NOTE: This post talks about a fictional cult and an abusive relationship. If these are triggering topics for you, please do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

undefinedBy Badseed – Own work, Public Domain, Link


The thing about gray areas is that they are gray. Gray can be dangerous.

There is a young woman named Kristina on General Hospital 1 who is in a toxic and terrible new-agey cult led by this gross, smug, pseudointellectual guru named Shiloh. Kristina’s family has been increasingly alarmed by her involvement in this cult and arranged for her to be kidnapped out of the cult 2. Her family is now holding Kristina hostage in a safe house and they have a therapist 3 working to deprogram her.

This story line has been of great interest to me, because I have a personal investment in the welfare of young women—real and fictional—at risk of being preyed upon. Kristina’s story has been unfolding over several months now. And when watching the show a few nights ago 4, I was especially struck by all of the vulnerabilities that made her susceptible to this cult leader. She’s a bit of a misfit black sheep in her family, for one thing. She has struggled to find her place in the world and figure out who she is. And Shiloh took advantage of every single one of those vulnerabilities. Cult leaders are deliberate in how they seize and prey on vulnerable people.

I was never in a cult. I was, however, in a relationship when I was young with someone who deliberately and purposely took advantage of my vulnerabilities. It is important to note that I am willing to state this now plainly and unequivocally. It is important to note that I’m not trying to explain away or minimize or gray-ify any of this. “He didn’t deliberately try to mislead me.” NOPE. “He didn’t purposely coerce me.” NOPE. “His lies and manipulation weren’t really a big deal and I’m making a big deal out of nothing.” NOPE. Since the ways he took advantage of me were more subtle, it’s easy to dismiss them. He wasn’t a cult leader. I wasn’t in a cult. And I can think of various examples from the relationship where it seemed like he truly loved me.

But what I’m realizing now, really and truly and unequivocally, is that a predator’s strategy includes doing loving and caring things for their prey in order to make them believe that they are loved and cared for. And this manipulation is part of what keeps a vulnerable person hooked on the predator. Shiloh on General Hospital (whose smug face I want to punch whenever he’s on screen 5) has been gradually and insidiously sinking his horrible claws into Kristina over several months, and now, after having been removed from the cult, Kristina is frantically and desperately trying to justify why Shiloh is amazing and why her parents are terrible for not understanding and accepting this. I can relate to her frantic arguments, her panicked rationalizing. To see the truth, even just a tiny little glimpse of it, will crush her entire soul into oblivion. On some level, she knows this, and she is terrified.

The harmful, coercive, abusive 6 relationship I experienced ended over 20 years ago. I am currently working to untangle all of the ways that this clusterfuck still affects my life. I’ve been seeing a therapist for almost four years. At first, I had a weekly session, and then an occasional second session per week, and now I have two regular standing sessions each week. So this means I go to therapy twice a week. I’m stating this clearly and candidly and without shame in an effort to help banish stigma.7  The harmful, coercive, abusive relationship is one big giant thing on my list of traumas to tackle. It is not a short list.

I am trying to remain resolutely in the “I was taken advantage of” stance, which has taken me a long long long time to claim. But I found myself drifting from this stance a few days ago, and I only just now realized that this is probably because I had a conversation with someone who engaged in gaslighting so subtle that I didn’t see it at first. The person I spoke with and the topic in question are entirely unrelated to what I’m writing about now. But the experience of having someone mess with my mind–not in an overt cult leader way but more insidiously–leaked out into everything else. It made me drift from black and white to gray.

It isn’t revisionist history to look back at your life and see things differently and with a new perspective. People do this all the time. It’s normal. I do not have time for anyone who tries to claim otherwise. I don’t have time for anyone who is threatened by my insights and pursuit of liberation from the toxic soul-crushing garbage that has been suffocating me for decades. My bandwidth is low enough already. My therapist told me about the concept in homeostasis in families, how when one person disrupts the status quo, it freaks everyone out and they’re like, Hey! You’re messing everything up! Go back to how you were! I’m not necessarily talking about my family specifically here. I’m speaking generally about internal and external resistance to change. It is scary and unsettling and disorienting to confront my own personal status quo and re-see something I’ve believed to be true for over half my life.

I don’t have to have escaped a cult to see things in black and white. My story doesn’t have to be extreme. And your story, whatever it is, is enough. You can resist the pressure to rationalize it into gray. What happened to me is real. What happened to you is real. I believe you.






