Brian Keaney

Month: December, 2010

Musings on books and libraries

Photo of the Hawai'i State Library is by wertheim and used under a Creative Commons license

I wrote a post yesterday for myDedham on the problems at the local library.  What it really comes down to is a lack of grown ups, but this manifests itself in a variety of ways.

For all the local problems, I am a big fan and a fairly frequent user of libraries.  When I lived in Honolulu my office was next to the State Library, and I would often stop by after work.  It was actually a Carnegie library, and I always liked what he had to say about why he chose to build so many of them with his fortune:

I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world — those stored up in books. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes.

Now I still have plenty of baser instincts and tastes, but its true that libraries give nothing for nothing.  There is a vast wealth of information stored in them, but you have to go out and actively seek it out.  Yesterday I checked out Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki, who, as it turns out, is also from the Islands.  I liked what he had to say and his philosophy, but this is one of those books I’m glad I borrowed and didn’t buy.

It was actually a very easy read, and I finished it in bed last night.  It would have benefited from a little more elegant prose, and I would have liked a little deeper thought as well.  The general philosophy was good, but I was left wanting.   More basic that, I was taken aback by the editing.

Not everyone is a writer, and that’s fine, but at a minimum the publisher should have had someone copyedit the book.  There were typos, which is just plain astounding, but I also found instances where the wrong hononym was used.  It also was slightly repetitive, particularly towards the end.  I don’t know how this found its way to the printers.

I actually drove to a neighboring town to check the book out since my local library didn’t own a copy.  When I got to the check out counter, I was asked for my library card.  I told them I didn’t have it with me, but that’s only partly the truth.  In fact, I haven’t seen my library card in years, possibly a decade or more.  I have enough to carry in my wallet without that.

They charged me 50 cents for checking out a book without my card, or would have but the woman let it slide “because it’s Christmas.”  I was grateful for her generosity, but I had to laugh at the policy.  She was able to look me up in the computer with only a modicum of effort.  Perhaps at one time this policy made sense, but today I see it as a relic from an institution clinging to the past.

Is it really worth incentivizing  people to bring their library cards with them?  What do they accomplish from it?  The 50 cents isn’t a significant revenue stream, and it really isn’t large enough to deter me.  I’d much rather pay it so I can stop at the library as I pass it or as the fancy strikes me than to carry around yet another card.

There was no one behind me in line, so the extra ten seconds it took her to look me up using my license really didn’t affect anyone.  What’s more, those few seconds are probably less than it would have taken her to break a $20 bill and give me $19.50 back.

The end.

Addendum: I slogged my way through Quantum.  I still have no idea how a quantum leap works.

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Dreaming in dreams

I occasionally get email that is actually intended for a Brian Keaney in Toronto.  In London there is a Brian Keaney who has ensured that I’ll never be known as Brian Keaney the writer, as if that was likely to happen anyway.  The latter has commented in this space before, and he has a blog of his own, Dreaming in Text.

Last night I had several dreams.  This normally wouldn’t be of interest to anyone, including myself, except that its the first time since Monday night it’s happened.  I finally got a decent night’s sleep.  All told it was probably about six or seven hours, but it came in three or four hour chunks, which was great.  All week long I’ve been getting about three hours, and they would come in naps of 30 or 40 minutes at a time between 10pm and 8am.

Strangely, I really haven’t felt tired at all, but when I woke up for the final time this morning I felt great (and not just because I still get as excited for Christmas Eve as a little kid does).  I also haven’t eaten much all week.  Cumulatively it probably adds up to a couple pieces of fruit, three bites of a peanut butter and jelly, one complete bowl of soup, a piece of coffee cake, and a slice of pizza.

Incidentally, if you can handle the side effects, I recommend the flu as a weight loss program.  Nothing has ever curbed my appetite like this before, and I’ve already lost a couple of pounds.  Perhaps not the healthiest way ever, but certainly effective.

And, apropos of absolutely nothing, I just heard a very loud “Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!” come from the post office parking lot across the street.  I admire his spirit, but someone should tell Santa that he is a couple hours early.

