anxiety, be a better human, books, coworkers, librarians, meditation, talking

Balance.. and quitting

I just finished a book I checked out in June. (I know, I know, I rag on others for their excessive renewals. But I wasn’t done! And I have the hookup for renewals!)

I remember fondly the day I checked this book out. It was a weekday afternoon, and I had just gotten sushi for lunch with my friend and coworker. She returned to work, and I told another coworker I was there to pick up the book waiting for me on the hold shelf. Because we are book people, she was interested: what book was it!? Her unasked questions, I know well: was it new? Was it a novel or nonfiction? Should she know about it?

The gleam in her eye turned to laughter when I showed her: a random, nondescript, nonexciting book published in 1992 about Kundalini yoga practice. I was the only one excited about this book. And I wasn’t even that excited. After all, it took me a while to start, and a whiiiile to complete.

This is partly an effect of reading multiple books at a time: sometimes it takes me ages to finish a physical book. Audiobooks zip by. But turning the actual pages takes time (especially since I check out too many at once). Staring at my giant pile of library books, topped by books people have loaned me, it becomes harder to get through books that don’t hook me right away.. or lag in the middle.. or ones that I set aside in order to read something else.. It’s summer, so I’m giving myself a break on how much time it takes to complete my ever-replenishing piles! I’m out doing summery activities and not reading as much! I gave myself permission a couple weeks to not post a blog (mini-quitting).

And when I am reading, I want to enjoy it. As good as Just Mercy is, it is also about people wrongfully convicted and their prison stories. As far as I’m concerned, we are on a break. I’ll return to it eventually, but it wasn’t what I needed right now. As interested as I was in Infectious Madness, there is only so much research I can plod through before I say I GET IT I GET OK OK OK. It is interesting–in some cases, various psychiatric disorders can be brought about by bacteria, but there were just. so. many. pages. I gave myself permission to quit after dutifully reading half of it.

But the 1992 Kundalini book, I would not allow myself to give up. I needed to read it. No matter how farfetched and ridiculous it sounded. Even if it meant I stopped and started and stopped and started. This form of yoga/meditation, based entirely on chakras (energies) and the vibrational effects of various sounds, is woo-woo and far out and yet, all I know is that I leave classes in a better, more balanced mood. (That is why I like it so much.) Actual words I spoke to other drivers after class today: “you’re so silly!” and “hello, traffic! I am prepared for you!” It’s weird. Weirdly positive. Especially compared to the expletives that usually make up my communication with fellow roadmates.

Since I can’t always get to class, I read this book and can do more of the breathing exercises and movements at home (once I get over how weird it feels to do them by myself; somehow it is more natural in a group). Kundalini (movement/meditation), combined with exercise, nature and connection to others are what keep me from falling back into the everyday rut of anxiety and negativity. Even so, I can still slip into those habits within hours of working out, or another positive experience of some kind. I need to build and use my anti-anxiety toolkit, using whichever methods give me success, as weird as they may be. There is no quitting in anxiety–on either end.

be a better human, books, family, giving, kindness, lists, reading, talking

Mothers, loving and liking them

In all my stages of employment (retailing, teaching, nannying, librarianing) I have worked with lots of mothers, and on some catering occasions, sometimes even worked with my own. I’m surrounded by them. Many of my friends are having their first or second babies, even more social media acquaintances. Maybe it is my biological clock waking up, but I’ve tuned in closer lately to how these women relate to and talk about their children: some combination of everyday responsibility, joy, exhaustion, stress and devotion. I like (and love a few of) these women, and I love hearing about their relationships with their kids through their eyes. Whether the objects of discussion are infants, tweens or twenty-somethings, their stories give me perspective on how at any given age I got along with my own fantastic momma.

So far the only nuggets of info I’ve shared about my mom are:

  1. She has told me for years to write a blog (and book).
  2. She nags me to take care of myself, which is sometimes annoying, but this happens because she cares about me, her firstborn and only daughter.
  3. She puts her unread hand-me-over books from her BFF Kathy on my bookshelf that she is babysitting for me quasi-indefinitely.

