Flash Fiction: The Day the Sky Fell

Prompt: “Pure & Easy” by The Dining Rooms


The thing about the end of the world is you never see it coming. It comes like a bad divorce or a crippling disease. Looking back, the signs were always there but you are always living one day away from complete catastrophe and standing in that slim, sanctified space, you let yourself believe things aren’t as bad as they might appear to be until one day you wake up and realized they are much worse.

It is like being pushed from a ledge, this sudden sharp shove from one reality, constructed for maximum comfort and soft confusion, into a hard, bright light that shines relentless, brutal with its honesty, generous with regret.

These are the things I think about when I am drinking too much, which is to say, pretty much everyday and all the time.

You can make yourself crazy looking backward for signs. You will see them everywhere, the litter of your life. Clothes strewn on a highway in the aftermath of a hurricane. The high-water mark on your walls after the flood.

I was never one for reading the Bible. I kept one. I carried it with me, of course. The one my mother gave me when I turned twelve and she realized too late that I might be ill-equipped to make the virtuous decisions when times got hard. It must have been like watching a cake bake after you’ve realized you forgotten to add the sugar to the mix. How awful to realize you have used the last ingredients in your cupboard and you’ve forgotten the most important thing. And to have to sit and watch cake batter that’s already been mixed, apply heat and take shape. There is none of that life-affirming anticipation stuff parents secretly despise in each other. Just marking time until the timer says it done and you can pull the cake out, watch it cool, all the time knowing it is going to taste like shit.

What was I saying? Oh yeah. My mom gave me a Bible and I carried it with me everywhere, especially in those early days after the sky fell down. But I never read it. Mom read it all the time and it never did her any good. The sky fell and she got crushed. She didn’t even try to hide. She just stood there and watched the collapse.

I think she wanted it to happen. That’s my problem with most of the Bible people. They didn’t really try to make things better. They just kept walking around with their eyes watching the clouds, waiting for the promised things to fall out so they could stop pretending so hard to care.

This is bleak. I don’t mean it that way. I’m a good person, I think. I try to keep a positive attitude. I haven’t had to kill anybody. Yet. There was that one guy I had to lock in the attic but I’m pretty sure he would have killed me and probably eaten me. He looked so hungry.

I should say a thing or two about hunger. Hunger is pain. Hunger is life. There is something my high school math teacher used to say about transitive property. You can probably work that one out.

I’m not a negative person. I like to stay on the bright side of things. Except sometimes there is no bright side and you just need to stay quiet.

I like people. In some other life, I could have been a sales person. Or a teacher. They are the same kind of thing, you know.

I should probably tell you about the day the sky fell. Or, as they would say it in whatever history books get written, The Day the Sky Fell.

That’s a joke. The part about history books. No one is going to write any history books. History is finished. Everything from now on is just one long day.

And that’s what I want you to know about Life After the Sky Fell. It is tedious. It is boring. It is all just One Really Long Day.

I was going to tell you about the day the sky fell but what’s the sense in that? You’ll just read it and wonder what’s the sky thing anyway. Besides, its pretty boring. The sky was there, up top where it belonged and then there was a huge noise, the sound of metal bending and it was so loud and so strong that it made us vomit and cry. And those who were fast enough and small enough ran and hid in the small, private places under rocks, inside trees, the basement of the earth. And everyone else, like my mom, just stood outside and watched it all happen.

No point in really talking about that.

So, I should probably tell you about the thing that happened the week before. That’s where my mind goes when I think about the end of the world. The Saturday morning my dad called to say he was coming to visit and could I make a place for him to stay for a few days. I said yes. Of course. My dad is a neat freak and always brings his own groceries. Except this time he didn’t and he was an actual awful mess. His clothes were wrinkled and grubby. His hair unkempt. And there was a light inside his eyes that wasn’t tied to anything else inside of him.

“I’ve seen something I cannot explain,” he told me. Those were the words that brought to me the End of the World. It was a prophecy in reverse. Useless to prevent what followed, but maybe what gave me that head start I needed when the main beams of the universe cracked and the whole entire sandwich collapsed.

Fiction: He Isn’t Here (section 3)

More words on the short fiction I started last week. You can find the first parts here:


It was hard not to tell mom what I had done. I felt very proud of myself and powerful but also a little bit afraid. My brother was a brute and a pig and he might be a little bit insane but he was also my mother’s child and I did not know how she would react to his being gone. Also, I did not know if he was gone only for me or if he was really, truly gone for everyone else too. The only way I could know that was to wait and see what mom saw or did not see.

I went back to bed and waited for mom to wake up. It didn’t take long, maybe twenty minutes. I didn’t get bored. There were so many things to think about. When she woke up, she seemed a little bit confused but smiled when she saw me lying in bed beside her, watching her face.

“Hi. Happy birthday.” She touched my hair and, for a moment, I felt like I slipped into an entirely different world, a wonderful, kind, happy place where I was my mother’s only child and had always been her only child. It was a good feeling but it could not last.

I looked up and found my brother standing at the foot of our bed, looking confused and frustrated and very, very far away. He was the gray smudgy thing still and, again, I could only see his face when not looking directly at him.

“How was your night?” I asked mom, still looking at my brother, waiting to see if mother would notice him. My brother was watching her, perhaps waiting for this himself.

“Oh, it was fine, I guess. I had to work extra late. I hated to leave you so long last night. But I guess you took care of yourself just fine.”

There was a pause where I waited to see if she would mention my brother. Where he was. Where he had gone.

“Anything interesting happen for you?”

That was an interesting question to try and answer.

“No. Nothing. Not really.” It was a lie but the kind of lie we told each other often about the things that aren’t there and the things that are there that we wish were not.

My mom watched me for a while, maybe expecting some other thing I might say. I watched my brother, expecting her to notice and startle at the sight of him. She glanced in the direction I was looking but did not notice my brother’s faded shade.

She seemed a little lost in thought for a moment and then, “So, I’ve got the morning and most of the afternoon. What do you want to do for your birthday?”

“I found my muffin,” I told her, smiling. “It was delicious.”

“Good.” She was laughing. Seeing my mom laugh was like a little patch of blue sky through super dark rain clouds.

“We could take a walk. Maybe go to the park. Or a movie or something.”

“Sure,” she said. She could not see my brother staring at her from the foot of the bed, his face twisted with frustration. Once again, he was trying to say something but no sound came from his mouth and I could not recognize the words made by his lips.

“Do you notice anything different?” I asked. “Anything weird?”

My mom studied me, checking to see if I had gone mad and pierced my nose or found some criminal mind to tattoo me. She was careful to check everything. “No,” she said slowly, afraid to admit she had missed something that should be obvious. “What did you do?”

“Oh, nothing. Not me. Just anything different or weird about the apartment or anything?”

She looked around, nervous. “Is this a game?”

“No. Nothing like that. Never mind. It isn’t a big deal. Let me make you breakfast,” I told her.

“But its your birthday.”

“Its okay I want to.”

And it was true, I was usually happiest when I could do something useful for my mom.

“Eggs then. And bacon. And toast.”

And it was great fun to get out of bed and walk to the door, stepping right through the shape of my brother who was no longer there and my mother not even noticing the way his shadow shivered and fell as I made my way across the room. And his face, which was silently screaming from some other dimension right there in the room with us but also an infinite number of miles away.

Fiction: He Isn’t Here (section 2)

Here’s the second part of “He Isn’t There”. You can find the first part here.


When I woke the next morning everything felt different. My mother lay curled up beside me, gently snoring, in the bed we shared. As usual, she had not woken me when she came home from work. She must have had a hard night because she was still wearing the clothes from her night job at the hotel. She was snoring and restful and I decided not to wake her, even though it was my birthday and I wanted nothing more than to have her awake so I could found out if she understood yet how different our lives had just become.

I woke up bruised and sore. My arms and legs ached and it hurt just a little bit when I breathed. And yet, I also felt alert and better rested than I had in a long time. The apartment was silent except for my mom’s breathing. I listened for the usual sounds of my brother’s morning routines. The television was not blaring, unwatched, in the living room. There was no yelling or cursing at Call of Duty on the Xbox. There were no scorched smelling things coming from the kitchen toaster.

