19 October 2018

The Courage to Write About Courage

Story sharing takes courage, courage to remember, to speak, to listen. In writing, our stories can thrive and maybe even touch the lives of others. But writing itself takes an immense amount of courage. As author Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I strongly believe that writing is an act of courage. It’s almost an act of physical courage.”

Our stories define, enliven, and enrich our culture. And now more than ever, we need the courage to set our stories free. Courage is defined, “The ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”

While staring down autumn and young adulthood, we got to thinking about courage. We realized that if we could give ourselves—and heck, everybody— one skill that could help us live into our own stories, that skill would be courage.

Then, about 24 hours later, we experienced a coincidence. The kind of coincidence that makes everything align for just a moment: in the American Library Association’s (ALA) news we found a story contest, and its theme was courage

In the ALA press releasePublic Library Association (PLA) President Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne explains her hopes for this writing contest, 
“Our national writing contest provides an authentic experience for writers and readers to reflect on their own courageous moments... Librarians know the value in connecting writing and reading creatively; those who write read more, and those who read write better. Our hope is for this contest to further connect residents with literature, local libraries and each other.”

Apart from the opportunity to grow and share courage and a cash prize, this contest offers a chance to participate in a futuristic form of storytelling: to be published by Short Édition in a Short Story Dispenser.

We hadn't heard of Short Édition or knew what a Short Story Dispenser was. So we did what we had to do, we researched. According to their website,
"Short Édition’s aim is to adapt literature to the modern world by combining short literature, the community and technology. In this way Short Édition uses passion and humour to inspire the community of readers and authors who dare to like short stories."

Image credit: Short Édition 

Earlier this year PLA and Short Édition partnered to bring their Short Story Dispensers to the US, four libraries were selected to participate in the project to bring short stories to the masses.

These magical kiosks are positioned around four cities in the US and offer an island of escape in the midst of a busy life. Select a one, three, or five-minute story and it almost instantly appears printed on a scroll, of eco-friendly paper. 

The contest ends on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. So, get right to work, click here to get all the details!

Need a little help getting started? We did too and so we looked to a favorite writer for some insight, watch this short interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates: 

Do you need the courage to write about courage? We've found that a prompt can really help, give ours a try:
  • Take a second to recall a memory about courage. It can be an extremely vulnerable memory, most memories about courage are. 
  • Then take this memory, this story of yours and set in a faraway land, a faraway time; turn yourself into a thing of fiction.
  • In ten minutes, write down the memory, in poem form, in story form, in screenplay form, in any way that works for you.
  • Edit your writing:
    • rewrite and edit again, over and over until what you have resembles about 70% of what is in your mind (sage wisdom from the video above).
  • Then share it with someone who hasn’t experienced this memory. And ask for a story in return.
The final step: if there is still time (before October 30th, 2018) submit your story to THE CONTEST.

If you share your story on social media, please add the hashtag #LookWonderDiscover and we’ll look out for your story --because that’s what we do, we look, we wonder, we discover.

04 October 2018

Discovering: Nadja Oertelt and Matteo Farinella

Click here to check out the Kickstarter
(image by SDEDM)
Art and science have been constants in our lives, always piquing our curiosity and reinforcing wonder about, well, just about everything. But we’ve always thought that art and science are better together. 

It’s hard to articulate something we feel so passionate about. Thankfully, masters of both science and art, Matteo Farinella and Nadja Oertelt just happen to be great storytellers too, and guess what? They said yes to our interview request.

Before we dig into the interview, we have a confession to make: we research just about everything. Thanks to libraries and the internet we can learn so much more than just the coursework from a class or the book we're were reading; we dig into the stories of the author who wrote the book, or the scientist who created the study, or the artist who made the work.

We discovered Nadja and Matteo's Kickstarter Women of Science Tarot Deck while exploring the EdX Series Program “Fundamentals of Neuroscience”, well, not the program itself, one of the program's creators Nadja Oertelt. 

And so, when we found Nadja (co-founder of Massive), we dug into her twitter feed which led us to Women of Science Tarot Deck. And there we found Matteo and then found his website, which we couldn't help but wander through, and honestly, get lost in.

