Analyzing my Addiction to Mad Men

I was a latecomer to “Mad Men,” the much celebrated TV series about Madison Avenue advertising in the 1960s, which ended in May. When the series premiered in 2007, I recall hearing NPR radio spots about it, and being intrigued, but never actually finding the time to watch it.

It was a year later, shortly after getting married, that my husband got me hooked on the show, which I found compelling for its depiction of a bygone era, but depressing for its rampant adultery, promiscuity and other destructive behaviors. I quickly learned that there were no fully “good” characters in the series – everyone was painted with streaks of greed, lust, jealousy, and corrupting ambition. Drawn in by the complex characters, glamorous wardrobe, and fabulous writing (there were so many perfect one-liners) I couldn’t seem to stop watching the show, but frequently after viewing an episode, I found myself feeling restless and down, depressed or frustrated by various plot twists.

This tension is one of the celebrated features of the show. Mad Men was never supposed to have good guys and bad guys – the characters are all realistic in that they are complicated mixes of likeable and detestable traits. I get that. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to know any of them in real life.

I suppose it is unsophisticated to admit this, but I like shows that have good guys, and I really like it when the good guys win. To be fair, I probably would not have liked most of the real people who worked in advertising in 60s, and it is part of the brilliance of the show to depict these characters as deeply flawed but still sympathetic. Even though Don Draper was a serial adulterer with a drinking problem who was rarely present for his kids, I wanted him to overcome his demons. I wanted him to be happy. For heaven’s sakes, a guy with classic Hollywood looks should have a happy ending because that’s how fiction works!

I got so disillusioned with the show that I skipped the whole sixth season and much of the seventh, but, and this reveals the extent of my addiction to the series, even though I wasn’t watching I regularly read the TV Club analysis of the show on Slate. I couldn’t bear to watch, but I had to know what was happening.

I tuned back in for the last few episodes of the series, with the usual mix of fascination and frustration, which lasted right up until the end. I applaud showrunner Matthew Weiner for staying true to his vision while wrapping up the story with measured doses of happiness and hope for the central characters. Just as in real life, there were no definitive resolutions, but there was clarity of purpose for Don and other characters and that was significant, and probably the most a cock-eyed optimist like me could hope for from Mad Men.

Through my obsessive reading of reviews and recaps of the series, I found a lot of commentary that was spot-on, and helped me understand why I was so drawn in by the show. Here’s a summary of some of the analysis I liked the most:

From the start, the show was a celebration of the creative process. One of the most-remembered scenes is a pitch by Don Draper at the end of season one for the Kodak “carousel,” the wheel to show slides on a projector. Don riffs on the word carousel in his ad concept, showing that the new device is not merely a useful technology, but a gateway to nostalgia, as it takes viewers on a circular ride through happy memories.

Moments like these, when Don or his colleagues have a creative epiphany, are the high points of the show. In a later season, Don advocates giving his writers and graphic artists the space they need to work, and “getting out of their way.” At the time that episode aired, I was working in the marketing department of a big company, and the marketing director referenced that line in a staff meeting, making me feel like my job was connected, however remotely, to the glamorous world of Mad Men, and that my creative input was valued. (Unfortunately, there was nothing glamorous or inspiring about my job, which didn’t actually want or need me to be particularly creative, but that’s another story.)

The decade from 1960 to 1970 has been celebrated, eulogized and imitated in countless films and television shows, most of them extremely nostalgic. Mad Men took the tribute genre to a new level by being scrupulous about historical details and favoring realism over nostalgia. In Mad Men, in the early 60s, women get treated like chattel in the work place, people of color are relegated to jobs as janitors and elevator operators, families go to the country for a picnic and leave their litter all over the ground, alcohol consumption at work starts before noon, people smoke like chimneys everywhere (the office, in doctors’ examining rooms, restaurants) and newborn babies ride home from the hospital in their mother’s arms (no car seats). Despite the high fashion façade, Mad Men makes clear that the 1960s were not the good old days.

On the other hand, I loved the way major news events (assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the moon landing) were woven into the stories. It was fascinating to see characters’ reactions to these events (I watched clips of scenes from episodes I did not watch in full). Life doesn’t come to a standstill, but there is pause, shock, fear, and, in the case of the moon landing, hope and celebration. I loved these moments of seeing what life must have been like as people were coping with major historical events.

