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

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, lists, meditation, writing

Activities formerly known as eye-rolled at

Just can’t stay away from ending sentences/fragments with prepositions.. Sorry, not sorry!

Moving right on, I thought I would address Mental Health Awareness Month, aka May, our current month. I will be using comics from Sarah Scribbles’ new book Herding Cats in what is hopefully not problematic in terms of copyright, but instead inspirational to have you go buy the book or check it out from the library because all of her books are fantastic.

As with many people who experience depression/anxiety/other mental health issues, periods of my life are up and relatively worry-free, and periods are fraught with self-doubt, negative self talk.. aka times when I annoy myself, yet also antithetically isolate so I’m not seeing anyone other than myself, and many aspects of my life look lame, uninteresting, boring and shitty.

Right now, thoughts-wise, I’m pretty good! Springtime is warm and sunny and helpful to my mood. I am loving not drinking coffee (as much as I can despite missing the taste, but Larry David points out, the ritual of drinking tea from a mug in the morning is the same as drinking coffee from a mug in the morning) because I am far less jumpy/tense. There has been a sharp uptick in my weekly exercise.. in that I have started routinely exercising each week, sometimes even more than once. Lately I have been reading many good books, and have tons of summer family events and friends’ weddings/general fun to look forward to.

 

Seriously, go purchase/borrow this book. It looks like this:

ss2

As you can see from my pirated photos of her awesome work, she too suffers from periods of anxiety and depression, often (not pictured) due to current events and from social situations. I’m coming to her same conclusion, that making ‘stuff,’ in her case art and in my case writing, is a solid way to avoid or process the crap going on around me, or at least to clear my head/escape my thoughts for a little while.

Another way to do that is meditation. I have gotten a little lazy on that front, and often only use a meditation app to fall asleep rather than doing my standalone exercises. I also have found the perfect teacher/meditation class. It has been great. Yesterday, though, I learned that she will be moving the class from Saturday afternoon (yay weekend availability!) to Thursday evenings (nooo, my job is at night!). Under typical mental health circumstances, I would never have gone back. However, this is the longest yoga studio relationship I have ever had, and I’m flipping COMMITTED at this point. I even stopped lying to them to get that sweet, sweet student discount. Instead, throughout the summer at least, I intend to ask my boss if I can work different hours so that I can make it there in time, because it is that important in centering and rejuvenating me. Where once I disdained the soft, gentle yoga-teacher speak, now I see it as worthy of aspiration.

In addition to yogic calm, I once eye-rolled and avoided the following items HARD and have now come to love, advocate, or at bare minimum tolerate them:

  • Clogs (love, for their comfort and versatility, despite my BFF thinking they say “I’ve given up!”)
  • Tucked-in shirts (tolerate)
  • Meditation (love AND advocate)
  • Alternative medicine of any kind 
  • Visible panty lines (Then, the SHAME! The SHAME! Now, tolerate)
  • Emoting of any kind –other than laughter– in public (the SHAME! The SHAME!!!)
  • Nonfiction books: during my young and naive school years, I didn’t realize that after you’re done with school, there are no homework assignments. My version of self-directed learning involves a lot of nonfiction.
  • Therapy: when my parents divorced, my mom insisted that I see a shrink. She undoubtedly read somewhere in her hippie newsletters that children going through these traumatic life events needed to talk. I resented the fact that she was throwing money ($125 per HOUR) down the drain, and who the hell was this “doctor” lady? I didn’t need to talk, and so I didn’t. I sat in her office and stared at everything on the walls and thought occupying thoughts until I was too bored to maintain my moody silent protest.

That last youthful judgment brings me to my next point. Even though I’m feeling good right now, I am making an appointment with a therapist. For real this time (though I have said I should probably go for proooobably four years). Because for the first time, I actually want to do the work necessary to keep myself operating NOT on a keep-to-myself-because-I-don’t-want-to-expose-my-lameness-to-my-friends-all-sad-sack-like kind of wavelength. It’s poopy digging into the dark recesses of past heartbreaks and traumas, but at least for me it’s looking pretty necessary to prevent future lows. “The work” here is an emotional extension of the zen principle of non-resistance. Feeling the feels & releasing them to drain their power. Lightening the load by talking–to friends who have been there, getting to know the kindness of new friends, or to the olde standbys of supportive family, or to a therapist–generally makes it better.