Their combined art and science vision for Women of Science Tarot Deck is particularly exciting: the concept of tarot, mixed in with STEM (science, math, engineering, and technology) and all of those women of science. As they explain on Kickstarter,
“The Tarot deck has been used since the 15th century as a framework for communal storytelling, soothsaying and prediction. We’ve updated our tarot to reflect our scientific, 21st century curiosity for shaping the world. The most transformative ways of thinking are not magic: they are real, rooted in STEM and they can help us collectively think about the future.”
Learning about the project made us even more curious, we wanted to know more about what was behind Nadja and Matteo’s vision. For us, curiosity leads to questions, and we had to reach out to the creative duo with our questions. And their answers proved that they are even cooler than we first thought. 

Without further ado... our interview:

BOOKS FOR WALLS PROJECT:  So, we’d love to know where you got the idea for a science-themed tarot deck?
NADJA OERTELT: Some years ago a good friend started using a feminist tarot deck called Motherpeace as a framework for her own meditation practice. She used it as a way to begin telling stories to herself about why she felt certain ways or had certain reactions to people and her environment. She used the deck to do a tarot reading for me and I was hooked on how a card game like tarot could create a space between people (even strangers) to talk about very difficult, emotional or conceptual topics. I don't think of tarot as 'fortune telling' or 'magic' but rather as a conversational aid, a kind of connective tissue for storytelling. I started reading a lot about the history of tarot (the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky has some wild and crazy thoughts on tarot, and remade a historical deck and wrote a book on tarot) and thought it was a fascinating game that sat at the intersection of psychology and history. I also love translating science using metaphor and story (I've spent the last ten years working with illustrators and artists like Matteo to decipher and translate scientific complexity into narrative). So when Matteo and I started the Our Heroes series, I thought it would be great to eventually turn the illustrations into tarot cards. We could examine the social and emotional impact of womens' scientific discoveries and the cultural impact of paradigm shifts in science and engineering through the tarot storytelling framework. 
MATTEO FARINELLA: I have to give Nadja full credit for that. I didn't know much about tarot, I mostly associated it with magic and divination. At the beginning I was kind of skeptic about the idea, but once I learnt about the complex history and symbolism of the tarot, I became very excited about making a science-themed deck. I like the idea of using an old tradition to explore modern concepts like science.

(Watch the Kickstarter video)

BFWP: Can you share a bit about why you think it is important to share the history and stories of women scientists?
NADJA: In a 2018 poll 81% of Americans could not name a single scientist. Of the 19% who could, 27% named Stephen Hawking and 19% named Neil deGrasse Tyson. Jane Goodall was named by only 2% of this group and was the only woman mentioned by name by any significant number of those polled. The fact that women who have made significant contributions to science are not public figures is a huge shame and a sign that we've failed in educating students and the public about the contributions of anyone to science other than white men.
MATTEO: If you asked me 2 years ago if I though women played an important role in the history of science I would have answered "of course" but then, when it came down to it, I probably couldn't name more than 4-5 of them. One thing is to agree or understand something in theory and quite another is to actually know it. Learning their names, their faces and their achievements had a really powerful effect on me. This is not just about 'inspiring younger generations' but also re-educating ourselves, because the way we tell our history affects our present and future as well.
Women of Science Tarot Cards! (Image credit)

BFWP: When art and science come together, amazing things happen. In what ways do you see combinations of art and science reaching out and connecting with people in our current culture?
NADJA: Artists tell stories to help us understand ourselves and the world around us, and to a certain extent the role of scientists and engineers is to create the world we collectively imagine for ourselves through the hazy window of artistic and humanistic endeavor. There is a lot of beauty in the translation of scientific curiosity and knowledge into the metaphors of art. One of my favorite books of all time is Jacob Bronowski's Origins of Knowledge and Imagination (LibraryBorrow/IndieBuy), which is a beautiful meandering series of lectures on humans' need to understand the universe through the tools of art and science.
MATTEO: I could give many (and long) answers to this question, but for this particular project, I think art is a way to give science a more human dimension. As much as I love science I can see how sometimes it may feel distant and detached from our everyday lives. A deck of illustrated cards is a way to carry these stories with us, to look at them over and over, a chance to contemplate scientific achievements (without the pressure of learning) and chat about them with our friends at a party.
Women of Science Tarot Cards! (Image credit)
BFWP: If you could give the younger generations one skill to help the future, what would it be?
NADJA: I think they don't need anything from me or our generation: they have the capacity to do what we could only dream of! If anything, I would give them the skill to see our failures clearly so as not to repeat them. The huge environmental problems that have been created for the next generation are unfathomable. The skills we now need and that younger generations need to survive and thrive will be that of radical political action, collaboration, openness and compromise. 
MATTEO: That's a difficult one... maybe the skill of acknowledging our own biases and mistakes? I'm afraid we will always get things wrong, the only thing we can do is to have the humbleness to recognize this and make amendments before it's too late.
Women of Science Tarot Cards! (Image credit)
BFWP: We think this paragraph from your Kickstarter page is amazing: “We can't predict the future, but we believe that learning about science and telling the stories of inspiring women in STEM can help us imagine a better world and explore radical new futures, rooted in scientific ideas.” Can you comment and/or elaborate on this thought?
NADJA: I think Matteo answered this perfectly!
MATTEO: I really insisted on having that line. I wanted to make clear that our goal here was not to give easy answers. Quite the opposite: I want people to feel empowered to think for themselves. Do not trust those who tell you the future is already written, that there is only one path to follow. Like these pioneering women, who followed their curiosity despite what everyone else told them.

