Recently, I had the good fortune to spend time with a few people I used to work with and hadn’t seen in a long time. One of these awesome ladies brought her 7-month-old, so I got to snuggle with him (oh, how I’ve missed babies throughout pandemic life). The other awesome lady asked me if I’m still writing my blog, because she is so nice.. I can’t believe people I don’t interact with all the time actually read it. English teachers are my people, after all!
“Honestly… no,” I told her. Not wanting to go into the nuances of mental health, I demurred about how nothing has really happened for me to write about. I haven’t been entirely trapped in a cave of desperation, but much of this year has been painfully boring. Or just depressively boring, aka not the worst but when I’m alone and don’t have plans, my brain convinces me I have no friends and no life and I’ll be alone forever. This is extremely frustrating/distressing to me since it feels like any/all my meditation/anxiety reduction/zen/confidence/trust in the universe that I had curated was washed away at the end of last year. Or, I have to unearth it–carve it out from beneath layers of self-criticism, negative self-talk and heaps of insecurity and shame that the shitstorm of last year dumped on me.
These days, life is gently returning to ‘normal,’ including a much-anticipated switch back to working on campus, aka isolation reduction. The past two weeks, I even wrote in my planner for the first time all year! All year! Maybe it’s the vitamins, maybe it’s the weather, but I do feel like there might be something worth writing.
The fuller truth is, though, that the biggest change this year has been not working at the library. As much as it burned me out to work a part-time on top of a full-time, it has really sucked not being there. I now realize that my library was most of my social life and my local family. Missing my people aside, I did get most of my ideas from interactions from work–who is the Angry Librarian if I’m not a librarian anymore?
That just leaves Angry, and that doesn’t seem to fit–not working in a customer-facing public service job means my anger is totally gone! hahahahaha just kidding. Mostly, I just don’t think the Angry 9-5er has the same ring to it, nor are my musings particularly interesting without a bookish context.
However, until my blog identity crisis resolves, here is a list of things I was almost going to write about during my months of silence. It’s a start.
Running through the retirement community next door as a strong gust of wind pulled a barrage of helicopters from a maple tree onto the sidewalk, I passed a gentleman and we remarked about how cool it was as the little seeds pelted us and the ground in such numbers
Running on the sidewalk, I passed two people and the woman told me “good for you!” unprompted (seriously, kindness from strangers is so great)
Running on the trail, any day the sky was that pure, bright blue (with or without puffy white clouds)
FaceTime (surprise or scheduled) with my friendos who moved to another state
Assorted loved-one time
So, it seems there will be a forthcoming longer thing about running, but overall I’m crawling out of my slump. I’ll do my best to post again before it’s a new year!
Last week I logged on to my library account, like nerds do, and had only one checked out. An error! I could have sworn I had checked out multiple books. A library insider, I had definitely gone to the building, sanitized my hands, taken my temperature, recorded it in the designated google doc on the designated computer in the designated room, sanitized the thermometer, followed the arrows to pick up two tiny books, and then brought them home. The books were on my nightstand. I had, however, forgotten to check them out.
I was only in the building for maybe three minutes, and 95% of what I did was not part of the pre-pandemic skillset/the typical shift. I forgot to do the 5% that was entirely familiar and library-related. Especially considering it wasn’t the part involving sanitization, I argue that this was not a big deal, and in the regular times many of us have forgotten to check out books before we took them home. I remedied this situation right away once I realized, so no one will be expecting the titles to be available when they aren’t. No harm, no foul.
But, as anyone with anxiety, depression or a perfectionist bent will recognize, this made me question the inner workings of my mind. What is going on in there, as I forgot basic processes?
Likely, I was thinking ahead to the other errands I was running. Or I was replaying all the quippy responses I could have said in any one of the million conversations I run over and over in my head. The recursive thoughts are tough, because they can be anything from actual lived experiences (positive yet finite! Negative but persistent!) to arguments either real or hypothetical, to entertainment, to worries about the election, to worries about the future in general, to an actor’s face or a clip of dialogue that I frantically try to identify. My mind is a labyrinth of past/present, minor/major, dreams realized/dreams deferred. One thing was for sure; my working memory, overloaded by the 2020 of it all, was not working.
Recently, I heard two nuggets of wisdom. The first: “a buried emotion never dies.” It made me wonder how much of my revisiting and reminding and wearing the grooves of my brain to fit memories is in order to keep them comfortable for the long haul versus how much is my trying to work through them. And how much is an obsessive need to categorize (one of my librarian-est tendencies) because I am only as good as the information I can remember. Or maybe whoever remembers the most is the most right?