Finally, Mad Men offers a wonderful depiction of office life – the pressure, the competition, the comradeship, the ordinariness and the potential to do something great. Mad Men was noted for the slow pace of its plot lines, in contrast to fast-paced dramas that are more popular these days. Like real office life, things unfold slowly, days are often long, and petty disputes get blown out of proportion. But when deadlines loom or crises unfold, people band together and rise to the occasion. While the atmosphere of Mad Men is more intense than anywhere I have worked, and the characters are much larger than life, there is a lot about the culture that feels familiar, and that is what makes the show most compelling, and what I’ll miss the most.


Rethinking the creative process

My childhood dream was to become a writer, and in my youthful fantasies I fully expected by now to have published at least a book or two. The problem is, far from publishing a book, I haven’t even written one (yet).

In the process of consoling myself for not actualizing this dream, I have realized a few things: 1) While it is not easy to find the time to write “for fun” (any writer knows the process is not fun), the only way I will ever reach my dream is to make it happen, even if it takes me 10 years to write 100 pages; 2) I have to believe that my goal is important enough to prioritize the time to reach it; 3) “Success” might look different now than it would have in my teenage dreams, i.e. the odds of writing a best seller are not in my favor, but perhaps I can at least write something that will have lasting value for me and my family. (In my days of writing for a Jewish community newspaper, I used to joke that I was a household name … in my own home. That’s sort of what I’m aiming for here.)

Even with this much more modest goal in mind, I still have the momentous task of decisively buckling down and doing the actual work, and I was searching for some inspiration about how to do that. So, over the last several months, I read a few books that touch on aspects of the creative process, and the work styles of successful people, from which I have gleaned bits of wisdom.

A few years ago Jonah Lerner wrote a book called “Imagine” that talks about the creative process. I first heard about it in an NPR clip about creative breakthroughs often coming when people took a break from what they were working on. When they were walking or driving or doing something relaxing, all of a sudden, they would get a creative burst, or the solution to a complex problem would suddenly dawn upon them. All of the efforts of many hours of hard work and concentration would pale in comparison to this dawning revelation that happened without even trying.

I really liked this idea because it was the perfect justification for one of my favorite vices: procrastination. How great is it that not working can actually help you work better?!

As cool as that bit of information is, it’s only part of Lerner’s book, which, incidentally was later discredited when it was discovered that Lerner fabricated some information in the book, including quotes from Bob Dylan. I picked up a copy of “Imagine” from Amazing Books, our wonderful, local used book store, and read it with a grain of salt, knowing not to trust Lerner too much, but on the point of procrastination I think we can believe him because he also offers some seemingly conflicting advice that I think is also very sound.

Often, people have creative breakthroughs only after days, months or years of regular, steady devotion to honing a craft or working on a problem. Yes, the buzz kill to the procrastination high is that you actually have to put in the hours to get any work done, and creative tasks are serious work. (Darn it.)

In “Imagine” Lerner also writes about the digital animation studio Pixar, which designed its headquarters with centrally located bathrooms to force staff to physically bump into each other several times throughout the day to feed the creative and collaborative processes. (Presumably folks with smaller bladders would have even more opportunities for this!) So, for some types of creative work, interacting with other people is important, but when I read about that, I wondered how I would function in an atmosphere that emphasized interaction so much. My next reading choice helped with that.

Susan Cain’s “Quiet” talks about our very extroverted culture and how the emphasis on being outgoing and gregarious puts introverts at a distinct disadvantage. “Extrovert” and “introvert” are terms that get thrown around a lot, and there are various definitions, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that extroverts are energized by being around other people and exciting stimuli, and introverts are energized by being alone and reducing stimuli.

Introverts want and need to connect with other people, they just need recovery time afterwards, both at home and at work. Cain writes that work environments can be structured better to create optimal working situations for introverts. I felt vindicated by her unequivocal statement that open office plans (no offices or cubicle walls) are bad for introverts.

“Quiet” helped me realize that I need to cultivate a comfortable and quiet writing space for myself. The book also talks about “flow,” the state of being so immersed in a task that one loses track of time. The environments preferred by introverts are also conducive to flow, such as minimizing interruptions and background noise.

My third reading choice helped me think about another obstacle to writing: time. In “168 Hours” Laura Vanderkam notes that many of us are afflicted by the knowledge that life is short, and extremely hectic, and it’s hard to find time for all the things we want to do. It’s easy to say, “I can’t do X because I don’t have the time,” but Vanderkam points out that we can accomplish more than we think in the 168 hours we are all apportioned each week.

