be a better human, books, information, librarians, reading, social media, strangers

Eye Contact

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:

See below for an eye-related song to which I will not stretch to make a connection:

anxiety, be a better human, books, community, empathy, family, giving, kindness, social media, strangers

Break [it] down

Though it seems like in many ways, we are getting used to the ‘new normal,’ there are plenty of ways this drastic change continues to be upsetting. My friends continue to have panic attacks and breakdowns of all sizes, and my empathizer heart is hurting. On a small scale, all my basic needs are met, and yet.. Fear looms large, and it blows my mind/fuels my rage/makes me sad that our food system is so broken that more people than average (!!) are going hungry right now in this country of plenty. I’m reassured that our quality of air worldwide is improved due to fewer cars on the roads and less pollution from closed-down industry. But more on my hippie tears at a later date.

I’m going to write about what has been helping me to cope, and what is inspiring me to change. As sometimes happens, I read the perfect book at the perfect time. After all, how many of us are simply struggling with how Not to Do the Things? How to deal with the limitations/unavailability of most everything but the virtual world.

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How to Do Nothing made the hairs on my arms stand up. This woman artfully (she is an artist, after all) emphasized that our culture has largely lost our connection to place and our need for context. This is true on an ecological level; we need to get outside more–into our surroundings, to become familiar with the land that we occupy and the other creatures that also do. This grounding/contextualizing shows us that we are not the only ones here. We are part of a system and the system deserves our attention and respect. 

This need for context also appears in our social [media] interactions. Modern comforts and technology have made it so we can curate our daily lived experiences and only have to interact with people who agree with us on nearly all points. [Information silos, old news.] The media lives on sound bites that are designed to enrage and distract us, further driving us into our polarized opinion camps. I took the time to manually transcribe this part of her book because it spoke to me. She states that if we only interact with people who agree with us we:

“never run the risk of being surprised, challenged, or changed. Never seeing anything outside of ourselves. Including our own privilege. That’s not to say we have nothing to gain from those we have many things in common with, on paper. If we don’t expand our attention outside of that sliver we live in an I-it world where nothing has meaning outside of its value and relation to us. And we are less prone to the encounters with those who turn us upside down and reorganize our universe… Those who stand to change us significantly, should we allow it. Of course having encounters entails risks that not everyone is willing to take.”

Holy wow, yes. Now is the time for change. If you haven’t done Anything Different this entire quarantine, who even are you? It is a time for thought and discussion. For dismantling the egocentric views we hold. To interrupt our regularly scheduled programming and do Something different instead. Something caring, something creative. Something revolutionary. 

Because when I’m worried about the Fate of the World and all the big, Capital Letter Things, I have to focus on specific actions to take. I have to break it down into manageable, actionable pieces. What can I do? What effect does staring at my phone, scrolling through instagram or facebook really do for me? What can I do instead? Do I really need to buy more clothing/home goods/products? I understand the temptation to hunker down and feverishly, anxiously repeat the usual distraction purchasing patterns (and I am very guilty of doing this myself). But if you have the expendable income to spend right now, I hope you consider others. I hope you donate to organizations that feed and care for others. Because just as thinking too large-scale is harmful, so is thinking too small-scale. Think outside of yourself, and consider that this is a terrible time for everyone, and that your help for others will help them and you. No, I do not mean to minimize your suffering. I am just saying we are all suffering. And suggesting that you contextualize it, and allow it to serve you and others. Allow your suffering to help Something. Ask for help. Reach out. Do something different.

So I’m doing some familiar things, and some new ones. I’m talking more than usual on the phone with my family. I’m reading. I’m wildly busy at work, so I’m doing overall less mental berating of myself. I’m playing Words with Friends, going on walks, fighting with the skunk who keeeeeps spraying directly outside my window (not all nature is good, I concede), cooking, baking, or just making macaroni from a box and not judging myself about it. I’m not immune to the simple allure of tv (but try to be social and talk about it afterwards). I love exchanging letters with people, so I’m trying to do a lot of letter writing when I’m in the mood, especially because I know people like getting fun mail. Because I’m not always in the mood to be my best self. I’m trying to work out/journal/meditate one per day, but sometimes I am lazy and cranky and don’t. I have virtual therapy appointments, and I’m still moody and easily irritated and mad at myself for trying to multitask (usually looking at my phone). I too do not particularly trust the person who is living their best life at this weird, isolated time. But if that’s you, good for you!