In our experience, curiosity leads to questions and questions often lead to stories. And a really good story makes us ask even more questions. After the interview, we have even more questions for Nadja and Matteo and we are really looking forward to where the questions might lead.

In the meantime, we're working on a scientific equation to express the relationship between curiosity and questions and stories. I think we may be on to something...

Thanks for the interview Nadja and Matteo, 
we cannot wait to continue our conversation!

We are continuing this story on CognEYEzant (Nadia's 365 day art project). 
Stay up to date and follow on the website or on Instagram

24 September 2018

Banning Books Silences Stories

graphic design by SDEDM
Our stories shape the world around us, a world that is diverse and complex. Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate, preserve, and fight for freedom to tell our stories and to fight against banning books and silencing stories. 

Censoring our stories is, essentially, censoring our world: denying a perspective is denying the richness of our human experience. Right now especially, culture needs all of our voices, all of our stories. And you have the power to make sure information and stories are heard. It’s simple: read, process, and share your insights. 

Learn more:
Seek out stories and perspectives. Because, as Banned Books Week’s video “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017” explains, 
"Often the most frequently challenged books, are the stories that need to be heard the most." 
Listening to stories (reading books) can help us glean not just perspective, but also context. Master storyteller John Green recognizes that “text is meaningless without context” in his video response to the banning of his 2005 novel Looking for Alaska (LibraryBorrow/IndieBuy).
Banning a book due to an offensive word or difficult subject doesn’t necessicarily take into account the entire story, or that being affected by a difficult or stressful story can help us learn.  John gets to the heart of an essential truth about the side effect of reading: “we are all better off with a well-informed, well-educated population.”  
In his video "On the Banning of Looking for Alaska", John goes on to express why stories are such important catalysts to understanding humanity,  
“Instead I believe books challenge and interrogate, they give us windows into the lives of others and give us mirrors so that we can better see ourselves.”

Read more:
Scientific research helps us understand that reading literature actually can help us empathize with one another. With the aid of story, we can begin to seek out and understand the intricate and complex within everyone. Julianne Chiaet's Scientific American article Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy elaborates, 
“This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.” 
When we ban books that challenge our set ways of thinking, we close off an opportunity to become more empathetic. Raymond A. Mar and Keith Oatley's 2008 study The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience dives deeper into the study of how fiction helps us coexist,
“The simulation of social experience that literary narratives afford provides an opportunity for empathic growth. It trains us to extend our understanding toward other people, to embody (to some extent) and understand their beliefs and emotions, and ultimately to understand ourselves. Fictional literature brings close attention to distant worlds that would otherwise remain unknown.”
Speak Out: Everyone can get involved: support and advocate for free speech and expression, or report challenges and injustices.

The American Library Association (ALA) created this handy pyramid chart of public, reported, and silent challenges. It's discouraging that so many challenges go unreported, but don’t let the data get you down, you can do something. Use the ALA Challenge Reporting page, become a champion for challenged books.  
And if all this information got you as fired up as us, take a second to share on social media or why not use the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. Start a converstion about why you think your favorite banned book is an important read. And ask people in your community to do the same. If you post on social media, use the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek. Give us a shout out, we're on twitter @BooksforWalls.
For a little fun, check out New York Public Library's Banned Books Quiz, test your knowledge of challenged books
While you are at it, go ahead and support your local library --visit in person or online. Find your nearest library: www.worldcat.org/libraries

21 June 2018

How to Hold Hands with the Darkness

All stories begin somewhere, they can often take us far away from where we are comfortable, sometimes the hardest part is just letting ourselves go.

In A Beginning, a Muddle, and an And: The Right Way to Write Writing Avi weaves his usual story magic, this time exploring the writing process through narrative. At one point the characters are talking about the tricks of observation, they arrive here, 
“Creatures usually only see what they are looking for.”
“Are you suggesting we should look for what we don’t see?”
“You can see more that way,” suggested Edward.
One way to observe what we can’t see is through storytelling. And listening to (or reading) stories often involves trust, trust in the storyteller, trust in another person.
“Can you really see?” She asked.
“It’s dark,” said Bod. “But I can see.”
He began to lead Scarlet down the steps, deep into the hill, and to describe what he saw to her as they went.
Bod, the main character in Neil Gaiman’s Newberry winning The Graveyard Book uses his sight to lead Scarlet into a dark and scary place, a place where his fellow five-year-old friend can see nothing at all. 

Trust, like this especially, can be quite a scary thing. Seeing from another person’s perspective sometimes is surprising because they see things differently, but it is very important to see other people’s perspectives. 

Trust in storytellers also involves some trust in darkness, which can be the beginning of many things. According to classical mythology, the universe began as Chaos and darkness, but eventually, the mayhem bore love, as Edith Hamiton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heros sheds light,
“From darkness and from death Love was born, and with its birth, order and beauty began to banish blind confusion.” 
A dark beginning may turn into a muddle, but from the muddle, the process, the darkness can be transformed into a kind of beauty.

And beauty can be found in the midst of chaos. Often this kind of beauty relies on a translator, a storyteller, an artist. Painter Vincent van Gogh, during his time in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum inadvertently depicted the scientifically elusive and invisible turbulence. 

TED-Ed’s video The unexpected math behind Van Gogh's "Starry Night” explores the correlation between Van Gogh’s own darkness and his ability to express the unseen, 
“in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind[.]” 
From Van Gogh's darkness, his art; from his art, his story...


As for stories, we urge you to take this story, process it, add your own insights, your own experiences, and then, share your story —with us, with a friend, with your journal, on social media. 

Tell a story, one of darkness, of light, of turbulence, of art, of muddles, of beginnings, or perhaps of an end.

If you do share on social media, please add the hashtag #LookWonderDiscover and we’ll look out for your story -because that’s what we do, we look, we wonder, we discover.

collaboratively written by: The Observer, The Thinker, and The Researcher

graphic art and design: The Observer

26 April 2018

National Poetry Month: How to Memorize a Poem

I think National Poetry Month1 grows more important with each coming year, because poetry gives us a reason to stop, to listen. In such a loud world it is hard to tune out the din, but poetry has an uncanny ability to condense turmoil into something peaceful. 

April 26th is Poem in Your Pocket Day and we’ve loved this idea for many years2, but why not take it a little further this year? Why not, instead of just carrying around a poem in your pocket, carry it around in your mind. Carry around a deep, complex, intricate, peaceful moment.

I’ve been reciting and memorizing verse for almost as long as I can remember, everything from ditties to Shakespeare’s soliloquies. The first poem I memorized, I was nine, was Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening3; I can still remember it, nine years later. 

More recently, I memorize any poem that moves me enough to want to keep with me. Like William Ernest Henley’s Invictus4, it’s a good one for hard days, a great confidence booster. And Sara Kay’s Point B5, a powerful poem that embraces life and its vastness in a mere matter of words.

And after all this time memorizing and reciting, poetry I have inadvertently developed a memorizing process. There are a few steps for ingraining a poem into your mind; so jump in, and immerse yourself in poetry.

