Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Making a Creative Life

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.-Pablo Picasso.

It’s probably not a surprise that a songwriter and three liberal arts majors would consider creativity a natural part of life. Still, we had to make this a specific assignment so that the daily trials and tribulations don’t get in the way of making something new.

It’s important because creativity is no longer simply viewed as icing on the cake of life for everyone but artists, poets, and musicians. Studies show that creative pursuits can lead to happier, more fulfilled lives and increased productivity in the workplace. And creativity is also just fun for its own sake.

Here are our reports:

Emily: I made a dark cloud for my gloomy self to stand under. (Emily also baked a cake and cookies that she shared with her colleagues.)


Pam: My big creative project this week consisted of….of…..dressing up as Pajama Mama for Halloween!



Colette: I am certain I can’t include, as “creative,” the casserole I slopped together last night, so I have included the poem I worked on over the weekend.  I’m not certain it’s finished, so we’ll just say it’s hanging out for a while and steeping.

 In the Here and After


Statistically, it is nothing

out of the ordinary

for a woman to bury her husband

in his blue black suit,

and return home.


People think she’s returning

to an empty house, but

it is not empty.

A marriage is full of rugs,

and shoes and cereal bowls.

Objects, really.  Bed frames

and lamps, garnered

casually over the years,

with no regard

for how long anyone

would be around to use them.

A kelp green cup,

he used on Sunday mornings

to steep his tea.

A hanger with a shirt he wore,

too often with the same trousers,

to accompany her to dinner parties

and restaurants.


A house is segmented, like a tangerine,

into rooms named for their contents.

The dining room becomes a dining room

when it holds their table and chairs,

when his grandmother’s china plate,

rimmed in delicate blue verbena,

is placed in the hutch

near the front window.


She is expected, in time,

to go through each room.

Sort the things which hold the least of him

into piles meant for charity.

Her children have brought her boxes,

to facilitate this end.

They have volunteered to do this task,

as though they’re willing

to sort the laundry.


There is no way she can let them.

When they see his socks,

they won’t see his big toe

poking sweetly through the hole.

They will only see the hole.

They won’t know that every time

she looks at his reclining chair,

she sees the sky in bloom,

blood orange and poppied,

the morning he described a dream

in which he swam in a river of her hair.


Children do not know such things.

They do not have the necessary exposition

to trace the arc of their parents’ lives,

from beginning to end.

They aren’t meant to see the plans to the house,

when all they need is the roof.


A marriage is full of exquisite secrets.

It breathes its own foggy breath

and moves its body, in private.

He and she lived a life, undetected,

like worms under the soil.

She will not allow death

to be the swift summer rain,

which forces them to surface.

Their denouement is hers to write.


After her children have gone home,

she will sip tea from a kelp green cup,

and dream herself next to him;

she’ll touch his fingers, tip by tip.

Together, they’ll lay stiff as pews,

in the plot of their own choosing,

and they’ll laugh at the Pharaohs

who were buried with their belongings.

Jolly Librarian:  I also worked on a piece of writing this week, but after reading Colette’s, I decided that mine does not need to see the light of day yet. I also made a Halloween costume. See photo above.



Emily:   A

Pam:     A

Colette: A+

Jolly Librarian: A

A Jumble of Study Skills Tips

This ends the study skills initiative series. At this point, you know that I am no believer in shortcuts to academic success. Nothing beats the following:

  • read and mark the texts
  • go to class
  • take notes
  • review on a regular basis
  • manage your time so that you don’t have to rush to complete assignments

Those have all been covered, so I’m going to end with a whimper rather than a bang by just listing some miscellaneous tips that have worked for me over the years:

