Computer databases in libraries always used to seem complex and forbidding to me. I always felt dumb when I asked someone to do a search for me (In those days, you couldn’t do your own searches–only librarians could do them.) I never knew what search words to use, and the whole process seemed mysterious and out of my reach.  But I would have thought that this generation, with their YouTube, their Tumblr, their PlayStation, their Xbox, their Nintendo, InstaGram and SnapChats, would totally get how to access databases. But they don’t. I think they don’t for two main reasons: 1) databases are dry and boring, compared to all of the  instant gratification they get from their other computer media; and 2) no one has sat down and shown them how to do research with databases, or convinced them that they should bother. So that’s my job.”

Agatha smiled as she settled down in front of her computer, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt, as she prepared to blog about her new job as a school librarian.




The Feral Cat Ladies

This is a sequel to “She Chooses Trust” (FromUnderThePages 4/9/2014) and “Open Your Eyes, Kitty!” (Writewireless 5/25/2014). A foray into magical realism and fun. Enjoy!

write wireless

Cats in Pot 3

This is a sequel to “Open Your Eyes, Kitty!”, published on May 25, 2014 on Writewireless. It is basically a true story. Only the names and some of the details have been changed to protect the feral—and the domesticated as well.

When I heard the knock on my door, I thought it was someone else—wandering friends who show up occasionally. When I looked through the peep-hole, it could have been Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two ladies, casually dressed, on the other side of middle age. I opened the door. One had white, somewhat tousled hair, and was holding a long cage with a bowl of food at one end. Her face was soft and malleable and looked forgiving. Her companion was thin, with streaky gray hair pulled back into a severe ponytail.

Her voice was strident, and clung to the high registers like the nervous claws of an excited feline, ready…

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Tattoo and Poetry

(A Sestina)


“Poetry sucks.”
His words are ice,
even in the sunlight—
golden, like her tattoo—
ripples of swimming koi, red, green, and orange
on skin made bumpy by the wind.

She lets the wind
caress her arms. A suck
on her straw brings orange
elixir, cooled by ice
quenchingly throatward. Now her tattoo
is vivid, swimming on her thigh in the sunlight.

Her pen remembers the sunlight,
the dunes, the wind,
and the little shack where she got her tattoo.
She remembers thinking it would suck
if it got infected. He had put ice
on it, over a washcloth that was orange,

like the waning sunlight;
and the ice
had cooled her burning thigh like a merciful wind,
entering, uninvited, to suck
the curtains out the window, blowing on her tattoo.

She feels her tattoo
burning orange,
and she tries to write a poem that doesn’t suck,
seeing his glowing face in the sunlight,
remembering the wind,
feeling the ice…

The ice.
Cold on her tattoo,
whipped by the wind
as the sky turns orange,
on the back of his bike; the sunlight
shrinking into a ball that the sea would suck

down, down, suck beneath the ice:
sunlight, tattoo,
orange, wind.

Moment in a Tea Shop

White Lilies

She was intrigued by the sign on the door.

The shop looked there and not there; it had no outward personality, as did the other shops in the unusual mall. Outside the door was a rack of short kimonos, looking somewhat hanger-worn. A hand-made sign read, “Kimonos: 50% off.” A glance in the window showed an odd assortment of artifacts: tea pots, mats, statuettes. They all sort of blended together to create a quite unremarkable impression. It was not possible to see into the shop from the window; there was a wall of fabric or a curtain of some sort blocking off any view to the inside. Trying to decide what type of shop it was, and whether it was worth the investment of her time to enter it, she scanned the façade again. It would be a few minutes before her daughter was finished at the shop across the way. A printed flyer on the door caught her eye. It said, “Tea Times.” She could not read the finer print. She wondered if the shop were a tea house of some sort. Venturing a little closer to the entry, she peered in. She could see tea mats, teapots, cups, trinkets. Little iron animal figurines. Her curiosity got the better of her and she entered the shop. Once inside, she noticed a young lady behind the counter intent in conversation with a young man. They were speaking Japanese. She looked around to the back of the shop. No serving tables in sight; it was just a store. As she progressed farther into the interior, she took in the very different feel of the place: everything appeared very authentic and of high quality. This was not a cheap souvenir store. There were wooden tea chests of all sizes, delicately crafted of thin wood, with elegant drawers, and some with mini shoji screens that slid open and closed. There were many different styles of tea pots and tea sets made of porcelain and painted in all different colors and patterns. There were cylindrical tea-jars with lids, made of bamboo, finely pieced together. In the back sat a large, flat table, piled with stacks of very large, individually screen-printed handmade paper. She leafed through a few of them, admiring the craftwork and patterns. Then she turned and saw a whole table covered with squares of ornately printed cotton fabric from Japan. The squares were carefully folded and wrapped in cellophane envelopes.