I imagined myself an astronaut crashed landed on an alien planet. Carefully, I left the safety of my ship and stepped out into the strangely hospitable atmosphere. I slid from the bed slowly, careful not to let the bed shake and wake mom. I watched her for another minute then made my way out of the bedroom and into the unknown space of our apartment.

It hurt to walk, but I managed just fine. I was tough and had learned how to keep moving normal even when things hurt. Our bedroom door was open, which was good because it usually squeaked when you opened it. The light in the hallway was on but that probably just meant that mom had left it on. She was always leaving lights on no matter how many times I explained what I knew about energy and global warming.

My brother’s bedroom door was open. I peeked inside, not expecting to find him there. I had developed a kind of psychic ability to feel when my brother was and was not around. I didn’t feel him anywhere.

His room looked the same. Piles of dirty clothes. Monster truck magazines with girls in hot pink bikinis. Food wrappers. Broken DVDs. I looked at his bed from my safe perch at the doorway. His bed had not been slept in. His backpack from school was laying right where it had been the day before with sweaty gym clothes spilling out like a weird volcano. He wasn’t there. He had not been there.

There was a weird, metallic smell in his bedroom. Weirder than usual. It was like the smell of gunpowder after a bunch of fireworks went off. Or the smell of a place where lightning has been.

I went to the living room. The TV was off. The cards from our Go Fish game were still on the floor, exactly as they had been. I found the broom stick pieces and picked them up. They were small but pointy with sharp splinters. I liked the way they felt in my hands and carried them with me to the kitchen.

The kitchen looked totally normal. The bowl I used to cook macaroni and cheese in the microwave was on the stove. I forgot to put it in the sink, which was one of my main chores. I put both sticks in one hand so I could carry the bowl. Then I noticed the big chocolate muffin on the counter beside an envelope that had Happy Birthday written inside a great big heart. Chocolate muffins are my favorite kind of breakfast and sometimes mom brought them home from the corner gas station as a special kind of surprise.

I put the sticks on the counter, knowing I would not need them. If my brother were here, he would already have eaten my birthday muffin or smashed it up inside the package just for meanness.

Suddenly, I wondered if my brother was really, truly gone or if he had just left the apartment for fear of mother finding out what he had done. I had to consider both possibilities, unlikely as they might be. Mother never found out about the things he had done or, if she did, never seemed to know what to do about them. Though last night had been different. He would have been in a whole lot of trouble. Bruises make mom scared and when she gets scared she can be a holy terror.

I opened the birthday card. It was puppy making goo goo eyes over a birthday cake. Too young for me but I secretly liked that mom went for the mushy stuff.


All of a sudden I felt weird in my tummy. I looked up and saw the shape of my brother standing beside the trash can at the other side of the kitchen. He was there and he wasn’t there. He was a dim gray shadow. It took me a minute to bring him into focus and find his face. I could see him best when I wasn’t looking at him and had to learn to unfocus my eyes and look just to either side of him. Once I learned the trick of this, I finally found his face. I grabbed my sticks, expecting him to be angry and ready to attack. Instead, he looked sad. Pathetic. Like he might actually cry.

“I see you,” I told him. He could not answer. His mouth did not work. He opened and closed it like he was talking but no sounds came out. I couldn’t even read his lips because the words they seemed to be making were not real words that I knew.

I smiled, gripping the broken broom sticks. Stepping toward him, I said, “You can’t hurt me. I made you a ghost.” He twisted away in fear and I lost the specific shape of him. He was just a dark smudge, trembling behind the clothes washer.

I took another step closer and he became even less real. Just a shadow inside the darkness of the laundry closet.

I put down the sticks and opened my great big chocolate birthday muffin. I ate while he watched.

It was so delicious.

Flash Fiction: He Isn’t Here

The night before my eleventh birthday my older brother beat me with a broom stick. My mother was still working three jobs then and was working second and third shift, which meant there was no one to notice, no one to tell. It was just as well. Mother was always so tired and, though it would hurt her now to admit it, she often needed us kids to pretend things were better than they actually were. It was the way we got through life. Pretending and not telling each other about the things over which we had no control.

We had been playing Go Fish, my brother and I, and I asked him if he had any twos and, instead of saying “Go fish” the way you usually do, his face went all still and weird, and he said, “Go to hell,” and cracked me with the broomstick, the nearest thing he could grab, until the broom stick actually broke and my guts felt bruised and busted and completely mashed up inside.