This time is unique in that it is allowing us more than ever before to hone in on what matters, and to opt out of the parts of our society that do not serve us (or anyone). It is providing us the opportunity to help others, to reach out and strengthen personal ties, time to heal ourselves and our brains and how we think of ourselves (as helpless or capable, isolated or part of a community). There is not much else to do other than go outside and walk or run, familiarizing ourselves with the species in the area. Noticing that we are not alone. You have neighbors, and postal workers, and all sorts of animals and plant life around you (some of which might be blooming these days). It’s a time to  make the best of what’s around. It’s not easy, but there’s no getting around it. We have to go through!

be a better human, home, kindness, let it go, meditation, strangers, talking

Called Out/Tuning In

Today, something fun happened. On my lunch break, I made a sandwich, perilously close to the start time of meditation. I debated not “going” to meditation. Instead, I reasoned that being three minutes late and eating a sandwich did not bar me from virtual attendance where I would have my camera and audio muted, so I shuffled back to the computer, finished eating and closed my eyes.

Not long after, the gentleman who guides the meditation paused from his regularly scheduled broadcasting about breathing and addressed the group. Two people had their sound turned on, and he asked everyone to check that it wasn’t their own. Barbara and Aaron did not check. He asked them by name to silence their computers. Another few moments went by, and Barbara still did not check! “Barbara, please silence your computer!” he implored again. And again.

And I loved it.

Now, before you think I am picking on Barbara, or you want to give her the benefit of the doubt (maybe she had stepped away from the computer), no. The default was not to display video or audio (because only one person needs to be talking, and it is awkward to display yourself on camera when all you are doing is closing your eyes), but Barbara had enabled both. I watched her keep her eyes closed despite the guide speaking her name. Eventually she fumbled with the phone and after a bit of phone-fumble-breeze sounds, then a view of her ceiling fan, she was gone.

Nay, it is indeed human to make technological mistakes. Though it is rude to not consider your impact on those around you (especially in a silent setting), this Babs thing made me chuckle more than anything! I appreciated the person in charge for his quick action to resolve the issue. He knew that everyone was in the session to tune out as much noise as possible, and didn’t want to let any extra in on his watch. He defended the peace! Non-judgmentally, directly, and quickly!

I’ve been in many meditation sessions where this is not the case. Even the best teachers may not recognize or know how to handle the conflict of one participant causing a distraction/disruption. And maybe it is easier in the virtual class, because all are equally muted, contrary to, how is someone supposed to police the volume of another’s breathing? (However, one could argue *cough, I would argue* that when an instructor says to breathe quietly, the person taking giant lion breaths and sighing forcefully is knowingly being a dick.)

Or maybe it’s just quieter right now! Ordinarily a cough or other auditory distraction will pull me out of precious silence, out of focus, and make me mad. The bonus of workout/meditation classes from home is that no one has to hear anyone but the instructor. Everyone is free to do their own thing (but should all be paying attention, if this is a work video call ;). In theory, this applies to work, personal life and projects too. Less noise = fewer distractions = more focus. I have a task to complete, and if I need to call or email someone to complete it, I can, but otherwise, it’s all me. Obviously, some days it’s easy to get out of my own way, and sometimes it’s incredibly not. Yes, in the case of meditation, the Equitable Mute was threatened, defended, and ultimately upheld. (Justice!) BUT: what if the loud exhaler is me? What if the loud background noise is coming from inside my head?

Several of my close friends deal with anxiety too. A few of the ones who identify as introverts are having a really tough time with self-isolation. One told me, “okay, yes, I like to recharge away from people, but… now I’m fully charged! What am I supposed to do?” Another is struggling with boundaries; as much as she resented interacting with unpleasant people at work, she has to defend a new boundary of people calling and emailing her nonstop because they can now. Yet another told me she was cutting back on watching the news. THE NEWS! During a pandemic! Where the conspiracy theories, political vitriol, and uninformed opinions are flying all around!

There is such thing as too much information!

I’m typically the last to know everything, and I have been keeping more current with news since rules and standards are changing by the day and I don’t want to get turned away from the grocery store. But no way will I watch the news. A) I don’t like certain people’s voices, and those people are often featured. B) having more information is not going to improve any aspect of my life. Ultimately, I choose to tune out the theories and focus on the facts (what to wear/do when out in public), seeking information that will serve me. As long as I get the bottom line/know the safety regulations, I am tuning the rest out. I donate to charities, I purchased gifts and stamps from the USPS, and I sign the petitions about absentee ballots, incarcerated populations’ release and whatever I can mentally handle.

