Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Release" This: Stand Up and Stop Booing!

With Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez after our interview.
The first time I met Steve Lopez, Robert Downey, Jr. was playing him in a film.  It was March 19, 2008 and I was on the set of The Soloist, a movie based on Steve’s columns and book.  I was a background actor in the film and after two days of sitting around in a ball gown, they didn’t even use me.  Out of 300 extras in a scene where Steve receives an award, the film crew thought my big head was in the way of the camera, so I was “released” to go stand in the hallway.  I was fine with it.  I had a paper to write for my history of libraries class.

In leaving the ballroom where we were shooting, I ran into Robert, who was practicing his lines to himself.  As extras, we are never supposed to speak to the lead actors but of course, I spoke to him like it was the most normal thing in the world.  “You were awesome in Natural Born Killers.  Really f'n awesome.”  He laughed, smiled, and said thanks.  I kept walking.  I didn’t care that he was Robert Downey, Jr.  I just thought he was a good actor.

Almost four years later, and I am speaking with the real Steve Lopez, and once again, it is because of my big head.  Yet again, I was “released” from a job for being in the way, for standing out, for saying I liked something.  Apparently, like background actors, library pages aren’t supposed to be seen or heard either.  Without even trying, I had become “the soloist” all right, and thanks to losing my job, was now left to perform alone.  So here goes…

Steve’s Los Angeles Times column on November 2nd, leads with the phrase “Comedian Meredith Myers is basically booed by the library she loves.”  Listen folks, just because I was booed doesn’t mean I stop performing.  Being booed just means the material wasn’t right for that particular audience.  So as a performer, I’ve got two choices.  I can rewrite the jokes to fit the audience or just get a whole new audience.

Or, I’d like to think that maybe there is a third choice.  JUST STOP BOOING.  Comedians, like librarians, are a diverse group.  Those that enjoy Larry the Cable Guy might not be fans of Margaret Cho or George Carlin. Regardless of what you think is funny, all comics do what they do in the hopes of making audiences laugh, and laughing sure feels good in a world that seems to suck right now as a result of this poor economy.  And for that, I think all comedians are pretty important just for putting themselves on a stage where some audiences only want to judge them. 

Librarians are providing just as important a service.  They are sharing information with a public that requests it.  So would you really want the same librarian performing all the time?  Of course not.  Librarians are a direct reflection of their library collections, and I don't think anybody wants a library with all poetry or all self-help.  So let’s stand up for the uniqueness of each and every librarian and stop the booing! 

As a result of this LA Times piece, I have been getting countless emails from people sharing their support, outrage, advice, and many still looking for answers on why the whole thing even happened.  Like most things in life, I don’t think this situation has a black and white answer.  Plus if the people involved don’t communicate with each other, then we are never going to reach a sufficient solution.

Communication.  The key to public relations.  Let’s talk about that for a second.  It is no secret that I have a background in PR.  The secret is that I don't enjoy doing it.  For me to do it for free is unheard of.  (A client once paid me in trade - a latex catsuit - because she ran out of money.  Don’t ask.  It is still hanging in my closet.  Unworn.)  So the fact that I was doing free PR was for one reason and one reason only: I loved the library and I wanted the whole world to love it too.

It upsets me that a field I walked away from FOR the library profession, seems to also be the reason I was “released.”  And that term is just as stupid.  Released.  An orgasm is a release and I’m sorry, losing my job didn’t feel like that at all.  (Now see, somebody out there is thinking that I just went too far with the orgasm joke.  Get over it.  I cursed to Robert Downey, Jr. and he laughed, so should you.) 

The part that bothers me with this whole thing is how people keep congratulating me on this story.  We should not be celebrating this, people.  It was a lose/lose situation for me and the library that could have been a win/win if we had communicated better with each other.  Do you really think I wanted a story in the press about being fired?  Or that I was working as a library page?  Do you think I want people angry at the library?  At my co-workers?  Absolutely not. 

Originally, the Times was doing a positive piece about my journey into becoming a librarian and having a fun blog promoting libraries.  My love for the new library was the even-happier ending.  A love so strong that after months of volunteering, I was finally getting the chance to work there.  Hooray!  Good press for the library too.  “Off the record,” as they say, I had also just applied for a Librarian 1 position with the north county and had gotten my vendor ID number so I could do paid programs in the library.  Things I would never jeopardize as a library page or for a story in the paper.  And guess what?  All of those opportunities are now gone.  All because a few people who didn’t even know me or work with me, just couldn’t communicate with me.  Now we are all losing because so many people are mad at the library too.

I’m not one to live in the past, so while I am still very disappointed at what has happened, I am not defeated.  A decision was made and as they have yet to want to make it right, I am moving on knowing I have not wasted a second on what went wrong.  I already know I did everything right.  I was kind, helpful, happy, and 100% myself.  I will not be ashamed that I am colorful, funny, or dress fashionably.  I am also smart, dedicated, and obviously, incredibly strong.  Even now as I feel like most of the people I have worked with have yet to reach out to me (out of fear of losing their jobs too), it didn’t stop me from writing emails to each and every person telling them how important they were to me.  How I learned from them.  How I am better librarian because of simply knowing them.

And THAT is how we should be communicating with each other.  Not in judgment through boos and firings but in support of each other’s differences.  And THAT is what makes a great library collection.  And THAT is what makes a fun night at a comedy club.  Nobody wants to see the same thing all the time, so stand up for individuality and diversity.

Finally, I am so grateful to have met Steve Lopez, a writer and columnist I have admired since 2008 thanks to Robert Downey, Jr. in that empty hallway on The Soloist.  What I hope all of you learn from my story is that when bad stuff happens, it is not the end of the performance.  There is this incredible encore just waiting to be heard, so get ready to stand.  We need to keep standing up for libraries…even when they don't seem to be standing up for us.

And Robert?  Email me.  I have this great idea for a script and I think you would be just perfect.

Standing out in the hallway on the set of The Soloist, March 2008.

Steve's book display at the West Hollywood Library Opening, October 2011.
The Los Angeles Times, November 2011.