anxiety, be a better human, empathy, kindness, strangers

Month of letters, What Unites Us & trying

Working smarter, not harder is a motto I didn’t know about until I had been operating under it for roughly a decade. One reason I am the last to know many things is that I am a lazy human. On the yoga mat in my twenties, I was the one who stretched a teensy bit deeper when the instructor was nearby, and the one who glared at all the folks who could clearly afford to attend 10 classes per week. Who were all these people who made this their whole life? Some of us were stressed and underpaid and loved to make excuses!

They tried and worked hard to accomplish their physical goals, and I judged them out of jealousy. Ironic, really, considering everyone is at yoga to become more flexible.

The four months of being in my thirties have made it clear that trying is not for people who can afford it, or for people who are more self-disciplined than I am. Money doesn’t buy flexibility, and it sure doesn’t buy self-discipline. No, I’m realizing, trying is not about your conspicuous displays of effort or finances. Trying is not for your act’s observers, not for weirdos, not posers, nor overachievers.

Trying is for adults.

Prior to 2016, I got away with not trying. Distancing and removing myself from other people, from causes regardless of proximity to my heart, from the goings-on of the world stage. Avoiding painful news and regrettable state of some of my relationships, tucked safely inside a cocoon of disengagement.

A typical weekend saw me sitting or reclining on my bed, watching comedy shows on Netflix (avoid feelings! Avoid ads! Avoid paying for cable!), occasionally screening calls from my parents (avoid feelings and accountability to those who love me!), and writing letters to my friends (avoid the phone!) I interacted enough with humans at work. Let me read my gazillions of books in peace (avoid the outside world!). I was too wrapped up in anxiety and my puffy quilt to attend a Women’s March and all prior/subsequent protests.

My lax, avoidant attitude towards the news has only changed this past year, when a month’s worth of government-induced garbage happens every day. To miss a day is to miss a lot. Most of the time, I still miss a lot, but I sign 324,342,784 times more petitions than I used to. I, oblivious and off doing my own thing, used to wait for my mom or my best friend of 20 years (hi Mel!) to fill me in on what I needed to know, in for the most part environmental/social justice arenas and celebrity/entertainment news, respectively. For proof of my anti-involvement in the news ‘cycle,’ I joined Twitter in November 2016. It feels like I was one of the last people to do so, behind even scores of grandmas and  fake news bots.

2017, Dan Rather, and tackling anxiety make me want to try harder. Dan Rather’s What Unites Us has spoken to me in a profound way. (If you don’t have time to read the whole book, the linked article sums up much of what is gloriously human(e) about Rather’s work.) It is so easy to be critical, and judge, and immediately fly into a rage about someone whose opinions differ from yours or at all the idiots commenting online about issues they have not spent any time actually cranking their brain-gears about. The campaign against human decency that is our current political “leadership” has worked wonders for my involvement in the world. Translation: thanks drumpf, for violently shoving me into my status as an activist and better human.

I have donated more money to more charitable organizations and political movements than ever before in my life. I have stepped up to deal with my anxiety rather than let it rule me. And, I am consciously trying to be less of an asshole to people who don’t deserve it, a noble act for those of us who work with the public.

As a librarian, I can’t stop reading. Instead, I’m trying to intentionally read for better reasons, like learning and self-improvement. What Unites Us has been both. Reading Mr. Rather, one paragraph struck home particularly loudly. He writes about his modest neighborhood during the Great Depression:

The neighborhood tried as best it could to help these families stay alive. If we had leftovers after supper, we would walk them across the street. One of my earliest impressions was taking that short journey with my father. You might think that these families were humiliated by the offerings, but there is no dignity in being hungry. And there was no judgment or disdain on the part of those offering assistance. No one wondered why those neighbors weren’t working, and no one passed moral judgments on their inability to fend for themselves. We understood that in life, some are dealt aces, some tens, and some deuces.

He went on to say their behavior was not heroic, but instead neighborly.

On vacations during childhood, when my family was complete, we played cards. Of course the kid-friendly go fish, but also poker and gin, where I learned either my card showed up or it didn’t, and I had to maneuver my hand to my advantage. The luck of the draw, Mr. Rather states, birthed everyone into their circumstances. What you do with your hand is based on your adaptability and intellect, but what you do with your hand is also connected to what the other players can do with theirs. Empathy means not only considering other people’s perspectives, but at the most fundamental level, acknowledging their humanity and worth. Our culture’s polarization problem desperately needs more empathy, more kindness, more patience, more thinking-before-speaking. Less judgment, less us-versus-them, and less screaming.

So, like, less Fox News.

Adults need to try to empathize with one another. Neighbors looking out for neighbors. (A topic addressed poignantly by Michael Moore’s movie Where to Invade Next.)

As a devout supporter of the United States Postal Service, I will similarly not stop writing letters. During February, I wrote at least one letter per day (with only 2 days off to rest my hand). The Month of Letters was not about hermit-ing and avoiding feelings; it was about reaching out and spreading love and joy. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like getting a letter among the coupons and bills. Doubtful whether I would maintain enthusiasm the whole month, I surprised myself. It turns out I had a lot to say.

IMG_0049
List of MoL recipients; love tweets to Dan Rather not included–those hit the Twitterverse in March

I am trying. I definitely scream less. Maybe tomorrow I will even try to get to yoga.

coworkers, librarians

Librarians as Control Freaks

My friend is a 20-something living his best life and paying down his student loans. He loves expanding his mind, doesn’t want to spending money on books, lives around the block from the public library, AND YET, he still does not have a card. This makes me angry.

Upon further probing (aka nagging), he asks, “What is the checkout process like?”

I dial back, wait a second, realizing there is more to this story than laziness. I then say, “what do you mean?” (This is simply the best non-reaction question, and I recommend it to people like me who tend to react by jumping down peoples’ throats when I hear something I don’t like. It stalls, keeps the other person talking, and gets you more specific information so you can proceed more calmly.)

He went on to describe the checkout process at his high school library as tedious, complicated and stressful, under the watchful/psychotic eye of his high school librarian.

“Yeah, the public library isn’t like that. You just take your book and your card up to the person at the desk, and she tells you the due date and to have a great day.”

He was relieved. Huh. Was this “library police” myth real after all? I thought my dad was the only one who had this recurring dream, but it turns out some librarians scare people away. To empathize with the librarian, many school library budgets are THIN to non-existent and librarians want to focus on keeping the materials they already have so they can spend their money on new materials. This avoiding paying for replacements might manifest in making the process overly complicated, or putting the fear of God into the kids.

Some librarians are mean. The vast majority, though, are–and this may come as a surprise–kind, thoughtful control freaks.

When I joined the profession, I knew I liked to catalog things in such a way that I could find them, but it didn’t click that all people I work with would also like order, occasionally to an unhealthy level.

Suffice to say, I learned. I learned when I received an email from a colleague indicating that I “should not have moved some papers out of a binder,” when I had set them 1 centimeter away, Directly beneath said binder because the little flap holding said papers was tearing from overuse. (Save the flap! Vive la binder!)

I learned when someone stood over my shoulder, watching me pack books to mail and asked me in the same tone as you would ask a child to tell you the next step in tying her shoes, “and where are you sending it?” following my (correct) response with, “and how will you label it?” ………. Ma’am, I’m a grown woman. One who understands the concept of mail. I see you with your bazillions of pre-printed labels, ready-to-stick.

I picked the correct one (because it wasn’t hard) while wondering why, since her assumption was that I was going to do it wrong, she chose to treat me in so condescending a manner rather than just remind me or ask me if I remembered where to find the labels.

And then, because I’m passive-aggressive, maybe not unlike the email-writer, I’m writing this instead of Directly confronting the issue.

To my boyfriend, I seem maniacal and obsessive-compulsive with putting household items “where they go.” In the library circle, I am one of the more laid back ones, because I do not hold procedure or organization as the highest priority. (GASP! Library foul!) That #1 honor goes to the humans and my relationships with them; no one likes a rude coworker! So unnecessary.

I know there are people like this in all lines of work, at all rungs on the career ladder, who like to make other people feel small in order to feel more important or smarter.

Kind librarians do not do this. While we’re at it, please know that librarians are MUCH more than control freaks. When applied humanely, this is an asset rather than a vice, because it means we know where to find what you need. Librarians have superpowers. We are generalists, we are eye-openers, community builders, granters of access, innovators and teachers.

But if you want to see us lose our shit, hide something we are planning on using in the next few hours.

bookmess
Librarians may twitch until they are allowed to organize this.
books, reading

Read More in 2018

Goodreads.com is my magical external brain, and the kind folks there emailed me today to tell me to “Read More in 2018!” If you are unfamiliar, Goodreads is a website that enables you to connect with friends, see what they are reading, and, most important to this librarian: keeps a digital shelf of all yo’ books. I’m talking books you’re reading now, books you have read, books you want to read. (Look into my book brain; view my want-to-read shelf of 300 and understand what it means to be a professional book person.) This is how I keep track of my reading life, which often means adding titles and more titles because there are too many books to read in a lifetime.

I used to read one book at a time. Since being a library school student, I have started to read in a variety of modes (audiobooks and ebooks joined, but did not replace, the physical books) and now I read between 4 – 6 books at a time. This means one audiobook going in the car, one or more for when I’m doing chores around the apartment, and maybe a hardcover to take with me on errands and a paperback by the bedside. Plus or minus an ebook on my (work–shh) computer for when it’s slow.

All this to say, I read too much and I want to read less.

“Nonsense!” you say. “That is sacrilege! That is impossible! Reading is the best, most noble and rewarding activity a human can do! For a librarian to say otherwise is hogwash!”

I disagree.

I read 170 books last year, and that was too many for me. I did in fact set a goal with the Goodreads “Challenge.” My goal was 100. Librarians are surrounded (physically and in our emails/professional networks) by books, usually the newest and the buzziest. Since I was finished with library school and had a job (two, in fact!) and my own schedule, I wanted to challenge myself. And thus the goal was born.

During 2017, which was a rocky, upsetting year for our country in general and me specifically, I turtled. I pulled myself into my shell and I tried to keep out the bad stuff, which was most often any news coverage not presented in comedic form. If any of you are familiar with anxiety and/or depression, and/or feeling powerless over circumstances beyond your control, you recognize this as a counterproductive measure. Instead of going to yoga or on a run outside, I read. Instead of taking calls from or placing calls to my friends and family, I listened to audiobooks in my room. I forgot to do things that bring me joy, because I was sucked in to this habit of reading.

Not only was I strictly consuming books (too fast to allow room for digesting them), I wasn’t doing anything with the information. Occasionally, I would find someone who had read the same thing and talk about a book, or talk with my long-distance book club, but for the most part, I just wanted to move them from the digital “want to read” to the “currently reading” to the “read” shelves.

I became the antisocial kid cool parents worry about when they see their kid reading rather than playing with others. Reading is my comfort zone, and I did not step out of it.

Though not harmful, my reading was not healthy. I used my reading challenge as an excuse to not challenge myself professionally, personally and physically.

This year, my challenge is to read 100 books. No more, no less. A notoriously weak habit-breaker, I am sure in June I will find myself beyond the 50 book mark [LOL book mark, GET IT?], but as long as I’m better balancing my time, more intentional with all activities reading and otherwise, it will have been worth it.

Because I need to do, create, connect, rekindle and re-center (and not feel hokey or indulgent admitting it). Actively engaged rather than passively consuming. I need to talk with people, new and old. I know that reading makes me a better person, but it did not make my life better. It did not heal my anxiety or my relationships.

Only people can do that. Starting with me. Likely outdoors. Definitely out of my bed. There are more books than I could hope to read in a lifetime, so I need to stop trying. Life is waiting. Off the page.