These are all true! But they are hardly the whole picture.

First off, though I do advocate reading all the books you own and display, bookshelves are a convenient place to rest them before you get to them. Mom does read books, but I have to physically put the book into her hands; I used to just tell her titles that moved me and that I thought she’d like, but she would lose the envelopes she wrote them on. I suggested she use the library. Then one August I visited to find a book with a NEW! MARCH! sticker and calculated that encouraging her to check out library books was doing a disservice to the library. When I librarian-ed her (ie. asking in a panicked tone, “what if someone else was waiting for it?” and guilting with “they probably had to assume it was lost and replace it!”) she took it back to its home. As a “senior” (in numbers only), she learned from that experience that she doesn’t have to pay ANY fines or replacement fees! And they let her keep the book, to boot!

She runs a little backlog of books I now buy for her. (I learned from the 100-page library book I checked out for her with my card and its ongoing 18 renewals and started buying them.) Prone to savoring books (or just getting through a few pages before getting too sleepy to continue), it takes her a long time to finish one book. This both drives me nuts because I want to talk about the books with her, and also epitomizes intentional consuming of the content. She may have a great time taking the book slowly, where I may have devoured it and moved on. (Or, she may forget what she read the last night and proceed to spend a fortnight on one chapter. Anyone’s guess.)

And despite the backlog, I continue gifting her books. (Viva las bookstores!) I know that when I have a profound connection to a story or concept or retelling of real life events, that she will respond to it also. The books I choose for her generally resonate with us on a personal level, topics ranging from a young person who experienced loss and how he carried on (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–my mom claimed changed her life) to a nonfictional chaotic family that produces strong women (The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls–ditto), to an adult and his mother talking through life events he was too young to understand when they happened (The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt–seriously, start it already, Mom!)

I love being able to talk to my mom through the books we read in common. I love when she loves a book as much as or more than I do. I also love when we both dislike the same book (our first “official” mother-daughter book club selection H is For Hawk was more like D is for Dud/B is for Boring/O is for Overrated). Our shared opinions and similar sources for inspiration reinforce that I am something like her–even though sometimes that is not ideal, as in the case of this list that I have to recreate from memory because I wrote it out on a sticky note and lost the sticky note.

List of books I think Mom will like*

*and you might too!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (fiction, bit of a mystery!)
  • What Unites Us by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner (memoir/USA)
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders (politics, USA)
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (politics, USA)
  • The book I’m purchasing for her, so it will remain undisclosed until she receives it

At any rate, my brother and I are super lucky to both love and like our mom. We are fans of hers not only because she cooks like I read: a variety of genres, super well, and all the time. Mostly, we are fans because she is supportive, sweet and loves us a lot. I wish she would read more, and she wishes I would cook more, so each of us should probably listen to the other and balance our book time:food prep time ratios. We don’t have a ton of traditions as a three-person family, but the approximately two that we have are perfect: banana cream pie for my brother’s birthday (and my gluten intolerance means I now get just the bananas and custard, aka the best part) and wrapping our secular presents on Christmas morning, five to fifteen minutes before exchanging and unwrapping them.

Though our in-person Mother’s Day celebration has to wait until the end of the month when I’m home, I hope her sons (biological and fur) treat her extra well this weekend. Being a mom is a big job, and it seems like it doesn’t get any easier with age, so, kudos to my mom, all the moms I know (and don’t). We kids, young or grown, may fight you on a number of things, you may always embarrass us, but we love you!

gf

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.

bookstores, coworkers, librarians, talking

(That) Kind of A Manager

My current position is not perfect. However, in the interest of complaining less (which is good for you!) and focusing on positivity instead of negativity, I thought I would address my favorite part of my job, as well as celebrating some quality people who have shaped who I am in the workplace.