  • If you don’t understand, ask a question. Sure, there may be others in the class who huff and sigh because they want to get out of class early. Ignore them. Their opinion of you won’t help your grade in the class one way or the other. Ask your question so that you can understand the material. If other people can’t sit patiently through a question, then they have larger problems than you’ll ever be able to help solve. So forget them.
  • Seek help in various places. Your professor is one source, but not the only one. There are often tutors whose services are free for students. There are YouTube videos on almost every subject. (One of my library colleagues used those religiously to help her in a self-paced math class.) Ask other students in your class for help.
  • Make learning as mobile as possible. Nursing students are famous for their little notecards that they can pull out in the middle of a Starbucks line or a traffic jam. Use the same approach. Your phone or a tablet can be a great tool in having your notes available to you whenever you have a few minutes to spare. (And a service like Dropbox means the right and most up-to-date notes are always where you need them to be.)
  • Let me admit that I have been a lifelong procrastinator and have somehow gotten by. But as a procrastinator, let me assure you that life is much easier and more effective when you’re not putting things off! So get started early and get things done.
  • Whether you use a paper or online calendar, take your syllabi and write down the dates for all tests and papers the first week of the semester. Having them written in one place will allow you to see when you have tough weeks coming up and can prepare for them. (Believe me, there’s nothing like realizing on a Sunday night that you have three tests and paper due in the next five days to make your blood run cold!)
  • Keep progressing towards your goal. As often as possible take a full load each semesters, including summers. By seeing the deadline, it’s easier to arrange your  life around your academic career.
  • Simplify as many things in your life as possible so that you can give your classes a top priority. I know someone who bought loads of cheap underwear so that she would only have to go to the laundromat every three weeks when she was in graduate school. (Okay, that might have been me.)  Make meals on Sundays so that you can quickly warm up dinners the rest of the week. Don’t worry about a spotless house.
  • Believe you can do this. Students often feel overwhelmed and give up way too early. College can seem like a pitch-black road on a stormy night at times, especially if you are the first person in your family to be here. But what E. L. Doctorow said about writing is also true of college: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And the nice thing about college is that there are lots of people on the side of the road ready to give directions and help when you need it!

Monday Motivator: Celebrate Halloween (and all other non-holidays)

I am a big fan of Halloween. What other holiday combines candy, costumes, and ghost stories? But perhaps what I like best about Halloween is that there is very little emotional turmoil associated with the day. Starting on November, there will be a non-stop promotion of ideal Thanksgivings and Christmases where families reunite, the perfect presents are bought, and enough snow coats the ground to look lovely but not to cause any traffic snafus.

No wonder so many adults have taken over Halloween for themselves as a day to have fun, regress a little, and eat some candy. I’m all in favor of it.

Now maybe Halloween is not your day, but still you should have some days out of the year when you simply take time to celebrate the day and have some fun. It can be a recognized day, such as Arbor Day, President’s Day, or the Queen’s Birthday. Or it can be one that you make up, such as First Warm Day in Spring  Day, Red Leaf Day, or  The Cat Didn’t Throw Up on the  Carpet Day.

You might choose to take the day off. But even if you can’t do that, you still should wear a favorite outfit, have a good lunch, eat some treats, and generally celebrate the glories of the day.

Of course, in a perfect world, we would celebrate any day that we’re alive as a good day. Unfortunately, daily worries and responsibilities can get in the way of appreciating how good life can be. That’s why you need to set aside some days for just plain old celebrating. (And if you get to wear a costume, that’s a bonus!)

The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Fear as a Motivator? Maybe Not.

Do one thing every day that scares you.– This quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt was Emily’s contribution to our weekly tasks. She had just read My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock, a memoir in which a woman who’s looking for a life change decides to follow Roosevelt’s prescription for overcoming fear. By the end of the year, she was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

She obviously was not on our team.

Fear is a pervasive topic in the self-help section of any bookstore: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of change, and fear of fear. But in a way, the very plethora of books and articles is a good thing; it lets you know that we all have fears. We are not alone in our anxiety and dread about doing new and scary things. If you are looking for some help with your fears, some promising work is in the area of Cognitive Behavorial Therapy.

Now our reports:

Colette: I had every intention of going out on the town last Friday night.  Being new to Nashville, I need to get out more and meet the villagers, make some friends.  I was going to kill two birds with one stone – do something that scares me and get out of the house. (I have a deep-seated fear of sitting alone at a table and feeling like a loser.)   I didn’t do it though, partly because it scares me, but mostly because my pjs were calling me, and so was the bottle of Conundrum in my fridge.  I saw a good movie and my dog looked very pleased with my decision, so I can’t say I’m sorry.  Maybe this weekend…

Pam: I am a big baby Halloween, scaredy CAT! Boo….hoo hoo…I got an F!

Emily: I made friends with my two-year old niece, Darby. And, yes, making friends with small children is scary. Darby is especially intimidating (see photo).  

The last time I saw her I asked if she would be my friend to which she responded, “NO!” I told Darby that her little sister, Eleanor, was my friend (Eleanor can’t talk, so she can’t refute me) — “Leave Eleanor ALONE!” Darby ran to protect her sister from my friendship. I knew the chances of obtaining her friendship were slim, as I’d tried to play dolls with her on a previous visit, which resulted in her walking to the corner of the room and crouching down into earthquake protection mode. Most other encounters have resulted in her becoming catatonic.

