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Coming home

Sutro Tower and Moon

Sutro Tower and Moon

That’s what I’m doing right now, ensconced in my  window seat in coach on my flight home, playing Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” tuned up loud enough to drown out the food-smackers behind me while I tidy up trip reports and budget forecasts and put the buff on a small preservation planning grant.

But it was also what I did at ALA…

… When I picked up my badge and began my peregrinations through meetings and exhibits

… When I met up with old and new colleagues over dinner, coffee, lunch, walks down the street, hugs in the hallways

… When I walked into the Council chambers at ALA Midwinter to hustle up a few signatures for my petition to run as an at-large Council candidate.

I felt it was time to get back into ALA governance. I had been puzzling over whether this was, in fact, the right thing for me to do (in addition to LITA Nominations and GLBTRT External Relations and the occasional panel, such as the “ROI in Academic Libraries” Springer hosted last Friday) until I walked into the Council Chambers.

When I push open our door tonight, I know what to expect: Sandy, our cat Emma, my favorite spot on the green couch, a pile of unopened mail, the Sutro Tower twinkling on the hill. I am not being arch when I say I had a similar (if not quite as numinous) experience in the Council chambers today, when I tweeted that I had a petition and within minutes it was overflowing from signatures from Councilors both fresh and well-aged.

I sat a spell, watching the text transcripts unfold on the wall, watching Councilors debate and stand up and stretch and fill out ballots and knit and scoot onto the Web. (A colleague asked me how anyone could “stand” to be in Council for all those hours, and I replied, “These days, the Internet.” By gum, when I was in my first term we sat there in our analog misery, front and center!)

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since my third term on Council. Financial downturn for my job (Librarians’ Internet Index). The move to Florida. The Florida Era. The move back to California. I’m still me, six years later, but I have that slightly smudged patina of accumulated experience.

We don’t get an Undo button in life, however useful that would be. We’re blessed and cursed with our history. One truth I have had to learn is that for some of us — many of us? — our sense of place looms large in that history.

For many years I preached — and lived — the mantra of “geographic flexibility.” Education, jobs, other opportunities: first I, then we, could follow the wind. I have repeatedly counseled librarians that they had to have geographic flexibility for their careers. I judged them for not seeking jobs far and wide. I looked to myself as an example–I, who had lived worldwide.

Yet it took the Florida Experience to teach me why some people — and I now realize I am in their numbers — have an allegiance to the place they call home so powerful that it is on the other issues in life that they compromise.It’s not that Florida was insanely horrible; it’s that experiences that were less than stellar (and life always has them) took place in a context of alien other-ness — and it was this alien experience that made them sad, at times overwhelmingly so.

There’s an expression, generally condescending: “She knows her place.” It’s too bad it’s never intended as a compliment. I do indeed know my place. I know where I am not “other.” I know where I belong. Not necessarily on this particular block in the Inner Sunset of San Francisco, but not much farther.

On a related note, I’ve been thinking about the events at Harvard last week, where the administration presented tough news about reorganization and downsizing. I can’t speak to what — or who — is right or wrong (if anyone or anything is right or wrong). But I can empathize with the sense that one’s place has become liquid under one’s feet, like one of those rolling earthquakes that feel as if they are never going to stop. Even if you know the Big One is going to hit, that’s an intellectual abstraction until the floor has become molten and undulating and the bookcases are swaying to and fro and it occurs to you that your world as you know it is going to end.

I had a very bad moment about six months into the Florida Experiment where I sobbed, “I want my old life back.” Yes, I did. I forgive myself for that highly emotional moment because I had hit upon a fundamental truth about being and place. There was no magic wand, of course, but I made one change, which led to another, and eventually we got very, very, very lucky.

Naturally, I do not have my old life back. That will never happen. We move forward in time, no lux capacitor to reorder that reality, and only through rigorous memory work — personal reflection, and efforts such as writing, film, music, and dance — can we run our fingers over the fluttering fabric of the past.

But I am no longer a displaced person, living in the backward glance. This may not be forever — it’s not mine to predict cataclysmic change or natural disaster — but it is at least how I plan to spend my days, God willing and the creek don’t rise. And for those who thought the same and have learned otherwise, you have my love and sympathy.



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