Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Big Mouth of Little Lies

My wife and I recently binged season 2 of Big Mouth and season 1 of Big Little Lies, and I noticed a key bit of thematic overlap between the two.

Big Mouth, Netflix’s obscene, irreverent, gut-bustingly funny cartoon about kids going through puberty, introduced the Shame Wizard character in season 2. Voiced by a slithery David Thewlis, he creeps among the kids whispering shame-inducing accusations and judgments. He even has a (NSFW) song:

Oh, I hate to be a bummer
But, my dear, I’ve got your number
And I’ll whisper it forever in your ear
Bringing the shame, shame
You’ve got no one but yourself to blame
You thought no one was watching
But I’m right here in your brain

It takes a while for each of the kids to realize that they aren’t the Wizard’s only victim. Each had separately internalized the shame and let it negatively influence their self-image and behavior.

The Shame Wizard would have fit well in Big Little Lies, the HBO series based on Liane Moriarty’s excellent book. Wealthy parents with kids in a public school deal with an accusation of bullying as they struggle with the ripple effects of domestic violence, infidelity, divorce, and trauma. What’s kept hidden from others by kids and adults, lovers and friends, because of their own version of the Shame Wizard really propels the story.

When things finally get out in the open in the final episode is when many of the characters finally experience freedom—even if, like a bandage being ripped off, it hurts like hell getting there.

Refer Madness: Always on call

Refer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy stories from the library reference desk.

You know how doctors are always on call? Someone has a heart attack on an airplane or chokes at a restaurant, and doctors, nurses, or other care providers jump to the rescue, even if they are off the clock. Even medical students count: I witnessed a friend dash to the aid of a woman who injured herself while dancing during a wedding reception.

Professionals never know when they will be called to duty, librarians included. We might not be setting broken bones or taking vitals, but we info-slingers have a knack for finding opportunities to serve random reference needs.

One day, I was chatting with a neighbor in my apartment building’s laundry room. He’s a counselor, and he had just read about a theory that he wanted to learn more about. Google wasn’t offering much of any depth. He didn’t work for or attend a university, so he didn’t have access to specialized journals and databases. Amid the thrum of tumbling clothes, I told him I would help him check with our local public library to see what they had access to.

It was just that simple. Simple for me, anyway, but not for my neighbor. Familiarity bias makes it easy for librarians to forget that most people do not know everything the library offers, or even think of the library as a potential remedy for a problem. This can limit our fellow citizens’ information epiphanies.

I recently attended a seminar, and while grazing the snack table for coffee and a bagel (the Official Refreshments™ of seminars everywhere), I struck up a conversation with another attendee. He was a newly hired city planner in charge of reaching out to local businesses, and the task was overwhelming him because he was new to the area. I knew that his library was likely to be subscribed to ReferenceUSA or something similar, so I told him how he could use an e-reference tool like this for his project, without costing the city extra money.

Again, this public library pitch required hardly any effort in the moment, but it will likely pay dividends in the future. The actual work lies in the preparation, before the opportunity to share presents itself. The more knowledgeable you are about what libraries offer—and not just your library—the better equipped you will be to save the day. A friend is in the market for a new car? Consumer Reports online. Need a template for a new lease? EBSCO’s Legal Information Reference Center. Want a software refresher before a job interview? Lynda.com.

Whether the unsuspecting patron actually uses the resource is out of your control. But it’s exciting to consider what planting that seed could lead to: maybe that person’s first library visit in years, or a card renewal, or excitement about e-books and museum passes. Or maybe even a word-of-mouth recommendation to a friend, which starts the cycle anew.

I wonder how the woman at the wedding reception would have fared had my friend not been there. Since the spirit of the celebration rendered most of the other guests unhelpful (and telling her to check out MedlinePlus didn’t seem useful in that moment), she no doubt would have been worse off without a professional’s help. Luckily she only ended up suffering a swollen ankle and a bruised ego, but my friend didn’t know that when he jumped to her aid. He just wanted to help.

Gary Rydstrom on Rear Window’s ingenious sound design

Northwestern’s Block Museum hosted a screening of Rear Window that was introduced by Gary Rydstrom, Oscar-winning sound designer for Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many other movies you love. Though I didn’t stay for the movie (I’ve already seen it on the big screen), I was eager to hear Rydstrom’s perspective on one of my all-time favorites.

