Summertime … and lazing about

21 Jul

The summer months at work are often filled with projects; nothing that needs to be done yesterday (too often, the pace of the rest of the year), but things that allow one to plan and process and maybe implement a newly-learned thing along the way. It’s the last part that often leads me to stumble across lots of interesting – even if unrelated – things. Looking for one thing, I find another and another and another. Serendipity. The best. So here are a few of late. Maybe you’ll enjoy them, too.

Showing off at the SLA NE booth in Phoenix.

A couple weeks back, I wrote a piece for SLA New England’s blog on different perspectives gained from stretching one’s self in different situations. You can read it here

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Being on a journey, stretching, growing – be it in one’s career or one’s life – anyone who reads my blog and/or knows me knows that this is the subject that intrigues me the most. I’m fascinated by the idea that life is a journey. I’m inspired by anyone who lives his/her life in such a way. I love the ideas of life-long learning, of following new interests, of seeking new paths. Ann Telnaes, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post is a favorite of mine. In an interview with CTNexpo she says, “Have a plan, but be open because sometimes that’s not your destiny. Sometimes it’s something else.”  Yup! That’s it in a nutshell.

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As an evaluator and a sports fan, I absolutely loved the article “Analyze This” by Sue Bird, a future Hall of Famer for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. It’s just a perfect piece on the importance of data collection, data storytelling, and … the never-ending gender gap in everything sports-related.

Data helps drive conversations, strategy, decision making. But data on its own isn’t terribly interesting. It needs context. It needs a storyteller. Data helps tell the story of a player, a team, an entire career.

There’s a need to value data in the WNBA because there’s a need to value the stories of our league. Think about baseball, for example, or men’s basketball. Fans, players, executives and media value stats and information because it helps to tell a story that many are already invested in. And if they’re not already invested, then it gives them a reason to be. It helps GMs make decisions. It informs contract negotiations. It enables player development.

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Just for fun, here’s the Definitive Guide to Typography and Fonts – in one, handy infographic! Who doesn’t need this?

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LFL

My Little Free Library

Finally, let’s do a quick summer reading list. We’ll call it, Sally’s Summer Reading List, since that’s what it is. Here are the books I’ve read and/or am reading of late:

Hope-in-the-Dark-solnit-300-400
Early in the summer, I read both Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I came across her via an article she penned for The Guardian and am now a devoted fan. Both are examples of brilliant, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous writing. 

Hornaday-Talking Pictures

Last month, Washington Post film critic, Ann Hornaday, published a wonderful guide to watching movies entitled, Talking Pictures. Not only does Ann provide a rich understanding of the different aspects of movie-making, but she teaches the reader how to enjoy movies with a critical eye. What makes a scene work? Why do you remember some movies forever and others are forgotten before you’ve left the theater parking lot? How do all of the pieces fit together – or not? It’s a terrific guide complete with suggestions, at the end of each chapter, of films to watch to accompany the lessons learned. It’s perfect preparation for the chilly months that will be here soon enough, those that find us in front of the fireplace, seeking a good movie for a Saturday evening.

 small-great-things-hc-400wIf you’re looking for a page-turner with a point, you might want to read Jodi Picoult’s latest, Small Great Things. An unexpected death and the story that follows examine the issues of race relations, prejudice, and justice from the differing perspectives of the characters involved. I picked it as the book for an Action Book Club that I’m trying to get started in my community. It’s a good choice for that, as well as an excellent read.

 strangeresFinally, I’m sure it’s no surprise to any of my regular readers that I pre-ordered Amy Dickinson’s latest memoir, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, about a year before it came out. It arrived in my mailbox on publishing day and I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. True enough, that was in the spring and thus not a summer read, BUT I did purchase the Audible version this summer, just so that Amy could read it to me again. It’s Amy as good as ever (true, despite any bias I may have). Read it and enjoy.

 

Sally and Amy

We need a new photo.

