In Memoriam: Henry Ingwersen

For those of you who really know me, you know how over-educated I am. I have three degrees: a BA in Anthropology, a BA in Art History, and a Master of Library and Information Science. Lots of education, lots of student loans I’m still paying, but a head crammed full of stuff.

What you may not know is that I seriously considered getting an MFA in Creative Writing after I finished my BA in Art History. But at the time, in my early twenties, I did not have the requisite portfolio nor the maturity to complete such a program. Library school was a much more practical option, so that’s what I did.

But I never forgot about the MFA. It’s always been sitting in the back of my head, but I had too much student debt and no money to pay for more school. Until now, that is. Let me tell you a little story about how we now are solvent and have the money to pay for school.

My husband, Kosta, used to work at the library too. (I met him on my first day of work here in January of 2005, but that’s a story for another day.) He had been working for the library about a year when I came in. And in that year he had met a patron named Henry. Henry was a cranky old WWII vet that took a shine to Kosta because my husband knows his history and the classics (i.e. Greek history). He once invited him out to dinner and that became a weekly occurrence for the two bachelors.

They kept up their weekly dinners for ten years, even after I came into the picture. Except when we were on vacation, every Thursday night would find Henry and Kosta at Perkins, or the Olive Garden, or the Clock.

Henry had lots of fascinating stories. He was a pilot in WWII and flew P38’s over New Guinea. He was awarded a bronze star. He was a career army man who was stationed all over the world: Paris and Gibraltar and Reykjavik and Beirut. He even did a tour in Vietnam because he had been stationed in Duluth and wanted out. (Well, it does get a bit cold in the winters.)

Henry was married once, briefly in the 1950s but after his divorce was a confirmed bachelor. He loved Danish design and liked to draw and work with wood. He was highly intelligent.

But he was also a mean old cuss. I went to dinner with them a couple of times. He would curse at babies crying in restaurants, complain about everything from the food to the music, and would leave a $2 tip if he was feeling generous. Kosta always put down more cash when Henry was walking out.

But Kosta kept going out with the old man. Henry didn’t have many friends and was rather alone in the world. So when about 8 years into their friendship he asked my husband to be the executor to his will, Kosta agreed. Henry did have two living sisters, but they were far away and both nearly as old (Henry was about 89 at this point.)

When Kosta agreed, Henry said this next: “By the way, I’m giving you my condo.”

Kosta protested. Surely it should go to his family? Didn’t he have nieces or nephews who might want it? But Henry was adamant. He said, “No! I don’t like those sons of bitches.”) Alrighty, then.

So Kosta was written into the will.

Henry died of lung cancer that spread to his brain. It was swift and I don’t think he suffered monstrously. He had fallen at home and had been taken to the hospital and later rehab. He knew he was dying and didn’t want the treatment. But we saw him suffering in the nursing home and got him out of there–he could afford round-the-clock nursing care so we did that for him and he died peacefully in his own home.

Which now belongs to us.

We’ve been living there for a year and a half. You can’t believe what it means to not have a rent or mortgage payment. We paid down our credit cards. And now, when I’m thinking of a career change, suddenly, magically, I am able to work towards it.

As hard as Henry was to like, I will be forever grateful to him for this gift. The place might be a little rundown (the kitchen and bathrooms are still 1979 original) but by God, it is ours. And it doesn’t even freak me out that he died in the very same room where we now sleep. I think he went peacefully, knowing that he had been on the earth 91 years and it was his time to go.

Thanks, Hank, for the gift. It keeps on making our lives easier in new ways and I have a sense of relief that I will never be homeless. That’s no small thing during this pandemic when so many are out of work and unable to pay rent. I am damn grateful every day to you.

Plague Diaries #12

It isn’t really a tale of the plague, this entry. This story goes back much farther than that. A year, in fact.

