Thursday, September 20, 2012

30th Year Reflections/16: Gone Fishing

“Gone fishing” — a time-honored sign found in shop windows when the proprietor is absent and unavailable to conduct business

At the moment I’m doing exactly what the sign says…or at least for a portion of the week. Since Sunday I have been in the north woods of Minnesota enjoying a week of vacation I was unable to schedule during the summer months—and getting some fishing in when the weather allows. Yesterday we pulled two four-pound northern pike into the boat. The filets are now in the freezer.

Idiomatic phrases intrigue me. Some, like the example above, can have multiple meanings. In this case it might also refer “to someone who is completely unaware of all that is going on in his or her immediate surroundings. The person described in this manner has checked out from reality and may be daydreaming or just simply ignorant of the people and things in the vicinity.” I have another idiom for this second definition: “out to lunch.” Such are the joys of the English language.

But even on vacation I have not been out to lunch or on the lake the entire time. One of the realities that sometimes comes with a profession—any profession—is the need to take care of business away from the office and outside the “normal” constraints of a forty hour work week. I once asked a colleague what the institutional expectation was in terms of a professional librarian’s schedule. Was it the 40 hours per week indicated in my letter of appointment or something else? She answered by saying that sometimes one needed to work until the work was done, whatever it took. I haven’t always agreed with that assessment, but now and then there’s not much of a choice. You do what you have to do. It is both a blessing and a curse, enhanced for good or ill by today’s technology. Thus, I find myself at a remote resort where I have mobile phone and internet access and the ability to complete some unfinished work—even if the wireless signal is sometimes interrupted by the screens on our cabin, forcing me to work outside on the picnic table.

I am reluctant to take work with me on vacation; it defeats the purpose of getting away, decompressing, and forgetting about work for a few days. But in this case—here my Sherlockian readers should take note—I needed to complete some details related to an upcoming auction that includes a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle manuscript of note (and one that we would like to acquire for our collection). If you’re reading this on the day I post it the auction will be underway and I’ll be tracking results from the north woods. From the moment I arrived at the cabin time was spent corresponding with friends across the country and colleagues at work to get administrative approval, remotely inspect the lot, gather additional information from those able to personally inspect the item of interest, strategize on a bid, collect necessary financial information, review terms and conditions, register with the auction house, and submit a bid. Such consultation and activity would have been more difficult—if not impossible—in an earlier age restricted to land line telephone calls and long distance bills. Now, from the comfort of my picnic table or the overstuffed chair by the fire—if the wireless signal is strong enough—I can write these words, post them to my blog, update colleagues and friends, figuratively bait a line, and see what bites.

Normally I set my blog to automatically post my next entry at 1am local time Thursday. In this case I waited until after “our” lot in the auction went under the hammer and the result was known. In this case “the big one” got away. We didn’t have enough bait on the line and were outbid by a Doylean angler with more tackle and deeper pockets—much deeper pockets. In this instance “gone fishing” was full of meaning, intent and hope, done with a group of friends I cherish, and an experience I’ll long remember. We weren’t successful at the auction but it was a great fishing trip all the same. Perhaps next time we’ll hook a big one and bring it home.

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