Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Now displaying: January, 2019

Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Jan 31, 2019

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Lauren Martino:  Welcome to Library Matters.  My name is Lauren Martino; I'm your host today.  Black history month is right around the corner and with us today are two MCPL staff members ready to give you some background on African American fiction as well as some titles to read for black history month and all year round.  With us today is Christian Wilson who is a librarian at the Silver Spring library, hi Christian?

Christian Wilson:  Hello, how are you doing today Lauren?

Lauren Martino:  I'm good.  How are you?

Christian Wilson:  I’m doing well, I’m doing well.

Lauren Martino:  And with us as well as Diane Betsy who is a library associate with Collection Management and has run the African American book club in Rockville for the past 15 years, is that it?

Diane Betsy:  Yes, 15 years, we had our 15th anniversary.

Lauren Martino:  Oh, that's exciting, welcome Diane.

Diane Betsy:  Thank you, I'm so glad to be here.

Lauren Martino:  Let's start with, how do you define African American fiction?  What makes something African American fiction?

Christian Wilson:  I would say African American fiction is fiction written by African descendants of slaves that were brought here from the beginning of colonial times, so 1619 until slavery was abolished in 1865 in the United States of America and its territories.  I would say fiction by any other authors who are African or Afro descended, but are from say the Caribbean or from Africa themselves would not count as African American fiction, because they just don't have the shared experiences that we do as descendants of slaves in the United States.

Lauren Martino:  So something like swing time that takes place in Great Britain primarily is -- would be something that wouldn’t quite qualify?

Christian Wilson:  Unless it’s written by an African American author who was a descendant of slaves in the United States, it probably would not qualify like Adichie’s books; they would not qualify, even though she was reared here, she doesn't have the African American experience of being descended from slaves that were brought here.  She was -- she's from Nigeria, so that's completely different worldview.

Diane Betsy:  Okay, we see things a little different...

Lauren Martino:  Okay, let's discuss this.

Diane Betsy:  In the African American Book Discussion Group of Rockville Memorial Library, that's our official name.  Forgive me.  We started out thinking African American book discussion was basically African American authors; that is people, black people born in the United States who wrote books about black people born in the United States.  Over the years though, we've expanded our definition so that we include -- actually we tell people we read books by and about people of African descent.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.

Diane Betsy:  And therefore we read Zadie Smith, who's an English author, Chimamanda Adichie, we read a lot of Edwidge Danticat from Haiti, we read a lot of authors from the -- what they call the black Diaspora, Diaspora.  So when in our book group and we say African American authors, we really mean people born or people who are descendant from Africans not specifically just the United States of America.

Lauren Martino:  Okay, I guess you can define America pretty broadly too depending, it’s like…?

Diane Betsy:  Yeah, because America as well…

Lauren Martino:  Is Haiti part of the Americans?

Diane Betsy:  The American, yeah the American content, so to say the Americas you would be including the America, so you’d be including Canada, the United States, South America.  In our book group, we just say African American authors and -- but we mean, black people who were – people who were descendants from Africans from all over, we read from all over the world.

Lauren Martino:  So there's a couple of different definitions and I imagine there are books that you just don't want to pass up on, because they are just that good.

Diane Betsy:  Exactly, yeah.

Lauren Martino:  So can anybody comment on like the history of African American fiction, kind of where does it have its roots, where did it begin?

Diane Betsy:  I have a little problem with that question, because if you're saying African American fiction, if you do research on that question, do you know what you get?  Slave narratives; which is not fiction.

Christian Wilson:  It’s not fiction at all.

Lauren Martino:  No.

Diane Betsy:  So, but everything that you read if you go to Google, if you go to Wikipedia, they all say slave narratives, I'm going, “Wait a minute, that's not fiction.” But I guess some people consider that fiction, but to me fiction would be Uncle Tom's cabin, which was 1852 that would be African American fiction, I would think.

Christian Wilson:  Yeah, I would also go back to like even Phillis Wheatley, her poems, she was writing in the 1700s.  She was kidnapped from what is now modern day Senegal, you know she was writing very well back in those times and so I was -- considered her to be one of the progenitors of African American fiction definitely.

Diane Betsy:  Fiction, exactly.

Christian Wilson:  I would say that there are so many writers and if you just have to take the time and look that wrote other things besides slave narratives during the time of colonialization and slavery and then reconstruction 17/1800s passing to that time even – as you said before Uncle Tom's cabin, that's really the start.  It didn't just start in the 1960s where everyone was writing for The Civil Rights Movement, it's been here since…

Diane Betsy:  It started with Harriet Beecher Stowe, who by the way was not an African American.

Christian Wilson:  yeah, decided to write African American fiction, so it's been here for a while, it's been here for -- since the first slaves were brought here, African American fiction has been here, I will say that.

Diane Betsy:  Well yeah, if you want to count the narratives, oh well there's been fiction that we didn't know about is what you're saying.

Christian Wilson:  Right.

Diane Betsy:  They weren’t published, we didn't know about them, but maybe there were some fiction.  But in terms of fiction we know about, I'm thinking Harriet Beecher Stowe, because her book was published in 1852, I can't think of anything that was published before that about African Americans or slaves.  That was fiction.

Christian Wilson:  Yeah.

Diane Betsy:  So then we get to fiction when we hit the Harlem Renaissance.

Christian Wilson:  Absolutely.

Diane Betsy:  That started from the 20s and it went all the way to the 40s.  Now you have actual fiction, you've got -- the first one I could find was a Nella Larsen.

Christian Wilson:  ‘Passing.’

Diane Betsy:  She wrote ‘Passing’ in 1929 and she got it published in 1928, she wrote Quicksand and then you had, of course Zora Neale Hurston, she's still being taught in universities in the United States.  Her very first novel was that ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ that was published in 1937.  And then I think I had Richard Wright in 1944 ‘Native Son.’ Those were works of fiction and they became very popular in the Harlem Renaissance 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, to me that's where African American fiction began.

Christian Wilson:  And it took off at that point and just went like a rocket ship from the Harlem Renaissance and other cities where there were renaissances as well.  It just really just start -- it was always there, but it just really just defined itself as the sort of like the gatekeeper, the fictional gatekeeper to the entity which is African Americans at that point.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah.  And I think what made that happen, that explosion in a sense if you will, is the fact that white Americans knew about it.  These works of fiction that was being written about in newspapers and magazines that white Americans read.  So for example, you had in the 50s, you know we had ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ this huge play by Lorraine Hansberry that was on Broadway, there's no way that got to Broadway just because of black people, I mean white people had to back that show, they had to agree to a put that show on.  It was a tremendous hit and you had Ralph Ellison doing the ‘Invisible Man’ in 1952 that is still a classic.  I think you were asking us about classics at some point.  ‘Go Tell It on The Mountain’ by James Baldwin, 1953.  Those were crossover books, those were books that the white publishers and booksellers were aware of and they were moving them and because of that, more African Americans learned about them.  See, there were books possibly before, but the average African American working every day never heard of them.

Christian Wilson:  I’m kind of curious as to the role of librarians and all of this.  But I don’t suppose – I didn’t ask you that ahead of time, so I won't.

Diane Betsy:  Well no we need to talk about a little bit, but it’s a little bit touchy, it's a little bit touchy.

Lauren Martino:  Do you know?  Oh really, why?

Christian Wilson:  Well they weren't really allowed to promote African American books, because the libraries themselves were segregated.  So African Americans could not go into the library and borrow books, even though they were paying for the library services with our tax dollars.

Diane Betsy:  Exactly.

Christian Wilson:  If they wanted to borrow books, they would have to do it through their churches or backdoor…

Diane Betsy:  Or through a backdoor somehow, they were not allowed to go into the library building.  So I think I could have this date wrong, but I think as recently as 1960…

Christian Wilson:  It sounds about right.

Lauren Martino:  There were two or three black men who were actually arrested for walking into a library in Virginia.

Lauren Martino:  Wow!

Diane Betsy:  And taken out, because up to that point, it was still against the law for black people to enter a library.  So black people weren't learning very much in libraries, because they weren't allowed in.  Remember originally during slavery, it was against the law to teach a black slave to read.  So that grew into black people were not allowed into the library.  And that was true up until, I would say the 60s probably; it was a cut off.

Christian Wilson: Mid 60s, yeah.

Diane Betsy:  And we're talking now across the country that may not have been true in New York City, let's say or Washington DC possibly, but across the country it was…

Christian Wilson:  Especially in the Deep South.

Diane Betsy:  Deep South for real.

Lauren Martino:  Wow! Now that I'm thinking about it, there's this picture book about this African American astronaut as a boy, like walking into a library and like I think maybe he got like special permission, like maybe the librarian like passed him a book.  I have to look that up and maybe put it in the show notes, yeah.

Diane Betsy:  I remember that story, there were many -- actually there was a children's book, wasn't it?

Lauren Martino:  Yeah, it was like a picture book.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah, a children's picture book right.  There are a couple of books that document the difficulty that black children had getting into a library that went away eventually, but black people would not have been learning about black writers in a library.  It would have been a newspaper or a neighbor, somebody they worked for said, “Oh, have you heard about this book?” Church perhaps. Not the library.

Christian Wilson:  Yeah, church definitely is one of the big focal points of the African American community.  So they definitely would have been learning about it through church.  But the caveat, anything that would have been suggestive would not have been in the church's library, my parents’ old church in Philadelphia where I'm from, they have their own church library, but not every church could afford to have a personal library full of the box and what's going to go in there was only things that they're going to say that are appropriate for the church parishioners.  So you may not get blues for Mister Charlie, which is one of my favorite James Baldwin books in the church.  You may not get ‘Their Eyes Are Watching God’ you may not get A Native Son, because they made -- have determined that those books are not appropriate for the church parishioners.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah and depending on year you're talking about they may not have heard of their eyes were watching God.  Remember Alice Walker gave the world Zora Neale Hurston.  She was doing research and she discovered this black writer named Zora Neale Hurston and she gave the world ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ prior to Alice Walker no one I knew, no school teachers, no publishers had ever heard of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ When did Alice Walker come along?  In the 60s, so we didn't even know about Zora Neale Hurston in the 50s and the 40s, the average black person I'm saying.

Lauren Martino:  So she had been -- she had published her work by then, but just nobody – it wasn’t on anybody’s radar?

Diane Betsy:  She had fallen into obscurity; she did not get along with the powers that be in the Harlem Renaissance.  I'm going to just slide right over all that.  And she sort of left the north in disgrace, a lawsuit and all that was really ugly.  And so she died virtually in poverty.  She was on the welfare when she died cleaning people's homes.  And Alice Walker was going to -- I think it was either Brown or -- the name, the expensive big colleges for women in the north?

Lauren Martino:  Radcliffe?

Christian Wilson:  Smith’s or–?

Diane Betsy:  She was born in Smith -- Smith or Vassar one of those two colleges she was going to.  And she was doing research…

Christian Wilson:  I think it was Vassar.

Diane Betsy:  And needed information on Voodoo.  And as she was searching the library, she found a couple of books written by this woman named Zora Neale Hurston and turned out to be a black woman she's never heard of her.  And she did a lot more research, a lot more research and discovered this writer and did her doctoral thesis on Zora Neale Hurston.  And that's how the world learned about Zora Neale Hurston all over again.

Lauren Martino:  So she’s kind of this literary tradition like with slave narratives and poetry that I guess you didn't really -- I'm sure people, black people weren't encouraged to write fiction, do something as frivolous as that back then way, way back in the beginning, but…

Christian Wilson:  Yeah.

Diane Betsy:  Well you talk about a time in American history; I think when the average person wasn't necessarily graduating from high school.  So white people clearly -- black people clearly were not graduating from high school and they were lucky if they were getting out of the third grade before they had to go to work.  So I'm talking about the average person now, I'm not talking – there was a black middle class across the country, very small but yeah, they had their advantages, they were going to college.

Lauren Martino:  So talk a little bit about the origins of African American fiction, can you tell us a little about why African American fiction is important Christian?

Christian Wilson:  It gives -- African American fiction gives African Americans a voice and literary and Cultural Community of the United States.  That's why it's important.  It's important for people who are represented here in the United States via population, via entertainment to be able to tell their own stories.  I find as a children's librarian, it's very frustrating sometimes because we do have African American fiction in the children's department, but they're not written -- the books are not written by African American authors, they're written by white authors.

Lauren Martino:  Not all the time?

Christian Wilson:  Not all the time, but it's important for African Americans to be able to tell our own stories within the literary scheme, because a lot of the stereotypes are that black people don't read or black children don't read.  It's important to say, “Okay, look yes they do read, not only are they reading Harry Potter, but they're reading P.S.  Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia.  You know it's important to have our own voices out there to show that yes, we do contribute to the cultural life and of the United States beyond rap music or R&B music or you know entertainment comedy, but we do like there are -- we are multifaceted.  That's why I believe African American literature fiction urban fiction is so important.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah, I agree with you.  I think that African American fiction is important.  First of all for the same reason that fiction is important period, all fiction makes it clear to us the reader that we are not alone.  I learned that from Diane Rehm.

Christian Wilson:  It’s true.

