I think I’ve been placed on some kind of watchlist at the library. Whenever I enter, an alarm sounds. (It doesn’t matter that I can’t actually hear the alarm. I know it exists.) The librarians squint at me from beneath furrowed brows as I drag Oscar past the fish tanks and into the relative safety of the play area. I’m also certain that security cameras follow my every move, and not just because of the one time I didn’t drag fast enough and Oscar practiced his new drum solo right on top of the cherished Angelfish.
I blame children’s magazines.
In my elementary school days, I was awash with writerly success — I won savings bonds, had my stories animated for children’s shows, and performed poetry for the local school board. While I expect that my prized status had more to do with the fact that I spent all of my time entering contests and less to do with actual merit, I could still claim that I was an award-winning author.
In middle and high school, I continued to enter my writing in various contests and would occasionally win awards, but I was much more likely to pen angry poems about angels and drowning and bruises and squirrel them away in notebooks, never to see the light of day.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve submitted my work anywhere, and for some reason, when you’re an adult, no one cares that your poem about snowflakes won first prize in some regional contest when you were eleven. (I do maintain that that was a damn good poem, though.) Now that I am old and grey and unable to stop writing long enough to feed myself anything other than peanut butter crackers, I feel that same urge I did in elementary school. I want to write. More than that, I want to share my writing.
That’s how I first angered the librarians this past fall. Buoyed by bright, shiny optimism, I decided to read a bunch of children’s magazines to get a sense of what kind of work they’re publishing. When I approached the circulation desk carrying 27 back issues of Spider and Cricket, the librarian’s face fell. As it turned out, the magazines were not entered into the digital checkout system, which meant that she had to write the due date by hand in the back of every single one.
The second time I incurred their wrath, I checked out just fifteen magazines. (I suppose I’d learned my lesson.) Much to my relief, the magazines had been entered into the system, though I’m at least 56% sure that I had nothing to do with that. All was well until I attempted to return them — for some reason, the librarian was certain that I had overdue magazines from the last time I was there.
Now, I have many flaws, many, MANY flaws, but I don’t turn in library books late. My delicate southern sensibilities are offended just thinking about it.
Thankfully, the librarian who I first had a run-in with was also on duty, and she was able to confirm (with only a slight snarl) that she knew me and was certain that I’d turned in all of my magazines.
I decided to lay low for a few weeks — over the holidays, I focused on poetry and nonfiction and was delighted to have two works accepted to various websites. When the adrenaline wore off, however, I was back at the library with another stack of magazines.
Unfortunately, a third librarian was on duty. Her perky ponytail and optimistic smile assured me that she somehow knew nothing of my shiny, magazined past. I approached with some trepidation, and working quickly before she could match my face to the wanted poster in the break room, I began to scan my magazines.
Of course, I only made it through five before the machine began to whoop and holler. “WARNING. THIS WOMAN IS CHECKING OUT AN UNGODLY AMOUNT OF MAGAZINES. WHY DOES SHE NEED SO MANY. WHY MUST SHE DO THIS TO ME. WHY. WHY.”
The librarian’s ponytail dropped a degree or two. “Is there a problem?”
“No,” I said, sweat already beading on my forehead. I frantically tried to swipe another issue of Highlights.
“WARNING. THIS WOMAN HAS TURNED CHECKING OUT MAGAZINES INTO A CLANDESTINE ACTIVITY. WHY IS SHE SO SHIFTY. WHY.”
I paused. “The machine doesn’t seem to be letting me check these out.”
She eyed my stack, which was at least as tall as I am. (And I’m tall.)
“Try swiping again.”
The machine croaked angrily. So did all of the people in the line that had begun to form behind me.
She sighed. “Okay. I’ll just scan you in by hand.”
31 magazines later, I was free, she had fourteen new grey hairs, and my name and picture were emblazoned across every entrance of the library.
“WARNING. DANGEROUS READER. DO NOT LET INTO THE LIBRARY, LEST SHE ATTEMPT TO CHECK OUT MAGAZINES AND CONTRIBUTE THE COLLAPSE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.”
Man, I hope I get something published in a children’s magazine. I’d love to see the librarians’ faces when I approach them with a single issue, and instead of checking it out, open it to my byline. That would almost make it worth it.
Well, for me. Not for them.
Wish me luck!