anxiety, be a better human, depression, kindness, meditation, strangers, talking

Stress/Anxiety/Depression & Relaxation/Meditation/Vacation

I really needed a vacation.

Everyone in the US probably does, because we generally work too much and relax too little. For months, arguably longer, I have been stuck in a negative feedback loop about work and where I live and generally doing life “wrong,” or at least not in the way I want to. Turning 30 helped this third-life crisis, but anxiety has a brutal way of sinking its hooks in deep.

Vacation, it was! For a friend’s wedding. And this time, I was doing this one differently, even before I left. Responsible for the planning, my friend/co-traveler/co-bridesmaid told me she was too busy to weigh in on everything. She trusted me. I can just send her links and tell her what to pay. It was great! I like trust! And planning! Whereas in the past, I may have been paralyzed with the responsibility, this time around I welcomed the project and chose lodging, still giving my friend the right to veto.

Now, I like planning because I like having things set, determined. Unambiguous. My anxieties are particularly triggered by transportation and the timing/cost thereof. I proposed a suggested itinerary in February, and when I got the go-ahead for the general dates, I almost immediately booked my tickets, out of fear the price would surge. Because it always does when I wait. Normally, I would have just worked myself into a resentful panic about co-travelers 1/2 and them reserving their flights. I did not want to pressure others or myself, so instead, I did not. I just did what I needed to do and let her do the same. Co-traveler 2 didn’t schedule her flights until within a month of the wedding, but she was also busy and the plans were set up, and eventually it all worked out. It was fine!

This may make an underwhelming story, but it represents a TON of growth and improvement. Many vacations, I bring all my mental crap along with me and am unable to escape and enjoy myself. I can be cranky and wish I had just stayed home and saved the money. My goal for this trip, though, was to be truly present, enjoying the people and places around me. And then I made a plan to travel by myself on the first day, because the rest of co-travelers didn’t arrive until the next day and I had never traveled by myself ever, much less in a foreign land.

This would be good for me, I reasoned. I would see the beautiful sights I wanted to see, and I would be jolted out of my comfort zone (but not sooo far–I opted for a bus so that I would not have to book/catch multiple trains). I would arm myself with offline maps, and I would take responsibility for feeding and entertaining myself for a whole day! (Yes, technically, I do this at home, but that gets boring and tedious, and here I was Seizing The Day and such.) The jet lag would only serve to help me, I reasoned. Meeting a tour group at 7am would be fine, because I would fall asleep early!

Then I learned from my awesome Airbnb hostess that I had to catch a 6:09am bus. Even if arrival times are flexible, I tend to run late and stress myself about possibly being tardy. In this case, I also would have missed my whole day’s plan and flushed a bunch of money as well as my independent-lady-traveler-bragging-rights down the toilet.

I did the thing I was not supposed to do… I let myself fall asleep at 6:00pm–only to wake up at midnight, wide awake and counting down until my 5:00am alarm. Meditating didn’t work, because the anxiety of catching the bus was not letting me go. I was out of bed at sunrise after several hours of tossing and turning, and waiting at the (not-so-quickly-determined incorrect) bus stop at 5:45am. My fear had come true, and I walked past the correct bus stop, walking first to the one farther down and across the street. I did not learn this from the nun, the lone pedestrian who passed me and, kindly, attempted to speak to me though we didn’t share a language. Her, probably the person most inclined to help in the town, I was meek to ask for help. To admit I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully, anxiety-earliness meant I had budgeted enough time to miss one bus, and miss it, I did. Not for lack of trying–I sprinted, but to no avail. It was now 6:00. Fifteen minutes is a long time to stand in the cool morning air, hoping I wore the right thing for the day’s temperature, but shivering in the meantime. The sprinting woke me up, and I was not letting another bus leave without me. Not without a fight. I had no more time to spare. The next one didn’t display the same destination and it wasn’t slowing down, but I flagged it just in time. I had to actually speak to the driver, confirming my stop. He said yes! I was triumphant.

