be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, strangers, talking

Prying book eyes

On a recent library book binge, I brought home a hefty stack of books. My lovely housemate saw the stack, and asked me about one title: Being Peace by Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. She collects quotations and happened to have a few from his writings. She shared this one with me:

“Though we all have the fear and the seeds of anger within us, we must learn not to water those seeds and instead nourish our positive qualities – those of compassion, understanding, and loving kindness.”

Since I’m the Angry Librarian, this interested me, and we had a thoughtful conversation about how life and the workplace may bring out some of these very seeds and how we need to smile and shake it off.

In yet another library, last week I needed to print something before I went to the printer-haven of work, and popped into a public library I’d never visited. In order to use one of the computers, I was asked to provide a photo ID. I watched as the librarian wrote my name and guest pass number on a piece of paper, and brainstormed the many reasons they might wish to monitor who is visiting what sites within their walls. (I could only come up with potential issues arising from illegal activity.)

In my experience through library school and in the public library where I work, though, there is a current, obsessive trend with library privacy. My own library just switched to a different hold pick-up system, where customers can retrieve their items from a shelf and use self-check machines (grab-and-go style). Before this new process could begin, there were evidently many lengthy meetings about where on the book to put a sticker containing what identifying information. Should the sticker display the customer’s full name? Should the title of the book show?

As for myself, I fail to see how this conversation could last more than 15 minutes. And yet, it lasted. (The end result that was decided is the sticker will be arranged alphabetically by full last name and cover the title of the book. I know you were dying to know.)

Let me address, I did not like being asked for my identification in order to use a public computer. The implications did not jive with my knowledge of privacy. I fully recognize the importance of protecting online privacy–our and all libraries use some form of a program called Deep Freeze, which wipes all data from each customer login after they sign out. (Even still, sometimes that doesn’t work, so if anyone out there is worried about their digital footprint and who is looking at it, always manually sign out of your accounts, and under no circumstances store passwords on a public computer, as a principle.)

However, I just don’t think that people in public spaces can expect (nor can those public spaces guarantee) complete and total privacy. This is absurd and paranoid to me, as it seems counterintuitive to expect that no one will see (or that anyone would care) what books people are holding in their hands. And, not to mention, this extreme privacy doesn’t allow for every romance or friendship that started because someone was curious enough to look at what book the other was holding, and then take the bold and vulnerable (and sometimes well-received) gesture to start a conversation about it.

The frenzied desire to block all others out irritates me. I can’t help but feel that anyone in a public library is freely forfeiting at least a tiny bit of their privacy just by stepping into  a public space. How is carrying a book around any building not placing someone “at risk” of revealing its title? And, if someone is truly ashamed of their reading material, why would they request it to be held for them instead of venturing in and selecting it, by hand, by themselves?

I think back to a woman I had in my line at the bookstore when I was 19. This glamorous 30-something placed a small pile of books on the counter, barely raising her lips in greeting when I smiled and said hello. I, observing her gorgeous diamond ring, turned my eyes to the books. All three were about surviving the death of a spouse. I was shocked that such a horrible event could happen to someone so young and pretty, and I hoped I didn’t offend her or make her sadder during this, the symbolic purchase. Unsure how she would want me to act in this minor exchange, I tried not to widen my eyes and tried harder to eliminate any pity from my voice. More than anything, I was proud of her. Here was this young woman, whose own eyes (once I looked up from the ring) I could see were red and puffy. She was obviously not shopping for a gift. She was in mourning.

And she bought these books to help herself heal.

She did not buy them online, preserving her privacy as she sobbed in her pajamas. She very easily could have, and would have, if she were embarrassed of her emotionally vulnerable state, or concerned with how the young, desperate for adult life and love cashier or other browsing strangers would treat her.

Instead, she braved the world. She drove to us, got out of her car, located the section she needed, and from the shelf, handpicked not just one, but three books, in what I interpreted as her sadness and desperation morphing into resolve: a series of clear actions she took towards helping herself. I hope those books and all this time gave her what she needed.

And I am grateful for the spontaneous human connection that books, bookstores and libraries can provide. The fleeting moments with strangers where we mutually reveal something of ourselves.

We deserve to relinquish privacy on occasion. We need to leave room for vulnerability.

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, lists, meditation, writing

Activities formerly known as eye-rolled at

Just can’t stay away from ending sentences/fragments with prepositions.. Sorry, not sorry!

Moving right on, I thought I would address Mental Health Awareness Month, aka May, our current month. I will be using comics from Sarah Scribbles’ new book Herding Cats in what is hopefully not problematic in terms of copyright, but instead inspirational to have you go buy the book or check it out from the library because all of her books are fantastic.

