Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Interview With a Librarian

Recently an eighth grade girl asked to interview me about my career as a librarian.

She was working in her school library and in order to get credit she needed to write a report about the profession.

She asked me 13 questions that ranged from what kind of education a librarian needs (a master's degree) to what pay you can expect (not much) to skills that would be helpful (just about everything) to what is the work environment like (it depends).

I had to explain to her that my responses mostly related to working in public libraries.  Though I had worked in a college library and a medical library, most of my 40 years were spent working with the public out on the front lines and as a manager in a public library environment.

I expanded on those answers, but the question that really had me thinking was:

What have you learned from being a librarian?

I can't really remember how I answered that question for the young girl, but it struck me as a question I hadn't really thought about.  "What had I learned from being a librarian?" I have been thinking about that question ever since and wanted to sort that out, so here I am.

I have written quite a bit about libraries and librarians, sometimes in a humorous way, sometimes in a serious way, but I haven't really addressed that particular question.  So after much thought and late night glasses of wine, this is what I have come up with.

What have I learned from being a librarian?

I have learned that

  • being a librarian involves many skills and tasks that we never learned in library school, such as plunging the public toilets several times per week. 

I know, ha, ha.  But for some reason, putting whole rolls of toilet paper into the toilet is a fun activity for some people. Not fun for me, though, when I am wearing a cute outfit with fancy shoes and the toilet stall is amok with water.  And again, ha ha.  Yes, librarians wear cute outfits and fancy shoes.  

Another skill that I did not learn in library school - oh, right, it's not called library school anymore.  It's Information School because for some reason LIBRARY is a dirty word.  OK, sorry, I am ranting. 

So another skill not learned in library, er, Information School, is "reuniting "lost children" with their parents who are obliviously using the public computers."  And then there is the fielding complaints thing from the smell in the lobby to "why is that man in the corner staring at me?" I was not warned about any of that in Information School. "Putting out fires" should be in the curriculum as well as on the job description because a librarian's typical day consists of what anyone would have to do when managing staff and working with the public in a public space. 
      (I wrote a blog post called "What Do Librarian's Really Do" back in 2014
       that illustrates that).

  • managing and working in a library requires the same skills as any business: good customer service skills, the ability to lead, initiative, creativity. 

For some reason, people think that all we are doing in the library is what you see happening out in the public areas, which sometimes, I confess, can look chaotic. Several years ago when I was managing a branch library, a woman came in who wanted to volunteer.  Library staff welcome volunteers from the community.  They add value by doing tasks that library staff often don't have time to do.  The woman informed me that she wanted to volunteer because she felt she needed to whip us into shape.  She didn't think we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.  We signed her up and, let's just say, it wasn't long before she realized what really went into running a library.  I think I saw her hair turn white over the course of five weeks. She came to me and said, "I had no idea what you all go through to keep this place going!" 

  • having a sense of humor when I tell people I am a librarian is important because they will most likely put their finger to their lips and go "SHHHH," or say "I bet you read a lot of books," implying that's what I do on the job, or "You don't look like a librarian." 

The sense of humor is important because what I really want to do is bop them. 

Stereotypes still remain when it comes to libraries and librarians, despite the fact that libraries are not dusty institutions run by ugly old bats. Well, mostly not.

  • people like the idea of having a public library even though they never go there.  

A library is a part of the fabric of the community.  They know it's something good to have and they want to have it.  Don't try to take a little branch library away from a community.

But ask the regular person on the street or in a bar or at a party if he or she goes to the library and you will inevitably hear, "I haven't been in a library since I was a little kid," or "I buy my books" or worse yet, "I haven't read a book in years."  But then, after I get over my initial impulse to bop, I realize that people don't really care about public libraries that much.  They just don't think about them.  Why should they? As a librarian, libraries were always on my mind because I lived and breathed them but that just isn't the case for most of the public. They take them for granted as part of what is expected in the community, but they don't necessarily see them as a part of a successful life.  And if we librarians don't make the case for how important they are, why should they?