This weekend when I saw her again I first approached her with an olive branch — a pink cookie: “Darby, would you like a pink cookie?” She glared at me, grabbed the cookie, and held it refusing to eat it in my presence. So I left her alone to contemplate the implications of accepting a cookie from her aunt. Later that day, I approached her with some of those plastic capsules that turn into animals in warm water (Kids love those, right?). Now Darby loves animals and magic, so this was a tempting proposition. I went and got a mug of warm water and gave her several to drop in the water. Once they started to turn into animals, she decided she’d talk to me and we became fast friends…well, you know, until she got distracted by the piñata and forgot about me. I still consider it progress. Kids can be fickle and I think Darby knows that if she plays her cards right I’ll keep bribing her to be my friend.

Jolly Librarian: The list of things that scare me is quite long: mice, public speaking, flying, getting sick in a foreign country, dentists, tornadoes, and, well, you get the picture. Some fears I have battled, others I haven’t. I will always be nervous when I have to speak in front of people, but I can do it. And although I always get anxious going to the dentist, I make every appointment. And I have developed a method of going into a trance-like state whenever I fly. But I will never ever not be petrified to see a mouse in my house.

What I discovered most about myself this week is that I have many ways of pretending that I’m not afraid of doing something. It’s not fear: it’s that I’m too busy, that something else has to be done first, or even it’s not the perfect time.

I was reminded of a book I read long ago. I no longer remember the author or the title. What I do remember was his metaphor of life as a trip. He said that you can go to California or Florida. But don’t pretend you’re going to California just because you’re looking at brochures of San Francisco while you’re in the car heading south on I95.

Our grades:

Colette:        F

Pam:             F

Emily:          A

Jolly Librarian:   F

(Obviously we have no fear of public failure!)

The Quick and Dirty Guide to the Writing Assignment

Probably nothing brings on a case of procrastination like the writing assignment. The Jolly Librarian spent many a Thanksgiving weekend writing papers that were due the last week of the semester. It just seemed to be what we all did. While we told ourselves that we worked best under pressure, I think basically we didn’t know how to go about it, and the rush job at the end gave us a great excuse not to have made better grades.

One problem in my college courses was that everyone expected us to know how to write various types of essays, so one taught us. I doubt that’s true today, but still, you can end up a psychology course before you take composition. So it’s nice to have a quick and dirty guide.

So here it is:

  • First, bookmark the site to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. For writers at all stages, it is one of the most thorough and useful places to get information about essays, research papers, even career writing.
  • The Jolly Librarian has also written a step-by-step guide to the research process on this blog. You may find it useful.
  • You already know that I am a fan of buying your textbooks, but if you are ignoring that advice, let’s compromise: Buy the writing handbook that is required for your Comp I class. This is a book that will serve you well through all your college courses. And beyond.
  • Students often have trouble getting started with a paper. The trick here is to stop believing that somehow you’re going to come up with a final polished draft first time out. Just start getting some ideas on paper.  Some people like freewriting. I prefer making an outline of my ideas. 
  • If you’re being asked to write something that you’ve never done before, then look for a sample online or from your instructor. Often just seeing the structure can help tremendously.
  • Give yourself time to write several drafts. Revision is the heart of good writing.
  • Don’t worry about spelling and mechanics until the last step in the process. Sure, you can correct each draft, and it’s a good exercise. But if you have a paragraph that doesn’t support your thesis, it doesn’t really matter that it has no spelling errors.
  • Go to the Learning Center.

Don’t get discouraged. Writing is hard work, but it’s also a skill that gets easier the more it’s practiced! So start practicing.

Monday Motivator: Be Part of the Chain

I received an email about the abandoned dog I saw on Bellevue track a few weeks ago. “Jeannie” is now in a foster home where she is learning how to get along with people and other dogs. And she has allowed herself to be picked up and held for, probably,  the first time in her life.

I was happy for the doggie, but I started thinking about all the things that had to go right for Jeannie’s rescue. First, I usually go to the YMCA, but that day, I walked outside.  And on the days that I walk outside, I usually walk a route that circles River Plantation, but that day, I went to the Bellevue Middle School track. Although I saw the dog on my laps, I assumed she belonged to one of the houses on the other side of the track. Another woman told me she suspected she was a stray. And I agreed to email Lucy Howell, who used to work at NSCC and was a dedicated  animal rescuer.  It turns out Animal Control had already  been called, and for a dog this shy and unfriendly, that probably would have been the end of her. But Lucy canceled the call and spent the rest of  the week trapping her. Instead, she was taken to a place where she was given her shots and time to become acclimated to people.

