2017 in review

I almost didn’t publish this post. I let it sit in my drafts and lurk guiltily in my conscience. With every passing day it seemed way too late to post it. Ultimately, my interest in continuing a tradition from 2015 and 2016 won out, so here are a few rambling thoughts about 2017.

WINTER

January is the month of knowing. I am keeping the secret that I’m probably leaving Wisconsin and it boils away inside of me.  I told my family at Christmas so my next step is to tell my AUL. We do a careful dance as I seek a counteroffer. Is there anything my current employer could offer that would make me stay? Ragip and I have already had this conversation. Maybe a comparable title, a promise of staff. We weigh the possibilities with his job, the closeness of family members. We make a pros/cons list for the new job. Pros: more money, amazing career leap, managerial experience, the knowledge that to grow my career I need to move around so I might as well get on with it. Cons: traffic, higher cost of living, far away from family. All the unknown unknowns, both a pro and a con. Ultimately, I receive a reasonable counteroffer, which is a nice gesture but not enough, and I accept my job offer with elation. I negotiate with my new boss at UCR with a raging cold and the next day we make the nine-hour drive to Pittsburgh for my aunt’s 50th birthday party.

February is the month of planning and logistics. At work, we roll out new marketing materials and I draw up a strategic plan for RDS to try to use any last sway I may have to cement something in place. I’ve always realized the precariousness of everything I’ve worked on here but it takes the knowledge that I am leaving to really highlight it. We fold in time to go apartment hunting in California, touring twenty apartments in two days and signing a lease for the very last place we see. For the first time, we float the idea of trying to go on honeymoon to Turkey early, between leaving UW and starting at UCR. We had originally planned to go in October but decide this is much better.

March is the month of goodbyes and lasts. I send so many last emails! Join in on my last Mirch Masala lunch buffet, shivering down State Street with colleagues. I bring together the librarian meetup I’ve organized off and on for a year, some grad students, some colleagues, some local librarians. There’s a relief that accompanies closing out so many commitments but there’s also a sad twinge hinting at what could have been. All the collaborations I’d envisioned that hadn’t yet been well-timed – just like that, they’re suddenly gone. I push away the melancholy side and reflect instead on how happy I am that I came to UW and had so many opportunities to try things and respond to new challenges. I know I’ve grown by leaps and bounds since taking this job, and I’m grateful for it.

I lead my final RDS meeting and in our last few minutes together we take a picture (so bittersweet). I’m proud of myself for everything I’ve learned about running a group, the day to day things, the organizational pieces. The last three years slam into bright focus as I look at everyone and remember that I’m leaving. Everyone at the table cares so deeply about the research that happens at UW that they carve out time beyond their jobs to fold in consultations, advocate for more and better support. So much of what I learned from RDS was when to push and when to pull and how to figure out what I could do versus what I should let go, set aside, wait and see. I like to think it helped me hone my instincts.

My AUL organizes a goodbye meetup for library staff. He kindly buys popcorn and pitchers at the Memorial Union. People I didn’t expect bustle in, hurried: “I can’t stay but I just wanted to say goodbye,” and we crowd onto a long wooden table sticky with spilled beer and crane our necks to try to hear each other over the noise. These people! I like them so. And even though my time feels so brief, I realize with a start that I do have connections, that I do know this place. Three years feels short in the big scheme of things but as I leave UW, I’m not the new girl anymore.

 

SPRING

In April, we fly to Turkey for our honeymoon and I wonder what exactly is awaiting me in this brand new country where I only know a handful of phrases. After all, we found out just three days before that Ragip’s cousin Oznur has planned a celebration for us, complete with a wedding dress rental (!) and a cake with our faces on it. When we arrive in Iznik, a cousin kisses my cheek and clutches me tightly, exclaiming enthusiastically in Turkish. Later Ragip tells me that she confessed she was sick but couldn’t resist the embrace. We collapse in bed only to find that sleep is elusive. I lie awake staring at the ceiling, wondering what tomorrow will bring.  

Morning arrives and we walk down the street to a stylist’s shop. I am stuffed into a corseted, hoop-skirted concoction, a red belt tucked around my waist, hands decorated with orange henna, and for the finishing touch, my hair is done in the “German style”… curls upon curls upon curls piled so tightly on top of my head that I find myself eyeballing Ragip frantically across the room, silently pleading. I’m not sure if I want him to intervene or if the story I’ll get out of this will be worth it. I totter around on borrowed four-inch heels that somehow fit like a glove. There’s a small wood-burning stove in the shop and at one point my giant skirt careens dangerously close to it despite my attempts to maneuver myself around. None of the aesthetics feel particularly like me but it’s rather fun to be dolled up. 