  • libraries have not done a very good job of promoting themselves and their services

When I was younger I used to think that if people knew all of the services and materials that were available for free at the library, they would be beating the door down.  It was just a matter of good PR and we would be beating people off with a stick.  I thought that 40 years ago and still think it's true, but for those 40 years, little has changed. I have come to realize that the library is not the first place people think of when they have a question or problem and no amount of talking about it will change that until they have a personal issue that takes them to the library and they find out for themselves.  Then they are converts!  But until then, the stereotypes remain.

I call that the "ME FACTOR," (and I wrote about that back in 2014). 

  • if public libraries want to be community gathering places, and many do, then the "rules" need to be relaxed.

Food and drink should be available, there should be areas for noise and vitality and areas for quiet study and staff should be welcoming, professional and knowledgeable and be able to deal with members of the public who want the library to be a quiet, old-fashioned place (and yes, there are still some of those).  Some libraries do that very well; others still have restrictive rules.

And by knowledgeable and professional, I mean that a librarian should know as much about "Dancing with the Stars" and Kim Kardashian as she does about Dostoyevsky and Beatrix Potter and treat questions about them as equally important. No one should feel demeaned by their questions or interests.

Those are the things that I have learned about being a librarian that have also frustrated me over the years.

I didn't share any of that with the young girl. 

I didn't want to discourage her because the truth is, despite some of the issues, ask any librarian.  Nine times out of ten, when asked how he or she likes being a librarian, that librarian will respond positively. 

Despite my feelings about what libraries could do better, what I have learned from being a librarian is that Librarianship is a noble profession that provides a life of service to our communities. 

Librarians help people every day and librarians and libraries protect Americans' rights to access to information, their right to read what they want without censorship and libraries provide a place to share that information. People need a place they can go to where they can get information on all sides of a question and ask questions without judgment.

We will always need libraries and librarians. 

The Internet has not taken that need away. 

One of the mottos of the American Library Association used to be "The right book for the right person at the right time."  I think that's still true, but we only need to change a couple of words to make it say that much more about libraries: 

"The right information and services for the right person at the right time." 

That's what librarians do every day.  They provide vetted information in a timely manner for people who need it that helps them live a better life and make sense of the world they live in.

As I wrote back in April of 2014 in a post called "Why We Need Librarians," I talked about how often a library customer would come to me looking for help, telling me not to bother looking on the Internet because he or she had already looked there and didn't find the answer to his or her question.  I would quickly do a search and find the information and the customer would say, "How did you do that?" I wanted to say, "This is what I do. I am a Librarian." But I didn't.

If you have been reading my blog, it's no secret that I once wanted to be an actress and trained as one.  I actually was in a play directed by Karl Malden.
I dreamed of one day winning a Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) Award or, dare I say it? - an Oscar.

When I watch the SAG Awards, I always enjoy the opening where actors introduce the show and themselves. 

The camera goes from one actor to another and each does a little intro like this...

and they all end their statements by saying proudly, "I am an actor."

So what have I learned being a librarian?

"I dreamed of being an actor.
But when I didn't become an actor, what could I do?
I became a librarian
And for 40 years I have been helping people make sense of the world they live in (in a most theatrical way)!
I am Rosy the Reviewer
And I am (proud to be) a Librarian!"


Thanks for Reading!


See you Friday


for my review of the new movie

"Hail, Caesar!"


The Week in Reviews

 (What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before

 I Die Project."
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Friday, February 5, 2016

"Anomalisa" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Anomalisa" and DVDs "Blind" and "The New Girlfriend." The Book of the Week is "The Wild Truth," by the sister of Chris McCandless, who was the subject of the book and movie "Into the Wild."  I also bring you up to date on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Draughtsman's Contract."]


Michael Stone is a specialist in customer service and is in Cincinnati to give a speech.  While there, he meets Lisa, who seems to be a wonderful anomaly in what is his boring, unsatisfied and mid-life crisis life.
As Henry David Thoreau said in "Walden," "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" and that seems to be the case for Michael Stone.  It's an irony that he is in Cincinnati to give a speech about good customer service, because Michael does not seem to connect with other human beings and is not a happy man. 

