drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude

There is something pleasantly devasting about going to see a film about the extreme effects of loneliness by yourself on a Monday afternoon. It's very 'but for the grace of God'. I've been seeking devastation recently, and going to see Notes on a Scandal approached but did not reach the depth I was aiming for. The previews for the movie intrigued me and I happened to have just finished What was she thinking?, the Zoe Heller novel that formed its basis. I know one shouldn't compare films and the books they sprang from, but I couldn't help it as I sat in the theatre (which was oddly full for a Monday 1.50pm showing).

The main thrust of the story here is that a teacher (Bathsheba Hart) has an affair with a 15 year-old student. Her "friend" Barbara (a lonely, older teacher and spinster extraordinaire) finds out about this and uses it as leverage to deepen her bond to Sheba.

The book works very well for several reasons. First of all, it's really quite hilarious, despite the touchy subject matter. Secondly, it's less about the affair itself than it is about the delusions of Barbara and her total removal from normative notions of friendship, loyalty, and life in general. Also, you get a real sense that she is holding back details, that the account is both editorializing heavily on Sheba and whitewashing the actions of Barbara (though maybe whitewashing implies too much introspection for someone like the character). The ending is also surprisingly non-conclusive, which adds to the atmosphere of tentative happiness Barbara feels in her relationship with Sheba.

The film whirred through plot elements at a rate that felt like a thriller, but for which there was little suspense. I mean, we all saw it coming that Sheba would be caught and there'd be trouble, etc, etc. I kept finding myself thinking, "well, now that we've dealt with the story, we can move on the psychology." But the story did not relent. I was left feeling a bit cheated out of getting to know these characters and they tended to fall into stereotype. Almost. They pulled out in the end, but just barely. The film also tended to put much more emphasis on the sapphic elements of Barbara's obsession and less on the sheer drive of being lonely. Overall, it was a valiant effort and the nods for Oscars are well-deserved, but they should stay at jus that. I'll be disappointed if Dame Dench beats out Helen Mirren, but I doubt there's much chance of that.

It was a good way to spend a three-day weekend. Mired deep in the problems of someone else for a bit, even if I'm only serving fictional characters.

least helpful librarian ever

I've seen some unhelpful librarians in my life. I've even purposefully done less than I technically could just so that I wouldn't have to actually get up, say, or explain to a patron that no, in fact, I don't share his belief that von Däniken proves the veracity of the Pearl of Great Price. However, today I had a bad experience at Edmonton Public Library.

I'm in the AV section, which like most urban central branches is cordoned off in a way that requires you to be 100% certain you're done looking at print materials before you even think of browsing these media. I'm looking for a dvd, nothing in particular at first, just something suitably bleak. Then, I remember that I recently received a recommendation for two films: Kinky Boots and Italian for Beginners. EPL didn't have the former, since it's determined to never have any film that came out since 2004. However, the latter claimed to be checked in. I go over to the shelf and scan to Danish, then to I and see it's not there. So I decide to ask the librarian.

I go up to the desk and queue up behind a young man who's forgotten to return a cd with the attendant case. The problem is sorted and it's my turn. I say, "There's an item that says it's checked in in the catalogue, but it's not on the shelf." I'm trying to give this guy some context. He responds, rather condescendingly, "I'll need to know the title to look up the last activity date on the computer." This guy's obviously striving to do A-1 reference interviews. I tell him the title and he looks it up. Turns out it was turned in today. So, at this point a little hope rises that he'll be kind and go see if he can't find it on a cart.

Alas, this guy had sat down and nothing would move him short of the free food zone on the incentive scale. He tells me to just put a hold on the item, which saves him work, but surely must frustrate the circulation workers. I'm guessing he doesn't give much thought to what it's like to work that job and see people put holds on items at the branch where they are checked in. Could it really have been that much work for him to get up and look for the dvd himself? I mean, sure, they've got lots coming and going but how long could it really have taken him? I should have insisted, but he had already treated me as an imposition for even asking a question, so I didn't want to press it.

I hope I never became that man.

things that make me nervous

  • Keira Knightley is playing Cecilia in the upcoming adaptation of Atonement
  • someone is offering to pay me $25 an hour for literature searching in the agricultural realm and I'm considering taking him up on it
  • our ward family history coordinator doesn't seem to know the difference between PAF and Ancestral File/Pedigree Resource File.
  • There is someone in the world who actually wrote the following (though it may be Dutcher himself):
    Richard Dutcher is a film auteur in the truest sense of the word. He follows in the tradition of Hitchcock, Coppola, Altman, Chaplin, Ford and others who have crafted films with their own unmistakable imprints.
  • Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen was a little too close to home.
  • fauna, in all its forms

playing well, in Danish

A couple days ago, after a grueling staff meeting about library security (in which a leg extended into her path was described as "assault" by one of the more antsy employees), I dashed to the Royal Alberta Museum, arriving only 30 minutes after I was supposed to meet my party. My trip had less to do with local colour than it did with plastic bricks. There is a group in the northern part of the province known as the Northern Alberta Lego Users Group. They get together to discuss issues, share ideas and build models. They have constructed several historic buildings/landmarks of Edmonton, which were on display at the Museum. Now, this is decidedly quirky and was just as delightful as it sounds. The Legislature model contained 120,000 bricks and required the equivalent man-hours of four years full-time employment. The group, whose leader I saw on the news, are quite proud that they only use normal lego pieces and do not glue their models together. I guess most people do. I had no idea that snobbery could exist alongside such horrific nerdiness, but there you have it. You can see some of their work at the link above.