Choosing a poem:
This may be the most difficult step because there are many poems, many poets, many topics. It can be hard to figure out where to start. 
Start with what you know. Make a list of the poets and poetry you are familiar with. If you are completely new to the world of poetry, make a list of topics that impassion you (nature, or justice, or sadness). 
Then do your research. Go to the library, find the reference desk or look for the poetry section, look through the books, listen for poems that grab you especially. Or you can also search for poems on websites like the Poetry Foundation6
Memorizing a poem really only works when you get to know a poem, really know a poem. There are two ways to become familiar with a particular piece of work.
Read yourself between the lines. How do you fit into the poem? By a feeling, a desire, a memory? Imagine yourself inside the poem, try to “become one with the poem”. 
Translate. Some poems are written in language different from our everyday speech. So take ten minutes to translate the poem into words you’d use in your daily life. For example, here is a section of Helena’s monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve “interpreted”:
Original text: “Things base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”
My interpretation: Love can make terrible things into some of  the best qualities. And that’s probably because love is blind.
Memorizing a poem is a process. Once you have a poem and feel comfortable with it you are ready to memorize.
Split the poem into reasonable sized chunks. Separate the poem into sections between 2 and 6 lines long. If the poem has clear stanzas, separate it by those. Stanzas are usually four or more lines, but sometimes they are less. And with poems that rhyme, splitting this way can really help.  
Memorize one section per day (or in any other time unit you would like, but days work best). You can write the section down repeatedly, recite it in your head, recite it out loud. By the evening you should be able to know what you’ve memorized inside and out. 
Record yourself reciting the poem. You can voice or video record yourself reciting the poem as you go and listen to, or watch, it, over and over. This is a mental and more interactive version of rote memorization, and I’ve found that it works better. 
Add on.On day two, once you’ve memorized the day’s section recite all the parts of the poem you have in your head. On the last day of memorizing you’ll be reciting the entire poem.
Now, if you want to retain the poem, for a long time, you’ll have to recite it often, to yourself, or to others. So, weeks and months and years after you’ve initially memorized, come back and remember why you chose to make this poem a part of you.

This is a process that I’ve found to be successful, but you can also find your own way. In fact, please find your own way, because poetry is a very personal thing, it helps make sense of all the vastness, the beauty, and the pain around us. 

Poet, activist, librarian, Audre Lorde articulates how important all this poetical expansiveness is in her Essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury7

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” 

Written by Nadia Daniels-Moehle,
produced and edited by Amy Daniels-Moehle


1. National Poetry Month
2. BFWP: Put a Poem in Your Pocket Challenge 
3. Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
4. William Ernest Henley, Invictus
5. Sara Kay's Ted Talk "If I Should Have A Daughter..."
6. Poetry Foundation
7. Audre Lorde, "Poetry is Not a Luxury" from the collection of essays and speeches Sister Outsider.

28 March 2018

How Story Shapes Culture: A Wrinkle in Time

Written by Nadia Daniels-Moehle1

Image credit: Sonja Daniels-Moehle

We are shaped by culture and we shape culture. There are so many great thinkers and creators that have influenced humanity, we come back to their work over and over, and each time we experience it a little differently. Good books are like this, and movies too. Perhaps because of this I’ve always been wary of film adaptations of favorite books, I grow convinced that my interpretation of an author’s work is the work, but that is just not the case.

I remember distinctly the moment when I heard that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was being made into a movie, I immediately went into "protective book lover mode" a combination of intense hope with an acrid undertone of dread. Then I saw the trailer of Ava DuVernay’s adaptation, I was hopeful to see the racially diverse cast, but could the magical Disney imagery quell my "dark and stormy"2 expectations? Sha Xin Wei director of the Synthesis Center at Arizona State University said,
“When the problems exceed our current scientific solutions, the only way we can have palpable impact is through imagination. Sometimes good science requires magic.”3
On the weekend of March 9-11, 2018 A Wrinkle in Time created necessary magic for our times. Ava DuVernay’s direction took the film to the second highest place at the box office second only to Black Panther, the first time in history that two black directors claimed this prize. Which makes me realize that even if the movie isn’t like the story in my mind, this narrative, the story, is positively shaping our culture. Madeleine’s and Meg’s stories are impacting another generation, thanks especially to Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time. 

A Wrinkle in Time shapes our universes with stories we all need to remember, in the words of Madeleine herself in an interview with PBS from 2000
 "Meg finally realizes that love is stronger than hate. Hate may seem to win for a while, but love is stronger than hate.” 