Diane Betsy:  That so close to my heart when she said that, because that's really true.  She had another famous one, why do we have book clubs?  Because it's the only place where we can discuss life.  I think that's true for my book club.  We get together, read the books and we discuss life.  I think that some of the other points though that Christian was making is important, the members of my book club really read the black fiction for the history.  We learned so much of our own history by reading fiction, not just historical fiction, but regular fiction informs us about the black experience in different parts of the country and tells us a lot about our history.  Now, my book group tends to be 45 and up in terms of age.  So when we were in school, in public school, I was in public school in New York City.  There weren't a lot of books for us to read that were written by African Americans.  So we tended to read Dickens and -- you know the story said everybody else in class read.  The children who are going through school today, the black children have a wealth of black authors that they can read.  They get more of the black experience at a younger age, but the people in my book group are hungry for stories about themselves, their mothers, their grandmothers, what things were like, where do we get that?  We're getting that from the fiction, because it wasn't taught to us in school or the movies didn't give us that.  Historical fiction is very, very popular in my book group.  So for example, we loved and adored ‘The Good Lord Bird’ that was about John Brown's hanging at Harpers Ferry as…

Lauren Martino:  Harpers Ferry, yeah.

Diane Betsy:  Harpers Ferry.  Okay, there's another book out on that same subject that talks about the five black people who were hung with John Brown.

Lauren Martino:  You know by name?

Diane Betsy:  Right, there's a book about it, right?

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.

Diane Betsy:  Well there's history that we're getting, this is a work of fiction.  The Good Lord Bird was a work of fiction.  ‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen, we read a couple of years back that was about the first eight black police officers hired in Atlanta and the fact that they were not allowed to carry guns, they would not allow to ride the car.  And if they arrested someone, they had to call the white police officers to come and the rest them, this is a work of fiction, but it was heard so much about what it was like for the first black police officers.  ‘Douglass' women’, has anybody read that one?

Lauren Martino:  No.

Christian Wilson:  That’s why it’s on my to-read-list.

Diane Betsy:  Jewell Parker Rhodes, fascinating book…

Lauren Martino:  She wrote adult book?

Diane Betsy:  Pardon?

Lauren Martino:  She wrote adult too?

Diane Betsy:  You didn't know?


Diane Betsy:  She started out writing adult book, her first book I think was called Voodoo about a madam Marie…

Lauren Martino:  Yeah, Madam Marie Laveau.

 Diane Betsy:  Marie Laveau, I mean you should read that one, but she wrote a book called Douglass' women, it was about Frederick Douglass and the fact that he was married to a black woman named Anna, who he referred to as a black log.

Lauren Martino:  A black, what?

Diane Betsy:  Log.

Christian Wilson:  Like Log.

Diane Betsy:  Like a tree.

Lauren Martino:  Tree stump.

Diane Betsy:  Right.  His daughter wanted to marry someone and he said, “No, you can't marry that person and he's not educated.” And she said, “But dad, we're in love.” And he said, “Do you want to spend your life tied to a black log like me?”

Lauren Martino:  Oh Gosh.

Diane Betsy:  That was a work of fiction, but the information for the book came from the diary of his daughter which is in archives.  He had an ongoing affair with his assistant who was a German woman named Ottilie.  And in the summer time when he wasn't traveling and she wasn't handling his speeches, Ottilie would go home with him and Ottilie stayed in the room at the top of the house and the wife and the children were downstairs and the daughter's diary talks about trips that dad made upstairs in the middle of the night.

Lauren Martino:  Oh gosh.

Diane Betsy:  How would we ever have known that, all right?  Somewhere in history someone asked Anna Douglas why?  Oh, she refused to read.  That was why Frederick Douglass was angry with her.  Why did she refuse to read?  And her answer was, when I look at the things that people who know how to read have done, I don't ever want to learn how to read.

Lauren Martino:  It's a little heartbreaking.

Diane Betsy:  Anyway, I learned that through historical fiction, it's called Douglass women, Jewell Parker Rhodes that's one of the things that people in my book group get out of these books, we are learning our history.

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.  So these are books that are -- they're fiction, but they are well researched…?

Diane Betsy:  Historical fiction very well researched.

Lauren Martino:  Based on…

Christian Wilson:  Colson Whitehead's, ‘The Underground Railroad’ that's another good one.

Diane Betsy:  That’s another good one, right?  That was just recently, did he get the National Book Award?

Christian Wilson:  I think he got like…

Diane Betsy:  Pulitzer, no he got the Pulitzer for ‘The Underground Railroad’

Lauren Martino:  About two years ago, I think.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Now that's the magical realism and that is such that I just love to have someone sit down with me and say, okay, this happened, this happened, this happened and this happened.

Christian Wilson:  Did you get a chance to read it?

Lauren Martino:  I did read that one.

Diane Betsy:  Was that fun?

Lauren Martino:  It was a little bit -- I kind of felt, what's the right word?  A little dizzy.

Christian Wilson:  There was a long…

Lauren Martino:  It was a long crazy trip.

Christian Wilson:  There was a lot going on. 

Lauren Martino:  There was a lot going on, yeah.

Christian Wilson:  But there was a lot of history in that book.  So that's a good one Underground Railroad is another good historical fiction.  Now you know there really wasn't an Underground Railroad, I mean there wasn’t…

Lauren Martino:  I know I got that much.

Christian Wilson:  He created the train.

Lauren Martino:  It's really fun to imagine, like that imaging like…


Lauren Martino:  It's like first of all you know there's no conductor and then there's like no track, it just kind of gets like harder and harder.

Christian Wilson:  But I keep saying to myself, but it could have been true when you think of all the underground tracks that were made for coal mines.  People could have connected car, I mean I kept saying, but it could have been true, because in my end its fiction, okay it's fiction, but it's historical fiction.

Lauren Martino:  Yes.

Diane Betsy:  Yeah and it's bringing to light things that you'd never would you know pick up the journal to read.

Christian Wilson:  Exactly.

Lauren Martino:  So we talked a little bit about Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I'm kind of curious whether you all will agree on this or whether there's going to be some controversy.  Do you have to be African American to write African American fiction?

Christian Wilson:  Okay, so I'll answer this one.  I think that if you have an affinity to African American descendants of slaves in the United States, as I said before, I think I opened it by saying, you know this is what I believe African American fiction is.  It's the stories of African American descendants of slaves.  I don't think that you have to be African American, but I think you need to understand and know our shared experience.  I think if you're coming in from say Japan and you just want to write a story about the black struggle, like you need to really like live it and be in it, in order to write it.  I think just writing like superficially is not going to really do anything about the black experience.  Like bring it to life or you know give it a voice, because it's not authentic.  It just feels like you know the soul singers of the 80s like you know Teena Marie and George Michael, like they sung soul music, but they intergraded themselves into the black music scene.  So like their sound songs were authentic, I mean I still know people who didn't believe that Teena Marie was Caucasian.  I mean to this day people…

Diane Betsy:  A lot of people still think that Teena Marie is black, she's just a light skinned black person.

Christian Wilson:  Like Ezra Jack Keats?

Diane Betsy:  Yeah.

Christian Wilson:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Like I’m looking for an African American author, can I get a book by Ezra Jack Keats…

Christian Wilson:  And you are like sorry, he is Caucasian.  So yes, it's possible and it has happened in the past and when we get to urban fiction, I'll discuss more about how people who are not African American are writing urban fiction.

Diane Betsy:  I think that as Ezra Keats is an example of what you're saying, he could write a story about a little black toddler in the snow, because there isn't -- I mean a little black toddler in the snow is like a little white toddler in the snow or a little Asian toppling the snow.  There really isn't any difference there, but when you get into adulthood now you've got serious differences.  So, but I think that you're right, if you are serious about your subject and you know your subject, you can be Caucasian and you can write good books about African Americans or people of African descent.  I have examples here, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’, Sue Monk Kid was not an African American; did you know that?  A lot of people -- then movie came out with Queen Latifah; a lot of people were shocked to find out that Sue Monk Kid was not a black woman.  Another one would be, Henrietta Lacks, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, remember that?  The author…

Lauren Martino:  It was nonfiction, but yeah…

Diane Betsy:  That was nonfiction, but the author was Rebecca Skloot who was not an African American, but she lived with that family like it was her own.  And she could write that story.  How about this one was in the movies, the book was great though.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett…

Christian Wilson:  I was just about to say that.

Diane Betsy:  Okay, ‘The Help’ was not written by an African American woman.  And that was one – that the first five minutes of that movie had everybody -- we went as a book club to see and we sat there passing tissues, I mean we were crying the first five minutes.  Do you know -- I forgot the actress that played that part.  But in the first five minutes, someone off camera says, “Tell me about your life as a housekeeper.” And before she can speak, she gets emotional and everybody in the theater was crying, it's just incredible.  But anyway, the author of The Help was a white woman named Kathryn Stockett.  And then we have Uncle Tom's Cabin, we talked about that.  And my favorite, this is going to surprise you, Mark Twain.

Christian Wilson:  You know I have mixed feelings about him, because he used the N-word so much in his literature, but he was writing about African American character.

Diane Betsy:  Have you read Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson?

Christian Wilson:  I've read parts of it.

Diane Betsy:  You should read the whole thing.

Christian Wilson:  I need to read the whole thing.

Diane Betsy:  It is his first and only book actually about an African American family, a slave woman who was pregnant and her mistress was pregnant and her master had gone off to war.  They had babies on the same day, but the mistress died and the slave woman switched the children and made a scar on the white babies hip and a scar on her own hip so she could prove he was hers, but he wasn't.  So it's a detective story in the sense that eventually, Pudd'nhead Wilson who's an attorney who can't get a job, who has this little game he plays with a new scientific concept called Fingerprinting, eventually it goes to court and they figure out who belongs to who?  And so people have said that this book was a very good research and is it your life experiences that determines who you are or your genetics?  Because we see what happens to this white child who was raised as a slave son.  So, I think that is a fascinating book.  My Book Club read and they adored -- they hated it, I mean they were like, I'm not reading Mark Twain, but I got them to read that book and they were like, “Oh my God, they just…” we were overwhelmed.  So yes, yes to your question, you do not have to be African American to write a good book about African Americans.

Lauren Martino:  I guess it really takes all of it.  You need the people that have lived these experiences, whose parents have lived these experiences and also the people that are maybe the very interested outsider.  There's got to be a tall order to immerse yourself into it in order to do a really job.

Diane Betsy:  Well Mark Twain spent a lot of time on Mississippi river boats.

Lauren Martino:  He did?

Diane Betsy:  It would have been really, really hard for him to miss African American's on those river boats.  They played the music and they were the –

Christian Wilson:  Yeah, cooked the food.

Diane Betsy:  They cooked food…

Lauren Martino:  And watch the children, yeah.

Christian Wilson:  But you have to look at it from a certain perspective, you can't look at it like you know your typical person availing themselves of these services, you've got to…

Diane Betsy:  You have to be sensitive to what you're seeing happening around you, yes you do.  Yes, but you can, you can get away with that very easily.

Lauren Martino:  So we've talked about a lot of good books so far.  If you could take any one book that's part of African American fiction and make everyone in the United States read it, what would it be?

Christian Wilson:  I will start with ‘Waiting to Exhale’ by Terry McMillan.  This is why I want to say it, because it doesn't deal with what people stereotypically think African American women should be.  It's not about welfare queens, it’s not about drama -- I mean it does have drama, I will say that.

Lauren Martino:  It's a book?

Christian Wilson:  It’s a book it always has drama, but it's depicts for -- middle to upper middle class African American women living in a different part of this country than you would expect.  They're living in Phoenix, Arizona in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.  And how they navigate their lives as middle aged women just to show that you know we're more alike than we are different as Americans, you know?  We’re more alike than we are different as women; we're more alike than different as we are people, we go through the same exact things, you know?  Heartache, divorce, adultery, drug use, you know, all these things happen and it's not class based, it's not race based, it's just this is just human things that happen.  Now, I will say this, if you haven't read the book, there is something in there that does happen that's like you know whoa, I didn't expect that to happen.  But you know, the way that Terry McMillan writes books -- she has a nice way of closing things up and in a very satisfactory ending, she doesn't leave cliffhangers.  So if you're looking for a book that leaves a lot of cliffhangers or you know a lot of disappointment, that's not what you're going to find.  But if you're looking for a good story told by a great storyteller, I would suggest ‘Waiting To Exhale’ and also the sequel ‘Getting to Happy’ because there are things that happen in ‘Waiting To Exhale’ that do get resolved in ‘Getting To Happy’, but both of those together, you know those are great books and they are great options for anyone.

Lauren Martino:  I’m a sucker for a good ending.

Christian Wilson:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino: make this one up, Diane what do you have?

Diane Betsy:  Well, my choice would be ‘Cane River’ by Lolita Tademy, because ‘Cane River’, is another – my favorite historical fiction novel.  This is the story, the real story of an American black family that begins with this slave woman who was sold into Louisiana on the 19th century and we follow her daughter and what happens to her and her daughter and what happens to her all the way up to the present generation.  And the family members that get sold away from each other, the slave girl that a white master fell in love with and killed her husband to make sure that he could have possession of her.  The black family who in the 20s inherited all this wealth of acres of land left to them by a French grandfather and all of that land was taken legally in court by the white people in that town.  She actually has pictures of the court papers in the book, but because the book is fiction, because she can't -- in the fiction you don't mention certain names and stuff, you find out what happened, but nobody gets sued.  And that's why I've always said if you want to read the truth, read fiction.  If you want to lie, read nonfiction, because they're so busy protecting people in nonfiction.