In his hotel room alone, he calls his wife and talks to his son and it's clear that none of these people are particularly happy.  Later he calls an old girlfriend and meets up with her but that doesn't go well either.  Then he meets two women, Emily and Lisa, who are customer service reps in Cincinnati to hear his speech.  They are both in awe of Michael and when he invites them downstairs for a drink, they get a bit drunk and Lisa ends up in Michael's room where they have sex. 

Up until he meets Lisa, everyone sounds the same to Michael, literally (all of the voices are provided by one actor - Tom Noonan).  When Michael hears Lisa's voice he is lifted out of his funk, because Lisa's voice is different.  That's because it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice.  Michael sees Lisa as an anomaly in a dreary life and dubs her "Anomalisa."  He thinks she can save him.  But we all know how that kind of thing goes, right?

The characters are animated puppets and nothing was done to hide the puppet-like structure of the faces which all looked like the same mask.  And with one person's voice used for all of the characters, except Michael and Lisa, we are thrust into Michael's life where he makes no connections, where everyone looks and sounds the same, living life like a puppet.

There is an irony in Michael's specialty - customer service - where he exhorts people to treat everyone as individuals, to smile and to realize everyone needs love.  He should have added, "even though inside we don't really feel that way."  So much for customer service.

This is a three-hander with David Thewlis providing the voice of Michael, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa and Tom Noonan as everyone else, male, female, young and old.  It's a very effective, though initially startling, effect that illustrates how swept up into the faceless crowd our lives can get.

We are also reminded that animation can do things live actors sometimes can't, though these days almost anything goes in the movies.  But animated characters in full-frontal nudity, indulging in oral sex and doing the deed right in front of us can be unsettling, so don't mistake this for a cartoon and take the kids.

I have always been a big fan of Thewlis, whose quirky looks have starred in many films from "Naked" to "The Big Lebowski" to the "Harry Potter" films.  His lovely English accent provides a nice counterpoint to Noonan's rather monotonous and actually ominous voice playing all of the other characters.  Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose movie career was soaring in the mid-90's and then seemed to sputter out to smaller roles and television, has had a bit of a rebirth in recent years with her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for "The Hateful Eight" and now a starring role in this, even if it is only her voice.

Written by Charlie Kaufman who also gave us "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" among others (he also co-directed with Duke Johnson), this is decidedly an adult animated feature film with adult themes.  It's the first R-rated animated film to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category.

Rosy the Reviewer says...with its effective stop-motion animation and existential message, this unusual film is worthy of its Oscar nomination in the Best Animated Feature category.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now Out on DVD

The New Girlfriend (2014)

Claire and Laura have been best friends since childhood.  But when Laura dies, Claire discovers her secret.

Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) swore BFF-dom at an early age, even sealing the deal in blood.  They grew up together, got married together, Laura to David (Roman Duris) and Claire to Gilles (a very handsome Raphael Personnaz) and Laura had a little girl, Lucie.  But then Laura dies, leaving David alone to care for the baby and Claire, bereft at losing her best friend and confidante.

Claire, as Lucie's godmother, vows to help David raise Lucie.  One day when she arrives at David's house to help with the baby, she finds David rocking her... dressed in a wig and one of Laura's dresses.

Thus the secret at the heart of this movie is revealed -  that Laura's husband has the desire to dress as a woman.  At first Claire is shocked, but as David explains, it is not a sexual thing and he is not gay.  When he was married to Laura he was able to suppress the urge, but since her death it had come back. He also tells Claire that he believes Lucie needs the comfort of a feminine presence.

David confides in Claire that when he dressed Laura in her wedding dress for her funeral, his true feelings of wanting to live as a woman came out and that he liked to dress as a woman.  After her initial shock, Claire is at first curious about David and helps David transform into "Virginia," and "she" becomes Claire's new best girlfriend, which reminded me of Gerda, Einar's wife in "The Danish Girl," who instigated her husband to dress as a woman until she realized he wanted to live as a woman.

