Monthly Archives: April 2013

Midlife Marathon Musings

The Pittsburgh Marathon, which seemed so far off when I registered for it, is only five days away now. Since I’m not a runner (yet), I signed up to walk the half-marathon, which seemed like a reasonable goal for a healthy newbie pushing 40. After months of training, I’m pretty confident that I will finish, and I can’t wait to earn my participation medal. But what I’m really excited about is that I’ll be crossing the finish line with a friend. Because for me, nothing beats having a wacky idea like having a wacky idea, sharing it, and hearing someone else say, “Hey, I want to do that too!”


Popular internet meme, current example spotted here

Life itself, of course, is also a marathon, but with fewer rest stops and not a single musical group out there to cheer you on. Some people travel alone, others in packs. The course can be steep and uneven, but it can also be breathtaking, and you can go as fast or as slowly as you want. Even if you never get up off the couch–a move experts don’t recommend—you’re in the race. Might as well make it a team effort, right?

And then there’s Midlife , that weird and wonderful time where you start getting serious about your physical health and your inner landscape. You re-examine your friendships. You worry about being a good role model to the kids in your life. The literal and metaphorical race becomes less of a sprint, more of an endurance challenge, as the milestones and checkpoints fly by. If you’re lucky, you have wise mentors ahead of you, shouting back encouragement, and whippersnappers behind you to nip at your heels and keep you sharp. But mostly, you’re looking for people moving at the same pace you are, to help you make sense of the whole experience…and to share cultural references with, of course. Not to mention, to keep you from taking it all too seriously.

Back in the world of the literal, I’m ready to wake up at a ridiculous hour Sunday morning so we can get one of the good parking spaces downtown. My shoes are broken in. I’ve studied the course map. I know where the water stations are. And we’ve walked our regular training route into the ground, building up both speed and endurance over time. Whether you’ll be walking with us, running ahead of us, or wishing us well from the couch, I hope your own race is a good one. For my part, I promise not to litter on the course, and to appreciate every step of the way. Any other advice for the journey you may have is welcomed with an open heart and a grateful spirit.

–Leigh Anne

who seems to have inhaled a philosophical streak along with that birthday cake


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‘The Greatest, the Gaudiest Spree in History’*

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”  The Great Gatsby

Although I can’t remember when I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald, as an English major, it was most likely in a short story. To me his writing glittered,  like the 1920s era in which he wrote. I promptly read all his novels but, to this day, I feel the most affinity for his elegant short storiesFlappers and Philosophers was the first collection I read–about the young, carefree, and very rich.


Source: Wikimedia Commons


Source: Wikimedia Commons

“I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me.”

He wrote during the same period as Ernest HemingwayThe Lost Generation–and, indeed, they were rivals of a sort. Both men were alcoholics and both lived as expatriates with their families in France during the 1920s. But Fitzgerald wrote autobiographical and often melancholy stories about youth, money, and the upper class–which he yearned to be a part of– while Hemingway’s writing featured very masculine protagonists and were often filled with tragedy and violence.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.”

Married to the vivacious Southern beauty, Zelda Sayre, the two embarked on legendary madcap adventures, including frolicking in fountains, living at the Ritz Hotel, and throwing wild parties, antics that often got them kicked out of hotels as well as rented houses.

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”  The Great Gatsby


Scott & Zelda, about a month before Zelda gave birth to their only child. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Zelda herself aspired to be a writer–Fitzgerald actually included fragments from her diaries in his second novel The Beautiful and Damned. In fact, she admonished him publicly in a tongue-in-cheek review of one of his books and this created resentment. Well, that as well as her spiral into mental breakdown, possibly caused in part by Fitzgerald’s discouragement. 

“It seems to me,” she wrote in her review, “that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”

 Fitzgerald recognized great critical success only after his death. In fact, during his lifetime, he was not a bestselling author. But his great success, in my opinion,  were the short stories, little gems which he claimed he wrote merely  to support his lavish lifestyle between novels; later it supported Zelda’s stays in various sanitariums as well as his daughter’s private school education. 