The morning was gorgeous, sunny and crisp. The past six hours of sleeplessness had been worth it, just to make this slow and uneventful bus at the nearest to sunrise I had seen in a long time. I looked out the windows at Rome as the locals lived it, away from the city center and the tourist lures. Another man got on, a local, and asked the driver for the same stop as I had–I cheered silently for his good fortune too. I wasn’t the only one who had to ask, plus, I now had a marker for whether I would miss my stop! I had made my plan, and now it was in motion. I would make it! It was destined to be a good experience, because I had already done the hardest part.

Before I started meditating, and actively working to be my best self, I would have been a monster that day. I would have whined and complained about how tired I was. I would maybe have succumbed to the anxieties and just emailed the tour company and asked for my money back because I didn’t want to even deal with leaving. In a nutshell, I would have let my thoughts derail me.

That day was not perfect, and I caught myself being unkind to my fellow tour-goers and to myself, but all in all, I didn’t complain because there was no one to complain to. I shushed myself and reminded myself that I had navigated the public transportation in a city where I barely spoke 10 phrases of the language. I thought with gratitude of my Airbnb hostess and how thorough and kind her directions were, despite my spastic communication. I grumbled a bit when lunch (a piece of fish and an espresso) cost $37, but, the views!! Nothing was bringing me down. This was my day.

So, I saw some marvelous sights: Pompeii in all its historical glory, and Positano, one of the most beautiful tourist traps of all time. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but I recommend traveling solo based on how independent it made me feel. And, I did it with the training wheels of a group tour where I just showed up! More adventurous folk plan trains and hike with backpacks and sleep outdoors! There are plenty of options. Either way, it was a great start to my vacation, made me open my eyes and explore.

The whole vacation did knock me out of my routine and funk…once I got over the post-vacation mini-depression of returning to real life. I wanted to leave being present on vacation, because coming back, I saw the same errors and flaws. Other than my motivation. I was the person who traipsed around Italy by herself: I didn’t let the self-pity last long. I went to a yoga class, and I reached out to an awesome friend who made room in her weekend for me. I wrote some postcards and thought about how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I returned to daily meditation. I feel recentered.

And my real life is far from all-bad. Yesterday, a customer came into the library looking for audiobooks by Pema Chodron. As I started to read the titles off to her, I commented to her that I hadn’t heard of her, but now wanted to listen to them! She raved about one, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. We had a lovely chat, she told me to read at least that book. When we introduced ourselves, I put out my hand to shake hers, but she said “I’m going to hug you, if that’s okay!” And she did. And it was. Vacation and meditation have mellowed me enough that strangers* hugging me is okay. In a nutshell, I’m feelin the love from the universe this week. The trick will be to manage my stress and keep the contentment/gratitude going as life sneaks back to normal.

Walking to bus station at sunrise, to Positano… Worth all the pennies.

 

*strangers who have two-way conversations with me about meditation and books first.

books, reading, writing

Poetry Month

“Poetry Month?” you may be asking. “Isn’t that in April?” And you would be correct. That is when schoolchildren are subjected to Tennyson or rewarded with Shel Silverstein until the books are put away to collect dust for the remaining 11 months of the year. To that I say, pish posh! Let us read poetry year-round.

But also, the person before me brought back the library volume of the Mary Oliver collection Devotions midway through May, so I was starting behind.

I didn’t let myself get to irritated about it, since I had plenty of other books going and as long as the book DID come back, I would be pleased. When I checked it out, I understood: this tome is a doorstopper. HUGE anthology of all of her Ohio-born insight and beauty.

Now, if you know me, you may be surprised to hear that I actually enjoy poetry. I am too. As previously mentioned, I tend to judge things and later, with more exposure to them, change my mind. Poetry doesn’t land on my to-read list, and I have been known to think it is a far more philosophical (read: annoyingly dense) and flowery and not my cup of tea. Of course I still love To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick (gather ye rosebuds while ye may), but I’m a huge reader and I don’t hardly read contemporary poetry, so that likely means plenty of others REALLY don’t. I’ve come to learn that a big part of librarian-ing is advocacy, so, let me advocate the reading of poems. With what I’ve read in order to write this post, I see I have to work more poems into my book diet. Comment with suggestions of where to look next!

Another nugget that makes my “three-months-late” post more timely is that I found out  recently that poetry is getting a bigger following nationwide!