I’m not checking out, or sticking my head in the sand as if this isn’t happening, but choosing where to look for what types of information. I’m also trying to send out more than I take in (mostly in the form of mood-boosting things like letters and phone calls). This tuning out of non-essential information is helping me to pare down and tune in to the essentials: what I need and how to connect with/be “there” for my friends and family. A wise lady recently told me that this pandemic situation is all about who you are in a room by yourself, and I’m determined to enjoy the company.

 

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Effin Birds for the win again

anxiety, information, joy, kindness, let it go, meditation, social media, strangers

Dating Anxiety

The grammar nerd in me wants to point you towards the double entendres of the title: I am “dating” anxiety. Of course what I mean is that I have anxiety about dating, or that I am dating [with] anxiety. Since many of the other areas of my life I was unhappy with have fallen into place (my therapist would point out that I toiled and suffered and took chances and overall put a lot of effort into making these things happen) over the last year… so “the boyfriend question” is literally always on my mind. It is the next issue to tackle. The missing piece, if you will.

Maybe because my readership includes mainly my family and possibly my ex, I have only alluded to the ongoing drama of trying to find a stable, kind, human male with whom I have all of the chemistries for to settle down and make babies. And I do care what those people think. It’s hard to draw the line between anxiety and people pleasing; where one stops, the other one fills the gap. I care about making people I love/d uncomfortable or sad, so I won’t go into any gory details, though I still wouldn’t even if I didn’t care about offending anyone’s sensibilities (the internet is OPEN, y’all. Discoverable!). Nothing is secret, if a librarian (or god help me someone with more credentials or beef with me) wants to find it.

Some of my lack-of-relationship stuff is because I didn’t like my life, so I told myself I could compromise on what I want (for example: babies). Part of my lack of relationship is continuing to fall for the trap that is males who consider themselves attractive to the point that they have shirtless photos on their dating profiles. (They may say they are looking for a relationship, but are they? ARE THEY?) Those are easier to let go of. No, what they think about me is not as devastating as when I get excited about someone and think I have a chance and see them multiple times, only then to be ghosted because they were scared away by honesty (or by triple texting).

Because putting myself out there, over and over, for new dudes to fully see and judge me is exhausting. And nerve-racking. So when it seems to be going right, only to have the dreaded 24-hour-without-texting mark roll around, that stings. The rejection is very real and it hurts and however many weeks or months I looked forward to hearing from that guy now has been time wasted and time detracted from the search for MY PERSON.

And all of my non-attachment and let-it-be-ness goes straight out the window. Along with my pride. “Maybe that last text was too awkward/personal/not funny enough to get a reply; I’ll send a follow-up hedging it and trying to be more entertaining!”

Is it anxiety that I cannot let go of the idea of the object of my fixation working out?

…Considering that going through my head is an all-caps disaster script along the lines of: NO NO NO WE LIKE THIS ONE DONT LET HIM GET AWAY THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER MAN AS GOOD AS HIM… Yes. It’s fucking anxiety. Because, at least statistically, there will be another one as intriguing and promising. And eventually maybe even one who won’t be scared off by my anxious behaviors (or I can learn to manage my sky-high expectations and also to not text too much/get my hopes up too soon).

[Side note: the texting. FUCK TEXTING. People who have been monogamous for at least the past 10 years do not know the blessing of not being on dating apps and living through the hellish texting culture therein.]

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This is now my standard practice. Delete the evidence that I gave a shit.

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Sorry I’m too lazy to crop these photos!

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Running through my mind at any sustained period of silence

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Me when my hopes are all the way up only for someone to change his mind

I do not write this because I resent everyone in a happy relationship. Nay. (Nor do I write this to hear that I am loved; please let us avoid these awkward lines of dialogue.) Though I may not have opened social media this past weekend and so therefore did not ‘like’ your lovey-dovey posts, I still think it’s great that you found your person. I hope that you get to be your truest, weirdest self with them. If you do, you give me hope.

That’s the dream.

Perhaps the biggest source of the anxiety is indeed the fact that I want that dream so bad. I go into everything thinking this could be IT! He could be HIM! and that is an unhealthy amount of pressure to put on A) him B) me C) the whole situation. The only way to find my person is to wait. That’s all. I have to wait, and take it day by day (NOT minute by minute staring at my phone), and take the time to think about who I’m curious about. Who I want to get to know better. Who makes me feel like my best self and simultaneously like I can improve my best self. To watch and see who proves himself over time. Only when those things come together in one person should I get all aflutter.