The two go off on a weekend together and David is dressed as Virginia, his alter ego, and he revels in his new role.  But it becomes clear that Claire has some feelings she did not expect, feelings that she may have harbored for Laura all along.  Likewise, it seems that David wants to become Laura. As David/Virginia becomes more feminine, Claire, who is usually more shy and reticent, dresses and acts in a more masculine manner.

Claire has conflicted feelings about David and pulls away, telling David he is sick and breaks her ties with him.  But she eventually tells David she misses Virginia and they embark on an affair, but you know something has to happen.  A near tragedy intervenes.

Though similar in theme to "The Danish Girl," this film takes on the subject matter with more humor and lightness.  There is a funny scene where Claire waxes David/Virginia and also David's attempts to "hide" Virginia.  A guest unexpectedly arrives when David is Virginia and he quickly removes his make-up, forgetting his lipstick.

The couples live in gorgeous upper-middle class neighborhoods, which curiously, don't look the least bit French, but rather like American suburbs suggesting this certainly is not something that would just happen in France. The film is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Pascal Marti and has the look and feel of a Todd Haynes film where the beautiful images belie the secrets that lie behind their middle class facades.  There is an operatic score throughout that foreshadows the climactic events to come. 

Duris is a fixture in French films.  He has one of those faces that is unforgettable.  He is totally believable here.  Demoustier channels a young Meryl Streep and has a luminous quality that is utterly charming, though her character is maddening..

This is a timely film in light of Caitlyn Jenner, "The Danish Girl" and Todd Haynes' latest film "Carol," the many discussions around transgender issues and sexual identity. It's interesting that when Claire tells her husband about David, she can't bring herself to tell him that he cross-dresses.  She tells him he is homosexual as if it is more shocking to tell her husband that David wants to dress as a woman than that he was homosexual. However, David is not homosexual.  He loves women and so, apparently, does Claire.

Directed by Francois Ozon (who also adapted the screenplay from a Ruth Rendell story) this is a study in the complex issues surrounding sexual identity and avoids the usual stereotypes.  It's never clear whether or not David equates wearing women's clothes as a sexual thing or that he is actually transgender. Likewise, where Claire is sexually remains ambiguous, which makes the film all the more intriguing and real.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I really liked this film and if you liked "The Danish Girl" or you are a fan of Todd Haynes' films, you will too.
(In French with English subtitles)

Blind (2014)

Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a young Norwegian woman in her thirties, is newly blind and confined to her apartment where she has an active imagination - or is it her imagination?

Ingrid's husband, Morten (Henrik Raphaelsen), goes to work and she is alone in their apartment, afraid to leave.  What must that be like to have the whole day ahead all alone and to be blind?  The slow pace of the film reflects that.  Sounds are magnified, doors shutting, muffled voices from outside but the film also reflects the fear one might experience being alone and blind. You might imagine all kinds of thing such as your husband not really being at work but being in the apartment watching you.

Ingrid's voiceover tells us that she has not always been blind but that it is becoming harder and harder for her to remember what things looked like when she could see. Though she is alone during the day, she goes about her day, making coffee and cleaning up.  But she is also writing a book.

The camera uses close-ups on everything: hair, hands, eyes, all in a cruel irony underlining the fact that Ingrid is blind and not only can no longer see details but sees nothing.  The film is beautiful to look at, again an irony in a film about blindness.

Then in counterpoint to Ingrid, Einar (Marius Kolbenstvetd) appears.  Einar is a perv. He is addicted to Internet porn and peeping on the woman whose apartment window is across from his. There is a bit of "Rear Window" here.  We realize that he is watching Elin (Vera Vitali), a divorced woman from Sweden who is alone on the weekends when her son is with his Dad.