Now, I realize that there are still many, many animals out there who need to be rescued, but to this one dog, it must seem like she won the lottery. So I am happy to have played a very small part in this.

But it also reminded me that we often have opportunities to make small, but meaningful, contributions to the lives of those around us. It can be a smile. It can be taking time instead of showing irritation at the fiftieth time we’ve been asked something. We may never even be aware of the impact.

And on our own, we may not make a life-changing difference for someone else. But we never know when we are part of a chain of things that might just this once be going  right.

Faculty/Staff Recommendations: Pam Gadd

Pam Gadd

from the Mayfield Library


The King of Lies

John Hart

Loved this book. It unravels in a similar style as a John Grisham story but with more interesting delivery and cleverly crafted phrasing. Hart has a great use of the English language. This guy is a fabulous writer, and his other books – The Last Child, Iron House and Down River are wonderful follow-ups if you read this one.

The Jolly Librarian Considers the Perils of Sitting

One of our NSCC librarians periodically sends me articles such as this one. Most of them say the same thing: Having a sedentary job is deadly. And she usually ends her email with a statement, “And you know how much we sit!”  In fact, recent studies have come to the depressing conclusion that even regular exercisers put their health at risk if they have a sedentary job.

She’s right. Although I count myself as a fairly active person, I sit more now than I ever had. When I was teaching in the English department, I could depend on moving around several hours a day. (I’ve never been able just to stand at a podium and lecture.)  But now, too much of my job is sitting.

For example, this morning I had time for a short walk before work. According to my pedometer, I walked 5000 steps before my job started. Since I entered the library, I’ve added 2300 more. This is not good.

What is a typical work day like? I attend meetings (sitting). I work at the circulation desk (sitting). I make tutorials (sitting). I sign forms and approve orders (sitting).  I write reports (sitting). 

Now there are opportunities to get up and about in the library. We can do orientations and workshops. We can walk around the library to see if students need our help. We can dash upstairs to get a book or film for students instead of having a student worker do it.  We can stand at the circulation desk instead of sitting. But somehow, there’s still quite a bit of sitting going on! 

How do we get “active librarianship” to mean ourselves as well as our services?  We librarians want to live long and healthy lives because there are many more books to read, apps to try out, and students to help navigate the beauties and perils of research. So we sat down to brainstorm:

  • Have a bell that we ring once a hour so that everyone gets up and moves around for ten minutes. We were enthused about that until we realized everyone would be moving and no one would be at the circulation desk.
  • Have a different bell for each person but quickly concluded that would cause confusion and irritation.
  • Give everyone a pedometer to wear to monitor their steps. Most of us liked the idea, although one person proclaimed that she’d never met a pedometer she could trust and how could we expect her to rely on something so untrustworthy.

We’ve not come up yet with a good way to get everyone up and moving throughout the day. But here are some things some of us are doing just to be more aware:

  • When I remember, I do wear a pedometer with the goal of getting 10,000 steps in each day.
  • We set alarms on our computers as a reminder that we’ve been sitting for a good long time and that this might be a good time to get up and walk around.
  • When I’m at the circulation desk during the day, I often stand to check out books and help students.
  • I’m not very good at this, but it’s something I hope to incorporate: Instead of emailing and phoning, at certain times of the day, I plan to walk to someone else’s cubicle or office.
  • Walk around the library at least once a day to ensure that all is well (including myself).
  • When I’m writing, I will do some of my brainstorming walking around the office.

I’m sure there are many more things we could and should be doing. But at least we are starting (and standing).



The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Hate as a Motivator

Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice. — William James

The Jolly Librarian just finished reading a biography of William James and found him quite inspirational in his outlook on life. One of his ideas is that action can cause emotion, although we spend much of our time not doing things because of the way we feel. James said, “I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.” It makes a lot of sense. For those of you who would like to read a bit more of William James, click here.