The rest of the museum, though, was a bit of a hit-or-miss affair. The logo of the institution is a mammoth, which the lady at the ticket desk promised me was native to Alberta. He's named Moe and is only a replica of a skeleton. But, he's not even Albertan. He's another Utah transplant spending some time in the City of Champions. Odd symbol, if you ask me.

Our group steered away from the First Nations collections, because we're not that into them, as a people. We did check out the mineral collection (which felt a bit like a jewelry showroom to me) and the live bug collection. One member of our trio kept returning to the seeming impossibility of random mutations for what we were seeing (dinosaurs, walking sticks, etc.) The Bob the Builder Exhibit was a bit young for us and the other lego exhibit (Sea Adventure) was odd to me in that it presented not really sea animals, but lego models of sea animals. It was several steps removed from the actual item and could probably be the basis for a meditation on modern society by someone much cleverer than I.

I do love museum signage, though, and wish I could have a job in that realm. One particularly lovely example was on the plaque for the Irish Elk and read, "Ironically the Irish Elk is neither an elk nor exclusively Irish."

However, some things in the museum are beyond the pale. For me, I was entirely creeped out by the plastic model of a rotting mouse (seen above). Who thought this was a good idea? I mean, honestly? The picture doesn't quite do it justice, since the display allows 360 degrees of viewing angles and there is some surprising detail to those open sores. Oh, and the mouse is about three feet long.

For a city its size, Edmonton's really got some problems with their cultural institutions. I've experienced both the art gallery and the natural history museum now and both have left me shrugging my shoulders. I guess I shouldn't throw stones, based on where I'm from. But in its defense, Utah does have the Bean Museum and the world's largest dinosaur museum (at Thanksgiving Point). The art scene does leave a little to be desired, but I'll take Zion any day.

Claims returned is always a lie

I'm feeling quite embarrassed, which, as you know, takes a lot. Here's how it came about. I had some extra time before work, as I had to dash to the public library and return an overdue dvd that wouldn't renew (yes, even aspiring librarians accrue fines). Because God loves me, or some other cosmic reason, I managed to hit both trains bang on and got to campus with an extra twenty minutes. I decided what I should do is go tell the library that a book I returned back two or so months ago is still showing on my card (grad students get to have books for a whole semester. The book was Eleanor Rigby for the curious.). The circ worker duly printed off my record and promised to do a manual search. She was quite gruff, but that's standard for the customer service staff here (they can't be fired, so where's the incentive in being nice?). I did not inform her that I had already done a "manual search" (how exactly, does one non-manually search for an item on a library shelf?), as I'm sure she'd only have rolled her eyes at me.

Pleased with myself for not being condescending or openly rude, I sauntered over to the school (which is in the same building but for obscure reasons requires you to enter from a separate door). There, I opened my locker to remove my gym bag which has been sequestered and inaccessible since yesterday. You see, another student had put her lock on my locker (I don't lock my stuff up because a. only library students are ever there and b. there's nothing worth stealing). It was a process to figure out who had made the slip up and contacting her and so on. She was in a rush and mislocked, or so she claims. Not having access to my stuff wasn't that big of a deal, though I didn't have my coat yesterday when I walked to the Indian restaurant. But it was better to not have a coat than to lock myself out of my apartment, which one of my dinner partners did.

Well, I grab the bag in order to take to work in hopes that I'd be home before 12.30 tonight. A book falls out of my locker. It's one of my textbooks, but upon returning it, I discover that there's another book under a stack of papers. I pull it out and, much to my chagrin, it is a Douglas Coupland novel. That Douglas Coupland novel. This book has now been returned to a different branch of the university system. I was too shamefaced to go call off the manual search, but hopefully it won't inconvenience them too much. I'm trying to assuage my guilt by telling myself that I never place holds on books that are checked in at the libraries. I mean, those pages need to earn their 8 bucks an hour that my tuition money is paying for, right?

When I was working in circulation, it was conventional wisdom that 99.9% of claims returned were nothing but a pack of lies. When faced with paying $25 for a children's book, people are surprisingly able to dig it out of car seats, behind couches, under the bunk beds or wherever else they finally manage to remember it got left. I really was certain I had returned the book. But, alas, libraries never lie. I have seen the enemy, and he is me.

(Please note, I have not altered, exaggerated or compressed the timeframe of any events above. My life, it turns out, is a bad sitcom at times.)

(also note, dal makhani is really tasty.)

