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Monday Motivator: Cool Off!

Nashville is in the middle of a heat wave. Yesterday, I got to the Y two minutes before it opened, and I was already dripping with sweat when they unlocked the door. Yuk! And it’s supposed to stay this hot for the foreseeable future.

When I complain about the heat, people remind me that many of us didn’t grow up with air conditioning, and back when we were kids, we didn’t mind the heat. This may be true for them, but it’s definitely not true for me. I remember lying in bed on a July night, tossing and turning in the heat and hating every minute of it.

Heat has always made me grumpy. And, apparently, I’m not the only one. Studies show that hot weather increases violence not just between individuals, but also groups.

So as the temperature approaches one hundred and that Southern humidity kicks in, we all might do well to ask ourselves: “Am I really justifiably angry, or am I just hot?” If it’s something that we would just shrug off in October, then walk away and get a cool drink.



Monday Motivator: Make Solstice Goals

June is almost over, which means we are halfway through 2018. If you are the sort of person who makes New Year’s resolutions, this might be a good time to take out that list and see how you’re doing. You can then give yourself a high five or shake your head in dismay. (I’m doing the latter.)

But there’s good news. There’s nothing magical about the new year. For those of us who work in education, each semester is a chance to start anew. And since the summer solstice was only four days ago, why not make some solstice goals?

First, take a look at those New Year’s resolutions. Maybe some of them are irrelevant now. Maybe you made some because it sounded like the appropriate thing to do: lose weight, save money, or learn French. But maybe you’re actually not unhappy with your love handles. Yes, you need to save money, but this happened to be the year when your car, refrigerator, and air conditioner all chose to break down. And maybe you’ve had French on your resolution list for the past ten years because a college boyfriend once said it was a romantic language. You actually hate French.

Solstice goals don’t come with the pressure of January 1st. They can be much more realistic. Strike out the resolutions that don’t make sense. Take a long look at the ones you keep and revise to make them more realistic. Add a couple of new ones. (If there’s not one that’s just plain fun, add it as well!)

Then simply start again.


Monday Motivator: Value Your Time as Much as Your Money

Yesterday, I went on a fool’s errand. I had a coupon for $25 off at a certain store, and it was about to expire. Sadly, I knew I was being foolish before I got in my car:

  • This was a store where I rarely found anything that worked for me. It is geared towards people decades younger.
  • I had to spend at least $75 on one item to get the discount.
  • I had already searched the website and found nothing new.
  • I have enough clothes to get me through the summer.

Still the coupon weighed on me, and I drove over to the mall.  As is always the case, I couldn’t find a parking place near the store. So I drove around and parked in a garage by Dillard’s that always has spots since the current renovations have not yet connected this store to the rest of the mall. And as soon as I parked, a heavy pop-up thunderstorm erupted, which meant I couldn’t even get to my store.

By the time the storm subsided and I made it to the store (where there was, as I suspected, nothing for me to buy), the thirty minutes I planned for this errand had stretched into two hours. And a project I meant to start over the weekend went undone.

I was irritated that the idea of saving some money made me waste a much more valuable resource: my time. My mom always says, “A bargain is no bargain if you don’t need the item.” To that I would add, “Or it takes time away from something more important.”

Monday Motivator: Don’t Go Looking for Insults

Years ago, one colleague said about another: Unfortunately, she mines every comment for a criticism. And usually finds it.

I was reminded of that colleague as I stood behind a woman in a drug store on Saturday.  She had bought a couple of cards and refused a plastic bag to put them in.

“I’ll do my bit for the environment,” she said. (She was British, and her accent was what caught my attention in the first place.)

“Well, the trees have already died for these. You might as well take one,” answered the clerk, helpfully, if not factually.

The woman cheerfully declined. “We can at least protect a few dolphins. You know, in the UK, you have to pay if you want a store bag.” Then she cheerfully said goodbye and went on her way.

The clerk looked at me. “Well, I don’t live in the UK; I live in the USA. And I’ll give away my bags.” She wasn’t too happy with me when I too refused a bag and put the candy and lotion in my giant purse.

I have become accustomed to the overreactions on social media, where people, spoiling for a fight, can find fault in almost any statement. But I have to admit I was surprised about our different reactions to the British woman’s comments.  I took her statement as an interesting factoid about a difference between our two countries. The sales clerk seemed to feel that some sort of insult had been hurled at our nation’s love of trees. Or dolphins.  Or just the USA in general.