But in this story ‘Cane River’ you get the history of black slavery in America, what happened to those children?  The children that were able to slip into white America and crossover and no one knew they were black.  The children who stayed behind who eventually were disinherited from thousand -- and the papers are still in that courthouse in that town, but the book ‘Cane River’ gives you the entire story of what happened to that family over six, seven, eight generations.  And it is a fabulous read, she was one of the authors at the book festival on the mall about four or five years back.  It is a fabulous book.  It is one of the best books you'll ever read and it's called ‘Chain River.’

Lauren Martino:  So now we're talking about fiction as kind of a mask that allows you to talk about the history, not just something that brings it to light, but it kind of gives you the safe space in which you can tell what happened?

Diane Betsy:  Exactly.

Christian Wilson:  Absolutely.

Diane Betsy:  Exactly the safe space that you can tell what happened.

Lauren Martino:  That's amazing.  Like my notion of fiction has been exploded.  We've talked about a lot of different kinds of African American fiction; can we talk a little bit about some of the sub genres.  I know some like urban fiction have gotten some mixed kinds of attention.  Can you tell us a little bit about that Christian?

Christian Wilson:  Well, you know there's different sub genres, Christian fiction, urban fiction, well you know the Christian fiction actually has nothing to do with me, it has just been more about the living Christianity…

Lauren Martino:  Not your fiction…

Christian Wilson:  It’s not my fiction, right.  But urban fiction is a special stand out, because it really started out of the genesis of the civil rights movement.  You had a guy named Iceberg Slim and I don't believe that, many of his books are still in print any more that you could probably find them on Amazon and eBay.  He started writing about; you know the tribulations of living in a poor African American neighborhoods that were urban in the 1960s and 1970s.  And so many authors caught onto what he was doing, but it kind of went dormant until the 1990s when it really started picking up again.  You had authors like Omar Tyree, sister Souljah and Nina Foxx and Sapphire starting to write books.  Of course Sapphire is probably the most famous urban fiction writer next to sister Souljah, because she wrote ‘Push’, which is the novel that ultimately became precious…

Diane Betsy:  Precious in the movies, right.

Christian Wilson:  Which was the movie that was inspired by the novel ‘Push’ that had all the big time stars, it had Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, in that movie with -- what's her name?  Mo'Nique, the comedian.

Diane Betsy:  Right Mo'Nique, right.

Christian Wilson:  So it was a way for people who really did not have their voice heard and they were not suspected of being readers or being consumers of literature to be heard.  And it really did document what was going on in these neighborhoods at that point of time in their lives.  And it does – I mean it's very hard to read if you're not used to it, it's very hard to read, because you're just sitting here and you're reading it and you're like, “I can't believe these experiences are happening to people, I can't live.  This is really reality for many people.” And I will say that, you know, 80% of the African American community does not live in poverty, does not experience what's going on, but 20% does.  And so this is a voice for the 20% and this is a voice for the marginalized and this is a voice for the oppressed.

Diane Betsy:  And I think another sub genre would have been the crime novel.

Christian Wilson:  Like the Walter Mosley‘s?

Diane Betsy:  Walter Mosley's the ‘Devil with the Red Dress’ started a series – sorry…

Christian Wilson:  Devil in a Blue Dress.

Diane Betsy:  Devil in a Blue Dress started a series; the reason why I love that book so much though, is that it gives a tremendous history, African American history.  Because if you ever wanted to know how did all those black people get to Compton, how did all those black people windup in California?  Read the ‘Devil in a Blue Dress ‘ and you’ll find out that all those black people moved up from Texas to California during the war to go to work in the plants to make parachutes, etcetera.  That is how all those black people got -- how did I find that out?  I read the ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ by Walter Mosley.  And so there's a lot of history in this particular series on Easy Rawlins as a detective, a lot of African American history.

Christian Wilson:  And then also very briefly, I would also say that it's not only African Americans writing urban fiction, you have a whole now even sub-sub genre of Latino urban fiction, that's out there.  And you know one of the reasons I found this out was because when I was coming out of my undergraduate university, there were people who would just set up book stands.  And these books were not in any library yet and it would just sell urban fiction on the street corner for $5 a book.  They'd self publish, self edit and it would just sell these books.

Diane Betsy:  And that's the way a lot of black poetry got started when Nikki Giovanni in the 60s standing on street corners selling her poems and eventually a publisher approach her.

Christian Wilson:  Exactly.

Diane Betsy:  Alright and now we have this whole field of black poets, but she started it by standing on a street corner in the 60s.

Christian Wilson:  And now you have this whole field of black urban fiction being sold -- not sold, but borrowed in libraries and being circulated in libraries.

Diane Betsy:  Well, Montgomery County Library -- while we're on the subject back in 2010, we would get urban fiction, maybe seven copies, maybe eight.  We move up to 2017/18.  We've got 23 copies of each one every…

Diane Betsy:  Yeah, for every library.

Diane Betsy:  Things have changed in Montgomery County Libraries when it comes to urban fiction.

Lauren Martino:  I'd like to think we've made a little progress in libraries since the 60s and even as far back as 2010.

Diane Betsy:  That's a lot of copies though.

Christian Wilson:  It’s a lot of copies, it’s a lot of copies and I mean it's less than I would like to see, but we're doing better.

Diane Betsy:  For a sub.

Christian Wilson:  For a sub genre.

Diane Betsy:  Sub genre of African American, it's a lot of copies, because we don't get that many copies initially of something done by Coates t or Ta-Nehisi Coates and people like that.

Lauren Martino:  So we've got one more question we like to ask all of our guests on a library matters and that is, what are you reading right now?

Diane Betsy:  Right at the moment, I am reading Washington Black, it is one of the best stories I have ever read.  It’s written by Canadian -- a black woman named Esi Edugyan and its winning all the awards in Canada and in Britain, now I imagine in time it'll win awards in the United States.  But it's about a black slave named George Washington Black, he's a little boy and he gets given to a scientist and the scientist is building contraption no one has ever heard of before, today we call them air balloons.  And so he has a million adventures, sort of like the Secret Life of Pi, but it's that exciting, the things that happen to him, there’s an explosion, his face was scarred, he gets older, he winds up in Alaska.  This is one incredible story; I have not read anything this good in a long time.  She is married; she lives in British Columbia which is…

Lauren Martino:  Who is she, the author?

Diane Betsy:  The author Esi Edugyan.  They live in British Columbia which is right across the Washington state line in Canada.  She is married to a white man who's Canadian, who is on the best seller list.  His name is Steven Price and his bestseller is called By Gaslight, came out in I think 2015; he's also an award winner for poetry.  They take turns taking care of their kids and writing.


Diane Betsy:  I think she's the descendant from -- parents from Ghana, but she was born and raised in Canada, fascinating book, ‘Washington Black.’

Lauren Martino:  All right, Christian, what's yours?

Christian Wilson:  Animal Farm by George Orwell.  Oh you know it’s so funny that I picked it up because I was like you know what?  This is one of the only books by him that I have not read.  And so I'm reading it and you know it's very -- not interesting, but it showcases human nature and in through the animals on the farm and you're just learn the pig is superior, because he's telling everyone what to do and no one is questioning him.  And it's just like, you know everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than the others.

Diane Betsy:  So it's the nature of politics in the United States.

Christian Wilson:  Not to get political.

Diane Betsy:   I’m shocked you didn’t have to read that in schools, so I was in school…

Christian Wilson:  Not political, we had a choice between Animal Farm and 1984 and I chose 1984.

Diane Betsy:  See, they give the kids choices these days, when I was in school you didn't have a choice, you were told read this; this and this and one of them was animal farm.

Christian Wilson:  And then also we had to read all the King's Men and so that one you know, but I was like, I need to come back and read this one these days, I do.  And you know, this month was like the month I'm like, okay, this is the book I'm going to read this month.

Diane Betsy:  I am so glad you read that book, I really am.

Lauren Martino:  Well, I'd like to thank you so much, Christian and Diane.  This has been a fascinating discussion.

Diane Betsy:  Thank you.

Lauren Martino:  And I'm really glad you could be guests today.

Christian Wilson:  Thank you so much.

Lauren Martino:  Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the apple podcast App Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts.  We'd love to know what you think.  Thank you very much and we will see you next time.


Jan 30, 2019

Summary: Collection Management Library Associate Dianne Betsey and Silver Spring Librarian Christian Wilson talk about the history, development, and current state of African American literature. 

Recording Date: January 9, 2019

Guests: Dianne Betsey, a Library Associate in our Collection Management Department and leader of the Rockville Memorial Library African American book discussion group. Christian Wilson, Children's Librarian at Silver Spring Library.

Hosts: Lauren Martino

What Our Guests Are Reading

Dianne Betsey: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Christian Wilson: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Books and Other Media Mentioned During the Episode:

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Cane River by Lalita Tademy

By Gaslight by Steven Price

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Douglass' Women by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

My Mother as I Recall Her by Rosetta Douglass Sprague

Native Son by Richard Wright

Passing by Nella Larsen

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

Push by Sapphire, the movie Precious is based on this book

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan, and its sequel Getting to Happy

Authors Mentioned During this Episode:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Edwidge Danticat

Ezra Jack Keats

Iceberg Slim

Nikki Giovanni

Sister Souljah

Omar Tyree

Alice Walker 

Other Items of Interest:

Rockville Memorial Library African American Book Discussion Group

Other African American books discussion groups at MCPL

Read the transcript

Jan 18, 2019

Listen to the audio

Lauren Martino:  Welcome to Library Matters.  I’m Lauren Martino and I’m here with my co-host, Julie Dina.

Julie Dina:  Hello.

Lauren Martino:  And today, we are here to talk about decluttering.  Happy January, the holidays are over.  Your house is probably packed with stuff.  And it’s New Year, it’s a time for new beginnings and it’s a season to declutter.  So with us today, we have two MCPL staff members, Fred Akuffo.

Fred Akuffo:  Hello, everyone.

Lauren Martino:  Who needs decluttering and has some very creative strategies he tells us to – that have worked for him that he’d like to share.  I’m really curious to hear this, because I need this myself.  And with us today as well is Angelica Rengifo.

Angelica Rengifo:  Hello.

Lauren Martino:  Who assures me she is on a minimalists journey.  Angelica and Fred, can you define decluttering for us?  What is it and why should we be thinking about it?

Angelica Rengifo:  So, one of the first things that I will like to may clear is that decluttering is not organizing.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.

Angelica Rengifo:  So, decluttering is to get rid of things.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.

Angelica Rengifo:  Get rid of things you don’t use.  Get rid of things you don’t want anymore.  Get rid of things that are broken and you’re not thinking of fixing or getting fixed.

Julie Dina:  Or you are thinking, but that’s all you’re doing.

Angelica Rengifo:  Or you’re not going to get to it.

Julie Dina:  Yeah 

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah.  So decluttering is making a space for things that matter in your life and taking away declutter that it doesn’t allow you to see and appreciate those things.

Fred Akuffo:  For me, decluttering is placing things back in their proper place for better flow in your life.  If you listen to a lot of TED talks as a TED talk about flow and how gaining and comprehension of how flow works makes your life better.  So for me, I think decluttering is a practice that can assist with that.

Julie Dina:  So every one is talking about decluttering.  Now, let’s dive in and find out why is decluttering actually a thing now where people just neither 20 years ago, or was the concept simply calls something else back then.  What do you guys think?

Angelica Rengifo:  Did June Cleaver ever declutter?  Does she ever need it?  It’s what I want to know.

Julie Dina:  That’s a research we need to.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah.  I think with the shows like Horrors and things like that, I think it cost people to maybe pay attention to more of what they have gone on in their own homes.  Now the Horrors are you know, people who are on the extreme.  But I think when you watch a show like that and then you turn around and look at your own place, you see, you know, some efforts that you could probably participate in as a practice.

So I think, yeah, with some of the media that has come out now, addressing some different things that people struggle with, decluttering has become a bigger issue.  Also, cluttering is not just physical, it’s –

Julie Dina:  Yeah.

Fred Akuffo:  – sometimes I think you can have some mental cluttering going on and that can contribute to how it looks in your life.

Angelica Rengifo:  Decluttering, again, going back to the question is a thing because we – maybe the gen – now people want to have experiences.  They want to create memories instead of accumulating things and more things on top of things that we sometimes don’t even know that we have and then we end up buying the same thing twice or three times because we cannot find the original thing.

For example, right now you have TV show on Netflix based on the book of Marie Kondo, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” about how to tidy up.  And we see the houses of these people filled with things that they don’t use, that don’t fit them, that were part of like a period of their lives that is long gone and we just accumulate things and that’s how I think generations have change.

We are not going to take all the stuff that we buy and we accumulate.  We’re not going to take it with us once we are like sick in bed at the end of our lives.  We are not going to say, “Oh, I remember that dress that I bought 15 years ago.”  We’re going to remember all, “Oh, I remember the trip that I took with my kids for three days to the beach.”

Lauren Martino:  All right.  Have you read heard “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up”?

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah, I have read a quite a few books about decluttering.

Lauren Martino:  I just love the facts that there’s a life-changing Manga.  So, Fred, what made you aware your need to declutter?  What got you started thinking about this?