So, consider this a trigger warning: there are poems below. I don’t want to go too deep into analyzing because I think the work speaks for itself, but here are some highlights from my poetry dig.

I went first to Mary Oliver, because she is from Ohio and the brain behind the only poem I openly confessed to enjoying in college. (I know, we didn’t have to read much poetry in college. Seriously, tell me what poets to read next.)

Hurricane:

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything.
 But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

**

The appeal here for me is the sense of devastation over which there is no control, and how, somehow, the natural world rejuvenates and heals itself.

The second collection I read is Water & Salt by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. The title was included in a Book Riot list of Arab authors to read, so I recommended it to my library, they approved my request and a couple weeks later I was holding it! (Did y’all know you could ask libraries to buy the books you want? Requirements: having a library card there / picking a new-ish title that is still in print –otherwise, you can interlibrary loan!)

Library plug over. Back to the poetry. I really liked this collection, in which Tuffaha talks about her homeland of Palestine. Much of it is about war, public opinion and news coverage of her country. Generally not my favorite things to read about, but I thoroughly appreciated the content in poem form. They cut to the point.

Running Orders

They call us now,
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass-shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think, Do I know any Davids in Gaza?
They call us now to say
Run.
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war-time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
Run.

**

When looking for poetry, it is usually a good idea to check with our current Poet Laureate to see how they’re doing. From a lovely friend’s timely poetry month post, and then another lovely friend’s instagram post:

THE EVERLASTING SELF by Tracy K. Smith

Comes in from a downpour
Shaking water in every direction —
A collaborative condition:
Gathered, shed, spread, then
Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love
From a lifetime ago, and mud
A dog has tracked across the floor.

 

**

I’m a big fan of the theme of self right now, and this image is so visual.

 

The poem that made me fall in love with Mary’s poems:

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the world?

Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

books, reading

Vacation Books

After an accidentally lengthy hiatus from the blog, I’m back! The last ten or so days were not an accident: I was on a beautiful vacation and I wanted to be fully present for it. BOY, was I. A bridesmaid in the gorgeous wedding of two fantastic soulmates, and a co-traveller with three adventurous friends, I’m stateside and invigorated, crossing my fingers jet lag won’t last long.

And I only read one book! In 10 days! I’m so proud!

Now, I know most people are not like me, and don’t get enough reading time in their daily lives, but my goal for this trip was to go forth into the world and to read as little as possible. Check, and check.

But this is not to say I did not bring many books. After all, I usually have to read a little bit to unwind before going to sleep. But what to read on vacation? The term “beach read” exists because I think many people want something fluffy that they can put down and come back to easily and don’t want to read anything serious or heavy on vacation. (At least, that’s what my mom told me when she didn’t bring the books I gave her on her beach trip!) And I read an interesting article (and subsequently put the author’s book on hold) that discusses how books with the categories “guilty pleasures” or as “beach reads” are more often than not written by women, about women, which may serve to trivialize the books and authors.

All this to say, read whatever you want to on your precious vacation time! There is no “should” here!

The books I brought on my trip were:

  1. The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro (finished! She is highly entertaining! Though, this was written in 2002, when it was still fashionable to use the “R” word) 7531
  2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (still in progress) about his life’s work with prisoners on death row. It brings up many questions about the implications of bias and racism in the justice system.

20342617

And the ebooks I checked out but they expired before I could read them:

  • Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock
  • There I Go Again by William Daniels (aka Mr. Feeny!)

Based on the death row book alone, you can see I don’t really subscribe to the beach/vacation reads. (Though, maybe I’d have a different story if I actually sat reading on the beach.) I don’t know how all these normal people prioritize what one book they’ll read over the summer. We book people will read whatever speaks to us, anytime, anywhere! BUT, I do like to recommend what one book you should read over the summer, so feel free to ask for recommendations and tell me what you like.