“There is a moment—Oh, just before the first kiss, a whispered word—something that makes it worth while.”

This Side of Paradise

 With the May 10 release of the movie remake of Fitzgerald’s acknowledged masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, interest in Fitzgerald’s work may peak once again.


*The Crack-Up


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Aspiration: A Very Short Introduction

All right class, raise your hand if you’ve ever had the feeling that you didn’t make the most of the educational opportunities offered to you in your youth. Whether you dropped out or just got an occasional B+ instead of straight A’s, do you ever wonder what could have been if you had just applied yourself a little more?

You’re certainly not alone: a Northwestern study published in 2011 asked a sample of adults to name one regret that really stands out in their memories, and 13% of respondents passed up lost loves, trips not taken, and childhood cruelties to identify a missed educational opportunity as a source of regret. I suspect it’s a common theme among adults — maybe as a kid you spent most of physics class studying the trajectory of a spitball, and now you can’t resist refreshing NASA’s Twitter feed when there’s a big announcement pending. Or perhaps your interest in verse during 7th grade English was limited to finding that just right word to rhyme with “smells” in an ode to your sister, but now you make sure not to miss a reading or 3 Poems By session here at the Library.

Now, we all know there are great pleasures to be found in being a full time student of the People’s University. I’m sure I would have pulled a much better GPA in 10th grade had my schedule resembled my current reading list…

and so forth. (n.b. Obviously pleasure reading and formal schooling are two different things, and I’m sure my dream schedule would be someone else’s [namely, my wife’s] nightmare schedule.)

I think the  dream of a lot of us academic underachievers, however, is that we could somehow suddenly have a broad, traditional, liberal education behind us. Do I want to learn Greek? Um, maybe next year. But do I wish I already knew Greek? Heck yeah!

The publishing industry has long recognized this impulse of wanting to take the easy path to enlightenment. Dr. Eliot‘s prescription at the beginning of the Twentieth Century — 15 minutes a day of hard reading — was supported by a widely-advertised series of books that promised readers the opportunity to become well-educated generalists with just a little effort. The Harvard Classics, and a number of similar publications such as those put out by Library of America, Oxford World Classics, Everyman’s Library, and The Great Courses have long been a great boon for educational late-bloomers as well as people for whom good schooling wasn’t available, offering anybody with access to a library (or some cash to spend on books) the chance to participate in intellectual life that may have otherwise been out of reach.

Even now, in an age in which anyone with access to broadband can sit in on MIT courses, there’s something welcoming about limiting your self-guided education to a book or two on a given topic. After all, it wouldn’t be hard to spend your 15 minutes a day clicking deeper and deeper into a hyperlinked detail in a Wikipedia article, and who needs all of those diversions when there’s a liberal education to be had?

In my opinion, there’s no better resource for the time-pressed aspirational reader than Oxford University Press’ “Very Short Introduction” series. These tiny books — typically between 100 and 150 pages and perfectly sized to fit in the back pocket of a pair of Levis — offer the broadest treatment of the most difficult subjects imaginable, written by top experts for a lay audience.

Imagine if you ran into an CMU professor at a party and, over the course of a drink, she explained her research using analogies, real-life examples, and maybe a quickly drawn graph on a napkin. These are the book version of that.

Very Short Intros

A dabbler’s delight.

There are hundreds of these things, covering topics from Angels to Writing. (I guess they haven’t gotten to X-rays, Yemen, or Zoroastrianism yet.) Some topics seem to better lend themselves to this treatment; I find the natural sciences, psychology, and theology are strengths in this series. But really, I haven’t found a dud in the bunch.  I recently had a good time reading Very Short Introductions to dinosaurs, Bertrand Russell, and the Old Testament. And while I certainly can’t say that I’m now an expert on these subjects, or even have an above-average knowledge of them, I figure that I’ve retained about as much as I would if I had payed attention in school, which is really all I’m after.