In March of 2019 we moved from a 1400 square foot duplex into a 900 square foot condo. We did A LOT of downsizing. We had to practically get all new furniture. I spent weeks assembling flat pack tables, dressers, night stands and bookcases. (A weird side note: I adore assembling furniture. It’s like a really neat puzzle that you put together and then you end up with something useful. My husband thinks I’m bonkers.)

Before we moved I had a lot of space of my own. I had my own office with all my own books in my own cases and odds and ends littered about. In the garage I had my mosaic studio where I would spend Saturdays piecing together glass treasures. I had candles, and pictures, and figurines, lots and lots of rocks (been collecting them since I was a kid) and for over a  year now, they have sat packed away in boxes. Because there was no place to put them out. My mosaic tools are trapped in our outdoor storage space. My knitting supplies are crammed in under-bed boxes.

We have two bedrooms in our tiny new place. One of them is obviously the bedroom. The other is the library where most of my husband’s books and things are. (Greek helmets, a bust of Brahms and one of Homer, Greek vases and all of his fountain pens.) He has his computer on the desk in there, and the blue recliner where he reads and does crossword puzzles.

Since he’s retired and I have the car all day it seems only fitting that he should have the space as his own. He spends more time in the condo than anyone else. Over the past year, when I’ve wanted to relax, I’ve mostly spent the time in bed watching stuff on my iPad or reading.

These past two weeks off have been a breakthrough. One of the things I did as a therapeutic act for myself was dig out my knitting. I hadn’t really done any knitting since my Mom died, since that was ALL I did in the hospital. I got rid of a lot of my yarn stash when I moved, but still have all my grandmother’s knitting needles and quite a bit of yarn. I told my dear friend who is treating me with acupuncture that I would knit her a pair of socks and she was delighted. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: Frankensocks.

In all my years knitting (and it’s been over fifteen) I’ve knitted dozens of pairs of socks. It is a truth universally known that Floridians don’t need scarves, hats or mittens, but there are a few months out of the year when a pair of hand-knit socks are a most supreme pleasure. With every pair I’ve knit I’ve had leftover yarn which I have put in its own separate Ziplock (to keep them from mating like Christmas lights) and shoved in a canvas bag that I keep in my closet.

As I was considering what color socks to knit my friend, I came across that canvas bag of remnants and the idea hit me: what if I knit ALL THE COLORS? What if I knit an inch or two off each little ball I had remaining, switching them up and sort of patch them together? And the Frankensocks were born.

Frankensocks

I had real joy in knitting them. Each stripe represents a pair previously made socks and I remember each pair and who they were for. You might think that a little bonkers but knitting a pair of socks is an investment of time and they don’t just fall off the needles in a couple of hours. You get intimate with the yarn and think a lot about the person you are knitting them for as you are creating them.

As I was knitting these socks I was also looking around our apartment. The walls are still bare because we haven’t hung any pictures. Most of them are sitting in the bathtub in the second bathroom. And I decided that it was damn time we did something about it. So we hung pictures, we hung a clock, we hung mosaics I had made. We’re not done yet, but every day we do something more around here that makes the condo seem more like home.

As these two things sort of came together I started to realize something. All of my things (my candles and pictures and figurines and rocks) were still packed away in boxes and I was staggered all at once with how much I missed them. A wise friend said that when you are home and don’t see yourself reflected in it, it isn’t really home. There are things my husband and I have together, but my things, MY THINGS, were missing.

So I made a plan. We have an empty corner of our bedroom and I am getting (Lord, help me) one more IKEA bookcase (which will make seven). It will house the books I use for writing and research, and it will hold my bowl of rocks, my statue of Kuan Yin, picture frames and candles. It will be my space reflected back at me. I will truly be home.

And I wonder if this whole meltdown I had didn’t have something to do with these things. I am sure they were a part of it.  Yes, the pandemic has scared the bejesus out of me, but I have to go one with life. I will take all the precautions I can and let it be. But I will no longer be a stranger in my own house. I am going to set up my mosaic station on our lanai. I am going to arrange my precious items and see them when I walk in the room.