1. I have watched it off and on since I was a kid. My mom watched it. I remember watching Luke and Laura’s wedding.

2. Kristina’s mob boss father, Sonny Corinthos, has ways of making things happen.

3. The therapist is actually a psychiatrist, who are not usually therapists, and he is terrible. But this is neither here nor there.

4. My wife and I watch it on Hulu every day. She, too, grew up watching it. It was one of the first things we talked about when we met.

5. And I’m not a violent person.

6. It is a huge deal that I’m using these words without equivocation.

7. I am extremely fortunate to have very good insurance, a well-funded HSA, and an excellent therapist. TBTG.

a sheep of your own fold


Flowering heather plants - - 946406
flowering heather plants | By Evelyn Simak, CC BY-SA 2.0,

My friend Heather died on Friday, May 11, 2018.

I keep saying this to myself over and over. I write in my journal, “Heather is dead.” I get home from work and ask my wife, “Is Heather still dead?”

She is.

She had been sick for quite some time. She’d weathered several medical crises and hospitalizations over the past five years or so and always made it through. This time, though, she just slipped away, in her sleep, at home. I think this is what she would have preferred.

I’m not unfamiliar with the work of dying and death. I know how this works. I know that there is no meritocracy in death. I know there’s no use in thinking that it’s unjust that shitty people get to be alive while the kindest, sweetest, most loving person I have ever known had to die. And yet. This is where my mind has kept traveling since I got the news Friday afternoon.

We became friends 21 years ago. She was deeply spiritual. She converted to the Catholic Church as an adult. She was a Catholic of the pro-choice, social justice variety–the best kind, in my Catholic-turned-Episcopalian opinion. Heather was a modern day mystic, an intuitive, receiving messages from the Holy Spirit and the saints. She saw angels. This was her lived experience and I believe every single bit of it. She always seemed to me to have one foot here and one foot in the other world. Now she’s in that other world, that other place, both feet firmly planted, fully present.

My shaky belief in the afterlife was made much more definitive after watching my mother-in-law die at home in our living room almost two years ago. One minute she was there; the next she wasn’t. Her vital life force was gone. Where did it go? It went somewhere else, clearly. It was impossible that the essence of her just evaporated or disappeared. It went to that other place, with the ancestors and the saints and angels and everyone else.

Heather’s husband told me the approximate time window when she died on Friday. At that time on Friday, my day off, I was arriving home from running errands and having lunch with my wife. My wife unloaded bags of mulch from the car, and then I swung by the public library to pick up a book, and then I went to therapy. During all of that time, I was being really ordinary, just living my life, being an active and living person. And Heather was dying. How? How is that possible? I don’t get it.

And ultimately, it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it. It happened anyway, regardless of my ability to comprehend it.

Heather’s husband is arranging a Catholic funeral for Heather, which is precisely what she would want, at the church where they got married. Her husband’s faith tradition is not Christian, so he has asked me to help select the readings for her funeral Mass. This is such an honor, to do this for her, to get to do this for her. I  know that she would want me to be involved in this. I know this in my bones. I was her only bridesmaid at this church when she got married nearly 12 years ago, and now I’m continuing to serve in a supportive role for her in this same church. What an honor. It makes me almost breathless to think about it.

The major thing I want to tell the world about my friendship with Heather was that I loved her so much, and she loved me, too. That’s it. I always, always, always felt so very deeply loved by her. She loved me for who I was.  Her love had no conditions, no strings attached. I always knew where I stood with her. 

I want to love like she did, fiercely, purely, unconditionally.

Her husband and mother have told me this repeatedly since Friday:

“you were so special to her”

“you must be having a hard time, too”

“she loved you so much”

Oh God, I loved her too.

Avoiding avoiding is the only way out of hell

NOTE: This blog post discusses childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and a coercive relationship. If these are triggering subjects for you, please take care of yourself if you choose to read this.

By Smurrayinchester (Image:Bottleneck.svg) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Avoiding avoiding is the only way out of hell.”