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This time I really was delusional

I’ve been told my whole life I look exactly like my father.  I don’t see it, but I totally understand when they say we act just alike as well.  To give just one example, my mother gets beyond frustrated when we answer exactly the question she asked, and we don’t elaborate and give her the answer she was really seeking.  For example,

Mum: Where are you?

Me: Worcester.

Mum: What are you doing out there?

Me: Driving.

Mum: Where?

Me: Connecticut.

Mum: What’s in Connecticut?

Me: Hartford.

It’s usually about here that she just gives up and moves on.  It’s a true testament to a mother’s love that she didn’t give up on me years ago.

I think there is a reason we have two ears and only one mouth, so in general I try not to speak unless I have something to say.  When it comes to my mother or sisters, however, I have an additional reason for not offering more to them: they are going to talk (and worry) about me anyway, so I choose not to give them more fodder for gossip.  I discovered this at the end of last summer when one of them said something about the girl I was dating at the beginning of the summer.

When I asked what girl she was referring to, she said she didn’t know her name, but Mum was pretty sure there was one.  There wasn’t, but I didn’t confirm or deny this mystery girlfriend’s existence.  In fact, my love life if something I almost never discuss with them.  The last time they met a girl I was dating, it wasn’t until several months after we had broken up. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m dreaming of a complete blog post

When I said the other day that I usually have a first draft of blog posts completely written out in my head before I ever sit down at the computer, I wasn’t kidding.  Sometimes, in fact, I have them written out before I even get out of bed.

I usually only get five or six hours of sleep a night.  Once I’m up I’m good to go for the day – no coffee needed – but it does usually take hitting the snooze button two or three times before I’ll actually get out of bed.  I don’t know what I was dreaming about, but this morning when I hit the snooze for the first time I started writing something before I fell back asleep again.  All I remember, and indeed all I probably had, was this:

There is much you can say about my mother, and calling her a saint for putting up with me for all these years is probably a good place to start.  At scarcely five feet tall, however, intimidating is not an adjective most would use.

I have no idea where I was going with this, but I think it had something to do with the alarm clock itself.  I’ve been trying to remember all day, and I just can’t.  I think it might have been explanatory, though I have no idea what I would have been trying to explain.  When I learn a new or difficult concept for the first time, I’ll often try an teach it to a fictional other in my head.

It’s one of the reasons I thought I’d make a good educator.  I don’t have a classroom, or usually even anyone who would be remotely interested in a lot of the things I read to talk to about it, but I turn it into a lesson anyway.  I find that if I can do that then I can be sure I understand it myself.

Every kid deserves a Christmas

I love Christmas.  I love everything about it.  I love the decorations, the presents, the music, the parties, the food – everything.  I love that at over 9 feet tall, this is the smallest tree my roommate and I have ever set up in our apartment.

I even once got into an argument with a nun, who also was my professor, on the first day of class because I told her that I wished I still believed in Santa Claus.  I still want to believe that there is jolly old elf with magic reindeer who, just because he likes to see the smiles on little kids’ faces, travels all over the world one night a year delivering toys and delighting children.

Santa and one ecstatic little girl.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Jack Williams moment

Last night I was privileged to once again play a small role in the annual Holiday Harvest Telethon to benefit the Dedham Food Pantry.  Normally I prefer to give to charities that address the root causes of a person’s misfortune instead of just treating the symptoms, but it’s pretty tough to teach a man to fish when all he can think about is his growling stomach.

My role was to interview some of the guests and to accept a couple checks.  There are only so many ways you can ask people to call in, but fortunately my mother and sister, who were watching at home and laughing at me, gave me some good material to work with.  I stumbled over a couple of lines, botched our most famous guest’s last name, and at one point had a guest take the  microphone away from me because she wasn’t ready to leave the stage and I wasn’t prepared with another question.

The station has a new director, and she’s been a godsend.  She’s the one who recruited me to do a show, and there’s been a lot more activity overall in the months since she’s taken the reigns.  A couple weeks ago I was talking to her about the Telethon and she was telling me about her time at WBZ.  She said that whenever Jack Williams would get on and make an appeal the phones would start ringing off the hook.

At one point during the night I was standing there, waiting to go back on the air, and the intern working the camera poked his head out around and said to me, “This is your Jack Williams moment.”  He didn’t have a clue, but I knew exactly what it meant and from whom it came.

A minute later the red light in front of me lit up and I was on.  I had stumbled at a couple points throughout the night, but not during this segment.  I don’t know if it brought in any more donations, but I nailed it.  Though was easily my longest monologue of the three hour broadcast, and even though it was completely extemporaneous, it flowed smoothly throughout.  I was pretty pleased with myself, and the director even commented on how good I was after we were done and back in the kitchen finishing up the wine.

I don’t know whence that performance came, but I wish I could bottle it.  I think Jack Williams would be proud.

Stay in school. Forever.

Though I said the other day that you shouldn’t waste  your time in school, I obviously didn’t mean it.  Like so many others, I miss college.  A lot.  They were four of the best years of my life, and if they would let me I would start all over again as a freshman tomorrow.

I tell every college student I know that they should never graduate.  Do whatever it takes.  Fail a couple classes.  Change your major six times.  Make them drag you across the stage kicking and screaming and then refuse to accept the degree.  Life will never be as good ever again.

The other day I got another visit with the Knights of Columbus at Stonehill College.  They are a great bunch of guys and I enjoy reliving my glory days with them.  When I arrived I was greeted by two New Yorkers who were holding the door for me.  “How about those Jets,” I asked before I was even in the dorm.  They tried to make excuses for Monday’s night’s pathetic display, but the banter was just like that I remember in my dorm, and I miss it.

A little later on I mentioned that while in college I dated a girl who left the school to become a nun.  “Oh my God,” one of those New Yorkers said.  “That’s worse than turning her into a lesbian.”

“Are you kidding me?,” I replied.  “No way.  It’s awesome.  It means that after me there is no one except God.”

He couldn’t argue with that logic, and I still miss college.

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Who needs all that writin’ and ‘rithmatic anyway?

I’ve got a couple half written blog posts waiting to be finished before they can be posted, some dating back a couple months. I’ve got a couple dozen more nearly fully formed in my head, but still haven’t been put on paper, or keyboards, or whatever. I’m actually kind of sick that way. I will usually have a first draft nearly written before I ever sit in front of a computer.

One of the major raison d’etre of this blog is to improve my writing. Good people pay me good money to write, and since I’m rarely happy with anything I give them I figure the least I can do is actively work to get better at it. In August I said I was going to try and write more but shorter posts, and to some extent I’ve succeeded, even if it’s been in fits and stops. I’m going to try and be more consistent, even if it means very short posts. No one has ever accused me of being brief, so I figure that’s something else to work on.

One of my favorite clients has a blog that I check out from time to time. Her coworkers are frequent topics of discussion and they are all cool people, so I enjoy seeing what they’ve been up to. Mostly she cracks me up, and I’m impressed she’s able to keep things so concise. Here I am trying to write about how I want to write more short posts and I’m already three paragraphs deep without getting to the point.

This client actually blogged about me the other day and said I was better at PR than I was at biology. Mr Bullerwell, my high school biology teacher, has never seen my PR work, but I’m certain he would agree anyway. Oh well, they don’t pay us for our biology skills, and anyway she said my boss and I are “two of [her] favorite PR peeps.”

So, in honor of AW and in an attempt at brevity, here’s a quick anecdote that kept most (but certainly not all) of my family in fits of laughter last night:

I was editing KK’s paper for her nursing class. I was told just to look for the big things, and not get too deep into corrections. I was about three lines in when I saw a sentence that certainly qualified as having a “big thing” problem with it.

Me: I don’t know what this says. This sentence doesn’t even have a verb in it.
KK: Why? Does every sentence have to have a one? What is a verb anyway?

We all laughed at her, and she got mad. She got even madder when my mother pointed out that it ranked up there with the time she got off the plane and asked, “Is today tomorrow or yesterday?”

Then KK pointed out that she had the least amount of education in the room and yet still made the most money. Moral of the story: Stay out of school, kids.