Perhaps the American Library Association should have a marketing campaign — “Make up for your misspent youth @ your library!” It has a nice ring to it…



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ANZAC Day: Remembering The Fallen

Gallipoli_cover April 25th marks ANZAC Day, a widely observed holiday in Australia and New Zealand which began as a way to remember the soldiers who fell in the famous WWI battle of Gallipoli. The ANZAC acronym stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the troops who fought within their ranks earned the name Anzacs. They wore it proudly and served with distinction even in the most desperate of times.

No battle typifies the horrible waste of life that was WWI better than Gallipoli. With thousands of young soldiers being mowed down by Ottoman Turkish fire, the Allied commanders continued to order these brave men into certain, pointless death. You can read more about it in Peter Hart’s superb book, Gallipoli.

Gallipoli_movie_cover  For a stunning, Hollywood-style visual interpretation of the battle check out the 1981 feature film starring a young Mel Gibson.  The film also stars talented character actor Peter Weir.
Shattering_cover  Folks interested in the Turkish (re: Ottoman) perspective on the battle should check out Michael Reynolds’ book, Shattering Empires : The Clash And Collapse Of The Ottoman And Russian Empires, 1908-1918.
Since being officially named in 1916, ANZAC Day has come to signify a time of reflection on and thanks to all those soldiers who have served and given their lives defending the interests of Australia and New Zealand.



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Any Volunteers?

The Music Department is very lucky to have a long line of dedicated and diverse volunteers. They have provided us with helpful and valuable services throughout the years. Our volunteers range widely in age, interest and talent, from high school kids to retirees, including superb interns from the Pitt Library School. In recognition of National Volunteer Week (April 21-April 27), I would like to highlight some of the projects from the past and present that volunteers have undertaken in this department.

  • The Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP) collection consists of over 300 interviews conducted by a long-time Music Department volunteer
  • The Pittsburgh Archival Material collection contains many finding lists created by a particularly extraordinary volunteer
  • The input of information from card catalogs onto computer files to be made into online indexes
  • Helping with our semi-annual music sale
  • Laminating, repairing, and re-creating CD covers
  • Checking inventory lists for missing, misshelved, or miscoded library materials
  • Creating shelf signs with call numbers to help navigate the narrow volumes of scores

Shelf tags help!

No task is too small or too large for our volunteers to handle!

If you are interested in volunteering at the library, please see this link: Volunteering at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit. — Greek Proverb


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Play Day

This Saturday, the Carnegie Museum of Art is celebrating “Play Day.”  They’ll be opening up the Lozziwurm installation which you may have seen by their entrance on Forbes Avenue, and hosting other playful activities inside the museum.  There is a Fred Rogers quote about play which I’ve always loved: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” At some point as we get older we sometimes forget the importance of play, but it’s just as important for adults.  If you aren’t able to make it to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Play Day, these suggestions might help you get into the spirit of play at your leisure.

Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden: Playing in the dirt is a cornerstone of childhood, but it doesn’t have to end!  Gardening lets you get your hands dirty like a grown up.

Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village: Granted, this book is located in our Teen Department, but even if your teen years are long behind you, playing pretend never really gets old.  This collection of one-person plays set in the 13th Century will let you hone your acting chops in privacy while bringing back nostalgic memories of visiting Renaissance Faires.

Party Games for Adults: Icebreakers, Parlor Games, and Party Tips That Will Make Your Guests Flip: When did parlor games go out of fashion?  I have to admit that I harbor a love of old-timey parlor games, and they can be a great diversion from talking about work when you’ve gathered a group of friends together.

Holy Spokes!: A Biking Bible for Everyone or Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth: The two things that make me feel most childlike are biking and running; something about the freedom of both reminds me of running around or riding my bike as a child.

Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play: Finally, if you aren’t quite convinced that adults need playtime, this is a serious book about not being serious.



