Thursday, August 10, 2006

HOW AN OFFLINE MEETING ALMOST KILLED THE ZENFO PRO, Pt. 2:
Sex, Drugs, and Trying to Answer Those Pesky "Why?" Questions...*


OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- In so many ways, I'm glad that I was completely shit-faced by the time the woman behind the "Incident" and I actually started talking in general about the ZenFo Pro persona. Probably would've been a lot more painful to hear some of the stuff had I been sober.

But there's only one true way to conduct any sort of user-needs analysis - one of the most important research tools of my profession requires a methodology more akin to a full-contact sport than the "circle jerk scholarship" so many other research disciplines have resorted to these days.

Figuring out how blog readers think is no different than trying to figure out how, say, a person approaches a research project or how various immigrant groups use public libraries...

Um...sure. I almost buy that justification. Almost.

* * * *

The lurker who figured out that, yeah, I was her neighbor for two years wasn't really a "lurker," at least by my definition of a blog lurker.

A lurker, to me at least, is someone who reads a blog often enough to understand the writer's motive behind blogging, to at least have some curiosity, some basic understanding, of the nature of personal web commentary but for various reasons on the "reader" side of blogs chooses not to comment.

Those reasons include personal safety concerns, shyness, suspicion of false authenticity, or, well, lack of interest in the topics discussed. Some folks choose to lurk, often, because they are unfamiliar with a blog's particular interface, web anxiety, or information overload. Others may choose to not participate in online discussions because of the often brutal and unfriendly nature of the post or subsequent comments.

And some folks, of course, simply like to read in peace, without having to think about all of that baggage.

But "Britney" (not the woman's real name) doesn't fit that (way too-techie-sounding) model.

She found the blog, as most folks find blogs, completely by accident.

She'd gotten home from the bars one night. Her roomies had all found guys to "hook up with," but she'd found nothing of interest. She hopped online, started Facebook-stalking other students, then decided to start Googling random shit about Oxford.

And then she found my site. She read a few posts and thought I was funny. She bookmarked the blog on her laptop, then decided to start calling random friends to see if there was anybody else "not getting any" that evening.

Blogebrity? Please. Britney guessed she'd only visited the ZenFo Pro a whopping dozen or so times since she found it sometime in Fall Semester 2005.

She liked the Playlist posts. She found my political posts "out there," my library stuff boring, and didn't understand why I spent so much time whining about women problems when there were lots of women who'd be willing to "hook up with" me.

Everybody's a critic when your personal life can be ready-referenced online...

And then she quit reading. She got bored. Nothing interested her.

Oh yeah, that reminds me - have I ever mentioned how downright silly it is for bloggers to take this medium too seriously?

Who do you really think is reading on the other side of all those miles of fiber optics, with all those exabytes of information floating around out there in the world, the human beings who take the time to even stop by a web site, even for a fraction of a second?

See...this is the kind of stuff I think about while there's a very attractive woman sitting in my living room in a sports bra and jogging shorts, telling me about how she really wants me to burn her a copy of the underground hip-hop Mp3s we're listening to and how I'm not as much of a nerd as she thought I was.

Well, there's nothing I can do about all the sci-fi DVDs on my bookshelves. And yeah, I keep old copies of Green Lantern comics in my bathroom, and I've read Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts and Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems at least a hundred times, cover to cover.

And then there's the fact that I use words like exabyte as comfortably as I use the word fuck.

It's not like I'm a geek in person or anything, right?

Thank the gods for cheap beer and Wild Turkey 101.

* * * *

Reading that last section, one might be inclined to believe I was left depressed, frustrated, angry, or hurt by the whole experience, distraught over the violation of personal space.

I guess unlike a lot of folks, I've had experience with this sort of thing before - starting at 18, when I worked as a part-time sportswriter for a newspaper in Colorado.

Let's see...there was the guy in this bullshit poetry-writing class who didn't think that my story on a local college baseball star's battle with learning disabilities was appropriate for the sports section. There was the high school coach's wife, who ran into me once in a grocery store - she told me I made her hubby look like an idiot for discussing "her" team's adoption of the nickname "Superfly White Lightning" to describe themselves.

Then there's the broadcasting career...the Bible Lady, a middle-aged woman who would call in to read the King James Version, Drunken Fat Bastard, the alcoholic fisherman from somewhere off the Central Coast who'd leave me messages about the high school girls he was dreaming about raping.

And, of course, who can forget my most infamous listener as a radio journalist? When he was first arrested, I was sent down to the courthouse by my news director for official confirmation.

I later learned that I, according to rumor, was one of his favorite radio personalities.

