Monday, July 30, 2012

Some Things to Like About Madison

I just got home from Madison, Wisconsin.  “Just” being a totally relative term, of course -  there’s been about seven naps in between getting home and sitting down to write this post…

I spent a week in Madison for some personal professional development.  When I told people that I was going there, they had nothing but nice things to say about the city and they told me that I was going to love it.  Frankly, it seemed like everyone was mad for Madison.  It’s certainly nice – although no Seattle; but hey, not every city can have its very own Space Needle.   
Luckily, Madison wasn’t all spending eight hours a day in a classroom work and no play.  Compiled below are some things that I liked about Madison.  

1.     The view 
Madison is located on an isthmus (I’ll save you the trip to Wikipedia. An isthmus is a narrow strip of land bordered on both sides by water, connecting two larger bodies of land.) It’s surrounded by Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. All that water was quite pleasing to my Piscean sensibilities. 
2.      Babcock ice cream
When people talk about Madison, they inevitably end it with – “you gotta get the ice cream at the Union!” The University of Wisconsin at Madison has a dairy on campus and makes their own ice cream. We’re talking creamy, pure ice cream with like 15% butterfat content or something. I love ice cream. I loved this ice cream.

3.     Fried cheese curds
Basically, they’re little fried balls of cheese…curds. Honestly, I never asked what “curds” are. Actually, I don’t know what whey is either. And what’s a tuffet? And why was Humpty Dumpty sitting on that wall? Sorry. Weird nursery rhyme tangent. Fried cheese curds: They’re fried. They’re cheese. They’re good.
4.     Beer 
Madison is a beer connoisseur’s dream. I’m not a beer connoisseur. That said, I did try a beer. Not an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) because those are hoppy. I don’t know what hoppy beer is but a friend told me that once so now I just say that to pretend that I know anything about beer. This is the only beer that I had in Madison. It’s not an IPA. It was pretty good. And yes, there’s a lot of head. Whoops.
5.     There was a beer hall in the Student Union
Again, not a beer drinker. But come on, even I can appreciate that there was a full-on beer hall – with steins – in the Student Union. A beer hall in the Student Union. If my brother had known about this place, he might’ve actually filled out his college applications. Interesting historical fact – the University of Wisconsin at Madison was the first college to allow beer to be sold on campus. In the beer hall. In the Student Union.
6.     Noodles in an old building
 In Madison, I could’ve eaten noodles in an old building because Noodles and Company is literally in an old building!
7.     No firearms allowed
 I saw this sign in the windows of a couple bars. I thought it was a nice reminder for people that they weren’t allowed to hide guns, knives, switchblades, or nunchucks in their pants. But it totally ruined my go-to pick-up line - hey buddy, are you packin' tonight?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Archives Camp

I was the worst library school with a specialization in archives student ever.  I didn’t participate.  I didn’t read any of the professional literature.  I never went to any of the conferences.  I didn’t take any of the really important archives courses (Appraisal?   Nah.  Description and Arrangement?  Who needs that?) 

I’ve never been big on “theory” – I learn by the doing of the work.  And, in grad school, I had a job where I was doing the work so I didn’t pay much attention to the classroom learning part of archive-y things. 

After I graduated, I continued on as a working archivist – learning more and more on the job and becoming, I think, a pretty good archivist.  I was dedicated to my job, to the work, to my organization.  I was content.
And then something changed. 

I began to explore what it meant to be a professional in the archival field.  My view of what it meant to be an archivist evolved from being about the doing of the work – just git ‘er done – to the responsibility that I, as an archivist, had to the larger profession.  I began reading archival literature – and confessed to the librarian on our staff, who also taught my Intro to Archives class in grad school, that I should’ve been paying more attention in school.  He laughed.  I kept on reading. 
Earlier this year, my supervisor’s supervisor passed along information about an archives leadership program.  It was one of those emails sent to lots of people.  It was just an FYI message.  The kind that you glance at and then delete it because you have two million other things to deal with. 

The fact is –  for the past two years information about that same program was tacked up in the room where I signed in every morning.  I used to read the blurb, roll my eyes, snort in derision, and then get down to the doing of real work. 
That changed this year. 

This year, I applied.  And was accepted. 

That’s why I find myself at the University of Wisconsin at Madison spending an entire week in a classroom for eight hours a day with 24 fellow archivists.   
I am at sleep-away archives camp.    

It is everything that I dread. 
Lots of new people.  Introductions sprinkled with fun, zany facts about yourself.  Group exercises.  Lectures.  Eating with strangers.  Sharing work experiences.  Not getting a strategically positioned chair – which here is less about hearing and more about staring out at the lake beyond the classroom window.   Writing on white boards (okay, I don’t dread that one so much!)