She writes about the American Time Use Survey, which is a government survey of how people spend their time. Using this model, Vanderkam profiles several real people, whom she asked to chart their time for a week, revealing ways they could use their time better. Vanderkam herself is a mother of four who has published several books, blogs daily, runs marathons and used to sing with a choral society. She also sleeps 7 to 8 hours a night. It’s tempting to dismiss her as a superwoman overachiever (or just hate her), but she is honest about how she makes it all work.

Vanderkam focuses on her “core competencies,” the things she does best and on which she wants to spend the majority of her time. Everything else gets minimized or out-sourced. So, she hires extra childcare to ensure she has time to write and exercise, simplifies meal preparation, relaxes her standards of household cleanliness, and knows how to say no to obligations that will drain her time.

“168 Hours” made me realize how very different I am from Vanderkam. She has reached a balance that is right for her, but which would not be right for me. For example, while writing is my professional priority, I have other “core competencies” which are important to me, such as cooking Shabbat and holiday meals for family and friends and being involved in communal activities. These things don’t pay my bills, but they enrich my life.

So, in addition to the realizations I mentioned at the start of this entry, my recent reading has helped me to crystallize some other thoughts about my personal creative process: 1) writing is not the only way in which I am creative, and other outlets (such as cooking and event planning) are also important to my personal development and expressing creativity (and may even be the source of writing ideas); and 2) more than ever I need to be cognizant of how I use my time, recognizing that I am making choices which can facilitate or interfere with reaching my goals, but that even if I am never the writer I dreamed I could be, I can still be a successful writer by my own definition, and achieve other goals that are important to me.

Gilbert and Ehrenreich: Two books, two journeys

Several months ago, by coincidence, I happened to be reading two books at the same time. At home I was reading, “Eat, Pray, Love,” the popular memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she travels to Italy, India and Indonesia as she emotionally heals from a divorce. At work, in my spare moments, I was reading “Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America” in which Barbara Ehrenreich recounts her experiences trying to live on minimum wage in three different American cities. (I felt justified in reading this at work because it gave me some context to understand the challenges faced by clients of the social service agency where I work, and it was recommended by a colleague.)

If I had not simultaneously been reading these two books, it is unlikely that I would have ever seen a connection between them, but since I was, there were some obvious similarities.

Both books are written by women who immersed themselves in experiences that most readers either would not choose voluntarily, or would not have the means to choose. Both traveled alone to three different locations, leaving behind the trappings of their normal lives and careers. Both were profoundly affected by their experiences, and especially by the people they met along the way.

On the surface, that is where the similarities end and the differences begin.

Barbara Ehrenreich worked variously at being a waitress, a housekeeper and a retail store clerk in Key West, Portland, Maine and the Twin Cities. For her one-month stays in each of these locations, she lived in the type of housing that minimum wage workers could reasonably expect to afford, which included cheap motels, trailer parks and budget vacation style rentals. (Longer term rentals usually require security deposits, which are often beyond the means of minimum wage workers, who literally live check to check. Ehrenreich writes of coworkers sharing hotel rooms or living out of cars because that is all they could afford, despite working full-time hours.) Her work was often physically demanding, with exhausting, long hours, and she went “home” to spare living quarters whose comfort, privacy, safety and cleanliness were often questionable.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s epic journey was on an entirely different scale. In Italy, she rented a cozy apartment, from which she could easily walk to the numerous restaurants where she indulged in Italy’s finest wines, pastas, pizzas and other notable dishes (including some that would repel more pedestrian consumers, such as, ewww, lamb intestines). In India, Gilbert secluded herself in an ashram, where she practiced the art of meditation, and experienced spiritual transcendence. In Indonesia, on the island of Bali, she rented a spacious vacation home and developed a network of colorful friends and, eventually, a romance, when she wasn’t studying with the medicine man whom she had come to visit. In short, her year-long journey was saturated with physical, spiritual and emotional pleasures, the likes of which most average Americans can only dream.

And yet, to me, there is a deeper similarity between the two books. Gilbert leaves behind an affluent life in a posh suburb to heal from intense emotional pain, and to develop a deeper, more spiritual appreciation for life itself. Ehrenreich illustrates how work utterly consumes the lives of low wage workers, offering them no relief, no breaks or benefits, and no promise of upward mobility. The American dream, of working hard and pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps, is just not accessible to the lowest rung of society, most of whom live in poverty for generation after generation. The parallel illusion, that the wealthy have it all, is also challenged by Gilbert’s deep unhappiness at the start of her journey, though certainly her healing was enabled by her affluence, and this is a point she openly acknowledges.