We take pictures all around town in Iznik: up on a cliff, by the water and the ruins, while picking out hand painted porcelain. We drive to Teyze Safiye’s house, where both sides of his family congregated. Although only three of his cousins speak English, it’s easy to feel the love as all the aunties hold my cheeks, look deeply into my eyes, and coo to me in Turkish. I try my best to recall who’s who as waves of aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins, and friends of the family pin gold coins adorned with red ribbons on my sweater. I recite teşekkür ederim (thank you) and memnum oldum (nice to meet you) as enthusiastically as I can and Ragip acts as a superstar translator for all the rest. Freshly jetlagged, neither of us eat anything despite the tantalizing trays of borek and dolma. I am given a beautiful maroon and gold dress for the henna ceremony, a bright red veil covering my fez, hair, and face. We dance together, on display for our crowd, before walking out into fields full of olive and fruit trees.

I’ll never forget the unconditional love and acceptance that Ragip’s family showed me that day. The time to move on comes altogether too soon. We have another week and a half in Turkey and spend it criss-crossing the western portion of the country, from Istanbul to Izmir to Antalya to Cappadocia. Unfortunately I get dreadfully sick, maybe the sickest I’ve ever been, about two days into our trip and it lasts all the way until we get back to Wisconsin and I leave for the Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) Summit in Seattle. I run into stairwells to cough the hacking cough of someone who sounds like they’re about to puke. The neti pot is not as scary as I feared it might be, and it helps. I am only skimming the surface in my interactions. Co-chairing a conference is no joke and I try not to be distracted by my illness and transitory nature (my stuff is somewhere in the middle of the country on a moving van!). Everyone recognizes me but my mind is a bit slow, and I’m not sure where to place my energy. I’m no longer Digital Curation Coordinator at UW-Madison. Who am I now?

With Turkey and RDAP behind me, I fly to California with my sedated (but still yowling) cat in tow. I buy a used car, a zippy ocean blue Versa. It’s basically a Barbie car – and I’m obsessed. I have a few days to unpack and settle in before starting my brand new job on May 1. Riverside is such a strange landscape. Palm trees, fruit trees, and mountainous terrain that resembles dirt piles looming in the distance! It’s all so foreign to me. My new library was built in the nineties and it’s worlds away from brutalist fifties-era library I used to spend my days in. My name and title are on the door of my new office. Some colleagues poke in excitedly to say hello, nice to meet you. I expect school to be over but it’s not, finals aren’t until next month; already the quarter system boggles my mind. I notice small things, like how all the students hold the door for one another and for me. It’s lovely. 

I start talking about the reorganization soon after arriving and I’m completely thrilled at how game my boss and counterpart in Teaching and Learning are. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised – they’ve known they wanted to undergo a move to a functional specialist model and so kindly waited for me to arrive, four months after I accepted the job.

I’m just three weeks into my new role when we kick off the active portion of the reorganization process. It brings to mind all sorts of thoughts I’ve had about leaders I’ve observed, either firsthand or faraway. How when they came into new roles they squandered the chance to make real lasting change, either botching it by moving too quickly and clumsily or dragging the change process out senselessly, depleting everyone involved. Obviously there are constraints that make some changes unduly difficult bordering on impossible but if you’ve got a reasonable path forward, better to gather information, share your ideas, get feedback, make a plan, be transparent, and get on with it. Rip off the band-aid. Considering all my past judgements, I’m excited about this opportunity to be part of a change process. It’s easy to sit back and judge and more difficult when you’re in it to do the things you always thought you valued. What a gift to be given that test and see what you can truly make of it.

 

SUMMER

California is full of adventure. I realize that sun hats are no longer just a stylish accessory, they’re a necessity, and as they say (and oh do they say it) it’s a dry heat. Ragip and I celebrate our birthdays in Vegas with alcoholic juice boxes and penny slots. We take weekend trips to go wine tasting in Temecula, camping in Joshua Tree National Park. We wander the wide streets of Palm Springs and ogle midcentury houses before chasing down an ice cream truck.

Work is good. In many ways I am fascinated: I am getting to watch an organization function and I feel so much closer to the mechanisms than I did before, which only makes sense since it’s a smaller library and I’m a bit higher up. It’s only now that I realize how vast UW was, how many layers, how glacial the pace of change. In contrast, at UCR there’s a sense that as one of the smaller, newer UCs, we are eager to prove ourselves. It’s remarkably energizing. I miss some aspects of UW… The way the campus skirts the lake and bleeds neatly into downtown. An abundance of coffeeshops. Colleagues nearer my own age.  The feeling of knowing and being known. I know that will come in time here, but it’s a little lonely to be new.