The second, from a piece of poetry I heard aloud: “we are all radiant, but sometimes we forget.” It’s true with eating right, it’s true with anything where you know the right thing to do and choose not to do it when push comes to shove until it fades from importance. As usual, mindfulness is key–to recognize the slide between what I prioritize and the choices I make or the memories I’m holding onto that keep me from living like I want to.
One anchor I’ve been cultivating relates to my childhood friend who three of us traveled to be with almost exactly one year ago. We had gone to school together as kids, and she was a marvel. She also happened to be dying. I have always run away from the hard stuff, or at least, if I have shown up, I do it quickly or from a distance (ie, with a letter). Sitting with and truly facing discomfort is not my strong suit, my own or anyone else’s. Walking up the stairs to her house for that weekend was sad and scary. When she opened the door, seeing how much weight she had lost from being sick and undergoing treatment was sad and scary. Watching her talk about her illness and mortality was sad, but it was not scary. It was inspiring, and noble, and unifying in a way only things that break you open can be. It was so deeply human.
The memories of her that pop into my mind are not all from that weekend, but many are. One is sitting next to my two friends watching her give that interview, all three of us beyond the help of tissues. One is of the only twenty minutes the two of us were alone the whole weekend, and she was warm and happy to have our company, to be together after more than ten years. The feeling was mutual.
During that conversation, I mentioned 10% Happier and she lit up, saying she had worked on that team. I froze briefly, but went with it, saying yes, it’s a great resource for new meditators. This was something we had connected over; half a year earlier, I had opened a listserv email to discover an essay with her name in an email digest and reached out to her afterwards and we had a nice chat. As loving as her energy was, she had forgotten. Justifiedly so! We hadn’t spoken in the ten years before she got sick, and she was in constant pain with limited energy. Her body and mind were under siege. I am the archivist in my friend group, and I try to document/preserve/remember everything, so sometimes gaps like these hurt. However, I understand that the connection meant something to both of us at the time, and we were together in that new moment, with or without it. We were connected and present, making another memory, regardless of not sharing the old memory. We are only human after all, and all we have is now.
Anyway, all this to say, I think about her a lot, and how she eliminated the gap between how she wanted to live her life and how she was living it. She had to do this. She had to say what she needed to say because she was running out of time. And often, this meant she was a terrible texter/user of social media. She was present for the people lucky enough to be closest to her.
There is a LOT happening every day both locally (within my intimate circle and various communities I belong to) and nationally/globally. Society has gone off the rails, and there are so many things to think/protest/speak out about. Depending how you use social media, it is mostly photos of lifestyles you may want (ie babies, spouses, houses) or political outrage. I shared all the things to be mad about, all the injustices, and… It’s all just screaming into a void unless people take their actions to the real world. And it’s so easy to completely overload maintaining a woke/activist presence on the online. As a huge empath, alive in the weirdest year and approaching the most contentious election, I had to change something. Something had to give.
So, I dropped off the face of the media. Gone are the Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone. With the help of my best friend (identifying my post-breakup behaviors as obsessive), How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price, and depending where my passwords are saved, I may never get back on… If it’s not in the Skimm/Mel doesn’t think I need to know, I may not need to know. My philosophy is not that these sites/apps are all bad, despite how much I want to fully remove myself after watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix. The idea is that I use the media for specific purposes because I choose/want to, not because I am compelled to/addicted to them or they are the default time-filler. Closing the gap between how I want to live and how I am living. Facing the memories jostling around in my head, retiring the ones that don’t serve me out of active rotation, foregoing the social media presence in order to make sure I can function and cultivate presence in real time.
During warmups for club softball games, I had a tendency of losing focus and completely not noticing when my teammates were throwing a ball at me. It was easy to get caught up in conversation; those girls are some of the funniest, smartest women I know, and I’d talk to the people next to me, or daydream, only to snap back to focus when a ball was in air, midway towards me. I don’t remember if I ever got hit or hurt, but I definitely got embarrassed. I made sure to (jokingly, but seriously) communicate to subsequent throwing partners that they needed to make sure we had eye contact before sending a ball my way. I did the two fingers pointing at my eyes and theirs for emphasis. Though I should reasonably have known that they would throw it to me since we were playing catch, plus I was wearing sunglasses, so they couldn’t even see my eyes, I asked them to call my name to make sure I was paying attention.
