Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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04/05/2004: "The Secret Lives of Librarians"

As I mentioned before, the only break I took from painting on Saturday was to go to a dinner party at my friend Thomas's new apartment. His boyfriend is from Indonesia and so he made three vegetarian dishes from Java; Soen is South Korean, and she made a wonderful Korean style salad and Yana is from Russia so she made a Ukrainian style stuffed pepper dish that was amazing! It was an interesting group of people, the food was fantastic, the wine red, I liked everyone there a lot...and yet as soon as dinner was over I started feeling really antsy to get going.

Everyone was trying to have a pleasant conversation and I kept bringing up issues like the relationship between global starvation and energy consumption, or how the WTO protestors who got US factories in developing nations closed are actually hurting the workers...etc. Thane made a comment (joking I think) about making a note not to invite me to his next get together.

I asked Thomas if he'd be offended if I ate and ran, told him that I was anxious to get back to my paintings and he said that was fine. So I grabbed my coat and said goodbye to everyone and one woman said "You're kind of anti-social aren't you?". It stopped me in my tracks. And instead of just laughing good naturedly, I went into the long excuse about growing up in a big family, never having any privacy, enjoying time alone and basically that the only reason I was leaving was because I was in the middle of a destroying several paintings and I needed to get back to them.

Thomas is also a painter and he understood what I meant but he made a comment about using "every fucking excuse under the sun" and the woman who originally made the comment said something like "I was just kidding you" which made me feel like a ridiculous ass.

Not to mention the fact that on Friday a friend invited a mutual friend to see a movie with her without asking me while the three of us were standing and talking together. I thought it was rude and later when I asked her about it she said that she didn't invite me because I always say no (which is kind of true). My friends here also don't understand why I don't want to date anyone. It's completely unfathomable to them.

Way back when, I decided to get my master's degree in library and information science because I was too afraid of getting an MFA and not being able to find a job. I went to grad school in Hawaii. There I felt like a different person. I wore flip flops and had toe rings and blonde streaks in my hair. I wore mini skirts and had a bikini and went surfing and to parties every weekend and out dancing and had lots of friends and even dated several cute boys.

Before I even graduated from the Universiy of Hawaii I flew up to Juneau to interview for the job at UAS and when they offered it to me, I took it out of fear I might not get another one. I moved to Juneau in August of 1999...and when I did so, I felt like I aged a hundred years. In Hawaii (and Anchorage before that) I was known as a partier and an artist with a lot of interesting artist/musician/writer friends. I used to get so many phone calls on any given night of the week that I would become overwhelmed.

After moving to Juneau I went through a depression that lasted over 4 or 5 months. I felt like I had to be responsible. In my contract with the University they talked a lot about being a representative of the University and that my conduct should reflect that trust, or some such crap. I remember going out to one of the only cool bars in Juneau, The Alaskan (original name eh?) and getting drunk and seeing several students there and feeling really self conscious. I was a faculty member now, a professor, and I needed to act responsibly. And as well as being a professor, I was also a librarian.

Now, people have very specific ideas about what librarians are like. And moving to a new place where no one knew what a groovy chick I was, it was like having to start all over again. And to make matters worse, when I got depressed I ended up having to see someone, got the official bi-polar diagnosis, and started taking medication to even me out. I realized something then, that I basically have two speeds, on and off. When I'd be "on", I could go to parties and get crazy and make friends with everyone and be, as I was often reminded, the "life of the party". When I was off, I wouldn't go to parties. I'd just stay in bed and tell people I was sick and not answer the phone. So here in Juneau, for the first time ever, I had to go to parties more or less sober.

I realized that I had no clue how to behave if I wasn't manic. I couldn't make small talk, didn't know what to do with my hands, felt awkward and would just be standing by myself in a corner praying for a decent amount of time to go by so I could get the hell out of there.

I think of how I am now, and I wonder how much of it is really me, my true personality coming through, anti-social behavior and all...or how much of it is me just responding to how people treat me. I mean, how much of who we are is really determined by how we are treated? If people treat you like a subversive artist, and like you're the coolest person they've ever met, you respond accordingly. If people treat you like a dorky shy anti-social librarian, maybe you respond just as accordingly to that?

Or maybe it's the drugs?

Replies: 2 Comments

on Wednesday, April 7th,">Jackie said

Aren't friend those folks who can say anything to us, no matter how direct or hurtful they may seem, but in the end it all comes out in the wash, and we forgive each other and move on? In other's probably just the drugs. Anti-depressants have been know to seriously warp the reality of the consumer. But people can't 'treat you' like someone you don't act be yourself, and screw the ones who don't like who you are!
BTW: my oldest sister is a librarian (retired UAA, Mat-Su Com. College) and she is one of the coolest, most sophisticated, fun people I know. So there!

on Wednesday, April 7th,">Elise said

Hey, don't get me wrong, I think librarians kick ass, I just think a lot of people don't really know what librarians do. They think we just read and check books out...nothing could be farther from the truth!
I just still see so many stereotypes of the older spinster woman with a bun, bifocals, and comfortable shoes shhhhing someone. And I do think people make assumptions about you, know matter who you are, based on what your occupation is. Whether you pump gas or you're a lawyer or whatever. I think we're all guilty of it.

And maybe I'm just sensitive because I do wear my hair up a lot, and I don't have nice stylish clothes and I'm unmarried with two cats. In some ways I fit the stereotype and that bothers me because inside I have the heart of a radical wild child. But you are right that I should just be myself...the only problem is that I don't like myself that much these days. I really wish I could change everything about myself in fact.

So, who is your sister the librarian that retired from UAA? I may know her, as I worked there for many years as a student back in the 90s.