Of course, it could have been a bad day at the Walgreens, and, after hours of complaining customers, the poor woman was expecting everything else to be a complaint. Who knows?

But I do know that there are enough real fights out in the world on any given day without our taking on nonexistent ones.



Monday Motivator: Make Sincere Apologies

Last week, I went on a Facebook rant about insincere celebrity apologies. Unlike many of my rants, it received likes from friends all across the political spectrum. Perhaps we’re all tired of the “non-apology” apology, no matter who says it.

But, of course, celebrities are not the only guilty parties when it comes to bad apologies:

  • I have seen people in stores make a crazy fuss and then, when they get their way, say something like, “I’m sorry. I hope you know I’m not a bad person.”
  • A colleague readily admits something is his fault, but never changes the behavior.
  • Another apologizes by saying, “I’m sorry you got your feeling hurt.”

A friend commented that such apologies are not always fake. A person who yells at a shop clerk might want both her refund and to be considered a good person. The chronically late person might actually feel bad each time she keeps her friends waiting. And some people are indeed are hyper-sensitive to every slight.

Perhaps some of these apologies are simply ineffective, not fake. But they all have the same result: they bring solace to the apologizer, not the person hurt.

So when the time comes to make an apology, it might be a good idea to ask ourselves these two questions:

  • Am I taking responsibility for hurting someone?
  • Will I change my behavior?

If the answer to either question is no, then it might be best to hold off on that apology and reflect a while on our own behavior.





Monday Motivator: Set the Tone (Or Don’t Smile until Christmas)

When I was a new teacher, there was a saying among those who had been in the classroom for a while: Don’t smile until Christmas. Basically, they meant that it was easier to ease up after establishing classroom discipline than trying to gain it after your class had gone rogue and wild.

Unfortunately, then as now, I was always smiling, laughing, and joking, so I never got to see how not smiling would work. But there was a nugget of truth in the saying that I’ve carried with me: Start with intensity.

While starting slowly might work for exercise, it’s a no-go for academic endeavors. But too many of us do just that. We tell ourselves that we can catch up on our reading later. There’s plenty of time before the first test. That research paper isn’t even due until July. Why push ourselves?

But pushing is just what we need to do. If we want good grades (or just sanity at the end of the semester), then we need to start strong and maintain the pace. True excellence (actually learning the material) comes from a daily habit.

And let me speak from experience as a slow starter, once you let that work start to pile up, it’s hard to catch up. Not just because there’s a lot of work to be done. But also because you’ve been practicing being lazy.

So today, the first day of the summer term, go ahead and smile. But also make a strong start!


Monday Motivator: Check Your Intention When You Ask a Question

There is a joke in the academic world that there has never been a real question asked during a presentation. Instead, the questioner uses the time to put forth his/her  own views and explain why the presenter is wrong.

In his book Wait, What?, James Ryan tells of a question his mother was asked in a grocery store parking lot. Ryan’s family lived in a neighborhood made up of electricians, plumbers, and lawn-care workers. It was surrounded by richer areas that hired the people in Ryan’s neighborhood. When Ryan was in college, his parents did what many parents do: they put a decal with the college name on their car.

In one of those rich neighborhoods, as Ryan’s mother put groceries in her car, a woman noticed the Yale decal. She then looked over the old car.

“Was the sticker already on the car when you bought it?” she asked.

Now, in education, we tell students there are no stupid questions. And that may be so. But there are mean questions, those that are meant to insult and hurt others. And just because the words are phrased as a question instead of an attack doesn’t mean that they hurt less or that the person has disguised the malevolent intent.

So maybe some questions about questions are in order!

  • Check your attitude. Are you angry? Do you feel like striking out? (Then maybe this is not the best time to ask that question.)
  • Do you really want to know something? (Good time to ask a question.)
  • Do you want to show someone how much you know? (Not a good time to ask a question.)
  • Do you want to show the other person how little he/she knows? (Not a good time to ask a question.)
  • Are you confused and need clarification? (Great time to ask a question.)

And if you are the recipient of a mean question, what do you do?

I’m a huge fan of playing dumb and almost forcing the insulting person to spell out the insult to me. On the other hand, an “Ouch, that was mean” can also be effective.

And if you ever present at a conference and someone does the “diatribe disguised as a question” routine, a simple “Thank you. Who’s next?” works.

Monday Motivator: The 2018 Commencement Address No One Asked Me to Give

This time of year is always bittersweet for me. Students are graduating, moving on to universities and jobs. They are excited and ready for the next phase of their lives. But it’s sad because I will miss those who have stopped by to ask for research help or just complete a move on the never-ending Scrabble game we have going on in the library.

