community, joy, let it go, librarians

Private in Public

 

 

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.

You decide!

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Adorbs

And then my personal favorite, a stream-of-consciousness commentary/word poem:

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Could not love this more.

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 ūüôā 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!

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

Hate That Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Burn

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

Taking books out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I digress. To summarize: she left empty-handed with several titles (including¬†Sarah’s 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.

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

Time Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned! Back to work.

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

Smelly Smells

Forewarning: do not read while eating.

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

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

When I see certain customers, I hold my breath.

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

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

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

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

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

anxiety, career, librarians

Thank you, next

There has been a lot of NO in my life lately. In the past two days, I received two “thank you, nexts” about jobs I had interviewed for. And in the last two weeks, I backed out on two interviews I had set up for myself. One of the rejections was at a place where I was hoping I wouldn’t hear from them at all, because the interview was so uncomfortable (and short! 30 minutes!). The other, I liked and respected the people in the room, and I did my usual uncomfortably chatty babbling in between answering their questions. Overall, I thought we had all gotten along well and that despite botching some questions, I had something of a shot.

Alas, no. But the rejection doesn’t hurt this time. I used to get wildly upset, but now I know that as long as I show up as my authentic self to the interview, if it’s the right place, they will respond. And if it’s not the right place, I don’t want it anyway. This job I held out a little hope for, when I think about it, caused me concern about how small the branch was. The jobs I turned down were for a children’s position that wanted me to prepare a storytime and craft for the interview (storytime, ok, but a craft??? I draw the line. My idea for a craft is literally drawing a line) and a job that asked me to provide links to websites I have designed or maintained (spoiler alert: I don’t have any), and whose interview I was told would last TWO HOURS….. Though I deem these reasonable excuses not to attend interviews, I cringed about the what ifs:¬†what if¬†it turns out I am a secret whiz at maintaining websites?¬†What if¬†I really do need more crafts in my life?¬†What if¬†these are the¬†last people¬†to ever ask me to interview for librarian jobs?!?! A large part of me feels like I am the princess and the pea, but with jobs. Not too big, not too small, not too slow, not too busy, not too many hoops to jump through… etc.

I will be honest when I say: I did not know librarianship is a competitive field before I signed up for classes. This is fairly indicative of who I am as a person: I fling myself into situations, cross my fingers and hope for the best, on average slightly underprepared but hoping to make up for it in charm. And, if I have not confessed this here already, reader: I lack perseverance. Grit. That buzzword that you hear more and more these days in regards to character and growth mindset. Who knows whether I would have still chosen to go through with the program if I knew how hard it would be to find a good professional fit. (I probably would have, because I am stubborn and don’t change my mind for almost anything–which is a huge problem for someone prone to anxiety and overthinking! Mindfulness is literally reprogramming the habits of the mind…)

The lack of grit also means I am not blessed with the patience to wait for an organization’s culture to improve. I cannot simply endure for the sake of having a paying job. It gets too uncomfortable (read: my anxiety surges to drastic levels) and work is 8 freaking hours of my awake life every day. I bolt the instant I find an alternative. Maybe the alternative will be better. Surely, it has to be! The known workplace problems are bulkier and more inhibitive than the unknown workplace problems and I will take my chances with the next one. Thank you, next.

When it’s all said and done, I am so happy that I endured grad school. (The question of how much this endurance increased my student loans… not so happy.) It is what brought some of my favorite people into my orbit. But I always felt a draw to the work I was doing during grad school, in a university department. It was work I felt confident in, and helpful (which is my favorite feeling).

Do I dare to not use the degree that saddled me with all those loans? Dare I turn down interviews for library jobs? Dare I reserve the right to not waste two hours of my life in an interview for a job that I already don’t think I want?

Yes, I think so. Never before have I been comfortable turning down an opportunity. They think I’m an interesting candidate, therefore I¬†must¬†pursue this. Then there’s the subsequent anxiety on anxiety on anxiety about how I don’t really want it, and I wring my hands and wait until the last minute to cancel, or just suck it up and go, and give a lackluster interview, and don’t get hired. This time around, I’m being more selective, and thinking about what I actually want my work life to look like, and if the jobs that I applied to in a blind, desperate fury don’t match, then… thank you, next.

I’ve landed temporarily in another university setting, and because it’s temporary, it feels like less pressure. There is a built-in end date, after which there will be the next thing. Though not as financially secure, this work is giving me the room to feel out my options and the freedom not to jump at jobs that are tempting, but¬†not juuust right.¬†I’m sitting tight, and working on being more intentional about where to go from here. And giving myself permission not to stick with the stuff that seems not to be working. Maybe a princess, maybe a quitter. For now, I’m okay with both, if they’re in the name of finding the right fit. Finding something worth saying yes to.