Good Times, Bad Times
Issue #19 - You Know I've Had My Share
I often share certain funny things about my former career - situations, people, observations, but what I’ve seen in the news over the past 18 months is quite troubling: book-banning, rampant information censorship, drag-queen storytimes, and people upset over sexually explicit materials being made available to very young people in our libraries.
I have no easy answers. I go back and forth between my professional training and ethics, and my personal feelings as a parent and a human being.
What I see is that libraries and librarians are now facing all-out threats of violence across the country.
Based on what I experienced and observed, I had a feeling it was coming, and it’s part of the reason I left my job in 2021. The pandemic illuminated so much for so many of us. I no longer wanted to be in the line of fire.
I read these two articles and am including for background in case you’re interested. They rang very true for me.
In the almost 18 years I was a public librarian, I saw a lot of shit go down. We dealt with mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, and personal hygiene issues all the time. I wasn’t prepared for dealing with cockroaches crawling out of backpacks, or the bedbugs that started arriving in the books through the book return. And yeah, one time, we had a bomb threat.
Librarians were stalked and targeted, and a couple of times - physically assaulted.
One librarian I worked with was choked by a homeless patron - one of the many who had set up a tent camp outside of our north entrance who were allowed to live there for months because The City decided to locate the Homeless Outreach Services on the main floor of the library - instead of another, more appropriate places around the City.
Another librarian was spit on by a woman in a burka who was told she couldn’t wash her feet in the bathroom sink.
(To keep people from bathing in our sinks, there were signs up and City ordinances posted prohibiting personal hygiene activities other than hand-washing, but anyone who works in a library knows the joke: NO ONE READS THE SIGNS! And if there is a language or cultural barrier, well…you get it.)
Of course, all of this was all hush-hush by management because it wasn’t ‘politically correct’ to point out that we were having these issues. We never wanted to offend anyone. Libraries have always operated under the assumption that we were welcoming to all people, and libraries still do their very best to provide services even under the most difficult of circumstances.
But we couldn’t provide showers for the homeless, or prayer rooms for different religious groups. Heck, we didn’t even have a proper lactation room for nursing moms, and there were dozens of them in every week for storytimes with their babies. Libraries can’t be everything to everyone even though we’d like them to be.
And, the common assumption that libraries are a “safe space” is naive at best. I mean, it’s safe MOST of the time. But not always. Bad shit does go down.
I mean, one day in the Computer Commons, a guy having an argument with his girlfriend threw a full deli container of macaroni salad at her - which ended up on a bunch of people and two computers.
I caution anyone walking into a public library these days to keep their situational awareness on high. We librarians knew the reality, most people using the library do not.
You just never know when you’re going to get hit with macaroni salad. It can come right out of nowhere.
It always bothered me that walking through our doors at the library, one had a clear line of sight for 70% of our main floor - which is great for keeping an eye on things security-wise, but could also be a factor in a mass casualty event if someone with a gun walked in and started spraying bullets.
After a mass shooting at a library in San Bernardino in 2015, I formally requested in writing (and then in a staff meeting in front of everyone when my written request was ignored) that management arrange for our local police department to come in and conduct an active shooter training for library staff.
Maybe I’m just paranoid - I had already scoped out my escape routes and hiding places if that were to happen, but I wasn’t sure about my coworkers. They didn’t think the same way I did. My goal every day was to survive the madness and make it home alive to my babies.
Now, I grew up around firearms and have a firm grip on reality, but I wasn’t prepared for how much resistance I faced at the suggestion of this training, and how uncomfortable the conversation would be for my managers and coworkers. It really scared people.
Back then, it was like they couldn’t fathom that someone might walk into our “Gun Free Zone” with a gun. But I knew it was always a possibility, and there was no cohesive plan in place in case it did occur.
It took them a few months to arrange it, with management saying the police department needed time to put together a program for us - which was complete bunk.
I knew it was bunk because my husband’s company - a large bio-tech firm located in the same city - had received regular active-shooter training from the very same police department for years.