He included this great quote from John Fawell’s Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film:

Rear Window is so highly charged with a sense of the significance of the hidden, with the mystery of the barely glimpsed and distantly heard, that it is difficult not to carry this same sense of mystery back to our own world. Hitchcock’s cinema leaves us with a more highly charged sense of the mystery of the world. We notice certain things more after a Hitchcock film—a glass of milk, a woman’s handbag. Mundane items buzz with a mystery they did not have before. Hitchcock tends to invest us with his manifold neuroses. He makes us more wary of, and therefore more alive to, the world. Rear Window specifically heightens our attention to the barely glimpsed sights and distant sounds of our own neighborhood. It makes us more sensitive to the mystery of hidden lives, to the mysterious presence of loneliness and alienation in our own world.

Other notes from his brief talk:

  • He saw Rear Window on TV in 1971 as a 12 year old; turned him on to movies and sound design
  • His goal was to marry Grace Kelly (ditto)
  • We tend to think movie sound should be loud and dramatic; Rear Window‘s wasn’t, yet still an ingenious use of sound to this day
  • Film was a counter to criticisms of Hitchcock that his films were cold and clinical
  • The film’s hero is Lisa Fremont
  • Stewart’s Jeffries a criticism of the American male
  • Murder mystery was in service to the love story
  • Voyeurism generally has a reputation as a sickness, but this shows an upside
  • Diegetic music throughout (pianist, radio) comments on and contrasts with the action
  • Distance/echo of music around the apartment complex indicative of neighborly distance and alienation; also technically hard to do in 1954
  • Sound design changes once Thorwald appears
  • Pianist’s “Lisa” theme develops during movie along with the story

A new typist in the family

Since I don’t have a Hermes Baby, our now un-Disneyfied toy typewriter will have to do as a stand-in. Excited for when baby’s hands will be strong enough to type. Perhaps I should start typing close to the womb so he can get used to the sound, and then maybe the clacking will be soothing to him. A man can dream…

Boom Town

In his new book Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Sam Anderson writes about how Oklahoma’s storm chasers, though overly sensational and ratings-hungry, still provide crucial insight about Oklahoma’s notoriously destructive tornadoes:

Radar data, like starlight, is information about the past: it tells you about the distant object it bounced off seconds or minutes before. This can tell you a lot—that conditions are perfect for a big storm, that something is in the air—but it can’t actually look at the storm for you. For that, you still need people. Storm chasers provided the stations with what they call “ground truth.”

I like that: ground truth. And I thought it perfectly described Boom Town as a whole, which is bound for my 2018 best-of list.

The pleasure I felt from the first page on is a feeling I chase with all my reading. More than just a rote retelling of a city’s history, it’s a kaleidoscopic story of Oklahoma City that finds fascinating resonance between seemingly disparate elements. Anderson’s first-rate reportage on the OKC Thunder, tornadoes, Timothy McVeigh, city planning, a truly insane city founding story, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, and so much more made OKC seem familiar even to someone who’s never been there.

He wraps all of those things into a cohesive, sure-handed, wry, and enlightening narrative that says as much about Oklahoma as America at large. Highly recommended for history buffs, sports fans, and narrative nonfiction lovers especially.

Refer Madness: Hate the change, love the library

Refer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy stories from the library reference desk.

A while back, my department’s email received this message:

“What happened to the CLASSIC CATALOG? I am old, I hate change, but love my library. Thanks.”

I had to laugh. Funny but dead serious, succinct and self-aware, this missive captures a very real conundrum: How do we serve people who hate change but love their library?

The “CLASSIC CATALOG” in question was my library’s previous OPAC. We migrated from it a few years ago but still allowed access for those diehards who didn’t want to use the new system. Recently, that access disappeared. Probably 99 percent of our users had already moved to the new catalog, but I’ll bet those bitter-enders really loved the old one.

Soon my library will be migrating to yet another catalog, this time because we are joining a consortium. It’s change for the better, I believe, but it will also be disruptive to the status quo. That means it won’t just be the CLASSIC CATALOG patron who speaks up about it . . .

On the one hand, constant change is the new normal with technology, in libraries and the world at large. The newer and shinier (if not always better) version of whatever you’re using seems ever around the corner. Libraries can try as much as possible to prepare patrons, but at some point, the base expectation for technical competence will rise, and everyone will have to adapt.

On the other hand, I empathize with this patron. Though being tech savvy is part of my job, in my personal life, I’m far from an early adopter. Even products with a fairly strong reputation for reliability and style, like Apple devices, to me aren’t worth the headaches their debuts can create. I prefer to wait out the newest thing. Let beta testers and true believers ride the first few waves of glitches that inevitably pop up—I’ll come in later and enjoy the smoother ride.

Most patrons understand that tech is ever-changing. But for those who don’t, librarians and IT staff can do a lot. We can offer abundant opportunities for instruction, both online, with explainer videos or blog posts, and in person, with classes or one-on-one sessions. We can use whatever power we have to make the new technology as user-friendly as possible. We can try to anticipate questions that any disruptive changes might trigger and smooth out as many potential stumbling blocks as possible.

