Here is a tale of good intentions gone awry or perhaps proof of that old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.
Last week in her role as a blogger, Smartmom received an e-mail from highly respected local journalist, who happens to read Smartmom’s blog.
Savvy Journalist sent Smartmom a note that epitomizes the concept of micro-community that Smartmom so cherishes about this neighborhood.
“Hi everyone,” Savvy Journalist wrote. “My neighbor is an assistant principal. She is looking for books, board games, puzzles etc, for classrooms there. If you feel inspired to do a cleanout of your extras and want to pass stuff on, I figure it’s easier to give stuff to her than organizing a stoop sale! Feel free to pass the note on to others in the area who might be interested in helping.”
Below that note, there was the original e-mail that Savvy Journalist had received from Local Teacher.
“Any chance that you have some books that are in good shape that you’d like to donate to the school? I’d be more than happy to come and pick them up. Just let me know. Thanks so much. And pass this on to people you know who might have stuff as well.”
Pass this on. Those are three of Smartmom’s favorite words. And being the Good Samaritan, community-oriented blogger that she is, she posted this information on her blog under the headline: School Needs Books.
The whole thing made Smartmom very excited. Her apartment is inundated with books and not enough bookcases. (Remember that column about Hepcat’s hoarding habits?â€ˆThey continue, you know!) She savors any chance to pass on the literary treasures in her midst that she and her children no longer need.
Later that morning, she received a nice note from another reader of her blog. She, too, responded excitedly to the call-out for books and told Smartmom that she would post the information on Park Slope Parents.
That night, Smartmom told her family about the book drive. She is always looking for a way to motivate the Oh So Feisty One, Teen Spirit, and especially Hepcat to part with books.
“A local teacher needs books for her school,” Smartmom said, pouring on the drama. “These kids have no books in their school, they need stuff to read.”
Before she could say “Karma is a boomerang,” OSFO was going through her bookcase tossing books into the hallway (“Magic Treehouse, Chocolate Fever” and “Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist”). Teen Spirit also found a few books he was willing to part with.
Even Hepcat, pack-rat extraordinaire (“archivist,” “curator of ephemera,” “amateur librarian,” or “dedicated preservationist” are terms he prefers) managed to find a book (one single book): “At Large: the Strange Case of the World’s Biggest Internet Invasion.” (Of course he put up that book; he owns two copies of it!)
The next morning, Smartmom saw an e-mail from Local Teacher, which she raced to open. She had to admit that the terseness of it was a bit startling. Local Teacher wrote that she is not an assistant principal at the school as her neighbor had mistakenly said in the e-mail.
OK. Smartmom is always big on fact-checking.
Local Teacher then went on to say that she was swamped by offers of books, cannot keep up with the demand, and would appreciate if Smartmom would remove the notice.
Smartmom was confused. It wasn’t even a simple and gracious, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Had she done something wrong? Was it Smartmom’s fault that so many people had responded? Was the school angry that so many people wanted to give?
Smartmom thought long and hard about this on her run around Prospect Park. Yes, she was smarting from the unappreciative e-mail. But she also felt like she had tripped upon an interesting truth.
There’s giving and there’s giving.
Smartmom meant no harm in posting Local Teacher’s original message. The more the merrier as far as she’s concerned.
But the problem is this: Too much of a good thing is just that. Boxes and boxes of books require someone to pick them up and deliver them, sort through them, unpack them, and get rid of the books that can’t be used.
It’s all about specificity and making your needs clear. Smartmom thinks Local Teacher should have clarified the scope of her own needs. What she probably needs most is a small group of ready, willing and able volunteers to organize a book drive. She needs help with transportation, sorting, and cataloging. She needs money, energy and people’s time.
It’s a big job, but there are a lot of people out there who have some time to give.
Smartmom learned recently that the Community Bookstore is in the process of organizing a book drive for a school library in New Orleans.
If they do it right, they’ll engage the community to help them with the logistics. Like Local Teacher, they’ll need help picking up the books, cataloging them, sorting through them, packing them up, paying for postage and sending them to New Orleans.
These are all great ideas: Books for a local public school. Books for New Orleans.
But be careful what you ask for. In Brooklyn, especially, you’ll get what you ask for — so you’d better have the means to accept the gift.
And, not for nothing, but “thank you” is a nice thing to hear once in a while.