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Miller’s Crossing (SLA 2017)

27 Jun

I SURVIVED

Hot on the heels (pun intended) of my post about the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association yesterday, I offer up some thoughts and sketchnotes on my time at the annual meeting of the Special Libraries Association that took place last week in Phoenix. Did you see the news from Phoenix last week? If not, well, it was hot. Really hot. But the conference was fantastic! Here’s why…

This was my very first time attending SLA and I have to say that I was impressed beyond impressed! The keynote speakers were inspiring, the sessions chocked full of useful takeaways, the colleagues that I met interesting and nice, the schedule (and the program, overall) was really creative, and my own presentation … it went pretty darned well, if I do say so myself. Kudos to the conference planning committee, the SLA staff, and the organization’s leadership for putting together a stellar event.

I took more notes than I’m going to share here, but I want to highlight a couple of sessions that kicked off the event for me and really set the tone for what I could and would expect over the few days. The very first session that I attended was a talk by the local author, Susan Cummins Miller, titled “The Curious Case of a Geologist-Turned-Crime Writer.” It was Sunday morning and my internal clock was still several hours off after traveling cross-country the day before, so honestly, it was that title that drew me to the lecture. It was just too interesting to pass up. What I received from attending was an incredibly personable – and to me, incredibly relatable – story about a person with many interests and the winding career path that often accompanies such. “The Life History of a Writer,” is the framework Miller used to tell her story, offering up a lot of tips and inspiration along the way. It was the perfect start to the morning.

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Following Susan Cummins Miller’s talk, I made my way to the first general session and the keynote presentation by Lulu Miller, a journalist and writer and the co-host of the NPR podcast, Invisibilia. [Tangent: I titled this post, “Miller’s Crossing” because of the shared surname of the two speakers and because that reminded me of the title of an excellent movie. An early Coen brothers’ film. Seek it out.] I will share at the get-go that I have attended LOTS of professional conferences in my years as a librarian and I have heard a number of great speakers over this time, but Lulu Miller’s talk may well be the BEST that I’ve heard to date. It also serves as the perfect model for anyone outside of the library profession who gets invited to deliver one of these talks. Why? Because she prepared it entirely for us, the audience. It was obvious from the very beginning. It wasn’t a talk that she had tucked away to be tailored to any audience. Nope. It was, start-to-finish, a message put together with no other group but a group of special librarians in mind.

For me, the key to the talk hinged upon the question, “What if you (meaning a bunch of research librarians) did your job worse?” Put another way, in our rush to answer a patron’s request, is it possible that what we end up doing is confirm their biases? We point them to what they are looking for, not necessarily what they need to find. What would happen if we perhaps sent them down a path that they didn’t expect to go? What might they find then? What unexpected discoveries might be uncovered?

To illustrate the point of these questions, Miller told an engaging story of how just such an experience led her to some discoveries, some history, and an amazing mystery that she’d never have encountered had she not been led astray from her own biases. She talked about how many people and how many sources and how much dumb luck (the latter being a bit of me editorializing) it generally takes to get to the truth and how at every turn in the process of truth-seeking, our biases can get in the way. Our task, then, as information professionals, is to help people overcome their biases and we do so, first, by changing some of our own behaviors. (You can see her instructions in my notes below.)

“Disobey!” was her commandment to the crowd. Disobey those “tried and true” information professional rules of searching and seeking and delivering, and see what happens.  You never know where it may lead and the discoveries perhaps uncovered.

I’ve not stopped thinking about this talk since I heard it – a sure sign that it was worth hearing the first time!

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Be Ye Kind …

26 Jun

[The following post was written originally to appear on the blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association.]

… and other lessons from the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association.

MLA17_LOGO_500X500I want to thank the members of NAHSL’s Professional Development Committee, as well as all of the membership of NAHSL, for the award that I received to cover the cost of registration to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association that took place in Seattle, WA last month. As always, it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, meet lots of new people, network with those who do similar work, learn some nuggets of gold to put into practice back home, and of course, to see and to share the work that we all do as medical and health sciences librarians – or in my case, a Research Evaluation Analyst, aka a “Librarian by Any Other Name.”