My therapist wrote the above in an email he sent to me Friday morning. It was one email in a chain of emails that I initiated Thursday morning and continued through the weekend to the following Sunday. That’s the kind of deal we have. We’ve been working together for nearly three years, but out-of-session contact via email didn’t really become a thing for us until maybe a year and a half into our work. Now, when I do a search on his name in my email, it pulls up over 100 email conversation threads, each containing multiple messages. It feels like kind of a lot. It also feels vital, like oxygen, as essential to our work as the weekly sessions where I show up and fight the nausea and dread that inevitably rise to the surface while I contemplate my feet in his waiting room.

The nausea and dread are inextricably linked to a recurring theme that continues to make itself known in my therapy work: avoiding instead of approaching. Avoidance is my preferred flavor of coping with everything–memories, feelings, conflict, the traumas (big T and little t), the whatever (garbage, trash, baggage, shit, etc.) I’d prefer to forget. What would I rather do than acknowledge the whatever? I’d rather do just about anything. There’s a reason why I’ve always related so strongly to Bartleby.

You need to stop avoiding, he tells me. He’s told me this repeatedly. I have to face the whatever I don’t want to face. It’s toxic; it’s eating you alive, he says. I know he’s right. Approaching, and not avoiding, is how I’m going to be liberated. I’ve taken baby steps toward approaching whatever, followed by long jump leaps backward in the direction of avoiding whatever, over and over. It’s exhausting. I resist and resist and resist and get trapped in a bottleneck until something gives and I’m propelled forward, in a great powerful whoooosh. Imagine a blockage in a pipe or an artery. Imagine the Heimlich maneuver and how the hard candy or chicken bone causing the blockage is catapulted from the victim’s windpipe. That choking hazard is me, flying out of hell, giddy from and disoriented by the promise of freedom. The whatever has thus been decontaminated of some of its poison, if not all of it. It’s just a bad memory now, nothing more, having lost its potent sting. It can’t hurt me anymore. Liberation seems ever closer.

I was feeling especially triggered last week–and it really has only been very recently that I’ve permitted myself to even use the word triggered, because doing so means acknowledging, and not avoiding, that there’s anything valid for me to be triggered by. I emailed my therapist, because that’s our deal, and he told me for the millionth time that whatever needs to come out. I replied, for the millionth time, that I didn’t see how it was possibly true that whatever needed to come out. This prompted him to explain to me for the millionth time how trauma works, and how the work we’ve done and continue to do is paving the way for me to be free of whatever. He said, “your avoidance manifests as an unwillingness to face the memories.” And, ultimately, “avoiding avoiding is the only way out of hell.” Later, he’d tell me that these weren’t his words and attributed them to Marsha Linehan. Even so, these words feel tinged with my therapist’s own wisdom. They are consistent with his approach, with everything he’s ever said to me and taught me, as recognizable as the orderly peace of his office with its blue walls and blue couch. I would have attributed these words to his own brain if he hadn’t told me otherwise.

“Avoiding avoiding is the only way out of hell.”

NOTE: content relating to sexual abuse, sexual assault, coercive interpersonal relationships begins here

I’ve never believed that I experienced childhood sexual abuse because no one ever touched me. The whatever I remember doesn’t involve any person putting their hands on my body. Instead, what I remember is being forced to watch a pornographic film when I was around seven or eight years old. What I remember is a man exposing himself to me in the children’s section of the public library when I was around nine years old.

These are things I remember distinctly. But what I also remember–and didn’t remember that I remembered until last year–is the time a kid in my class shoved me, pushed me to the ground, and grabbed me between my legs. I was maybe 10 years old. I started wearing my PE shorts under my uniform skirt after that, and I did so for the duration of my Catholic-school-uniform-skirt years, until I graduated from high school.

So, yeah, I guess someone did touch me after all. Not that the other whatever wasn’t enough to be considered harmful and some kind of abuse. But it was when I acknowledged the abusiveness of these experiences that I was no longer able to avoid the memory of the grabbing incident. “I think you were sexually assaulted,” said my therapist, and my whole body cringed and vanished into oblivion. Well, my body didn’t actually vanish into oblivion, but I very much wanted it to. I am still not able to lay claim to that term. I can say “assaulted” but not “sexually assaulted.” I can say “abuse” but I can’t say “sexual abuse.”