Einar starts stalking Elin.  Einer also runs into Ingrid's husband.  They are old school mates but it becomes clear that Einar was not popular but the two reconnect over movies. And then to add to the complications, Ingrid's husband, Morten, uses the computer to chat with women and one of those women is Elin.

Einar is watching Elin who is talking to Morten who is married to Ingrid.

Then Elin goes spontaneously blind...and you say, WHAAAT??

This is one of those films with seemingly unrelated characters whose lives collide but then you wonder -- hey, what's going on here? Is all of this in Ingrid's imagination?  Is this the book she is writing?

Eventually we realize that Ingrid is writing a novel and not everything we see is to be believed. Elin and Einar are figments of Ingrid's imagination (which is what happens when you are left alone for long periods of time).  Not sure about Ingrid's husband, but I think she was also making stuff about him too. What I thought at first were continuity issues were part of the story as backdrops to the action shift unexpectedly.  These characters, whether real or only in Ingrid's mind, are all at the mercy of her imagination and so are we.

Petersen is a lovely but cold presence, as pale and cool as a Norwegian winter, and her colors when she is on screen are all white and gray.

This is the film debut of director Eskil Vogt, who heretofore has been a screenwriter for Joachim Trier's films. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a strange but compelling study of loneliness and isolation.
(In Norwegian with English subtitles)

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

262 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

Mr. Neville, a philandering 17th century artist, is hired by Mrs. Herbert to make a series of 12 drawings of her husband's estate, but the contract also includes sexual favors.

Neville (Anthony Higgins) is a draughtsman, but he is also a womanizer.  Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) wants Neville to do the drawings of the estate for her husband in order to save her marriage.  She offers eight pounds per drawing and room and board, but Neville also requires that she comply with his request for certain "pleasures."

The film soon becomes a murder mystery as Mr. Herbert's body is discovered on the estate and Mr. Neville is accused.  It all goes downhill from there.

This followed Janet Suzman's triumph in "Nicholas and Alexandria" by 10 years. And its cheeky style seems to have inspired "Amadeus," which followed two years later.  "Amadeus" had the same cynical satiric feel as this one.  It's a satire on the wigs, the clothes, the fops, the silliness of the 17th century wealthy class.

Why it's a Must See: "...the narrative confounds rather than clarifies.  But there is a sparkling wit and pleasing theatrical playfulness to the film, which made it an unexpected British hit. The grand country estate is exquisitely captured by Curtis Clark's cinematography, while Michael Nyman's music, which uses motifs from Purcell, is a joy.  One of the most striking directorial debuts of recent British cinema, [this film] remains Greenaway's most accessible film."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Written and directed by Peter Greenaway, if you saw his "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover," you know you are going to see something that pushes the envelope, and yes, this film might be more accessible than that one or some of his others.  But even "1001 Movies..." says it "confounds."  And it does.  So I didn't get this comedy's inclusion in the "1001 Movies" I must see before I die, when other comedies, such as early Peter Seller's films like "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" and The Pink Panther films, are not.  I don't get it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I will be brief.  I didn't like it.

***Book of the Week***

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless (2015)

Chris McCandliss and his death alone in the wilderness of Alaska was made famous in Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild."  Here Chris's sister shares her story and what she believes happened to Chris.

Krakauer interviewed Carine when he was writing "Into the Wild."  She showed him some letters Chris had written to her and shared stories about her family but asked Krakauer not to use the information in his book.  But now Carine wants the truth to be told and to shed light on why Chris went into the Alaskan wilderness.

This book is mostly Carine's memoir about growing up with Chris in an abusive, drunken and dysfunctional family and how that ultimately affected her and her relationships.  She shares many stories of their parents' outrageous behavior and her father's "other family," much of what was glossed over in Krakauer's book.  Carine believes that the abuse and lack of connection to his parents were the reasons Chris went into the wilderness.

"I believe Chris went into the wilderness in search of what was lacking in his childhood: peace, purity, honesty.  And he understood there was nowhere better for him to find that than in nature."