Emote-avoidance, begone! Let us celebrate mental health progress with clogs and St. John’s Wort!

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.

audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, social media, writing

Being 30 on Facebook

Not long ago, our public library did a large renovation and an entire floor was completely closed and furniture dispersed. This displacement meant that the computers were now in a more central space near the entrance. This more prominent location meant there was far less inappropriate viewing behavior, ie. anything you wouldn’t want someone accidentally viewing over your shoulder. I’ll leave that to your imagination. That said, there are many regulars who tend to sit at the computers for lengths of time. One of them spends his internet time arguing with people in the comments sections on Facebook. Unclear whether he ever knows the people he’s debating, but he gets heated. When he gets heated, he either 1) slams his fingers onto the keyboard, loudly or 2) hums, loudly or 3) hums, loudly and aggressively. When I say loudly, I mean audible from a great distance. He knows he does these things, and library staff (librarians and building monitors alike) have spoken to him many times about respecting the library computers and not disrupting fellow customers.

Another repeat customer I helped with his resume similarly had a volume modulation issue. Upon seeing me when he walked in, he would somehow not knowingly shout “HEY! TEACHER LADY! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? CAN YOU HELP ME WHEN YOU GET A SECOND?” I generally love working on resumes, but always felt a prickly sense of dread and wished that I hadn’t told him that I worked at a nearby school too.

Hip to the noise concerns of many customers, I was not the only one who felt dread and anger rise when certain customers spoke/shouted/watched videos without headphones. But as much as I despise those anxiety-inducing behaviors, one day I was proud of them.

A well-dressed middle aged white woman asked me a question at the desk, and, glancing at the row of people using computers, she asked me with a plain sense of disgust, “what are they doing on the computers?”

Pretending to be confused, I responded, “anything that you would need a computer to do…”

She scoffed. “But, why here? Don’t they have computers at home?”

Now, I didn’t have to pretend to be confused. Did this lady really just ask me that?

As calmly as I could, I said, “maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but we have them in order for people to use them.”

She accepted this, walked away, and I feared my explanation did nothing to pull her from her cozy privilege cocoon.

Some people do not have computers at home. Maybe they have one, but don’t have internet. Maybe they don’t have air conditioning, and don’t want to sit in their home as they apply for jobs for hours. Maybe they are using our databases to do genealogical research, or print out their boarding passes, or print out really anything! I was outraged that this woman had been so blatantly judgmental at the “riff-raff” who sit at the public computers, because it is their right to do so! The public library is for everyone! That is literally the point of our existence!

Now, though I do not myself spend time on Facebook at the library, I spend plenty of time on it at home. Last week, I did something that I ordinarily hate: I wrote about my feelings and shared it on Facebook. My perception of people who do this is that they are attention-seeking, craving validation, and emoting for emoting’s sake. Oversharers.

My intention was much simpler: I hadn’t felt like posting anything in two weeks, when I generally try to write at least once per week, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about except being sad. Didn’t even bother tying it to anything library-related. It was an off-brand, atypically personal post. And, I want to address the phrase “lightly depressed” that I used. I was not talking about the past two weeks of crying over my failed relationship. It had been a while since I was just plain sad about something specific, and I didn’t distinguish it as a separate entity from depression. Being sad can exist away from depression. I used that phrase not to diminish depression, because the point of depression is that it is not finite; it permeates through time and darkens joy. Depression is when you can’t climb out of the dark cloud. When I used the phrase lightly depressed, I meant my tendency of the last two years to say no rather than yes, to stay in rather than do any activity out of the house, to remain stationary when I needed to get up and moving my body. Functional depression, as I could always go to work, make dinner plans with friends and take trips to friends’ weddings. I wasn’t trapped in my bed for days, pondering the meaninglessness of life and futility of love like I have before. I just didn’t want to go to the grocery store or cook.