Maybe the terminology doesn’t matter anyway, because there isn’t a Trauma Olympics. I know I can’t compare my experiences to some else’s. And similarly, you can’t examine my experiences against yours or someone else’s and find them wanting. And yet! It is so tempting to do this, isn’t it? I consider my whatever, examining it under a microscope, or holding it up in the light to locate the watermarks that indicate authenticity. In so doing, I find that it pales in contrast to your whatever and therefore my whatever is counterfeit. It isn’t valid or true actual trauma. It is so easy to disqualify myself from the Trauma Olympics on the grounds that my whatever isn’t traumatic enough. However, what I’m trying to do now is disqualify myself because there’s no fucking Trauma Olympics to begin with. What matters is the impact–how I feel as a result of these experiences and how they’ve shaped me.

This whatever I’ve been avoiding, as well as other whatever–growing up Catholic, graduating from high school and college in the cultural climate of the 1990s, my family’s own particular flavors of dysfunction, a probable (undiagnosed and untreated) childhood anxiety disorder, compulsory heterosexuality and its cousin internalized homophobia–formed me in ways that diminished my agency and my capacity to meaningfully consent. I did not see or understand how power differentials operate in interpersonal intimate relationships. In short, I was easy to take advantage of. THIS IS NOT MY FAULT (she says to herself repeatedly). There was a concatenation of conditions that influenced my choices and I ended up in a relationship, that, at the time, I would have described as loving and consensual, but today, I recognize as coercive and harmful. I was 19 when we met; he was 28. He lied about his age when he found out how young I was. This detail only scratches the surface. This was over two decades ago, and I’m only just now beginning to acknowledge that harm instead of avoiding it and denying that it exists.

I’m avoiding avoiding. It’s the only way out of hell. It’s the only way into liberation. I keep sneaking small glimpses of what liberation might look like. My therapist and I spent six months of weekly sessions doing EMDR on one particular traumatic experience (not one of the ones mentioned above). Now, when I recall this particular whatever, it feels like I’m looking at an ugly painting on a distant wall, maybe without my glasses on. How will it feel to have a whole gallery of blurry paintings instead of a clenched fist full of memories that feel like they are on fire? It boggles the mind to imagine. But I maintain that this unimaginable future is my future, and I’m catapulting myself there through bottleneck after bottleneck. The bottleneck feels brutal, but when I’m inevitably propelled out of it, the bottleneck has transformed into a breakthrough. 

In which I discourse at length about the power and privilege of saying no

This photo depicts a bunch of blue moon phlox, a purple-blue flower, blooming in a flower bed
The blue moon phlox currently blooming in front of my house.

Last year, as I wrapped up the last thing on a list of obligations, I decided that I was going to take a break from extra professional engagements and commitments. For a period of six months, I was going to say no to all libraryland requests and invitations to speak, present, write, teach. And instead, I was going to say yes to any kind of event or experience that fed me creatively.

I understand that being in a position to be invited to speak and write and present and teach is one of privilege, as is the freedom to say no to such requests. And I also have to note that having the time and resources to say yes to other things is part of that privilege as well. I am acutely aware that the position I’m in is one of privilege, dumb luck, the right place at the right time, as well as hard work and labor of both intellectual and emotional varieties. I am exceedingly grateful for every bit of it.

So, what happened in my six months of saying no? Let’s quantify it:

  • I went to the opera three times
  • I went to the ballet twice
  • I went to three holiday concerts
  • I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert twice
  • I took four art classes at the Speed Art Museum.
  • I attended a local creative writing conference.
  • I read a piece of creative writing at an open mic.
  • I baked 17 dozen cookies at Christmastime.

And that’s just the stuff that comes to mind right away. I’m sure I’m missing things. And these are also just the things I can count. The unquantifiable experiences include: spending entire Saturdays on the couch in the parlor with a pile of magazines, iced coffee, a cat in my lap, and my beloved nearby; seeing a bunch of movies (did not keep track); reading a bunch of books (did not keep track); baking cakes and cookies just because I felt like it (i.e., not for holiday reasons); practicing calligraphy…and, in general, enjoying my leisure, and reveling in how unfettered it was, with nothing hanging over me, no looming deadlines to dampen my pleasure.

The impact of deliberately clearing mental space to engage in creative pursuits has been life-altering. I’m not exaggerating. It helped me discern more clearly what I want and what I don’t want. I have a better understanding of how I want to spend my time. I have long since felt that there was something more that I wanted, something more that did not involve working out my feelings about information literacy and library instruction and pedagogy in public. I can’t say that this time and space has given me a definite answer to what exactly that thing is. I don’t know if there’s a definite answer anyway, other than to just continue saying yes to creative pursuits that feed me in some way. My time of saying no, if nothing else, validated that that yearning for more is legit and real and worth listening to.