Fred Akuffo:  Okay.  This is an interesting one.  I’ll say comments form the internal customer and what do I mean by that?  I noticed one day, one point, that I had – one of the cleaners who is in-charge with cleaning up the library asked me, “So you would like me to clean your desk for you?”  And, you know, I was like, “No, no, I got it.”

And then a second question came from the same person thirty seconds later, “Not really, I can do that for you if you like.”  And I’m like “No, no, no.  That’ll be fine.  I got it.  I got it.”  And then not long after, maybe another day that following week I had a volunteer who work at the branch and same question came up.  “Hey, you know, I can come an extra day if you like and help you out with your desk.”  “No, I’m all right now.  I’m good.”

Lauren Martino:  Was there a spill?

Fred Akuffo:  No, no, no.  I let her know, “You know, I’m okay.  I’m going to be getting to it in a minute.”  And then the same second response from her came, “No, no, no, I’m serious.  I can do that.  I can come another day and we can work on your desk, you know what I mean?”   And so at that point, I’m starting to become aware that –

Lauren Martino:  The sign.

Fred Akuffo:  – there is something wrong here and –

Lauren Martino:  The world is letting you know.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah, yeah.  So I took a quick glance maybe from a visitor guest point of view and just looked with some other eyes and noticed that I can’t see the color of my desk.  It’s all white covered with papers, books, things like that.  So, I made a mental note to myself, “Yeah, we might need to take care of that and do a little bit decluttering.”  So I’m more of the folks that are need of the decluttering.

Lauren Martino:  How about you, Angelica?

Angelica Rengifo:  Three years ago, I could be found shopping at least once, twice a week, anything, food, clothes, shoes, accessories, decor, online, at the store.  And then, I think I watched something on TV and I said to myself, “I want to travel.  I want to see other things.  I want to have memories.  Other people are doing this, why can’t I do it?”

And I started analyzing my spending and realize that all of my money was going to shopping and things that I will wear once, maybe never.  I have shoes – I had pair of shoes that I never wore.  And – because they look cute on the store and they look cute on feet, but then I was not comfortable buying.

Lauren Martino:  You can walk.

Angelica Rengifo:  I mean, walking on them.

Julie Dina:  Yeah.

Angelica Rengifo:  And I decided that all my money was going to go traveling.  And last year, I just went too odd that I started a no spending year.  This is my third month.

Lauren Martino:  No spending year.

Angelica Rengifo: It has been hard.  It has not been perfect.

Lauren Martino:  So what are the rules of these, like clearly you have to buy food.

Angelica Rengifo:  A no cloth – yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Okay, okay.

Angelica Rengifo:  And so essentials I buy, food, of course, gas, doctors appointments, rent, of course, just the essentials and I give myself once a week to like go out to eat.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.

Angelica Rengifo:  But I’m not allowed to buy shoes, clothes, decor.  I’ve been looking at this blanket for like a month then I’m like I want it but I don’t need it.  So it’s also changing the mentality of buying, of wanting and masking this want as need.  So that’s what has changed my perspective on consuming goods besides food, which I need.  But also, I was buying more food that I needed for a week.

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.

Angelica Rengifo:  So, things were going bad and it was – as a result, I was wasting money that way too.  So I – trying to do at least planning from Sunday two meals per week to declutter my fridge as well and my pantry.

Julie Dina:  So decluttering could be seen as a way of saving money as well.

Angelica Rengifo:  Oh, it is a big way of saving money towards maybe paying your debt, student loans, which is usually a big one for everybody, paying your mortgage, your credit card, making finally plans to take that vacation that you have always wanted.  And so –

Lauren Martino:  You’ve done any of these traveling yet that you want to do?  Where it begun?

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes, I have.

Lauren Martino:  What this enabled you to do?

Angelica Rengifo:  I’ve been to few a cities in Italy.  I’ve been to London, Paris, Amsterdam, a few other ones.  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Wow.  Is it worth it?

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes.  It has been really worth it.  I’ve been getting rid of clothes at the same time and I really don’t need anymore right now, so, yes.

Lauren Martino:  Do either of you have any resources you’d like to share that have been particularly helpful in your decluttering journeys?

Fred Akuffo:  For me, I had read a book a friend of mine has suggested.  It wasn’t a decluttering book, but he talked about things in a decluttering method.  And this is a “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.  And he talked about not having things build up by not taking care of things.

So, if you have something that needs to be done, do it, get it off your checklist, so it’s not building a pile up in the back of your mind.  And the back of the mind, when you have a pile up building up, you start to lose other things to deal with that.  So it’s kind of like I express to people sometimes and I say, “Look, if you tell me to do more than three things at a time, I’m going to start forgetting things.  I’m going to start dropping things,” you know, because, you know, for me that’s what I can handle.  You know, sometimes I tell my wife, “You know, only three things to the grocery list.  If you had five, I’m going to forget the milk, okay?”  So – but that’s –

Lauren Martino:  It’s a Pat Hutchins’ book.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah, yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Don’t forget the butter.

Fred Akuffo:  Right, right, right.  So – but that’s what I’m talking about in terms of the nonphysical side of decluttering.  Sometimes you got to declutter, you know, your thoughts, your mind, you know.  And sometimes we don’t want to focus on meditations much because we got sits still.

And in today’s society, everybody is moving everywhere, you know, high rates speed and all that kind of thing.  But sometimes it’s good to just take that time where there would be 15 minutes in two days.  Just meditate on what you’re going to get – got going on and what you need to take care of.  And then take care of those things and check them off so that your mind can be free and your flow can be better.

Lauren Martino:  Angelica, what do you have to share with us?

Angelica Rengifo:  Some of the people that I follow on YouTube are more towards minimalism, but they also give you an insight on things that you can’t use.  You don’t have to follow every single thing, you don’t have to go to the extreme.  But some of my favorite ones are “Pick Up Limes”.  She has decluttered and she’s a minimalist not only in her lifestyle and her work, but also even her diet.

Julie Dina:  How does that work?

Angelica Rengifo:  She is all about plant-based diet and her meals are very simple, very repetitive in the sense that it’s not the same thing every day, but maybe every other week she repeats a series of meals.  And by practicing what you are making, what you are cooking, it becomes easier.

Lauren Martino:  You get better at them.

Angelica Rengifo:  So it simplifies your life, what you’re buying at the store.  You’re using it more.  It doesn’t go bad and you know where to get it and at what prices you’re going or what places you’re going to get the best prices from.  So I really like her.

Then Joshua Becker and, of course, “The Minimalist” are the two – or three in this, three guys that – or really the pioneers in the minimalist movement.”  And they also have books.  They have TED Talks.  And they are really good at making you think a different way about things in your clutter, in your baggage.  And what you have and what you don’t need in what to – or how to appreciate what you have that you’re not seeing.

Lauren Martino:  Do have any particular titles by Joshua Becker you can recommend to us.

Angelica Rengifo:  Well, I am reading – he has two books and I am reading right now “The Minimalist Home.”  This is – Joshua Becker is a husband and he’s a father, and he started to declutter his home with his family.  And he, again, is a pioneer in this movement and he gives you guidelines on how to simplify your home lifestyle and what issues contribute to home clutter.  So this is a great book to maybe start with Joshua Becker in “The Minimalist Home.”

Lauren Martino:  So do either of you have any tips for those of us who just doesn’t come naturally to?

Angelica Rengifo:  We have to, one, to make a change, first of all, because we can’t read all we want and it sounds pretty and it looks pretty, and it’s the fad right now.  But if we don’t really wanted, it’s not going to last and we will go back to our old ways.  So, first of all, we have to want it.

And then I think it will be great to create a plan.  Like, what do we want to get rid of?  Why do we want to get rid of things?  What are we going to do with the things after we peerage them from whatever they are?

Lauren Martino:  That’s the challenge.

Angelica Rengifo:  How are we going to get rid of them?  And know yourself that you’re going to be able to follow through, that you’re going to do the things that you plan for.  And that – and also realize that not every single method that you read or hear about is going to work for you.  So, I do a little bit of everything I have read.  I have read the book about “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson.

Lauren Martino:  Which just sounds like a crazy well novel to me, right?  This is – it sounds like fiction.

Angelica Rengifo:  But it’s an easy read.  It’s very short if you want to do it as an audio book.  And she is an older person.  She is a widow and she gave me this point of view of like, do I want my family to go through all my belongings when I’m dead?  And of course the answer is no for 99.9 percent of us.

Julie Dina:  Why should my descendant see that I bought this horrible blue dress in the ‘80s and –

Angelica Rengifo:  Exactly.  So that’s one thing that I have kept with me from her book.  Then I have Marie Kondo in the does this make me happy?  Does this make me want to go like, oh yes, I want it.  I want to keep it.  So, things say that not everything is going to work for you.  So you have to know yourself to decide what is going to work and be willing to try what you think my worry can then decide what to keep.

Fred Akuffo:  And in terms of knowing yourself, you know, sometimes I handle things from a lazy man’s point of view.  So, if you’re – if you consider yourself more on the lazier side, one thing you can do is do they wanted a challenge?  And that is any area that you want to take care of in terms of cluttering, get rid of your clutter.  You can take one item out of that area each day and/or it could be one or two, you pick the number five.

But whatever number gets you to point where you’re tired to do it anymore, you pick that number once a day and then by the end of the week, you’ll have a noticeable change.  And it will seem like you never did anything at all.

Julie Dina:  And it’s like somebody has that.  I think it’s Regina Leeds has that 8 Minute Organizer book that’s like, you know, just take eight minutes and do something today and –

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah, yeah, sort of along those lines.  Yeah.

Julie Dina:  Yeah.

Fred Akuffo:  So you didn’t have to, you know, take all the time out of your life but, you know, you’re making progress in little moments as well.

Angelica Rengifo:  Eight minutes.

Lauren Martino:  Eight minutes.

Angelica Rengifo:  Now, have I done this?  No.  Partially because I started doing it and then my husband rested up.  So the new plan is to let’s do it together, eight minutes together.

Lauren Martino:  Together.

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes, so that we both see the fruits of our labor and can hopefully keep it that way.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah.  If you’re going to do it a little bit out of time, you can’t put anything on top of it after you’ve it.

Angelica Rengifo:  Yes, yes.

Fred Akuffo:  So, you take those five pieces, make sure three pieces don’t get back on their.

Angelica Rengifo:  And that’s the challenge, right?

Lauren Martino:  Do either of you have any tips on decluttering sentimental items?

Fred Akuffo:  Okay.

Angelica Rengifo:  This is the worst.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah.  My tip would be, you know, sentiment is tough because sentiment means different things to different people.  And they impact people in different ways in terms of gravity.

So one thing I suggest when dealing with sentimental items is – have you – when is the last time you visited the sentiment in your life?  You know, you can ask yourself that question.  You know, if it’s so important, when is the last time I actually dealt with this particular item in terms of how much I claim it means to me?  If it was like five years ago when you last held this item in your hands, it’s probably not that much of a sentiment.

Angelica Rengifo:  I think for sentimental items, again, they are really hard to get rid off.  Like Fred was saying, is different.  It’s a different item for everybody.  It’s a different item size for every family member.  But, why not make a part of the decor, get rid of all this other clutter around this item that doesn’t let you see what is sentiment – very sentimental to you or that you’re attached to it and show off this one that is more important than this other two or three.

So, sometimes you don’t have to get rid of sentimental items.  You don’t have to feel guilty about keeping them.  Show them off if they are that important to you.  If it is a dress, like let’s say your kid’s baptism, why don’t you frame it and put pictures around it and something like that and keep it.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah, I like that.  Make it part of the decor, yeah.

Angelica Rengifo:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  So, now we’ve succeeded in decluttering, we hope.  Let’s imagine we’ve gotten there.  We’ve done it.  Things are decluttered.  How do we keep it that way?

Angelica Rengifo:  So I will say some ways to keep it that way is not bringing in anymore items that you do not need.  Do not bring into your kitchen single used gadgets.  You don’t need a cutter for apples, one for your mangoes, one for your avocadoes; there is a knife.  A knife does the same job that all those three gadgets does one way.

Think about ways that something you already have can’t – what this thing you already have can do instead of buying one new thing for just one purpose.  Also, another thing that we can do is make plans for every single dollar in your budget.  The way it’s planned it is like a promise to yourself that this money is going to – we’re going on a movie on Sunday and pizza afterwards.  Those are memories.

Yes, you’re spending money but those are memories that you’re creating with people that you care about.  Instead of bringing things into your house that are not going to give you space to lay down in the couch or walk around the bed or put your car in your garage because our priorities are so twisted that we are keeping things in our garage while we have an investment that is $30,000, $40,000 outside under the snow, rain and sun all year around instead of putting it inside the house in protecting this car that is costing us a lot of money.

Lauren Martino:  It’s a good point.

Fred Akuffo:  It’s interesting she said that.  I – not that I’m hearing this, I’m thinking one thing that will help us stay away from the ad seen on TV store.

Angelica Rengifo:  Oh, yeah.

Fred Akuffo:  I’m talking about specialty item.

Angelica Rengifo:  Pro-tip

Fred Akuffo:  There’s a lot of –

Lauren Martino:  Like the mango cutter you talked to –

Angelica Rengifo:  Like that mango cutter.

Fred Akuffo:  The mango cutter.

