anxiety, be a better human, books, career, community, depression, joy, let it go, reading, writing

How Time Works

As the clock struck midnight on January 1st, I sat, like many others, watching the ball drop. As the cameras panned the crowd at Times Square, an announcer held a microphone in front of a group of young women who exclaimed it was “SO CRAZY!” how it was a new decade. I laughed with someone I don’t know well but respect, as he said “it’s not crazy! It’s how time works!” My thoughts exactly. Literal! Practical!

Though it’s easy to critique merrymakers in varying states of intoxication, and though in general I am an advocate of remarking on wonder whenever it strikes, time really does work minute by minute and hour by hour.

Anxiety would have me fast forward through future days/hours/minutes until I know all the answers and the ways everything plays out. Depression and obsessive thinking would trap me in the past days/hours/minutes and replaying all of the cringeworthy mistakes and missteps I made, all the people who I lost. And it’s easy to look at a month, a year, a decade, in those terms.

Ten years ago, I was reeling from the most traumatic and destructive event of my life. I was paralyzed by fear, doubt, isolation and loss. I could not let go of the plan I had made and outwardly insisted I was fine, marching forward into the worst year of my life up to that point.

It is my hope that over the last ten years (especially the past one), I have learned to let go of the controlled plan and to deal with reality before I move forward. To stop forcing it. It is my goal to take each day as it comes and do my best with it, which is to say mindfully advance through, while prioritizing my needs as well as the people I care about. It is also my hope that when (not if!) I fail to do that, as I feel about this holiday season, I won’t punish myself with a constant stream of internal criticism but instead show some compassion.

And some of the minutes/days, compassion is out of my reach. I get trapped in my habits. And those are the days when I need to surround myself with the amazing humans in my orbit. New Year’s Eve was one of those days: I needed a shock out of my head. And I got it, in the form of social connection and warmth. (Note: NYE was not exclusive in this–I needed and got social connection and warmth over the holidays as well, from my amazing long-distance friends too.)

A lovely co-guest at my amazing friends’ dinner party brought a jar of questions for us all to answer, ranging from light and conversational to reflective and emotional. We were talking about the tribulations and triumphs of the year, the people we are grateful for and the lessons we’ve learned. And, like any good event, we quoted Titanic (to making it count!) It was a great end to the year, and it did feel crazy that I was into this sentimental, sort of mushy activity. It felt crazy and wondrous what a difference this decade has made.

And speaking of counting, 2019 was the first year of the decade that I didn’t meet or exceed my reading goal. I couldn’t be prouder of this shortcoming, because it means I was doing other things! Some fruitless, some counterproductive, but overall I was trying to take in a variety of media, and to output/create to counterbalance what I took in. There are many ways I can do more, or better, or more compassionately, but at the close of one HARD year and the start of another, I am okay with how I’ve done. A far cry from being in love with my life and free from fear or regret, but at least on that side of center.

Last week at the library, an older gentleman approached me and asked if we had a certain title. I helped him, and he challenged me to guess how old he was. He was excited and proud to show me his drivers license, stating his birth year of 1926, making him 93 years old (2 years older than my grandpa would be if he were alive). I was shocked, considering how mobile and lucid he was, and he wanted to share his ‘secret:’ he swims and rows 3 times per week, and has for years. That, and he dyes his hair ūüôā He seemed, overall, to be in love with his life.

This year, I’m going to take a page from him. I’m going to capitalize on any youth or strength I feel and celebrate the (sometimes painfully few) ways my body serves me. I’m going to be open and friendly with people I know and people I don’t (within boundaries). I plan to take pages from my friends and family, by creating (artfully or not) and putting people and pets first; from my colleagues by thinking before speaking and taking pride in my work.

This decade, I’m reclaiming my time. I’m getting my shit together, and keeping it that way. I’m falling in love, with my life if not more. And as long as I can, I’ll be working on being mindful and making this happen every minute and every day, because that’s how time works.

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.