1. In collaboration with Sonja Daniels-Moehle and Amy Daniels-Moehle
2. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, first line "It was a dark and stormy night."
3. The New Education, Cathy N. DavidsonSha Xin Wei quote p.p. 147 

01 November 2017

Discovering Libraries: Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

by The Thinker, Nadia Daniels-Moehle 

"So it goes."
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has been a household name throughout my life. When I was pretty small, I was a bit too young to comprehend politics or why this guy Kurt my parents mentioned was so brilliant.

For example this quote was written, in indelible marker, on our wall: "The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon."  I got a little older, politically aware, tall enough to be eye to eye with the quote, and old enough to understood its humor.

For a few years Kurt hovered in the background. Then when I was about 14 I read Slaughterhouse Five, I find my impetus for reading it is somewhat embarrassing: a boy I found cute said it was his favorite book.

So I let Slaughterhouse Five take me on a desolate adventure that turned life's insanity into the only sane thing. I continually come back to Kurt Vonnegut's work because it has the ability to bring his readers to an ironic, truthful, and beautifully brutal portrayal of the world, and of people.

In 2016 I learned about Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML) when I came across its Kickstarter campaign A Permanent Home for Kurt Vonnegut's Legacy. I was delighted to see an organization not only remembering an author's legacy but also using that legacy to create community and possibilities.

Thanks to KVML I, a then 15-year-old, funded a Kickstarter with my own money for the very first time. The preservation and sharing of knowledge and world views surrounding Kurt Vonnegut's work is utterly important. To evolve into better people, and into a better world, we need accessible knowledge and willing people, KVML has both.

About a month ago I was planning a, long dreamed of, visit to KVML during Banned Books Week. I knew I needed to write a Discovering Libraries post about it. I contacted Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO, who then put me in touch with Chris Lafave, the Library Curator. I then had an great phone conversation with the friendly and willing Chris during which he said, "Libraries are something else, they are almost like science fiction in a way."  I was excited, really, really excited.

Then Life happened, the kind of Life that makes you shrug and say "so it goes": two days before our visit my little sister found herself in the ER, while in the end she was alright she (and therefore we) couldn't travel. However I was determined, so determined that I chose to write a Discovering Libraries post without having visited the library.

photo credit: Chris Lafave
Chris Lafave, Library Curator 
Thankfully Chris was still willing to answer the Discovering Libraries interview questions as planned. Chris's answers made it possible for me, and now you, to virtually experience KVML. I also learned that his position as Library Curator is one that I dream of having, so watch out Chris someday I just may try to steal your job!

BFWP: Could you share how you came to work at KVML?
Chris Lafave: Certainly. In the beginning of 2011 I was halfway through a masters degree in Library Science from IUPUI when I found out there was about to be a Kurt Vonnegut Library opened right down the street from where I was going to school, so naturally as a huge Vonnegut fan, looking for employment of any kind in the library world, I ran to the spot as soon as I could and I offered any services I could give. I started as a volunteer, I spent about 3 hours that day alone taking stickers off of books that had been donated to our lending library by Half Priced Books*. I attended our grand opening, ran a raffle for fans to win a prize from our gift shop, and continued to work events as my schooling and day job allowed. Towards the end of 2011 our CEO and Founder Julia Whitehead asked me if I'd like to work for the library as the curator, and I excitedly agreed, and took over the position in 2012.
BFWP: Why do you think Kurt Vonnegut's stories and wisdom give people, young and old, both community and escapism?
CL: Well, I believe that Kurt Vonnegut's work touched on difficult subjects, for example we took the name of our 2018 programming from his novel Slapstick, or Lonesome No More. Vonnegut considered loneliness to be a disease, afflicting America because we no longer have large families, thus removing from us a large sense of community. Kurt may have born this feeling because of the somewhat recent dissolution of his marriage to Jane Cox, and partly because of the death of his sister in 1958, which he never really had much time to process until later in his life, when his kids (and her kids, whom he adopted) grew up. Lastly, he does reference the death of his uncle in that novel in the beginning, with Kurt and his brother going back to Indianapolis for the funeral.  It's a sad book, but full of humor. I believe it's Kurt's way of saying "the world is always going to be hard and difficult, here is a way I have dealt with it, through humor and these interesting stories about a guy who runs for President of the United States with the promise of giving everyone random large families, to help with loneliness, which contributes to poverty and the dissolution of marriages."  That kind of escapism I think, gives people hope, it removes them from the idea of feeling alone.