These days, my attention is similarly challenged, but instead of social distractions, I have my thoughts. And my cell phone. I notice it most with my cats. If I am looking at my phone, they will stand up and paw my legs, or jump on the nearest surface and try to knock the phone out of my hand. They want eye contact. If I give in, put down the phone (inevitably, I was not doing anything essential anyway) and look at their little faces, they light up. They love the undivided attention. They can tell when I’m focusing, because I put in the real effort (and give the good pets).
Never before one to comment, I viewed people who argue with acquaintances (or strangers) on facebook as people with too much time. My stomach tightens and my heart beats as if I am under attack when even reading people comment on (aka argue about) politics. This week, I delved into this world for a post or two, able to read through all of the comments, racist and reprehensible as well as measured and logical.
Let me save you a bunch of time and energy and say: it’s not super worth it to argue. Post what you’re going to post, and most people will either agree or disagree with you right away. I say right away because there are few people willing to look past their knee-jerk reaction and attempt to see from a different perspective. Every political discussion boils down to the same thoughts, from whichever side you’re on: “you’re an idiot,” “you’re brainwashed,” and my favorite–“open your eyes!”
If both sides want the other to open their eyes and quit being sheep swallowing empty political promises, to what are these eyes supposed to open? As a librarian, I am passionate about finding good, trustworthy information. The ability to identify reliable information is called information literacy, and you likely heard about it with the proliferation of fake news. Good sources mean the difference between fact and fiction/opinion/interpretation/wild conjecture/conspiracy theories. Knowing where to look is only part of the eye-opening though; the rest is critical thinking.
This is what causes the educator in me to cry, because a closed mind asks no questions. Critical thinking is allll about asking questions. Questions like “assuming this belief/fact is correct, who benefits?” or “who is missing?” Let’s practice: people are clearly very frustrated with both political parties for the various paths/candidates they have chosen. A manifestation of this: a person online said essentially all politicians are crooked, so there’s no reason or point in having faith in any party or the process. I believe this is patently false, and beyond that, it is harmful (and this type of cynicism is in itself a tool of voter suppression–why even vote? Nothing matters!).
However, asking some questions of this viewpoint might look like “Who is missing from that perspective?” I would have to respond with a hearty “literally everyone different from the person speaking it.” You are allowed to have your fond feelings for Reagan, and I know there are multitudes of reasons to dislike Bill Clinton. However, your personal experience is not true for and does not speak for everyone. Reagan’s policies targeted scores of public services and groups of people disproportionately. There are millions of people in this country; it is not just yours. What works for you may not work for anyone else! If all of the politicians are crooked, I at least want to support and get into office the ones who will enact policies that help the most people (by which I mean grant the most freedoms–freedom is kind of our thing). The current administration closes its eyes to people of color, immigrants, the poor, the sick, the queer and the gender-non-conforming. To support the president is to ignore the reality of the racist, classist system we have. I much prefer looking at my cats to looking at these harsh truths, but they are necessary to see.
And, I have to say, the educator (and human being) in me is disappointed with all of the constant personal attacks in these threads. I learned to attack ideas, not people, and I find myself asking “who raised you???” which isn’t fair. The question “who hurt you???” seems more apt (though the answer might be the same). Because the bottom line of “you’re an idiot!” is the belief that you are better than the person you are arguing with. Spoiler alert: you’re not. “Open your eyes” is less of a judgment and more of an invitation to ask more questions. If you are telling others to do so, do it yourself. If your beliefs exclude freedoms for people who are different than you, consider why you believe you deserve more. Ask questions of yourself–look for your blind spots. Then look to learn more! Learning is not always fun nor in the form of a worksheet! It takes time and discomfort. And books, y’all. Actual reading. (At the very least, intense listening to people different than you.)
And last soapbox moment, for all that is holy, if you wouldn’t say something while maintaining eye contact with them, don’t put it out into the digital world either. It makes you a coward, a bully, or a dick. Or all three.
I don’t ask others to make sure I’m looking now–I know it’s my responsibility, and so I read (and therefore learn) all the time. I find there’s so much I didn’t know I didn’t know, and more angles to every topic than I could have anticipated. I ask questions, and I keep an eye out for new resources and perspectives.