Maybe, as I begin to carve out the creative life I used to have (piecing glass together in mosaics and knitting and journalling), things will shift back to where they used to be. I’m already on the way.

This wasn’t something I did in a punitive manner. I did not go about to make myself miserable by packing away my life and leaving it in a closet. But getting it back is like getting out of jail. The air is a little sweeter, the sun a little brighter.

And as I move forward I know that writing mojo is going to return. I just have to find a new space to do that. Before, I was going to a coffee shop in the evenings and writing. But now, maybe now with my stuff back out I will feel more comfortable writing at home.

It’s taken a year, and it shouldn’t have. But what are we as human beings if not constantly learning lessons?

Excuse me, I have to go knit something.

Plague Diaries #8

My place of work closed one month ago today, and even though we report to a library empty of patrons, we still do work to reach the public. My coworker and I did a live virtual book discussion today on Facebook, for instance. We’ve been heavy into making online content and pushing our digital resources so people won’t miss us quite so much. I know a lot of our regulars do. One doesn’t work at a library for fifteen years without getting to know quite a few faces.

I wonder about the homeless population. There are a few regulars at my branch that have been coming in every day for years to read the papers or use the computers. Now they can’t come to the library. They can’t go to the beach. All the parks are closed. What happened to them all? Where are they going all day?

We’ve also been handing out paper unemployment applications. Since the State of Florida’s “Reemployment” Office is being overwhelmed, they have resorted to having people fill those forms out on paper and mail them in. I suppose it makes a desperate person feel like they’re doing something, but I really don’t know how it’s supposed to help. Those applications aren’t going to be processed any time soon. Disney just furloughed tens of thousands of employees. Do you really think the system was made to handle that?

For those of us blessed enough to have jobs, I wonder if others are feeling pressure like me to prove my worth over and over again. The “I”m producing, please don’t lay me off,” spiel. But please, also, treat me like a human being. Take my health and safety into consideration as talk of reopening is starting to happen. Please don’t let me be cannon fodder because people need to check out movies.

I’ve mentioned before my only family is my father and my husband. As of now, I feel relatively safe at work. I mostly stay in my office. But when the library reopens, (it is only a matter of time, I know this) I am terrified of working with the public. I can begin to imagine how the folks who work at the grocery stores feel. I don’t want to feel like a bomb ready to explode at home and rain virus down on the two people who matter most to me.

I know reopening is going to happen. But I’m afraid the powers that be in Florida are going to move just as quickly to reopen as they were in being reluctant to close. The governor needs to look at the numbers. We added 1222 new cases just yesterday. A 32-year-old woman died in my county yesterday. We haven’t hit our peak. He needs to have people around him that are not just focused money but also on the value of human life. I fear this is not the case.

I get it. Money is important. Without it we starve, we don’t have shelter, our businesses falter and die. But the economy will bounce back, it always does. Even from the Great Depression.  It might take a long time, but it will happen.

But one thing you don’t bounce back from is dead. Every number in that death toll is a person who won’t be going forward on this earth. And every number is leaving innumerable others behind to mourn their senseless and lonely deaths.

I won’t apologize for being morose. I’m not happy with the way my country has responded to this epic disaster. I have a friend in France that I talk to often and she is appalled at what she hears in the news and the things I tell her. It makes me not ashamed, per se, but sad to be an American in these times. I love my country. I want it to be the shining beacon it once was to the world. There has never been another country so uniquely founded on ethics and careful logic as this one. To see it torn apart breaks my fucking heart.

