anxiety, be a better human, books, community, empathy, family, giving, kindness, social media, strangers

Break [it] down

Though it seems like in many ways, we are getting used to the ‘new normal,’ there are plenty of ways this drastic change continues to be upsetting. My friends continue to have panic attacks and breakdowns of all sizes, and my empathizer heart is hurting. On a small scale, all my basic needs are met, and yet.. Fear looms large, and it blows my mind/fuels my rage/makes me sad that our food system is so broken that more people than average (!!) are going hungry right now in this country of plenty. I’m reassured that our quality of air worldwide is improved due to fewer cars on the roads and less pollution from closed-down industry. But more on my hippie tears at a later date.

I’m going to write about what has been helping me to cope, and what is inspiring me to change. As sometimes happens, I read the perfect book at the perfect time. After all, how many of us are simply struggling with how Not to Do the Things? How to deal with the limitations/unavailability of most everything but the virtual world.

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How to Do Nothing made the hairs on my arms stand up. This woman artfully (she is an artist, after all) emphasized that our culture has largely lost our connection to place and our need for context. This is true on an ecological level; we need to get outside more–into our surroundings, to become familiar with the land that we occupy and the other creatures that also do. This grounding/contextualizing shows us that we are not the only ones here. We are part of a system and the system deserves our attention and respect. 

This need for context also appears in our social [media] interactions. Modern comforts and technology have made it so we can curate our daily lived experiences and only have to interact with people who agree with us on nearly all points. [Information silos, old news.] The media lives on sound bites that are designed to enrage and distract us, further driving us into our polarized opinion camps. I took the time to manually transcribe this part of her book because it spoke to me. She states that if we only interact with people who agree with us we:

“never run the risk of being surprised, challenged, or changed. Never seeing anything outside of ourselves. Including our own privilege. That’s not to say we have nothing to gain from those we have many things in common with, on paper. If we don’t expand our attention outside of that sliver we live in an I-it world where nothing has meaning outside of its value and relation to us. And we are less prone to the encounters with those who turn us upside down and reorganize our universe… Those who stand to change us significantly, should we allow it. Of course having encounters entails risks that not everyone is willing to take.”

Holy wow, yes. Now is the time for change. If you haven’t done Anything Different this entire quarantine, who even are you? It is a time for thought and discussion. For dismantling the egocentric views we hold. To interrupt our regularly scheduled programming and do Something different instead. Something caring, something creative. Something revolutionary. 

Because when I’m worried about the Fate of the World and all the big, Capital Letter Things, I have to focus on specific actions to take. I have to break it down into manageable, actionable pieces. What can I do? What effect does staring at my phone, scrolling through instagram or facebook really do for me? What can I do instead? Do I really need to buy more clothing/home goods/products? I understand the temptation to hunker down and feverishly, anxiously repeat the usual distraction purchasing patterns (and I am very guilty of doing this myself). But if you have the expendable income to spend right now, I hope you consider others. I hope you donate to organizations that feed and care for others. Because just as thinking too large-scale is harmful, so is thinking too small-scale. Think outside of yourself, and consider that this is a terrible time for everyone, and that your help for others will help them and you. No, I do not mean to minimize your suffering. I am just saying we are all suffering. And suggesting that you contextualize it, and allow it to serve you and others. Allow your suffering to help Something. Ask for help. Reach out. Do something different.

So I’m doing some familiar things, and some new ones. I’m talking more than usual on the phone with my family. I’m reading. I’m wildly busy at work, so I’m doing overall less mental berating of myself. I’m playing Words with Friends, going on walks, fighting with the skunk who keeeeeps spraying directly outside my window (not all nature is good, I concede), cooking, baking, or just making macaroni from a box and not judging myself about it. I’m not immune to the simple allure of tv (but try to be social and talk about it afterwards). I love exchanging letters with people, so I’m trying to do a lot of letter writing when I’m in the mood, especially because I know people like getting fun mail. Because I’m not always in the mood to be my best self. I’m trying to work out/journal/meditate one per day, but sometimes I am lazy and cranky and don’t. I have virtual therapy appointments, and I’m still moody and easily irritated and mad at myself for trying to multitask (usually looking at my phone). I too do not particularly trust the person who is living their best life at this weird, isolated time. But if that’s you, good for you!

This time is unique in that it is allowing us more than ever before to hone in on what matters, and to opt out of the parts of our society that do not serve us (or anyone). It is providing us the opportunity to help others, to reach out and strengthen personal ties, time to heal ourselves and our brains and how we think of ourselves (as helpless or capable, isolated or part of a community). There is not much else to do other than go outside and walk or run, familiarizing ourselves with the species in the area. Noticing that we are not alone. You have neighbors, and postal workers, and all sorts of animals and plant life around you (some of which might be blooming these days). It’s a time to  make the best of what’s around. It’s not easy, but there’s no getting around it. We have to go through!

anxiety, be a better human, books, community, coworkers, depression, empathy, librarians, strangers

Taking books out

Did you know that during summer, people like to read books? Vacations and breaks from school make summertime an especially high-checkout, high-return time, and many titles are in high demand. Since our library doesn’t share with any other library and don’t have a bajillion copies of everything, this tends to mean wait lists: placing holds, and waiting your turn in line.

Waiting is an art, and not all of us are artists.

Last week, all in one day, I encountered three women who did not want to wait. One reason annoyed me. One reason made me laugh. One reason made me sad.

For morale, let’s start with the situation that annoyed me, move to sad and close with happy. One of our adult summer reading categories is graphic novels, since they are a burgeoning genre and an accessible/inventive mixture of art and literature. I got very excited when a gentleman came in Friday evening asking for a graphic novel, and I recommended my favorite one to him (Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch). He was not overeager to read any graphic novel, so I hoped this one would at least make him smile, as it did for me–even though it is about the author’s struggles with anxiety, depression, and adulting. *

The following day, the woman in question approached me looking for a graphic novel recommendation, and I explained that some of my favorites were already checked out, but she should definitely consider putting them on hold. She flatly refused. Her tone told me she wanted to be able to take this book out TODAY. NOW.

Though I understand how exciting it is to hear about and have a title in hand, then take it home immediately and get started, when people straight out refuse to place holds, I get miffed. Unless you are leaving for vacation tomorrow, why can’t you wait? Logistically, with some titles (looking at you, Becoming by Michelle Obama), if you don’t place a hold and instead wait to serendipitously find it on the shelf one day, you will NEVER GET THE BOOK. EVERYONE ELSE IS BEING SMART AND PLACING HOLDS AND THE HOLDS CONTINUE ON AND ON INTO PERPETUITY.

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I digress. To summarize: she left empty-handed with several titles (including Sarah’s Scribblesalso checked out), and I sent my recurring plea back out into the universe that people will understand that libraries are a place for sharing.

The incident that made me sad was that a feeble elderly woman asked me to recommend several books for her. We exhausted the large print selection, and she had a lot of trouble hearing in addition to her sight. She had taken a bus to get to us (when I know of at least 10 libraries closer to her) and I still don’t understand why. Because, when I told her that we could place holds for titles currently checked out, she told me she didn’t have a library card. I told her multiple times that she is still welcome to use the books in the library, but that she couldn’t take them home. Because of her hearing, and because of her apparent mental state, I feared what would result, and lo and behold my fears were accurate. She filled a canvas tote with about a dozen books, and proceeded to walk out of the gates, setting off the security noise.

She moved slowly, but my colleague caught up to her and had to have the far-too-long, repetitive, awkward conversation reminding/informing her that she could not simply take the books. He patiently told her all about her local library, and copied the spines of the books she had picked out so she had the titles. He stood with her and responded overall in a warm and thoughtful way. Again, I don’t know why she had it in her head that any library, much less one a 30 minute bus ride from her home, would let her have a bunch of books. She had forgotten what a library is and does, and her deteriorated mental state made me sad, and at the same time made me hope I never forget what a library is for.