I tried not to cry. I was already old enough to know that crying never makes things go easier, the way bleeding never makes a hungry wolf’s meal die any faster or better. But it is a hard thing to do when you are eleven and you are trapped inside an apartment living room with a psychopath who is also your brother and is who is also the person who is supposed to be watching you.

And it was harder also because I was scared. This was a new kind of thing. My brother had beaten me before. He had twisted my arm until I begged for mercy. He had punched me in my breasts and pulled my hair, but he had never hit me so hard with a stick before. And it was awful, the heavy, thick lash of it already raising bruises like giant fingers on my skin.

And it was hard also because his face had gotten so awful. So still. So quiet. Not my brother’s face at all but a mask like one of those guys in the movies mom never let me watch. The guys who moved with long knives through dark shadows.

I hated crying. I hated seeing the shifting medley of joy and contempt on my brother’s face. And because I could not look at him seeing me like this, I looked down at the scatter of cards on the ground. The hands we had played fanned out like twisted rainbows. There were several twos in his hard of cards. And then, the Queen of Spades and I discovered the thing that would forever change my life. I realized I could pretend my brother was not alive, that he did not exist, and if I wanted it badly and pretended hard enough, it could be true. My brother could disappear. He could no longer exist for me.

And that is the moment I gained control of my whole life. I closed my eyes, fixed my mind and when I opened my eyes again, my brother had vanished. I made my brother a ghost.

My handwriting is terrible. I’m okay with that.

I have terrible handwriting. My penmanship has never been great, though I made good marks in that column on my grammar school report card. I abandoned cursive in high school for everything but my signature, which, let’s face it, has become a few letters with long trailing lines spilling out from them.

example of my handwritten note

This is a handwritten note. Can you read it? I can’t.

My wife and coworkers cannot keep themselves from pointing out how astonishingly, eye-achingly cramped, stunted and crippled my handwriting has become. For my coworkers there is a kind of mirthless joy in the show of trying to decipher my hieroglyphs. For my wife, there is the stone cold embarrassment of my abortive signature on documents and the inscrutable mystery that is my handwritten grocery list.

People generally assume that my handicap is a symptom of my strong digital bias. I don’t like making or receiving notes on paper. Other than printed books, which remain a precious joy, words on paper are generally a tedious obligation. I write something down and then I am obligated to figure out what to do with it. Worse, someone else writes something down and I am obligated to figure out how to do something with that. It frustrates me and makes me sad.

So I opt out. I generally don’t do paper. I take notes in several cloud-based apps or in the notepad on my phone. These notes file easily, are indexed automatically and can be searched on demand.

Still, it saddens me a little to realize that my poor handwriting isn’t simply a matter of inattention or disregard. It isn’t just personal preference. I can’t write as well as I used to. Writing by hand takes more effort than it should. I have to really pay attention and think about what I am doing. Contrary to what the research shows about effective information transfer, for me, writing by hand is generally more distracting and frustrating than useful.

As I said, people who know me are likely to assume my handwriting has suffered from disuse and inattention. The truth is very different. I ruined my handwriting through overuse. About 15 years ago, I wrote the better part of a novel in longhand on the back of scrap computer paper. I wrote so much so fast that my fingers learned unfortunate short cuts they now refuse to forget. During that time, I would write my pages and then share what I wrote with my wife. Increasingly, I realized that I couldn’t easily read or puzzle out entire sections of words I had written just minutes before. I stopped writing that way. Keyboard for me, please.

Now, when I try to jot out a simple to do list or make a note, my hand feels stupid. There is anxiety there that does not when my fingers are on the keyboard. I’m not particularly proud of my poor penmanship. I worry about the effect of the coming digital dark age when a mass black out or electromagnetic pulse renders my devices useless and I find myself reduced to remedial communication, like a chimp learning sign language. Still, it is useful, I suppose, to acknowledge one’s shortcomings, even if there is no active plan to make them better.

So, I am wondering, how is your handwriting these days? Do you still write things out by hand the way you used to do? Can people read your handwriting? Can you? I can’t be the only one. Can I?