So, according to James’s philosophy, the actual doing of a hated task would improve our view of it. Of course, James never worked with the Self Improvers.  Here are our reports

Colette: It is important for me to note that I don’t hate doing very many things…it was a challenge just to find two things each day without meeting with my financial advisor, getting a pap smear, listening to One Direction and going to the Green Hills Mall every day last week. It was even harder trying to keep track, so I’m simply including a list of some of the less than desirable things I did. I woke up to the sound of my alarm (I’ve never been able to relate to a snooze alarm enthusiast – why put yourself through that 2-3 times every morning?) I picked up dog poop after it rained. I read most of the technical manual for my new phone before I lapsed into a coma. I took my dog to the dog park. He came home happy; I came home muddy.  I swept the garage.  I watched a misguided political YouTube (forwarded to me by my mother) and I folded several loads of laundry.

Emily: I’m not a person of extremes – there aren’t many things that truly get me excited  or that I really hate. MFJ’s likely rolling her eyes right now, as I’m definitely the Daria (or, Eeyore, if you prefer) of the library. However,  I like to look at my negativity as an ability to critically assess any situation; cynical idealism, I like to call it not ‘”hatin”. But, I digress, back to hating things. I truly did have a hard time thinking of things I hate (aside from sending in these reports  j/k…).

Vacuuming has always been one of my least favorite chores, but as I was vacuuming the other day I wouldn’t say I hated it. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing how full I can get the canister. And, even if I do hate vacuuming, do I really need to practice it? I already vacuum on a regular basis. This tasks assumes that I hate doing things that are good for me and I, therefore, need to get in the habit of doing: brushing my teeth, wearing shoes to work, eating my greens.  Or that I just hate doing nice things in general: helping little old ladies cross the street, holding doors open, saying “Please.” I hate none of these things. The things I do hate don’t require practice: traffic jams, extreme temperatures, the lack of consistency in beverage container sizes across restaurant chains (have you seen the medium at Wendy’s? Come on! I want to hold my drink with one hand). I suppose there are the things I hate that I love (you know the whole “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right things”): caffeine, baked goods, television. And I excelled at loving to hate all those things this week, so I get an ‘A’, right?

Jolly Librarian: Unlike my colleagues, I have a whole list of things that I really don’t like doing: ironing, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, getting up on time, lifting weights, talking on the phone, listening to complaints (especially when they’re about me), etc. So it wasn’t too hard to come up with two things each day. And James was right. Today, I reluctantly shut off my alarm and went down to breakfast at a reasonable hour. I discovered that within ten minutes, my horrible mood at being awake and out of bed softened into mere discontent, and a few minutes after that, I was fine. I also had time to go out for a walk and make lunch. Now I need to work on another one of James’s principles: When trying to make a new habit, don’t allow for any exceptions. Because I know, despite my victory today, that snooze button will be all seductive and enticing again tomorrow morning.

Pam: I started out with a bang. Easily identifying things I hate (well, sort of), I went right to exercising. Leg crunches! Squats…anything to do with strengthening my legs is usually dreadful, so that has been my main emphasis. Other activities included doing dishes, walking when I’d rather sit (the highlight of my day as I picked a pretty bouquet of wild flowers), and making myself work on business things on the computer on my happy Sunday home with the cats. As for this week…making myself get up and go to work every morning AND making myself get back up to take meds. There!


Our grades for the week:

Colette:    A

Emily:      A (Mostly for her comment earlier today: “People really view negativity negatively.”)

Pam:  B (for turning her assignment in late)

Jolly Librarian: C (for my lack of confidence in tomorrow)



The Return of the Test

A former colleague told me about returning a set of tests to her students. She watched as one after another glanced at the grade and stuffed the paper into their notebooks. She finally begged them, “It took me a long time to grade those. Please at least pretend to read my comments.”

The test may be over, but the test taking process is not. There’s one final step. Review your errors and make a plan to do better next time.

You may have some idea of this immediately after finishing the test. Perhaps you did fine on the multiple choice, but couldn’t get the true/false. Or definitions killed you.

Receiving the graded test will provide more feedback. Did you make a lot of errors because you didn’t read the questions carefully? Did you lose some points due to spelling and/or grammar mistakes?

All of this information can help you do better next time:

  • If you made lots of careless errors on the essay parts, give yourself time to proofread on the next test.
  • If you don’t do well on one type of question, make practice tests with lots of that kind of question.
  • If you see that you are weak on one of the concepts, this is a great time to make an appointment with your professor to help you. Or maybe it’s time to start going to the Learning Center to see a tutor.

For an excellent handout on how to use an old test to get information for future studying, click here.