I supervise student employees. They are mine to boss around — er, I mean, assign/delegate tasks — though I do not schedule them or serve as their go-to contact. I am there to answer their questions, back them up with patron-related problems, and I ask them for help with tasks. They (mostly) oblige good-naturedly. Building relationships with young people has always been one of my favorites, and it influenced my choice to major in Education, to pursue student teaching a second time despite a disastrous first try, to nanny, and to work as a teacher-librarian. Of course, my college students are very different than the toddlers I used to babysit (namely in their affinity for curse words and their showing up with visible “love bites”), but deep down I just like being around people and often younger people are more open to talking and connecting with someone they don’t know well.

I loved training the newbies: showing them the ropes and fielding their questions when new situations pop up. One student at the beginning of the year was so stunned at how old some of our materials are because they had been published the same year his grandma had been born. It was sweet to see his awe at how the information within had existed as long as his grandma, and to see him think about how the book’s field of study had likely changed.

Even more than the work-related conversations, I love hearing them talk about what’s going on in their real lives: work, school, family. I love urging them, seniors or otherwise, to seek out resources that the University offers that they either don’t know about or have the motivation to utilize (here’s looking at you, Career Services :). I love listening to the Sunday girls speak in Spanglish with each other and get excited that I can understand roughly 75%. I am impressed when other students speak in fluent Hindi because it sounds so complicated, but they, bilingual, have been using it since birth. They are pre-med, nursing, engineering, or bio majors and I know I never had to study that hard in college (high school, maybe).

Whereas some students keep entirely to themselves, glued to their laptops or phones their whole shifts, the students who talk to me are my favorites. They tell me about their roommates wanting the heat up way too high, their conferences in Pittsburgh (the buildings are all brick–too much of the same color!), their public speaking assignments, faraway summer internships they’ve lined up (rent is insanely high in CA! Owning real estate and letting money roll in is such a goal!), their minors–majors stress them out, but their minors are fun passion projects like theatre, which involves set building/design and props in particular, creativity in general. The kids have wild stories — one girl humbly told me her family store was robbed over the summer, that she and her dad were held at gunpoint. She smiled and said “it was scary” but that the police caught the perpetrator shortly afterward, and did not appear shaken in the least.

And last week, during my last hour of work before a pre-announced snow day, I asked the young adults working what they were doing on their day off, and they asked me the same. My plan was to watch Coco, and hearing that, one student LIT UP. She is not one of my warm-and-fuzzy students, but she could not stop smiling about my watching it. This 20-year-old told me about how she loves the soundtrack and listens to it sometimes, and she warned me I would cry. (She was completely right.) The four of us then had a fifteen-minute conversation about “kid” movies, babysitting and its merits, and I shared my lone horror story from the single time I ever accepted a job substitute teaching kindergarten. (ONCE WAS ENOUGH. Props to all the kindergarten teachers.) I left for home that night happy for the day off, but happier to share so much dialogue, such a connection with someone young enough that I could have babysat over a movie I hadn’t even watched yet.

[THEN I watched it, and holy moly, I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously, so beautiful. Stop everything and go request it from the library. I’ll wait here!

…Great, glad you took care of that. You too will soon be able to share in the magic.]

More than anything, though, I was happy that I get to be kind of, sort of a manager, because I get to work with some cool young people. I’m that kind of manager: real with them. I go easy on them when they are cramming for an upcoming exam. I ask them questions about their family trips to visit relatives in Colombia, and I pack and label the outgoing mail alongside them because they don’t like doing it (but I do!). I try to calm their course-related anxiety and encourage them to get enough sleep every chance I get.