Blog critics? Please. In person or online, no critique will ever get under my skin as much as that bit of "fanfare." Sometimes, one should try not to guess what may be going through someone's mind (or what they may be doing) when they read, hear, or view another human being's ideas.

Hey, my personal life may be a melodramatic train wreck, but I learned a long time ago to take unwanted attention from the masses with a grain of salt.

And opinions are not, as the old saying goes, like assholes. Opinions are more akin to colonoscopies - they can be a pain in the ass, sure, but they're often needed to get the information one needs to better understand how things work in the places most folks never get to see.

* * * *

The reason "Britney" decided to move from online voyeur to offline visitor had almost nothing to do with the blog in general, or some burning desire to critique my writings, or even because, as I frequently see posted, the supposed "hotness" of yours truly. (Lord, I am so far from hot, it's not even funny.)

No, it had to do with a rather stupid local college "holiday," Oxford's infamous Green Beer Day. Pissed off from having to deal with thousands of overly-intoxicated undergrads all day, I went off on what has to be America's Dumbest College Tradition.

It all stems from a tiny little medicine bottle "Britney" found on a beer pong table the day after Green Beer Day.

The woman readily admitted, after smoking a pack of my cigarettes and drinking almost all of my beer, that she knew all about ketamine. She'd done lines of Special K before, in the bathrooms of bars here, a couple of times when she lived in the dorms.

It didn't shock her that the guys she'd been hanging out with had Special K in their house. The first time she'd used Kat, as well as most other narcotics, was with these guys. One of the guys even hooked her up with Kat whenever she didn't feel like partying.

Ketamine is one of those "fun" drugs, one of ones folks thought died on college campuses back in the 1990s. But going for that Kit Kat crunch didn't disappear; it simply went back to being a boutique narcotic. It went the way of cocaine, PCP, and LSD - because of government crackdowns and raids, the street price of said product is no longer affordable to your average, middle-class stoner.

But hey, rich kids are always an easy sell when it comes to designer club drugs, because nobody else can afford it.

"Britney" had never seen K in its veterinary (it's a horse tranquilizer), liquid form. And she'd found things online that claimed that it could be used as a date rape drug.

What she couldn't answer - what no online or print reference can answer - were several "why?" questions that had been bugging her.

Why did she find a bottle of liquid Special K floating in a beer pong cup at her (now-ex) boyfriend's house, and why was every guy she knew telling her to shut up about it?

More importantly...

Why is the culture surrounding the Local U. so fucked up for women? For working-class students? What about the Good Ol' Boy system that runs this community?

What the fuck is wrong with guys in this town? Why is being smart a turn-off for your average college boyfriend?

And why aren't people screaming from the rooftops in this goddamned town?

* * * *

Of course, "Britney" wasn't looking to me for answers to those questions. She wasn't asking me to run to the office or to log onto my library's proxy server to look up citations, she didn't knock on my door to fawn over me about a stupid profile pic, and she certainly didn't expect me to answer her "why?" questions for her.

She just needed somebody to listen.

Here is this young woman - a young, attractive woman set to graduate from college and enter the real world - who, for the first time in her self-described sheltered life, had been forced to do the right thing. Because she put her dignity ahead of the need to "go with the flow, she became a pariah.

Her friends admonished her and gossiped about her, all because she dumped a "popular" guy because he - GASP! - may have been slipping Special K into her drinks, or other women's drinks. Her best friend all through college, a woman I've never met who will forever be labeled in my mind as "that skanky bitch," had told her not to talk about it, to forget about the whole thing and settle for a guy who'd one day be a "good provider."

She tried taking their advice. She buried her feelings. She never talked to the boyfriend about her suspicions. Then one night, while out drinking with a bunch of the boyfriend's buddies, somebody made a joke about rape. "Britney" snapped. The boyfriend called her a whore.

Three-year relationship over. Along with most of her friendships.

And she felt good about it. Lonely, but proud for doing the right thing. But sometimes, having only your mom to listen and be supportive can take its toll on a person.

Lonely enough to look up from a computer in a library, see a librarian whose blog she'd been reading, who reminded her of her grandfather for some reason, and to decide that, well, if other people are doing it ...

* * * *

As we talked about it in my living room, I witnessed firsthand how that "Public Ivy" mask that so many folks around here wear like some sort of badge of honor is killing them inside, sucking the life and ambition out of their souls, feeding on the destruction of innocence like a horde of pompous academic vampires.

The only thing I could think to save, repeatedly, at least that I remember, was something along the lines of:

Chica, fuck this town. Fuck that college. Fuck your ex. Fuck all this shit. Get the fuck out, move on, and take what's yours.

