Stories from middle America

I’ve heard it from others and have said it countless times myself: “I just don’t have the time to sit and read a book.”

Listen, we’re all insanely and overwhelmingly busy with any number of professional commitments, passion projects, family and friends, get-togethers, and the like. Our free time flounders in a choppy sea thick with calendar alerts reminding us of something to do (or something we forgot to do).

I work in a public library. You may think that in a four-story building teeming with books I’d be reading every day. And you’re right: I do read every day. However, it happens because I make it a priority. Of course, making something a priority means abandoning (or at least delaying) something else.

Blaming social media is too easy. What I instead find in my own life, and witness in strangers on a daily basis, is our absentminded behavior with our tech. Every hour, we blandly scroll through our social media feeds, our email, our text messages from two days ago. Those wasted moments really start to add up.

We know why we do this: we’re all stressed, and we need a mini mental vacation. But a few months ago, I started picking up a book and reading a page or two when I need a grown-up time-out.

Books on a park bench

I discovered that stepping away from social media allowed me to quickly clear my head, as well. The varied voices we hear from Facebook and Twitter can stay with us. A nonsensical post or tweet you read from a complete stranger can take up valuable space in your mind. And you may simmer on such unnecessary content without even knowing it; when instead, you could be feeding your brain with a great story.

“But Wendy,” you may be thinking (or saying, in which case I won’t judge you for speaking to a webpage), “you work in a library. Of course it’s okay for you to read at work. But that’s just not an option for me.”

Please allow me to politely disagree. If we’re talking about a day at work, save up your free moments, take the entire lunch or the entire break allotted to you, put away your device, and pick up a book. (Or, if you’re a fan of ebooks, download one or two or more.)

The more you read each day, the more you will find yourself wanting to read each day.

It takes practice. The reactive nature when our devices beep and chirp and squawk is just that: reactive. But it doesn’t have to be. Silence the darn thing and put it out of view.

And it takes planning. Keep a book (or ebook) with you at all times. It may feel like you’re back in college lugging around books — ahem, The Goldfinch and her 775 pages — but the only barrier between you and the book you’ve been wanting to read will be, quite frankly, you.

When you arrive home, the same pull often exists to our televisions. So much streaming content! So little time! But remember the beauty of such on-demand entertainment: it is always there, patiently waiting for you. (The same holds true for the pages and pages of photos, status updates, and tweets.)

Teacup with stacks of books

Resist the urge to grab the remote and, instead, open the book you’ve been reading (or have wanted to read). Your local library is a great (and free) place to start. When I’m unsure of what to read next, I love visiting the Omaha Public Library BookNook. Library staff regularly review various titles. Which means trying a completely new genre, when borrowed from the library, won’t cost me a penny. (Beat that, two-day free shipping.)

The success in most experiences — yes, even the recreational, restorative ones like reading — comes from structure and planning ahead. Enjoying a bottle of wine means stopping at the grocery store. Zoning out during a sixty-minute massage means making the appointment. Relaxing in your favorite PJs means doing laundry every now and then.

Make room in your handbag for a book, pick up a copy, and start reading today. Which title will it be?

Dogeared is Wendy Townley’s monthly column on COOP, where she writes about all things literary. Sometimes that means the new paperback stuffed in her Vera Bradley bag, sometimes it’s her latest library treasure, and sometimes it’s her own thoughts about this magical thing called writing.

The email grabbed my attention like no coupon ever could.

“You’re eligible for a Klout Perk!” the subject line exclaimed in bold type. I immediately abandoned anything work-related. A quick, breathless scan, and I discovered my perk this time around was a book — I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. (Klout, you know me too well!)

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Crunching my recent social media posts led Klout computers to the correct assumption that I am a reader. Last March I became development director of the Omaha Public Library Foundation and, admittedly, have populated my Facebook and Twitter accounts with updates about my work at the library.

(What can I say? When I’m excited about something, I talk about it. A LOT.)

My days are focused on securing private dollars for the Omaha Public Library system: its twelve branches, patrons, programs, services, and staff. For years I was an Omaha Public Library patron; today, I am one of her biggest champions. Last year our tiny, two-woman staff raised more than $1 million for the library and started a young professionals group of library supporters called the 1877 Society.

Omaha Public Library

All of this activity and online chatter must have told Klout I love the library (and possibly that I could use some other topics to tweet about). Knowing very little about the thriller genre and even less about the author, I accepted Klout’s free gift and eagerly awaited the arrival of my new read.

The book landed with a thud on our front porch. I tore open the thick cardboard envelope and dropped the book near my sewing machine and knitting needles. And there, among so many other colorful pastimes, it sat. Until a few weeks later, when I grew temporarily tired of the comfy, cozy fiction by Debbie Macomber and cracked open I Am Pilgrim.

For the past several months, Pilgrim and I have become quite close. It’s a book not to take lightly, literally. The hardcover edition boasts more than 600 pages.

Having been heavily influenced by the librarians I work with, I first did my research. For example, I learned that Pilgrim is Hayes’ first book. A screenwriter by trade, Hayes is credited for films such as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

The story unfolds through (fictitious) dark and gritty circumstances surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It mentions Osama bin Laden, of course, but also smartly connects a heinous New York City murder, a super-secret agent, the threat of a smallpox epidemic, an international terrorist, and the suspicious murder of a wealthy American.

Hayes takes us around the globe as one chance encounter, one horrific crime, one unbelievable turn of events leads to something else entirely. Some of the murder scenes (beheadings and the removal of one’s eyes, to name two of the worst) are difficult to stomach, but my curiosity pushed me page after page.