The best managers I’ve had have been calm, kind and available. One such person is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, whom I watched many a customer verbally abuse at the bookstore, for any number of reasons (probably related to coupons and their applicability). Through it all, no matter how rude someone was to him, he did not take it personally, nor get nasty in response. Instead, he calmly tried to reach an acceptable solution for the customer. I never saw his hair on fire (metaphorically or literally)–even though he was the manager in charge of the schedule, he maintained one of the most easygoing, goofy attitudes complete with a smile. Working with him was relaxed and productive. When I was dumped by my first love and someone in the store tried to immediately set me up with her brother, I fled to the staff room and cried hysterically to this man until he got me laughing and ready to face the floor (if not the dating scene) again. His wife, son and daughter are lucky humans! He still texts me to check in on my birthday & remains part of my support network when it comes time to apply for new jobs. Though I never observed him outwardly showing discontent, eventually, he wanted a better schedule/higher pay, and probably a job where no one screams at him, so he no longer works in retail. But when he was in it, he was the best at accommodating schedule requests and just overall being a great guy. J, you rock!

While I was awed by J’s (and almost all of my bookstore family’s) ability to remain calm under attack, I had to experience discipline from the master some years later. My supervisor in my grad school position was professional in ways I had never known. This was the first workplace other than nannying where the roster of day-to-day contacts stayed consistent. Blessed with the privilege of a non-public workplace, this woman showed me the power of introverts. Her quiet in meetings did not signal a lack of engagement, nor lack of opinion, but she chose when, how, and to whom to express herself in a deliberate matter that best served the purposes of the team. Considering that I am often physically unable to withhold my opinions, seeing her at work was enlightening and provided me with a model for how to comport myself diplomatically in a work environment. She trusted me with projects, some from the ground up (and to only minor, occasional disappointment) and to select candidates to interview for her future graduate assistants. A private person in many ways different from myself, she and I nevertheless bonded over projects, laughs and a mutual appreciation for handwritten letters. During my time working for her, we both suffered losses: she, her beloved father and I, a significant relationship. Rather than the awkwardness that can pollute the workplace post-sad event, we took care of each other. Our respective vulnerabilities did not derail work, and we gently built each other up, one poke-of-my-head-through-her-door at a time. TT, you taught me that it is not weak to take care of yourself, that an office can be a family, and that balance between work and family is possible without sacrificing dedication to either! You serve as my benchmark for how I should carry myself at work. You rule, lady! I hope this makes it into your smile file 🙂

It is strange to me that the people with whom you spend 8+ hours each day are not your chosen inner circle of friends and family. They are a bunch of randos, and today I’m thankful for my time with these two pleasant people, a lifesaver of a current colleague (seriously, H! Mister Rogers stamps!?! Such a thoughtful gift) and my sweet students.

I’m lucky to have to be around the people I do.

empathy, information, kindness, librarians, strangers

The Ones Who Call

Answering the phone at work is one of my favorite activities. I already like talking on the phone, which is more than many people can say. However, when people call in to the public library (note: I did not say THEIR public library, since we get scores of calls from far, far away), there are good chances the encounter will be positive. This is because:

  1. The caller is likely to be older. Maybe they are physically restricted and can’t make it in, but gosh darn it, they are pleasant on the phone. All it takes is a sweet old lady calling me ‘dear’ and telling me I’ve been ‘so very helpful’ and I am struck with a good mood for at least two hours.
  2. Often, a mobile customer is asking a brief question, ie “are you open?” or “do you have [this book]/a color printer/paper federal tax forms?” and in a ten second interaction, I can provide a solution to their information need. One reason I’m a librarian is that I actively enjoy answering questions and sharing information.
  3. The library employee maintains a healthy amount of control in the event that a customer becomes demeaning or inappropriate. While this does not happen often, in person or on the phone, I treasure the ability to not have to endure verbal abuse for longer than it takes me to say, “sir/ma’am, if you continue to disrespect me like this, I will hang up.”
    • My wise and talented colleague taught me a librarian lesson (our version of life lessons) one day with a customer who wanted to babble with no perceived purpose. She told the man politely, “I’m sorry, I have a customer here and I need to hang up.” And then she did! It was crazy how simple it was to reclaim her time.