I experienced a few highlights of the meeting including participating on a panel discussion with colleagues from several other institutions to talk about our work measuring and tracking the impact of research. I also really enjoyed Julie Sollenberger’s Janet Doe lecture. I have the honor of knowing Julie a little bit, so her choice of topic – kindness and how practicing it shapes not only our work, but our very beings – was spot on. She is a wonderfully kind person – one who lives what she preaches. It was a special plenary.

For this post, though, I want to reflect on another plenary session, i.e. the McGovern Lecture, given this year by Julie Angus, a scientist, bestselling author, and winner of the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award for her accomplishment as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean, mainland to mainland. When I first saw that she was one of the keynote speakers this year and I saw the title of her talk, “Rowing Across the Atlantic: Strategies to Reach Your Goals,” I admit that I said to myself, “What in the world does this have to do with medical librarians and/or libraries?” And in truth, much of her talk came across as canned, meaning it struck me as likely the same talk that she gives to any audience. Yes, she threw in a few library references, but it was pretty general in nature – your typical motivational talk by a motivating person. Don’t read this as negative criticism. I enjoyed the talk and I’ll likely borrow a copy of her book from my local library and read it. It’s a great story – and she told it well. And I did take away two important things from it – two points that made it into my notes:

First, was the importance Angus placed on baby steps. In her talk she said, “When people ask, ‘What’s the most important thing that you’ve brought out of this journey?’, undoubtedly, it’s the importance of baby steps. Eventually all of those baby steps added up and as a result, we achieved our dream.” This point reminded me of the words of another adventurer, the climber, Joe Simpson. (If you like adventure and you’ve never seen the dramatized documentary, “Touching the Void,” seek it out!) Stuck in a life-or-death situation during a climb, he says, “You have to make decisions. You have to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.” (He’s British, in case you wonder the “stuffed” reference.) Baby steps and continuous decision-making are crucial not only in big adventures, but in day-to-day life. It’s how we get from Point A to Point B, how we continue to be relevant in a changing work environment, how we continue to find fulfilment in our work. Complacency, apathy, dullness in the daily work is a career killer – not only for an individual, but for an entire organization. THAT is a message I found quite relevant – a great take-away from the talk.

The second thing I noted was the discussion that I followed during the Lecture; the back-channel, if you will. Following the #MLANET17 Twitter stream, I discovered that while I was thinking Angus’ talk was a bit predictable, LOTS of my colleagues did not. She would say something and someone would immediately apply the thought or the message to something in his/her career or workplace. It was wonderful to see all of the connections people were making between the Lecture and their lives. I love following the Twitter stream throughout the conference, generally to see what others are learning in concurrent sessions that I’m not attending, but it was also a real treat to see a motivational speaker truly motivating an awful lot of the audience with her talk. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t just what the planning committee wanted when they signed her up and I credit them for the good pick.

I’m off to the Special Library Association’s annual meeting in Phoenix this coming week. I had a paper selected for presentation. It’s going to be interesting as I don’t know many people in SLA. It will be like going to my first MLA meeting many years ago now. I’m a little nervous, but the one thing that that eases my nerves is that I do know that it’s pretty hard to find a librarian conference that doesn’t leave me wanting for good stuff. I look forward to that – and again thank NAHSL for helping me get to Seattle. It’s a terrific benefit of belonging to and serving the organization.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

23 May

goodbaduglyThe following first appeared as an article for the Social Media column (edited by Lara Killian, AHIP) in MLA News, the monthly membership magazine of the Medical Library Association. Originally, I planned to simply repost it here without any additional thoughts or comments, but in the past 24 hours, a couple of things have occurred that make me wish to add just a quick note. First, I read the New York Times article, The Internet is Broken: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It. It’s an interesting piece about Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blogger, one of the founders of Twitter, and the founder of Medium. Much of the article focuses on the the struggles of the latter as a successful business model, but the underlying theme is about the Internet and what social media has fostered, negatively, in our society.

