Sunday, June 06, 2010

Irrational Fear

This isn't going to be nearly as scintillating as the day several of my senior girls shared their irrational fear with me: that even though they're virgins, they fear one day they're going to go into the doc's office and hear surprise, you're pregnant. Um, somebody wasn't taking notes in health class--it takes a boy AND a girl. Either that or somebody has big hopes for being the next Immaculate Conception on record. Either that or somebody isn't a virgin. Either that or... never mind. I'm sure you DID take notes in health class so you understand the minutiae.

No, my irrational fear is much more mundane and way less anatomical. It involves my fear of new places and awkward situations. Okay, maybe it's a little bit surprising since I'm an English teacher. Ready? Libraries.

I know, I know, I know. Stop laughing. I mean it.

I went to UC Davis for a miserable two and a half years, and it wasn't until my final quarter that I set foot in the library. Just the very idea of having to walk into that ginormous building alone gave me palm sweats. You see, I hate to not look like I know what I'm doing, and there was only one way that scenario could've played out: with me looking around a cavernous library building, frantically ferreting out a hole into which I'd crawl. There were no study buddies to ease my walk inside that building--I spent my entire college experience lamenting E's choice to go to a far-away school and being afraid to make new friends since I was a commuter and (in my mind) not a "real" college student. Anyhoo, this was the age before cell phones (God Bless 'em) when one couldn't just put her nose down and pretend to text or search Facebook if things got weird. Just the thought of the maybe-weirdness kept me outside for years. Years, I tell you.

So I just walked by it.. Every. Single. Day. And the funny part about it is that libraries are havens for a) nerds, b) loners, c) socially awkward and emotionally unstable college girlfriends who want to write love letters/ depressed journal entries. Libraries are amazing places for people who love quiet and don't want anyone to talk to them (i.e. me). I spent the better part of those first three years trying to look like I was saving a space for someone at my table in the student union so I could avoid the "is anyone using this chair?"-ers. (Why do people have to be so brave in college?) I shoulda put on my big girl panties and gone in there. But you already know what I wimp I am.

The inevitable climax of this story is that I discovered the library and it was like aloe vera to my socially sunburned soul. And I discovered that the higher up I ascended in said library, the quieter it got. The plainer the decorations became. The more isolated I felt. The more it smelled like old books. I found many a corner in the sun and I warmed myself while I read Beowulf and Erik the Red and Other Sagas. I found my happy place, even if it was a little bit late.

But there's more to this story, natch. I haven't set foot in a public library in my town since my Junior year of high school. (Well, honest confession: I have, twice, but not for bookish activities. Once for my own senior ball in the downtown branch, and once for an oft-regretted jaunt as a chaperone at a senior ball of my students--let me tell you, I wish I could unsee what I saw them doing on that dance floor that night. Had nothing to do with reading.) So it has been since my junior year--spring of 1996--that I have entered a public library.

Why, you ask? Well, that was the date that I checked out about eight books on Jacksonian Democracy for an AP US History project, and promptly left them under my bed for six months. By the time I found them, I didn't even remember I had checked them out. All bad. I remember taking them in and discovering that I owed something in the neighborhood of $85. Welp, that sealed the deal--I was never going to be able to go back to a library again, because at seventeen I couldn't imagine ever having $85 to spare. Every cent of the $8 an hour I was making teaching dance classes was being poured directly back into the same studio so I could take class and have something to wear at performances. I think it was actually costing me more than I was making at that point. I swore off libraries forever. Chose a life of literary starvation. I carried my library fine secret close to my heart, fearful those I knew would find out I was a fugitive.
My new library card. After my decade on the run, it's nice to come home.

Well I managed to outsmart the system, blog. And I'm sure nobody will know since I'm *cough, cough* only posting it here on this little secret thing called the internet. I went with Henry to the library last week for a preschool field trip and they let me register for a new card. I have to tell you, I was sweatin' it for a minute there when the earthy Asian clerk scanned my drivers' license... but apparently fines don't follow you if you've changed your name. Whew.

And you know what happened since 1996? Libraries got even more awesome. Self checkout for socially awkward introverts? Yes please! DVD rentals! Hello. Card catalogues on the computer (no more of those cute little drawers full of cards)? Hells yeah. Reserving books by internet? Zoikes! OMG, blog. I think this is the start of something big.


  1. I loved the UCD libaray. Had we been better friends I would have totally gone in there with you. It was quiet and I learned how to use that library to help me study. Hope you enjoy your new found love of the library!

  2. I'm a big, big fan of libraries. I've got my favorites from Sarasota to Buffalo. As a freelance writer, when I'm on the road (in Sarasota), I set up shop for HOURS at the downtown library. The only thing awkward about it is that there's a ruddy-faced security guard there that unabashedly flirts with me, despite my obvious disdain towards him.

    However, I'm afraid to check out any book there because, like you, I have an unpaid library fine for returning a way late copy of Steinbeck's "East of Eden" in 2006. I think it's $40, but I just can't bring myself to pay it. When I really want to check out a library book (as I did two weeks ago), I patronize the downtown St. Petersburg library.

    Oh libraries. They really are the aloe to our socially sunburned souls.

    Did I mention, most of the folks with whom I share the library with on long afternoons in Sarasota are bums that smell like rotten teeth and B.O.?

  3. Wow- how did I not know this? I spent most of my time at UCD in the library - or having lunch in the union! Maybe it was more towards the end when you weren't there? I totally would have gone with you if I knew that you felt that way. Sorry - feel like rotten friend.