Still, the immediate reaction to an opinion starkly opposed to yours may be anger and judgment. But after that, look for the holes. Can you consider that you are wrong? Or if not wrong, that you are thinking too locally and excluding anyone who isn’t exactly like you? Can you attempt to see where the other person is coming from? Or is the ‘opposing’ mind too closed and any efforts will bounce right off? Call out lies, call out injustice, but if yes to the last question, maybe save your energy. Closed minds are closed for business (Hannah Gadsby), and I prefer politicians and fellow citizens whose eyes are open to a united way forward out of this divided hellscape.
For required reading, visit the end of this post and add the following:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I resist writing even though it is beneficial to do. Now, though, as the world is seemingly falling apart, I might try harder. Even before I would write this blog today, I spent 30 minutes on hold for Apple Care to change my password in order to update my iOS (non-essential but on to-do list for literal years), I went to the grocery store (carefully) and I made tapioca pudding. Scraping the bottom of the to-do barrel just to put off writing. I do not understand (but greatly respect) how people do this as a career.
In the interest of maintaining my sanity and eating my peas, I need to actively recognize that there are some things I don’t want to do, that feel like a hassle, and I have to do them anyway. This is ridiculous, because I really LIKE writing, but sometimes it just feels tiresome to talk about myself and my life and my thoughts and maybe my handwriting isn’t great that day and blechhh. I prefer to blog and share entertaining anecdotes or stories.
I don’t have any current stories right now. This upsets me. The library has been closed for a full week, though we are answering emails/phone calls, and people are in various states of panic and sadness. My heart goes out to the college kids who can’t return to campus for the rest of the year and have to endure professors attempting online instruction. I am not jealous of people with school-age children going stir crazy with cabin fever, but I am happy to hear parents acknowledge that teaching is HARD and teachers are UNDERPAID. And, these safety precautions aren’t going anywhere in the near future. I understand that people are sad when events they looked forward to are canceled. There is a grief in not being able to throw your small child a birthday party, not being able to attend a concert three months away, or a milestone college reunion. Some people have to cancel their weddings upcoming soon, and women who give birth right now are not permitted to have their partners with them. I really wanted to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday with her family and friends, but that is not happening. These things range from heartbreaking to a shame to a small price to pay in order not to contract or spread this virus.
The anxiety also makes sense to me. Anxiety over the turbulent rule changes, the closures of restaurants and businesses, anxiety over possibly catching or spreading deadly disease. Anxiety over making rent/bill payments after losing non-salaried work. For the general anxiety, I would say follow the rules suggested by health professionals and limit the information intake (aka only look at news updates once per day at a designated time, or only read articles if tv news stresses you out too much). Essentially, control what you can control. For the money anxiety, figure that shit out! You can’t control the fact that you’re out of work, but you can sure as hell sign up for unemployment or look for other work that doesn’t compromise your health.
All that said, I’m lucky. I have a salaried job that I can do from home. My office was ramping up for at least a week ahead of time getting us set up with the technology to feel like we were in the office. I don’t have school age children, and I am mobile enough at least in theory to take walks and exercise in my home. I have a car and so don’t have to deal with public transportation being germ-ridden or closed. My biggest complaints to date are that I miss my coworkers and my fancy desk chair & I’m eating too much/moving too little.
I try to have anecdotes for the blog, which I like sharing, but even in personal writing for just myself, I drag my feet. One of my professors in college preached to us the virtues of her own daily morning ritual: to fill a page. I thought it was silly; what could possibly be so different from the day before? How is that interesting to write, much less read???
When I avoid journaling, I tell myself that what I’m thinking and going through is repetitive; I’ve been here before and flipping back a few pages reveals similar themes and patterns. Why bother writing it down? I talk to my friends and my therapist about my inner world, and I write in my journal when I have something particularly weighty on my mind. Why make it a daily habit?
And maybe this is a “duh” moment for you, but I never really put together that daily journaling is the meditation of writing. Writing every day to assess the quality of my mind seems to me like an affirmation that my thoughts/feelings have power and that I should pay more attention to them AND an outlet for them so I can clear the ones that don’t serve me. After all, just because my thoughts are boring and repetitive, they’re still swirling around in my head, and my motto is better out than in! Since I have been trying to meditate every day (to mild success) I am working journaling into my as-often-as-possible routine too.
Not coincidentally, this happened when I received a gift from my cousin. She, a practicing clinical psychologist, published her own journal to help people write, reflect and grow. So if you need to build a new routine now that everything in life is drastically different, I recommend it–I like the open-ended prompts and the focus on being present. Check it out!