To me, both of these books illustrate the human necessity of having emotional space, and respite from the daily rush, to enjoy life, savor fine flavors, focus on our connections to the Divine, and build relationships. These experiences should not merely be the province of the rich, as most of us can find pleasure in less exotic flavors and experiences than those experienced by Gilbert. But those who labor at full-time jobs should be able to live a life that is not just a constant survival game, and sadly, that is an elusive dream for a significant segment of society.

Incongruous writing styles

During the second half of my year in journalism school, as my classmates and I went on job interviews, professors advised us that editors would likely pose the following question: “Are you a reporter or a writer?” The correct answer, we were told, was to say “reporter.” The critical difference was that a reporter was focused on content, on asking the tough questions, on being relentless in pursuit of the facts, while a writer would focus more on the style of writing, on being a wordsmith, a master of prose. Hard-boiled editors need reporters who can be aggressive in pursuit of the facts and smart on their feet. No flouncy prose for them.

The problem for me was that the writing part was my strength, and the reporting was where I struggled. Toward the end of my year in journalism school I participated in a small group discussion about the newspaper business (now almost an anachronism) with Clifford Teutsch, then the managing editor of The Hartford Courant. He said that when he made hiring decisions, he was looking for strong writers, because you have to be really smart to write well, and it’s much easier for a good writer to learn about a particular subject or field (a beat, if you will), than to take someone with loads of expertise but no writing talent, and teach that person to write.

Armed with these somewhat conflicting snippets of advice, on an interview, when I was actually asked if I was a reporter or a writer, I said writer. I still got the job.

That, however, was just the beginning of the journey. Reporting and writing are both broad categories of skills. In my brief years of newspaper reporting, I was mostly assigned to cover community features, and usually had two to seven days to develop each story before the deadline. However, a handful of times, I had to track down a source on a very tight deadline (less than two hours), extract the necessary information through brief phone calls, and then write up the story very quickly for an impatient editor. I struggled mightily with this, especially on one occasion in which the television news was already reporting the same story and the person I reached was not interested in repeating what they had just told the people with the fancy cameras and lights. Not my finest moment. But, as my experience grew, my general reporting skills improved, and I especially thrived in the sort of situation where I could sit down with a subject for an unhurried hour and have a fully developed conversation. I learned over time to be more critical, to ask probing questions and to react to what was said with follow-up questions, not just to stick to a prepared list of questions.

Still I was, and am, a writer at heart. The thrill for me is not just in delivering the facts, but in the crafting of the phrases, of enhancing the copy to be more than a straightforward recitation of information, but also a pleasant, and sometimes memorable, reading experience.

There is, of course, a time and place for everything. I laugh when I think back on my attempts at writing fiction in high school and college, and how very wordy and saccharine my prose was at that time. Good writing, according to the advice of Strunk and White in the iconic “Elements of Style,” is straightforward and spare – no superfluous words, no unnecessary flourishes of language. And yet, good writing is not merely utilitarian. Language is beautiful and fluid. Writing well is a careful architecture, not merely a cobbling together of words. It is placing the decorative cornice just so, not overshadowing it with a mawkish gargoyle, but also not leaving the cornice out altogether because it is not essential to the function of the building.

For a bit of fun, and to exercise my writing skills, below are two examples of styles that are incongruous – purple prose that obfuscates meaning where facts are needed, and spare copy that misses essential nuances. Yes, folks, I wrote badly on purpose.

Victorian novelist wannabe reports on a fire for a newspaper

The conflagration overtook the first and second floors of the edifice, sweeping through with fiery wrath. Sirens tore through the night as firefighters raced from their quarters to the scene. They stormed the charred doors and drenched the home with torrents of water. The unharmed inhabitants stood trembling beneath dim street lights, watching as dancing flames gave way to billows of smoke. Clutching blankets around themselves, they were overcome with emotion – relief that they had not been harmed, despair that their home was lost, fear of what was to come. Quickly, neighbors gathered around to offer comfort and assistance. By morning’s light, the family had found temporary shelter. (In other words: Home destroyed by fire: family placed in temporary shelter)

In deference to the late Robin Williams, a terse summary of “Dead Poets Society” (my favorite of his movies)

Private boarding school hires unconventional English teacher, who leads students on a series of antics, including standing on desks, while invoking a phrase in Latin. The teacher is fired due to disapproval from administrators and parents. (Totally misses the emotional nuances and deeper meaning of the film)

Calling out in prayer

Today is Tisha B’Av, a day of sadness in the Hebrew calendar, so I have chosen to reflect on somber matters.