So for now, I’ll go back to swiping, and trying to trust that what’s meant for me will not pass me by. If he passed me by, it is because someone better is on his way.

And, request to relatives: please wait for me to volunteer information rather than asking for date updates. Please!

be a better human, let it go, meditation, strangers, talking

Off Days

The last women’s meditation, I wasn’t feeling it. And that’s okay.

It started off wrong. As a gluten-free individual in a world of free sandwiches, I rely on salads. This salad, however, had wheat berries and croutons mixed on in, and there weren’t allergen statements on anything else to ascertain safety. The event took a safe, familiar salad and made it toxic to me. I recognize the privilege of being served a free lunch at work, and I don’t want to complain, but this made me sad because the salad they usually have is delicious. Why mess with a good thing?

Anyway.

The actual meditation started out fine enough. The theme was “excitement” and the leader asked everyone what they were excited for this month. The obvious answers (family, food, time off) popped up. Someone got close-to-personal as her voice quavered as she said “I’m not feeling excited right now, and I am having trouble trying.” I said giving gifts, because I like doing that and it’s not too personal of a statement to share with a room of strangers (friends/family would get a different answer :)* When someone at the end of the circle said “making gifts” (emphasis spoken), I felt immediately that I had an enemy (aided by the fact that this particular person never acknowledges outside of that room that we have been in the same room many times). She was one-upping me. Okay, fine. Don’t let the negativity stick.

Then the instructor began, telling us about how excitement manifests not only in positive ways, but that when our systems are ‘excited’ by stress, we feel it, and we feel it too when our systems are defeated and succumb to the rest and relaxation when we are sick or just over it. I appreciated that she talked about how she was feeling under the weather and stressed over an upcoming final project she has in her yoga teaching program. She’s a human, and I like when people share more than just the positives.

She lost me after that. She guided us through a meditation about the seasons, and what we wear/eat/do during the seasons.

….um, what? How is this exciting? Not that she had to perform for us, but I didn’t see the connection to excitement at all. I was too excited to pay attention to her!

But, whatever! I was there, and that’s all I could do. Instead of judging her (or really even listening to her enough to get annoyed by the meh-ness) I just did my own thing and thought about what I actually needed right then. And I had that. I had a colleague sitting next to me, I had a warm and sunny space. I had a job and coworkers I love waiting on the other end. And following this disappointing event, I had a great conversation about real shit.

I had lots of positives going on, but when the facilitators invited everyone to share their follow-up feelings, I passed. My positive feelings had nothing to do with what just happened. In fact, I felt not positive about that. My nemesis had only one word, “free,” said with a smug smile. And this part of the event always irritates me. It feels like a performance, and an easy line of delineation for who the meditation “worked for” and who it didn’t, aka a line between those who are “in” and those who are “out.” The person who started off by conveying her fragile and unexcited state was yet unchanged as well.

The same day, I went to kundalini, because it had been weeks and I kept making excuses not to go. The movements were physically challenging, and I had fed myself not enough, not nourishing food (see: the two bags of chips I ate for lunch). Also, the class was directly after therapy, so I was already mostly depleted.

Needless to say, it was an off day.

As I gave up midway through almost every exercise, I was surprised to find myself still happy. I thought about how typically, I would have been pissed at my subpar performance. I thought about how annoyed I get when people (usually dudes) are too loud or off-key with their breathing or chanting or singing. Instead, I realized that there were so many off-key singers that even I couldn’t calibrate my voice. I couldn’t even carry a tune for the very basic chants, and yet. How different that I was okay just to show up to class. To be in the room. To be.

At the end of the day, after a full day of being slightly off and when I tried to show up for arguably too much, I was totally accepting my limitations! Killing the mindfulness thing!

Hooray!

If my nemesis ever decides to show up to my precious yoga class, though, I might snap. (And I accept this about myself.)

 

 

*This specific reason for excitement is no longer applicable due to the three-week gap from when I started writing this to the actual completion. Really gotta write more often.

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.

anxiety, career, community, coworkers, information, joy, reading, strangers

Balance.. and working

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time I’m writing about balance. People with anxiety know that balance is essential to avoid spinning out into spirals. I knew August would be tough, work-wise, because I accepted a lot of extra night/weekend shifts at the library. I just counted, and I worked 39 shifts over the course of the month (aka going from full-time job to part-time job multiple times, plus the beloved weekend shifts). Sometimes when I’m in self-pitying moods, I think I work a second job because I like to whine and tell everyone how hard I work. I have to remind myself that in reality, I love both my jobs, and up until recently I haven’t really had that much other stuff going on that I would rather be doing.

I know I did it to myself. I overcommitted, thinking it would balance itself out with the fact that I didn’t really work at the library in June. And now that August is over, maybe balance is achieved! The extra income is nice, and for every customer who makes my skin crawl, there is an equal if not greater than pleasant customer who knows my name or otherwise warms my heart.

And so without further ado, picture the following scenarios (presented in a glorified list). One bad for one good.. or maybe the scales tip slightly toward the pleasant.

Bad: when on the third day of working 5-9 after working 8:30-4:30, a guy who feels he is your friend (he is not) lets his young child continue on his way out (to dick around and be generally unsupervised) in order to tell you a longwinded tale of who from church asked him to look up the lyrics and sheet music (you don’t care), after you have already spent at least 15 minutes of your life helping him find this sheet music and him asking if he can just take a photo of it and print it and you say no, that is a copyright violation so he needs to buy it and he asks you to buy it and he can pay you and you say no while silently begging him to walk away and instead, like you hoped he wouldn’t but knew he would, he tells you what religion he is and asks you about yours. You wonder why people still think this is appropriate to ask someone who is on the clock at their job. Thankfully, he only guesses, and does not do so correctly, and then he leaves.

Good: when a high schooler who you knew as an awkward seventh grader walks towards you at the desk and greets you by name even though you haven’t worked at his school for two years, and generally teens don’t A) remember you or B) approach you even if they do. You talk to him about his favorite teachers from the last year and you think about the difference between a seventh grader and a tenth grader and how crazy that that difference happens in just over two years.

Bad: when people uncomfortable with technology call in to ask how to use the technology, and get confused and angry at you when you tell them the proper buttons to press, and they have to hang up to perform the action because they are trying to do it on their phone. You wonder why these people don’t come into the library to ask when you know they are otherwise capable of leaving their homes.

Good: when you help the upbeat youngish dad who works at the wine store use Adobe Acrobat (the fancy kind) to edit his visa application to visit China, and he is so effusively appreciative the day of, plus when you are working next, he returns and tells you he had his in-person interview at the consulate and everything is IN and approved and thanks you again, and smiles even bigger whenever he sees you in the wine store or he is in the library, like you are acquaintance-friends (you are!).

Bad: when customers overhear, misunderstand, and jump into your conversations with other customers, resulting in lengthy, factually inaccurate conversations you attempt to thwart but continue nevertheless about parking validation, or how to download ebooks, or any number of topics that you know you and your colleagues will have to set right, one person at a time.

Good: speaking of setting things right, you get the opportunity to give that woman the correct information about smartphone-less Uber, despite your still wondering why she thinks it will be different than a traditional taxi service, but you also give her some resources for concierge services that may help her get errands done.

Good: when an email in the general staff account is from an airline representative who found a library book in the customer lounge and they want to know how to get in touch with the customer to mail it back (bless their heart). Then, a week later, your boss emails you that there is a piece of mail for you and you are baffled until you go in and open it and see that the airline representative has mailed the book to you, and then you go show everyone working the book and use it as evidence that not all people suck and your coworkers view it the same way.

Bad: the sad feeling you get when you are near the smelly people or the people whose brains limit what they can do in the world, people who you help apply for a job on Indeed.com and you have to direct them exactly where to click, and then again to instruct them to click.

Mediocre: you walk back to the desk after walking around at close to find a note that reads “You’re Doing Great!” and you, knowing how few people are in the building at that time of Friday night, wonder whether a coworker or the teen boy you startled by opening the bathroom door just as he was exiting to announce that the library is closing or the guy you just helped with uploading his resume into Indeed left it. You identify that several of these options are more harmless than others. But like, you bring it home because it kind of makes you feel nice, when you think about how this person could have said this to your face but instead chose to write it on a slip of paper.

Great: when a woman comes in and asks you to find a “camp” she and her sister attended in the 1950s when she was 5 and her sister was 8 and after speaking with her a little while, you learn that this took place when their mother had TB, and while she recovered, her young children listened to stories and ran around and made fond memories of their time at camp, and then you find a New York Times article from 1955 (because bless the NYT and their archives) that identifies exactly what this place from 60 years ago that this woman never asked her mother about as an adult and now doesn’t have the option. You discuss that neither of you would ever have known that such a place was called a “preventorium” and you marvel about language and how even medical, scientific vocabularies change so much, much less how these topics are handled and treated. And you print out the article for her, because this is just really fucking cool, and she is from out of town so you never see her again but she asks your name, introduces herself, and tells you she really appreciates it.

So, yes, morale can be low at times, but you decide that there is a kind of expertise in shaking off the weird interactions and starting over with the next person. And there is a special kind of bond when someone really needs something and you’re the one to provide it. And at the very least, there is something extremely human in how people navigate the weird space that is a library, which is to say: community.

anxiety, community, family, joy, let it go, strangers

The Love of the Game

This past Saturday, I attended a beautiful, fun wedding. I saw, danced/caught up with people I love, got dressed up, met new folks. I deeply enjoy weddings. Celebrating, love, socializing, nice food and beverages… what’s not to like?

Attending weddings as a person with anxiety, though, is a new experience. Surprisingly, not a great one. The day after, in addition to being fully drained from all the expended energy/alcohol/soreness of the feets, now I get the joy of playing and replaying “how I did” in my mind. What did people think? Did I talk too much? Was I annoying? Did I spend enough time with the people I know instead of roaming around making new friends like a drunk (social) butterfly? Why the fuck can I never manage to get it together to take a photo with the bride and groom??* Why didn’t I take any photos at all to post my belated congrats on social media?

To top it off, this wedding was at home. I made the choice to spend a few social hours, but mainly kept it to family, and it was great to not have to stress about getting places, but it made my heart hurt that I don’t see anyone enough. People I saw, people I didn’t see.. It made me sad and regretful that I don’t live near them. I want to be home and near them, and I want my new job. I want both.

So yesterday after the plane landed back in the garden state (at 7:30AM, in time for me to go directly to work), I was full of anxiety about whether I should have seen more friends and family/stayed longer/whether to play in the softball game last night.

Technically, I was awake, so I could! It’s the playoffs, and I was working during the last few games. There are only a maximum of 3 left, so the should I stick to the plan and play or should I listen to my body and take it easy struggle was strong in my head. I tortured myself even further when I told someone in the office I wasn’t going because reasons and he told me all the ways it was shitty bailing at the last minute. Cool! I know!

Because it’s the playoffs, there was another game today. They lost yesterday (added guilt for not going), so we had to win to stay in the running.

And it was great. Deffffinitely not perfect, but I knew essentially no one and managed not to embarrass myself athletically nor socially. I didn’t torture myself, even when I messed up, nor did I feel myself getting overly competitive. I turned into a different version of myself: a more-myself version. Fewer, if any, voices in my head telling me mean things. Maybe overly vocal with cheers though–aka maybe don’t cheer for people when I’m not 100% sure I have the right name. But I’m actually somewhat decent at second base, which is a pleasant surprise, and we managed to rally and win!

The feeling of a collective, positive group experience, whether with friends and family or with random people, is my jam. I left the field today hating myself a little less–full of endorphins, almost immediately full of ibuprofen, and missing the anxieties of the past two days.

I felt (and feel) so grateful. Grateful to have been able to be a (VERY) warm body on the field today, grateful that I work where I do, grateful to have such awesome friends and family who let me drive their cars or wear their shoes this weekend, grateful to find out on the drive home that one of my dear friends got good news, grateful that for now, my people are mostly healthy and mostly happy, and that I can sometimes stop beating myself up and just be in the moment.

When I stopped playing softball, it wasn’t by choice. There was a lot of shame, a lot of severed friendships, and I never found a group that I fell into as easily again (not that I tried more than once). I love the softball buddies who are still in my life, and no one could or will ever come close to those high school and college years of bonding, laughs, bruises, wins and losses. But, it is just so good to go back to something and feel like no time has passed (at least until the lower back pain set in). To feel like I never should have stopped.

Today I was where I needed to be; tomorrow I have plans that I made a month in advance and will have to miss the game. Again, I want both.

My lower back will be okay with not being there tomorrow. I’ll pray for rain all day to feel less guilty for hanging out with yet more people I’m lucky to be around. I’ll practice being okay with not being able to do everything, being protective of my time and mindful of my body’s limits, being okay with missing out. And I’ll know for next year not to plan anything during playoffs week.

I do love the game. I also love my friends, and book club, and air conditioning. I love instances where I can make a concrete decision and stand by it. I love my family and need to plan a trip with them. I also love sleep, and so will wrap up this little love letter.**

 

*Seriously, it’s a pattern, and a problem. If you (or someone we know) get(s) married and I am there, please help.

**I also love letters.

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.