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Being Fine About Not Being Any Good

I am only one kind of crafty and it’s the kind that gets people to make things for me, not the kind where I make things for myself. Last year, I was given a sewing machine and some patterns by a friend. That’s all I have to say about that. I don’t have the needed attention to detail and patience I think is required for knitting. My fingers are too unwieldy to do anything like origami. I had resigned myself to not being an artsy-craftsy person. Until I discovered that I am an amazing painter.

When I say “amazing”, I mean there’s no screaming and I like it. And by painting, I mean paint-by-numbers and rock painting. During Christmastime last year, I went shopping with my niece with the intent of buying her a book, but we ended up buying three paint-by-numbers kits and a rock painting kit. It took some time to finish the paint-by-numbers, but I was so happy when it was finished.

Look at my art! (It's a sorcerer.)

Look at my art!
(It’s a sorcerer.)

Then I moved onto rocks. I’ve only done two so far, but I’ve noticed that there’s something incredibly soothing about painting a rock. There’s also something incredibly soothing in accepting that I am not a master artist and will never be. The painting isn’t about creating a masterpiece (rock). It’s not about me making some beautiful thing; it’s about me making some thing. It feels so great to create something that I’m thinking about breaking out that dusty sewing machine and making something that may be so horrible I can only wear it when I’m alone.

So if you’ve been wary or unwilling to do something because you think you’re not going to be good at it, join the club. Then read a few books or dive right in with no instructions and join the other club where we knit or paint or sew and make something that may be not so great, but is all yours.

MeandMySewingMachine    Watercolor101      PrintingbyHand



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8 Musical Moments Caught on Film

Image from the website:

In the Mood for punishment. Image from the website:

It’s been a rough week here on planet Earth, which is why I’ve decided to take a moment out of my day to celebrate two of my favorite things—music & film. That’s right, not only do I work in the Music, Film & Audio Department, but I also enjoy watching films and listening to music, occasionally at the same time. Nothing makes me happier than that scene in a film when the perfect song is cued up, and suddenly characters start walking in slow-motion, or sports-training-through-montage, or driving their motorcycles really, really fast. Seriously, is there anything better than these musical moments? (Other than cheese, of course?)

Come with me now, as I share 8 of my favorite musical moments in film…

Morvern Callar is a troubling little film, based on a novel by Alan Warner. Our amoral protagonist wanders through the film listening to a mix tape through a set of headphones, which becomes the soundtrack for the film. I hold this scene directly responsible for my love of Lee Hazelwood–after watching it, I immediately had to find out who was responsible for the song “One Velvet Morning”:


Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favorite directors because of the way he uses music in film. The film Chungking Express is an almost love story, where all of the characters are either trapped thinking about the past, or imagining their futures, but rarely meet in the present. I can no longer hear the song “California Dreamin” without thinking of this film:


And how could Wong Kar-Wai make a movie about people walking up and down staircases in slow-motion that is this good? Fair warning: don’t be deceived by the title of the film In the Mood for Love, as it’s less a film about love, and more a film about longing. (If regret is more your bag, you can check out the kind-of sequel, 2046.) This scene is like one, gigantic sigh:


The movie Ghost World (and the wonderful graphic novel it’s based on) is one of the best stories I’ve ever watched/read about misfit teenage girls. There’s a lovely scene in the middle of the film when our confused heroine discovers her love of blues music:


Few directors around today use music quite as well as Wes Anderson. Not only does he have great taste in music (and by great, I guess I mean my taste), but he knows how perfectly the right song can tell a story. In the film The Royal Tenenbaums nobody has to tell you how Richie Tenenbaum feels about his adopted sister Margot, the song does it for him:


The Naked Kiss was my introduction to the weird, seedy, and melodramatic world of Samuel Fuller. The film opens with a bald, half-naked woman beating a man up and then throwing money at him. You would think that things couldn’t get any weirder from there, but you would be wrong. This is one of the strangest, most maudlin musical sequences I’ve ever witnessed:


And speaking of weird and melodramatic, Night of the Hunter features one of the all-time best screen villains, a tattooed preacher played by Robert Mitchum. The movie is something of a live action fairytale, which is apparent in this river scene:


And as for contemporary films, I am fond of the scene in the movie Drive where our antihero drives down the L.A. river basin with dreamy synthpop playing in background:


What am I missing? Do you have any favorite musical moments in film?