The second thing that happened was last night, someone who I’ve never encountered in my entire life but who clearly disagreed with something that I posted on Twitter, called me a paid troll, an idiot, and a waste of oxygen. I’m grateful that they stayed away from any comments about my body and my dead mother, but … I blocked the individual before he could think of that. I’ve used Twitter for years. I know that it has an earned reputation as a platform for bullying, for hateful comments, and for even inciting violence, but until last night, I’d been immune from any of that. Twitter is a way for me to aggregate news sources, share interesting and helpful information with friends and colleagues, see pictures of puppies, and even form a few new friendships. I’ll not shy away from it due to this incident, but I imagine that I’m not alone when I observe the horrid behavior of too many people today, virtual and otherwise, and shout, “STOP IT!” 

But enough with the commentary. Here’s the piece that I wrote about why I’m a blogger. It’s been one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve made. It’s the Good, to the Bad and the Ugly.

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Way back in September of 2012, I started writing a blog, “A Librarian by Any Other Name.” I chose this name because my official job title had recently changed from “research and scholarly communications librarian” to “informationist.” I didn’t particularly care for the latter term, but it came with an administrative supplement grant from the National Library of Medicine, which was my impetus for starting to blog in the first place. I also chose what I thought was a fun name for my uniform resource locator (URL)—librarianhats.net—to capture the fact that librarians have many job titles, in part because we wear so many different “hats.”

I began my blog to track my experience and progress for the grant. I’m not very good with note taking in any traditional sense, but I do like to write a narrative and I enjoy the world of social media, so blogging seemed a good choice. It became a way for me to share not only with other members of my research team, but also with other librarians and/or interested readers. When the project ended, I realized that I’d developed an audience and that I really enjoyed writing for my followers, so I continued.

Since that first post, I’ve written 192 more and had 62,224 visitors from 156 different countries. Reviewing these statistics makes me feel both proud and humbled. I’ve received many kind words of appreciation, engaged in interesting discussions about blog post topics, and discovered lots of colleagues with similar ideas and in similar situations. As a direct result of contacts made through my blog, I’ve accepted at least 1 invitation each year to speak at librarian conferences, allowing me to travel to fun places and meet many wonderful people. All of this happened because I started writing about what I do and what I think about as a librarian, an informationist, and, most recently, an evaluator for the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science. I believe it’s one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Want to start your own blog? Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Be yourself

My blog is a mix of the professional and personal me. I found early on that it was difficult for me to write completely objectively, as I might do for a professional publication. Besides, this wasn’t the point of Librarian by Any Other Name. I wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts, but in a professional manner. As such, I adopted a style that allows me to be myself: fairly informal, folksy, and hopefully funny at times, but also on point in regard to sharing content that my audience will find interesting and relevant. Finding your voice may come easily or not, but with time and practice, it develops.

Be consistent

In her piece, “Making Time to Stay Social,” Lara Killian, AHIP, notes the importance of making a schedule and sticking to it. This is important both for the writer and the audience. People follow a blog when it stays current. In the same way, they stop visiting when a site sits dormant for long periods of time. When I first started A Librarian by Any Other Name, I wrote and posted a new piece each week. When I finished the initial project and especially when I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I found it harder to maintain this schedule due to both time and material. Once or twice a month is now my norm. The key is to maintain engagement.

Be brave (if you want to)

Early on, I made the decision to announce every new entry to A Librarian by Any Other Name on multiple platforms. I wanted people to find it. I wanted to develop an audience. My primary audience—in other words, medical librarians—prefers receiving information via different means. Some subscribe; some follow on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google; and still others click from the link that I send in an email to several email discussion lists. Some may feel this is overkill, but the reality of social media platforms and information flow is that if you want an audience, you need to utilize multiple channels. You may have naysayers who think self-promotion is simply ego, but it isn’t. If you’ve taken the time and effort to write something that you want others to read, you need to tell them it’s there. After all, it’s social media, not a diary.