Angelica Rengifo:  I almost bought it.

Fred Akuffo:  Yeah, the microwave, egg boiler.

Angelica Rengifo:  Yup

Fred Akuffo:  You know, all those things.

Julie Dina:  Well, now that we’re towards the end of our episode, this is traditional final question that we ask our guests.  What are you currently reading?  Fred, let’s start with you.

Fred Akuffo:  “Federal Mafia” by Irwin Schiff.  And it’s about taxes and the nation.  And when you clutter people down with all the taxes and stuff, you can’t think freely about, you know, the ones you do need to pay or should be paying or should not be paying.  So the power is that maybe benefiting from the lack of clarity of all those different tax logic, got to pay attention to.  I haven’t read the book all the way yet so I’m still finding out, but that’s one.

And then another one is “Creature from Jekyll Island.”  And that’s the interesting one because it talks about the Federal Reserve and how it is intentionally doing what exactly the people who created it meant for it to do, which doesn’t look like what we think it looks like.

And so that kind of relates to the cluttering too because, you know, sometimes when you are in the midst of clutter, you can’t see what things look like until somebody says to you, “Hey, I can clean that for you.”  So, you know, a lot of people –

Angelica Rengifo:  Like a full circle.

Fred Akuffo:  A lot of people think that the Federal Reserve needs to be cleaned up and so, you know, maybe we got some decluttering to do in that space of finance for the country as well.

Angelica Rengifo:  So, I am reading right now “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.  I wasn’t originally – was not thinking about how it relates to declutter, but thinking about it that way, this is a period in time when France was occupied by Germany and how this dad and his daughter have to move to another town.  And what will you take with you if you have to leave in a hurry at your house?

Lauren Martino:  Oh, wow.

Angelica Rengifo:  What is important to you?

Lauren Martino:  What’s that important?

Angelica Rengifo:  I asked myself that question a few weeks ago and I said, I will take my dog and my passport are I think what I will take with me.  Everything else can be replaced.

Lauren Martino:  I will like to thank both of you for coming to our program today.  Let’s keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to podcast on the Apple podcast app, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.  Also, please review and rate us on our Apple podcast; we’ll love to know what you think.  Thank you once again for listening to our conversation today.  See you next time.



Jan 17, 2019

Summary: Decluttering enthusiasts and MCPL staff members Fred Akuffo and Angelica Rengifo talk about the decluttering movement and how libraries can help declutter your life in the new year. 

Recording Date: January 9, 2019 


Fred Akuffo: Library Assistant Supervisor at Aspen Hill Library

Angelica Rengifo: Community Outreach Associate for MCPL

Hosts: Julie Dina and Lauren Martino

What Our Guests Are Reading

Fred Akuffo: Creature from Jekyll Island by G Edward Griffin and Federal Mafia by Irwin Schiff

Angelica Rengifo: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Books and Other Resources Mentioned During the Episode:

Don't Forget the Bacon by Pat Hutchins

8 Minute Organizer: Easy Solutions to Simplify Your Life in Your Spare Time by Regina Leeds

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

Getting Things Done by David Allen 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This book is the inspiration for the graphic novel The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up and the Netflix show Tidying Up, with Marie Kondo

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

The Minimalists: A website advocating simpler lifestyle with less stuff. 

Pick Up Limes: A Youtube channel and website by a Canadian foodie advocating a simple life and a plant-based diet. 

Read the transcript

Jan 9, 2019

Listen to the audio

David Payne:  Welcome to Library Matters with your host David Payne.  Today it's MoComCon time again.  MCPL’s Annual Comic Convention MoComCon is always one of the highlights of the year for MCPL and we trust for the community as well.  So with MoComCon 2019 around the corner delighted to welcome two members of the planning committee MoComCon this year Dana Alsup, Head of Adult Services at the Marilyn Praisner branch welcome. 

Dana Alsup:  Hi.

David Payne:  I should say welcome back veteran of many appearances. 

Dana Alsup:  Yes, several appearances on the podcast.

David Payne:  And still smiling.  And also welcome to Beth Chandler from our Collection Management Division.  Again, welcome back to you Beth. 

Beth Chandler:  Oh, thank you, glad to be back here and talking about one of my favorite events of the year at the library. 

David Payne:  Great.  Well, I'm sure MoComCon, 2019 is going to be bigger and better than anything before but let's start with the basics perhaps.  Let me ask you both to tell us a bit about what MoComCon is all about, when and where will it be taking place and what kind of audience is it for.  We start with you Dana. 

Dana Alsup:  It's for everyone.  It really is for everyone.  We have stuff that goes from preschools through adults.  It will be at the Silver Spring Library on January 19, 2019.  There is a few different start times.  So if you are one of those preschoolers or a parent of a preschooler we have two story times one at 10 AM, one at10:30 AM.  It was very popular last year so we added a second one.  And then you can start registering for our Cosplay Contests and our escape rooms at 11 AM.  And then all of the programs start at 12 and they run until 4 o'clock. 

Beth Chandler:  Yeah, we have quite a bit.  We have a couple of favorites coming back about focusing on a couple of new things.  We are going to have WiiU with Mario Kart and also an Oculus Rift to play a VR game.

David Payne:  You can tell us more about that, that sounds fascinating.

Beth Chandler:  Oh, my goodness.  It’s a large virtual reality glasses that you put on and the particular thing we have is called what’s the name again Dana?

Dana Alsup:  It’s called Beat Saber and I like to describe it as dance, dance revolution for your arms.  You hold onto two things in your hands and then what you see are boxes flying at you and you have to hit them in a certain pattern with light sabers.  It's going to be pretty awesome. 

David Payne:  Right.

Dana Alsup:  And we’re getting I think two of them and they come from the state library.  They are loaning them out to us for this event. 

Beth Chandler:  Yes, one of the many things paid for by your state tax dollars.  So if you want to get a bit of a return on that come try some virtual reality that's pretty much for all ages who are old enough to manage the equipment.  We literally do have things for preschoolers through seniors, including author Don Sakers coming back.  He is going to be doing just one writing and publishing workshop but we have got a nice big room to fit aspiring writers.  And we also have someone coming from visionary comics to talk about comics publishing for people who are more along the lines of comics artists.  FutureMakers are coming back with a special 3D craft.  See what else do we have of course the Cosplay Contest. 

Dana Alsup:  We have the Cosplay Contest.  Those are at 3:30 in the afternoon and we have children, teens and adults WiiU.  There is only 20 participants for each so registrations are until 11.  We also have the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra coming they are sending a string quartet and they play different videogame and movie songs which should be very fun. 

David Payne:  That’s great.  Where will they be located?

Dana Alsup:  They will be in the third floor meeting room.  So they'll be at 1:15.  They’re sandwiched by Don Sakers before them, and then Chuck Sellner who is doing the comics publishing one on one after them.

David Payne:  Well, it sounds really exciting.  I think it's safe to say that MoComCon isn’t only for comic book lovers.

Dana Alsup:  It's not.  It's really for anyone.  If you just didn’t want – even if you just want to come in and do some crafts or have your face painted there is lots of different activities.  You don't have to be a super hero buff or comic person to join MoComCon. 

Beth Chandler:  We have our exhibitors too.  We have a couple of people from stores that sell comic books and related items. 

Dana Alsup:  Although they will not be selling –.

Beth Chandler:  Excuse me, no.  They won’t be selling at the event but we will have some local groups you know costumers and people like that as well. 

Dana Alsup:  However, our friends at the library will be having their book sale again and they will also be selling T-shirts this year.  They look different than the staff T-shirts but they will be selling those along with their graphic novels that they’ll have there on the third floor. 

Beth Chandler:  Yes, so if you want to proclaim to the world that you attended MoComCon ‘19 you can wear a T-shirt that says so. 

David Payne:  Looking back at last year’s event I can't remember offhand what the total attendance was.  I remember it was quite staggering and I'm sure there’ll be a big turnout this year and I presume most of the attendees will come from the local Montgomery County area.  But as word spreads about MoComCon do you know of people coming from further away on planet Earth at least. 

Dana Alsup:  I know that I think most people come from either Maryland or D.C.  We did have and we had a presenter I think last year or the year before that came from New York to come and participate.  So she came.  I don't know if anyone comes from out of state yeah, but they definitely come from out of county.  They’re not all Montgomery County residents that might have something to do with the fact that I drop off flyers in other counties as well. 

David Payne:  Right.

Dana Alsup:  And we marketed outside of the county as well. 

David Payne:  Yeah, right.  Now let’s turn to this year's event.  What are some of the highlights we can expect at this year’s MoComCon and will there be anything new?

Dana Alsup:  Well, we already talked about some of them.  Some of the newer ones are the symphony orchestra quartet coming.  Don has been there in the past two years and his event has been so popular that we put him in the big room.  This year we haven't had or we’ve had video games and that we've had Minecraft before but we decided to switch it up and do Mario Kart and then have Oculus Rift, which we just found out about last week that we got that.  FutureMakers has come before, but they are doing something different this year.  It's called thermoforming which is used when making masks for all of this Cosplay things costumes, but this is not masks, they're just doing a simple thing to give you the concept of it. 

And we’ll have our face painters and craftists same as last year and we will have an escape, we’ll have two escape rooms this year.  One is run by Game of Rooms, which is an escape room company in I think Gaithersburg is where they’re located and they’re doing the eight to 13 age Harry Potter themed escape room.  And then staff has put together another escape room for adults, teens and adults it's 14 and up, and its Game of Thrones themed.  You don't have to have knowledge of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones to play though you don't have to know anything about Jon Snow to be successful in our escape rooms.

David Payne:  Anything you like to add Beth?

Beth Chandler:  Yes, our crafts are new this year.  So one of the ones that looks really Q is little superhero puppets.  You can create your own superhero and put them together with Brad so that the arms can move and so we’re glad to be able to switch that up a bit. 

David Payne:  Sounds great.  So with all this in mind let me ask you both what are you most looking forward to MoComCon 2019?  Let me start with you Beth. 

Beth Chandler:  Oh, I just like seeing all of the people who come having fun.  Last year, I spent a lot of time with our Button Maker and people we go through scraps and find the piece that they want and you’ll cut it just the right shape and maybe color it if it's black and white.  And we make little buttons so they can have cool buttons with a favorite character or something else cool on it.  And people were just having a blast and it was fun to see all the different things people brought to make buttons and it really was all ages.  We had parents making their own buttons as well as helping their little kids.

David Payne:  That’s great and Dana. 

Dana Alsup:  This year although I love all the smiling faces.  I think I’m looking forward to Oculus Rift I will be terrible at it.  But I haven't seen it before, so I'm excited to experience it.  And the first year we had VR but I didn't have time to do it, so we’re going to get it up and running the night before.  So I think a staff can take a turn at it and only embarrass ourselves in front of each other and not. 

David Payne:  Get those arms to workout. 

Dana Alsup:  Right, not everyone else.

David Payne:  Yeah, so let’s go back – back in time a bit as we mentioned this is the third year of MoComCon.  Let’s go back to the beginning and tell us how MoComCon came into existence Dana?

Dana Alsup:  It started with I think it was three or four staff members who wanted to do something specifically for teens and this was their proposals to do an event a comic con type event.  And it quickly snowballed and gained interests, and so we developed it into something that was all-encompassing all ages.  So as we’ve said at the third time preschool to senior.  And it was accepted by the then director Parker and our Acting Director, Anita has graciously let us continue to do this.  So it's – but I think they did a lot of research a number of other systems do this and it's been successful at other library systems as well. 

David Payne:  And Beth, have you been involved since the beginning?

Beth Chandler:  I have indeed is the person who buys comic books and is someone who has worked with related programs in the past.  I was absolutely thrilled and basically begged to get on the committee.  So I'm delighted to have been one of the “founding members”.  The first year it was a lot of work, but we learned how to streamline the work over the last couple of years and what sort of things we can and can't do as staff as well as finding a really generous array of local talent for people and organizations to participate and do the programming.

David Payne:  Great, that actually leads me into my next question which is that as MoComCon has developed and grown over these past couple of years, what are some of the things you've learned about setting it up? Let me start with you Beth.

Beth Chandler:  Oh, I would say crowd management working out the best ways to do lines, when to do lines, when to do tickets.  One of our challenges is keeping the area in front of the elevators clear so that people can get in and out of the elevators.  One of the things that at times you’ll help create crowds but also help to entertain crowds is having some Star Wars Cosplayers in. 

Dana Alsup:  Yes, R2-D2 last year was epic I think is the correct word. 

But we had to keep R2 away from the elevator as soon as he got out of the elevator we had to quickly get R2 away.  Him and his handler I know he is not a real thing.  I will say other challenges we've eliminated some things that were challenges or that created too much work as Beth said we streamline things.  We had the themed fandom rooms and they took a long time to set up and so this year we eliminated them just to give ourselves a little bit of a break and so we could set up the rest of the event in a more timely manner because they were – they took a lot of time.

Beth Chandler:  But if you enjoy Finnish things we do have scavenger hunts this year.

Dana Alsup:  Yeah, we have two scavenger hunts.

Beth Chandler:  Yes, one for kids and one for teens and adults.  So we think that will provide a lot of enjoyment and of course people can always take pictures not just for the teen and adult scavenger hunt which is I think it's Snapchat based. 

