I Never Knew Myself
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Elizabeth Bennet says this in Pride and Prejudice when she tells her sister Jane about the perfidy of Mr. Wickham and the integrity of Mr. Darcy. "Till this time I never knew myself" she says. The character, Emma, says much the same thing to herself when, after being chastised by Mr. Knightly for being unkind to chattery, foolish Miss Bates, she realizes she has been plotting a match between her protegee and the man she loves. Jane Austen loves the pivotal nature of self discovery as the plot architecture needed to push a story to its conclusion. Jenefer Ehle, quoting those lines, "till this time ..." has been echoing in my head now for almost 24 hours, and while, when applied to me, they are not a criticism of any busybody ways or swift judgmental proclamations, they are apt - so very apt.
For more than a year I have been puzzling over how I got roped into being the president of an organization I admire but never wanted to lead. Yes. I like to be in charge, but only of things to which I am intensely attached - for which I expect to find personal gratification. I built and ran the library first and foremost, because I wanted a good library - and then, as a nice secondary achievement, I wanted to share it with my community. There is a long, conflicted and convoluted story about how I ended up as president of this organization, suffice to say that there is a debt of love and kindness to some magical women that I still feel the urge to repay. But taking on a leadership role over a group of nice people I don't know all that well, in an organization I have never particularly wanted to be part of - and who's structure and processes were quite unknown - has been a whopping struggle. And that struggle reached its peak this week as I pulled together the statistical reports with narrative descriptions of all the organization has done in 2020.
Right. Things done. By a civic group, whose charitable activities, social gatherings, public ceremonies were all shadowed by That Virus. Worse yet, there were some personality issues going on and some organizational processes that were not just interrupted, they were actually corrupted - non-functioning.
So into that pile of clutter - much like the heaps of stuff in my attic - I ventured last weekend and began the process of filling out those reports to the district level of this national organization, with a January 25 deadline for completion.
The more I worked on this, the more I realized that nobody in this organization actually understands it all - neither its process nor its purpose. This data is never shared with the group. It's value has never been seen as something to build upon or share with others. I think, over the years, the folks doing it have begun to equate these reports with something like income taxes - a burden you get done with as fast as you can, with as skimpy a grasp as possible, grateful to just write the dang check to make it go away.
As I slogged on, I began to see, not only the value of this information gathering, but also how to make the gathering of it easy. I could see both a purpose and a process. And that is when I realized how much I love creating processes that work. Data storage and retrieval processes, in particular. Ways of making things easy to get at, by anyone at all, not just the chosen few. Making it easy for people to KNOW. Because when people know things, the world is a better place. And I want to live in a better place. I am, in addition to being deeply self-gratifying, also and in fact, a librarian. The real thing.
I never knew this. I don't have a degree in library science and spent a career being condescendingly tolerated by The Higher Ups. The state of Virginia won't even call me a librarian, since those higher-ups are so in love with academic credentials they snub anyone without them, even those who can do the work and actually do it. I could call myself a library director - their synonym for boss of a library - but woe unto me if I was ever so mistaken as to call myself a librarian. But they were wrong. I always knew they were and mostly laughed in their faces - especially when the Bess Haile legislation (their name for it, not mine) was passed. That gave me the money, if not the designation.
But if a career flows from a vocation - I was the real thing. I was the person who loved being the housewife of information - who got to know it, rarely judged it, saw the value of it, cared for it, tidied it, put it away, brought it out when asked for it - even created clear pathways so that Other People could find what they wanted without even having to ask.
Funny - I always thought my gift was an ability to generate enthusiasm. Almost a kind of chemical reaction people have to me that causes them to sort of get up and do. I never realized I had this streamlining capability, always assuming I just had a really good memory for where things are. I just never knew myself. And what fun it is to learn this at 68. Even more fun is to have a place to bring such a gift. And now that I know what to do with the gift, I don't feel the weight of the civic organization any more. Now I know how, and why, I have to admit, it's kind of fun to actually do.
What a discovery.