books, community, empathy, kindness, reading, strangers

Collective

It was a great week, and I will tell you why. This week, I saw not one, but two amazing speakers. I feel privileged to have seen Ta-Nahesi Coates and Michelle Obama in person, one in a more intimate theater and one a sporting arena. Very different settings, and no one screamed/gave Coates a standing ovation, but both nights were exciting!

These events were particularly significant to me because I don’t do a ton of audience type of activities. In the interest of saving money, I don’t go to a ton of movies, or concerts, or theatre. Crowds are often annoying, because people, so often my money-saving measures are doubly successful in keeping me at home or out with a small/curated group of people I like to be around.

But this week, I saw a lot of different people. At the university event, Coates was in conversation with a professor from the African-American Studies program, and it was the most intellectual conversation I have heard since college! It was great to listen to the two of them, both researchers and writers with a broad knowledge of history as well as each a specific expertise. They discussed the concept of progress, in terms of race relations and current events like police brutality and the NFL protests. Coates’ response about the NFL was perfect. Discussing how some fans dug in their heels and continued to wear Ray Rice’s jersey after the video of him beating his fiancee, he said “if people think Colin kneeling during the national anthem is grounds for removal from the league more than a man who beats his intimate partner, we have to ask whether they should be the arbiters of patriotism.” At one point they talked about their favorite books, and their nods of recognition at the other’s suggestions as well as the knowing “yes!”es and general geeking out made me so happy. I love when people talk about books, and apparently it doesn’t even matter if I am part of the conversation!

The crowd, though… It was a struggle to remain nonjudgmental. Throughout, the people behind me commented back and forth to each other disruptively. The woman two seats down filed her nails. Someone opened a package of fruit snacks with the full CRINKLE CRINKLE obnoxiousness. A young man answered his cell phone. And then, the classic people leaving before the event concluded. Finding all these actions inconsiderate to the fellow audience members and disrespectful to the presentation, I got a little distracted and irritated. However, I could tell that my reaction wasn’t nearly as bad as it may have been six months ago. I chose instead to be mindful of the privilege I had to be there and didn’t let others’ behavior ruin my night when I could pretend I was back in college. Plus, I was there with a friend, and she was the perfect seat mate. Afterward, we discussed our favorite parts, as well as the energy in the room; we noticed the crowd’s way of expressing their reactions (clapping or snapping in agreement, laughter or callbacks) and that it added to the experience. We felt like part of a collective.

Seeing Michelle Obama as part of her book tour was a drastically different experience. The crowd’s energy was crazy. The arena is enormous and equipped with arena-quality speakers, and between the happy vibes and the layout, I couldn’t have been annoyed by neighbors’ behavior if I tried. No one would hear a fruit snack package opening here. Even the fact that I was in the last row (literally. The only thing behind me was a wall, only thing above were the highest boxes) didn’t bother me–the ticket was free, and I love Michelle. LOVE. I went alone, using someone else’s ticket who last minute couldn’t go, and there was a young scholar on one side of me and another woman on the other. Instead of gluing my eyes to my phone as one does sometimes in close proximity to strangers, I chose to chat with both of them. It was really nice. The young man told me about a paper he needed to write after the event (about humanness and artificial intelligence), and we discussed Michelle’s book Becoming and I brought up another book I’m reading, called UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. (Yes, I tell strangers about books. He started it!)

And her talk was amazing. She is such a classy, brilliant, warm human. Her book is phenomenal so far. She talked about her childhood, about marriage counseling, about going to college insecure and realizing she could hack it just as well, if not better than, anyone else there. She talked about the hope she has in the next generation of leaders and citizens. Hearing her speak was a reminder that the current news-burnout of controversy and corruption is not normal and not inevitable. Some of the talking points she discussed are the same as she relayed on Colbert, but being in the room with so many people who also adore her and who she inspires was special!

So, a great week was had by me. I got out of my usual routine, talked to strangers, and felt a sense of community, commonality, and gratitude for being able to go to listen to these awesome (literally, awe-inducing) people.

anxiety, career, librarians

Thank you, next

There has been a lot of NO in my life lately. In the past two days, I received two “thank you, nexts” about jobs I had interviewed for. And in the last two weeks, I backed out on two interviews I had set up for myself. One of the rejections was at a place where I was hoping I wouldn’t hear from them at all, because the interview was so uncomfortable (and short! 30 minutes!). The other, I liked and respected the people in the room, and I did my usual uncomfortably chatty babbling in between answering their questions. Overall, I thought we had all gotten along well and that despite botching some questions, I had something of a shot.