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately, so I’m going to wrap up here by saying happy birthday to my BFFMLLP and I’ll write more soon!

community, family, information, librarians, strangers

For Dads About to Rock.. We Salute You

Sometimes at the library, when you are working at the desk and minding your own business, people let you in on some very private matters. So long as this does not involve diseases or obscenity, I’m generally okay with this. One such day, a man approached the desk and asked me about pregnancy books: he and his wife were looking for them because they just found out they were going to be parents. He paused, squinted and looked around inside his brain, and said, “actually…you’re the first person we’ve told.” My standard instinctive reaction is to immediately provide the requested information, like an eager-to-inform robot. But this time, my social graces couldn’t ignore the relevant personal information. I beamed at him like a non-misanthrope and lover of small, poopy people that I am and said “I’m honored!” before efficiently telling him there are books in the adult health/wellness section, and in the children’s area.

This interaction, all told, took under 120 seconds, but it was such a sweet moment. I watched him process this milestone of parenthood, and all the mini-milestones in preparation for it. He was at the library! To prepare! And he was openly sharing his joy.

I try to imagine what my own dad was doing to prepare for becoming a parent for the first time, and I can’t quite picture him at the library looking for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He reads Rolling Stone and business magazines, not books. Not a touchy-feely kind of guy, he didn’t really “get” me and my brother until we were old enough to at least tie our shoes and more or less write complete sentences. After all, our senses of humor weren’t tuned to “dad joke” frequency right out of the gate; we had to grow into it. Also, before a certain age, we were the aforementioned poopy little people, and we only got cooler with time (until, I think we can agree, bro, we may have plateaued). If he wasn’t tossing us around a pool on vacation, chances are we were being loud and whiny and annoying, bickering and fighting with each other. On our Tuesday nights and alternating weekends together for the 7 years leading up to college, he rationalized us into an equitable system for deciding where to eat dinner. This was a matter of the utmost childish importance, otherwise worthy of much whining and fighting (“he picked last tiiiiiime!!!” “I don’t feeeeel like iiiiitttt!” etc.). We each wrote down a suggestion on a piece of paper napkin, and one person selected, and as soon as Dad started the car, the radio started too. We could pout but we couldn’t audibly complain, because everyone had the same chances. The best way to cope if your selection lost was to cross your fingers a good song came on.

Once we were old enough to dance, he and Mom introduced us to Bob Marley’s Legend, Eric Clapton’s, Tom Petty’s and Bonnie Raitt’s entire catalogs. From middle through high school, aka before Sirius/XM radio displayed the artist and song title, he quizzed us on the artists playing in the car on WONE and WNCX, Cleveland’s Classic Rock stations. We would have been shamed if we had gotten Tom, Clapton, Janis, Neil or the Stones wrong (but we never did). Dark horses we had to watch out for were the ambiguous synth-y Steely Dan and The Who.

Once we spoke the same musical language and I became a real adult with real-world crap to deal with, I appreciated my dad in a totally new way. The dad jokes became hilariously funny. He became my go-to for career and money advice, which means we talk way more than when I was younger. Now that I have lived a little and accepted him for who he is, I see his lack of touchy-feely-ness as a virtue. He is able to rationally weigh pros and cons of my dilemmas without getting sucked in to the emotional/social dynamics like I do. Sometimes this backfires, as when he tried to herd us out of a Tom Petty concert before the encore to beat the traffic (I protested. It was American Girl.) or when he e-mailed a relative newly diagnosed with colon cancer, expressing concern for his “plumbing issue.”

But that’s my dad! (To my shock and amazement, the plumbing joke did not end their relationship, nor even particularly offend. And, the cancer is now in remission, if you were worried!)

He stocks his refrigerator with barely more than the essentials: milk, eggs, shredded cheese and whatever is going on the grill, and reaching dinner consensus takes no time at all. He taught me to make DIY concert earplugs by rolling strips of paper napkin into balls, always carries a nail clipper that I inevitably need to borrow, and mails me gluten-free pound cake with a note that simply says “Enjoy! Love, Dad.”

All in all, my dad rocks.

dad_rocks

anxiety, books, community, kindness, librarians, reading, strangers, talking, writing

Professional Development: Book Edition

It is conference season!!!! Let the record reflect that I possess an Oprah-announcing-a-giveaway level of excitement about attending conferences. I LOVE THEM. This love started when I was a wee junior in college, learning to be an English teacher and I attended a YALSA conference (Young Adult Library Services Association). It was magical. There were BOOKS and BOOK LISTS and BOOK PARAPHERNALIA (bookmarks, so many bookmarks) and evvveryone was talking about books. What I’m saying is, it was a nerd convention and I was among my people.