April 19, 2013 · 5:06 am

Senior (Kitty) Moments

In 1997, I adopted a tiny adult tabby cat but no one at the Humane Society knew her age.  The official paperwork said she was two years old while the scribbled hot pink sign taped to her too-small cage stated she was four. This means she is now between 18 and 20 years old.

Miss Holly Golightly

Miss Holly Golightly

She has definitely slowed down these last few years–for example, she no longer plays–but in many ways she’s holding her own very well: she licks every single meal bowl clean, uses her litter box regularly, climbs up and down two flights of stairs, jumps on chairs, and has the shiniest & softest coat of striped fur I’ve ever seen or touched. About the only odd (and annoying) thing she does now is yowl randomly throughout the day, at least when I’m home. I think she has some dementia and I feel she’s too old to be put through a battery of expensive medical tests.

Holly Golightly, al fresco

Holly Golightly, al fresco

But I am preparing for that inevitable sad day when her little claws won’t be clicking upon my wood floors anymore. I don’t think I can ever be truly prepared to say goodbye to my baby, but these books have been helpful:


Caring for Your Aging Cat: A Quality-of-Life-Guide for Your Cat’s Senior Years by Janice Borzendowski


Senior Cats by Sheila Webster Boneham


Your Older Cat: A Complete Guide to Nutrition, Natural Health Remedies, and Veterinary Care by Susan Easterly

~Maria, happily owned by Holly Golightly


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We Are the Champions!

Team SignIt was a lazy Sunday afternoon, one of the first nice days of spring so far this year. 39 teams met to battle it out on the trivia field. It promised to be a battle for the ages. It was a battle where only one team would emerge victorious. That team was… the CLP Dewey Decimators!

The battle was the 6th Annual Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council Trivia Bowl, which was held on April 7th at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The Decimators were at the top of the pack for most of the competition, never falling below 4th place. Going into the final question, they were in second – 5 points behind the leader and last year’s champion. With the bravado of someone who knows they have to “go big or go home,” the Decimators bet all of their points on the final question.  (The final question was “Although they have since been disputed, according to recent reports Columbia University students are consuming up to 100 lbs of what food per day?”  Scroll down for the answer.) They finished with 640 points, earning them the win!

Without further ado, let me introduce to you the winning team from the GPLC Trivia Bowl,GPLC Trivia Bowl Winning Team the CLP Dewey Decimators:  Lisa from the Finance & Administration Dept., Denise from our Homewood Library location, Mykal from Shelving & Stack Services at Main, and Megan from Children’s Dept. at East Liberty. (That’s our cardboard Andrew Carnegie standing with the team. He was there to inspire them.) Two of the winning team members were on Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the Trivia Bowl and their victory.

It was a great victory, but it was ultimately a fundraiser for a worthy cause. The mission of the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council dovetails nicely with the mission of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Many of our neighborhood library locations serve as sites for GPLC classes, workshops and tutoring sessions. The Library supports literacy and learning in all its forms and we always want the best for the individuals in our community. GPLC is one organization that helps our neighbors become the people they want to be, the people they can be.

The Library also has resources for ESL students, those looking to improve their literacy skills or get their GED. If you need us, the Library is here for you. We’ll get you the contacts and tools you need to succeed.

-Melissa M.

P.S. Here’s my favorite picture from the event…

Andy wears the Championship Belt!

Andy wears the Championship Belt!

P.P.S. The answer to the final question? Nutella.


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