Alas, no. But the rejection doesn’t hurt this time. I used to get wildly upset, but now I know that as long as I show up as my authentic self to the interview, if it’s the right place, they will respond. And if it’s not the right place, I don’t want it anyway. This job I held out a little hope for, when I think about it, caused me concern about how small the branch was. The jobs I turned down were for a children’s position that wanted me to prepare a storytime and craft for the interview (storytime, ok, but a craft??? I draw the line. My idea for a craft is literally drawing a line) and a job that asked me to provide links to websites I have designed or maintained (spoiler alert: I don’t have any), and whose interview I was told would last TWO HOURS….. Though I deem these reasonable excuses not to attend interviews, I cringed about the what ifs: what if it turns out I am a secret whiz at maintaining websites? What if I really do need more crafts in my life? What if these are the last people to ever ask me to interview for librarian jobs?!?! A large part of me feels like I am the princess and the pea, but with jobs. Not too big, not too small, not too slow, not too busy, not too many hoops to jump through… etc.

I will be honest when I say: I did not know librarianship is a competitive field before I signed up for classes. This is fairly indicative of who I am as a person: I fling myself into situations, cross my fingers and hope for the best, on average slightly underprepared but hoping to make up for it in charm. And, if I have not confessed this here already, reader: I lack perseverance. Grit. That buzzword that you hear more and more these days in regards to character and growth mindset. Who knows whether I would have still chosen to go through with the program if I knew how hard it would be to find a good professional fit. (I probably would have, because I am stubborn and don’t change my mind for almost anything–which is a huge problem for someone prone to anxiety and overthinking! Mindfulness is literally reprogramming the habits of the mind…)

The lack of grit also means I am not blessed with the patience to wait for an organization’s culture to improve. I cannot simply endure for the sake of having a paying job. It gets too uncomfortable (read: my anxiety surges to drastic levels) and work is 8 freaking hours of my awake life every day. I bolt the instant I find an alternative. Maybe the alternative will be better. Surely, it has to be! The known workplace problems are bulkier and more inhibitive than the unknown workplace problems and I will take my chances with the next one. Thank you, next.

When it’s all said and done, I am so happy that I endured grad school. (The question of how much this endurance increased my student loans… not so happy.) It is what brought some of my favorite people into my orbit. But I always felt a draw to the work I was doing during grad school, in a university department. It was work I felt confident in, and helpful (which is my favorite feeling).

Do I dare to not use the degree that saddled me with all those loans? Dare I turn down interviews for library jobs? Dare I reserve the right to not waste two hours of my life in an interview for a job that I already don’t think I want?

Yes, I think so. Never before have I been comfortable turning down an opportunity. They think I’m an interesting candidate, therefore I must pursue this. Then there’s the subsequent anxiety on anxiety on anxiety about how I don’t really want it, and I wring my hands and wait until the last minute to cancel, or just suck it up and go, and give a lackluster interview, and don’t get hired. This time around, I’m being more selective, and thinking about what I actually want my work life to look like, and if the jobs that I applied to in a blind, desperate fury don’t match, then… thank you, next.

I’ve landed temporarily in another university setting, and because it’s temporary, it feels like less pressure. There is a built-in end date, after which there will be the next thing. Though not as financially secure, this work is giving me the room to feel out my options and the freedom not to jump at jobs that are tempting, but not juuust right. I’m sitting tight, and working on being more intentional about where to go from here. And giving myself permission not to stick with the stuff that seems not to be working. Maybe a princess, maybe a quitter. For now, I’m okay with both, if they’re in the name of finding the right fit. Finding something worth saying yes to.

anxiety, be a better human, depression, kindness, meditation, strangers, talking

Stress/Anxiety/Depression & Relaxation/Meditation/Vacation

I really needed a vacation.

Everyone in the US probably does, because we generally work too much and relax too little. For months, arguably longer, I have been stuck in a negative feedback loop about work and where I live and generally doing life “wrong,” or at least not in the way I want to. Turning 30 helped this third-life crisis, but anxiety has a brutal way of sinking its hooks in deep.

Vacation, it was! For a friend’s wedding. And this time, I was doing this one differently, even before I left. Responsible for the planning, my friend/co-traveler/co-bridesmaid told me she was too busy to weigh in on everything. She trusted me. I can just send her links and tell her what to pay. It was great! I like trust! And planning! Whereas in the past, I may have been paralyzed with the responsibility, this time around I welcomed the project and chose lodging, still giving my friend the right to veto.

Now, I like planning because I like having things set, determined. Unambiguous. My anxieties are particularly triggered by transportation and the timing/cost thereof. I proposed a suggested itinerary in February, and when I got the go-ahead for the general dates, I almost immediately booked my tickets, out of fear the price would surge. Because it always does when I wait. Normally, I would have just worked myself into a resentful panic about co-travelers 1/2 and them reserving their flights. I did not want to pressure others or myself, so instead, I did not. I just did what I needed to do and let her do the same. Co-traveler 2 didn’t schedule her flights until within a month of the wedding, but she was also busy and the plans were set up, and eventually it all worked out. It was fine!

This may make an underwhelming story, but it represents a TON of growth and improvement. Many vacations, I bring all my mental crap along with me and am unable to escape and enjoy myself. I can be cranky and wish I had just stayed home and saved the money. My goal for this trip, though, was to be truly present, enjoying the people and places around me. And then I made a plan to travel by myself on the first day, because the rest of co-travelers didn’t arrive until the next day and I had never traveled by myself ever, much less in a foreign land.

This would be good for me, I reasoned. I would see the beautiful sights I wanted to see, and I would be jolted out of my comfort zone (but not sooo far–I opted for a bus so that I would not have to book/catch multiple trains). I would arm myself with offline maps, and I would take responsibility for feeding and entertaining myself for a whole day! (Yes, technically, I do this at home, but that gets boring and tedious, and here I was Seizing The Day and such.) The jet lag would only serve to help me, I reasoned. Meeting a tour group at 7am would be fine, because I would fall asleep early!

Then I learned from my awesome Airbnb hostess that I had to catch a 6:09am bus. Even if arrival times are flexible, I tend to run late and stress myself about possibly being tardy. In this case, I also would have missed my whole day’s plan and flushed a bunch of money as well as my independent-lady-traveler-bragging-rights down the toilet.

I did the thing I was not supposed to do… I let myself fall asleep at 6:00pm–only to wake up at midnight, wide awake and counting down until my 5:00am alarm. Meditating didn’t work, because the anxiety of catching the bus was not letting me go. I was out of bed at sunrise after several hours of tossing and turning, and waiting at the (not-so-quickly-determined incorrect) bus stop at 5:45am. My fear had come true, and I walked past the correct bus stop, walking first to the one farther down and across the street. I did not learn this from the nun, the lone pedestrian who passed me and, kindly, attempted to speak to me though we didn’t share a language. Her, probably the person most inclined to help in the town, I was meek to ask for help. To admit I didn’t know what I was doing. Thankfully, anxiety-earliness meant I had budgeted enough time to miss one bus, and miss it, I did. Not for lack of trying–I sprinted, but to no avail. It was now 6:00. Fifteen minutes is a long time to stand in the cool morning air, hoping I wore the right thing for the day’s temperature, but shivering in the meantime. The sprinting woke me up, and I was not letting another bus leave without me. Not without a fight. I had no more time to spare. The next one didn’t display the same destination and it wasn’t slowing down, but I flagged it just in time. I had to actually speak to the driver, confirming my stop. He said yes! I was triumphant.

The morning was gorgeous, sunny and crisp. The past six hours of sleeplessness had been worth it, just to make this slow and uneventful bus at the nearest to sunrise I had seen in a long time. I looked out the windows at Rome as the locals lived it, away from the city center and the tourist lures. Another man got on, a local, and asked the driver for the same stop as I had–I cheered silently for his good fortune too. I wasn’t the only one who had to ask, plus, I now had a marker for whether I would miss my stop! I had made my plan, and now it was in motion. I would make it! It was destined to be a good experience, because I had already done the hardest part.

Before I started meditating, and actively working to be my best self, I would have been a monster that day. I would have whined and complained about how tired I was. I would maybe have succumbed to the anxieties and just emailed the tour company and asked for my money back because I didn’t want to even deal with leaving. In a nutshell, I would have let my thoughts derail me.

That day was not perfect, and I caught myself being unkind to my fellow tour-goers and to myself, but all in all, I didn’t complain because there was no one to complain to. I shushed myself and reminded myself that I had navigated the public transportation in a city where I barely spoke 10 phrases of the language. I thought with gratitude of my Airbnb hostess and how thorough and kind her directions were, despite my spastic communication. I grumbled a bit when lunch (a piece of fish and an espresso) cost $37, but, the views!! Nothing was bringing me down. This was my day.

So, I saw some marvelous sights: Pompeii in all its historical glory, and Positano, one of the most beautiful tourist traps of all time. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but I recommend traveling solo based on how independent it made me feel. And, I did it with the training wheels of a group tour where I just showed up! More adventurous folk plan trains and hike with backpacks and sleep outdoors! There are plenty of options. Either way, it was a great start to my vacation, made me open my eyes and explore.