Final thoughts

Too often, we struggle in our profession to be visible. We feel that we are overlooked and undervalued, and that what we do is misunderstood. The easiest remedy for this is communication. Blogging is one means of accomplishing this goal—and a whole lot more.

Librarians in Cars Driving Places

29 Mar

Have you ever watched the web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? It’s a funny show created by the very funny comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. Much like his classic television show, it’s kind of about nothing – just Jerry and some talented and funny comedians riding around in vintage cars, having coffee, and talking about whatever. I like it.

I also like The Late Late Show’s host, James Corden’s, carpool karaoke bits where he picks up famous folks and they ride around singing to songs on the radio. (My all-time favorite is the one with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Honestly … LAUGH OUT LOUD funny! I had to watch it again while writing this. Excuse the snickers.) 

And then there’s the sportswriter, Tony Kornheiser’s daily podcast, This Show Stinks. I started listening to it early this year during my afternoon walks. For many years, Kornheiser wrote a column in the Washington Post. Whenever it was about the Washington Redskins, my grandmother clipped it out and sent it to me. I’ve been a fan ever since. I love the podcast because it centers on discussions around sports, politics, culture, odd news stories. A regular, rotating crew of columnists, politicos, sports people, movie critics, and more join in for what’s always an entertaining hour or so. 

I think the common thread of interest for me is that each of these venues allows me to be something of a voyeur, a fly on the wall of the room (or car) with people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. They’re always smart and funny and they create these shows that allow me to feel like I’m part of the group. Even when I’m clearly not. Not in that league. Not by a long shot.

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Fish hat. Ozarkland. Yes!!

I was thinking about Comedians in Cars this morning while walking my dog. I got to thinking about a few times when I’ve been riding in cars with other librarians and how those drives turned out to be as interesting and fun as any of these shows or podcasts. I remembered the time that Kristi Holmes, Director of the Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University, and I rode all the way across Missouri together. At the time, Kristi was working at the Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis. We were both attending a conference in Kansas City, so I flew into St. Louis, Kristi picked me up at the airport, and we drove across the state together. On the way to Kansas City, we stopped off at the fantastically awesome, Ozarkland, and laughed ourselves silly at all of the kitchy souvenirs. On the way back, we stopped off at a for-real western wear store where I bought my very first pair of boots. Kristi grew up on a ranch. She was the perfect guide for this shopping adventure. And in between, we talked and talked. And we became friends.

Another time, early in my stint at the Lamar Soutter Library, I was invited to give a talk at  Cape Cod Community College. Donna Berryman, Senior Associate Director at the Edward G. Miner Library, University of Rochester, was the Outreach Coordinator for the New England Regional Medical Library (NN/LM, NER) at the time, thus we were co-workers. Donna also had to attend this event at CCCC, so we rode along together. We talked about libraries, librarianship, books, movies, our lives, our families, where we were from, how we grew up… in other words, in those hours in her car, we also became friends. Life-long friends.

I guess that I was thinking about these experiences this morning because I recently engaged in an online discussion about the importance of professional organizations. They’re dwindling, in case you were unaware. Membership is down at every level – national organizations, regional organizations, state and local organizations – and for a variety of reasons. If you, like me, have long been involved in a professional organization, particularly in leadership roles, you’ve likely felt the pressure that comes with trying to maintain an organization with fewer and fewer resources, as well as struggling with the emotional feeling of “we’re failing.” 

But we’re not failing. We’re changing, but not failing. The trick is to get in front of (or ride) the change in such a way as to prevent failure, i.e. change in ways to remain relevant, important, worth the investment of people’s scarce time and money. That’s the challenge.