At one point during our "date," I thought about telling "Britney" that I had to be at work early the next morning for a meeting, that we should probably just go out for coffee that weekend.

Instead, I logged onto my scheduling software from my laptop, let my boss and staff know I was taking a "mental health day," and cancelled all of my appointments for the following day.

"Britney" was sprawled out on my floor, digging through my CDs as we talked, merrily drunk and listening to the "random shit" I had in my CD collection - owning Tom Waits, Paul Westerberg, and Frank Black albums makes me weird?

This woman was having a good time, obviously for the first time in months. She'd been carrying around all of this baggage, and now she's getting drunk with a random stranger and venting, simply because she read a few posts and thought I was still some sort of Oxford Fucking Ohio version of Gawker...

I think I pissed a lot of folks off by canceling those meetings. I could care less. As a librarian, as a blogger, and as a person, I put user needs first. And this woman NEEDED somebody to listen, even if that person happened to be a guy she'd just met.

To any librarian who wishes to file a grievance over my putting "Britney's" needs ahead of professional development, well, feel free to kiss my pale ZenFo Pro ass and write another bullshit commentary in the professional literature about how being a librarian is oh so swell.

* * * *

TO BE CONCLUDED...

* NOTE - I received verbal approval from "Britney" a few months ago to post about our conversation. I offered the the opportunity to proof these posts beforehand; she declined, saying she "didn't give a rat's ass" what other students may think, but asked that I do not link to her web journal (she does have one, and no, it's not a Blogger account or one that's easy to find) and that I do not reveal her real name, major, or her hometown, online or off. So don't bother asking.

15 comments:

Joanna said...

I guess i'd be considered one of your blog 'lurkers' as i've been reading for awhile but have never commented, no particular reason why though. It sounds like you did a good thing for this girl 'Brittany' and that is all that matters in the grand scheme of things.

Dances with Books said...

On the contrary, you did indeed put your user first. While my circumstances are not quite as dramatic, if I could get some of my colleagues to understand that I put my users first, and I could care less about the obstacles they make for me, I may get closer to achieving something. You were there at a good place and time for her. In my experience as a teacher and librarian, it is often when we are there to just listen that we really can do something.

kT said...

Admiration for your unique vocabulary aside, the reason that I read what you write is because, at the core of everything, it is easy to sense that you are an actual person -- and that you acknowledge that your readers and patrons are as well.

"User needs," as a concept goes far deeper than libraries.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Joanna:
Hi! Thanks so much for chiming in and for reading!

I was afraid I might offend non-commenting readers with the term lurker; I hope there was no offense. For some reason, it just occured to me, reading your comment, that that may be taken negatively. So not my intent.

At least, well, I hope I did the right thing...story's not over yet and, lol, I was so worried these last two posts would come out such a jumbled mess (the experience has been haunting me for months and it was hard to simply organize my thoughts enough to document it.)


Dances:
One should always put users/customers/clients first. Librarians who don't practice (not just give lip service to) that should have their degrees set ablaze in a mass pyre for humanity's sake (along with 99.8% of that scholarly equivalent of a fart joke called "Library Literature.")

The problem, often, is librarians end up advocating what Librarians think is meant by putting users first. Somewhere, subconsciously, I think it's too easy to fall into that trap. We create things like, say, usability surveys and concepts like "information literacy" without really having a clue about what it is users really NEED to learn. Good instruction cannot be cataloged, agreed upon in committee, or dictated. And it cannot be done without good communication, respect, and understanding.

Information literacy is a lot like, well, good sex.

Lol...yeah, it's hard to believe I became a librarian, in many ways, to escape the drama of my previous occupation... ;)


Kt:
Lol...I hope I'm an actual person ;) Seriously, thanks. Part of my struggle with blogging in a small town is the fact that I work in the public sector (like the majority of librarians) and it's been difficult trying to find a happy medium, at least mentally. I finally accepted that I'm not one of those folks who can seperate who he/she is, personality-wise, into "Librarian Jason," "Offwork" Jason, or even "Blogger JAson." Honestly, I don't have time for it.

Yep. User needs analysis is indeed so much bigger than libraries. And I've known adult entertainers with nothing more than a GED that are better at it than most librarians with the highly overrated "Degree." Atleast erotic performers know how to keep their clients from falling asleep while earning a paycheck ;)

...

Wow, I'm sure beating up on the ol' profession today, huh?

Joanna said...

No you definately didn't offend me with the term lurker! No worries there! It's just that with what I do for a living I have a tendency not to comment on a lot of blogs if I don't know that person. Even though I read A LOT of blogs and write my own! Go figure! I just don't use my first name... a little paranoia does a body good!