My main criticism here is what I have felt reading some books about excessive child abuse and really, really dysfunctional families. The more I get hit over the head with incident after incident, the more it feels unreal.  Of course, that's just my feeling and probably has more to do with the writing style here than the veracity of the information.

All in all, though, this book doesn't really answer the question of why Chris went into the Alaskan wilderness and starved to death.  We will never know. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...This could be a good accompaniment to "Into the Wild," but does not in any way replace that remarkable book.
That's it for this week!
Thanks for Reading!
See you Tuesday for
"Interview with a Librarian"
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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.
NOTE:  On some entries, this has changed.  If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page.  Find where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics." Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list.
Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."



Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Some Thoughts on Thoughtfulness (Rosy the Reviewer's "Happiness Trilogy, #2")

If I had to describe my Dad in one word, it would be "thoughtful."

Yes, he thought big thoughts, but that's not what I am really talking about here. 

What I am really talking about here is his thoughtfulness that made others happy.

Speaking of big thoughts, though, you can tell I am on a bit of a "big thoughts" bent with my "How Self Aware Are You...Really?" post of a couple of weeks ago and now this one.  I think I will do one on "Mindfulness" next to make a sort of "Happiness Trilogy," because, in my opinion, those three concepts - Self-Awareness, Thoughtfulness and Mindfulness - make up the three most important traits to lead to personal happiness and the happiness of those around you.

But anyway, back to my Dad.

(That's my nephew photo bombing my Dad's picture before anyone knew what photo bombing was!)

He was a deep thinker and endlessly curious. I would come staggering home at 2am after a night of doing stuff I wasn't supposed to, and my Dad would be up.  My mother tried to impose a curfew on me, but based on how disrespectful my older brother was to her, I, too, pushed the limits of her patience.  Unfortunately, my Dad and Mom did not present a united front so when she and I got into a fight about when I was supposed to be home, she left it to my Dad who eventually said to me, "Can you be home by 2am?"  I thought for a minute (not really.  I didn't think at all). I immediately said, "Sure, I can do that."

So back to my story. 

I would come teetering in at 2am and there my Dad would be working on his lesson.  He was a Christian Scientist and they have readings, also known as "lessons," that they are supposed to do every day. He was up late doing that, because my Dad was also a guy who always had several jobs.  There was his regular job, the one where he gave his paycheck to my Mom to run the household, and then there were his other part-time jobs where the money he earned from those was his to spend on his gun collection, cars, trumpets, whatever he was into at the time.

My Dad was also a night owl, so he would come home from his part-time extra job, probably have a snack (he used to love Ritz crackers and cheese and to amuse me he would line them up on the edge of the kitchen counter and then flick them one by one off the counter and into his mouth and then laugh), watch a little TV and then do his lesson.  So it was not unusual for him to be up at 2am, even though he had to be at his regular job by 8am the next morning, and in summer, when school was out, it was not unusual for me to come home that late.  Hey, I was a kid with a kid's agenda!

When I would arrive home smelling of smoke ("Oh, no, I don't smoke but some of my friends do.  Must have gotten on my clothes from them!"), and god knows what else, my Dad and I would invariably get into a discussion about religion or something I was interested in at the moment.  Though he had strong opinions about things, he was also very curious about what other people thought.

But anyway, long story short, that's not the kind of thoughtfulness I am talking about here.  I am talking about those little things we do that show we care about other people's feelings and that we are thinking of them.

My Dad was the most thoughtful person I have ever met, and I like to think that I am also a thoughtful person.  If so, I learned from the Master.

For example, if I gave my Dad a present, such as a shirt or a tie, he would be sure to wear it the next day to show me that he liked it.  Weeks or months later, he would remind me of how much he liked that shirt or tie by saying so or sending me a picture of him wearing it.

(Here he is showing off the BBQ apron sent to him by his granddaughter.  He always wanted to be a cowboy.  Don't you love the oven mitt?  It's a gun!)

He also would remember what I liked. 