A few months ago one of my toddler son’s day care teachers was murdered. I didn’t know her well. She had moved to Pittsburgh just a few months before, and only cared for my son for a period of a few weeks before being assigned to a different classroom. Like many people we interact with in a superficial way, I had a fondness for her without really knowing her at all. She was kind, upbeat, and a little bit quirky. One day I came to pick up my son and found her holding him and dancing with him, both of them smiling.

After she was assigned to work with a different group of kids, I still saw her periodically at the school, and always exchanged warm greetings. She was a private person, and I didn’t know much about her life. I knew that she moved to town to be close to a sister, and that she had a pet cat that had been sick, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t recall the last time I saw her, but it probably was a couple of weeks before her murder.

On a Friday in February she didn’t come to work or answer her phone. It was unlike her either to be late, or to be unresponsive, so the school notified police. A couple of hours later, police found the murdered bodies of the teacher and her younger sister in the basement of the home they shared. A few weeks later, the sisters’ next door neighbor was arrested.

I first learned of her death more than 24 hours after the bodies were discovered. The school sent out an e-mail notifying parents that the teacher had died tragically. At first I couldn’t comprehend what I had read, and then the questions began. “Was she in an accident?” I wondered. “Had she been ill?” I searched her name online and turned up news reports about her murder. I was shocked.

Wrapped up in the disbelief that I would never see her again was the haunting thought that while those of us who knew her were going about our lives as usual, just a couple of miles away, she was in the midst of a horrible assault that would claim her life. I imagined her terror, her panicked efforts to call out for help.

In a weird case of misplaced emotion, on the day that no one knew would be her last, I had an odd pang of sadness after picking up my kids from school. First I had stopped in the toddler room for my son, and then went down the hall to pick up my daughter before taking them both out to the car. My son was not usually the last kid in his class to be picked up, but he had been that day, so his teacher, another lovely young woman who is alive and well, must have closed her classroom right after we left. As I strapped the kids into their car seats, I noticed her walking down the block, and I had a moment of melancholy as I realized she had been in the school one moment, and was gone the next. Later that night the early childhood director sent an e-mail that this particular teacher was leaving her job to go to graduate school, and I realized I would never see her again.

But it was the other teacher, the one with the quirky sense of humor — who danced with my son to calm him down — who faced a bleaker fate that night. The sadness I felt for one person passing out of my life to pursue her career paled in comparison to the horror of someone I knew being brutally murdered.

One month before the teacher’s murder, our community had been saddened by another tragic loss – the death of a young woman to cancer. In the many months of her illness, community members had signed up to recite chapters of Tehillim (Psalms) each day to pray for her recovery. Following her death, I decided to continue saying “my” chapters daily, and after learning of the teacher’s horrible death, I changed my focus slightly. More than just reciting Tehillim, I decided to direct my thoughts to whomever might be experiencing distress at the moment I was praying. To be a voice in solidarity with whoever was alone in their pain, or terror. To pray for an end to their suffering.

The news of war in Israel in recent weeks has caused me to reflect even more about young, vibrant individuals facing horrifying experiences, especially those who are terribly injured or killed. I think of their families, many of whom live so close to the warfare that envelops their sons and brothers, daughters and sisters, but have no knowledge about their movements from hour to hour, and are powerless to help them. I have relatives and friends serving in the Israel Defense Forces, so my thoughts are foremost with them, and with my other friends and relatives who are at risk of being hit by shrapnel, or worse, from Hamas rockets.

But I also think about the people of Gaza, and the fear and loss they are experiencing as they are ruled by a ruthless terrorist regime, and I think about the atrocities in Syria, and the 219 girls kidnapped from Nigeria, and I think about people in my own community who live in fear from domestic violence or gang activity.

Every day, somewhere, at every moment, there is someone calling out to G-d, asking to be saved from the horror that envelops them. I dedicate my prayers to those who call out alone, letting them know that others wish to protect and comfort them, to neutralize the dangers that threaten them.