The last woman is our local celebrity. At 95 years old, she uses a walker but uses it often. She is easily spotted all around town because of her colorful hair and wardrobe. She currently has it dyed an emerald green with one chunk of magenta, and was rocking a lemon colored shirt. I handed her the book she had asked me to find and immediately went to help someone else. The man I was helping turned to me when we heard the security noise and said “she didn’t check that out!” as we watched her continue through the gates and out the door. I started to go after her, calling her name, but she didn’t hear me (or the security noise) and I decided to let her keep cruising on with her day. I realized I knew exactly what book she had, and her full name…all the info I needed to check the book out to her. I told the man who saw “it’s ok, I know her.”

That made me happy. I love knowing people, and I love even more the idea that if people know you, you can make mistakes and they’ll have your back. Above all, I love this library and community (the good eggs outweigh the jerks)!

*The cover image of this post is from this book, and looking through photos make me seriously doubt that the guy I recommended this to will like it AT ALL. lolol but who knows.

anxiety, career, let it go, librarians, meditation, writing

Time Off

It would seem I took an entire season off from writing… It wasn’t an accident, but procrastination took over any time I told myself to blog. Interestingly enough, at least over the past month, this lapse in writing has overlapped (overlapsed?) with a lot of time off from the library. But holy cow, has there been a lot going on. Time off from the library doesn’t mean time off from general life!

In June, I worked two four-hour shifts at the public library. Reader, I had Friday nights to myself! Those Fridays were great, and I spent them with dear friends.

However, with full appreciation of not having to punch the clock, let me say: I think working at the library is part of my self-care.

Over the past couple months, the seven-month period of temping has come to a victorious end. I am gainfully full-time employed, officially, permanently, in a department surrounded by awesome people who love coming to work every day. My 9-5 is everything I have waited for, and I feel so so so fortunate.

I would love to say that I was confident in my abilities and my chances at this job since the department knew me and invited me back (despite myself 🙂 to fill the position while the search went on. I would love to say that I did not stress myself out even though the job was probably mine from day one. I would love to say that even though the work is an exact match to my professional skills and demeanor, I was not chock full of terror that I would be rejected again and set adrift to continue temping elsewhere. For the several weeks in between when I applied and when I interviewed, any mention my colleagues made to “you’ll see in the fall” or “when we all do X/Y/Z in August..” I inserted “if I’m still here!” in order not to jinx it.

Because there is no time off from my brain. To me, the only thing worse than not getting this dream job would be to have expressed my sense of belonging out loud, on the record, and THEN not get to stay. I pulled apart any and every interaction with my supervisors to decipher whether they were implying that I would be sticking around. As professionals, they couldn’t just come right out and say “you are our first choice for this job,” but I’ve apparently become so uncomfortable with uncertainty that I needed someone to say that to ease my strife. On the occasions one of them did say something encouraging, I tried to hold it and internalize their praise for as long as I could.

Now, I have the security of a real job, and the comfort and immense joy that is belonging with these people.

So on the one hand, big things have changed on my time off. On the other, I still have the crazy monkey mind running around behind the scenes, not knowing what to do with herself when she does not have a task at hand. This week for the holiday, a full day off, I made zero plans and essentially online shopped all day. (Don’t yell at me, Mom! I yell at myself enough!) I haven’t been meditating enough, nor going to yoga enough, nor celebrating my accomplishments, nor going outdoors, enough, and I wanted to just zone out and hoard pretty things.

And this is why I will still work part-time at the library! Not only because I need funding to offset my love of and proclivity towards buying clothes, but also because I need to get out of myself and work in the service of others (which I do during my day job, but evidently I can’t get enough). I am not delusional to think I am saving lives as I sit behind a computer at a desk in an air conditioned building, but when I am there, surrounded by friends and community members, it feels like where I am supposed to be.

During my interview day, I met with a gentleman colleague, and he asked me one direct question about the position, but since he has already worked with me for a couple months and has seen what I’m about, the rest of the time, we spent talking about the library. He told me he was curious about where I ran off to on Fridays, and he complimented my hustle.

Maybe I shouldn’t need to hustle. Maybe I should take it easy, and take more time off. But at this point, I don’t really know what to do with more time off, and my work is more than a paycheck. All I know is I’m looking forward to the new normal, stabilizing and seeing what happens.

Stay tuned! Back to work.