be a better human, books, community, empathy, kindness, librarians, strangers

Hate That Guy

Recently, my heart was warmed to be together, in person!, with two friends from high school that I’d lost touch with (plus my BFF). Our four-person group text has been going for about a year, and this re-connection-even by text-has been a source of support and grounding for all of us through what has been a particularly rocky and challenging year. It has helped me particularly to see what amazing, strong, quirky women my childhood friends have become because this reminds me that I have the same strong/quirky woman foundation as they do. Our school taught us to be independent and ourselves, and these women tug me back to these roots. My roots.

The texting was cathartic, it was rejuvenating, it was entertaining, and it was a reminder that none of us have to go through anything alone. To coordinate to be in the same room at the same time, much less for an entire weekend, was stellar. If adulthood is 98% scheduling, we were (at least for one weekend) kickass adults.

We laughed, we cried, we reminisced… about the various poor choices we made, our favorite teachers (hi Jeanne and Tim and David and Psi!) and about our yearbook. I think it should be nationally recognized when high school yearbook staffs are willing to be together in person as adults, because that process could have torn anyone apart. Our three personalities (all stubborn, one more creative and one more dictatorial) clashed like crazy. Senior year was rough, as we struggled to learn the design program, generate a vision and see it through to production, all while managing not to kill each other. It was tense, and I apologized to my co-editors this reunion weekend for being a know-it-all yearbook tyrant.

We made several mistakes with our yearbook (all very obvious in print) that I regret deeply. This document we created is not perfect. One of the biggest blemishes I did NOT cause, however, was a senior page that took a loooot of creative license. No one else remembered or found this page offensive, but I announced “UGH I hate her for ruining our yearbook.”

My friend, not a saint but not NOT a saint, looked at me with such confused sadness, and it shriveled me and my childish tendency to react with anger and judgment. Of course I don’t hate her for any reason, much less a page of a book from 13 years ago.

This tendency shows up though! The one DJ on my favorite radio station (hate her), when people bypass traffic and merge at the front of the line (HATE THEM), There are plenty of individual customers who come into the library who cause the collective boiling of staff blood. Whether this is because they make inappropriate comments, corner us and keep us pinned down with their seemingly endless questions that we answer over and over and over again as we try to exit, or let their five-year-old run unattended through the library or plopped down in front of a computer for hours on end…. but that is just one person.

In addition to the above highly irritating behaviors with every member of the staff, one particular evening, this one particular man tried to guess my religion (continually naming varying sects of Christianity) despite my (I thought) clear nonverbal communication to discontinue doing so. I believe people should not ask this of strangers, nor should they guess. It is, to my common sense, rude and invasive.

This man cornered my coworker last week and she literally disappeared for 40 minutes. I could not believe the audacity of this dude, and when she came back, I let her know.

I hate that guy! (I continued, near-ranting, for an uncomfortable amount of time.)

She interrupted at times to say “well, I think he actually needed the help today” and when I finally paused for breath, she told me that one of his sons had just died, at age 27, from an infection that started from a broken arm.

Fuck.

I almost cried: of sadness for him, of disappointment in myself. It was almost comical, how riled up I got on this, of all days to get riled up about the guy.

My coworkers did not appear to think I was a horrible person (though I had my doubts). The book I am reading (and have been since April, slowly digesting its wonder) gave me exactly what I needed. The first page I opened to talked about how bodhisattvas are said to be enlightened because they are fully compassionate, and that rather than berating ourselves, we ought to channel the negativity. I thought “May all circumstances serve to awaken compassion” summed it up nicely.

READ THIS BOOK, DAMN IT. (Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha) by Tara Brach.

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Soooooo moral of the story is to “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Obvious enough, but habit makes it SO hard to implement. Change requires examining habits with a microscope, at the time they occur, and pausing enough to make a conscious choice rather than falling for the default setting.

My default is to say I HATE THAT GUY/GIRL, so that’s what I am working on, because hating isn’t a good feel. One place I might start is by using mindfulness/boundaries: if I mindfully observe that someone is making me feel uncomfortable with invasive personal questions, I need to verbalize some variation of the words “your question is personal, and I will not answer it.” At work, maybe even followed with “is there something library-related I can help you with?” And in general, checking myself before I wreck myself.

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.

be a better human, depression, empathy, family, giving, reading, social media, stuff, talking

Lightbulb Moment

I don’t know about you, but the holidays do weird things to me. Maybe it’s the expectations, the build-up to the plans and alllllll the social media posts about gifts received, proposals accepted, pregnancies announced. I’m not alone in that I compare my life to others’ online depictions of theirs. Maybe it’s the fact that when an acquaintances asks how the holidays were, the mutually assumed answer is somewhere along the lines of “great! Relaxing! Quiet! Perfect!” And it is definitely the pressure of the societal narrative for New Year’s Eve. Overall, the holidays can leave me feeling single af, jealous and lame.

This one didn’t.