anx

And Facebook is not the place to be when you are depressed. As a 30-year-old, I see a feed of baby photos, engagement announcements, weddings, pregnancy/career milestones and gorgeous views from hikes and vacations with smiling significant others. As I read in (the fantastic) America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman, people are likely to share the highlights of their lives on social media rather than the struggles, proclaiming their happiness and picture-perfect, filtered lives. The sense of inadequacy I feel when I see acquaintances’ posts is enough to make me want to leave Facebook. The happy is brilliant, blinding, and I can’t help but compare my circumstances unfavorably. And I did so, successfully deactivating for around a month in the fall. (I reactivated before my birthday so I could collect the yearly messages.)

The added nonsense of violated privacy agreements and Russian meddling and all the political posts (of which I am very guilty of sharing with many expletives) has prompted me to legitimately defend to myself why I am still using the site. Once, I wanted to hoard the photo documentation of years of my life, since people my age don’t generally have photo albums that aren’t digital. Now, I am moving toward cultivating non-attachment, so should be willing to let go of this (possibly vain and controlling) desire for a digital footprint.

But, now I have this blog, and I predominantly share it with my Facebook network. As a digital tree in the woods, if a blog is written but Facebook friends aren’t there to click on it, does it have a readership? There are ways to follow my blog (scroll up on the page and the word “follow” appears at the bottom right–click it!), but I want people to read what I write, and so don’t want to deactivate and lose the visibility.

Plus, the reaction I got from friends and family last week was pure and good. Many reached out, because as much as I can turtle and not want to talk about Feelings, I have an awesome support network who are there to help. An analog network, away from the internets.

So, thank you for that, reader-friends/loved ones! After a weekend accidentally spent completely analog and instead with stationery, meals with girl friends, meditation and reading in the park–as well as a brief surprise visit by Spring, I’m back in the writing saddle. And dedicated to using Facebook for its merits: connecting with a broad group of cool people I somehow know.

empathy, information, kindness, librarians, strangers

The Ones Who Call

Answering the phone at work is one of my favorite activities. I already like talking on the phone, which is more than many people can say. However, when people call in to the public library (note: I did not say THEIR public library, since we get scores of calls from far, far away), there are good chances the encounter will be positive. This is because:

  1. The caller is likely to be older. Maybe they are physically restricted and can’t make it in, but gosh darn it, they are pleasant on the phone. All it takes is a sweet old lady calling me ‘dear’ and telling me I’ve been ‘so very helpful’ and I am struck with a good mood for at least two hours.
  2. Often, a mobile customer is asking a brief question, ie “are you open?” or “do you have [this book]/a color printer/paper federal tax forms?” and in a ten second interaction, I can provide a solution to their information need. One reason I’m a librarian is that I actively enjoy answering questions and sharing information.
  3. The library employee maintains a healthy amount of control in the event that a customer becomes demeaning or inappropriate. While this does not happen often, in person or on the phone, I treasure the ability to not have to endure verbal abuse for longer than it takes me to say, “sir/ma’am, if you continue to disrespect me like this, I will hang up.”
    • My wise and talented colleague taught me a librarian lesson (our version of life lessons) one day with a customer who wanted to babble with no perceived purpose. She told the man politely, “I’m sorry, I have a customer here and I need to hang up.” And then she did! It was crazy how simple it was to reclaim her time.

That said, phone interactions can go south in many ways. You never know who will call in. There is one frequent caller who asks for various conversions of inches to millimeters and for phone numbers to businesses in the United Kingdom. It is not her questions that rub me the wrong way, but her snappish, pushy tone, and the way she does not believe what I report to her. There are weeks where patients in psychiatric facilities call us and we have to encourage them to call priests or pastors because we cannot answer their questions about sin and forgiveness. There are teens who clearly have not used their cell phones for the purposes of communicating voice-to-voice with other human beings, and people who get angry at us because we can’t hear them due to their poor cell reception.