If we were "window-shopping," a favorite past-time for middle-class families in the 50's and 60's when we actually had department stores downtown in our smaller towns, and I pointed out something l really liked, it would show up later as a birthday present or special surprise.

(He bought me that coat, hat and muff back in 1968 before we were enlightened about fur - I think he bought me that pink princess phone too!).

One time when my parents went on their usual Sunday drive, and I was old enough to be left home alone (because I HATED those Sunday drives), I decided to make them a special surprise dinner to have ready for them when they got home. I was probably eleven or twelve. I went through my mother's cookbooks and found some recipes that looked like I could manage them and made a three course meal complete with fancy silverware and cloth napkins.  I think I made something like baked eggs with spam as a starter, fish sticks for the main course and Jello for dessert.  Whatever, it wasn't very good, but my parents were surprised and ate it with relish (or pretended to).  Later, I found a $5.00 "tip" under my Dad's napkin.

When I was sick, he would come home from work, sit on the edge of my bed and ask me what I needed.  In a sad little squeaky voice, as pitiful as I could manage, I would say, "A milkshake" and he would either make me one or go down to Miller's Ice Cream and get me one.

I would also get these late night yearnings for a snack when my Dad and I were watching TV together, "but I didn't know what I wanted."  My Dad would quiz me and I would say, "No, not that.  No, not that," so then he would whip up something that he would make up and it would be just right, not so much because that was just the thing I wanted but because even as a young girl, I knew he was taking the time and trouble to make me happy.

That, to me, is what thoughtfulness really is. 

It's taking the time and trouble to do something nice for someone else, and it's also acknowledging, after the fact, when someone does something nice for you. 

How often do we go out of our way for others?  How often do we break a sweat and mess up our schedules to help someone or just to do something to make them happy?  And how often do we acknowledge it when someone does that for us?

Now I know you could make a case that I was one spoiled little girl, and in some ways, I guess I was.  But my Dad enjoyed making people happy, and I got that.  I grew up to be a person who wanted to emulate that thoughtfulness.  I never took any of it for granted.  I wanted to be like him.

You can imagine my shock, though, when I left home and discovered that not everyone was as thoughtful as my Dad! 

So as I ponder this whole issue of thoughtfulness, I have come up with some ways to be thoughtful (feel free to add your own):

  • After a party or dinner at a friends house, it's thoughtful to call, email (or heaven forbid) write a thank-you note to thank your host for a lovely time.

  • If you stay at a friend's house, it's thoughtful to come bearing gifts or splurge on a nice meal (or both) and write a heart-felt email or (there it is again) thank-you note when you get home.

  • Likewise, if friends stay with you, hopefully you have a room they can stay in. It's thoughtful to have the same amenities in the room that they might find in a hotel (without the room charge, of course!) - along with the clean linens and towels, bottled water, some snacks, robes, a place to hang their clothes, scented candle, anything you think would make them feel at home.

  • Remembering someone's birthday is a given, but birthday and Valentine's cards are almost a thing of the past as are Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other holiday where once sending a greeting card was common.  I know many of us castigate the greeting card world for its commerciality, but I know I love receiving cards from friends and loved ones reminding me they are out there and thinking of me. 

  • And it is especially thoughtful to write something heartfelt and personal on the card.  When I send out Christmas cards, I eschew the practice of bringing everyone up-to-date on the accomplishments of my family, but rather, I remind that person of a happy time we have had together or what that person has meant to me.  Likewise with birthday cards.

  • The same goes for presents. It's easy for us to get our presents from Amazon and that's fine.  But it's also a bit impersonal.  It's not like the old days when we went downtown and shopped for just the right thing.  Now we can choose something online and with one-click it's on it's way.  We're done. But adding a personal note takes away the impersonal aspect and reminds our friends and loved ones that we are thinking of them in a very personal way.

  • And when you receive a present, it's thoughtful to not only thank the sender right after you receive the gift, but it makes the person feel really good when you thank him or her later.  "You know, I really love that sweater you gave me for my birthday last year.  I wear it all of the time."