Still, even at the bottom of Pandora’s box was hope. We have to cling to that like nothing else. Because right now, that is all we have. Hope for a vaccine. Hope for recovery. Hope for a future.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

 

Randomly, on a Saturday

The week flew by and that was not necessarily a good thing. Here are the reasons why I am startled to find myself at Saturday:

  1. Dad was in the hospital again. You might remember he had triple bypass surgery last summer. He landed there again this week because of a kidney infection that got into his bloodstream. He’s home now, after three days of IV antibiotics and doing better, though he’s kind of wrecked from the experience.
  2. Crazy week at work. We were short-staffed and it is high tourist season, which made for a creative scheduling for reference desk coverage. The highlight of the week at the library was someone came in asking for the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Instead, the patron asked for Hillbilly Allergy. It’s a wonder I can keep a straight face.
  3. Editing the novel. In all my spare time (my what?) I worked on rearranging events and consolidating chapters 4-8. Yesterday I was working at lunch and got a good hours’ work done. But then I got distracted with something and left my computer open. When I came back I shut down the file and it asked me if I wanted to save my changes. And, dear reader, I CLICKED NO. What the hell is wrong with me? Now I have to see if I can replicate the changes I made all over again.

That’s my week. I am super excited about my author interview on Tuesday. I won’t tell you ahead of time who it is, but he is kind of a big deal. Next Saturday I am going to take pictures at the Farmer’s Market and show you our delightful weekly ritual. I’d do it today but I am at work. And I’m barely awake so if any of my local friends want to bring me a double latte I’d be forever grateful.

Taking Stock

Checklist and a pencil

As 2016 draws to a close I think a lot of us take this time to reflect upon what we accomplished in the past year.  I know this was a tough year for a lot of folks, especially those of Generation X, who lost a lot of icons this year like David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher. We knew Bowie was battling cancer so it wasn’t a true shock when he passed, but the other three? Oy. Having grown up in the Minneapolis area, Prince was especially a knife to the heart. I think of all the amazing things he never got to accomplish because he died too soon.

And then of course was the election. I’m not one to talk about my political opinions in public, but I will say I have never seen such an ugly, divisive battle. It was truly heinous to watch. Although not having broadcast TV spared me from the political ads. I wish I could say I was hopeful but I have real concerns about the future of this country and the world.

However, I think it is wrong to say that 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year. On a personal level I had some really good things happen. I finished the first draft of my third novel. Now in 2017 I will begin the revision process and I hope to have something ready to go for my agent in the next few months.

I also had a revitalization at work. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a Reference Librarian for nearly fourteen years and working with the public has begun to wear me out. But I found a new project on which to work that has me extremely excited. I’m pitching the idea to my director a week from today. If I have her blessing I’ll share more about it then.

I took an amazing trip this summer with my husband. We saw Austria, Germany, and France, spent time with great friends, and drank lots of good beer. We nearly killed ourselves on the 700 steps inside an ice cave, visited the crypt at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, saw Mozart’s birthplace, took the Nightwatchman’s tour in Rothenberg, drank schnapps, saw the graves of Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, toured Brittany, and climbed to the top of the world at Mont St. Michel.

Some not so great things happened as well. My Dad had triple bypass surgery while we were on vacation. Thankfully Pop has made a full recovery and is doing very well. Mom is still struggling with her health and there isn’t much hope for improvement. Adjustment has been hard for all of us but especially for her. She gets frustrated because she can’t do everything she used to. I can’t blame her, I would go mad.

And of course the biggest hurt this year was that my book didn’t sell. But I am hopeful and excited about my new novel. Think of it as a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and X Men. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it and I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and digging into revisions. I’m going to start tonight with reading the book through in its entirety and make notes as to what needs attention. Then my husband and I will go through, chapter by chapter and fix things. It’s going to be a long process, but ultimately so rewarding. I’m anxious to get back in the game.

I could never blame a year for being bad. The way I see it, I had another trip around the sun and got to do some amazing things. I look forward to the next year with optimism and hope you do too. No matter our opinion of the state of the world we all need to move forward and make the best of our situations however we can. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating 2017. It’s going to be a great year.

