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.