The end of the academic year always makes me philosophical. And everyone knows that philosophers like nothing better than sharing their wisdom. So here’s a little bit of mine:

  • Even dream jobs have nightmare days. We do our students a disservice when we imply that, if they only find the right job, they’ll never be unhappy or they’ll ‘never work a day in your life.’ Every job has its dark side. I’m guessing even rock stars don’t particularly like sitting around hotel rooms while they are on tour or going through sound checks every day. Instead of trying to find careers without stress or unhappiness, find a career that is worth the stressful days.
  • Set challenges. Mark Zuckerberg famously does this each year: Learn Mandarin, read a book every two weeks, write a thank-you note each day, etc. Challenges keep your brain active and alert to opportunities. They can also keep you from going stale, living the same day over and over again.
  • Be kind. In this age of Internet trolls and hateful posts, it’s easy to forget that behaving any other way is even an option. But take advantage of the Jolly Librarian’s decades of experience here. If you are at heart a decent person, the times you’ve been unkind will haunt you forever.
  • Find a way to laugh and have fun every day. Every. Single. Day.

Happy graduation!

Monday Motivator: What I (Re)Learned This Semester

When I was a young instructor, I remember reading in an article about a old, tenured professor who had taught for thirty years, but as the author pointed out, he had actually taught the same year thirty times. This sounded horrifying to me, and it still does. When I was in the classroom, I couldn’t help but change up lessons each semester, not only for pedagogical purposes but also for the simple fact that I don’t like being bored. Plus, I always learned something each time I taught that needed to be incorporated the next time I taught.

At a college, I would have to be oblivious not to learn something new everyday. So here, in no particular order, are some of things I learned (or relearned) this semester:

  • Do stuff that scares you. We held a poetry slam this April. Students got up to read their own works. Voices cracked. Hands shook. But they soldiered through, and it was easy to see how proud they were when their poems were greeted with applause. (I am at a stage right now where it’s too easy to avoid things that scare me. It was a good reminder to get back out there.)
  • Don’t wait for the right time. We have two new library assistants who are eager to try new things. With the amount of change going on at our college right now, my initial reaction was to wait. But the young don’t like to wait. We did the Poetry Slam and the Long Night Against Procrastination anyway, and both were successful. And now we know many things to incorporate and to avoid when we put them on again.
  • A fairy godmother doesn’t always arrive. Sometimes there is no miraculous fix. We have to admit the mistake, accept the consequences, and then get on with things.
  • Even good changes come with some bumps, and it’s counterproductive to expect otherwise. It takes time to rebuild trust. It takes time to untangle old procedures and begin new ones.
  • People say the weirdest things to pregnant women. (Most of them are funny, although Librarian Emily might be the best judge of that since she’s the one who’s pregnant.)

Happy end of the semester, everyone!





Monday Motivator: Take a Breath. Take a Break.

(To be honest, it is hard to think of anything motivating as Nashville reels from a senseless shooting that, so far, has left four dead.)

It’s that time of the semester when everyone feels tense. Students are trying to finish up papers and projects while gearing up for final exams. Faculty are trying to get through the mounds of grading that must be done before final grades are turned in.

People can get a little edgy. A little grumpy. Sometimes very emotional. Tears, shouts, and banging of doors can happen.

So, here, in no particular order, are the Jolly Librarian’s suggestions for giving yourself a time out.

  • Take a walk. Every day (when it’s not storming), I walk over to our local Target to buy a Diet Coke. I get a little exercise and a change of scenery. And, in the twenty minutes the trip takes, I can think about other things.
  • Visit some friends. Today, I went to the English department and chatted with colleagues. Within five minutes, they had me laughing.
  • Read a poem. Okay, not everyone is into poetry. But, for me, just reading a favorite poem can cheer me up and put a new perspective on the day.
  • Listen to a song. Put on some headphones and listen to a song or two. There’s nothing like music to relieve stress. I suggest Snow Patrol. Or anything with a banjo. (And if you don’t mind people staring, dance.)
  • Remind yourself that this will end. One of the nice things about college is that there is a built-in deadline. When I taught composition and I looked at the stacks of papers in front of me, I would simply say, “No matter how bad the next fourteen days are, it will all be finished on the fifteenth.”
  • If you live in a town with a winning hockey team and a weird attachment to catfish, buy a stuffed-animal version of said catfish, move it around the library, and post pictures of it to social media.