Japanese Fabric

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Sticky Rice Mango, Moon & Clouds

Sticky Rice Mango Moon & Clouds 1 Moon & Clouds 3

We went on an unexpected date, my husband and I.
The air was crisp and the clouds were like we’d never seen them.
The full moon cast an eerie glow, creating a lightshow in the sky (these iPhone pictures don’t do it justice).
Sticky rice mango for dessert.


orange colored sand stone

Orange colored

sand stone

[neither / nor.]

Tranquil as

the shoosh of foam

[and close moist air warm.]


Pleasant yet

hurting feet

[not the fault of the spot.]

Carving in

like Lascaux

[humorous and serious.]


The Labyrinth


Feet feel cool stone floor through socks. Mind takes in view of long, curving paths, convoluted like smoothed, stylized intestines. I remember what the white-haired reverend said as he handed me the brochure: “Just give up your thoughts and let go as you enter…”

Aware, peripherally, of the handful of cathedral sight-seers. The lines take me on an unexpected trajectory–I thought I was in this quadrant; now, not having completed that section, I’m in the one to the right. They are all interconnected. Rational mind on the outskirts knows they will all resolve in the end: there is only one exit, which is also the entrance. I ponder this conundrum, which reassures me.

Still, I watch my feet, become aware of my gait. Less agile than I thought I would be, with the weight of years and the world belying my youthful mind. I take the turns less gracefully than expected, so quickly do they double on themselves.

Stay on the path. Remember to breathe. “Breathing is the only autonomic system we can control.” Am I in control of my destiny or is it in control of me? We are one. There is only one path. My mind wanders as my eyes stray upward and meet those of a young bald man in a wheelchair, watching my progress from a corner near the entrance. I break contact, returning concentration to the path. “This is ‘practice,’” I think. Religion is practice: the physical act that allows the spirit to think–or be. No need for endless liturgies or indoctrinations. No one judging. We’re all here for the same thing. My mind returns to my feet. Am I coming back out yet?

I don’t know how I got all the way over here. My mind is a tourist in a strange land, not familiar with the streets. The breath feels restricted, I work hard to slow it down. I remind myself that I will be coming out at the starting point. I seem to be on the outer rim. But wait–I am now heading for the center! That’s right–I haven’t been there yet. How like life, I reflect. We are confused, distracted, not sure where we are headed. But in the labyrinth there is only one way to go: forward.  As the radio talk-show career guru had said, “Don’t look back; just go forward, one baby step at a time.”

Finally, I am in the center of the labyrinth. A big circle with small petal-like motifs on the edges. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I deserve a pause and a bit of “beingness.” I close my eyes, aware of the high-arching limestone pillars all around me, the patches of color thrown on the floor by the sun through the windows. I calm my brain, grateful for an empty mind and the brief inner peace I have achieved.

I am more confident about the journey back, having achieved its complement. I have lost track of time and my place in the journey when I hear the sudden peal of bells. I feel the leonine grumble as each of the twelve bells bongs.

Moments after the last bong, I am aware of the ingress of people through the high door. I feel a sense of urgency to complete my walk, hoping not to interfere with services. The people float past me, engulfed by the cavernous arches, and settle in the pews. My presence is not unwelcome; just a normal part of everyday life that was noted and dismissed. Just as I am wondering how and when I will reach the end, I do.

Silently and reverently, I walk around the outside of the labyrinth to the back pew, where I retrieve my shoes and jacket.

Me and Hemingway at the DMV


(A Site-Specific Book Review)

I went three different times during the week, and twice I turned away, but today I was determined and prepared. I had brought Hemingway with me. Yes, it was Monday, their busiest day, and yes, there was that line half a block long, leading into the parking lot. But today I had no other commitments, and I wouldn’t have another day like this soon, so it had to be today. It was 9:30 a.m. I had decided that however long it took, I was going to wait for my turn, and get my license renewed before it expired.

The thermometer at home said 51º. But this was Daly City. As I approached my spot at the end of the line, I was aware of the brisk chill in the gray air. No problem: I had a turtleneck on, underneath my wool tweed Galway jacket, and a hooded rainshell over that. I had considered the elements. The leather gloves were still in my car, as I had judged that they would be overkill. But after about five minutes out there, I wished I had put them on. I was holding The Sun Also Rises in my left hand, reading while keeping my right hand in my pocket. When my left hand started to feel numb with cold, I switched the book to my right, warming the left in my pocket. I switched off several times before noticing that my head was cold, too. I put up the hood of my rainshell. It afforded a good amount of protection from the chilling breeze that insisted and seeped nonetheless.

The small throng ahead of me mostly had that waiting-in-line look about them: bored, but resigned. They shifted their feet, looking back and forward, at everything and at nothing in particular, as if there were something they could do to mitigate the tedium. Some made small talk with their line neighbors. The man in front of me, medium-build, Asian, was paging through his netbook. He seemed intent and absorbed, and actually looked happy. As I turned around, I began to notice that I was no longer last in line; a handful of people took up their places behind me. I continued my perusal of Hemingway, in order to pass the time, all the while becoming more erudite. Continue reading