Let us go on to perfection

Mormons are often faulted by some other Christians for being far too works-centric. A lot of this can be traced back to that scripture in 2 Nephi that teaches that grace is only a factor after all we can do (the true meaning, of course, requires an understanding that LDS salvation is far and away the most universal of any Christian sect, and therefore grace plays a large role). But surely quotes like the following from The Way to Perfection by Joseph Fielding Smith don’t help:

The words of the Savior in his sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” have served as a text for many a sermon. We have been informed that his meaning is that we, in this life, should try to perform every duty and keep every law and thus endeavor to be perfect in our sphere as the Father is in his. This is all good and true, but does it go far enough?

In all fairness, he goes on to suggest that perfecting will continue and be consummated post-death when we reach godhood. However, if you just pick up the book, you might not get past this alarming rhetorical question, which is very first paragraph. I’m cool with working really hard for salvation. Sure, I probably won’t make it, but at least it’s a challenge. Where’s the fun in sectarian heaven? Not only do not have to work for it (at least not substantively), but all you do is sit around and praise God and be happy. I’ll take a three-tiered, eternal progression/offspring worldview any day, even if it's only for others.

The truth about Spencer

Had someone been foolish enough to call me as an instructor for Elders Quorum, I would do my best to include the following items in this year's course of study. As simply a class member, it'll be trickier, but I'll still try to get at least some of them raised. I think it also falls to all of you to learn enough about these events to be able to discuss when even glancingly appropriate.

  • Cain=Bigfoot?
  • Would any good Latter-day Saint parent really rather bury their child than have them lose their virtue?
  • How can we reconcile "prophet, seer and revelator" and the Hofmann forgeries? Even more troubling, how can we reconcile claims of truth and openness vis-à-vis the purchase of certain documents with hopes of concealing them?
  • Do we really think that the LDS version of the Bible and the new triple combination was President Kimball's greatest achievement, or was Elder Packer just completely wrong?
  • Indian Placement Program: pure love of Christ or post-colonial nightmare?
  • Hinckley or Kimball: who is the more liberal leader?
  • Leonard Arrington, the professionalization of the Church History Department and believing history. Ramifications?
  • Would George P. Lee have been excommunicated if President Kimball were still alive?
  • 1978: how much was the revelation hastened by the fact that Kimball was in charge? Or, phrased different: June 1978, word of God or second great accommodation?
  • Different views of the Book of Mormon locations, given President Kimball's avowed love for Southwest Native Americans.

overheard at the gym today

Dude A is complaining about a class, how the professor talks so fast and doesn't pay attention to hands raised, etc. Dude B concurrs and then says, "I have a class this term where I actually have to take my own notes, too." He says this in a tone that would suggest what's actually been asked of him is that he trek by foot three miles each morning to draw drinking water for an entire village.

Wow. I'm so glad the wonderful Canadian education system really prepares students for a university experience.

Splendor sine occasu

I'm on the hunt for a job. I know, I'm not officially a librarian until April (or June, depending on whether you count the piece of paper or the successful completion of courses as the stamp). However, I stress out about everything and the prospect of graduating without a job offer makes me nervous. Very nervous. Most people only feel so uneasy in the face of impending brain surgery or by the thought of being left in the Rub' al Khali if you're Petra. But stressing out is my hobby.

I've applied so far in places that I would rather not live, at least not long term (Lincoln, NE, anyone? How about State College, PA? I'm sure Waco, TX isn't as bad as it's cracked up to be). I'm toying with the idea of sending off a vitae to South Dakota and the job's not even in Sioux Falls or Rapid City. It's in Pierre. I'm just not sure how I feel about living in a state that is one third as densely populated as Utah (SD boasts 9.9 people per square mile...only Alaska, Wyoming and Montana can claim to have more land for every man, woman and child).

I think part of this random search has to do with a somewhat flawed belief that none of these things would really ever come to pass. I'm not actually going to get a job, so it's sort of fun to pretend. I reckon I'll be taking a very different approach when March rolls around and I'm still hunting. Truth be told, I probably would pack up and move to Pierre if that's all I had going for me. Or Lincoln or Waco or Cheyenne or Milwaukee. I'm not entirely sure where I want to live (though the Wasatch Front ranks high), but I do believe that I could only be happy in a place that is served by an international airport (suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine that I could be happy, at least theoretically).

The most surprising aspect of this whole situation though, is what I find myself being disappointed by. For instance, I'll get excited when I see a position for Humanities Librarian at some college in the midwest only to learn the have as minimum qualifications reading ability of Latin, Classical Greek and one modern European language. And, almost as an afterthought, they throw out that knowing another ancient language, like Hebrew, wouldn't hurt. Where can they dig up people for these jobs? Granted, this job does pay between 40K and 50K, unlike one in the midwest a while back that wanted two masters degrees, reading ability in French and another European language and was willing to start you at 34K.

But my most recent disappointment was this: seeing a job at Boise State and then learning that I am not at all qualified to take it. It's even a reference job. I just don't have the experience they're angling for. It's a sad commentary on your life's ambitions when not being qualified for a job in the Gem State bums you out.