My adventures riding in cars with librarians strikes at the heart of what professional networks and professional organizations are all about – relationships. Though I don’t work in a medical or health sciences library anymore, I maintain the professional relationships that I developed through car rides, meetings, shared office space, virtual spaces, and social media because they are invaluable. They provide every opportunity for support, professional growth, sounding boards, collegial spirit, and yes … friendship.

I think it’s really difficult to translate to anyone new to a profession (or even one who’s been at it awhile and sees the retirement door ahead) the value of the relationships that come from sharing a profession – from sharing rides in cars, both literally and figuratively. But I believe maybe it’s something that those of us invested in organizations need to work on, if we want to hang around awhile longer. Going it alone is hard and it’s also not the best thing for the overall health of a profession. People together makes a profession.

Like that Dam in California… Overflow!

14 Feb

oroville_dam_spillover_2017-02-11Not to make light of the scary news out of California this week regarding the eroding of Oroville Dam, but some of the images did make me think of my overflowing bookmark list of things to share with with my readers. So many! So here goes:

There’s much about Fake News in the real news lately, including the role that librarians can play (see the PBS NewsHour story, Why These Librarians are Protesting Trump’s Executive Orders, by Elizabeth Flock) and can’t play (see Information Literacy Won’t Save Us; or, Fight Fascism, Don’t Create a LibGuide, by IJClark) when it comes to media literacy. I find there to be interesting and credible arguments on both sides, but more than anything, I’m heartened by the rekindled notion of the importance of our profession in the discussion.

Somewhat related is Mattie Quinn’s story for the website, Governing; For the Poorest and Sickest, Librarians Often Play Doctor. As a medical librarian, I found this story of particular interest.

A few useful resources:

  • Think Outside The Slide has a nice list of free resources to make PowerPoint presentations more effective. 
  • MapBox provides a platform for adding maps to your mobile apps. While it’s a paid service, there is a level available for free that you can try.
  • Back in October, I attended a terrific workshop on bibliometrics and research assessment, co-hosted by the NIH Library and the Maryland Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. The materials are now available online. You’ll find a couple of really good keynote talks, plus a whole bunch of interesting posters by colleagues in the field. Great stuff!
  • ProPublica the independent, nonprofit, investigative journalism outfit has created a number of applets using IFTTT, that work with different media tools (Evernote, Pocket, mail, calendars, etc.) to keep you up-to-date on different aspects of U.S. politics, including when the President signs a new law, when Congress schedules a vote, and a weekly/daily Congressional digest. These are great for staying informed and, if one is so inclined, for activism.
  •  The International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) is a non-profit organization devoted to bettering health care systems worldwide by “measuring and reporting patient outcomes in a standardized way.” On their website, you can find a lengthy, growing list of Standard Sets for a variety of medical conditions, along with literature on how to read, interpret and use the findings.
  • Finally, WordCounter.net needs no explanation. It’s a handy online tool. 

I really enjoy following the website, StatNews. I find it to be a thoughtful, credible source for current news on health and medicine. If you’ve yet to discover Stat, here are a couple of stories that I recently read to introduce you to their work:

Another interesting health care-related story is Martha Bebinger’s story (WBUR), What if We Really Knew Where to Get the Best Cancer Care: The Prostate as Case Study. It gets one to thinking about what we know, what we don’t know, what we can know, and what we might not want to know when it comes to health data and medical treatments. 

If you’re fascinated with space and all things astronaut related, as I am, you likely know about the really cool “Twin Study” that’s been ongoing at NASA using the identical twins, Mark and Scott Kelly, as subjects to study the longterm effects of space travel – findings that also inform down-to-earth subjects like aging, muscle growth, and other aspects related to gene expression. The first findings were published on the NASA website in late January and they contained both some expected and unexpected results.

And finally, if you missed the best story of 2017 so far, I share it with you here now:

Four-year-old Daliyah Marie Arana’s being “Librarian for the Day” for the Library of Congress.

As I said, best story of the year so far. 