O is for…

OOxford

I’ve spent a little time in this achingly beautiful town. In 1995 I did a study abroad tour called Eurospring where a group of us studied at Oxford for five weeks and then had a three-week bus tour of the Continent. It was the best thing I had ever done in my young life and the travel bug bit me hard.

Theology school from the 12th century.

Theology school from the 12th century. (Also, for you Harry Potter nerds, the hospital wing at Hogwarts.)

I’ve been back twice since: once with my mother in 1997 and once in 2012 with my husband. If you’ve been reading my posts this month you’ll already know I studied Gothic architecture in college, and this town is chock-a-block with it. It’s heaven for someone like me to just wander the streets and look up at all the beautiful buildings.

Wandering the streets.

Wandering the streets.

I can’t believe though, that it took me until 2012 to take a tour of the Bodleian Library. Kosta and I both positively went weak at the knees when we were led up to the stacks on the second floor. Oh, but could we have touched those books. Just one little fingertip on a spine.

Bodleian Library

Bodleian Library…Don’t you just want to take a peek?

Yes, I know I’m a nerd. Proud of it too.

Be Kind. Always.

be kindSomething happened at the Reference Desk yesterday that won’t get out of my head. Shortly after opening at 9 am a man approached the desk and asked if he could use the phone. It’s our policy to say no, but he said he had lost his debit card and needed to report it, so I allowed him. I should have been mad when he made a second call, but when I heard the desperation in his voice I bit my tongue.

He was making calls to find a drug rehab facility that would take him that day.

It wasn’t busy, so I stepped away for a little bit to give him his privacy, since he was having to answer extremely personal questions. But when I came back fifteen minutes later he was still at it, searching for a place that would be able to accept him. When he finally found a place in Ft. Myers I felt relief wash over me. Not because he would be getting off the phone, but because he was tugging at my heart. He was trying so hard to be brave and find help that I realized I had been silently praying for him. When he was done I offered him a bottle of water and he nearly burst into tears.

Like I said, his story has been sticking with me since it happened. He left shortly thereafter, and I hope he found his way to the clinic. We’ve all had desperate times and I am so glad I didn’t refuse him the phone. It reminds me that we all need to remember to be kind to others, because you never quite know the struggles others are facing. Even a stupid bottle of water or letting someone use the phone is enough to make a difference in a desperate situation.

 

My Cryptic Message from the Universe…

Remember last week when I showed you that amazing book donation we received?

The riveting 1974 page-turner Weeds of Canada.

The riveting 1974 page-turner Weeds of Canada.

 

Well the Universe is trying to tell us something because this was donated today:

That's right. Now we have two.

That’s right. Now we have two.

Have you ever heard of anything so weird? I’m wondering if any of my Canuck friends (Mary, Caitlin or Mary Ann) are having possible weed issues? Probably not in March, but remember this summer, I’m your go-to person.

I feel like the Oracle at Delphi just gave me a cryptic message that one day I will curse in anger: “Zounds! If only I had kept that Weeds of Canada book and taken in seriously! For here I am lost in the wilds of Saskatchewan and don’t know if this leafy spurge is edible! Whatever shall I do now?”

 

Things found in Library Books: Part 3

Do you know about Found Magazine? They take submissions of all sorts of found things: love letters, pictures, shopping lists, ticket stubs, etc. I love scrolling through their finds. They are sometimes boring, sometimes hysterical, sometimes heartbreaking. Do check them out.

Here are my offerings for today. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I don't have a record of the book from whence this beautiful drawing came, but I think you can agree it is quite magical. THe artist signed it in the corner with initials and a date of '84.

I don’t have a record of the book from whence this beautiful drawing came, but I think you can agree it is quite magical. The artist signed it in the corner with initials and a date of ’84.

Written on the back: "Beth and I getting along really well. One of many wrestling nights. XO, Erika" This one was found in Hot Flash Cookbook.

Written on the back: “Beth and I getting along really well. One of many wrestling nights. XO, Erika” This one was found in Hot Flash Cookbook.