Polite Dinner Conversation

Tonight at dinner, I overheard two couples talking about Important Social Issues. I’m a writer, so eavesdropping isn’t really considered rude. It is actually a kind of professional obligation. The couples were talking about gay marriage and transgender identity. What struck me wasn’t the content of the couples’ conversation. I was amazed, rather, by the tone — friendly, civil and challenging. The privileged white upper-class man was being rude and sarcastic. The privileged white upper-class woman answered his sarcastic jibes with earnest, polite, unapologetic replies. She answered every joke with a “Imagine how you would feel if…”

The conversation had a pleasant, enjoyable rhythm. They were rising and falling against one another’s reply. There was thoughtful, quiet spaces in-between each retort. There was civility. There was respect. There was friendship.

The conversation captured me not for its academic merits or it rhetorical riposte.  The conversation caught my attention because it felt so unusual. Somewhere along the way, disagreements have become forbidden. When friends disagree with one another, we keep it to ourselves. We learn to avoid the discomfort of discord. We pretend that silence is agreement, that tranquility is concert. And yet we once were a country built on public debate, a great laboratory for ideas, where a kind of intellectual survival of the fittest sussed out the best, most powerful ideas through argument and disagreement.

I don’t want to make too much of it. Maybe it is just me. But I find myself increasingly talking to people who agree with me, nodding my head to acknowledge things I myself might have said.

And then I see how other’s practice constructive disagreement in such a polite, friendly and constructive way. And I see how important this dinner time conversation might become.

In a few weeks, the United State Supreme Court will announce decisions on some majorly Important Social Issues. The decisions will help establish or reinforce legal and political precedent for how we want to live. The decisions will impact social norms and will help govern the ways we organize ourselves inside our communities. And yet, for all the importance of the Supreme Court decisions, I can’t help thinking that it won’t be enough. The future won’t be made by legal pronouncement or proclamation anymore than it will be made by news commentary or podcast. The future will be shaped over a thousand pleasant meals with friends gathered together disagreeing through polite dinner conversation.

About Last Night: A Few More Thoughts about a Meditation on Aging

Last night’s post was a bit melancholy. I appreciate the friends who stopped to notice and, sometimes, in their kind ways, challenge the perspective that our bodies belong most to us when they are broken or failing. It is a perspective I have adopted from time to time. I realized this morning that I have written about this before (Meeting Our Biological Selves).

Last night’s post became something very different than what I had expected to write. Sometimes we get surprised and instead of writing the thing we think we want, we write the thing we find we need.

I have been spending a lot of time in a nursing home. My wife’s grandmother landed there about a month ago, and she is slowly settling into a permanent stay. As I walk the halls, it is impossible for me to imagine the people there as their once healthy, vibrant and vital selves. They are withered, tired and defeated. Some are crippled, legless and locked into chairs. Others are planted deep in their beds. The televisions bleat. And from the rooms, you hear coughs and cries. Whimpering pleas for some non-specific deliverance.

It isn’t all gloom. There is the grandmother’s kind roommate who wants share her enormous bag of candy with everyone she meets. There is the man in the wheelchair who gives out ink pens with a missionary’s zeal. There is the toothless woman who flirts with the male nurse and enjoys trying to make him blush.

Even in this place, life goes on.

I have watched my wife’s grandmother confront the terms of own life. She wants to die. She is ready to die, but she is not yet dead. And so, for her, this home is a waiting place. The worst kind of waiting room. She has no idea how long she will be kept waiting. She is not a patient person. When the Reaper arrives, he will have much to answer for.

And this loss that we are watching is so different from the losses that have gone before. We have watched as this vital woman has been reduced, her scope of focus and influence narrowed by concentric degrees. Her life was bound up in her family. And then in her house. And in her living room and bedroom. And her bed and a chair. And now, a bed.

And her focus has narrowed. No longer watching the news or Judge Judy or the Family Feud. She thinks only of her body. She dreams of walking and wakes up falling out of bed. She measures time in bowel movements and the next scheduled pill. Her thoughts circle around discomforts and inconveniences.