Well, in the last two weeks of May, I attended three conferences. This means I had to be extremely friendly/social, make some peer-buddies (because I knew no one at 2/3 and I can’t not talk to someone), caffeinated enough to make sense when speaking to strangers (which is extremely caffeinated if I have to wake up at any hour pre-dawn), caffeinated enough to not want to fall asleep in any sessions (because that’s rude, no matter how boring the session is) AND, on occasion, I was required to present myself to non-peer-type-people with some degree of authority and professionalism (which is exhausting and painful if you have social anxiety!).

Three in two weeks was too many too soon. I. Am. Exhausted… and I’ve already had a week to recover.

There was a librarian conference with workshops for specific skills or ideas; Book Expo which is mostly book buzz and ARCs; and a writers’ conference.

It was fun to meet new people at two of the places, and to hang out with people I knew at the other, as we made mad dashes to grab all the cute promotional totes. Seriously, I came home with at least 6 tote bags.. And I was being choosy.

All I will say about the conference with the workshops is that it was a beautiful, blue-sky day on a college campus and I had a lively chat at lunch about censorship and culture shock between the North and South with people relatively new to the library community and people who have been members for 30 years. It was reaffirming that I could sit down with people I had never met before and find common ground (and create a common lifegoal–taking a vacation to operate a bookstore, WHICH APPARENTLY EXISTS !!!!–Mel, we gotta book (sorry, couldn’t resist) this, ASAP). Our lunch table bonded, y’all. It was a billion times better than a silent food-shoveling-adjacent-to-others.

Book Expo is a special kind of madness in an enormous exhibition hall. I like to just ‘wing it,’ or, more likely, glom on to someone who has researched what book stalls they want to go ahead of time. At the end of the day, I left with about 10-12 Advance Reader Copies and many lists of books that will be published in the next several months. Many were added to my Goodreads to-read shelf (cries a solitary tear, but they sounded so good so it had to be done). My most treasured ARC was Nick Offerman and Megan Mulally’s upcoming book they wrote together. The ARC I didn’t get but wish I had was a novel called Ohio. The author was signing books and had a giant line so I looked it up and it sounds interesting. But, NOT uplifting so I decided it was not worth a huge line :/ The people at Book Expo were ruthless in their line forming/cutting. It was a bit grabby for my liking, but I made it through the day not entirely grumpy from the pushy people and my having woken up at 5:30am.

As for the writers…. Wow. It was a lot to take in. There was tons of information about maybe-possibly-trying-to-write-a-book-and-get-it-published. That was overwhelming, but tempered with sessions of varying merit about cool topics. My favorite session had HOMEWORK (we had to read two essays before we got there and one of them was Cheryl Strayed) and the teacher-lady kicked ass. What blew my mind the most was that none of the presenters the whole weekend rolled their eyes at anyone. Even when I thought a story idea sounded entirely ridiculous and un-marketable, the presenters were encouraging and treated the idea as if it were plausible. I shudder to think about the admissions entries for creative writing programs, so, good thing I’m just a blogger and not a writing teacher.

As much as I think I am an extrovert, I am really looking forward to a couple weeks where I don’t have to mingle with strangers, but instead kick back with my cat, a book and read.

 

Image result for oprah reading book

 

Ps, if anyone is keeping track, I’m sorry I don’t own all the photos I post. Please don’t report me to the copyright militia.

anxiety, audiobooks, books, lists, reading

Book Anxiety

Last week, I made two mistakes.

I have become a person who reads multiple books at a time, and right now, I accidentally checked out five audiobooks at the same time. I have them each for 3 weeks, and it stresses me out, because maybe I won’t have enough time to listen to that many hours of audiobook. Because, you see, I also had checked out 8 books I was hoping to read in those same 3 weeks. (How did three weeks go by and I only finished 2 of them?)

Which brings me to my next mistake: though it shames me to admit, I…. have an overdue book. It was due two days ago, and I just finished it this morning. I know! I am inconveniencing the person waiting for it, but let me explain!

Standard operating procedure in the last couple years is to read in different formats, different places. I’ll have one audiobook on my phone, one CD audiobook in my car, maybe an ebook, plus or minus a few print books. (Except for not having a CD player anymore, this is all still true.)

Also normally, I manage my digital reading/listening schedule more evenly: I place holds on several electronic audio/books with lengthy wait lists. I let them trickle in to my account and pause the holds, saving my place in line, when I see I’m next in line for too many books that might become available at the same time.

Ordinarily, when the library emails me saying “yay! Your turn in line has come!” it is the highlight of my inbox.

Last week, though, I had no book to listen to. I foolishly downloaded one, even though I was first in line for several books… And then, when I was only two hours in, the emails started. “It’s your turn!” At halfway through, “it’s your turn!” I had placed one audiobook on hold a whopping 7 months ago, behind 12 other people, and now.. it’s my turn!

All this to say: I stress out about books.

Chances are, if you know a librarian, she or he also does this. So do avid readers, English teachers and, at least briefly, anyone who ever had to read Beowulf (blecchhhhhhh). That specific Beowulf-cringe is unique to books where the reader has zero connection to nor desire to read. This used to happen far more, when I had to read books for classes or felt I had to finish reading a classic because it is a classic or a pleasure read just because. Long ago, I gave myself permission to stop if I’m still not engaged after the first third or half of a book. Life is too short to finish books I don’t care about (note: I don’t say ‘to read shitty books.’ Just because I didn’t like them doesn’t mean they are shitty.)

The stress I feel far more often these days is due to HOW MANY BOOKS THERE ARE THAT ALL WANT ME TO READ THEM. Every day, I read three or four or five more lists with even more books I didn’t know about. These books are new, these books are old but I never heard about them, or they are outside my normal reading parameters but sound interesting. As a librarian, I challenge myself to read broadly so I can recommend titles to customers with a variety of tastes in books. Bottom line: if it sounds intriguing, it is going on my to-read shelf.

Currently, I have 350 books on my Goodreads to-read shelf. Four books have sat there since 2012. Ten of them are from my phase where I read books about foods: tea, chocolate, cheese, bananas, potatoes, the history of refrigeration… All of them sound so interesting, and all of them have been on this list since July 27, 2016. Unclear whether I will ever read them, but I haven’t given up the possibility yet.

Usually I request these books on an as-needed basis, but every once in a while, I pore through this digital shelf and request a multitude of items at one go.

I know that as soon as I have checked it out from the library, I will read it soon. The due date gives me a hard deadline, as e-books and e-audiobooks are programmed to automatically stop working after the loan period. I will either read it, or I will start it and if I’m not hooked, decide to remove it from the shelf altogether. Checking physical library books out is a commitment to read them next-ish, but if no one has a hold on my books, I can get away with renewing them into perpetuity. But, if I have a book in my possession for that long and I still don’t want to read it, it’s as good as gone.

Problem is, as soon as I kick it off the list, another one (or three!) books pop up clamoring to be added and read.

It is all a somewhat obsessive system, designed to simultaneously decrease the to-read list and expand my breadth of reading experience. I don’t happen to think the system is that complex, but… then I realize other people don’t do this with their to-read shelves. And that if I applied these disciplined principles to my eating habits or workout plans or career goals, I would lead a far more disciplined and productive life.

Is this what addiction is? A compulsive need to grab for more and more, and anxiety if there is ever a low supply? It seems I have taken a positive act and brought a negative spin to it. Of course, all in the name of reading. But, just like with the news, I think it is better for me to close my eyes sometimes and recenter. Avoid the lists/stimulation that stress me out. Keep plugging away at the actions I can take to address the stress-inducer.

