thoughtworm in the library of congress

I recently discovered that an issue of my old zine Thoughtworm is now held by the Library of Congress. Apparently, artist and writer Matt Dembicki, whose comics I dimly remember writing a review of long ago, donated his collection to the library in 2016, and Thoughtworm #11 was included in it. This issue has particular significance to me, as it was the first one I created a linocut for in order to print the covers. Linocut would become my cover design method of choice for the remaining issues of the zine. I also later had the linocut design, which depicts my favorite tree, the American Sycamore, tattooed on my left arm. I made a few extra prints of this one, too, and distributed them to friends. While Thoughtworm has made it into quite a number of public and university libraries over the years, I never thought it would end up in the Library of Congress. Pretty cool.


© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Rage simmered and eventually overflowed in the library when I found only two of eight books on the shelf (Endgame and 77 Dream Songs [depicted as that glowing white brick at the bottom of the pile]). There was one Virginia Woolf book on the fiction shelves. One! Do you know how many the library owns? 22!! When I harassed the librarian about the library’s practice of storing books out of public view without indicating their status in the public catalog she shrugged off my indignation with some syrupy party line about the many hundreds of thousands of books in their collection and the sheer lack of space. “The general rule is if a book is five or six years old, chances are it will be in storage.” Yes, I understand the need for storage when you have such a meager number of shelves devoted to fiction in a library serving a population of over 600,000 people! But please, for the love of everything that is decent in the world, the least you can do is flag the books in the catalog that are not on the shelf! I cannot assume a book is in storage and go directly to the desk because what if it is not…then I look like an ass. Besides, the librarian in the Humanities Department always checks the shelf anyway. Not to mention the tragic loss of browsing capability. I don’t always know what books I want. I want to handle them, to caress their covers, to whisper sweet nothings into their bindings. When I brought this up it was met with a vacant stare and an empty smile. So much for a user-centric attitude.

lunchtime trip to the ♥library♥

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

My weekend looms…


She used to call on Friday evenings. As soon as I’d get settled at the reference desk after cataloging books all day, the phone would ring. If Rich were there, he’d smirk and walk away, knowing who was on the other end of the line.

“Hello, who’s this?” she’d brusquely ask.

“Hi, Vera, it’s Sean,” I’d say.

Over time she’d come to recognize my voice and would even start asking for me if I was not the one who answered. She was suspicious of new people, but it didn’t faze her for long. The first time I talked to her, I was bewildered. She began listing off seemingly random phrases. Slowly I realized they were crossword clues. She was not unfriendly, although neither would I characterize her as friendly.

She’d often argue about the correctness of the answers I provided. Over time, though, we developed a hesitant rapport. I was surprised when my irritation at her long-winded calls suddenly gave way to comfort in how she helped pass the time on slow Friday nights. I began spending my Friday lunch hour working my way through the newspaper’s daily crossword puzzle so I would be prepared for her calls.

The first time she stopped calling, I wondered where she’d gone. From talking with some of my colleagues, I found out that she was periodically institutionalized at the state hospital. She’d disappear from the phone lines for several months, and one day she’d start calling again like normal. No one seemed to know the details. Well, probably someone did, but I never heard them. I kind of didn’t want to know.

Some of the staff had even met her before. At one time she was well enough to come to the library. I discovered other bits and pieces from talking to my colleagues. For instance, they told me she owned one of those hand-held computers used for helping solve crosswords, which begged the question of why she called at all. Behind her disengaged and often hostile manner, was she really just lonely?

Sometimes while on the phone with her, I’d hear a male voice in the background. She’d occasionally refer to him or say something to him, but never explained who he was. I think his name was Harold, but I may be confusing my memory of these phone calls with the movie Harold and Maude. In my head now, Vera sounds like Maude, but in reality I think her voice was harsher. The years have softened over that roughness in my recollections, like they’ve done with other jagged edges of the past.

I wonder sometimes if Vera still calls the library. I wonder if she ever asked about me after I left. There were so many people I never said goodbye to before I ran from that town. Of course I could find out easily enough if she’s still around. But I don’t really want to know, in the same way that I didn’t want to see her in person. For me, she was a disembodied voice on the other end of the line, someone I could count on to be the same every single time, someone who wanted something from me that I could actually provide. She was an odd piece of the absurd puzzle that comprised a not altogether pleasant period of my life. Somehow she fit in there, though, just like all the other odd pieces did.

i. the bibliophile

Spiderwebbing through these days, she brushes off the threads of other lives. Hidden beneath a carapace knitted tight by early betrayals and parched neglect, her sweetness dried up long ago, she now leaves faint trails of crystalline sugar only when caught unaware. She likes to stay put, but the days keep moving her forward. Chased by fleet-footed minutes down labyrinthine chambers, she ends each day exhausted, prostrate upon the wooden floor with aching limbs. In conversation, scarce at best, she is laconic. Words leave her lips like tiny hailstones, melting before anyone ever hears. At the market, the vendors all know her. She need not speak to them; they hand over what she requires and she walks away, a tall column of silence gliding down the sidewalk. Her dark clothing fits close, her dark hair covered with a scarf. She is noiseless in crepe-soled shoes. Up the marble steps, she passes through glass to the walls of books within. Hours later she emerges into the twilight, her long arms laden with dusty clothbound relics of literature’s bygone eras. Climbing the hill toward home, she peers at the dark pines perched on the distant hillside, shaking in this early winter’s gales. Her eyes water and her teeth chatter as she hurries now. Inside her warm room, she puts the kettle on, lies down on the floor to ease her quaking limbs. She gazes at the books piled on the table and sighs, knowing there is now fuel enough to feed the inferno forever in her head.

review of people magazine

“The horror! The horror!”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I feel like Kurtz today, holed up behind blackout shades typing in my lair as the heat blazes outside. I have been doing a disturbingly exhaustive update of my reading lists on Goodreads. In doing so, I pulled out some old papers from library school. While working on my degree, I took a course called “Popular Materials and Programming for Adults,” taught by the wonderful and esteemed Dr. Linda Walling. Now, I love Dr. Walling and consider her a strong influence in my librarianship, but she made us read a lot of terrible things in that class. Her theory was that in order to properly serve the adult population of a public library, you needed to read outside of your comfort zone. Did I mention she made us read a lot of books? As if graduate students have time to be reading 25 extra books in a semester?! But I digress. As part of this agony, she requested that we also read a couple of “popular magazines and newspapers.” I chose People magazine as one of them. I have entered the review I wrote below. If you’re curious about the books I read in that class, you’ll have to find me on Goodreads. You need to sign up in order to see my page, though. If you don’t know about Goodreads, it’s a site for people who enjoy obsessively recording their reading habits. If you’re into that, I’d encourage you to join. Then we can be obsessive together and hopefully find out about interesting books from each other. But enough banter…here’s the review:

More celebrity voyeurism [note: I’d just reviewed National Enquirer]. This time a little less sensationalism and slightly padded with “touching” human interest stories and slightly informative biographical sketches. Lots of ads for such items as Godiva ice cream and the latest Maeve Binchy novel. Sleazy pictures of Hollywood stars are mixed in with stories of family courage. Lots of pictures and short articles target the short attention span crowd. As it turns out, I’m not a member of that crowd, and would prefer to peruse the latest batch of zines I find stuffed in my mailbox. Oh, and I found this magazine in a box on the side of the road (I couldn’t bear to spend $2.99 of my hard-earned cash on something that’s going to end up in the recycling box) [prof’s note: That’s OK with me – why support them?].

sf trip: day two

Good Morning, San Francisco Bay Bridge!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, San Francisco Bay Bridge

Oh look, here comes a ferry.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, San Francisco Bay

It’s coming from the Ferry Building!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Ferry Building, San Francisco, California

Inside the Ferry Building are vendors such as Pepples Donuts and Blue Bottle Coffee. Happiness is a vegan donut and a cup of drip coffee!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Pepples vegan donut & Blue Bottle hand-drip coffee

While enjoying my coffee and donut, I came across the following tableau.

[Please excuse this egregious example of anthropomorphism]

Fred the Western Gull: Hmm…what do we have here? Why I do believe it’s a tasty crab!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gull finds crab

Bob the Western Gull: Hey Fred, whatcha got there, buddy?

Fred: Why, nothing, Bob. I have nothing at all.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls with crab

Bob: Are ya sure there, Fred? ‘Cause it sure looks like ya got something in yer gob there, pal.

Fred: I have nothing, my good man. Now leave me be!

Bob: C’mon, Fred, just let me nibble a bit on that there crab. Dontcha ‘member me sharing my sea bass with ya last week?

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls with crab

Fred: Oh, very well then. But just this once.

Bob: Thanks, Fred. Yer a real stand-up guy.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls share crab

Obligatory Western Grebe photo, just to prove I saw one. They kept diving underwater just as I focused in. Taken with my point-and-shoot through binoculars, which is why it’s blurry.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Grebe, San Francisco Bay

Coit Tower, as seen from the waterfront. We were so close to it the day before and didn’t even realize it. Still a bit annoyed about that. I would’ve walked back up there if I’d had the time.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Coit Tower, San Francisco, California

A couple of shots from Chinatown. It’s the largest one in the Western Hemisphere!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Chinatown entrance, San Francisco, California

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Chinatown, San Francisco, California

In late afternoon we took a tour of the Mechanics’ Institute Library with the other conference participants. This is a private membership-based library, and the librarian wouldn’t let us take photos inside the library, so as to “protect the privacy of our patrons.” Instead I took a shot of this spiral staircase in the building. After I took the photo I walked down the staircase and kept feeling like I was going to fall on my face. Vertigo!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Staircase at Mechanics' Institute Library Building

Next time:  Goodbyes!

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