Above all, we can and must be patient and listen.

If we can do that, I think even the bitter-enders will still be able to love their library.

Hearts Beat Loud

“You gotta be brave before you can be good.”

So says a love interest to Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a shy but talented musician who reluctantly performs with her dad (Nick Offerman) in Hearts Beat Loud, the new indie film from Brett Haley. It’s a little High Fidelity, a little Once (or more like its inferior sibling Begin Again), a dash of That Thing You Do! and every New York indie film you’ve ever seen. Its scope is admirably small, its supporting cast (Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson as a bartender) appreciated but underused, and its music scenes charming and realistic enough.

The typewriter emoji is dead; long live the typewriter emoticon

Richard Polt reports sad news from the Typewriter Insurgency:

A few years ago I kvetched about the lack of a typewriter emoji and even started a letter-writing campaign. Well, there is a formal and elaborate process for requesting a new emoji. And since nobody else seemed to be doing it, I sat down last summer and created a proposal that I sent to the emoji subcommittee of the Unicode Technical Committee.

The response he received:

Thank you again for your proposal. The emoji subcommittee has reviewed it, and has decided to decline the addition of “typewriter”. The statistics do not seem to justify the addition. The “office” category of emoji is already well represented and of lower usage than many other emoji. The “keyboard” emoji is also very close to this. ( https://emojipedia.org/keyboard/ )

Alas, it is not to be. I thank Richard for fighting this battle on behalf of the Insurgency. But perhaps instead of seeking legitimacy from within the Paradigm, we should invent a lo-fi typewriter emoticon that anyone can deploy at will. A simple but powerful symbol for the Revolution, a la the Mockingjay or the Bat-signal. This would also better align with the Insurgency’s principles.

My first attempt: ‘[:::] 

This is more of a from-above view, whereas Richard chimed in with a good one that is more of a side view: ~/:::/º 

The degree symbol isn’t very common (the Mac shortcut is Alt-Shift-8), though it’s a secondary character within the zero on iPhone keyboards. The bullet point • could be another option as it’s also in the iPhone punctuation menu.

But these are starting points. How can we make it better?

Like lightning

“Come on, Doc, it’s not science! When it happens, it just hits you. It’s like lightning.” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future Part III

A couple nights before my buddy’s wedding, I was at his house with a bunch of other guys for a time of toasting, roasting, and advice-giving. One thing I shared was how immediately evident it was to me that the couple was The Real Deal, and how a similar certainty hit me like a bolt of lightning when I first met my future wife.

Later on, the wedding reception was held at Ace Eat Serve, a ping pong hall in a converted auto garage serving pan-Asian cuisine. (Loved the amazing food and the novelty of playing ping pong at a wedding.) The ping pong tables outside were made of concrete and had metal nets with Ace’s lightning logo cut through them, which in the sunlight looked like this:

It’s almost as if I was at the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.

Päntsdrunk, baby box, Moomin, and Finland’s other official emojis

God bless Finland, my ancestral homeland. First, there’s the new book Pantsdrunk (Kalsarikanni): The Finnish Path to Relaxation (Drinking at Home Alone in your Underwear) by Miska Rantanen. From the publisher:

Danes have hygge. Swedes have lagom. But the Finnish secret to contentment is faster and easier—”kalsarikänni” or pantsdrunk—drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.

When it comes to happiness rankings, Finland always scores near the top. Many Finnish phenomena set the bar high: the best education system, gender equality, a flourishing welfare state, sisu or bull-headed pluck. Behind all of these accomplishments lies a Finnish ability to stay calm, healthy and content in a riptide of endless tasks and temptations. The ability comes from the practice of “kalsarikanni” translated as pantsdrunk.

Peel off your clothes down to your underwear. Place savory or sweet snacks within reach alongside your bed or sofa. Make sure your television remote control is nearby along with any and all devices to access social media. Open your preferred alcohol. Your journey toward inner strength, higher quality of life, and peace of mind has begun.

Second, Finland’s official Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced a set of 56 emojis to “explain some hard-to-describe Finnish emotions, Finnish words and customs.” I can and cannot believe these are real:

“pantsdrunk” personified:

kalsarikannit_m.png

kalsarikannit_f.png

The famous Baby Box:

baby_in_a_box.png

The Aurora Borealis:

auroraborealis.png

“Finnish Love”, which is so emo:

finnishlove.png

The concept of sisu:

sisu.png

The sauna:

sauna_m.png

And of course, the OG cell phone, the Nokia (which they call “Unbreakable”):

unbreakable.png

Download the app or the image files for more pantsdrunk-ing pleasure.

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