And so it is that I have been thinking about the arc of a person’s life. And how, when we are born, we focus entirely on learning to master the rules of our body so we can navigate our place in the world. And as the art of incarnation becomes second nature, how we begin to forget ourselves and our bodies until interrupted by some desire, some pain or some need. And how it is, before we die, we return to ourselves and our bodies. How the attention we used to cast around us turns inward and we sweep every corner and every shadow inside.

I ponder this and try to be brave. It is melancholy, perhaps, but it is not morose or defeated. I am studying the art of loss and wondering if I will have half the courage of some of these people when my own time arrives.

I think, perhaps, that is the hopeful metaphor I was trying to reach last night. That we are all brave explorers locked into our suits of flesh, restlessly wandering and exploring until our expedition is at an end.

I do not dwell on the end itself. When it comes, it will come. I just want to be brave and watchful and bear witness as honestly and kindly as I can. And when my own body becomes my whole world, I hope I can count it a kind of triumph that I did not fail it before it failed me.

And so my thanks to those who feel kinship with this brief moment of observation. My apologies to those who feel disturbed by the things they have seen. It is only in discomfort that we are awakened. It is only in awakening that we are alive.

We Return | A Meditation on Aging

When we are born, we enter eagerly into our bodies. We put them on like space suits and make each step an excursion away from mother’s safety. We wear these suits for the rest of our lives, learning through painstaking trial and error how to operate the clumsy machinery of muscle and bone, how to make it carry us, stumbling across the treacherous limits of gravity. How we stumble and fall, tripping all over ourselves, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying.

And how, with time comes grace and eventually indifference as we play and chase and jump and crouch. We hide ourselves in places no one will even think to look. We make a game of it and we play and play and play.

And how, one day, our body betrays us for the first time, becoming tall and gangly or wide and unsteady. The riot of hormone and impetuous acts called adolescence.

And once adolescence  is mastered, we find ourselves forgetting our bodies again. No longer seeming a space suit. Our bodies become mere raiment. They are those things we put on to move easily through polite society. The fashions we adopt to hide our secret selves and glide bullet proof, invisible, through polite society. We forget our bodies for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Our animal selves are recalled only in fleeting moments of hunger and exercise. From time to time, there is the gift of sex. And some time after, for some, the hot, bright brand of child birth.

And there is the occasional gift of injury and illness. Something gets broken, a bone or a tooth perhaps, and we return for a moment to that clean, bright place of our own birth. But it is fleeting. It does not last.

And then, when we are old, it happens. Our bodies begin to fail and we are reminded that we are wandering on the surface of a great, indifferent space ship and our life support is thin. Everything depends on this weird, frustrating machine. This glitchy space suit that is built to fail. And we stare out into the expanse of the stars. Where in youth we saw a sky filled with a billion brilliant fires, we now see only the darkness yawning between faint, cold stars.

And this is the miracle of living. This is the final catechism of our days. You need not believe in reincarnation. This is not philosophy or religion. This is biology, brutal and sincere. Before we die, we are returned completely into our bodies and the world shrinks away from us as we drift too far and all the things that once seemed to matter so very much now diminished and then vanished and we are left with the only thing that matters. The rude and stupid meat that must be taught. Our minds, once bright, grow dim. And our animal selves emerge, reincarnate. Broken yet somehow complete. And we return.

Market Less. Partner More.

I’ve spent the last two days at a summer workshop for the Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL). TEL is a collection of article databases, eBooks, and other online resources available free of charge to all Tennessee state residents. TEL helps people find jobs, research their family history, learn languages, practice for college prep and career certification tests and do all the kinds of research needed by students from kindergarten through college.

If you live in Tennessee, you should take a look. If you don’t live in Tennessee, I hope you live somewhere with a state government willing to put money into funding the intellectual infrastructure of your community.

TEL is terrific, but this post isn’t about TEL. It is about the ways we talk about our libraries. The theme of this year’s workshop was “Go TEL it on the Mountain”, a bit silly, yes, but focused right at the heart of something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Marketing.

My library is terrific. We have great stuff. We have comfortable spaces. We are friendly. We like to help people learn things, and we are pretty good at it. How do I make people understand how terrific their library is and make them want to use it more?

