Thursday, June 6, 2013

30th Year Reflections/47: Presents

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Every now and then it happens. It happened this week: Christmas in June. I speak of those moments of pure joy, of jaw-dropping beauty, of moments that take your breath away and then leave you “giddy as a drunken man.”

In this case it happened three times in one day. One should be so fortunate to have such times every day. But realist that I am, I know that such cannot be the case. Not every day comes wrapped with a bow, with unexpected pleasures waiting around the next corner, ready to spring on us in unalloyed delight. These are the simple pleasures that come with the job—some scripted, others not—that cause us to pause and thank our lucky stars. Such moments are not limited to my special arena of special collections and rare books, although I do believe the odds are improved, if ever so slightly, because I get to work with such amazing stuff, in the company of very good people.

The specific cases of which I speak, and which gave me such a tickle, involved a visit from a rare book dealer, a short note from an intern, and another visit from two extraordinary book artists. The appointment with the book dealer had been on the calendar for some time. It was his first call to our shop in years, and my first acquaintance with him. His arrival was accompanied by somewhat comical circumstances in the form of numerous phone calls asking for directions. At one point I felt like an air traffic controller, gently guiding him in to port. Safely arrived, and in good spirits, he began to spread his wares before me and my intern. In turn, we looked at each volume placed before us, oohing and aahing at the type, the binding, the prints, the beauty. When all was said and done, I indicated that I would take the lot. (Fortunately, I was in a position to do so, and as I explained to my intern later, each piece fit nicely within the scope of our collections.)

My afternoon visit with the book artists was in the same vein, this time accompanied by another colleague. Together we looked at spectacular work, carefully and lovingly crafted. At the time I didn’t commit to any purchases, but I have their catalog and will look at it thoroughly with a hope to add a few of their works to our collection.

The final tickle came in the short note from my intern. Earlier in the day we worked on formulating her learning objectives for the summer. I worked on one draft, she another. She shared her draft with me, and I, taking her thoughts and words and wrapping them in my own language, shared them with her. Her one word response to my version made me giggle, much in the way of Scrooge on Christmas morning: “speechless” (to which she later added in conversation, “I guess that’s why they pay you the big money.”).

Her comment, my reaction to her comment, our shared reactions to the book dealer’s visit, and my later time with the book artists, all point in the same direction. There is joy in our work, even in those moments we might consider mundane, that are there for the taking, waiting to be discovered. My error—and perhaps yours as well—is failing to look for those moments, to savor them for all their worth, to use that energy to the good as we move through the day. Our default position, more often than not, is to wallow in our woes, complain about workloads or recalcitrant colleagues, or whatever ails us. Those moments of joy point to a more excellent way. We need to make them a regular feature of our work.

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