New Year, New You (Me)

11 Jan

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and that 2017 will be good to you. I always enjoy a new year. It’s like a clean slate, an open field, the first day of school. And I don’t so much make resolutions as I make lists. I make lists in my new planner. (This year, I’m trying out a nice model from Baron Fig.) I list things that I might want to do, songs that I want to learn, books that I want to read, concerts that I want to attend, movies that I want to see, etc. I add to the lists throughout the year, but it’s not quite the same as starting them up on a blank page in a new calendar at the beginning of a new year. It screams, “Possibilities!”

My list-making this year also reminds me of how unsettled I feel right now. The political climate is unsettling, for sure, and there seems so much uncertainty and fear throughout the world. These things don’t particularly help me address my own anxiety, but they’re also not the only thing contributing to it. This I know. I just feel I’m ready for something new, something different, some kind of change. I think I’m ready for a new me. 

For a good while, I was finding myself frustrated with me because I kept thinking/believing that I’m not the person that I once was and I liked the person that I once was. I kept thinking/believing that if I could just go back to be my “old self,” I’d feel great – happy, fulfilled, energized. But then I started reading this book:

miller

It was recommended to me by a young woman who used to tend bar at a neighborhood pub that I frequent. It’s a young person’s bar and I’m not a young person, but I like to pop in on my way home from work once a week or so, often on Thursdays when my wife goes to yoga, and I have a pint and I read. Young people don’t go to bars until later at night, so it’s generally quiet when I’m there, conducive to reading and/or watching whatever sports show is on. 

Anyway, Taylor, the bartender, evidently noticed my habit and found it interesting. She was there last Thursday with some friends and came over to me to say “hi” and ask what I was reading. (I was reading another great book, The Lonely City.) We talked about the holidays and the new year, and somewhere along the way I must have hinted about my unsettledness. In response, she recommended Donald Miller’s book. She said she just knew that I’d like it. She said that she was re-reading it herself right now. I told her I’d get it, read it, and we could have a book club-type chat the next time we saw each other. She liked that. The bartender working last Thursday, Nate, liked the idea, too. Maybe we’ll get a book club going – early in the evening, of course, before the young people (besides these two) show up.

I’m about half-way through at the moment and so I’ll not offer up a review of “Thousand Years” just yet, but I will tell you this much – and I’ll tell you why I know Taylor told me that I’d like it. It’s a memoir – kind of, sort of – that tells the story of how the author learned to write a screenplay and in doing so, discovered it was the perfect metaphor for writing one’s life. If you want to live a good story, you have to write it. Said another way, if you’re not living the story that you want to be living, you need to write yourself a better one. The book follows along in such a way that as the author learns about how a story is structured (character construction, story arc, inciting incident, etc.), he starts writing not only the screenplay, but a whole new life story for himself. And then the reader is inspired to do the same. And I am. It’s inspiring! 

It makes sense that Taylor recommended the book, because what I was saying to her about liking the person that I once was, but maybe not so much the one that I am now, and wanting to go back to that “old me” – well I’m reminded in reading this book that we don’t ever go backwards. We only go forwards. It’s the only direction that we can go. And I also realized that the person back there in my past that I like, that person was always going forward. That me was always moving, changing, growing. That’s what I like about that me. I’ve been in a rut too long. That’s what I don’t like. That’s what’s unsettling. Change isn’t unsettling. Stagnation is.

It’s time to write some change back into my life.

Earlier during this lunch break, I read (in the chapter about inciting incident), “Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they (humans) won’t enter into a story.  … The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.” (p. 104-105)

I think of how often people are afraid to write in a new journal or notebook, for fear of messing it up. And I always think, “How silly! What else is a journal for?” Donald Miller’s book has me thinking, “What else is life for, if not for writing a good story to live.” 

So I’ve added to my New Year’s lists the line, “Write yourself a better story.” We’ll see what happens!

What’s on your list for 2017? How will your story go? I hope you’ll share along the way.

Soundtrack for writing your story, courtesy of Catie Curtis. It’s been playing steadily during my morning commutes: