books, career, community, coworkers, let it go, librarians

Let It Burn

On the second-most-scenic drive home, there is an empty plot of land where a house burned down. I had my eye on this house for a long while, since I used to live just down the road from it. I had my eye on it because A) it was closer to the road than the other houses, and because it was falling apart, and because it gave me the itch: the feeling I get when I look at a mess that I want to organize–target, acquired. Get rid! This eyesore has got to go! Raze it and start over!

Because it was so on display, I clocked and  every imperfection of the house, from the boarded and broken windows to the caving-in roof, to the decomposing porch. Yes, I wondered why/when its owners had abandoned it, but more than anything I could see it wasn’t helpful.

Whenever long-dormant buildings like this burn down, I assume someone set it on fire. And I certainly don’t blame them. The only thing stopping me from doing so with every dilapidated building I see is the threat of arson charges. There is something cleansing in the removal from the landscape a house that no longer houses. Rather than gradually eroding one board at a time, an event happens to reset. To clear, remove that which is no longer serving its purpose.

—-

My attitude at work, if not my attitude in general, has started to smoke. Historically, I was the student/professional to volunteer for extra responsibilities, to speak up and often and generally help out. At some point during or after grad school, I became jaded and resentful. I would still offer to cover shifts for my coworkers, but I did not put in more work than was strictly necessary.

In preparation for the anniversary of the moon landing, a coworker had created a book list of related topics (space travel, biographies of astronauts, etc.) and as she hustled around talking about her to-do list with the last 30 minutes we were open, I volunteered to help put up her display. Also historically, I love creating book displays, but when I told her this and she told me I could make one literally whenever I felt like it by signing up to do so, I recoiled. Me!?! No. I do not extra-librarian. Not anymore.

This reaction was bratty and entirely based in habit. I paused, I examined my reaction, and determined that I had strayed too far from who I am. I am a person who volunteers. I am a joiner, and a doer of the things. Even if the things are extra-librarian-y. Just because I don’t have the job title doesn’t mean I should reject it.

So I set that attitude up in flames, and don’t you know it, there was an opening to make a book list & display almost immediately. And a new project committee to join (and yes, I took my lunch break from my main job to attend meetings for it). Maybe a lot of work, but worth the reinvestment into my department and my librarian-ity, and the idea that I can be happy and contribute at work.

—-

I remember the day that abandoned house burned down; I couldn’t believe that I happened to take that route that day. Often, I avoid it in the name of expediency; the flat, strip-mall-infested route seems more direct, and in exchange for the red lights and concrete, doesn’t take me past my old apartment with its history. Driving through the faint smoke cloud, I reasoned it had to have burned within the past day. Yellow caution tape surrounded the property. The chimney, brick as it was, was the only recognizable piece still standing. I was overjoyed that it had come down, and curious/excited about the possibility for the site’s future occupants.

With this unwanted, not cared for, not useful structure gone, there is so much space for new creation. It is my hope that as my career smoke clears, I’ll use what serves me to rebuild too.

anxiety, community, family, joy, let it go, strangers

The Love of the Game

This past Saturday, I attended a beautiful, fun wedding. I saw, danced/caught up with people I love, got dressed up, met new folks. I deeply enjoy weddings. Celebrating, love, socializing, nice food and beverages… what’s not to like?

Attending weddings as a person with anxiety, though, is a new experience. Surprisingly, not a great one. The day after, in addition to being fully drained from all the expended energy/alcohol/soreness of the feets, now I get the joy of playing and replaying “how I did” in my mind. What did people think? Did I talk too much? Was I annoying? Did I spend enough time with the people I know instead of roaming around making new friends like a drunk (social) butterfly? Why the fuck can I never manage to get it together to take a photo with the bride and groom??* Why didn’t I take any photos at all to post my belated congrats on social media?

To top it off, this wedding was at home. I made the choice to spend a few social hours, but mainly kept it to family, and it was great to not have to stress about getting places, but it made my heart hurt that I don’t see anyone enough. People I saw, people I didn’t see.. It made me sad and regretful that I don’t live near them. I want to be home and near them, and I want my new job. I want both.

So yesterday after the plane landed back in the garden state (at 7:30AM, in time for me to go directly to work), I was full of anxiety about whether I should have seen more friends and family/stayed longer/whether to play in the softball game last night.

Technically, I was awake, so I could! It’s the playoffs, and I was working during the last few games. There are only a maximum of 3 left, so the should I stick to the plan and play or should I listen to my body and take it easy struggle was strong in my head. I tortured myself even further when I told someone in the office I wasn’t going because reasons and he told me all the ways it was shitty bailing at the last minute. Cool! I know!