I’ve been stressing on this question for a while. Wondering if I had the right bookmarks, posters and other promotional knick-knacks. I’ve been thinking about our website design to see if it communicates fully what we are about. I do surveys. I follow up on requests and invite users to serve on a library experience panel. These are all good things, but, it turns out, aren’t the only things.

Like most librarians, I’m good at doing library. I’m bad at marketing.

The workshop keynote and other presenters crystalized a few key things I’ve been thinking about but kept trying to wrap in too many words. (Shout out to Amy Pajewski, Heather Lambert and Erin Loree.)

So here it is. The advice I needed someone else to say aloud so I could get it all to fit inside my head.

Librarians love library stuff, but nobody else cares. Stop talking about your stuff. Nobody cares about your stuff. They only care about what they can do with your stuff and how your stuff makes them feel. Talk about that instead.

Stop shooting random library stuff into the world through untargeted, unspecial emails, tweets, and signs. Nobody reads them. You are just making people feel tired. You are making yourself feel tired.

Think about your community. Think about your neighborhood. Think about your teams. What do they need? What are they about? What are they trying to accomplish? How can you help them do that? Talk about how you can help them. Find ways to help. Offer partnerships.

This is going to make you uncomfortable. It is going to get awkward. You are going to need to go where your people are.You are going to need to get outside the library. You are going to need to listen. You are going to find out what your people really want and need. Some of it will be easy to provide. Some of it will be inconvenient. Library service should meet people at the point of their need, not the point of our convenience.

And let’s be real, okay? I get all inspired talking to the all the super-smart people at the workshop. I get the big ideas. I bring them back to work with me and they collapse upon first contact with reality. Being successful requires a plan. Success requires organization and focus. You can’t tell everyone everything. You’ve got to be selective and consistent. You’ve got to spend some money and time. On day two, we learned some practical tips for planning a strategy and organizing the steps into specific, achievable goals. We learned to find an audience and tune our voice to that audience. It takes time. It takes practice. I am ready to get started.

Librarians are missionaries. We keep trying to save the world. We should start by saving our own neighborhoods first.

Where’s the F$&*#@^ Remote?

The television remote went missing last night. My daughter and her friend had been playing in the den all day and, somehow, no one knows exactly how, the remote vanished.

Let’s be honest. This blog is mostly about First World Problems. That’s what I write about because that’s where I live. Disappearing remotes are a significant annoyance. Disappearing remotes are maddening. They are piercingly aggravating. There is a small basket where these things are meant to go: the remote for the TV; the remote for the DVR; the remote for the DVD player and the remote for the VCR. Yes. We have four separate remotes. Please don’t judge. I know people who have more.

The point of this story is not remote control madness. This is not even a moral tale of laziness and being ruined by point-and-click convenience. The point, if there is one, is the blind fury of discovering the missing remote at 11:30pm and the obsessive worry that follows realizing the missing device might never be recovered. The mind races toward the scenario of having to purchase one of those awful universal remotes with too many itty bitty buttons and the work of reprograming all those settings by pressing all those itty bitty buttons and waiting and cursing and pressing and waiting and cursing some more.

And the point of this story is the crushing self-pity that comes at the end of a long, tiring day when all that is wanted is a few stolen moments of Netflix before bed and the disappointment that comes when you are deprived of that simple, restorative luxury.

And how the mind races around the room, seeking all the places that controller might be. Places dark and secret. Logical and profoundly illogical. And how, in the mind’s bright panic, the upsetting realization that the remote is not going to be found and that there is no other button so neatly labeled Netflix to resolve the situation and restore order to the collapsing shambles of the day. And how, gripped by fits of fear and frustration, the mind forgets how many other ways there are still to watch the thing that wants watching. How the DVR button still controls the TV. How the VCR and Wii can work together to funnel Netflix down from The Cloud. How laptops and iPads easily stream Netflix and, in a pinch, the very phone in my left front pocket can deliver everything I believe that I need.

But I cannot rest. I cannot relax. The remote is lost. How are people sleeping? How are their dreams not curdled with existential fear?

I search and search in the way I have of not really searching. I have stopped looking about twenty minutes ago and now it is just a parade of frustration and inventive imprecations toward the wayward slackers who don’t place remote controls back in the remote control basket. The proper place where such things belong.


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