But thoughtfulness doesn't just pertain to gifts and cards.

It's keeping up with the details of the lives of your friends and family and following up:  "How did that test go?" - "How is your mother doing?" - "Did you really kill your boss?"

When you know someone is having a hard time, it's human nature to not know what to do and to not talk about it.  However, we all want to be acknowledged and even saying something comforting can be thoughtful.  If you can do more, then do more.  Reaching out is probably the most thoughtful thing we can do...and sometimes the hardest.

My Dad used to say that you show love when you do something you don't really want to do, but you do it anyway and expect nothing in return.

I think that also falls into the thoughtfulness category.

Being thoughtful is something the animals can't do.  It's a human thing.  We are all capable of it.  But we often don't do it because our lives are hectic, and let's face it, being thoughtful takes time and effort.  It takes work!

But what we maybe don't realize is that it doesn't take much to show thoughtfulness and that little thing might just be the little thing that someone needs to make his or her day:  getting an unexpected thank you note, getting an unexpected phone call or email that says "I was just thinking about you" or sending someone a little gift "just because."  Those things make people happy and when people are happy it's a better world out there. (I recently received a hand-written thank you note for a small spontaneous gift I had given a friend.  It made my day).

We have the opportunity for little acts of thoughtfulness every day. 
Holding the door open at the mall for a woman with a stroller; helping someone with their bags at the supermarket; babysitting so our friend or loved one can have a break; taking someone to the airport; picking up the check at lunch; emptying the dishwasher without being asked, so your wife doesn't have to (thanks, Hubby); not giving the finger to someone who cuts us off in traffic. 

It's all about being aware of what's going on around us and seeing the opportunity to do something thoughtful.

Years ago, when I was all alone at Victoria Station on my first trip to London hauling a couple of huge suitcases down some stairs to catch a train (this was before I got the message about traveling with huge suitcases), a young woman saw that I was struggling and anxious and grabbed one of my suitcases and helped me onto the train.  She didn't make a big deal out of it.  She helped me and then took her seat. But I have never forgotten her.

Another time when my marriage was falling apart and I was at the airport traveling back to my parents' house with my barely two-year-old son, it was obvious I was having a hard time managing him and my bags and a woman carried my bag and accompanied me to my gate.  And on the plane my son's seat was my lap. The passengers around us could tell I was in bad shape and played endless games of "high fiving" with my son as he ran up and down the aisle. I know, I was one of those passengers with a kid which goes to show, you never know what hell someone might be going through. I have never forgotten those people and those acts of kindness.

One last thing and, hang on, it's a bit of a rant.  Hey, it's Tuesday.  That's what I do.

Being thoughtful also means being thoughtful before we tear into someone. 

I know we all observe things and have stuff happen to us that makes us want to vent and to tell people off, but when we do that, how is that really helping anything?  It might make us feel better for the moment, but in the end, is it making the world a better place? If it is done constructively, yes, we have the power to change things, but sadly, most of us don't think of constructive criticism when we are angry.  Things can escalate quickly into a sad drama.

And when we feel the need to correct our friends and loved ones by venting, we run the risk of losing those relationships.  Is it really worth it to make our points?

I know we live hectic, crazy lives, but being thoughtful of others speaks to our highest selves.  If we lose that, we lose the best part of what makes us human.

If you need an incentive, think of this:  What a wonderful world it would be if everyone was looking for opportunities to be thoughtful.

And that's the reason I wrote this blog post.

That's the kind of world I want to live in and the world I want my grandchildren to grow up in. 

I thank my Dad for his example.

As part of my effort to practice self-awareness and my planned "Happiness Trilogy," (stay tuned for the "Mindfulness" segment - I know you can't wait), I plan to look for ways to be thoughtful every day.  It has to start somewhere.

Won't you join me?

What thoughtful gestures do you appreciate or remember?

Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday
for my review of the new movie



The Week in Reviews

 (What to See or Read and What to Avoid)


 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before

 I Die Project."




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