And I should also point out that I’m not done with all of the libraryland professional extras I said no to during this time. I still have percolating ideas, nascent ideas, projects that are starting to bubble up and make themselves known to me. But now I have a stronger sense of where and how I want to allocate my time and energies. And now I know that my time and energy and labor are unquantifiable. Let me just be candid here. When I’m asked to name my speaker’s fee, I have the hardest time naming a figure, in part because no one talks about this. No one tells you what the budget is. Am I not asking for enough? Am I asking for too much? And anyway, what am I being paid for? My literal actual time? My intellectual labor? The indignities of air travel? How much does an idea cost? I don’t know! But what I do know now is that except for rare circumstances, you can’t pay me enough to spend more than 24 hours away from home in a place I cannot drive to. This is my bottom line. I know this closes off opportunities. It means I will continue saying no to those things. It means that the no will be said for me. (But if I can do it online with a webcam and a headset? Well, maybe. Let’s talk.)

It’s also noteworthy that during this time, I went to therapy 43 times, but this is something I do anyway, year-round, regardless of what I’m saying yes or no to. I go weekly, sometimes twice weekly, and it is such a central part of my life and my internal landscape and the lens through which I see and experience the world. It’s a true fact that I thanked my therapist in the acknowledgements of my most recent book. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say no to things if not for my work in therapy. The work of therapy is re-contouring everything I ever believed to be true about myself in powerful and ineffable ways. And I’m not even close to being done yet.

The work of grief is also noteworthy. September 1, 2017 marked one year since my mother-in-law’s death. During my six months of no, we experienced the second Thanksgiving without her, the second Christmas. Grief is never over. It is protean. It re-forms and re-shapes itself, depending on I don’t even know what. What day is it? What is the current phase of the moon? Just like authority, grief is constructed and contextual, and like information, it has value. It is instructive. I continue to have ever firmer boundaries between work-life and life-life and I will probably never ever hold any kind of administrative professional position because I am unwilling to blur those boundaries. Unless there’s, like, a natural disaster or an active shooter or some actual life-and-death situation, I am unconvinced that there’s any such thing as a work emergency. It’s just work. Look, my mother-in-law died in my living room while I watched and listened to her last breaths and I closed her eyes when she died. I am never going to be the same person again and you can’t pay me enough to check work email on the weekend or on vacation.

Anyway, what’s the point of all of this. I guess I’m wondering if it’s possible to ever really know who you are? Isn’t this all an ongoing journey of knowing and re-knowing what is real and what matters and what’s beneath all of the versions of ourselves that we perform? I’m not necessarily ending this time of no knowing who I am for sure, once and for all, but I do know and feel like I shed layers and masks, dead hands, dead stringencies. My intuition is drawing me ever closer to authenticity, empathy, compassion, and belonging, and this is where my next projects will live in some kind of way, although I don’t know exactly how yet. And it’s okay that I don’t know it yet.

And similarly, there is no tidy ending to this, my attempt to reflect on what it means to say no, and that’s okay, too. Let’s turn to poetry instead. Let’s contemplate the  poem linked here, “Evergreen” by Oliver Baez Bendorf, and I end with the poem’s closing lines:

“Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.”





For Addie B. Merritt

January 9, 1932-September 1, 2016

Addie B. Merritt (7).jpgWhen I used to tell people that I lived with my mother-in-law, on purpose, that my wife and I intentionally bought this house because it would accommodate my mother-in-law, people acted like I was crazy. Or they would claim that I was some kind of generous saint for permitting my mother-in-law to live in my home. Mothers-in-law get a bad rap; there’s a lot of cultural baggage attached to this role. How many of you have heard a mother-in-law joke? And the term itself–mother-in-law: it sounds so clinical, so impersonal.

What the critics and naysayers didn’t know or understand was that living with my mother-in-law was not a burden, and that I wasn’t some kind of saint for wanting to do it. And while I do confess that it took me awhile to warm up to the idea when Constance initially suggested it years ago, I learned to embrace this new reconfiguration of our family unit. The truth is that I got along much better with my mother-in-law better than I did my own mother.