When I started, we had a friendly park ranger that would stop by to help us enforce policies and make incident reports. When I left, we had a full-time armed security staff.
It’s very indicative of how our society has deteriorated.
Now, all of this will be going into my book, Library Confidential, of course, but I’ve always been curious about how books get made into movies and TV shows, so I’ve spent the last few months taking a series of classes about the entertainment industry.
It’s been super-helpful in understanding where I might be able to fit into this world even though I don’t live in Los Angeles any more.
The pandemic has changed many things about how the industry works, and everyone seems to be navigating a new reality. The doors have opened just a little bit, and there are opportunities for newbies like me.
While I know the classes can’t substitute for real-life experience, it’s given me a solid basis about how to think about my work as a writer and future screenwriter. I love the book-writing process, but I have so many story ideas that seem better suited for a visual medium.
Plus, I have a dark, twisted sense of humor about some of this stuff. Can you tell?
The cool thing about taking the classes was meeting so many other writers, and being able to make some real connections with creative professionals in the business.
Many of them are working on socially impactful projects, some of them are horror aficionados, and there were even a few comedy writers - and I know which camp I fall into.
The TV project I’m working on is, of course, based on some of my real-life experiences as a librarian. Which, despite all the drama described above, was also at times stupidly funny. The last few years of my career, I took notes on all of the absurdity.
It was just too good - you know how they say truth is stranger than fiction.
I also observed a lot of corruption in our City - A mayor acting inappropriate, a City Council member who fondled himself in public and was eventually indicted by the FBI for bribery, another City Council member who was soliciting high school girls for sex - and was successful on multiple occassions, according to the news. There was department nepotism and an “old boys” network, along with our nasty library director who discriminated against disabled and BIPOC staff.
Plus all of the policies that would make you laugh if they didn’t make you cry first, like putting the Homeless Outreach office on the main floor of the library when we weren’t equipped to handle the needs of this group.
At the end, I had pretty much given up hope that anything would change. It kept getting more crazy. I was cynical, demoralized, and disgusted.
And it isn’t just my little suburb that has these problems.
Learning about what’s been going on with the Los Angeles City Council and the corrupt politicians these past few weeks - WOW. It sure seems like a good time to be bringing this stuff to light.
In fact, like in Los Angeles, it was a series of secret recordings that led to our awful library director being fired.
In the end, she trusted only one person, and that person was appalled by her behavior - so onto the iPhone voice memos she went. She said some pretty God-awful stuff.
And of course, upper management didn’t want to deal with it. It took them MONTHS for to act, even after years of documented complaints with HR, even when presented with the recordings of her malfeasance and treachery.
It wasn’t funny while we were going through all her shit, of course, but hearing that she got marched out of our building by a security guard was one of the most satisfying and funny moments of my career.
Once we heard the news, my coworkers and I sang a resounding chorus of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, which old witch? The wicked witch! Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead!” and we danced around our office like the Munchkins in Oz.
It is funny watching bad people get what’s coming to them, and oh-so satisfying, don’t you think?
Don’t we all wonder what makes people act so awful?
That’s why I think some of my experiences would make compelling, humorous TV. Adapt some of these real-life situations into an emotional, funny, action-filled story arc.
The last class I’m taking this week is a TV Pilot Screenwriting workshop to help me get it all organized properly and into a readable format.
For some reason, I am stuck on an opening scene involving a corrupt politician and a City Orbit bus named Uranus.
(I’ll admit, I have the sense of humor of a 12-year old boy sometimes.)
With the world on fire out there, we have to remember to laugh. Laughter gives us power over our own painful situations.
Laughter diffuses fear.
Laughter is good medicine.
Laughter makes the bad guys look like fools, and that is just what we need at this moment.
Laughter at the hard, ugly stuff is sometimes the only way we can cope with the absurdity of it all.
Thanks for being here, dear reader, while I work my way into my next adventure.
In preparation for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - I am opening my schedule for new coaching clients.
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