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

Let It Burn

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

Taking books out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I digress. To summarize: she left empty-handed with several titles (including Sarah’s Scribblesalso checked out), and I sent my recurring plea back out into the universe that people will understand that libraries are a place for sharing.

The incident that made me sad was that a feeble elderly woman asked me to recommend several books for her. We exhausted the large print selection, and she had a lot of trouble hearing in addition to her sight. She had taken a bus to get to us (when I know of at least 10 libraries closer to her) and I still don’t understand why. Because, when I told her that we could place holds for titles currently checked out, she told me she didn’t have a library card. I told her multiple times that she is still welcome to use the books in the library, but that she couldn’t take them home. Because of her hearing, and because of her apparent mental state, I feared what would result, and lo and behold my fears were accurate. She filled a canvas tote with about a dozen books, and proceeded to walk out of the gates, setting off the security noise.

She moved slowly, but my colleague caught up to her and had to have the far-too-long, repetitive, awkward conversation reminding/informing her that she could not simply take the books. He patiently told her all about her local library, and copied the spines of the books she had picked out so she had the titles. He stood with her and responded overall in a warm and thoughtful way. Again, I don’t know why she had it in her head that any library, much less one a 30 minute bus ride from her home, would let her have a bunch of books. She had forgotten what a library is and does, and her deteriorated mental state made me sad, and at the same time made me hope I never forget what a library is for.

The last woman is our local celebrity. At 95 years old, she uses a walker but uses it often. She is easily spotted all around town because of her colorful hair and wardrobe. She currently has it dyed an emerald green with one chunk of magenta, and was rocking a lemon colored shirt. I handed her the book she had asked me to find and immediately went to help someone else. The man I was helping turned to me when we heard the security noise and said “she didn’t check that out!” as we watched her continue through the gates and out the door. I started to go after her, calling her name, but she didn’t hear me (or the security noise) and I decided to let her keep cruising on with her day. I realized I knew exactly what book she had, and her full name…all the info I needed to check the book out to her. I told the man who saw “it’s ok, I know her.”

That made me happy. I love knowing people, and I love even more the idea that if people know you, you can make mistakes and they’ll have your back. Above all, I love this library and community (the good eggs outweigh the jerks)!

*The cover image of this post is from this book, and looking through photos make me seriously doubt that the guy I recommended this to will like it AT ALL. lolol but who knows.

anxiety, 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 🙂 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.

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

Balance.. and quitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

community, family, information, librarians, strangers

For Dads About to Rock.. We Salute You

Sometimes at the library, when you are working at the desk and minding your own business, people let you in on some very private matters. So long as this does not involve diseases or obscenity, I’m generally okay with this. One such day, a man approached the desk and asked me about pregnancy books: he and his wife were looking for them because they just found out they were going to be parents. He paused, squinted and looked around inside his brain, and said, “actually…you’re the first person we’ve told.” My standard instinctive reaction is to immediately provide the requested information, like an eager-to-inform robot. But this time, my social graces couldn’t ignore the relevant personal information. I beamed at him like a non-misanthrope and lover of small, poopy people that I am and said “I’m honored!” before efficiently telling him there are books in the adult health/wellness section, and in the children’s area.

This interaction, all told, took under 120 seconds, but it was such a sweet moment. I watched him process this milestone of parenthood, and all the mini-milestones in preparation for it. He was at the library! To prepare! And he was openly sharing his joy.

I try to imagine what my own dad was doing to prepare for becoming a parent for the first time, and I can’t quite picture him at the library looking for What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He reads Rolling Stone and business magazines, not books. Not a touchy-feely kind of guy, he didn’t really “get” me and my brother until we were old enough to at least tie our shoes and more or less write complete sentences. After all, our senses of humor weren’t tuned to “dad joke” frequency right out of the gate; we had to grow into it. Also, before a certain age, we were the aforementioned poopy little people, and we only got cooler with time (until, I think we can agree, bro, we may have plateaued). If he wasn’t tossing us around a pool on vacation, chances are we were being loud and whiny and annoying, bickering and fighting with each other. On our Tuesday nights and alternating weekends together for the 7 years leading up to college, he rationalized us into an equitable system for deciding where to eat dinner. This was a matter of the utmost childish importance, otherwise worthy of much whining and fighting (“he picked last tiiiiiime!!!” “I don’t feeeeel like iiiiitttt!” etc.). We each wrote down a suggestion on a piece of paper napkin, and one person selected, and as soon as Dad started the car, the radio started too. We could pout but we couldn’t audibly complain, because everyone had the same chances. The best way to cope if your selection lost was to cross your fingers a good song came on.

Once we were old enough to dance, he and Mom introduced us to Bob Marley’s Legend, Eric Clapton’s, Tom Petty’s and Bonnie Raitt’s entire catalogs. From middle through high school, aka before Sirius/XM radio displayed the artist and song title, he quizzed us on the artists playing in the car on WONE and WNCX, Cleveland’s Classic Rock stations. We would have been shamed if we had gotten Tom, Clapton, Janis, Neil or the Stones wrong (but we never did). Dark horses we had to watch out for were the ambiguous synth-y Steely Dan and The Who.

Once we spoke the same musical language and I became a real adult with real-world crap to deal with, I appreciated my dad in a totally new way. The dad jokes became hilariously funny. He became my go-to for career and money advice, which means we talk way more than when I was younger. Now that I have lived a little and accepted him for who he is, I see his lack of touchy-feely-ness as a virtue. He is able to rationally weigh pros and cons of my dilemmas without getting sucked in to the emotional/social dynamics like I do. Sometimes this backfires, as when he tried to herd us out of a Tom Petty concert before the encore to beat the traffic (I protested. It was American Girl.) or when he e-mailed a relative newly diagnosed with colon cancer, expressing concern for his “plumbing issue.”

But that’s my dad! (To my shock and amazement, the plumbing joke did not end their relationship, nor even particularly offend. And, the cancer is now in remission, if you were worried!)

He stocks his refrigerator with barely more than the essentials: milk, eggs, shredded cheese and whatever is going on the grill, and reaching dinner consensus takes no time at all. He taught me to make DIY concert earplugs by rolling strips of paper napkin into balls, always carries a nail clipper that I inevitably need to borrow, and mails me gluten-free pound cake with a note that simply says “Enjoy! Love, Dad.”

All in all, my dad rocks.

dad_rocks