And I’m getting better about not getting upset with myself if I don’t get to what I think I’m going to get to. I have to shake it off. There are real issues to tackle. And, don’t yell at me, I’m returning the overdue book tomorrow!

be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, strangers, talking

Prying book eyes

On a recent library book binge, I brought home a hefty stack of books. My lovely housemate saw the stack, and asked me about one title: Being Peace by Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. She collects quotations and happened to have a few from his writings. She shared this one with me:

“Though we all have the fear and the seeds of anger within us, we must learn not to water those seeds and instead nourish our positive qualities – those of compassion, understanding, and loving kindness.”

Since I’m the Angry Librarian, this interested me, and we had a thoughtful conversation about how life and the workplace may bring out some of these very seeds and how we need to smile and shake it off.

In yet another library, last week I needed to print something before I went to the printer-haven of work, and popped into a public library I’d never visited. In order to use one of the computers, I was asked to provide a photo ID. I watched as the librarian wrote my name and guest pass number on a piece of paper, and brainstormed the many reasons they might wish to monitor who is visiting what sites within their walls. (I could only come up with potential issues arising from illegal activity.)

In my experience through library school and in the public library where I work, though, there is a current, obsessive trend with library privacy. My own library just switched to a different hold pick-up system, where customers can retrieve their items from a shelf and use self-check machines (grab-and-go style). Before this new process could begin, there were evidently many lengthy meetings about where on the book to put a sticker containing what identifying information. Should the sticker display the customer’s full name? Should the title of the book show?

As for myself, I fail to see how this conversation could last more than 15 minutes. And yet, it lasted. (The end result that was decided is the sticker will be arranged alphabetically by full last name and cover the title of the book. I know you were dying to know.)

Let me address, I did not like being asked for my identification in order to use a public computer. The implications did not jive with my knowledge of privacy. I fully recognize the importance of protecting online privacy–our and all libraries use some form of a program called Deep Freeze, which wipes all data from each customer login after they sign out. (Even still, sometimes that doesn’t work, so if anyone out there is worried about their digital footprint and who is looking at it, always manually sign out of your accounts, and under no circumstances store passwords on a public computer, as a principle.)

However, I just don’t think that people in public spaces can expect (nor can those public spaces guarantee) complete and total privacy. This is absurd and paranoid to me, as it seems counterintuitive to expect that no one will see (or that anyone would care) what books people are holding in their hands. And, not to mention, this extreme privacy doesn’t allow for every romance or friendship that started because someone was curious enough to look at what book the other was holding, and then take the bold and vulnerable (and sometimes well-received) gesture to start a conversation about it.

The frenzied desire to block all others out irritates me. I can’t help but feel that anyone in a public library is freely forfeiting at least a tiny bit of their privacy just by stepping into  a public space. How is carrying a book around any building not placing someone “at risk” of revealing its title? And, if someone is truly ashamed of their reading material, why would they request it to be held for them instead of venturing in and selecting it, by hand, by themselves?

I think back to a woman I had in my line at the bookstore when I was 19. This glamorous 30-something placed a small pile of books on the counter, barely raising her lips in greeting when I smiled and said hello. I, observing her gorgeous diamond ring, turned my eyes to the books. All three were about surviving the death of a spouse. I was shocked that such a horrible event could happen to someone so young and pretty, and I hoped I didn’t offend her or make her sadder during this, the symbolic purchase. Unsure how she would want me to act in this minor exchange, I tried not to widen my eyes and tried harder to eliminate any pity from my voice. More than anything, I was proud of her. Here was this young woman, whose own eyes (once I looked up from the ring) I could see were red and puffy. She was obviously not shopping for a gift. She was in mourning.

And she bought these books to help herself heal.

She did not buy them online, preserving her privacy as she sobbed in her pajamas. She very easily could have, and would have, if she were embarrassed of her emotionally vulnerable state, or concerned with how the young, desperate for adult life and love cashier or other browsing strangers would treat her.

Instead, she braved the world. She drove to us, got out of her car, located the section she needed, and from the shelf, handpicked not just one, but three books, in what I interpreted as her sadness and desperation morphing into resolve: a series of clear actions she took towards helping herself. I hope those books and all this time gave her what she needed.

And I am grateful for the spontaneous human connection that books, bookstores and libraries can provide. The fleeting moments with strangers where we mutually reveal something of ourselves.

We deserve to relinquish privacy on occasion. We need to leave room for vulnerability.