I was mentally and emotionally fatigued upon finishing Pilgrim, but I am certain to read Hayes’ newly released follow-up: The Year of the Locust. But not before I return to something a little lighter first.

Lena Dunham, anyone?

Dogeared is Wendy Townley’s monthly column on COOP, where she writes about all things literary. Sometimes that means the new paperback stuffed in her Vera Bradley bag, sometimes it’s her latest library treasure, and sometimes it’s her own thoughts about this magical thing called writing.

I first met Anne Hepburn through her work as a Krug Park bartender. I could immediately tell Anne was a woman I would like to get to know. Anne struck me as a truly genuine woman. And the more I got to know her, the more right I was.

This past summer I joined Anne in her backyard to enjoy a mason jar of red wine and a great chat about her personal style, her passions, and her thoughts on today’s cocktails.


Tell us about your background.
I guess I have never had any aspirations for a career, per se. When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist or a marine biologist, but those were always just interests for me. I have always just done what feels right at the time.

I love music, so for a while I was booking bands, working at a record store. I like socializing, so I bartended.

I went to college initially because it was what was expected of me. It took me 10 years to finish my undergrad in English and art history at UNO. After that, I wanted to explore a bit, so I moved to Portland, Oregon, having never even visited before. I sold everything I owned and just did it. I got a job at a bookstore because I felt it was the easiest way to meet people who had similar interests as me. Some of my best friends to this day came from that job, so it was a good decision.

I then decided that I should go back to school, so I got my master’s degree in library science. I worked for a while as a librarian at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. I loved the people, but I eventually sort of lost interest in my work, and my passion never matched those working around me. Libraries are incredibly underfunded and under-appreciated, and I despised the need to constantly justify our existence to the guys doling out money.

I decided to come back home. I worked odd jobs, but was mainly at Slowdown, bartending. I then got the job at Krug Park when it opened in 2011. I truly enjoy my work there. It never gets monotonous, every day is different, and I get to be creative.


The favorite part of your job?
Creating cocktails. It’s part art, part science, and part history. I love researching old classic cocktails and methods and putting a modern touch on them. I also love incorporating whatever is fresh and in-season. Mostly, I just end up making drinks that I would personally drink, if I was going to order something that day.

I think about what the weather is like outside, what’s going on in the world, and concoct something on the fly based on that. My main philosophy, (if you can put one to booze) is that a good cocktail doesn’t have to be fussy, or expensive. It should be accessible to anyone looking to try something new.


What about your hobbies?
In my spare time, I usually am at home, working on some project around the house. I’m really into cooking and baking, so I am in the kitchen a lot. I also had a gigantic garden this year, which is probably more garden than I can handle, but it’s such a therapeutic exercise for me.

I spend my time at work constantly moving, talking, engaging with people. In my spare time, I prefer silence: not TV, not even music usually. There are days that when my boyfriend comes home from work, I realize that I haven’t spoken a word to anyone all day. I take long walks with my dog, Walter. He’s sometimes the only one I talk to all day.


Describe your personal style.
I never really put a ton of effort into style. That sort of thing never really interested me that much. I will choose comfort over fashion every time. I guess I prefer simple and basic designs. A dress with boots is probably my favorite style. I love cardigans, I hate t-shirts. I’ve never found a pair of jeans that fit me the way I want them to fit. I don’t wear makeup, except for mascara, and occasionally eyeliner. I never even owned a hair dryer until I got bangs.

Finish this sentence: I am passionate about …
Living an authentic life. I speak my mind. I do what makes me happy. I love my boyfriend, Kelly. I love our dog, Walter. I am passionate about intelligence, learning, and about being true to yourself.

I see so many women being girls, instead of being the women they should be proud to be. I see it a lot in my job. For instance, that thing, where a woman orders a drink from me using some stupid Betty Boop-like voice. I just think “that’s not your voice! use YOUR voice! You’re probably a freaking lawyer and you’re talking like a child!” That baby-fication of women makes me pretty irate.

As an Atheist, I believe that I get this one shot. And I’m not going to waste my time doing things that bore me. I don’t believe in some Big Reward at the end. The reward is in a good martini, or a walk with Walter, or a summer day with no humidity, or a steak cooked perfectly medium rare.


All photos by Hooton Images.


November 14, 2014

Bits and Pieces

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 11.18.51 AM

From my bathroom stall at Whole Foods this week. 

I no longer feel guilty taking some time to read blogs, newspaper articles and magazines. Staying abreast of current cultural conversations informs my work, and more importantly, my humanity.

And I really like playing on the internet.

Here are a couple of pieces I found interesting this week.

Stop Taking Pictures of Homeless People

“If you want to make a statement about the state of public health care, mental health, affordable housing, or abuse, then do that. Spend time with people, talk to them, have an agenda and a message you formulate yourself and commit to it. That is interesting. Taking a picture of a dude passed out in a park isn’t telling; it’s annoying.”

For real.

Showroom vs. Sanctuary

I can’t begin to describe the impact this article has had on me. I’ve been struggling with the sometimes frivolous world where I make my living and my absolute passion for what I do.

Sharing Synesthesia with Kaitlyn and Matt Hova

I was fortunate enough to meet Kaitlyn and Matt at a party before they left for California. She discussed synesthesia and it was incredibly interesting learning about it and how it affects her music. It’s even cooler that Matt has developed a way to share in his wife’s super power.

Happy Friday!

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