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, 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, coworkers, judgment, meditation, strangers

Doing it myself

One of the perks of working on a university campus, or at least the campus where I work, is a movement to support the wellbeing of employees via meditation! I felt like I had landed in the right place when not one but two (!!) colleagues mentioned that they liked to meditate / the university regularly offers not one but two (!!!!) meditation sessions open to students and employees. I was IN. And then I learned there was a free lunch provided.

Dreams come true.

For the first session, I went with a colleague who showed me the ropes (pointed out where the bathroom and free food were, in that order). Then, the leader asked us to go around the room introducing ourselves and commenting on what abundance means to us. This was prior to Thanksgiving, and that theme was popping up many places, in association with overeating, in association with gratitude for whom and what surrounds us.

I was unaware I would have to speak in front of a group of strangers… There truly is no free lunch. There was a range of tones reflected in people’s comments, from sincere and thoughtful to “lol cookies!” I wondered if anyone else was as nervous putting a short string of words together to say (in this completely nonthreatening and welcoming space). Ultimately, I did what I often do: turned bright crimson and crossed my fingers that I made sense as all the words I had planned to say vanished into the ether as soon as it was my turn and I felt all the eyes in the room shift onto me. I then repeated that process after the meditation, as the leader again had us go around the room and share further comments. Everyone else had such simple, clear and respectable responses, and I felt inadequate based on whatever verbal hodgepodge I spat out, and I assumed that everyone in the room knew I was new and didn’t belong.

I slunk away and hoped they would forget how inarticulate I was by next time. People who meditate are likely not the judgiest of humans, but my anxiety nagged at me even in my happy place.

The actual guided meditation was great. As was the salad. A free meditation class and free food? I knew I had to go back.

The problem was, when the next one rolled around, my colleague couldn’t join. I prefer to enter unknown/uncomfortable situations with a bodyguard/companion. Preferably one with more experience doing what I’m headed into, but a fellow novice will do in a pinch. A warm body is a passable security blanket.

Would I go without her?

I waffled, but thought of that sweet, sweet salad. I hadn’t packed a lunch and didn’t want to spend money… I was going!

And it was great. I walked over on my own under a blue sky, the crisp winter air on my face. The second time around, I was an old hat. I knew the drill. I loaded up on salad and started chatting with the woman sitting next to me. The opening question was easier (what is your favorite part of December?) and again spanned the range of sincere to “lol cookies!” I could answer this one without bumbling.

The second time around, I focused on the meditation (calming) and not the vocal contributions or potential judgment thereof. And I walked back solo through the cold, bringing some zen back to my colleagues.

anxiety, career, community, coworkers, depression, kindness, meditation, writing

Goodbye, library

Subtitle: holy radio silence, Batman!

It has been three months of stress and movement and decision-making, which is my least favorite kind of making. My blog has been silent this whole time because I haven’t wanted to write. Or, I didn’t want to write without knowing the conclusion, but the spark for this post existed a month ago; consider the rest a “here goes!” rather than a definitive resolution/conclusion/tying up of loose ends. There are still so many loose ends. Anyway…

—-

I have heard of family traditions where when they drive away from their house upon moving out, they ceremonially say, “goodbye, house!”

This was not my family’s tradition. We were too busy covering or not covering our emotions, as I don’t think we ever moved out of a house with only positive, looking-forward excitement. There were always reasons to move, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like change.

I still don’t. But as I provided the last SEVEN YEARS’ worth of addresses for a background check for a new position, I couldn’t even remember one of the eight addresses/apartment number from that time period. For funsies, I took an average of how long I lived in each place (min= 3 months, max= 2 years) for a less-than-ideal 10.25 months.

All this to say: of course, I’m moving again. And this time, I’m moving away from the most consistent “home” and family I have had in my adult life. I have to say “goodbye, library.” More reliable and consistent than any living quarters has been my part-time public library. Though not always perfect (what workplace is?), I have found community and learned so much from this place. I love it there, and no matter how bad a series of days I was having, coming to work there or just stopping in and seeing my colleagues was a source of light and pride. Not only do I love knowing and working with coworkers and customers, I, no joke, am such a nerd that my first thought at the start of the ‘should-I-leave?’ thought process was, “I can’t possibly move; I have so many books on my for-later shelf!” But as we all know, libraries are much more than books. Especially my library.

—-

And, as the case goes when I force myself into plans I’m not ready for, I recognized what I had done super quickly. The move was something I thought I “should” do, not what I wanted to do at that exact moment in time. It had been The Plan, and who am I to amend The Plan? And not surprisingly, the job did not feel like a place I would want to call home. The living situation, absolutely. I am grateful to have such wonderful people who consistently open their homes to me and make me feel welcome and cozy. I love my family, and don’t like disappointing them.

But I don’t love movement for movement’s sake. I needed to move away from my toxic job. I needed to shake myself out of the funk that the job allowed/harbored/caused (depending on how much responsibility I want to claim). But what I’ve learned through meditating is that often when I want to run, it is a means of avoidance. Resistance. And resistance is futile. It is futile to resist negativity, because ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Unless I address and correct the problems that made me unhappy in the first place, I will carry that negativity and unhappiness wherever I move. As a wise person told me, sometimes I need to stay still and work through “it” rather than trying to leave “it” behind.

So, I did end up saying goodbye to one library. I probably should (should-ing all over myself) have made that move much sooner, in order to support healthy boundaries and surround myself with people who inspire me and help me grow instead of the opposite. But I have spent almost every day this week at my happy place library, or in the company of the wonderful people who work there. They have invited me to book and writing events, and urged me to keep writing. They, as well as my tribe at home, have encouraged me about the job search and stated that above all, they want me to be happy and do what’s best for me. And that community, support and love from both places is more than I can ask for, especially when I lose trust in my decision-making and ability to know what is best for me.

My priority is to rebuild my career confidence (and confidence in general?), and to find a place where I will like what I do on a daily basis. This also means doing more things I like and that are good for me like meditating, writing, exercising, engaging with new people and experiences… all those things that bolster my strength to face and work through anxiety. Somewhere in the stress of decision-making and planning a move, many of those intentions fell by the wayside. Having anxiety requires constant vigilance! Being mindful means making a habit of noticing what my emotions are doing, and reconnecting to my body and the world outside myself. Like in one of my favorite Curious George quotations, for me, it is so easy to forget.

Unlike Curious George, this story doesn’t have a pleasing ending yet. But I do promise to be more present for all the people close to my heart, whether geographically or figuratively.

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.

books, bookstores, community, coworkers, kindness, librarians, lists, strangers

All in a day’s work / when to call 911

I love my part-time job. It is a bustling public library, and this Saturday there were hardly any open seats to be found. I did not mess up/misinform anyone, and I fully remembered passwords and phone numbers! It was overall a great day full of happy customers, right up until someone had to call the police.

Here is a lengthy list of customers I encountered. It is a lengthy list instead of actual paragraphs because I am lazy.