Dana Alsup:  It’s an Instagram scavenger hunt.  So you’ll have I think it's five or six clues or things you need to take pictures of like get your superhero squad and take a picture, find your favorite graphic novel, take a picture with it, with a specific hash tag.  And then we’ll go through at the end and if you got all five or six of these clues then we’ll do a quick raffle and you’ll get a prize. 

David Payne:  So looking back to the very first MoComCon, did you both think that it will be an annual event, was that the intention or –?

Dana Alsup:  I think it was the intention.  But honestly we had no idea what was going to happen.  And when the library opened at 10 and everything is set up and you're just standing there waiting I was down on the third floor at the tech bar which we use as the information desk and it was like are people going to show up, do they know that this happens.  And within I don't know 15, 20 minutes I was saying the same thing for the next four hours, welcome to MoComCon, this is what you can do today, here is the events.  This is what you can do, do you want to register right away and it was nonstop and I didn't realize I was tired until I sat down in my car.  So on that first year no one knew what to expect and when creating an event from scratch is so much work.  But now we use a lot of the same models and same outlines that we've had these past couple of years, so it makes it a slightly easier. 

David Payne:  Obviously it’s a great community event.  What’s the most positive effect do you think MoComCon has on the community? Let me start with you Beth.

Beth Chandler:  I think one of them is people who might not otherwise think of coming into the library come in.  I know we had a lot of teens and twenty some things come in.  We tend to get a lot of families and senior citizens but we did get some of the younger people coming in and we also I think expanded people's ideas of what the library could be. 

Dana Alsup:  I agree with everything Beth just said.

Beth Chandler:  Yeah, it also made teens lets people know that the library is a very a comics friendly place, a crafts friendly place, a fandom friendly place that we’re not just about your regular novels and children's books and educational things but we’re about fun and creativity and high-tech also. 

David Payne:  Yeah, and we should also mention that the whole event is completely free.

Beth Chandler:  Completely free. 

Dana Alsup:  Yes that because we know it can cost over $100, sometimes several $100 to go to some of the big conventions.  And this way, people don't have to worry about money.  And one of the reasons that we aren’t selling things is the parents don't have to worry about their children begging to be bought something, but they can go home with several crafts if they want and pictures and of course a lot of memories. 

David Payne:  So if anybody looking to participate as a volunteer, how can one get information on volunteering?

Dana Alsup:  I would contact us via social media, and then the social media team will forward that to me and I'll be in contact with them.  But we are in – we’re always looking for volunteers the whole day, part of the day, you get a free T-shirt. 

Beth Chandler:  And yes, for teens, we can offer –.

Dana Alsup:  SSL Hours.

Beth Chandler:  SSL Hours. 

David Payne:  And for anybody unable to make it actually to the actual event can customers participate in any other way?

Dana Alsup:  We’re having lots of – all the branches are having lead up programs or most of them are having lead up programs.  And one of our presenters Don Sakers will actually be doing two events one in Olney and one in Germantown.  And he has been extremely popular at MoComCon in past years where we have a – we had him in a smaller room and there was a limit and people were sneaking in.  And so we were having him do some other events so more people can see him and more people can participate up county that way as well rather than down county and Silver Spring. 

David Payne:  Just look behind the scenes obviously for those people who go it's a spectacular event.  But tell us how it actually comes about, what's the planning cycle and will he be planning for the next one almost straight after MoComCon 2019 is finished?

Dana Alsup:  I will be.  As the team lead I don't stop and MoComCon does not stop for me.  A couple of weeks after the event we all come together and we have a discussion about what worked, what didn't work, what feedback we got from customers and how we can make improvements or change things to be better for the following year.  And I almost immediately start figuring out how to make those changes happen.  So it does, I get about a two week break and then it kicks back up again like halfway through February for me. 

The rest of the team although I will say those that have been on the team, which most of them I think six or seven of us have done it all three years now.  I don't think that the thought of it stops.  I think that we see things and we write little notes about other possibilities or we meet someone as a presenter during summer reading and we try and pull that in.  But the actual teen planning part doesn't start until June or July.  So we spend seven months planning this and we meet in person once a month as a team and then there is many emails back and forth in between all those meetings and phone calls.

Beth Chandler:  And documents created or updated. 

Dana Alsup:  Documents, yeah, we have a joint page where we should have all of our documents and calendars and things get changed.  I mean, even now are the MoComCon schedule that's up on the website has been changed three times because we’ve changed you know, we added like we were adding our Oculus Rift or changed something and it doesn't stop.

David Payne:  Yeah, so check the website for. 

Dana Alsup:  Yes, check the website for those up-to-date information.

David Payne:  So with that in mind, let me ask you both what's the first thing you’re going to do when MoComCon is over.  Let’s start with you Beth.

Beth Chandler:  I am going to collapse into a comfortable chair and probably at a restaurant have a nice dinner and get some rest. 

Dana Alsup:  It's similar.  Last year I got into my car and it was so quiet and I just sat there reveling in the silence because it's very noisy in the building.  And there is a lot of just kind of shouting things to other people across the room to try and tell someone something.  So it's I like this silence and then I pretty much just go home and I forced my husband to figure out dinner that night.  It’s usually Taco Bell then.  And this year it's the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr.  Day so we get a full two day weekend after this, which is thrilling. 

David Payne:  So now and to put you on the spot you're going to be wearing the MoComCon T-shirt.  But if you could come in costume, who would you come as Dana?

Dana Alsup:  Jeez, I don’t know.  Probably, I’m a Star Wars fan so I’d probably be like a Han Solo though I figure that out.  Although, I’d leave my blaster at home because there is no weapons or fake weapons allowed at MoComCon.  So we wouldn't have to have the question of who shot first. 

Beth Chandler:  Oh, I have the fantasy end covered.  I’m a big Manga & Anime fan and I actually have a costume for Rahab, who is 800-year-old mage.  She is a minor character in the Manga & Anime, the ancient magus bride and I just love elder wise women types so I'd probably do that. 

David Payne:  So from costumes to theme songs if MoComCon had a theme song, what do you think it might be? Start with you Beth. 

Beth Chandler:  I was racking my brains.  I mentioned this to my husband and being a big Hayao Miyazaki fan, he said why not the song from My Neighbor Totoro.  I’m like oh, walking song.  Hey, let’s go, hey, let’s go.  I'm happy as can be. 

Dana Alsup:  I like that.

David Payne:  Could you follow that Dana?

Dana Alsup:  No, I can’t.  I think it would need its own new song of course. 

Beth Chandler:  Well, that's an idea for next year.  We have a song writing contest. 

Dana Alsup:  There we go, yet another contest.  I think it would have to be like I don't even know the name of the song, but You're The Best Around like I just it feels that way to me and that’s how I feel about the team too.  I would be completely lost as a team lead if it wasn't for that team. 

Beth Chandler:  Okay, I should add, we have the most fun meetings usually at meetings like okay, what's next on the agenda and you know, who wants to do this and we hear crickets.  And ours it's something like okay, who wants to do the research on this video game like volunteers could you?

David Payne:  Right. 

Dana Alsup:  Yeah, we do use a lot of terms from comic con type things like tribute or we’ll have floor prefects this year and I think I’ll have them wear peas. 

David Payne:  So are there any special characters that one should be on the lookout for?

Dana Alsup:  We usually have the FIFO first come and so they are Stormtroopers and they walk around.  They’re great for a photo op, get your like Christmas card photo for next year.  Last year, Chewbacca came and R2 as I’ve already mentioned which when R2 came in I think I screamed.  I was so excited about it.  We haven't gotten word officially if R2 will be there or not but those are our main cosplayers are Star Wars cosplayers.  And then people come, our first year we had a group of people come just because they were so excited and they brought their like very serious cosplay cast students. 

Beth Chandler:  Oh, those were the Mortal Kombat Cosplayers.

Dana Alsup:  Yeah.

Beth Chandler:  They were fantastic. 

Dana Alsup:  They were amazing and Wonder Woman was there as well.  All those photos of them are on our Flickr accounts.  They were amazing and they didn't even want to participate in the Cosplay Contest.  They just wanted to be there as photo ops for customers to take pictures which I thought was very nice of them. 

David Payne:  So do have any idea what time the Stormtroopers might be there or –?

Dana Alsup:  They usually get there before the branch opens and then they change and then they walk around and they usually take a break.  The first year I can’t remember a kid said where is Kylo Ren.  He is here, he is somewhere because he had been walking around and I had just given Kylo Ren a water bottle then I said even villains need water breaks. 

Beth Chandler:  Yeah, I've been really delighted to see the array.  Last year I actually saw Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.  I mentioned, my husband and I are both Miyazaki fans and we were talking beforehand I would love to see one punch man.  He is a Manga superhero who can defeat anybody and I mean anybody with just a single punch.  And he looks like this ordinary, actually he looks like a very boring 20 or 30 something guy with a bald head, but yet I think it would be hilarious if someone cosplayed him.  It’s very funny Manga.  So I wouldn't be surprised if we see him.  We have seen people play Haikyu, Hetalia and some other I know we’ve had at least one or two people from Naruto of course.  So we’ve seen more Anime in a lot of the characters. 

Dana Alsup:  Always a few doctors. 

Beth Chandler:  Oh, yes.

David Payne:  Yeah, so for those attending be prepared for anything. 

Beth Chandler:  Yes. 

Dana Alsup:  Yeah, you never know who you’re going to meet. 

David Payne:  Right, we’ll bump into, yeah.  So for those interested in finding the most up-to-date information where can they check to find it?

Dana Alsup:  On our website.  So on the MCPL website just under the search box for a catalog you'll see MoComCon there and you can click on that and it's going to have the schedule of events which you can print out and bring with you, which I recommend because we don't hand out the schedules because we save paper.  So we’ll have that there.  And then there is also the registration forms for the Cosplay Contests there if you want to print it out and fill it out beforehand.  If you are under the age of 18 your guardian must sign that form. 

David Payne:  So we hope the weather will be kind to us, but in case it isn't, is there a weather date?

Beth Chandler:  Yes, we do.  It's two weeks from then, I believe its February 2nd.  Dana is checking on the precise date.

Dana Alsup:  February 2nd, yes. 

Beth Chandler:  February 2nd and I would also like to add that when we say everybody is welcome we meet everybody.  Although the crowds might take a bit to get through we are fully handicapped accessible library.  And if anyone needs sign language interpreters just contact your local library and tell them that you intend to go to MoComCon and when you would like the sign language interpreters.  If anyone needs a quiet space at that point our coloring room is going to be somewhat quiet.  And the first floor should also be fairly quiet it’s just the post office and the coffee place.

Dana Alsup:  Yes, I would assume the post office will be kind of quiet.  We call it our superhero break room as our quiet room coloring room just little break.

David Payne:  You want to get away from it all.  Oh, yeah.

Dana Alsup:  Yeah, take off your cape. 

David Payne:  So we traditionally close our episodes by asking the guests what are you currently reading comic book or otherwise.  So let me start with you Beth?

Beth Chandler:  Well, of course, I am reading Graphic Novels.  I recently finished Upgrade Soul which is a very serious adult graphic novel dealing with the future way of making older people young again and of course the technology does not work as it's intended. 

David Payne:  Bit of a problem there. 

Beth Chandler:  Yes, it is.  It’s multi-award-winning.  I definitely recommend it if you want some really good serious science fiction and it is also wonderfully diverse. 

David Payne:  And Dana?

Dana Alsup:  I’m on a bit of a biography binge.  I just read Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's book Crazy Love, which is wonderful and she is a local author.  And now I'm reading Michelle Obama's Becoming.  And I have another biography on deck for next just in a biography binge. 

David Payne:  Well, Dana and Beth thank you very much indeed for coming in and sharing your knowledge of MoComCon 2019 and previewing it.  It sounds like a great event.  We’re really looking forward to it.  Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and write to us on Apple podcast.  We love to know what you think.  Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.

Jan 8, 2019

Summary: Librarians Dana Alsup and Beth Chandler talk about MCPL's upcoming comic con, MoComCon. MoComcon will take place January 19 at Silver Spring Library. The con will offer events for all ages, including workshops, escape rooms, crafts, cosplay and more, all for free! 

Recording Date: December 19, 2018


Dana Alsup, librarian at Marilyn Praisner Library and chair of the MoComCon committee. 

Beth Chandler, librarian at MCPL's Collection Management office and member of the MoComCon committee.

Host: David Payne

What Our Guests Are Reading:

Dana Alsup: Crazy Love: An Autobiographical Account of Marriage and Madness by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Beth Chandler: Upgrade Soul: A Graphic Novel by Ezra Claytan Daniels.

Books, Authors, and Other Resources Mentioned During the Episode

Doctor Who

Don Sakers: Science fiction writer and reviewer who will be offering a writing workshop at MoComCon 2019. 

501st Legion: A prominent Star Wars costuming group. The local Old Line Garrison chapter of the 501st will make an appearance at the con. 

Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate

Hetalia by Hidekaz Himaruya

Game of Rooms: An escape room firm that will run one of the two escape rooms at the con. 

MoComCon 2018 Pictures

MoComCon 2017 Pictures

My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki

Naruto by Masahi Kishimoto

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

Occulus Rift Virtual Reality Headset

One-Punch Man by One

Visionary Comics: A local comic studio and publisher. Visionary Comics will offer a session on publishing in the comic industry during MoComCon 2019.  

Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra: Enjoy the music of video games played by this local orchestra at the con! 

 Read the transcript

Jan 3, 2019

Listen to the audio

David Paine:  Welcome to Library Matters with me; David Paine.

Lauren Martino:  And I'm Lauren Martino.

David:  And today we are looking at mental and physical wellness.  As these winter days get shorter and temperatures continue to drop, many of us begin to experience what we might call as winter blues.  But while winter can be a challenging time for many of us, health and wellness is of course of your own concern.  So joining us today, we have two very special guests who are going to share their knowledge and interest in mental and physical wellness.  Welcome to Nicole Lucas, who is Program Officer with the Montgomery County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, otherwise known as NAMI, welcome Nicole.

Nicole:  Hi, thank you.

David:  Welcome also to Elizabeth Lang, who has the very eloquent title of MCPL's Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager, is quite a mouthful, I hope I got that right?

Elizabeth Lang:  You did, hello.

David:  Anyway, welcome.

Elizabeth:  Thank you.

David:  So, let's begin by asking you both.  Obviously you come from very different approaches to this.  What does wellness mean to you both?  Let me start with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth:  Okay.  Well, being a librarian, I looked it up in the dictionary.  So the Merriam-Webster dictionary says that, "the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal."  But personally, wellness to me really -- I think of is taking good care of myself physically and mentally.

David:  That seems to sum it up.  How about you Nicole?

Nicole:  Well, I took a different approach just because of my background at NAMI.  So the two of mental health and mental illness get interchanged quite frequently, and so we define mental health as how you're taking care of yourself and how you cope with stress and everyday things like work and raising children and getting through the ins and outs of what you're going through and how you handle those the emotions.  And then as far as mental illness, that's more of how the illness affects the way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others.

And there are many different mental illnesses and they have different symptoms that impact people in different ways.  So I think it's really important to distinguish the two.  Because when you think of mental health sometimes people think mental illness when that's not necessarily the case.

David:  Thank you.

Lauren:  So you can come at it from a really positive perspective as opposed to just looking at what could go wrong.

Nicole:  Absolutely yes.  And when we do our presentations at NAMI that's one of the questions it's almost like a trick question that we ask is, well, what comes to mind when you think mental health and people automatically started throwing out depression, bipolar, sadness, anxious, worry, all that stuff.  But we're just asking like you know what do you do to help deal with?  What do you do for fun?  And we have to kind of tease that out.  But once we get that going, then it's like oh, okay, that's what you mean.

Lauren:  Elizabeth, can you tell us a little bit about why the library is a good place to look for health resources?

Elizabeth:  Oh sure.  The Montgomery County Public Library collections include print and online resources by reputable sources on health and wellness topics, almost anything that you can imagine.  Some resources have a broad overview of a topic like managing stress or staying fit.  Others cover very specific topics like nutrition for healthy aging or pool workouts.  That's an actual book that we have in our print collection.  Resources that are available on the shelves in the library include health and wellness books, magazines, documentaries and the MCPL website also has some great resources.

We have a LibGuide about health that collects a dozens of health resources all in one place.  The information includes things like getting health insurance through the Maryland Health Connection and health topics that have been in the news recently, such as the opioid epidemic.  There's a section devoted to online health resources such as the Gale Health and Wellness Resource Center, which is a huge database of health information covers diseases, conditions, drugs, diagnostics, treatments, therapies, etc.

The health LibGuide also has a section that covers how to find health services locally, a section about kids' health and a listing of trusted health websites.  So it's really a one-stop health resource, best of all.  All of these resources are free to Montgomery County residents.  They just need their library card.

Lauren:  Did you mention workout videos?  We get a lot of workout videos.

Elizabeth:  We have many wonderful workout videos, absolutely. 

Lauren: Now I got the belly dance like workout video at some point which is a lot of fun.  [Laughter]

Elizabeth: I haven't seen that one -- one that I did have checked out several times as Tai chi -- Tai chi wonderful -- wonderful video, yep.

David:  So turning to you Nicole, tell us a bit about NAMI, the Montgomery County Chapter is I think one of many up and down the country.  How long has NAMI been in existence, and what are some of the programs that you offer?

Nicole:  So the Montgomery County Chapter has been in existence for about 40 years.  We actually predate the national office, so it's kind of like a fun fact that we share with the community.  So we operate at three different levels: national, state, and then local.  So there's over 900 affiliates or local chapters however you want to describe it, and so Montgomery County is the local chapter.

At Montgomery County, I'm the Director of Programs, and we offer about 14 different programs and our goal and our mission is to provide support, education, and advocacy for people living with mental illness and their family members.  The great thing about what we do is everything is free and we also offer a helpline to the community where people can contact us for resources.

David:  And how are you funded?

Nicole:  We are funded through foundations, through the county government and through membership and private donations.  So kind of all of the above.  All hands on deck when it comes to funding or non-profit, so.

Lauren:  Anyway you can.

Nicole:  Anyway, we can, yes.  And we are a small staff.  We have five full time staff and that's the other differentiator with NAMI is that all of the programs that we offer are run by volunteers because that's the requirement in order to facilitate a support group, a class as you have to have lived experience.  So that is who basically helps us run NAMI.  So we do a lot of services with very small staff, but a very dedicated volunteer base.

Lauren:  So you've got a lot of people in there who know what they're talking about from?

Nicole:  Lived experience, that's correct.

Lauren:  That's amazing.

Nicole:  Yes.

David:  And I think I read that your motto is you are not alone is that correct?

Nicole:  Yes.  That's right. You're not alone, which is true because one in five people live with mental illness and so I always tell people in my presentations that if you haven't been touched by it, then I don't know if I quite believe that just because everybody has had it, maybe just you know in the moment or situational.  But if you yourself haven't, you definitely have a family member or a friend that has been touched by it because it's so prevalent.

David:  And presumably also there's people who may have it, but aren't aware of it.

Nicole:  Yes.

David:  That comes into it too.

Nicole:  It does.

David:  Nicole, can you tell us about a typical program you might do some of the programs you do offer?

Nicole:  Sure, absolutely.  So like I said, we provide program, we provide classes, support groups and presentations.  And the two populations that we serve are for the individuals with living with mental illness and the family members.  But to go back to the history of NAMI and how we were founded was by five family members who had children with mental illness and they could not find any resources.

So they got together and they said this shouldn't be this hard to try to find help for my child and so they form NAMI and so that really was the foundation of NAMI and out of that came one of our signature programs or classes which is called family to family.  And that is a twelve week class that we offer because for lack of a better word is a very popular class, but I'm thankful that we have it that we can offer family members who are caregivers to their loved one.

And the class is always full.  We always have a waiting list.  We try our best to offer it if not monthly, every other month and that's where our volunteers come into play because we need volunteers to keep up with the demand specifically for this particular class.

David:  Great, thank you.  Tell us more about the typical content you one might find in the program?

Nicole:  Sure, so when the family to family class, it's a psycho educational class which basically means that the participants learn about different mental illnesses.  They learn about how to set boundaries with their loved ones, so they learn some practical advice and suggestions on how to care for their loved one.  They also learn about resources in the community because as you mentioned there are some cases where you have mental illness, but you don't acknowledge that you have it and that's the case a lot of the times.

And it's very frustrating for family members because they don't know what to do.  So our class teaches them that.  And it's a very full class like I said and it's a lot of content and for that reason sometimes we have multiple -- we have participants who take the class multiple times because I've heard feedback that they learn something new every time.  So it's kind of generally speaking of what the content covers.

There's also -- I'm sorry one last thing.  There is also an empathy exercise that we do in the class which is great because it shows the family member what it's like to live with mental illness if you're experiencing symptoms.  And after we do that exercise, it is very powerful because they come out of it and say.” Wow, now I know why I can't communicate with my loved one” because they're symptomatic, they're hearing voices, they're seeing things, they're feeling you know things on their body.  So it really gives a lot of insight to those family members.

David:  Wonderful, thank you.

Lauren:  Elizabeth, can you recommend any books or magazines that kind of speak to some of these same issues that NAMI deals with or anything else regarding physical or mental health?

Elizabeth:  I'm more aware of resources relating to the physical aspect of things.  One of my favorites is prevention magazine which I brought a sample of.  I know that the listeners can't see it.

Lauren:  We can see it.

Elizabeth:  But you guys can see it.  It's here.  It's available in print as well as online and it covers a wide range of health and wellness topics.  Sometimes it does cover mental and physical health both, but it focuses mainly on physical health.

Lauren:  We have that available through Flipster, do you know?

David:  I believe we do.

Lauren:  Okay.  That's how I read the current issue.  Because it was not on the shelf when I went to find it in print.  I read the current issue online.

Elizabeth:  It always includes practical tips which I really appreciate.  It's not just you know the fury or the research behind things.  But it will tell you try this or try that.  This might help or that might help.

David:  Elizabeth, can you just tell us what Flipster is?

Elizabeth:  Sure.  Flipster is an online app that allows you to access the digital version of the magazine.

Lauren:  I couldn't find the print copy so I went to the electronic copy, which is always available.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, you check it out online basically instead of picking it up and sitting down or at a table in the library.

Lauren:  What are some of your other favourite resources for physical and mental wellness?

Elizabeth:  Okay, I brought a couple of items with me in addition to prevention magazine that I think are really good resources.  Just for general information about health, one of them is a book called Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.  It was written by T. Colin Campbell, who is a nutritional biochemist.  And the book explores why a plant-based diet is likely the best diet for humans to eat.

It reviews research and talks a lot about the problems that we create for ourselves and we try to examine one nutrient as separate from other nutrients.  And how that kind of reduction is, doesn't show us a full picture which is why sometimes there will be studies that are released that say eggs are good for you and then next week there's a study that says that eggs are bad for you.  So this book takes sort of a large review and talks about how we can be skeptical of what we're hearing and how to evaluate what health claim might be valid and what might be less valid.

Lauren:  That's really important because we're all constantly bombarded with conflicting information and have been for decades and decades and it speaks to that.

Elizabeth:  Right, it's hard to know what to pay attention to.  So his book just cautions us to be careful basically.  So I really -- I recommend that people read that if they have a strong interest in health topics.  I also brought a book by a local author, Robynne Chutkan, I believe this how her name is pronounced.  She has gastroenterology practice in Chevy Chase I believe.  And she talks a lot about gut health and this is a new area of study that science is showing is very important to personal, physical health.  She runs a practice and writes some books that talk specifically about the kinds of things that we can do to make sure that our guts are healthy and how that impacts our overall health.

Lauren:  Have you read I Contain Multitudes, it is kind of along the same lines, but more of a.

Elizabeth:  I have not but, I know what you're referring to.

Lauren:  Yeah, that's I mean it's the less you know how to version and more the amazing world of microbiomes.

Elizabeth:  Right.  It's about all the billions of little bacteria that live inside us that sort of help us run things properly digestively, yes.

Lauren:  And what happens when we try to get rid of one and then everything else comes in like they were talking about how like hospitals are now looking at putting germs in the hospital rooms to counteract the bad ones, yeah because what do you do, you just find a way to crowd them out.

Elizabeth:  Yes.

David:  So a reminder to our listeners is that all of the resources that we mentioned in today's podcast can be found in our program show notes on the podcast webpage.  While we are talking about library resources, Elizabeth, are there any documentaries on health and wellness available in the library collection?

Elizabeth:  Yes, many.  We have documentaries on the shelves in all of our branches and they cover a wide range of topics as we were referring to earlier exercise tai chi, those sorts of things.  We have videos that are about eating and on topics that are more related to mental health reducing stress and wellness.  My favourite resource though is not actually the DVDs that we have in the shelves.

We have an online on demand film streaming resource called canopy that has over 500 documentaries on health and wellness topics.  And they're broken out into categories like sports and fitness, nutrition, mental health, death and dying in addiction.  And a lot of these are award winning films.  They're really excellent.  I have more things on my to-watch list than I will ever have time to get to.

David:  That's great.  Thank you.  Nicole, turning to you in the work that you do, you are so well placed to see and observe developments in the field.  What are some of the current trends you're seeing in mental health and wellness?

Nicole:  I think the biggest trend that we're seeing is providers are encouraging their patients or their clients to use mindfulness techniques.  So they're going back to I mean, there's the traditional therapy, medication, senior doctor, but in terms of concrete treatment that you can do at home, that you could do at work, is mindfulness activities and I feel like that's a little bit of a buzzword, so I wanted to take a minute to describe what that means.

So I kind of see it as two-fold.  Mindfulness can be defined as letting go of taking things for granted, meaning mindfulness challenges us to awaken from these mind habits and appreciate the little things.  So you know the little things of you know your daughter coming home with a picture that she drew at school that you add to all the other 800 files- [Laughter]

Elizabeth:  When you are so tempted you just say I'm just want to cook dinner.

Nicole:  Yes.

Elizabeth:  I don't need to look at that right now.

Nicole:  Yes, or listening to your spouse's day or your partner's day and just really staying in the present.  And then the second piece to that is that it can be defined as being in the moment.  And so being more in the moment of like observing our surroundings like the trees that I'm looking at outside as we're doing this -- having this conversation, looking at Elizabeth's scarf and see how pretty it is and not thinking about what I'm going to cook for dinner and, “Oh gosh I hope my daughter did her homework,” that kind of thing.

