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, be a better human

Cranky Post

I adore coffee. The smell, the taste, the way it jolts my brain into the day… Mainly that last one. My mom watches me drink my morning cup of coffee (with dairy-free vanilla creamer and one ice cube) and declares “it’s clear you drink it for the caffeine.” True. I chug it.

Last month, I stopped drinking coffee. Just because. I substitute tea instead, and it has made a difference. I do not feel jittery at any point. I feel calmer (which may concern some people, since I am often low-energy anyways) and I have noticed that I am less likely to lash out at others or disappointing situations.

When I got into my car after work to find that a student hit my car in the parking lot and then fled ‘the scene,’ I did not freak out. Instead, I was pleased that another two students saw the whole thing and tried (though unsuccessfully) to catch the perpetrator’s license plate number, leaving me a not successful but charming note. It wasn’t even a choice not to be angry. They wrote “the man ran away” driving a Toyota Corolla.. and the damage isn’t that bad.

This is not to say I am numb to events occurring around me, but instead that I feel less amped up and on edge. A (separate, more final) car problem during move out day that left me without a partner for five hours? Gasp! We stayed another night, into the following month. A few months ago, the thought of the apartment management discovering and getting mad at us would have driven me up a wall with anxiety. I slept soundly in my bonus last-night-in-the-apartment. (It helped that I knew they wouldn’t be conducting an inspection that day.) What else could I do? Though a strong(ish) and independent(ish) woman in mind, in body, I am incapable of moving a bed by myself.

Coffee, though my superpower, wasn’t awful to let go. With its exit, I got another step closer to the giving-fewer-f*cks (about the small stuff) and closer to letting the small stuff go.

Here is a brief list of times I wish I had had a zenlike mentality:

  • at a lunch meeting, when a (sick) colleague I just met ten minutes prior handed me a lemon wedge with his bare hands instead of handing me the plate of them like a civilized human being
    • note: I decided to forego any and all future lunch meetings
  • on the phone with my mom, whose concern I snapped at even though she is probably right and I might be slightly depressed at the moment
    • note: she loves me but I know I need to start exercising and cooking more for myself without her telling me
      • I had two salads this week, FYI.
      • And “played” racquetball (I don’t know that what I do can be considered actual sport)
  • every single time I shrink a line-dry article of clothing in the dryer
    • note: practicing non-attachment so this is less of a negative occurrence
  • every single day I snooze my alarm approximately 7 times, resulting in an hour more of dozing that wastes my time and leaves me groggy
    • note: practicing more discipline to get up on the first alarm, and positive self-talk so that I don’t start my day by saying “get up, you jackass.”
  • when my boss sent me two documents and asked me to copy and paste “it” into “the other one” and send “it” back
    • note: I copied the wrong one somehow

Maybe/probably, I am sleeping too much. Maybe/probably, I’ve been eating too many cookies and chocolates. And I hope spring weather means more than allergies & I will get outside more for exercise (or indoors for racquetball 🙂 and social activities.

Maybe/probably the anxiety gave way to depression. Frankly, now that I have experienced plus or minus a year of anxiety, I would much rather be mildly depressed. At least depression lets you relax your muscles!

Probably/definitely, though, I’m sad about this breakup. And I think I am allowed to be. Sometimes, coffee or no coffee, people have bad days. Or bad weeks. Maybe months. Maybe more.

I’ll try to cap mine off here soon.

Does anyone want to do some yoga and/or cook? Or know a good massage therapist? Or maybe a regular therapist? I’ll be okay.. Just have to get used to coming home to this empty bed.

Onwards.

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: