Communion Of Dreams


#2, so I’ll try harder.

Earlier this year I got a nice note from the Director of Libraries at MU, asking whether I would be able to attend the Library Society annual dinner. As part of the evening’s event they were going to have on display some of the more noteworthy items from Special Collections Adopt-a-Book Program – work I had done, supported by donations – and they wanted to introduce me to their membership. Director Cogswell kindly offered to have my wife and I attend the fundraiser as guests of the Library Society.

* * * * * * *

It’s been a long week. I was sorely disappointed in the outcome of our local elections held on Tuesday, which saw a shift from Smart Growth advocates to a more “pro-development” slate of candidates for our city council/mayoral positions.

I’ve been involved in local politics at a very low level the last couple of years, mostly in trying to make sure that there was some balance between neighborhood interests and development. I’ve served as our neighborhood association president, and that has led to my participation in a variety of training workshops, as well as keeping a weather eye on development & rezoning issues in our area. I’m not against development – hardly – but I think it ought to be done with some intelligence and awareness of how it serves a community rather than just the bank account of a developer.

* * * * * * *

I confirmed that my Good Lady Wife and I would be happy to attend the Library Society dinner, though I preferred to pay the modest fund-raising donation for the dinner, and that I likewise would enjoy chatting with anyone in the Society who had an interest in my work. I’ve always been willing to do this sort of thing, meeting with donors, explaining the work I do and why it is important. In one sense, it’s self-serving – the donors are helping me earn a living – but beyond that my motivation is to help make sure the historically valuable books in these collections get the care they need.

It may sound a bit odd, but I’m actually fairly passionate about that. Yes, I do get paid for my conservation work, and it is a business – but I have always done a lot more work on rare books than I actually bill for. I don’t make a big deal out of this, it’s just my way of contributing something to the community and culture. If I were financially independent I would probably continue to do my conservation work, just as an in-kind donation to appropriate collections.

* * * * * * *

After Tuesday’s depressing election results, I had the last in a series of workshops scheduled on Wednesday to attend. The topic was “infill development” – a series set up by our Department of Planning to help explain why utilizing unused or neglected property within the city was a good strategy, and what the various issues pertaining to this kind of development were, and how development in cooperation with an established neighborhood could be to everyone’s benefit.

Let me tell you, it was damned hard to work up the motivation to attend that session. But I went, and was glad I did so.

* * * * * * *

The featured speaker for the Library Society dinner was to be Peter Hessler. Cool – I’ve read some of his work, heard him in interviews, respected his intelligence and humor. That alone would be worth the price of admission.

It was.

* * * * * * *

Thursday night there was another public event I needed to attend. It was the 2010 Neighborhood Leadership class. I had been in the 2009 class (the first one), and had been asked to sit in on a panel discussion about my actual experiences with building my neighborhood association. The other panel member is a fellow I know, like, and respect for the things he has done in his (much larger) neighborhood in this regard, and I knew that we would make a good team discussing this topic.

It went really well. I did a variation of my “don’t be afraid of failure” spiel in saying that each neighborhood would present a unique set of challenges and would need a unique set of solutions – that the neighborhood leaders would need to experiment, innovate, risk failure if they were to find the set of solutions that worked for them.

But like all such public speaking situations, it left me pretty much wrung out and a bit jittery after. Being an introvert is hell, sometimes.

* * * * * * *

We got to the pre-dinner reception, and it didn’t take very long to figure out that what I thought was going to be just a bit of a mention and some chatting with donors was actually a bigger deal than that.

These sorts of functions usually have assigned seating, with the ‘top table’ reserved for the emcee and featured speaker, a few Really Important muckity-mucks, right in front of whatever podium is being used. Well, my Good Lady Wife and I got our name tags, and discovered that we were assigned to table #2. And that our assigned seats were in perfect sight-line to the podium. And that we had the honor of sitting with the much-beloved chancellor-emeritus of the University, a couple of Deans, and assorted other Pretty Important People.

Furthermore the Director of Development caught me shortly after we got into the room, and pointed out that the centerpiece of each table was a nice flat cake. A nice flat cake which had “before” and “after” images of conservation work I had done, complete with the name of the donor who supported that work. And the cake on the #2 table was a book of Mark Twain’s “In Honor of James T. Downey”.

Huh.

* * * * * * *

Friday afternoon, before the Library Society dinner, we had another function to attend. A former employer of my Good Lady Wife’s, who is still a professional colleague and friend of hers, was celebrating his 70th birthday.

We got to the party late (it was being done as an Open House at the offices of his architecture firm), knowing that the evening event would take at least a fair amount of energy. This was a good decision.

Oh, it wasn’t riotous or anything, but there were a lot of people in attendance – current and former employees, other architects and engineers in the community. It was relaxed and informal, and I felt a little out of place in a suit & tie (we were going directly from this party to the Library Society event). I hate feeling out of place. But at least I wasn’t under-dressed for the occasion.

We chatted, enjoyed ourselves. People asked what we were doing these days. It was a good warm-up for me.

* * * * * * *

I went over to the display of the rare books, said hello to Mike Holland, who is the University Archivist, Director of Special Collections. One of his staff people was there as well, and they were doing a fine job of talking about the books on display. I joined in – introducing myself to the donors who were looking, explaining some of my working methods and materials, and so forth. It was exactly what I expected, and thanks to my previous socializing at the birthday party, I was already past my nervousness and in full “GalleryMan” mode. I had several very nice conversations.

Then we were called to take our seats so the evening festivities could begin.

The program listed my Good Lady Wife and I among the ‘sponsors’ of the dinner. I did indeed get a very nice introduction to the crowd, and a round of applause for my work. During the course of dinner several people came by the table to talk with me further, ask opinions and advice about books they owned, et cetera. We had delightful dinner conversation with our table mates. It was, all in all, a very affirming experience that helped me see that my efforts have been worthwhile and appreciated.

So, as I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by Peter Hessler after dinner, it was easy to not feel any jealousy for his recognition as a writer and author. Yeah, I did flash on how fun it would be to return to that dinner in a couple of years as the “noted author and featured speaker” of the event, but I could see that as just a fantasy. Knowing that if I got hit by a truck tomorrow my life would not have been in any sense wasted was extremely rewarding.

We all need that, now and again.

Jim Downey

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I don’t see how you *could* try harder. Sounds as if you are in top form, professionally and personally. And others are noticing. Congratulations!

Comment by stinger

What stinger said. I’m impressed at how much you’ve done, and you’re soon to be a published author on top of it… well done!

Comment by Karen

Thanks, guys – I guess I’m just a late bloomer . . . ;)

Jim D.

Comment by James Downey

[...] Photo follow up. May 1, 2010, 7:44 am Filed under: Book Conservation A few weeks ago I mentioned attending the MU Library Society dinner, and being honored there. Well, yesterday I got a nice note [...]

Pingback by Photo follow up. « Communion Of Dreams




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