  • a young gentleman about 8 years old just approached the desk, his eager expression paired with a precocious personality, capped off (hehe) with a safari hat. He was returning a library card he found on the ground outside. As my colleague was calling its new owner (she just got the card today), I recognized walking by me the young man from The Ones Who Call, though his red hair has darkened a fair amount since last I saw him.
  • guy who taught me and another 20-something coworker how to change typewriter ribbons (also the only customer who uses floppy-disk reader)
  • guy who chatted me up for an uncomfortably long time and when he learned I worked at a school, wanted me to tutor his daughter (same guy who keeps newspapers for 4 hours inconsiderately)
  • old guy lawyer who wants me to tutor him in “computers” because I showed him how to get a DVD to play. (Hint: by not having a broken DVD drive, and inserting the DVD.)
  • phone calls, all answered by separate people who remarked about bad connection where we couldn’t hear the customer (x4, very annoying) and when the call finally came through, the coworker who answered knew the woman and talked to her for some time. She was calling for a James Patterson book, and spoke at length with my colleague because her husband has recently died. If I had answered the phone, I wouldn’t have known her or his name–but my colleague did, and shared with her her remembrance of his daily library ritual for 8 years as he picked up her books. She told me we started shipping the books home two years ago, so she hadn’t seen him. She felt for the customer. This coworker is a sweet, gentle lady who once gave me a shirt she bought for her daughter because she “bought it for my daughter at the outlets, she doesn’t want it, but I know it will look good on you!”
  • lady caller who asked if we have scanners: yes! How much do they cost? Nothing! Thanked me profusely when she came in.
  • spotted from across the floor two teen girls trying to eat a croissant (the flakiest of the foods are generally frowned upon, as the signage indicates). One was looking directly at me, head lowered in the international sign of trying-not-to-get-caught, which is the opposite of furtive. Busted. Maintaining the eye contact, she re-bagged the croissant.
  • sweet lady who is in here all the time but doesn’t have a card with us asked for a new true crime book about that athlete who murdered someone also by James Patterson (this guy has eleventy million ghost writers and produces eleventeen billion books a year), and because she couldn’t check it out, she wanted to know how much the book would cost her. I told her how much it would be at the local independent bookstore, and then how much on Barnes & Noble, then Amazon. She thought that a lower price at BN meant maybe it wasn’t selling well. I explained how bestselling authors’ books go directly to the bestseller’s promotional price in the hopes that more people will buy them. Myth busted.
  • gentleman in his late 70s who is friendly with most of the staff. (Long ago, before I was close with him, I helped him print out his legal documents for end-of-life wishes.) Yesterday he wanted to make plans for his out of town guests visiting for Memorial Day weekend and asked for my help in museum-planning.
  • teen I used to see every day when I worked in Youth Services was surprised (or feigning it for the benefit of his girlfriend and her friend) that I remembered his name. He now has a rap name, and the friend had never heard his real name before I said it.
  • lady called asking how to checkout an ebook. She learned that even ebooks have waiting lists / can only be checked out to one person at a time
  • middle-aged woman who asked for help with ebooks, and then for a book recommendation. She was looking for something quick to read, because she had been reading such heavy books–or maybe something funny, preferably fiction. Since I’m only here one day per month and don’t get to recommend books at my full-time job, I LIVE for this question, and her desired genres match up with mine, making her my new best customer. I told her books you’ve already heard of if you read my blog: Vacationland – John Hodgman; One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul; Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng; Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty; My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul
  • Note: little girls being dragged out of the library by their fathers while protesting in French are infinitely cuter than the ones screaming and crying in English.
And then there was our building monitor, who delightedly relayed a tale from the previous night, where a lady who calls to make study room reservations (we don’t take them over the phone, but she evidently badgers) thought the library was the next Starbucks because she was asked not to have coffee near the computers. She got confrontational with him and called 911. As in the case with Starbucks, calling 911 IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE THING TO DO IN THIS SITUATION. (If you have a grievance with/are being actually harassed by someone, at least google the phone number for the local police, bypassing the EMERGENCY CALL LINE. Because that is for EMERGENCIES.) After calling 911, she apparently couldn’t stand being in the same room as the building monitor, and walked to police station… Leaving my colleague at the library to laugh with the police when they showed up.

Here are some acceptable reasons to call 911: when you hear a loud CRACK coming from our lobby because a 91-year-old lady fell and hit her head on the marble floor. When this happened, I thought she had to be dead, and I didn’t want to be the one to investigate, nor to call 911. When she realized I was paralyzed by fear of this lady dying on our floor, my coworker called and handled the emergency team’s questions. The ambulance came quickly. She did not die on our floor, was only briefly knocked out, and actually walked out of her own accord. Waved the EMTs away.