Writing the Great American Novel

Before I chose the slightly more pragmatic career of being a journalist, I had dreams of being a novelist. Early in my college days I realized that since I am not independently wealthy, and because I enjoy eating, every day, I was not prepared for the difficult life of a novelist, and at the time, journalism held the promise of somewhat steady income. I still dream of writing fiction, but after years of training myself to report facts and attribute quotes, I wonder sometimes if I have the capacity to fabricate, and let my fancy take flight.

Of course, writing is writing. The ability to construct fluid prose is at the heart of both fact and fiction, and the capacity to be imaginative and original is also central to both, though in different ways. Perhaps most importantly, both genres require keen observational skills and the ability to “show, not tell” (the aspect of writing that I probably struggle with most). I know deep down that I have the potential to write fiction, so writing a novel is really a matter of having the discipline to put in the work to do so.

Several years ago, my sister told me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a project to inspire people to write a novel in the month of November. The idea is to write between 1,500 and 2,000 words a day, every day, from November 1 to 30 – not worrying if it is good or not – so that by the end of the month, you have produced a 50,000-word novel.

When I first heard of this, I scoffed a bit, because in a month’s time, one would almost certainly have 50,000 words that were spectacularly awful to read. However, the book The Happiness Project made me think differently about this. Author Gretchen Rubin talks about the importance of having the courage to try something new and challenging. She also writes about how engaging in a creative activity inspires further creativity.

And, of course, forcing oneself to write every day, even if the initial product is not so great, helps one to refine the craft, since the only way to write better is to do it all the time. I read Rubin’s book last year and it inspired me to delve into a writing project I’d been mulling over for quite some time. I took some time to jot down some notes about the story I’ve been contemplating. And then I got distracted with other responsibilities.

I hadn’t thought about my “novel” in months, until my friend Mordechai Luchins, in a Facebook status update, reminded me about NaNoWriMo. “I should do this!” I told myself. I didn’t actually sit down to start writing until November 4, and that day I wrote about 500 words, which you will note, is far less than the daily minimum required for NaNoWriMo. All the rest of the month I kept thinking that I would get back to writing, but I never did.

A pessimist would probably say this was a failure, but we all know that writing is a process (sometimes an extremely long one!). Taking the advice I gleaned from The Happiness Project (I will probably mention the book again on this blog because it really helped “unstick” me in various ways.), the way to succeed at any massive and imposing task is simply to start and then work in small increments, ideally every day, to reach the goal.

I’m not there yet. I’m still summoning the power to be disciplined enough to truly embark on this task. However, I have started the process, ever so slightly.

The library isn’t so scary after all

I’m not sure if it’s just because I am naturally shy or if perhaps I was subjected to some particularly stern librarians as a child (certainly not the school librarian at my elementary school, Mrs. Shramm, who reminded me of the title character in the 1982  HBO movie “The Electric Grandmother,” played by Maureen Stapleton), but I have long harbored a strong resistance to actually going to the library.

I am fortunate to live in the digital age, in which I can obtain most of the information I need for every day life and basic research from the comfort of my home computer. However, as we all know, the Internet has its limitations. I am told I should not believe everything I read online. Who knew? Therefore, from time to time, it is important to do *real* research in an *actual* library.

This past winter I screwed up my courage and finally got myself a library card (it is embarrassing how long it took me to do this) and have actually started checking out and returning books on a somewhat regular basis. It was a bit of a revelation to me that, aside from the pressure of returning a book by the due date, using the library is actually great when you are not sure if you want to commit to a book. If you don’t like it, it cost you nothing to read it and it doesn’t even take up space on your shelf!

Anyway, this morning I was faced with a research issue that Google just would not solve. So, I took a deep breath, found the phone number online and called a research librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. I stammered a bit when asking my question, but the woman on the other end of the line was patient, cheerful, helpful and immensely knowledgeable. She didn’t make me feel the least bit stupid or out of line. (Here’s where the haunted memory of being chastised by a librarian comes to mind, though I’m not sure if that ever actually happened.)

I was so pleased with her help that I decided to “like” the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Facebook. I logged on post-haste to do so (because it had been at least 20 minutes since I had last checked my newsfeed), and in doing so I found a link to this fascinating blog, which is written by librarians who have some cool and quirky ideas.

Altogether, my encounter with the library was great, and that was just from the comfort of home. I have a book that is due back soon, so I will have to actually go back to the library. In person. No problem.

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Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

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