That said, phone interactions can go south in many ways. You never know who will call in. There is one frequent caller who asks for various conversions of inches to millimeters and for phone numbers to businesses in the United Kingdom. It is not her questions that rub me the wrong way, but her snappish, pushy tone, and the way she does not believe what I report to her. There are weeks where patients in psychiatric facilities call us and we have to encourage them to call priests or pastors because we cannot answer their questions about sin and forgiveness. There are teens who clearly have not used their cell phones for the purposes of communicating voice-to-voice with other human beings, and people who get angry at us because we can’t hear them due to their poor cell reception.

When I worked in Youth Services, we received many phone calls from one mother whose son visited the library for many hours each school night, and Saturdays, and Sundays. He did not have a cell phone, and she knew to find him there. She called once and asked for her son and when I said sure, I will go get him, she lashed into me. “Why do you know my kid?” The thing about librarians who work with kids is that we get to know them in a safe space: what they like, what they read and what magic makes them who they are. We care about them. This is what makes good youth librarians good at their jobs. I told her that I knew him because he was there every day, and she lost it. She screamed at me about how I was judging her for having to work and not being home with her child. She told me she was tired of us at the library and how if we thought her kid was there too much, she wouldn’t let him go there after school. In between saying that that was not necessary, that of course he is welcome and we all really liked him, she projected all of her guilt and single-parenting issues directly onto me. Though I was conscious I didn’t deserve her misplaced anger, I was still rattled. When she was done berating me, I brought him to the phone to talk to her. Then I took a break to walk it off.

And then there is thank-you-for-taking-my-call guy (TYFTMCG). He earned his moniker because he begins each and every call by verifying the library employee’s name and then thanking us for taking his call. If he is not hard of hearing, he does a very convincing portrayal of someone who is, and he is notorious at our library. An elderly gentleman, he never visits our location. Just calls. All the time.  The first time I had him on the line, he verified my name. “Emory?” “My name is Emily. How can I help you?” “Ah, Emory. Great. Thank you for taking my call.” There is no one on our staff who he does not irritate. After the second call, I memorized the last four digits of his phone number (0241), so I could at least know I was headed into the Emory phone calls, mustering some degree of preparedness.

He asks inane, often un-answerable trivia questions that feel like when your mom asks you “what restaurant did we go to that one time?” or “what is that thing you were talking about that one time when we were at [that restaurant]?” He asks us to repeat our guesses around a dozen times, and often, to spell them, often a dozen times. On one such call, he asked me the name of places where pregnant girls go for counsel. This led to me near-shouting “pregnancy crisis centers!?! Abortion clinics?!!” over and over again. He also doesn’t accept your responses, which means he denies you have found the answer the whole call, and often calls back to try to speak to a different employee.

Many people have competing theories about whether he is annoying on purpose/calls us for crossword clues or Jeopardy questions, but my theory is that he calls us because he probably has dementia and forgets things he has heard about. I believe we are his external memory.

I have been thinking about this man and that boy lately. No one had seen the kid or his mother in a while, and apparently the overdue notices had come back with a forwarding address in another town, where I hope he has a new library with a great youth team. There were many dormant months when we received no TYFTMCG calls. When he called again, I was glad to hear his voice, but I’m worried that we are nearing a time when he won’t call anymore.

The phone is an exercise in kindness, in dedicating your energy to communicating with someone whose body language is absent. One bad customer service call can essentially convince anyone that the person on the other side of the phone is a fool. During my most recent shift, I returned a customer’s voicemail, and concluded my message on her machine by asking her to give us a call back. I started to give the phone number as I have done hundreds of times, paused for an awkward length, and had to conclude by stating I literally forgot our phone number, but she found it before so to try us again.

I aim to grant people as much benefit of the doubt as I hope she gave me listening to that message.