And then yesterday, two girls were not at the library any longer when one’s mom arrived to pick her up. She spent 30 minutes combing the library for her ten year old who may have walked home with her friend. Then, and only after I made two announcements on the speakers asking for her daughter by name, she called the police. This was fully warranted, but I had many questions.

Did she have the phone number for the playmate’s parents, and a call to them could have put her fears to rest? Also, why do parents continue to think the library is a babysitter? We cannot watch your children for you. There is too much else going on. I hope that these little girls walked safely home, that the mother will forever after communicate with people responsible for her child, and that the daughter is embarrassed and grounded so she doesn’t break plans with her mom ever again.

 

It has been more than three years now since I started working here, and this blue-sky, warmish weather day has made me see how many connections I have made in this town. I’m thankful for my smart, supportive, talented coworkers, and thankful I can work here even as rarely as I do. It is one of two jobs that I have worked at for longer than one year. Of course, it isn’t perfect, but it’s busy, full of (mostly) good people. To love this library is to love informing, sharing with and belonging to the community I’m a part of.

bookstores, coworkers, librarians, talking

(That) Kind of A Manager

My current position is not perfect. However, in the interest of complaining less (which is good for you!) and focusing on positivity instead of negativity, I thought I would address my favorite part of my job, as well as celebrating some quality people who have shaped who I am in the workplace.

I supervise student employees. They are mine to boss around — er, I mean, assign/delegate tasks — though I do not schedule them or serve as their go-to contact. I am there to answer their questions, back them up with patron-related problems, and I ask them for help with tasks. They (mostly) oblige good-naturedly. Building relationships with young people has always been one of my favorites, and it influenced my choice to major in Education, to pursue student teaching a second time despite a disastrous first try, to nanny, and to work as a teacher-librarian. Of course, my college students are very different than the toddlers I used to babysit (namely in their affinity for curse words and their showing up with visible “love bites”), but deep down I just like being around people and often younger people are more open to talking and connecting with someone they don’t know well.

I loved training the newbies: showing them the ropes and fielding their questions when new situations pop up. One student at the beginning of the year was so stunned at how old some of our materials are because they had been published the same year his grandma had been born. It was sweet to see his awe at how the information within had existed as long as his grandma, and to see him think about how the book’s field of study had likely changed.

Even more than the work-related conversations, I love hearing them talk about what’s going on in their real lives: work, school, family. I love urging them, seniors or otherwise, to seek out resources that the University offers that they either don’t know about or have the motivation to utilize (here’s looking at you, Career Services :). I love listening to the Sunday girls speak in Spanglish with each other and get excited that I can understand roughly 75%. I am impressed when other students speak in fluent Hindi because it sounds so complicated, but they, bilingual, have been using it since birth. They are pre-med, nursing, engineering, or bio majors and I know I never had to study that hard in college (high school, maybe).

Whereas some students keep entirely to themselves, glued to their laptops or phones their whole shifts, the students who talk to me are my favorites. They tell me about their roommates wanting the heat up way too high, their conferences in Pittsburgh (the buildings are all brick–too much of the same color!), their public speaking assignments, faraway summer internships they’ve lined up (rent is insanely high in CA! Owning real estate and letting money roll in is such a goal!), their minors–majors stress them out, but their minors are fun passion projects like theatre, which involves set building/design and props in particular, creativity in general. The kids have wild stories — one girl humbly told me her family store was robbed over the summer, that she and her dad were held at gunpoint. She smiled and said “it was scary” but that the police caught the perpetrator shortly afterward, and did not appear shaken in the least.