There’s a lot of excitement that comes with a new role but also rampant uncertainty. That push pull of trying to figure out what my administration values and how I fit. Do they want me to chase bigger collaborations, grants, national-level projects? Do I want that for myself? Is it the right time? What institutional resources would I need to do so, and at what cost to my other responsibilities? It can be challenging to discern what a new work environment values. Sure, review processes can hint at what will be formally rewarded, but what really matters? I can’t shake that now isn’t the right time for any of the bigger projects, much as I eye them with admiration as I learn what my colleagues are up to. Right now I need to connect with my direct reports, my colleagues, my campus community. Still, it’s jarring to go from having concrete projects, plans, a steady influx of presentation opportunities, what feels like a more defined place in the community. It feels harder and slower but I focus on the long game. I am patient with myself.

Ragip gets a job at a nearby university, working as a project manager in their HR department. He applies for an MBA program and sneaks in well past the deadline. His career is fascinating to watch. Not for the first time, I wonder what decisions are in our future and how we will navigate them. Internally, I’m readying myself to be the one who sacrifices something next, as he did for me this year. 

In September, I help at the grad student orientation. We pass out UCR Library swag and answer questions. I leave feeling like part of the team, puffed up with the knowledge I’m gleaning. I’ll be able to answer these questions less clumsily soon! The sunset is deliriously beautiful as I drive home, painting the sky deep pinks and oranges. As I drive toward our apartment, the sky grows grayer, an oddity. Could it be storming ahead? As the highway curls around the mountains I see a clear divide between charcoal sky and blazing red and my breath catches in my throat as I realize it’s fire, I’m seeing the effects of a wildfire. I turn on the radio. Traffic has slowed and as I make my way toward our exit my panic is growing. The overcast sky is now clearly, visibly, tangibly smoky. I drive up the hill to our apartment when I spy the fire on the hill – there it is! – and I try to stay calm. I take my external hard drives, a few photo books, our cameras. I notice my hand is shaking. The cat carrier is in the garage so Frank goes in my duffel bag. As I head to my car, ash drifts lazily through the air. This is a thing that happens here, I realize. I drive to the mall parking lot, cat howling, hiding out in the back nestled into sleeping bags while I wonder idly if she’ll pee on them. In the end we are lucky, our entire residential area remains untouched by fire. We head back to the apartment, which sits right on the line of the zone of mandatory evacuation.   

Later in the month, the reorganization we’ve worked on all summer takes root. Everything is officially official. Librarians learn their new roles. I am proud of the transparent, inclusive, and iterative process we’ve followed in moving from a subject specialist to a functional specialist model. My unit is now the Research Services Department, complete with a Data Librarian, Geospatial Information Librarian, Scholarly Communication Librarian, Open Research Librarian, Maker Services Librarian, and Research Services Assistant. 

Management is tricky business. My boss helps me, coaching on how to word things, how to approach situations. But I find myself frequently overwhelmed and unsure. One night, Ragip and I go on a walk. Work isn’t just on my mind it’s wedged inside my brain, making me wonder not for the first time why I can’t be more chill. We walk, and I talk, the words just rushing out. I don’t know how to do this, is the crux. Despite all the good things, such as the fact that I am no longer in a dysfunctional work environment. But now that the process part of the department transition has concluded – a zone I now realize I was very comfortable in because we had a plan and defined purpose – there’s a lot of difficult work looming ahead.

I ponder how to balance all the aspects of my job. The mechanics: How do you run a department effectively? All the details of meetings and documentation and projects and goals, not to mention the administrivia that quickly piles up. The leadership piece: How do you create a positive, inclusive, productive environment that moves important work forward? Change management: How can I be empathetic and supportive in difficult times, provide space and encouragement for input and iteration, yet provide a guiding vision? Personnel management: How to work with individuals and help shape their work as part of a broader unit, with everyone coming together with different experiences, communication styles, skills. To what extent do you move and change to meet people where they’re at? Or do you carve out a new structure and invite them to come together around it? 

Around this time, our University Librarian says something in a leadership team meeting about staying in his lane, alluding to how he wants to leave space for us to take ownership of our roles and responsibilities. It strikes a chord with me, perhaps an example of how something that’s relatively straightforward can find you and impact you at just the right time. That’s what I need to do, I think. I need to start by defining my lane. This seems key to figuring out not only how to be a good manager but also how to balance my own time and energy in the process.

I’ve always been interested in questions related to management and organizational structure but in the thick of it it’s easy to feel distraught. I don’t fight the discomfort, for the most part – I prod at it, trying to figure out what it can teach me about my own values and practices, my strengths and weaknesses. These are things that people have grappled with forever; they’re hardly new or unique to my experience. I try to accept that I’m buzzing with questions that require a full-fledged personal journey replete with stumbles and successes to answer.  

 

FALL

Our Wisconsin wedding is resolutely overcast. I watch the forecast warily, knowing we might just have endless rain. A few thoughtful friends share that rain on a wedding day means good luck but I can’t shake the thought of falling into the mud in my delicate wedding dress. The day arrives and my stylist pins in my extensions and sculpts the perfect bouffant, which I vow to protect despite the inclement weather. We drive to Brooklyn, WI, where I get ready in the small bridal suite, my sister meticulously doing my makeup. Ragip and I take our first look photos and both families rehearse walking down the aisle, hurried and uncertain. The ladies retreat to the bridal suite, every so often sneaking peeks from behind the gauzy curtains to peer at arriving guests. At the right time, we all line up and I walk last with my dad. I never stop wondering if I’ll trip over my long layers.

As our officiant, my brother Conner blends thoughtfulness and humor effortlessly. Ragip and I read our vows to each other and as soon as the ceremony ends I feel worlds lighter. After saying goodbye to our guests, the rain clears up, allowing us to take some portraits outside the church. We drive to the Madison Public Library for our reception, taking a detour to the Capitol for more photos, the bottom of my dress getting wet as the rain pooled on the pavement. At the library, family members ferry our signature gin cocktails into our hands as guests converge around us. When dinnertime comes, the siblings and significant others join us at the head table; Whitney, Hulya, and dad give speeches. Afterward, the lights are dimmed and the true party commences. I remember the rest only in snippets. Tiramisu that everyone raves about to this day. Our homemade playlist drawing everyone to the dance floor. Long snaking lines to get into the photobooth. Ilke commandeering the music to make sure we played Turkish songs. Donning my orangey red jumpsuit as the after party crew of friends and siblings dragged us to State Street to celebrate out on the town. Steve and Whitney dropping us off at our hotel at 3am, where Ragip and I collapsed, happy and exhausted.

I return to California as a married woman. Back at work, I tackle my departmental strategic plan in earnest. It’s helping me cut through the haze of all the things I want to do and actually start to analyze them systematically. It reminds me that this work that feels so messy – yeah, it is actually work and it’s good to acknowledge that it can and will build to something. I have some big goals before the end of the year. My head feels clearer. Maybe they’re possible to attain? 

Over Thanksgiving break we go on our honeymoon, zigzagging up the coast, stopping at beach towns, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, then San Francisco for two days. It’s geographically tiny in a way that feels magically accessible; we just walk and walk. When we get home, I find a boxful of books with my maiden name printed boldly on the cover. In another envelope I find my new California driver’s license featuring my married name. The two Briannas! What a year.  

December is gloriously mild. I don’t even remember what snow is like. I have been wearing the same two pairs of slip-on sandals ever since I got to California, so let’s just say I don’t miss it. I have a conversation with my boss about how nothing I’ve proposed has been accepted. I mean, for a while I was chasing acceptances, making sure I wrote all the right splashy words and partnered with the right people. But now there’s a little flicker of relief when something isn’t accepted. It seems best to wait for the topics that really excite me again. 

I am fonder of my wedding now that a couple months have passed. The stress of the day melts away with time, leaving a fuzzy happiness in its wake. At a distance, it does all look rather glamorous in a way you don’t feel when it’s right there in front of you.  I wondered if I would feel sad when the wedding was over but that’s not the case. Our families and friends were amazing but the performative aspect of the wedding and being the center of attention is not something I relished – plus the guilt of wanting to spend so much more time with guests than we realistically could. Sometimes my husband and I exchange dark looks and discuss how we would never do it again… but then we look at our wedding pictures and the Snapchat video we were gifted and we laugh and reminisce, delighted. 

The year concludes on a sweet note. In many ways, having more big end of the year news is kind of a charming parallel to last year’s news of a job offer from UCR. Two pink lines on a stick signifying a 2018 baby. We’re elated, terrified, but mostly feeling lucky – and excited about what the new year will bring. 

 

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