When I worked in Youth Services, we received many phone calls from one mother whose son visited the library for many hours each school night, and Saturdays, and Sundays. He did not have a cell phone, and she knew to find him there. She called once and asked for her son and when I said sure, I will go get him, she lashed into me. “Why do you know my kid?” The thing about librarians who work with kids is that we get to know them in a safe space: what they like, what they read and what magic makes them who they are. We care about them. This is what makes good youth librarians good at their jobs. I told her that I knew him because he was there every day, and she lost it. She screamed at me about how I was judging her for having to work and not being home with her child. She told me she was tired of us at the library and how if we thought her kid was there too much, she wouldn’t let him go there after school. In between saying that that was not necessary, that of course he is welcome and we all really liked him, she projected all of her guilt and single-parenting issues directly onto me. Though I was conscious I didn’t deserve her misplaced anger, I was still rattled. When she was done berating me, I brought him to the phone to talk to her. Then I took a break to walk it off.

And then there is thank-you-for-taking-my-call guy (TYFTMCG). He earned his moniker because he begins each and every call by verifying the library employee’s name and then thanking us for taking his call. If he is not hard of hearing, he does a very convincing portrayal of someone who is, and he is notorious at our library. An elderly gentleman, he never visits our location. Just calls. All the time.  The first time I had him on the line, he verified my name. “Emory?” “My name is Emily. How can I help you?” “Ah, Emory. Great. Thank you for taking my call.” There is no one on our staff who he does not irritate. After the second call, I memorized the last four digits of his phone number (0241), so I could at least know I was headed into the Emory phone calls, mustering some degree of preparedness.

He asks inane, often un-answerable trivia questions that feel like when your mom asks you “what restaurant did we go to that one time?” or “what is that thing you were talking about that one time when we were at [that restaurant]?” He asks us to repeat our guesses around a dozen times, and often, to spell them, often a dozen times. On one such call, he asked me the name of places where pregnant girls go for counsel. This led to me near-shouting “pregnancy crisis centers!?! Abortion clinics?!!” over and over again. He also doesn’t accept your responses, which means he denies you have found the answer the whole call, and often calls back to try to speak to a different employee.

Many people have competing theories about whether he is annoying on purpose/calls us for crossword clues or Jeopardy questions, but my theory is that he calls us because he probably has dementia and forgets things he has heard about. I believe we are his external memory.

I have been thinking about this man and that boy lately. No one had seen the kid or his mother in a while, and apparently the overdue notices had come back with a forwarding address in another town, where I hope he has a new library with a great youth team. There were many dormant months when we received no TYFTMCG calls. When he called again, I was glad to hear his voice, but I’m worried that we are nearing a time when he won’t call anymore.

The phone is an exercise in kindness, in dedicating your energy to communicating with someone whose body language is absent. One bad customer service call can essentially convince anyone that the person on the other side of the phone is a fool. During my most recent shift, I returned a customer’s voicemail, and concluded my message on her machine by asking her to give us a call back. I started to give the phone number as I have done hundreds of times, paused for an awkward length, and had to conclude by stating I literally forgot our phone number, but she found it before so to try us again.

I aim to grant people as much benefit of the doubt as I hope she gave me listening to that message.

I hope she doesn’t think I’m a terrible employee. I hope she chuckles at my silliness, or understands that everyone has those days. I hope she grants that there are many reasons why the employee could have forgotten. Maybe, for example, she woke up at 6am after 5 hours of sleep, not able to fall back for another couple hours because she is moving in two weeks, breaking up with her lovely boyfriend, and her mind won’t stop, and she was in pain because her neck/shoulder muscles froze from all the tension she’s carrying but she didn’t want to call out to her very-part-time job and she is trying to make the best of the day, though she can neither remember the library’s phone number nor turn her head.

So, yeah. Conversing on the phone is a solid indicator of who a person is in a moment in time. Call your loved ones, call your libraries, call anyone you want to vet before meeting. And be kind.