And last week, during my last hour of work before a pre-announced snow day, I asked the young adults working what they were doing on their day off, and they asked me the same. My plan was to watch Coco, and hearing that, one student LIT UP. She is not one of my warm-and-fuzzy students, but she could not stop smiling about my watching it. This 20-year-old told me about how she loves the soundtrack and listens to it sometimes, and she warned me I would cry. (She was completely right.) The four of us then had a fifteen-minute conversation about “kid” movies, babysitting and its merits, and I shared my lone horror story from the single time I ever accepted a job substitute teaching kindergarten. (ONCE WAS ENOUGH. Props to all the kindergarten teachers.) I left for home that night happy for the day off, but happier to share so much dialogue, such a connection with someone young enough that I could have babysat over a movie I hadn’t even watched yet.

[THEN I watched it, and holy moly, I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously, so beautiful. Stop everything and go request it from the library. I’ll wait here!

…Great, glad you took care of that. You too will soon be able to share in the magic.]

More than anything, though, I was happy that I get to be kind of, sort of a manager, because I get to work with some cool young people. I’m that kind of manager: real with them. I go easy on them when they are cramming for an upcoming exam. I ask them questions about their family trips to visit relatives in Colombia, and I pack and label the outgoing mail alongside them because they don’t like doing it (but I do!). I try to calm their course-related anxiety and encourage them to get enough sleep every chance I get.

The best managers I’ve had have been calm, kind and available. One such person is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, whom I watched many a customer verbally abuse at the bookstore, for any number of reasons (probably related to coupons and their applicability). Through it all, no matter how rude someone was to him, he did not take it personally, nor get nasty in response. Instead, he calmly tried to reach an acceptable solution for the customer. I never saw his hair on fire (metaphorically or literally)–even though he was the manager in charge of the schedule, he maintained one of the most easygoing, goofy attitudes complete with a smile. Working with him was relaxed and productive. When I was dumped by my first love and someone in the store tried to immediately set me up with her brother, I fled to the staff room and cried hysterically to this man until he got me laughing and ready to face the floor (if not the dating scene) again. His wife, son and daughter are lucky humans! He still texts me to check in on my birthday & remains part of my support network when it comes time to apply for new jobs. Though I never observed him outwardly showing discontent, eventually, he wanted a better schedule/higher pay, and probably a job where no one screams at him, so he no longer works in retail. But when he was in it, he was the best at accommodating schedule requests and just overall being a great guy. J, you rock!

While I was awed by J’s (and almost all of my bookstore family’s) ability to remain calm under attack, I had to experience discipline from the master some years later. My supervisor in my grad school position was professional in ways I had never known. This was the first workplace other than nannying where the roster of day-to-day contacts stayed consistent. Blessed with the privilege of a non-public workplace, this woman showed me the power of introverts. Her quiet in meetings did not signal a lack of engagement, nor lack of opinion, but she chose when, how, and to whom to express herself in a deliberate matter that best served the purposes of the team. Considering that I am often physically unable to withhold my opinions, seeing her at work was enlightening and provided me with a model for how to comport myself diplomatically in a work environment. She trusted me with projects, some from the ground up (and to only minor, occasional disappointment) and to select candidates to interview for her future graduate assistants. A private person in many ways different from myself, she and I nevertheless bonded over projects, laughs and a mutual appreciation for handwritten letters. During my time working for her, we both suffered losses: she, her beloved father and I, a significant relationship. Rather than the awkwardness that can pollute the workplace post-sad event, we took care of each other. Our respective vulnerabilities did not derail work, and we gently built each other up, one poke-of-my-head-through-her-door at a time. TT, you taught me that it is not weak to take care of yourself, that an office can be a family, and that balance between work and family is possible without sacrificing dedication to either! You serve as my benchmark for how I should carry myself at work. You rule, lady! I hope this makes it into your smile file 🙂

It is strange to me that the people with whom you spend 8+ hours each day are not your chosen inner circle of friends and family. They are a bunch of randos, and today I’m thankful for my time with these two pleasant people, a lifesaver of a current colleague (seriously, H! Mister Rogers stamps!?! Such a thoughtful gift) and my sweet students.

I’m lucky to have to be around the people I do.