Anonymous said...

so

how much are you going to tell? like i said i trust your judgment. better than mine :-)

omg i'm a britney now. scary.

not giving back the orioles teeshirt either, o don't ask ;-P

cooper said...

Sometimes I just read with my mouth hangin open zenpro.

Voodoo Child said...

your posts always leave me feeling exhausted. not in a bad way, you just have a lot of odd experiences.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Joanna:
Oh thank God! Yeah, actually there are several folks I know who lurk these days because, well, it would be almost career suicide to comment here (strangely enough, not librarians but folks I know or have known in the real world). I had a friend's management once call and subtly ask that I don't post anything EVER AGAIN about she and I's friendship - despite the fact that I've never used her name and, yeah, I showed her, in person at my house, how to use the "Other" opinion to come up with an appropriate pseudonym. I completely understand, chica.

No worries and, lol, that's why I keep that option available. Same with the Anon. comments field. And, even though I do track IPs for safety's sake, I don't make my internet stats available or maintain the IPs in my database for more than 12 hours - just to keep everybody who reads the site a little safer in my corner of the Web.

Lol...I guess there's enough paranoia to go around ;-)


"Anon:"
Lmao...as we discussed last night, um...the point of an anonymous comment is, um, well, to be anonymous.

And you're only a Britney because lol...it's not like it's not a common name around these parts.

The shirt's yours. As is the CD, btw. Ordering more Leonard Cohen today :)


Coop:
Chica, there is NO WAY to discribe the sheer weirdness of writing this damned thing, much less having to comment on it.

I've been trying to get this out for MONTHS. It feels good to get it out in the open (mainly for other blog people to get a sense of why I sometimes seem "gun-shy" in posting over the last few months.)

VC:
Are there any jobs open in your neck of the woods, brother? Trust me, I KNOW that exhausted feeling. I just about edited that sucker into oblivion. Being a blogger in a small college town makes me exhausted.

Smurf said...

I am very proud of you to come to the point where you put people ahead of other things. That sounds bad J, but I am proud of you. You are a good person and wow your journalistic education surely shows in your writing.

You are different than a lot of people in that you look at things from a new and fresh way... you most often see through all the bull shit of what people try to hide behind and see what the root causes of things are and I am proud of you to see so often that you take a stand for what you believe in. (I guess the comment earlier was only about the time you all slept in my room when you and J stayed in my dorm room while everyone else took me to the ER... cuz really you were there for me while we lived in the same town ever after that point and randomly since then, so please forgive that remark. Me still being proud of you for canceling the meetings for this girl stands.)

Voodoo Child said...

jobs are opening up like mad. young'uns are getting in and are easing out the fogies. most are in favor of young males it seems. chances are good, and the pay here isn't shabby considering the cost of living. the key is getting the right position, certain branches create their own drama. slop me out an email - semantaics-at-yahoo-dot-com and I'll send you what I know of, less vague info.

Cowgirl said...

Awesome writing man. Felt like I was talking to you.

It surprises me how many people do not know ketamine is a widely used equine pharmaceutical...good way to get fined and suspended from horse shows if you are caught doping your horse.

Ogbuefi Stephi said...

whoa. that's some serious stuff.

not the least being that stalker serial killer dude's profile you posted. whoa.

see ya soon, school's just a week away! yikes...
-stephanie

sassinak said...

knowing it's a horse narcotic is WHY i didn't try ketamine cowgirl. horses big, me little :)

dances with books i'm in love with your handle.

mr. librarian? unless that picture isn't you you may wish to suck it up and accept that you're hot. also erudite AND interesting which is a deadly combination and does make me wonder how you ever spend more than ten minutes single.

interestingly i'm the same kind of dense as you, i always miss it when men make signals at me and sometimes i trip over them. it's tragic how many people think i was shutting them down when really i was tripping over my feet.

props to britney for speaking up.

and props to your cd collection for rocking.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Smurf:
Thanks. Though Idid, partly at least, notice some similarities between the "J" you're speaking of and "Britney."

Wow. Don't know where that came from. Lol. In a good way ;)


VC:
Lol...I was acually joking, sort of ;)

But if it pays enough to pay back my Mercedes worth of student loans...


Cowgirl:
So...you are ALIVE...lol

Yeah, here apparently girls skip the horse-doping and go right for themselves.


Steph:
Hey! See ya when ya get back. And we'll work on that template and...lol...the blogging of the Revolution :)

See? There are actually BLOGGERS in Oxford, people, besides me :)


Sass:
Yeah, sadly, that's my profile pic. Lol, but thanks :)

And my CD collection does indeed rock. I'm actually shocked there are people under age 25 that even know how to use CDs for anything other than data storage...