As with many people who experience depression/anxiety/other mental health issues, periods of my life are up and relatively worry-free, and periods are fraught with self-doubt, negative self talk.. aka times when I annoy myself, yet also antithetically isolate so I’m not seeing anyone other than myself, and many aspects of my life look lame, uninteresting, boring and shitty.

Right now, thoughts-wise, I’m pretty good! Springtime is warm and sunny and helpful to my mood. I am loving not drinking coffee (as much as I can despite missing the taste, but Larry David points out, the ritual of drinking tea from a mug in the morning is the same as drinking coffee from a mug in the morning) because I am far less jumpy/tense. There has been a sharp uptick in my weekly exercise.. in that I have started routinely exercising each week, sometimes even more than once. Lately I have been reading many good books, and have tons of summer family events and friends’ weddings/general fun to look forward to.

 

Seriously, go purchase/borrow this book. It looks like this:

ss2

As you can see from my pirated photos of her awesome work, she too suffers from periods of anxiety and depression, often (not pictured) due to current events and from social situations. I’m coming to her same conclusion, that making ‘stuff,’ in her case art and in my case writing, is a solid way to avoid or process the crap going on around me, or at least to clear my head/escape my thoughts for a little while.

Another way to do that is meditation. I have gotten a little lazy on that front, and often only use a meditation app to fall asleep rather than doing my standalone exercises. I also have found the perfect teacher/meditation class. It has been great. Yesterday, though, I learned that she will be moving the class from Saturday afternoon (yay weekend availability!) to Thursday evenings (nooo, my job is at night!). Under typical mental health circumstances, I would never have gone back. However, this is the longest yoga studio relationship I have ever had, and I’m flipping COMMITTED at this point. I even stopped lying to them to get that sweet, sweet student discount. Instead, throughout the summer at least, I intend to ask my boss if I can work different hours so that I can make it there in time, because it is that important in centering and rejuvenating me. Where once I disdained the soft, gentle yoga-teacher speak, now I see it as worthy of aspiration.

In addition to yogic calm, I once eye-rolled and avoided the following items HARD and have now come to love, advocate, or at bare minimum tolerate them:

  • Clogs (love, for their comfort and versatility, despite my BFF thinking they say “I’ve given up!”)
  • Tucked-in shirts (tolerate)
  • Meditation (love AND advocate)
  • Alternative medicine of any kind 
  • Visible panty lines (Then, the SHAME! The SHAME! Now, tolerate)
  • Emoting of any kind –other than laughter– in public (the SHAME! The SHAME!!!)
  • Nonfiction books: during my young and naive school years, I didn’t realize that after you’re done with school, there are no homework assignments. My version of self-directed learning involves a lot of nonfiction.
  • Therapy: when my parents divorced, my mom insisted that I see a shrink. She undoubtedly read somewhere in her hippie newsletters that children going through these traumatic life events needed to talk. I resented the fact that she was throwing money ($125 per HOUR) down the drain, and who the hell was this “doctor” lady? I didn’t need to talk, and so I didn’t. I sat in her office and stared at everything on the walls and thought occupying thoughts until I was too bored to maintain my moody silent protest.

That last youthful judgment brings me to my next point. Even though I’m feeling good right now, I am making an appointment with a therapist. For real this time (though I have said I should probably go for proooobably four years). Because for the first time, I actually want to do the work necessary to keep myself operating NOT on a keep-to-myself-because-I-don’t-want-to-expose-my-lameness-to-my-friends-all-sad-sack-like kind of wavelength. It’s poopy digging into the dark recesses of past heartbreaks and traumas, but at least for me it’s looking pretty necessary to prevent future lows. “The work” here is an emotional extension of the zen principle of non-resistance. Feeling the feels & releasing them to drain their power. Lightening the load by talking–to friends who have been there, getting to know the kindness of new friends, or to the olde standbys of supportive family, or to a therapist–generally makes it better.

Emote-avoidance, begone! Let us celebrate mental health progress with clogs and St. John’s Wort!

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, social media, writing

Being 30 on Facebook

Not long ago, our public library did a large renovation and an entire floor was completely closed and furniture dispersed. This displacement meant that the computers were now in a more central space near the entrance. This more prominent location meant there was far less inappropriate viewing behavior, ie. anything you wouldn’t want someone accidentally viewing over your shoulder. I’ll leave that to your imagination. That said, there are many regulars who tend to sit at the computers for lengths of time. One of them spends his internet time arguing with people in the comments sections on Facebook. Unclear whether he ever knows the people he’s debating, but he gets heated. When he gets heated, he either 1) slams his fingers onto the keyboard, loudly or 2) hums, loudly or 3) hums, loudly and aggressively. When I say loudly, I mean audible from a great distance. He knows he does these things, and library staff (librarians and building monitors alike) have spoken to him many times about respecting the library computers and not disrupting fellow customers.

Another repeat customer I helped with his resume similarly had a volume modulation issue. Upon seeing me when he walked in, he would somehow not knowingly shout “HEY! TEACHER LADY! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? CAN YOU HELP ME WHEN YOU GET A SECOND?” I generally love working on resumes, but always felt a prickly sense of dread and wished that I hadn’t told him that I worked at a nearby school too.

Hip to the noise concerns of many customers, I was not the only one who felt dread and anger rise when certain customers spoke/shouted/watched videos without headphones. But as much as I despise those anxiety-inducing behaviors, one day I was proud of them.

A well-dressed middle aged white woman asked me a question at the desk, and, glancing at the row of people using computers, she asked me with a plain sense of disgust, “what are they doing on the computers?”

Pretending to be confused, I responded, “anything that you would need a computer to do…”

She scoffed. “But, why here? Don’t they have computers at home?”

Now, I didn’t have to pretend to be confused. Did this lady really just ask me that?

As calmly as I could, I said, “maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but we have them in order for people to use them.”

She accepted this, walked away, and I feared my explanation did nothing to pull her from her cozy privilege cocoon.

Some people do not have computers at home. Maybe they have one, but don’t have internet. Maybe they don’t have air conditioning, and don’t want to sit in their home as they apply for jobs for hours. Maybe they are using our databases to do genealogical research, or print out their boarding passes, or print out really anything! I was outraged that this woman had been so blatantly judgmental at the “riff-raff” who sit at the public computers, because it is their right to do so! The public library is for everyone! That is literally the point of our existence!

Now, though I do not myself spend time on Facebook at the library, I spend plenty of time on it at home. Last week, I did something that I ordinarily hate: I wrote about my feelings and shared it on Facebook. My perception of people who do this is that they are attention-seeking, craving validation, and emoting for emoting’s sake. Oversharers.

My intention was much simpler: I hadn’t felt like posting anything in two weeks, when I generally try to write at least once per week, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about except being sad. Didn’t even bother tying it to anything library-related. It was an off-brand, atypically personal post. And, I want to address the phrase “lightly depressed” that I used. I was not talking about the past two weeks of crying over my failed relationship. It had been a while since I was just plain sad about something specific, and I didn’t distinguish it as a separate entity from depression. Being sad can exist away from depression. I used that phrase not to diminish depression, because the point of depression is that it is not finite; it permeates through time and darkens joy. Depression is when you can’t climb out of the dark cloud. When I used the phrase lightly depressed, I meant my tendency of the last two years to say no rather than yes, to stay in rather than do any activity out of the house, to remain stationary when I needed to get up and moving my body. Functional depression, as I could always go to work, make dinner plans with friends and take trips to friends’ weddings. I wasn’t trapped in my bed for days, pondering the meaninglessness of life and futility of love like I have before. I just didn’t want to go to the grocery store or cook.

anx

And Facebook is not the place to be when you are depressed. As a 30-year-old, I see a feed of baby photos, engagement announcements, weddings, pregnancy/career milestones and gorgeous views from hikes and vacations with smiling significant others. As I read in (the fantastic) America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman, people are likely to share the highlights of their lives on social media rather than the struggles, proclaiming their happiness and picture-perfect, filtered lives. The sense of inadequacy I feel when I see acquaintances’ posts is enough to make me want to leave Facebook. The happy is brilliant, blinding, and I can’t help but compare my circumstances unfavorably. And I did so, successfully deactivating for around a month in the fall. (I reactivated before my birthday so I could collect the yearly messages.)

The added nonsense of violated privacy agreements and Russian meddling and all the political posts (of which I am very guilty of sharing with many expletives) has prompted me to legitimately defend to myself why I am still using the site. Once, I wanted to hoard the photo documentation of years of my life, since people my age don’t generally have photo albums that aren’t digital. Now, I am moving toward cultivating non-attachment, so should be willing to let go of this (possibly vain and controlling) desire for a digital footprint.

But, now I have this blog, and I predominantly share it with my Facebook network. As a digital tree in the woods, if a blog is written but Facebook friends aren’t there to click on it, does it have a readership? There are ways to follow my blog (scroll up on the page and the word “follow” appears at the bottom right–click it!), but I want people to read what I write, and so don’t want to deactivate and lose the visibility.

Plus, the reaction I got from friends and family last week was pure and good. Many reached out, because as much as I can turtle and not want to talk about Feelings, I have an awesome support network who are there to help. An analog network, away from the internets.

So, thank you for that, reader-friends/loved ones! After a weekend accidentally spent completely analog and instead with stationery, meals with girl friends, meditation and reading in the park–as well as a brief surprise visit by Spring, I’m back in the writing saddle. And dedicated to using Facebook for its merits: connecting with a broad group of cool people I somehow know.