Chris mentioned KVML's 2018 programming and it just so happens that you, yes you, can help fund it! Their Kickstarter Lonesome No More - 2018 Programming at KVML ends November 15, and every donation, every dollar counts.

Why fund this Kickstarter you may ask...well...donating financially gives you a deeper connection to what you believe in whether the arts, social justice, science, or Hoosier literary culture. You become personally invested, and the world needs people to be personally invested, especially right now.

I know this from personal experience, as a teenager I've donated to Kickstarters knowing that I am not only investing in things I believe in but investing in the future. KVML wants to invest in the future of many for it will, "focus on mental health for all of its 2018 events and programming."

So take whatever you have to share and share it with KVML, this programing is so important and you will be investing in many people's futures.

BFWP: Why do you think libraries are an important part of a community?
CL: Endless reasons really, many people cannot afford books, movies, or even internet access, the library provides all of those, plus a feeling of both community and escapism depending on what you are looking for. Plus, nearly every library on earth has programs, ranging from childhood to adult literacy to book clubs, to simply providing meeting space for any kind of organization.
BFWP: Which library did you grow up using?
CL: Carmel Clay Public Library, but I have fond memories of many, Indianapolis has an excellent selection of public libraries, very fond of the College Avenue branch, the Spades Park Library which is a Carnegie Library, the main branch, in Muncie, Indiana where I went to University, Bracken Library with the college is an excellent library, the Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library is where I believe I first checked out Cat's Cradle, and thus was responsible in a large way for my love of Vonnegut, which is interesting considering he eventually received his masters degree from the University of Chicago for Cat's Cradle.
BFWP:What can a citizen do to help preserve the library as an institution?
CL: Donate money, or your time to volunteer, advocate for arts/humanities organizations, whenever you hear that funding is a problem, tell your neighbors and family, write your congressperson/governor.
BFWP: What service or feature is available at KVML that might surprise people?
CL: We are trained to register people to vote!

BFWP: If you had a magic wand and could do absolutely anything for the libraries of the world what would it be?

CL: Give us unlimited funding and make sure the entire world knows we're here.
(BFWP: Hint, hint... now would be a great time to fund KVML's Kickstarter.)

BFWP: What is the most interesting item held in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library's collection?
CL: Oh man, that's a tricky one, there is a letter from World War II, written by his father, that Kurt never opened, and his son Mark never opened it either, it's still sealed from 1944.  There's also a very angry letter to the editor that Kurt (father of 6) wrote to Look Magazine about Little League Baseball ruining family dinner hour.  That about broke my heart, thinking that Kurt might not like Baseball (I'm kidding), we also have a speech where he admits to not liking Bratwurst (that did break my heart).
BFWP: What are some special features of KVML?
CL: I can think of quite a few, this is one of the few libraries in the world where you are downright encouraged to type on a Typewriter, we have a piece of charred paper in our collection from when one of our Banned Books Week guests typed up the entire novel Fahrenheit 451 on two taped together pieces of paper, and then lit it on fire!  It sits next to a great photograph of Kurt and Ray Bradbury, courtesy of Dr. Jonathan Eller, who represents the Ray Bradbury Center, which is at IUPUI, right down the road from here.
BFWP: What is the best part of working at KVML?
CL: Hands down getting to meet diverse and interesting people every day, and having nearly all of them be Vonnegut fans, not to mention fans of the arts in general.  I've met so many other deadheads here.
BFWP: Do you have a favorite place in KVML?
CL: Absolutely, the actual reading space in the library, we have very comfortable chairs, a stereo system, a dimly lit light, a Typewriter, and walls of books.  I'm pretty content there.
BFWP: What are your hopes for the future of KVML?
CL: That it remains a place where arts and humanities fans can congregate for whatever reason they need us for centuries to come.  That it outlives me by an enormous margin.

Seriously Chris thanks for the awesome interview and don't hesitate to give me a call when you are ready to retire! Even though I haven't (yet!) visited KVML I feel as though I have.

The ability words and stories have to connect never cease to amaze me, nor does life, so in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: "So it goes."

photo source: KVML 
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library's Mission: 
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library champions the legacy of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut and the principles of free expression, common decency, and peaceful coexistence he advocated. 
Take a moment to check out their diversity statement which opens with this very truthful and poignant Kurt Vonnegut quote:  
“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. 
The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”

Take five minutes and share what you can with KVML's Kickstarter
The clock is ticking so don't hesitate!

