Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Living in My Discomfort: A Response to the Library Loon

The most recent post from Gavia Libraria (the Library Loon), "Silencing, Librarianship, and Gender: Confronting the Naked Emperor," resonated strongly and deeply with me. Some of the feeling was about the dissonance I experience when I juxtapose why I started this blog (as a way to tell the emperor that he has no clothes) with the fact that people are actually listening to me now. I'm worried about becoming the naked emperor.

I don't think I have become that naked emperor. Not yet, anyway. My trusted friends in the field are very likely to tell me if/when I'm deluding myself. There have already been a couple of times when I was ranting about something or other - privately, thank sweet Baby Buddha - when friends quietly and patiently corrected me about my misconceptions.

However, what I want to address is one part of the Loon post in particular:
"...the Loon asks of herself, and would ask of others, ...to make more space in the soul for discomfort, for cognitive dissonance, for many kinds of difference, even for feelings of shame and inadequacy. This is hard—oh, is it hard; it’s the single most emotionally grinding aspect of teaching for the Loon. (Students and professionals do not often spare their instructors’ feelings; for many, instructors live in an Uncanny Valley between people and some sort of giant robot on a giant robot pedestal.) Hard though this is, it’s even harder to solve problems we won’t own."

Oh, man. As the saying goes, "I feel those feels."

My personal feelings of inadequacy come into play around how people have reacted to my blog and how I shake my fist and shout about the things that strike me as wrong. A strange thing has been happening where people tell me they admire me or even look up to me. This bothers me because I know all about the mistakes I've made. I know about the horrible stomach aches that ensue after I realize a mistake. Sure, I pick myself and dust myself off and learn from my mistakes. Of course everyone makes mistakes, but I worry that people who have told me how much they look up to me don't see the whole process. "Resilience over strength" is one of my favorite quotes for a reason - I don't seek failure, but neither do I resist it. Most importantly, I learn from my failures. And so, to live in my feelings of inadequacy, I'm going to try to be more public and honest about the mistakes.

How about you? What do you think of The Loon's call to action?


  1. Jessica – I cannot tell you how much good it did me to read this post.

    You talk about living in your discomfort, I lean into it, either way you see it or do it, growth happens. As you know, I am new to academic librarianship after years of a successful career as a school librarian. Inadequacy is a constant state for me, which surprises those who know me. A few years ago, after I stepped down as leader of my state library association, I had someone tell me (as I literally walked off the podium) that I made it look too easy. It was NOT easy.

    Yes, it is flattering to receive praise or be admired, but very few (if any) are aware of the internal struggles over mistakes. I’ve made plenty of them and some have been hard to dust off. You get stomach aches, I lose sleep. Yet it is what drives me to be better and do better. So inadequacy is not necessarily a bad thing as long as we confront it with honesty and apply it to a greater purpose.

    I’m with you and The Loon…it’s time to have the conversation, I need it as much as anyone else.

  2. Great post! I think discomfort and cognitive dissonance are good things because they (hopefully) spur us to be better. I've felt (and written about) very similar discomfort when people say nice things about me and my blog. It has helped me to remember that we all admire someone, and that person is likely just as much a messy jumble of attributes and flaws as we are. I think we should allow ourselves to feel good when people say those things, but also it's good that we feel that discomfort too. I think it would be a problem if we didn't.

    Receiving praise also reminds me of my privilege and the responsibility I feel to do good and be good. It makes me feel compelled to contribute to the profession in positive ways that support new librarians. I feel frustrated that so many people *doing* amazing and courageous things (rather than writing stuff) are not getting the recognition they deserve. But that's a good reminder that we should use our privileged position to recognize and celebrate those people. It's something I've been wanting to do more on my blog.