audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

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:

anxiety, books, career

This One’s for My Girls

I had planned to write some furious paragraphs about Drumpf’s derogatory comments about brown countries, but I waited more than 24 hours and watched tons of personal stories (Anderson Cooper’s was particularly moving, as was Don Lemon’s) and reflections and jokes about how rude, racist and smugly rich he is. I’ve worked through my rage. He is an embarrassment to our country, and I am actually grateful that he is taking the GOP down in flames with him/drawing a line in the sand for elected officials to actually choose to be decent to and on behalf of their constituents. I have to believe that decency will win, in 2018 and in the long run.

But this political outrage/irritant is only one of many sources of anxiety. The outside world is nothing compared to the echo chamber of an anxiety-riddled brain. My friends and I constantly discuss the myriad ways that we question ourselves, our decisions and our progress in the adult world.

Last night, I went to dinner with three of my dearest friends, one of whom is moving out of state this week. She’s taking a risk, acknowledging that her part-time position won’t be enough to live on & knowing she will within the next few months need to find another part-time job, possibly a full-time job, as well as an apartment that is affordable and safe and not miserable for commuting in January. This is not the worst idea ever. She and her boyfriend will be living in the same city again. This is not the riskiest idea ever. She taught English in Japan for two years, venturing there without speaking more than a few sentences of Japanese. She is highly qualified, professional, thoughtful, organized, responsible and bilingual. (Yes, I know, show-don’t-tell, but I don’t want to violate her privacy.)

And yet, she is terrified at the weight of this decision.

As are all of my friends. About who they’re dating or the lack thereof, about how often they cry or don’t, about whether to buy a house, whether they bought the wrong one, about their rent, their income, their careers, their kids or lack thereof..

And yet. As with many other instances of my sweeping generalizations, upon further reflection, I know that is not true. I have many girlfriends (and more acquaintances, so maybe this also has something to do with how much more vulnerability you share with your closest friends) who are sure of themselves. They are not calm 100% of the time, but they are stable enough not to fly off the handles upon an unplanned event, a depressing news story. They are not entirely derailed or roadblocked by doubt every time they need to make an adult decision.

This is my goal. Closer to unflappable. Bold. Confident in my purpose. Kind to myself and less critical of others.

Here are some books that have empowered me to me move towards this:

 

 

 

About finances and how they generally work out if you take control of spending: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

About relationships and what to accept/expect/let go: What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier

About caring less about what other people think: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

About how to clear my head/raise future children: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

About social anxiety and how I am definitely not the only one who suffers from it, and also just a pleasant reminder that comics are great: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

About how to be a person: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith

  • Everyone should read this book. This is my favorite excerpt, talking about a study that asked people to answer the question “Who are you?” after either staring up from the base of a tree or at a nondescript building.

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The world is huge, and awe-inspiring! (Just ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson.) Perspective is important, as is getting out of my head enough to realize my problems are often not as catastrophic as they appear between my ears. In fact, thinking that they are just might inhibit me from behaving well towards others, and letting fear drive me absolutely blocks me from growing or changing, taking any risks at all.

My friend will be fine. She and this move may even be great. She will carry her support network with her and find a community of coworkers and explore a new city. Like me, she has to quiet the peanut gallery of doubts and welcome opportunity. Read before bed instead of scrolling through articles on her phone. It’s not okay.. yet. But who says it won’t be soon?