18 August 2017

The Culture of Science: Get Out, Look Up --Eclipse 2017

A note from The Big Sister to help introduce our new feature The Culture of Science: 
In a culture full of technology and distractions the simple act of looking up is becoming a lost art. Yet tilting your head back to peer at something immense and mysterious, whether a person or the sky, should feel natural: that's what we all did for the first 10 years of our lives. Once the world was a marvel, now we just strive to find answers. 
Recently while stargazing, and waiting for the Persieds to blip across the sky, I felt expansive and fascinated in a way I hadn't for a long time. I realized that just as there is a vastness full of curiosity above us, there is the same vastness and curiosity inside us, sometimes we just forget it's there. 
The solar eclipse is giving us an opportunity to look up and experience a very special (and magical, as I would have said when I was little) part of the universe, and ourselves. This is a time to let our curiosity out and let the wonder in!
Where will you be on August 21, 2017? Wherever you are (if you happen to be on the North American Continent) you are gonna want to look up. We've gathered references, resources, information, and inspiration from some of our go-to science favorites like Scientific American Magazine, Bill Nye and The Planetary SocietyU.S. National Park Service, the original Bad Astronomer Phil Plait of PBS Crash Course Astronomy & SyFy Wire, and of course, our book shelves

Take a minute or 30, spend some time with Books for Walls Project, enjoy the our new feature: 
The Culture of Science and Get Out and Look Up!

Eclipse 2017: All the way across North America!
(Image credit: Planetary Society)
How to know where to go and what time? 
"If you can, plan your primary destination to be the closest place within your range of travel with the best climatological conditions. Then, watch the short-term weather forecast starting a week before and adjust your target destination if necessary.
And maybe hope for a little luck: As the moon begins to partially cover the sun, a phenomenon called “eclipse cooling” begins: The lowering of air temperature may dissipate a thin cloud layer and save the day."
Read more tips for viewing from Scientific American, click here.

How to I get my kids to look up and understand how special this is?
Don't worry, you have help. The Planetary Society and the U.S. National Park Service have partnered up for the very first time to pool their resources and inspiration to help us all get out and look up. 
Ever want to be a Park Ranger... well here is your chance to become a National Park Service Junior Ranger. Get the Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer Book, full of fun and engaging activities, geared toward the curious and youthful of all ages. 
To download Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer Book
click here!

a short video about the eclipse with Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO and of course, the Science Guy and a ranger from the National Park Service:

LEARN: Phil Plait breaks down what an eclipse is. If you like this video consider  watching PBS Crash Course Astronomy entire series, we did and whew, the course and Phil Plait are simply brilliant --we dare you to watch just one and try not to get hooked.

Now you know what the eclipse is and where to look, but how to look? 
Shop carefully for glasses: Trust the America Astronomical Society, "your eyes are precious! You don't need astronomers to tell you that, but you do need astronomers to tell you where to get safe solar filters:" click here for the list from AAS.
Oh, no, I cannot find glasses! What to do? No worries, Science has a solution: 
"Here's a simple and safe way to observe a partial eclipse that's appropriate for young children with no eclipse glasses or other special equipment needed." Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society explains, "throughout the exercise, kids safely face away from the Sun."
Click here to DIY your own Pinhole Projector or watch the video!

______And this happened, all you science geeks can understand how cool it is:
We're learning about how to use (read: not get distracted by) Twitter. 
@booksforwalls tweeted and yup, @exploreplanets retweeted, that was cool.

It's not to late to get Planetary Society Eclipse 2017
swag, check out the Chop Shop Store. We are just about ready,
but we have a lot of reading to do...

How about some recommendations from the shelves of Books for Walls:

George's Secret Key to the Universe by Stephen and Lucy Hawking (Stephen's Daughter!) Get it at the library. 
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey (this book has been on The Sister's shelf since they were very small and there is a new up-to-date edition!)
Get a Grip on Astronomy by Robin Kerrod (The illustrations call you to pick up and explore astronomy.) Get it at the library.

Still want more?  
Learn more about The Sister's experience with the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program.
Explore www.booksforwallsproject.org, where everyday is a good day to read a book. Join us.