When I first met Addie on a Thanksgiving visit to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 2008, I couldn’t have imagined the relationship we would have someday. I wasn’t really sure if she was going to like me or not at first. We went to dinner at Bonanza the night I arrived in Pine Bluff. Addie wanted the banana pudding from the buffet so I rushed to dish her up a serving, ever eager to please and be likable. She found my offering to be lacking in Nilla Wafers, however, and sent her granddaughter Holiday to get her a proper serving. I really thought I had made sure to get sufficient cookies in the helping I got for her, but apparently not, and I was a little crushed to have had my efforts rejected. However, by the time I left Pine Bluff, I felt like she must have liked me pretty well, because she gave me $20 for gas money for the road trip home and advised me not to pick up any hitchhikers.

One another Thanksgiving visit–I don’t remember when–she said that I was a good cook for a white girl, or something to that effect, which I rightly interpreted as high praise. And a few years ago, when Constance and I were contemplating whether to attend the Miller family reunion with Addie, I expressed some concerns. Having experienced rejection before due to my relationship with Constance, I was worried that the Millers might not accept me as a valid family member. Addie’s response: “They’ve seen white people before.” As in: it didn’t occur to her that the Millers wouldn’t accept me, her daughter’s wife. She assumed that my concern was about race.

I may not hAddie B. Merritt (15).jpgave looked like I belonged to Constance and Addie’s family, but the little family unit we formed when we all started living together is one of the most special things that’s ever happened to me in my life. Our home is on Grinstead Drive, and when we all moved in in February of 2015, I liked to think of our little trio as the Grinstead Girls. The Grinstead Girls enjoyed doing lots of things together–watching General Hospital and Judge Judy, trips to McDonald’s after doctor’s visits, trips to Walmart so Addie could procure vast amounts of cough drops and Werther’s Originals, ordering pizza on Friday nights, playing spades, or visiting my family in northern Kentucky an hour and a half away from Louisville. She delighted in becoming Grandma to our two cats, and our younger cat, Gertie, became her best and special friend. Gertie now had three laps to sit in, but she always chose Grandma’s first. When Addie moved in, she said, “I’ll make you a deal: I’ll wash the dishes and mop the floor, but I’m done cooking.” And so it was. We enjoyed lots of good meals together, her favorite being the baked mac and cheese Constance makes with two different kinds of cheese and bacon bits. Addie also liked my chili. As far was she was concerned, we didn’t make those meals often enough.

I work as a college librarian and I have the freedom and flexibility that comes from being a tenured faculty member. Addie always liked to say, “Maria has a good job.”  And when I took leave from that good job in order to be home to help care for Addie, she said, “That’s the best news ever.” I thought it was the best news, too, because nothing is more important than family. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts Addie had to offer, one of the greatest gifts I received through knowing her and living with her and being a part of her family. And getting to live with her in the last year and a half of her life, and getting to care for her in her final days, were gifts, too. When it was clear that Addie was declining, that she was on her way out of this world, I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t brave enough to handle the challenges of caring for a person who was dying, of witnessing those final days and final moments. But I found courage in the act of just doing it, in the act of caregiving. I found courage in the wise words of George MacDonald, a 19th century Scottish author and minister: “What God may hereafter require of you, you must not give yourself the least trouble about. Everything He gives you to do, you must do as well as ever you can, and that is the best possible preparation for what He may want you to do next. If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what came next.”Addie B. Merritt (25).JPG

I can’t even imagine what’s happening next, or how to be ready for what is coming next. Constance and I are missing one member of the Grinstead Girls, and our home feels lonely and empty. I know, though, that all we have to do is live in the now, to rejoice in the life Addie lived and in the gifts we received from knowing and loving her, and we will be prepared for whatever comes next. Addie was more than a mother-in-law to me. She was my mother-in-love.


References for KLA LIRT Keynote

Affleck, M. (1996). Burnout among bibliographic instruction librarians. Library & Information Science Research, 18(2), 165-183.

“Association of College and Research Libraries Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators”, American Library Association, July 26, 2007.

Becker, K. (1993). The characteristics of bibliographic instruction in relation to the causes and symptoms of burnout. RQ, 32(3), 346-358.

Detmering, R., Johnson, A. M., Sproles, C., McClellan, S., & Linares, R. H. (2015). Library instruction and information literacy 2014. Reference Services Review, 43(4), 533-642.

Elmborg, J. K. (2011). Libraries as the spaces between us: Recognizing and valuing the third space. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 50(4), 338-350.

Goldberg, N. (1986). Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within. Boston: Shambhala.

“Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers”, American Library Association, September 29, 2008.

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Kimberlé Crenshaw Discusses “Intersectional Feminism.” Retrieved July 13, 2016, from 

Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2(2), 99.

Maslach, C. (1978). The client role in staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 34(4), 111-124.

Sheesley, D. F. (2001). Burnout and the academic teaching librarian: An examination of the problem and suggested solutions. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 27(6), 447.

Reflections on Minnesota Library Association ARLD Day

I recently had the great pleasure of participating in the Minnesota Library Association (MLA) Academic and Research Library Division (ARLD) Day on April 28 and 29, 2016.

On April 28, I facilitated a half-day pre-conference workshop called “From Cynicism to Empowerment: How Librarians Who Teach Can Resist Burnout.” In this workshop, I guided participants through a series of activities that helped identify causes of burnout and possible remedies for specific situations. I also emphasized the necessity of self-care as a way of equipping oneself to deal with the particular factors contributing to burnout.

On the 29th, I delivered the keynote talk, “Critical Pedagogy and Academic Libraries: Empowering Learners to Change the World,” in which I outlined the various theoretical underpinnings of critical pedagogy, identified how it has come into conversation with academic libraries, and described implications for library instruction, the reference desk, and other key elements that govern how an academic library functions.

And then later in the day, I presented a breakout session, “Transforming Learners, Transforming Teachers: How Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction Can Energize Your Teaching and Your Students.” In this session, I provided a snapshot overview of what makes feminist pedagogy specifically feminist, and then guided participants in an activity that helped them identify how feminist pedagogy might help them rethink their library instruction practice.

I had a lot going on! Leading the workshop was an immensely satisfying and rewarding experience, and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with other academic librarians about a topic that seems to resonate deeply with many of us. The keynote was also an enjoyable–if initially nerve-wracking!–chance to invite academic librarians to consider the possibilities of orienting library services, programs, and collections toward social justice. And the feminist pedagogy session was an exciting opportunity to focus specifically on a key area of critical pedagogy that I have found to be profoundly meaningful.

As I reflect on my experience at MLA ARLD Day, I can see how all of the material I presented overlaps, even though I didn’t realize this at first. There are, of course, clear and obvious connections between my critical pedagogy keynote and my feminist pedagogy breakout session. But I can see now that even my burnout workshop is connected to my other presentations, and here is how: the throughline that undergirds most of my work is my insistence on care, compassion, and the affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. This is what motivates my pedagogy, my deep need to honor the human interaction with learners, to humanize what is so often a dehumanizing experience.

And this preoccupation with humanizing teaching and learning and the library also informs my approach to identifying causes of burnout and figuring out ways of dealing with it. I emphasize the importance of self-care–or, in other words, advocating for yourself and doing the stuff that feeds you–not as a panacea, but instead because I believe it is necessary to feed yourself before you can feed others. When you nourish yourself (by saying no, by learning to be assertive, by accepting the things we cannot change, by going for 30-minute daily walks, by…whatever), I think you are working toward empowerment to bring about change in the structural, societal, and cultural inequities that contribute to burnout to begin with. I believe that we become burned out in the workplace, in part, because our work culture sees you as a worker first and a human second, and maybe only sometimes. By caring for yourself, you reclaim your personhood, and then you can help bring about social change, just as critical and feminist pedagogy seeks to bring about social change through the teaching and learning experience.

I am grateful to MLA ARLD for providing me the chance to talk to other librarians about these topics. It felt energizing, humbling, and exciting to take these thoughts, thoughts that often exist mostly in my head, and usher them into the world via the caring, receptive, and engaging space created by this conference.

Maria T. Accardi is the award-winning author of Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction. She is also co-editor of Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods. She currently serves as the Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus in the IU system, located in New Albany, Indiana. Accardi holds a BA in English from Northern Kentucky University, an MA in English from the University of Louisville, and an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh. Her primary research and practical interests include library instruction and critical pedagogy. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can reach her at maria at

Current Projects:

The Feminist Desk: Concepts, Critiques, and Conversations

Academic Library Instruction Burnout