This season, there was plenty of weird. Plans that fell through, my underemployed status yet going to work for a few hours when family was in town… And then the sympathy cards.

Three people in my circle lost parents this holiday season. I knew none of these people, but I know the loved ones they left behind. I know that no sympathy card ever feels just right. Each one got closer and closer to me and my daily life. And as an empath, I hurt for these people. I hope that I can help share their sadness and pain, and that they come to find peace.

But despite being a little sad, I did not stay in my room during all of my downtime. I did not get angry at myself each time I slept past my alarm (often). I did not beat myself up about not having plans. I did not fixate on my closet (at least, not more than usual) or try to find comfort in retail therapy (JK JK I did both those last two, but in the interest of getting rid of things I don’t wear). So, some of my old habits sneaked in, in the form of spending money I don’t have and some social anxiety stuff, but overall I was more present.

Nothing drastically different than what I usually do, but this time I was nicer to myself about it. Just let myself do what I was going to do, without wishing I were somewhere else doing something fancier with more people, more fun, more photos or more gifts. In the interest of doing/getting more of what I need, I called people. I wrote and mailed letters, gave myself permission to watch Netflix, snuggled with my cats, and read some books. I enjoyed spending time with my mom and brother during their visit (and picked fewer fights than usual). I made my New Year’s Eve plan on New Year’s Eve and though I only knew one person there, it turned out to be great because that one person is a great friend. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to/need not to be alone, I only need to reach out to my people and be honest with them (hard for people who want to be self-reliant/independent).

My holidays may have been at times great or quiet, but they certainly were not perfect.  They were indicative of real life and the pleasures and pains that arise from it. While the rest of the world is feeling like “back to work, aka real life,” I:

  • a) don’t have to go back to work yet–don’t be jealous, as I would LOVE TO. Seriously, if you have something you will pay me to do, I am ALL EARS. Especially if it is cleaning out your closet, because that is one of my passions in life. I would also do this for free lol
  • b) never left real life.

The holidays were the affirmation and reboot I needed, proof that I am making baby steps towards being a better family member and less anxious, more fulfilled human (though still obviously have plenty of work to do).

As I mentioned, I frequently judge myself for not having plans/staying in. During these times, my room felt more like a cave. Yesterday, I happened to look up, and I saw that one of the bulbs in the light fixture had burned out. It undoubtedly has been out for months but I was too depressed/didn’t pay enough attention to investigate/find a solution.

There may not be a better symbol for 2018. The room (and year) is already looking a little brighter.

anxiety, be a better human, books, coworkers, librarians, meditation, talking

Balance.. and quitting

I just finished a book I checked out in June. (I know, I know, I rag on others for their excessive renewals. But I wasn’t done! And I have the hookup for renewals!)

I remember fondly the day I checked this book out. It was a weekday afternoon, and I had just gotten sushi for lunch with my friend and coworker. She returned to work, and I told another coworker I was there to pick up the book waiting for me on the hold shelf. Because we are book people, she was interested: what book was it!? Her unasked questions, I know well: was it new? Was it a novel or nonfiction? Should she know about it?

The gleam in her eye turned to laughter when I showed her: a random, nondescript, nonexciting book published in 1992 about Kundalini yoga practice. I was the only one excited about this book. And I wasn’t even that excited. After all, it took me a while to start, and a whiiiile to complete.

This is partly an effect of reading multiple books at a time: sometimes it takes me ages to finish a physical book. Audiobooks zip by. But turning the actual pages takes time (especially since I check out too many at once). Staring at my giant pile of library books, topped by books people have loaned me, it becomes harder to get through books that don’t hook me right away.. or lag in the middle.. or ones that I set aside in order to read something else.. It’s summer, so I’m giving myself a break on how much time it takes to complete my ever-replenishing piles! I’m out doing summery activities and not reading as much! I gave myself permission a couple weeks to not post a blog (mini-quitting).

And when I am reading, I want to enjoy it. As good as Just Mercy is, it is also about people wrongfully convicted and their prison stories. As far as I’m concerned, we are on a break. I’ll return to it eventually, but it wasn’t what I needed right now. As interested as I was in Infectious Madness, there is only so much research I can plod through before I say I GET IT I GET OK OK OK. It is interesting–in some cases, various psychiatric disorders can be brought about by bacteria, but there were just. so. many. pages. I gave myself permission to quit after dutifully reading half of it.

But the 1992 Kundalini book, I would not allow myself to give up. I needed to read it. No matter how farfetched and ridiculous it sounded. Even if it meant I stopped and started and stopped and started. This form of yoga/meditation, based entirely on chakras (energies) and the vibrational effects of various sounds, is woo-woo and far out and yet, all I know is that I leave classes in a better, more balanced mood. (That is why I like it so much.) Actual words I spoke to other drivers after class today: “you’re so silly!” and “hello, traffic! I am prepared for you!” It’s weird. Weirdly positive. Especially compared to the expletives that usually make up my communication with fellow roadmates.

Since I can’t always get to class, I read this book and can do more of the breathing exercises and movements at home (once I get over how weird it feels to do them by myself; somehow it is more natural in a group). Kundalini (movement/meditation), combined with exercise, nature and connection to others are what keep me from falling back into the everyday rut of anxiety and negativity. Even so, I can still slip into those habits within hours of working out, or another positive experience of some kind. I need to build and use my anti-anxiety toolkit, using whichever methods give me success, as weird as they may be. There is no quitting in anxiety–on either end.

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.

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.

be a better human, books, family, giving, kindness, lists, reading, talking

Mothers, loving and liking them

In all my stages of employment (retailing, teaching, nannying, librarianing) I have worked with lots of mothers, and on some catering occasions, sometimes even worked with my own. I’m surrounded by them. Many of my friends are having their first or second babies, even more social media acquaintances. Maybe it is my biological clock waking up, but I’ve tuned in closer lately to how these women relate to and talk about their children: some combination of everyday responsibility, joy, exhaustion, stress and devotion. I like (and love a few of) these women, and I love hearing about their relationships with their kids through their eyes. Whether the objects of discussion are infants, tweens or twenty-somethings, their stories give me perspective on how at any given age I got along with my own fantastic momma.

So far the only nuggets of info I’ve shared about my mom are:

  1. She has told me for years to write a blog (and book).
  2. She nags me to take care of myself, which is sometimes annoying, but this happens because she cares about me, her firstborn and only daughter.
  3. She puts her unread hand-me-over books from her BFF Kathy on my bookshelf that she is babysitting for me quasi-indefinitely.

These are all true! But they are hardly the whole picture.

First off, though I do advocate reading all the books you own and display, bookshelves are a convenient place to rest them before you get to them. Mom does read books, but I have to physically put the book into her hands; I used to just tell her titles that moved me and that I thought she’d like, but she would lose the envelopes she wrote them on. I suggested she use the library. Then one August I visited to find a book with a NEW! MARCH! sticker and calculated that encouraging her to check out library books was doing a disservice to the library. When I librarian-ed her (ie. asking in a panicked tone, “what if someone else was waiting for it?” and guilting with “they probably had to assume it was lost and replace it!”) she took it back to its home. As a “senior” (in numbers only), she learned from that experience that she doesn’t have to pay ANY fines or replacement fees! And they let her keep the book, to boot!

She runs a little backlog of books I now buy for her. (I learned from the 100-page library book I checked out for her with my card and its ongoing 18 renewals and started buying them.) Prone to savoring books (or just getting through a few pages before getting too sleepy to continue), it takes her a long time to finish one book. This both drives me nuts because I want to talk about the books with her, and also epitomizes intentional consuming of the content. She may have a great time taking the book slowly, where I may have devoured it and moved on. (Or, she may forget what she read the last night and proceed to spend a fortnight on one chapter. Anyone’s guess.)

And despite the backlog, I continue gifting her books. (Viva las bookstores!) I know that when I have a profound connection to a story or concept or retelling of real life events, that she will respond to it also. The books I choose for her generally resonate with us on a personal level, topics ranging from a young person who experienced loss and how he carried on (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–my mom claimed changed her life) to a nonfictional chaotic family that produces strong women (The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls–ditto), to an adult and his mother talking through life events he was too young to understand when they happened (The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt–seriously, start it already, Mom!)

I love being able to talk to my mom through the books we read in common. I love when she loves a book as much as or more than I do. I also love when we both dislike the same book (our first “official” mother-daughter book club selection H is For Hawk was more like D is for Dud/B is for Boring/O is for Overrated). Our shared opinions and similar sources for inspiration reinforce that I am something like her–even though sometimes that is not ideal, as in the case of this list that I have to recreate from memory because I wrote it out on a sticky note and lost the sticky note.

List of books I think Mom will like*

*and you might too!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (fiction, bit of a mystery!)
  • What Unites Us by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner (memoir/USA)
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders (politics, USA)
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (politics, USA)
  • The book I’m purchasing for her, so it will remain undisclosed until she receives it

At any rate, my brother and I are super lucky to both love and like our mom. We are fans of hers not only because she cooks like I read: a variety of genres, super well, and all the time. Mostly, we are fans because she is supportive, sweet and loves us a lot. I wish she would read more, and she wishes I would cook more, so each of us should probably listen to the other and balance our book time:food prep time ratios. We don’t have a ton of traditions as a three-person family, but the approximately two that we have are perfect: banana cream pie for my brother’s birthday (and my gluten intolerance means I now get just the bananas and custard, aka the best part) and wrapping our secular presents on Christmas morning, five to fifteen minutes before exchanging and unwrapping them.

Though our in-person Mother’s Day celebration has to wait until the end of the month when I’m home, I hope her sons (biological and fur) treat her extra well this weekend. Being a mom is a big job, and it seems like it doesn’t get any easier with age, so, kudos to my mom, all the moms I know (and don’t). We kids, young or grown, may fight you on a number of things, you may always embarrass us, but we love you!

gf