I always worry about these kinds of things.  Will I be included in meal plans?  Will I make friends?  Will I fit in?  To know me is to love me – or at least tolerate me politely – but it takes time.  And we only have six days! 
There are 25 people in class.  24 + 1.  12 partners + 1.  Will I always be that +1?

It is the end of our fourth day here, our third full day of class.  I can tell you that, except for once, I have not been the +1.  I have been invited – and have invited – to meals.  I have given away pamphlets that I picked up at the visitor’s center (hey, a girl with pamphlets can make friends anywhere!), I have made friends – which is essential when you need to roll your eyes at someone during class. 

I fit in.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What the Pho?

I think it’s time we have an open and frank conversation about me and food.  I’m most definitely probably over-thinking this but I’m getting the distinct impression that people feel like they have to cater to what I like to eat.  Like, oh, we can’t go there because Denise might freak out throw a tantrum make funny faces refuse to eat not like it.  And that’s not true because, you see, I’ve changed.  Like in a totally good way!

Look, I admit it.  I have food issues.  Not like Meredith Baxter Birney classic tv movie food issues or anything serious like that.  I, obviously, eat – but it’s homestyle, hearty, processed fare that’s finger lickin’ good.  And that’s just dinner. 
I don’t eat a normal breakfast.  Actually, I’ve never eaten a normal breakfast.  As a kid, I ate Tastykake chocolate cupcakes.  Then there was the period when I ate Chips A'Hoy cookies.  When I got bored with those, I ate two containers of Swiss Miss chocolate pudding.  After that phase, I ate a baked potato with ranch dressing.  Every morning.  Until I graduated.  And guess what?  My pediatrician told my mom that it was okay.  As long as I was eating something, that’s all that mattered.   These days, I prepare myself a heaping bowl of applesauce to start the day.  For those who are wondering, I finally switched to a glass jar.  ‘Cause it’s better for the environment and all.   

Let’s talk about lunch.  I’m weird about sandwiches.  Well, actually, I didn’t think I was weird until just the other day when I heard myself explaining my disgust about squashed sandwiches to a colleague.  The whole explanation sounded weird.  And then I noticed his expression and I realized, oh my gosh, I am weird!  Note to self, delete that information from any online dating profile!  I just, literally, cannot stomach a squashed, soggy sandwich.  All I can say is – thank heavens for the invention of the protective armor of Tupperware!
In the interest of word limits, I’ll spare you a discussion of all of my “texturalist” issues.  Just two words sum them up – rice pudding.    

What’s this all boil down to?  Well, I feel like I’m putting my friends out when it comes to dining choices.  Like a few weeks ago, when my pals met me in the lobby of our building in a totally punctual manner and asked, in a halting, cautious way - "How do you feel about Vietnamese food?"  I half-wondered if they had a conversation on their walk down to meet me 8 minutes late like, "Oh, do you think she’ll go for it?  Ohhh, she’ll make that face.  We don’t want her to say she’ll go but she doesn’t really want to go."  For the record, I have extremely compassionate and kind friends – they would never make me go anywhere that I didn’t want to go.  And they're probably not talking about me on their walk down to the lobby.  Unless they're running late.   

So they asked about Vietnamese food.  And I promptly fell down on the floor, screaming and wailing, and thrashing my legs against the floor and said, “I just don’t know why you can’t meet me on time.” 
No, seriously. 

I was game.  I was nervous.  But I was game.  See, the fact of the matter is – given the choice, I’ll always go to the Boston Markets, Jason’s Delis, Noodles because well, that’s routine and I like routine.  But I don’t mind being pushed into trying new things.  I might panic about it.  And maybe even be overwhelmed by it.  But when it’s all over and done with, I’m usually happy that I’ve tried eaten done it. 
Which is how I felt when I ended up in a Vietnamese restaurant on a hot July day being guided through the process of  eating pho.  Pho.  Which is not pronounced “do-re-me-fa-so-la.”  Nor is it said like “fe-fi-fo-fum.”   Or like “Foo Fighters.”  No.  Pho.  Like “fugettiaboutit.”  Or “what the fu…dgescicle?!”     

I gotta admit - I didn't use chopsticks.
What the pho is the big deal about pho?  Well, not much really.  It’s soup with noodles and beef.  (Granted, I probably had a tame version).  It certainly wasn’t cringe-worthy or fear-inducing and I don’t think I made any faces.  I would definitely eat pho again.
In fact, I think the next time we all want a break from the regular routine, I’ll tell my compassionate, kind pals that we should go for some Vietnamese food because it’s a good day for some pho.