I hope she doesn’t think I’m a terrible employee. I hope she chuckles at my silliness, or understands that everyone has those days. I hope she grants that there are many reasons why the employee could have forgotten. Maybe, for example, she woke up at 6am after 5 hours of sleep, not able to fall back for another couple hours because she is moving in two weeks, breaking up with her lovely boyfriend, and her mind won’t stop, and she was in pain because her neck/shoulder muscles froze from all the tension she’s carrying but she didn’t want to call out to her very-part-time job and she is trying to make the best of the day, though she can neither remember the library’s phone number nor turn her head.

So, yeah. Conversing on the phone is a solid indicator of who a person is in a moment in time. Call your loved ones, call your libraries, call anyone you want to vet before meeting. And be kind.

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.

judgment, kindness, librarians, strangers

Yes, sir / No, sir

As previously discussed, I leave just enough time in transit to get where I’m going on time. Sometimes I run close to the wire. Recently, I was on the opening shift and putting away the day’s newspapers just as the doors opened at 9AM. Two men walked in to the newspaper shelves, reached for their papers, and one walked out. One seated himself and I continued putting up the papers.

The one who took his news to go happens to wear women’s clothing and makeup.

The one who stayed in the room with me announced not quietly and with plenty of distaste, “it’s unnatural!”

I was the only other person in the room. I froze.

He had waited until the first customer left the room, so he wasn’t looking for a confrontation. Why, then? Was this statement for my benefit, somehow? Was he trying to gauge my reaction, or worse, did he assume that I agreed with him? Or, was he just THAT comfortable with airing his views wherever he pleased? And, was I willing to possibly be reprimanded for yelling at a closed-minded customer?

It was a real drag.

Never one to quip quickly or effectively in arguments, I instead simmered quietly over my ethical dilemma. I wanted to tell this dude that what is UNNATURAL is pumping enough carbon into the air that the glaciers are melting and it is 75 degrees for a week in the East Coast in February. Humans NATURALLY wore very few garments, and they were designed to protect them from the elements, not to designate gender or convey status.

Then I reflected a little.

When I started at the library, my initial reaction to the gentleman who wears women’s clothes was to judge him. I thought, “who is he kidding? He does not make a very convincing woman.” And, he really doesn’t. His frame is masculine, his wig is clearly that, and his makeup and clothing are out of style as well as more overdone than ‘en vogue’ women wear today. (I immediately noticed these things critically, which says more about me than about him. I was working three jobs, taking a full course load and was stressed and often bitter.) Then, however, I arrived at a conclusion. He dresses like a woman even though it is clear he is not one. Huh. He must just like it!

A similar revelation came when I listened to Eddie Izzard’s FANTASTIC audiobook about his life: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens. I know I’ve raved about this book before, but here I go again. I remember Eddie’s standup by several sketches, immortalized on YouTube and burned into my mind because they portray the scenes he talks about using Lego characters. I had forgotten that he cross-dresses. When I started the book, I realized I couldn’t remember if he was gay. He addressed this, for all the similarly clueless people like me: he isn’t. He just likes women’s clothes! Huh.

Maybe this customer had also associated cross-dressing with homosexuality, but that too is a severely backward reason to judge someone. I don’t know. All I know is, I felt conflicted enough to ask my colleague what his opinion was, whether I should have said something to the rude one. His wisdom soothed me, as he thought I could do no more than to enable all customers of the library to feel safe and welcome.

Every other colleague I asked said the same thing, even one who is undergoing gender transition. Gender is a controversial topic with them, but they agreed that as employees and representatives of the library, we can’t be on the cause crusade and must make all customers feel safe and welcome, even if it makes us ill.

Of course, three hours of debating myself later, and through many iterations of “what’s it to ya?”) I thought of what I felt was the perfect, non-confrontational but I-see-you-and-your-unkind-ways response I should have said: “to each his own.”

All of us said that if we weren’t on the clock, we would have SCHOOLED him. About gender theory and human decency. Equally as much as my silence made me cringe,  librarians’ words mean a lot.