If you are struggling this week, reach out to your loved ones. Reach out even if you aren’t! And now that we have a little more alone time, maybe look inward too. Grab a pen and paper of some kind and see what happens. Of course, you may just write me a letter bitching about this whole situation, and that would be fine. I love mail 🙂
Sometimes at work, we feel more like babysitters, or referees to the public. Our library offers beautiful study rooms, with collaborative tech that many ignore in favor of doodling on the whiteboards and moving all the furniture and using their own devices.
These rooms were designed for group study, and yet some people believe they are the space best suited to make private calls or work on silent work. No! These rooms are made of glass! With the direct purpose of enabling library employees to see what is going on in there!
There are spaces suited for silent/quiet work, and the group study spaces are not one of them. So, as occurred last week, sometimes we have a studious middle-aged person who takes umbrage with the teens having an idle chat (plus or minus music or laughter) and the volume thereof.
I try to tell people early and often that the rooms are not soundproof, and that anything they are saying can and will be overheard by their neighbors. My rule of thumb is that if I can hear you clearly all the way from my desk, you are surely irritating the shit out of your neighbors. Then, I shush you! Under that threshold, as long as there is a harmonious agreement (aka no one complains and I do not observe library violations taking place), it is a community space and the community may use it to their needs.
And that brings me to the markers. I cringe a little when I see kids aimlessly doodling on the whiteboards, in a fashion some might deem “wasting” the markers. When I find myself stressing over the marker ink and costs, I remind myself of my prior statement: within reason/barring violations of policy, the community may use it to their needs. And, in many cases, they leave art behind. Many do this intentionally, but it could also be pure laziness and avoiding erasing their nonsense.
Cry for attention
So-and-so was here? Dickish, but a call to be seen
And then my personal favorite, a stream-of-consciousness commentary/word poem:
I think there is something precious about these glimpses into (what were likely) teen artists’ heads. At the very least, they leave a little personality behind on what would be sterile white surfaces. They claim “I was here!” and “I think I like doodling” and “we are ridiculous together” and sometimes even “we were productive today” (but those look a lot like notes/maths sooo I don’t take photos of them-boring!).
I love when there are good doodles left behind. I love the creativity, and the freedom of expression. I love that the kiddos feel at home enough to leave their arts on the walls. I love that they are goofy and themselves. Teens are not great at everything, but they are admirable in their them-ness. A better way to say it might just be authenticity.
Not that I did such a great job at being a teen, but when the conversation turns to “would you go back to do high school over again?” I say yes every time. Not only because I would do it with so much more confidence, but I genuinely loved high school. (All school up to grad, actually 🙂 I had the immense gift of a tribe of weirdos who, when we were together, we were total smart idiots, confident and off the wall. All of us had issues (mine being desperation at even the slightest of glances from a member of the opposite sex) but together, we were unstoppable.
And so, it still being January, I’m adding to my goals for this year. I want to be a little more like (the best parts of) me as a high schooler, with the benefit of both wisdom and legal age to purchase alcohol… Being goofy and myself, creative and at home in my surroundings. Learning all the time. Loudly in love with my friends. Friendos, let us gather and have bonkers conversations and general merriment! Duolingo is in progress, there is a nebulous plan for learning to make jewelry, and I might even purchase some film here someday soon (and a new gym membership…one that I’ll actually GO to!).
The dream is that I’ll be so immersed in creative pursuits that anxiety won’t even take root. And of course, I’ll hold myself accountable here, making the private more or less public!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I digress. To summarize: she left empty-handed with several titles (including Sarah’s Scribbles, also 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.
It would seem I took an entire season off from writing… It wasn’t an accident, but procrastination took over any time I told myself to blog. Interestingly enough, at least over the past month, this lapse in writing has overlapped (overlapsed?) with a lot of time off from the library. But holy cow, has there been a lot going on. Time off from the library doesn’t mean time off from general life!
In June, I worked two four-hour shifts at the public library. Reader, I had Friday nights to myself! Those Fridays were great, and I spent them with dear friends.
However, with full appreciation of not having to punch the clock, let me say: I think working at the library is part of my self-care.
Over the past couple months, the seven-month period of temping has come to a victorious end. I am gainfully full-time employed, officially, permanently, in a department surrounded by awesome people who love coming to work every day. My 9-5 is everything I have waited for, and I feel so so so fortunate.
I would love to say that I was confident in my abilities and my chances at this job since the department knew me and invited me back (despite myself 🙂 to fill the position while the search went on. I would love to say that I did not stress myself out even though the job was probably mine from day one. I would love to say that even though the work is an exact match to my professional skills and demeanor, I was not chock full of terror that I would be rejected again and set adrift to continue temping elsewhere. For the several weeks in between when I applied and when I interviewed, any mention my colleagues made to “you’ll see in the fall” or “when we all do X/Y/Z in August..” I inserted “if I’m still here!” in order not to jinx it.
Because there is no time off from my brain. To me, the only thing worse than not getting this dream job would be to have expressed my sense of belonging out loud, on the record, and THEN not get to stay. I pulled apart any and every interaction with my supervisors to decipher whether they were implying that I would be sticking around. As professionals, they couldn’t just come right out and say “you are our first choice for this job,” but I’ve apparently become so uncomfortable with uncertainty that I needed someone to say that to ease my strife. On the occasions one of them did say something encouraging, I tried to hold it and internalize their praise for as long as I could.
Now, I have the security of a real job, and the comfort and immense joy that is belonging with these people.
So on the one hand, big things have changed on my time off. On the other, I still have the crazy monkey mind running around behind the scenes, not knowing what to do with herself when she does not have a task at hand. This week for the holiday, a full day off, I made zero plans and essentially online shopped all day. (Don’t yell at me, Mom! I yell at myself enough!) I haven’t been meditating enough, nor going to yoga enough, nor celebrating my accomplishments, nor going outdoors, enough, and I wanted to just zone out and hoard pretty things.
And this is why I will still work part-time at the library! Not only because I need funding to offset my love of and proclivity towards buying clothes, but also because I need to get out of myself and work in the service of others (which I do during my day job, but evidently I can’t get enough). I am not delusional to think I am saving lives as I sit behind a computer at a desk in an air conditioned building, but when I am there, surrounded by friends and community members, it feels like where I am supposed to be.
During my interview day, I met with a gentleman colleague, and he asked me one direct question about the position, but since he has already worked with me for a couple months and has seen what I’m about, the rest of the time, we spent talking about the library. He told me he was curious about where I ran off to on Fridays, and he complimented my hustle.
Maybe I shouldn’t need to hustle. Maybe I should take it easy, and take more time off. But at this point, I don’t really know what to do with more time off, and my work is more than a paycheck. All I know is I’m looking forward to the new normal, stabilizing and seeing what happens.
Additional preface: My olfactory powers are strong, and I can’t stand many odors. My sensitive shnoz recoils at old-lady perfumes, and sets off a deathly serious search when I think something has spoiled in the refrigerator. In the kitchen, my nose leads me to seek and destroy, and get rid of the offensive material, which is significantly satisfying.
This smell-aversion is harder to deal with when the sources are people and not products. Now, I am not heartless. I do my duty as I would want someone to do for me: I tell people when there is lipstick on their teeth, or toilet paper on their shoe, or their dresses are tucked into their underpants. However, over the last week, I learned I have a threshold for how much shame I am willing to intercept.
When I see certain customers, I hold my breath.
This is not related to the anxiety holding-my-breath. No. This is due to their foul odors. One older man who hasn’t bathed/washed his clothes/worn deodorant in a while. One woman who wears the same filthy coat with an accumulation of stink from many days’ (years?) wear without deodorant. Another bedecked with a cloud of mothball smell so strong it’s damn near visible. Another with terrible gingivitis.
You get the idea! My question remains, perpetually, how do these people not know?? And once knowing, then adjust?? It is my understanding that these folks all have access to a laundry facility, which may be correct or incorrect. Who knows! It’s not my business, so I don’t insert myself.
However, last weekend, an older woman I had never seen before walked past me and I instantly smelled bodily secretions. Definitely urine, but based on what I saw on the back of her dress, probably more. I froze. And then called our security guy on the walkie talkie. And made a mental note of what seat she sat in so I could Lysol wipe it thoroughly later.
He, angel of a man that he is, came right up and was the bearer of dirty news, and directed her to the bathroom. As if pooing one’s pants unknowingly wasn’t sign enough, I determined officially that there was a mental handicap at play when after visiting the loo, she sat down in another chair. As soon as she left, I took a wipe and went to town, lamenting that peoples’ minds and bodies betray them, and also that I was not compassionate enough to address it with her myself.
As Phoebe Buffet sings, “smelly cat, smelly cat… it’s not your fault.” Maybe someday I will advance from talking to people about toilet paper to talking about accidents, but all I know in the meantime is that I can empathize with nurses and other healthcare workers (who absolutely do not get paid enough).