The whole vacation did knock me out of my routine and funk…once I got over the post-vacation mini-depression of returning to real life. I wanted to leave being present on vacation, because coming back, I saw the same errors and flaws. Other than my motivation. I was the person who traipsed around Italy by herself: I didn’t let the self-pity last long. I went to a yoga class, and I reached out to an awesome friend who made room in her weekend for me. I wrote some postcards and thought about how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I returned to daily meditation. I feel recentered.

And my real life is far from all-bad. Yesterday, a customer came into the library looking for audiobooks by Pema Chodron. As I started to read the titles off to her, I commented to her that I hadn’t heard of her, but now wanted to listen to them! She raved about one, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. We had a lovely chat, she told me to read at least that book. When we introduced ourselves, I put out my hand to shake hers, but she said “I’m going to hug you, if that’s okay!” And she did. And it was. Vacation and meditation have mellowed me enough that strangers* hugging me is okay. In a nutshell, I’m feelin the love from the universe this week. The trick will be to manage my stress and keep the contentment/gratitude going as life sneaks back to normal.

Walking to bus station at sunrise, to Positano… Worth all the pennies.

 

*strangers who have two-way conversations with me about meditation and books first.

anxiety, giving, judgment, kindness, stuff

Mission: simplify.

I consistently stare into my closet. For what I deem unhealthy amounts of time. Every day, if the door is open, I peer into it and try to acquire a new target for my not-new, but not-often-practiced skill of culling my personal possessions.

This will not sound remarkable to anyone who has lived through the four-month lease cycles of New York City, but in the 7.5 years since graduating college, I have lived in 3 different states and 8 apartments/houses. In March, I will move for the 5th time in 2 years. (Heads up, penpals.)

Moving is the absolute worst. (Melodramatically, of course.) It forces me to touch all the crap I have dragged around with me to all of these places. (I or other awesome humans who help me move the crap, that is.)

So perhaps it is a mere response to my rambling woman status, but: I need to get rid of clutter.

The symbolism isn’t lost on me, a person who suffers from anxiety. At my worst, every sentence that leaves my mouth, text or email I send, as well as statements said to/about/near me can rattle around my head for days/months/years. My mind at its worst is a pinball machine, with tiny thoughts hurling around at warp speed and maximum volume, carrying self-chastising/self-doubt/FOMO/self-analysis/self-judgment. (See a pattern?) A pinball machine where I cannot let ANY OF THE THOUGHTS go down the little chute, defending its exit.

Mind clutter is real, it is deafening and it is not healthy.

Depression is a filter, but anxiety is a magnifying mirror I hold up and see all my faults, failures and ways I don’t measure up, and I need to step away from the mirror.

So, I prune the closet. Normally, I prune the closet AND STILL feel anxious.

One of my biggest stressors is money. It would make sense, then, that since I began an almost-every-day meditation practice and committed to the decision to spend money on experiences rather than items, I have been less anxious. (And this is even BEFORE I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, motivational text about not spending money on non-essentials.)

Two things needed to happen: 1, I need to divest my non-essentials. 2, I need to stop stress-shopping, which is my entirely nonhelpful habit of buying clothing for the joy it will bring. Though the joy is real, it is temporary and does not mask or replace the anxiety about x, y, nor z.

Ultimately, what I need to address is a simple question. What do I actually need?

For the physical clutter: I have fewer books than any other librarian I know; I know how heavy they are to move, and I donate them. I either unsubscribe or immediately delete marketing emails. I donate clothing (using Marie Kondo as a suggestion, not a religious text), recycle papers I wrote in high school/college (and yet I still retain some, because I am a pack rat). If I can’t or don’t use it, I’m at the point where I am content with losing it. Someone else needs it more than I do.

For the mind clutter: it is cleansing getting rid of stuff, and worrying less about what to buy is freeing for both my head and my financials.

All this said, one of my 2018 resolutions was not to spend money on ‘stuff.’ January did not see any progress in that regard. February has seen a rock solid commitment thus far, though, and I feel great about paring down. I feel great about planning a trip to Italy for a friend’s wedding because I know it will be memorable and rejuvenating, delicious and beautiful, and it means quality time with people important to me.

Simplifying my life will hopefully turn this pinball machine brain into a gumball machine… Instead of all the mental noise, I’ll be able to focus on one thought-gumball at a time with mindfulness and calm and intention.

Get me out of my head/closet/apartment and into the world.
Librarian Moment/Suggested Reading: