When you do something for a very long time, walking away becomes a big deal. I’ve been a librarian for nineteen years, more than seventeen of those with CLP. At some point in 2013, I realized I wanted to make a change. Luckily I had the resources of our amazing Job & Career Education Center to guide my research into a new vocation. While I always dreamed of pursuing a career in EMS, the career tools there solidified my decision making process.
After twenty months of tests, trials, and waiting, I have earned a place in the January 2016 class at the Pittsburgh Fire Department training academy. In eight months I will be fireman and fulfill a lifelong dream of mine.
I did not get here by magic. After making my decision to switch careers I set about training and reshaping my mind and body for the rigors of the academy’s mental and physical entry exams. This included brushing up on my mathematics. I also read about and developed new training routines to test and challenge myself. This was tough and lonely work. I needed breaks from time to time to recharge. Relaxing meant hiking, and I found plenty of material at CLP to help me with that too. I’ve also vigorously pursued the art of haiku.
The academy is a full-time commitment. This means I will be leaving CLP as a full-time employee effective after the first week of the new year. I will miss it. I will miss my work comrades and the patrons we so diligently serve. Writing for Eleventh Stack and working with its crew of crack library bloggers represents one of my proudest accomplishments at CLP. I’ve been with the blog since near its beginning, and I care deeply for it and the people who work so hard to make it great.
If I can I will try to keep my hand in the library business part-time, and maybe even write a blog post or two from the firehouse. You won’t “see” much of me for a while, that’s for certain.
I did not make this journey alone. Many people helped me get here. You know who you are. Thank you. And thanks to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for being my home away from home for the last seventeen years. In the meantime if you need me, check the nearest burning building.
Almost every day I work the reference desk one of my patrons approaches me and asks me to help him or her download free music from the web. Often the request comes in a whisper–the patron leans in, eyes twinkling with mischief, perhaps thinking there will be something untoward in the process of acquiring free songs. While a lot of folks know you can find “free” music online at certain notorious and best unmentioned spots, some might need reminding that the CLP system subscribes to Freegal. It’s part of our eCLP package of amazing digital resources any patron can access free with a library card.
With Freegal you get five free songs (MP3s) per week, refreshing each Monday. So every Monday, you can grab five more songs to keep forever. That’s right, they’re yours to keep. Freegal’s selection rarely disappoints me. Every genre gets love. Literally millions of songs fill its many categories. Love Adele? All of the Songs from her latest album 25 are on there. Big 1990s R&B fan? Freegal’s got PM Dawn and A Tribe Called Quest. How about reggae? Maxi Priest can fill the bill. In some cases, if Freegal doesn’t offer songs from a favorite performer or band, they’ll have a collection of tribute albums with popular songs reinterpreted by other artists. Led Zeppelin is a good example of this.
Freegal also features streaming music, and offers a free app that will allow you to bring the service to your mobile device.
While Freegal does not have agreements with every artist or label, it has a lot. Once you dive in, you’ll be building a digital music collection that’s hundreds of hours in length, and as varied as your tastes allow. You get all that content free of charge and totally free of guilt. Freegal is aptly named indeed.
Like 9/11, confronting the horror of the 11/13 Paris attacks requires us to recognize the inherent fragility of our lives. We live in an ordered society. We’re lucky like that in the West. Sometimes terror shatters that order. We can confront this evil in a number of ways. We can employ whatever philosophy or belief system we use to give us comfort. We can get angry. We can despair. Or we can ignore it. Some combination of these aforementioned coping mechanisms can work too.
This is not an easy topic to build a book list about, but I am including titles that ponder the nature of evil and violence. I hope that at least one of them might supply some succor.
The Challenge Of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times / A.C. Grayling
Freedom: Stories Celebrating The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights / anthology
Non-Violence: Challenges And Prospects / Bidyut Chakrabarty
Regarding The Pain Of Others / Susan Sontag
Violence: Six Sideways Reflections / Slavoj Žižek
How we react as individuals and as a nation to senseless acts of violence defines us. I suspect that striking a balance between the closed fist of vengeance and the open hand of peace will go a long way toward deciding how we write the next chapter.
Better than my birthday! More exciting than Christmas! Spectre hits U.S. theaters today! This latest installment in the James Bond 007 series could very well mark Daniel Craig’s last turn in the lead role, and by all accounts, it’s an explosive swan song. I’ll be seeing the movie today, and I am thinking multiple viewings will be in order for this one.
I thought it might be fun to list a number of thematically related movies to watch either before, or after, you catch Spectre. Of course, re-watching Mr. Craig’s first three Bond epics should be a must to get yourself tuned up for this one. The slick scripts, gritty energy and amazing action in Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall make Mr. Craig my favorite Bond of all time. Beyond Bond, what else might we watch to scratch that kick-butt action itch?
The Long Kiss Goodnight — This 1997 action romp features Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. Ms. Davis leads as an amnesiac assassin who suddenly remembers she’s a stone-cold killer. Starting the film as a small town schoolteacher, she undergoes a startling transformation when she realizes a lot of dangerous men are trying to kill her. This one holds up well.
The Bourne Identity — Matt Damon and Franka Potente star in this super-slick adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name. Amnesia again figures into the plot, as Mr. Damon plays a U.S. government black ops agent gone rogue. The more he learns about himself, the less he likes! This film also sports a brilliant soundtrack by Moby.
Shoot ‘Em Up — This clever deconstruction of the action film genre features Clive Owen and the luminous Monica Belluci (also one of the Bond girls in Spectre). Mr. Owen plays a gun-toting killer with a heart of gold in this underrated flick that features dizzying action sequences. It’s a ballet of violence no self-respecting fan of the genre should miss.
The Equalizer — Denzel Washington plays McCall, a shadowy ex-government type who now lives a quiet life. When the people he cares about become victims, McCall balances the scales with extreme prejudice. Mr. Washington brilliantly captures the mood and movements of this tragically haunted and fundamentally badass character.
This little list offers just a sample of the awesome action fare you can find in our extensive online catalog. Enjoy!
Two weeks ago I saw Sicario. This bleak, nihilistic exploration of the ill-fated drug war offers unforgettable performances from stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Ms. Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent on the trail of a major drug trafficking ring near the border between the United States and Mexico. After a break in the case that results in the deaths of several law enforcement officers, Macer gets called into a high-level meeting to meet Matt Graver (played by Mr. Brolin). Looking more like a washed-up surf bum than a federal agent, Graver leads a shadowy team of operatives hunting only the biggest fish among the Mexican drug lords. He asks Macer in, and she accedes. From there things get messy.
Sicario is wonderfully paced and directed by Dennis Villeneuve and gorgeously shot by director of photography Roger Deakins. It features a chilling performance by Mr. Del Toro as the mysterious Alejandro, a man seemingly working for the “good guys,” but readily capable of heinous acts of violence. Agent Macer realizes she is in over her head during a nearly disastrous foray over the border into Mexico, and the movie quickly cranks the moral ambiguity up to ten and then breaks the nob off.
Sicario stays with you. That’s why I believe it will be an Oscar contender. It got me thinking about other movies and books about crime and the drug war that have had a similar affect on me.
Here’s a quick list of some titles that fit this description:
Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days Of The War On Drugs (Book)
To Die In Mexico: Dispatches From Inside The Drug War (Book)
A little over three weeks out from Halloween, I thought it might be fun to write a quick post about vampire fiction. I’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s great, but I prefer Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Mr. Stoker literally wrote the rules on vampire fiction with Dracula, and Mr. King followed suit with some flourishes of his own.
Since then we’ve seen many non-traditional takes on the fictional vampire. I am particularly fond of two.
Octavia Butler’s Fledgling mixes strong and accessible prose with a unique angle on the vampire genre. Her vampires constitute a species apart from humans, not undead supernatural monsters. She tells the story from the perspective of a young (by vampire standards) girl who must recover her lost memories and learn what it means to be something other than human.
In American Vampire writer Scott Synder and artist Rafael Albuquerque have taken the classic vampire mythos and added more than a dash of grit and grime. The stories of their characters play out over the history of America, moving deftly back and forward in time to key moments in their personal histories, and different eras in the history of the nation. Even if you don’t normally read graphic novels, give this series a try. The first volume even includes a story from Mr. King!
There’s a lot of great vampire fiction out there, so I would love to hear about more of it—conventional or not!
Nobody asked me, but…
- Reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess requires a lot of work! His explorations into the sources behind Western poetry and poetic mythology remain tantalizingly inaccessible to casual reading. I feel like you have to really commit yourself to get the most out of Graves’ sometimes meandering, but always erudite, prose.
- I know others have written far more eloquently about H Is For Hawk here and elsewhere, but author Helen Macdonald’s powerful style really grabbed me when I happened to idly pick the book up the other day. Her journey into falconry included the extremely difficult task of training a goshawk named Mabel. Forging a rapport with this magnificent bird provides the backdrop for Macdonald’s deeply personal struggle with the unexpected death of her beloved father.
- With the Pittsburgh Pirates again on the precipice of making the MLB playoffs, I find myself wanting to read more about their storied history. A Pirate Life by Steve Blass will be my next port of call when I’ve cleared the decks of my other reading obligations. Mr. Blass is class personified, and his book offers a sometimes funny, sometimes sad look into the life of a major league baseball pitcher in the 1960s.
- As we now head into the fall season, I find myself wanting to get out and do more hiking. Glen Scherer’s excellent Hikes In The Mid-Atlantic States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York offers a host of great day-hikes within fairly easy driving distance of Pittsburgh.
- Fall being my favorite season, I thought it might be nice to finish this little post with an affirming quote from Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”