Because it’s the playoffs, there was another game today. They lost yesterday (added guilt for not going), so we had to win to stay in the running.

And it was great. Deffffinitely not perfect, but I knew essentially no one and managed not to embarrass myself athletically nor socially. I didn’t torture myself, even when I messed up, nor did I feel myself getting overly competitive. I turned into a different version of myself: a more-myself version. Fewer, if any, voices in my head telling me mean things. Maybe overly vocal with cheers though–aka maybe don’t cheer for people when I’m not 100% sure I have the right name. But I’m actually somewhat decent at second base, which is a pleasant surprise, and we managed to rally and win!

The feeling of a collective, positive group experience, whether with friends and family or with random people, is my jam. I left the field today hating myself a little less–full of endorphins, almost immediately full of ibuprofen, and missing the anxieties of the past two days.

I felt (and feel) so grateful. Grateful to have been able to be a (VERY) warm body on the field today, grateful that I work where I do, grateful to have such awesome friends and family who let me drive their cars or wear their shoes this weekend, grateful to find out on the drive home that one of my dear friends got good news, grateful that for now, my people are mostly healthy and mostly happy, and that I can sometimes stop beating myself up and just be in the moment.

When I stopped playing softball, it wasn’t by choice. There was a lot of shame, a lot of severed friendships, and I never found a group that I fell into as easily again (not that I tried more than once). I love the softball buddies who are still in my life, and no one could or will ever come close to those high school and college years of bonding, laughs, bruises, wins and losses. But, it is just so good to go back to something and feel like no time has passed (at least until the lower back pain set in). To feel like I never should have stopped.

Today I was where I needed to be; tomorrow I have plans that I made a month in advance and will have to miss the game. Again, I want both.

My lower back will be okay with not being there tomorrow. I’ll pray for rain all day to feel less guilty for hanging out with yet more people I’m lucky to be around. I’ll practice being okay with not being able to do everything, being protective of my time and mindful of my body’s limits, being okay with missing out. And I’ll know for next year not to plan anything during playoffs week.

I do love the game. I also love my friends, and book club, and air conditioning. I love instances where I can make a concrete decision and stand by it. I love my family and need to plan a trip with them. I also love sleep, and so will wrap up this little love letter.**

 

*Seriously, it’s a pattern, and a problem. If you (or someone we know) get(s) married and I am there, please help.

**I also love letters.

anxiety, be a better human, books, community, coworkers, depression, empathy, librarians, strangers

Taking books out

Did you know that during summer, people like to read books? Vacations and breaks from school make summertime an especially high-checkout, high-return time, and many titles are in high demand. Since our library doesn’t share with any other library and don’t have a bajillion copies of everything, this tends to mean wait lists: placing holds, and waiting your turn in line.

Waiting is an art, and not all of us are artists.

Last week, all in one day, I encountered three women who did not want to wait. One reason annoyed me. One reason made me laugh. One reason made me sad.

For morale, let’s start with the situation that annoyed me, move to sad and close with happy. One of our adult summer reading categories is graphic novels, since they are a burgeoning genre and an accessible/inventive mixture of art and literature. I got very excited when a gentleman came in Friday evening asking for a graphic novel, and I recommended my favorite one to him (Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch). He was not overeager to read any graphic novel, so I hoped this one would at least make him smile, as it did for me–even though it is about the author’s struggles with anxiety, depression, and adulting. *

The following day, the woman in question approached me looking for a graphic novel recommendation, and I explained that some of my favorites were already checked out, but she should definitely consider putting them on hold. She flatly refused. Her tone told me she wanted to be able to take this book out TODAY. NOW.

Though I understand how exciting it is to hear about and have a title in hand, then take it home immediately and get started, when people straight out refuse to place holds, I get miffed. Unless you are leaving for vacation tomorrow, why can’t you wait? Logistically, with some titles (looking at you, Becoming by Michelle Obama), if you don’t place a hold and instead wait to serendipitously find it on the shelf one day, you will NEVER GET THE BOOK. EVERYONE ELSE IS BEING SMART AND PLACING HOLDS AND THE HOLDS CONTINUE ON AND ON INTO PERPETUITY.

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I digress. To summarize: she left empty-handed with several titles (including Sarah’s Scribblesalso checked out), and I sent my recurring plea back out into the universe that people will understand that libraries are a place for sharing.