And that's one of the things that we do, that's one of the things that we also -- that's included in our class for individuals living with mental illness and that class is called peer to peer, and is mindfulness activities and it has really been helpful.  And so that's the biggest trend that I'm seeing is the mindfulness.  Do you know of any resources that we have that address mindfulness?  I feel like it's also been a big trend in a recent publishing?

Lauren:  Yeah, we do.  We have mindfulness materials and traditional, the section of the library that offers Buddhist materials.  Traditionally, mindfulness is associated with Buddhism.  But it has sort of grown beyond that.  We do also have mindfulness materials in other areas of the library as well.  So you know searching for mindfulness in our catalog online will bring all of those materials up.  We've got a number of programs too.  I know it's over spring we offer like meditation classes in English and Spanish, and I'm sure there are several others throughout the system that-

Nicole:  Yes, we have several branches currently offering yoga, meditation, qigong, and tai chi classes, and all of those or many of those will contain a component of mindfulness.

David:  So Nicole, I see you both allowing a list of recommended readings which we will include in the show notes.  Can you just tell us a bit about-?

Nicole:  Sure -- sure.  So this has been a work in progress.  So we listen to our members and those that take our classes and reach out to us because that's one of the questions that we get, especially when you're in the beginning stages of crisis for lack of a better word as what can I read.  So we develop the list and we have it broken out by mental illness, so specific to the diagnosis and they vary from bipolar to depression to OCD.

So it's a combination of all of the above.  And then we also included from a family's perspective because that was a feedback that we got also.  That we wanted to hear what the family were saying about caring for a loved one with mental illness.  It's not a comprehensive list because it's a work in progress, but it's a good starting point because I think also too when we have participants in our class, they described not way, but people who have taken the class, they are described as a deer in headlights.

Because if you think about you have a loved one with mental illness, you just got a diagnosis, you don't know where to turn to, you show up at this class, and you're like I don't know what's going to happen next or where to go next or what to do and what's going to happen.  So we developed this reading list as kind of a starting point and it's somewhat of a roadmap to go along with the programs that we offer.

David:  It's great.  Sounds like a great start.  So in talking about mental and physical wellness of course, we're referring to children as much as adults.  Elizabeth, what kind of information does the library have for health and wellness for children?

Elizabeth:  Well, we have the same kind of range of materials for children and about children that we do as the materials that are for and about adults.  As it mentioned, the health LibGuide on our website has a section that is devoted to children.  So it offers information about children's health resources and in our branches any children's department will have materials on the shelf that staff can show to our customers that address both how parents can address children's health issues as well as books for the children themselves to learn about their own health issues or health and wellness in general.

David:  It's wonderful.  And Nicole presumably NAMI caters as much to children in your offerings as anyone else?

Nicole:  That's a really good question, because our model is a little bit different.  So we offer the classes for family members who have a loved one over the age of 18 and then we have classes for the parents who have a child under the age of 18.  So we don't target under the age of 18 specifically.  However, we do have a program when we go into high schools and middle schools and do a suicide prevention resiliency program.  So in that case, we do touch that population, but primarily in terms of NAMI's core program, it's really for adults.

David:  Okay.

Nicole:  For the exception of the parents, but it's the parents for the kids under the age of 18.

David:  Right, okay.  Thanks for clarifying that.

Nicole:  Sure.

Lauren:  Nicole, do you have any particular advice for anybody who's struggling with or has family members who are struggling with mental health problems and I guess they're in that deer in the headlights stage, they been blindsided and they don't know where to turn, they don't know what to do?

Nicole:  Yeah, absolutely.  Everybody situation is different and that's why I go back to always going to your primary care provider.  If it's the family member who has a loved one that's experiencing these signs and symptoms, we recommend that they keep a journal of the behaviors.  So that when their loved one or if and when their loved one does go to the doctor they have some kind of documentation of the behaviors, we're not doctors at NAMI, so we don't diagnose and that's one of the things that we talk about in our presentations is that, don't diagnose your family member because that's going to-

Lauren:  As tempting as it may be.

Nicole:  As tempting as it may be, that's going to probably put them on the defensive.  But always go to the doctor first, and if they don't go which is often the case also is that you make sure that you take care of yourself.  And I know I spent a lot of time talking about the classes, but we also have support groups for both the loved one and for the person with the illness.  And there is no commitment and that was one thing I didn't mention.  For the classes, there is a commitment.  You've to sign up and register family to family as twelve weeks, peer to peer for the person with illnesses eight weeks.

But sometimes people aren't ready to commit and that's okay.  So they can do the support group and the support group is exactly what it is you just show up if you want to go and if you don't want to go you don't show up.

Lauren:  Low commitment.

Nicole:  Yes.

Lauren:  Fit in the door.

Nicole:  Yeah.  And I see that is more like the gateway into starting the treatment process, and then once they get more comfortable then they may commit to taking a class to learn more about how they can help themselves.

David:  So Nicole now that we've talked a lot about NAMI, where can anybody interested find out more information on NAMI, your services, and how to contact you?

Nicole:  Okay.  So you can go to our website at  You can call us at 301-949-5852.  Please like us on Facebook at NAMI Montgomery County and you can follow us on Instagram at nami_mc.

Lauren:  We've covered a lot of material in a lot of different areas, but I want to make sure that you both have the opportunity to say whatever it is that you were excited about preparing for us.  So what else would you like to tell us about?

Elizabeth:  This winter the libraries are offering some health-related classes that I think are pretty interesting.  We have at our Kensington Park and only libraries a bone-builders class for people over 55.  This is offered on an ongoing basis.  And it's an evidence-based bone building and fall prevention program sponsored by Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services, the recreation department, and the volunteer center.

Additionally, in partnership with the African-American health program, the Germantown library is hosting classes called kick starting your health, how to prevent and manage chronic diseases.  That provide information and resources on how to prevent and manage diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, and dementia.  Those are just a few of the health related programs.  If you visit our website, you can search through all of the events that we offer through our events calendar.  You can contact any branch or you can look for a print copy of our calendar of events around various locations in Montgomery County.

David:  So, Nicole, turning to you, mental illness, the term mental illness is a very brute.  Can you tell us some of the warning signs that one might look out for mental illness?

Nicole:  Sure, yeah sure absolutely.  So this isn't inclusive list, but these are just signs and symptoms to look for either in yourself or for your loved one.  If you're feeling sad, if you're isolating, withdrawn, unmotivated that could be a sign of depression.  Also self-harming and that is where someone may be making plans to harm themselves or they're cutting, that's definitely a warning sign.

Risk-taking behaviours, where they're out of control, engaging in risky behaviors and this isn't like an all-or-nothing kind of thing, it can be one or two symptoms that you're seeing.  Also, the person can be just feeling fearful all the time, sudden overwhelming fear for no reason.  Sometimes they have racing heartbeat or fast breathing.  Other signs could be weight change and that could be one way, you know either way weight gain, weight loss, that can be an indication for maybe an eating disorder.

Severe mood swings is another symptom or warning signs to look for.  Also, the obvious substance use, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, drastic changes in behavior that's unlike them.  So as the family member, you know kind of the baseline of your loved one and that's why I go back to the journal writing.  It's a little bit easier as the family member to see the symptoms but when you're the person with the illness and maybe sometimes you don't have that support system.  So that means they have to have the insight to recognize these things and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't.

Lauren:  Well, that's part of a lot of illnesses isn't?  That you've just -- you cannot recognize that something is wrong.

Nicole:  Right, you lack that; absolutely.  And then lack of focus, difficulty concentrating and some of these things like lack of focus, I mean that could be just like not sleeping because my baby won't sleep through the night.

Lauren:  No coffee.

Nicole:  Right, yeah, no coffee.  You're just you know working.

David Paine.  Another day at work.

Nicole:  Yeah, another day at work.  So some of these things that's why again documenting, just monitoring the behavior so that way you have more of a timeline to see the progression of these warning signs.  Montgomery County has a crisis center that we always refer to also so in addition to following up with your doctor, but if you don't have that, you can also call the Montgomery County Crisis Center which is 24/7 and that number is 240-777-4000.  And they're always have someone on staff to help and they also have a mobile crisis team where they can send someone out to assist in a situation.

Lauren:  It's good to know.  Is there anything else you wanted to share with us Nicole about your work at NAMI?

Nicole:  Sure.  One of the things that I just wanted to highlight is that when you have mental illness, it's important to remember that it's not anybody's fault.  It's not caused by poor parenting or weak character.  It's not preventable at this time, but it's more about following your treatments whether it's medication, seeing your therapist, being involved in activities.  And then it's not hopeless.

These illnesses present difficult challenges, but help is available through NAMI and other organizations, use our helpline to help get connected with resources of the community that can help you maintain your recovery.  But that's one of the things that we just want to remind people that people living with mental illness, remember it's one in five and there is one, two, three, four, five people in the room right now.  So, my point being is that we're all touched by it, and recovery is possible in terms of if you get connected with your treatment and you follow your plan.  And that's really the message that we like to lead with at NAMI.

Lauren:  Thanks a lot Nicole and thanks Elizabeth.  We have one more question that we ask all of our Library Matters guests and that is what are you reading right now? Elizabeth, what would you like to share with us?

Elizabeth:  Well, I'm reading several books.  The most interesting of those is a graphic novel called Upgrades Soul, written by Ezra Claytan Daniels.  It's about an older couple who are offered the opportunity to perhaps participate in experiment that may rejuvenate them mentally and physically.  But it's an experimental treatment and they're not exactly sure how it's going to go and then lo and behold, all does not go as was expected.  It's a lot of science fiction, it's very interesting, it's a big dick graphic novel which I really like.  I like the more complicated stories.  It was not written as a serial originally, it's just a standalone, it's very interesting I would recommend it for anybody who likes graphic novels or science fiction.

Lauren:  And ties in nicely with our wellness discussion.

Elizabeth:  Yes, it does.

Lauren:  Nicole, what are you reading right now?

Nicole:  Well, mine is work related.  Just because we -- like I mentioned we have the help lines, so we get lots of calls from people and I try to stay relevant and being able to give recommendations to our callers.  So I'm reading If Your Adolescent Has Depression or Bipolar Disorder, and it's by Dwight Evans and Linda Andrews.  I like this book because when we get calls from especially families of adolescence; it's really hard to determine is it adolescent behavior or is it mental illness.

Lauren:  Because they're not always super distinguishable.

Nicole:  No, they aren't.  And so this is a really clear concise road map.  It's very easy to read.  And one of the things that I try to be mindful of is that when you're in crisis, you probably -- you go through these different steps, you start calling all these different resources, you start reading all these books, you sign up for everything and then you're like on overload.  So that's why I like this book because it was a little bit more simple, because I think that when you're going through those different stages simple sometimes, it's the whole 'less is more' kind of thing.

And I think that our callers appreciate that, especially when I tell them let's just do one thing at a time, let's focus on you know, whatever the priority is.  We also have a parent support group which is something different at NAMI because it used to be just all family members in general.  But now we have parent support group, so if you have a child under the age of 21, we have a specific group just for that population.  And we find that to be very helpful for the families who you know, have adolescents that are experiencing these different types of symptoms and behaviors.

Lauren:  Thank you so much for this conversation, Nicole and Elizabeth.  It's been really informative and really helpful.  Listeners, don't forget to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the apple podcast app or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and rate us on apple podcasts and leave us some comments because we would love to know what you think.  Thanks for listening to our conversation today and we'll see you next time.


Jan 2, 2019

Summary: MCPL staff member Elizabeth Lang and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) representative Nicole Lucas talk about the resources MCPL and NAMI offer to maintain your mental and physical wellness. The NAMI helpline is 1 800 273-8255.

Recording Date: December 5, 2018


Elizabeth Lang: Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager at MCPL 

Nicole Lucas, Director of Programs for the Montgomery County chapter of NAMI,

Hosts: Lauren Martino and David Payne

What Our Guests Are Reading

Elizabeth Lang: Upgrade Soul: A Graphic Novel by Ezra Clayton Daniels

Nicole Lucas: If Your Adolescent Has Depression or Bipolar Disorder: An Essential Resource for Parents by Dwight L Evans and Linda Wasmer Andrews

Books, Authors and Other Resources Mentioned During this Episode:

Bone Builders: An enjoyable, evidenced-based bone building and fall prevention program. 

Robynne Chutkan: Author of Gutbliss: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage and The Microbiome Solution: A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out.

Deep End of the Pool Workouts by Melisenda Edwards and Katalin Wight

Gale Health & Wellness Resource Center: Online articles on health, medicine, and wellness from magazines, journals, and reference books. 

Health Care: Online health care resources available through MCPL's website. 

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

Kanopy: A streaming movie service available for free to MCPL card holders.  

NAMI Family-to-Family: A free, 12-week course for family caregivers of adults with severe mental illness. 

NAMI Montgomery County: A non-profit organization dedicated to providing "support, education, advocacy, and public awareness to promote recovery and so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives." 

NAMI Peer-to-Peer: An experiential learning program for people with any serious mental illness who are interested in establishing and maintaining their wellness and recovery. 

NAMI Recommended Reading List: This is the book list NAMI representative Nicole Lucas mentioned. It lists about two dozen books for individuals and their families related to various mental illnesses. 

PreventionPrevention magazine is available online through RBdigital Magazines. 

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson