When We Know Nothing

black ball point pen on white notebook

In moments when we don’t know what to say, what to write, how to respond–it is as if we know nothing. The world becomes a blank page. We reach out and the page tears as we try to find words that are  simply too small for our naked eyes or perhaps written in lemon ink. We forget about our decades of life and experience, and, in that moment we know nothing but the blank. This blank, this nothingness-of-knowing scares us right down to the marrow of who we are (who we think we are, who we know we are). A thick, blank sheet–of paper or fabric–is thrown over our heads. And we gasp, we twitch, we even perhaps throw ourselves out, like a character we are writing about who needs attention. We throw ourselves out when we don’t know. Don’t know the answer. Don’t know the next plot point. Don’t know how we got ourselves into this mess of words and ideas. Why didn’t we stick to a job that was more solid, something that would never have us thinking about how we know nothing? Why didn’t we think more before we said ‘yes?’ The blank makes us wonder. Why did we trust the people we did when, somehow, we knew all along? We knew all along they’d leave us blank. We knew all along. Then we become that blank.

And there is the blank page before us. Holding our wonder and our grief. Holding our disenchantment and mix of confusion and sadness. We know nothing. We think we’ll scribble on the page and at least get something done. If we think about those scribbles too long they seem like scars.

This blank page. This space in front of us that makes us feel like we know nothing. This blank page, this blank space is not a mirror that erases the past ten years. It is not the effect of distraction or our longings that have leaked over time. It is nonsense and pure, plain sense all at once. We can recede into nothing, and still, the page is there for us when we remember–when our words, our voice is called out–scribbled or cursived.

We can know nothing for a while. We all know nothing for a while.

Boutique-ing It, Part 2: Know Your People

The idea of boutique-ing programs or projects can fly in the face of what seems like big success. We often think of success as being large, more people, more things–more. Boutique-ing isn’t so much about numbers as it is about creating something that is memorable to individuals–no matter how many (2 or 2000).

One key thing to remember when boutique-ing a program is get to know your participants as much as possible before your event, your week-long workshop, your program or happening. What are their needs, expectations and reasons for putting your event or program on their calendars? How can you find more about them without prying or being obnoxious? What questions can you ask–not simply to ask questions, but to help make a connection with the person and and the happening?

All this sounds simple, though it takes intention and willingness to get personal.

Be gentle, kind and real when asking questions of your potential participants. Encouraging interest  can make room for humor, creating a helpful bond between all participants and those behind or in front of the scenes.

Keep thinking this: How can we make this happening more memorable, easier, more boutique-ed?

Good Stories, Lonely Stories


Recently, I came across this post I wrote some time ago, musing on writing and and how it can can be intertwined with loneliness. As I re-read this piece, I thought about how in many ways there is a distinct type of loneliness that can surround our writing practices and often infuse our writing, particularly when we are working character struggles or lone characters. I made a few edits to the post, infused by a few new ideas.

Often we think of good story scenarios as being ones that have multiple characters and clear, obvious and perhaps predictable happenings. We long for happy endings even in the mire of worry and worrisome scenes.

Good stories can sometimes be lonely stories. What I mean by lonely is that the story can be focused mostly on a singular character. The cast of characters are not there, filling out a storyline or bringing more layers to the tale. Sometimes the story is a singular one. A story that is about one, single character–one single person’s reactions and responses to the world that they have stepped into or the world that feels is happening to them.

Often a singular story turns outs to be a poem. Or poem-like.

No one wants to be trapped inside one character’s mind for too long. It becomes too insular. And still there are singular stories. The stories of what happened when she crossed this milestone she set for herself but never told anyone about it. Or the story of when the world came crashing in when there was no one else around to hear or feel impact.

There will be lonely scenes when expressing these moments. Allow that loneliness. You may want to bring an outside character in to bring another insight or perspective for a moment, even if in memory. As in real life, we are so often left to figure it out for ourselves. This is lonely business.

There are still colors, light and rare shadows in loneliness, even when life is drab.


Boutique-ing It

Any experience that is built to serve everyone and anyone really serves no one. I have been thinking, talking and acting on the idea of boutique-ing programs and services for a while now. It is about customizing to real people. It is about creating commitments between providers and consumers. It is about making what we do more real and deeper for all those involved. Stay tuned for more about Boutique Programs.

We learn how we live

Learning is the constant disruption of an old pattern, a breakthrough that substitutes something new for something old. And the the process begins again.

– Cathy N. Davidson , Now You See It

I have pondered this quote for a few months now. It reminds me that as our habits of living, communicating and engaging have changed, of course, so have the ways we learn. Indeed, we learn how we live.

Find out a little more about the fascinatingly practical approach Cathy Davidson takes to learning, unlearning and to conceptualizing a new approach to  living, collaborating and dealing with our world of disruptions and learning moments in this article “…Fixing the Future of Distraction.”

Ebb and Flow, stop and go. ebooks.

We all work within various projects, systems and work arenas that have either natural or adapted ebb and flow. Our days start (generally) around the same time. Our correspondences take on a cadence and tempo that, whether they are working well for us or not,  become what we know to be natural or at least the norm . Then there are jarring moments. These moments are mostly colored in a shade of out-of-the-blue. Sudden can be good. It can be what we need to get our minds around the matter in a new way. Suddenness can  breathe some life back into a stagnant system.

In my world, I was earnestly focusing on learning more about the world of ebook delivery through public libraries. So many matters involved: evolving my own expectations with clunky parameters (DRM), growing an e-collection that was enticing and within budget, coordinating to help get my colleagues trained to know more about how to make the flow of ebooks easier to the public–setting them more free to the world. Lots of work went into that . Lots of time, learning, relearning, communications (emails! about efiles!) and some  roadblocks and victories along the way. Enter the  Overdrive letter about Harper Collins (at the time “unnamed publisher”) changing their check-out allowances. The carpet we were carefully stitching was  pulled t right out from us– our Nooks and iPads clinging to our chests as February came to a close. That was a shift.

I know this didn’t bloom over night. I’m sure of that. However it felt as if it came down like that.  There were folks in on figuring this out…advocating for the library user, right? At least responses from the companies say that.  But where are those folks now? Who were they? Who are they (not counting the blog commenters, here).  Did they at least receive some vendor swag for sitting in on a conversation about this?  I’m surely not the only one wondering: were you one of the librarians who sat in on the discussions with HarperCollins before the big announcement? Tell me, how did that conversation ebb and flow?

In less thatn 4 months, through our focus to create more easeful ebook deliver, we  increased usage by  almost 70%.  That 70%– where will it go, how will it grow now? An ebbing question that lingers.

There were many craggy moments but we knew where they were. Beyond that there were the few days from February 24 to March 7 to start a new rhythm. And  still with only an emailed letter, the ebb and flow shifted. Some think for better.Some think for ultimate doom, it seems. Whatever comes from this, a new wave was thrown in during  a time of earnest work, causing confusion, some anger and some thoughts of just throwing it all out by people across the library community.

How has the letter changed your ebb and flow? Processes, productivity?

I’m still figuring that out… ebbing back to flow forward.

I know there is much of this going on. How interesting that such and out-of-the blue, seemingly informative and somewhat celebratory letter, can change the coarse of thinking and spiritedness about a matter.

How has your ebb, flow or zest for ebooks changed? Within your system? Within yourself?

5 Why-Nots: Playing with Language-Rich Spaces

In the field of youth services, we often talk about creating language rich environments for young minds. These are spaces that reinforce and encourage recognition and meaning of words, create conversations or even invite guests to craft stories as well as strengthen language development and enrichment.  This has been a concept that has long appealed to me and I know that many library and youth serving staff work to  create spaces that encourage imaginations, word discovery and word play every day. The concept of  language rich environments has evolved quite a bit over the past few years. We encounter words in very different ways. We also interact with words differently (think about how the very word “text” has taken on new meanings and conjures new images and actions). 

Language/Word-rich environments are not only beneficial for young minds. All ages can benefit from a space that plays with words, directs imaginations with language and encourages conversation. Here are 5 Why-Nots for having fun with words in your space. Why not try them? …

1. Why not sprinkle your space with questions? Just like a good speech, a good space can earnestly stir up questions in visitors’ minds. “Why did they paint that wall tomato red?” “Why are these particular books and dvds on display?” Why not simply write the questions you think may be going on in the minds of customers and post them? Questions will get answers–or at least conjectures. Conjectures can lead to conversations.

2. Why not use a portion of your storytime to invite children and their adults to simply talk with one another? Give them a start up question to ask the person next to them. How about “What is the most unusual word you can think of?”

3. Why not take a note from Pee Wee’s Playhouse (yes, it’s OK to admit to loving PWP just a little) and do a “Word of the Day?”  Send kids and adults looking for the word hidden throughout your library or facility, on titles and in the articles of magazines. (Screaming at the top of your lungs when the word is said aloud, is optional, of course).

4. Why not overhaul your signage or at least one type of signage to send a really clear message that “we want you to be a part of this space?” Take a look at Leah White’s article on signage for some inspiration.

5. Why not have an area of your library or department where talking is promoted. Even if it is for limited times only. The “talking” could be in the form of selections from talking books, on-the-spot poetry or quote readings, or timed ramblings on a given topic. Think of it as a creative take on London’s Speakers’ Corner.

Each day we have opportunities to interact with our customers in deeper ways. What we want to get at is creating spaces–whether real or digital–that are drenched with the human element. Inviting involvement through play with words and conversation starters is one way to turn the human element up. Why not?

OED: Odd, Eccentric & Dynamic


As an undergraduate I was introduced to the magic of the Oxford English Dictionary. Some may question the use of the word “magic” to describe this tome, but for a class full of eager English majors, cracking the spine (well, spines–there are several volumes) of the OED and diving into the deep waters of word meanings and derivations was nothing short of a magical moment. Who knew that finding the first time the word “marshmallow” was ever printed in the English language could hold such fascination?

The OED quickly stepped into the arena of classic reference material soon after its first edition was finally printed in the 1920’s. Classics speak of tradition. And often tradition speaks of the formal or perhaps less-than-daring. What seldom peeks out from behind the covers of such a thing as the OED is the very intense, sometimes unbelievable, story of how it came to be in the first place.  In Charlotte Brewer’s book Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED  the idea of what a mammoth undertaking it was to even consider compiling the OED in the first place comes to life . The product as well as the process molded many lives and created somewhat of a subculture along the way.

What drives the creation of such a thing as the OED–or any such large, almost unbelievable notion?  What occured to me is that such a project or product often really is driven by, well, another take on the O-E-D: the Odd, Eccentric and the Dynamic.  Think about it: how many of the incredible, deep and useful products or projects that change our lives had their early stirrings in odd moments? How many were driven by eccentric, passionate individuals who simply knew it would work and stood behind the idea? How about the dynamics that arise from deep conversations or shared actions? Yes, we’re talking innovation-in-action here.  (And so, proving that The Oxford English Dictionary has many types of magic).

Here is a small string of  O-E-D (Odd, Eccentric, Dynamic) products, programs and personalities off the top of my mind. File these under “inspiration” and/or “find out more”:

Cerritos LibraryMartha Graham, Playing For Others, Anythink Libraries, Gustafer Yellowgold, Timothy Ferris, Indievision, The Fun Theory

What’s on your OED list?

Standing Still (or Stuck?)

In her book Stuck: Why We Can’t (Or Won’t) Move on, author Anneli Rufus conjures up some provoking ideas about how individuals, groups or organizations can get in the rut that becomes “stuck.” Clearly no one sets out to get stuck. Certainly no organization wants to become a victim of the here-and-then approach to success, right? Alas, it happens all the time. Rufus suggests that there are some clear ways that we can get stuck, including focusing on the ideals of the past and grinding away at habits (even when we know they’re not moving us forward).

Within organizations, there is a clear call to innovate, move into the future and cut a new path. With the call so clear, how do we find ourselves stuck? There is a certain power to being aware of how where we come from, where we are now and where we want to go. Keep that blend of the time perspectives–essential to staying “unstuck.” Rufus writes:

We can’t airbrush the present. This ache right now, that whimpering child, this bill are all too real. Nor can the future be made to stop dwindling….Time is our worst enemy, and only in our visions of the past can we control time. Only in our visions of the past does time stand still. This is how we get stuck.