The incident that made me sad was that a feeble elderly woman asked me to recommend several books for her. We exhausted the large print selection, and she had a lot of trouble hearing in addition to her sight. She had taken a bus to get to us (when I know of at least 10 libraries closer to her) and I still don’t understand why. Because, when I told her that we could place holds for titles currently checked out, she told me she didn’t have a library card. I told her multiple times that she is still welcome to use the books in the library, but that she couldn’t take them home. Because of her hearing, and because of her apparent mental state, I feared what would result, and lo and behold my fears were accurate. She filled a canvas tote with about a dozen books, and proceeded to walk out of the gates, setting off the security noise.

She moved slowly, but my colleague caught up to her and had to have the far-too-long, repetitive, awkward conversation reminding/informing her that she could not simply take the books. He patiently told her all about her local library, and copied the spines of the books she had picked out so she had the titles. He stood with her and responded overall in a warm and thoughtful way. Again, I don’t know why she had it in her head that any library, much less one a 30 minute bus ride from her home, would let her have a bunch of books. She had forgotten what a library is and does, and her deteriorated mental state made me sad, and at the same time made me hope I never forget what a library is for.

The last woman is our local celebrity. At 95 years old, she uses a walker but uses it often. She is easily spotted all around town because of her colorful hair and wardrobe. She currently has it dyed an emerald green with one chunk of magenta, and was rocking a lemon colored shirt. I handed her the book she had asked me to find and immediately went to help someone else. The man I was helping turned to me when we heard the security noise and said “she didn’t check that out!” as we watched her continue through the gates and out the door. I started to go after her, calling her name, but she didn’t hear me (or the security noise) and I decided to let her keep cruising on with her day. I realized I knew exactly what book she had, and her full name…all the info I needed to check the book out to her. I told the man who saw “it’s ok, I know her.”

That made me happy. I love knowing people, and I love even more the idea that if people know you, you can make mistakes and they’ll have your back. Above all, I love this library and community (the good eggs outweigh the jerks)!

*The cover image of this post is from this book, and looking through photos make me seriously doubt that the guy I recommended this to will like it AT ALL. lolol but who knows.

anxiety, career, let it go, librarians, meditation, writing

Time Off

It would seem I took an entire season off from writing… It wasn’t an accident, but procrastination took over any time I told myself to blog. Interestingly enough, at least over the past month, this lapse in writing has overlapped (overlapsed?) with a lot of time off from the library. But holy cow, has there been a lot going on. Time off from the library doesn’t mean time off from general life!

In June, I worked two four-hour shifts at the public library. Reader, I had Friday nights to myself! Those Fridays were great, and I spent them with dear friends.

However, with full appreciation of not having to punch the clock, let me say: I think working at the library is part of my self-care.

Over the past couple months, the seven-month period of temping has come to a victorious end. I am gainfully full-time employed, officially, permanently, in a department surrounded by awesome people who love coming to work every day. My 9-5 is everything I have waited for, and I feel so so so fortunate.

I would love to say that I was confident in my abilities and my chances at this job since the department knew me and invited me back (despite myself 🙂 to fill the position while the search went on. I would love to say that I did not stress myself out even though the job was probably mine from day one. I would love to say that even though the work is an exact match to my professional skills and demeanor, I was not chock full of terror that I would be rejected again and set adrift to continue temping elsewhere. For the several weeks in between when I applied and when I interviewed, any mention my colleagues made to “you’ll see in the fall” or “when we all do X/Y/Z in August..” I inserted “if I’m still here!” in order not to jinx it.

Because there is no time off from my brain. To me, the only thing worse than not getting this dream job would be to have expressed my sense of belonging out loud, on the record, and THEN not get to stay. I pulled apart any and every interaction with my supervisors to decipher whether they were implying that I would be sticking around. As professionals, they couldn’t just come right out and say “you are our first choice for this job,” but I’ve apparently become so uncomfortable with uncertainty that I needed someone to say that to ease my strife. On the occasions one of them did say something encouraging, I tried to hold it and internalize their praise for as long as I could.

Now, I have the security of a real job, and the comfort and immense joy that is belonging with these people.

So on the one hand, big things have changed on my time off. On the other, I still have the crazy monkey mind running around behind the scenes, not knowing what to do with herself when she does not have a task at hand. This week for the holiday, a full day off, I made zero plans and essentially online shopped all day. (Don’t yell at me, Mom! I yell at myself enough!) I haven’t been meditating enough, nor going to yoga enough, nor celebrating my accomplishments, nor going outdoors, enough, and I wanted to just zone out and hoard pretty things.

And this is why I will still work part-time at the library! Not only because I need funding to offset my love of and proclivity towards buying clothes, but also because I need to get out of myself and work in the service of others (which I do during my day job, but evidently I can’t get enough). I am not delusional to think I am saving lives as I sit behind a computer at a desk in an air conditioned building, but when I am there, surrounded by friends and community members, it feels like where I am supposed to be.

During my interview day, I met with a gentleman colleague, and he asked me one direct question about the position, but since he has already worked with me for a couple months and has seen what I’m about, the rest of the time, we spent talking about the library. He told me he was curious about where I ran off to on Fridays, and he complimented my hustle.

Maybe I shouldn’t need to hustle. Maybe I should take it easy, and take more time off. But at this point, I don’t really know what to do with more time off, and my work is more than a paycheck. All I know is I’m looking forward to the new normal, stabilizing and seeing what happens.

Stay tuned! Back to work.

anxiety, books, community, kindness, reading

Yes? No!

Inexplicably, on campus, there is a stone with the word YES! carved into it. It was literally on my path towards a destination I’d never visited before. Though I appreciate the positivity, opportunity and encouragement inherent to this three-letter word, sometimes YES just is not the answer!

I recommended a book to my BFF, which she is now listening to (yay for people taking my recommendations 🙂 and the subject matter, though dealt with in a humorous way, is dark. She told me the chapter about suicidality was particularly hard to listen to, and that it made her feel sick. I almost didn’t remember that the chapter existed, because when I got to it, I too started to feel sick at how detailed it was. As I recognized its negative impact, I said “Nope, I don’t need this,” and shut it down. I skipped the rest of the chapter, and considered it a successful exhibit of boundaries.

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This is How: Help for the Self in Overcoming Shyness, Grief, Molestation, Disease, Fatness, Lushery, Spinsterhood, Decrepitude & More by Augusten Burroughs

(This book is magnificent, and a truly helpful ‘self-help’ book. I recommend it wholeheartedly, but also suggest skipping the suicide chapter.)

Saying no is not always my instinct, nor does it come easily. One of my chosen ways of checking out of my problems is checking out online shopping. Because other problems seem bigger and more threatening and it’s not like another $30 (or $50, or $80) will send me directly to the poorhouse, why not embrace the “treat yo self” mentality and buy the beautiful items (read: clothes. It is always clothes) I want. They’re secondhand, so not as expensive as they could be, and besides, I need an infusion of color or newness into my wardrobe. I’m working six days this week; surely the extra hours will cover the cost.

No.

Setting aside that my income is not what it was at the job I hated, (which for New Jersey wasn’t even much) it is high time I started saving rather than living paycheck to paycheck and eating meals out all the time. I have never been late with a payment, nor do I make extravagant purchases, but nevertheless I need to act like my financial now will impact my financial future. Every $30, $50, $80 adds up. Often, my instinct is to say “YES! Why not?” when it needs to be “no. Shut it down.”

Last weekend when I had a bad day, avoided all human contact and was strongly tempted to bail on a friend’s invitation, my instinct was to say no, and shut it down. In that case, the answer was definitely to fight my instinct, honor my RSVP, and go socialize. I did this, and had a great time seeing my friend and meeting new people. YES! for the win.

Choices give me a lot of anxiety, so you’d think it would be best to boil it down to just the big two, but there is no blanket answer. YES! is only constructive some of the time. Universal NO: anxiety edition gets extremely isolating. My working mantra veers away from the dichotomy, and towards an ambiguous question: “what do I need?” This is not always in line with what I want, but I have to at least be honest with myself.

And this is what mindfulness is all about: slowing down to recognize these choices and the mental conversation behind them. My instincts are often wrong, so to indulge them is counterproductive, even self-destructive, and they require checking-in and rewiring. Do I sometimes ignore the rules I set for myself (like “no shopping”)? Yes. Did I miss out on something by skipping that suicide chapter? Yes, it turns out I did–but my BFF filled me in. And I’ll fill you in if you ask!

Teamwork! Boundaries! Progress.

anxiety, joy, let it go, stuff

Just DO It

There is a tingle of spring in the air, and I am celebrating by pre-spring cleaning. This is not, however, the millionth post you’ve read about Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Though I love that book and the whole concept, I just didn’t get into the show. Watching someone else throw away and organize all their crap just doesn’t do it for me. I want to DO the throwing away and organizing. (Seriously, if you are reading this and you are my friend/acquaintance within a 1-hour radius, I will come over and help you do this. No joke.)

Brief Marie Kondo diversion, now that I mentioned it: I get an immense pleasure out of culling possessions (my closet is frequently the target of this specific neurosis) and donating or throwing out items I truly do not need. It makes a visible difference, and I feel productive bringing bags of things to Goodwill, because someone else will use them more than I did. I also love consigning clothes, because, hooray money. Basically I’m all for keeping items in circulation or recycling. Some things, though, have outlived their usefulness or otherwise belong in the garbage, and I am all too happy to help them on their journey.

Ok, back to regularly scheduled programming. Over the past couple weeks, I have visited Home Depot* multiple times, despite not owning a home. Even so, I live in a home and spend a significant amount of time in it, and wanted to do some home improvement projects. (Indirect inspiration – my brother, who has made numerous pieces of furniture by hand! It is cool and brings him pride, which is also cool!) Nothing groundbreaking, or as impressive as constructing furniture, but I did take down the old and install new:

  • window blinds
  • bathroom etagere–the fancy way of saying “shelving over the toilet.”
  • floor vents in kitchen and bathroom

And folks, this was the least expensive of thrills. Spending approximately $50 led to total elation. I was overjoyed at replacing these household items and making the environs look just a smidgen brighter. Instead of looking at and lamenting the old, begging-for-replacement items, I exercised some control over my environment, and DID something. Not only did I DECIDE, a miracle in itself, but I had to physically DO: INSTALL and ASSEMBLE and RECYCLE pieces as I fulfilled my decision. While I was at it, I minimized and removed labels from some bathroom products, to reduce the “visual noise” of packaging.** I am happy to report that the bathroom is now beautiful!

In addition to DOING the home improvement projects, I also had a lovely crafternoon with some friends during which we made stationery. Again, the joy was simple and complete. My friend has a paper cutter, and I brought some fancy paper (joy for the low, low cost of approximately $10). Bing, bang, boom, I have a ton of stationery that I made myself! It was social, both fun and productive, and needs to be repeated, often. Penpals are the best pals.

Doing the things is better than not doing the things! Occupying my hands in a task with visible outcomes is a sure bet to decrease my anxiety and spark some intense joy. All that said, please invite me to your home to organize it.***

 

*This post sponsored by Home Depot.. I wish.

**Okay, so this did turn into a Marie Kondo post.

***IF I know you already.

community, empathy, judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers, talking

Smelly Smells

Forewarning: do not read while eating.

Additional preface: My olfactory powers are strong, and I can’t stand many odors. My sensitive shnoz recoils at old-lady perfumes, and sets off a deathly serious search when I think something has spoiled in the refrigerator. In the kitchen, my nose leads me to seek and destroy, and get rid of the offensive material, which is significantly satisfying.

This smell-aversion is harder to deal with when the sources are people and not products. Now, I am not heartless. I do my duty as I would want someone to do for me: I tell people when there is lipstick on their teeth, or toilet paper on their shoe, or their dresses are tucked into their underpants. However, over the last week, I learned I have a threshold for how much shame I am willing to intercept.

When I see certain customers, I hold my breath.

This is not related to the anxiety holding-my-breath. No. This is due to their foul odors. One older man who hasn’t bathed/washed his clothes/worn deodorant in a while. One woman who wears the same filthy coat with an accumulation of stink from many days’ (years?) wear without deodorant. Another bedecked with a cloud of mothball smell so strong it’s damn near visible. Another with terrible gingivitis.

You get the idea! My question remains, perpetually, how do these people not know?? And once knowing, then adjust?? It is my understanding that these folks all have access to a laundry facility, which may be correct or incorrect. Who knows! It’s not my business, so I don’t insert myself.

However, last weekend, an older woman I had never seen before walked past me and I instantly smelled bodily secretions. Definitely urine, but based on what I saw on the back of her dress, probably more. I froze. And then called our security guy on the walkie talkie. And made a mental note of what seat she sat in so I could Lysol wipe it thoroughly later.

He, angel of a man that he is, came right up and was the bearer of dirty news, and directed her to the bathroom. As if pooing one’s pants unknowingly wasn’t sign enough, I determined officially that there was a mental handicap at play when after visiting the loo, she sat down in another chair. As soon as she left, I took a wipe and went to town, lamenting that peoples’ minds and bodies betray them, and also that I was not compassionate enough to address it with her myself.

As Phoebe Buffet sings, “smelly cat, smelly cat… it’s not your fault.” Maybe someday I will advance from talking to people about toilet paper to talking about accidents, but all I know in the meantime is that I can empathize with nurses and other healthcare workers (who absolutely do not get paid enough).