bookstores, strangers, books, reading, librarians, kindness, be a better human, talking

Prying book eyes

On a recent library book binge, I brought home a hefty stack of books. My lovely housemate saw the stack, and asked me about one title: Being Peace by Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. She collects quotations and happened to have a few from his writings. She shared this one with me:

“Though we all have the fear and the seeds of anger within us, we must learn not to water those seeds and instead nourish our positive qualities – those of compassion, understanding, and loving kindness.”

Since I’m the Angry Librarian, this interested me, and we had a thoughtful conversation about how life and the workplace may bring out some of these very seeds and how we need to smile and shake it off.

In yet another library, last week I needed to print something before I went to the printer-haven of work, and popped into a public library I’d never visited. In order to use one of the computers, I was asked to provide a photo ID. I watched as the librarian wrote my name and guest pass number on a piece of paper, and brainstormed the many reasons they might wish to monitor who is visiting what sites within their walls. (I could only come up with potential issues arising from illegal activity.)

In my experience through library school and in the public library where I work, though, there is a current, obsessive trend with library privacy. My own library just switched to a different hold pick-up system, where customers can retrieve their items from a shelf and use self-check machines (grab-and-go style). Before this new process could begin, there were evidently many lengthy meetings about where on the book to put a sticker containing what identifying information. Should the sticker display the customer’s full name? Should the title of the book show?

As for myself, I fail to see how this conversation could last more than 15 minutes. And yet, it lasted. (The end result that was decided is the sticker will be arranged alphabetically by full last name and cover the title of the book. I know you were dying to know.)

Let me address, I did not like being asked for my identification in order to use a public computer. The implications did not jive with my knowledge of privacy. I fully recognize the importance of protecting online privacy–our and all libraries use some form of a program called Deep Freeze, which wipes all data from each customer login after they sign out. (Even still, sometimes that doesn’t work, so if anyone out there is worried about their digital footprint and who is looking at it, always manually sign out of your accounts, and under no circumstances store passwords on a public computer, as a principle.)

However, I just don’t think that people in public spaces can expect (nor can those public spaces guarantee) complete and total privacy. This is absurd and paranoid to me, as it seems counterintuitive to expect that no one will see (or that anyone would care) what books people are holding in their hands. And, not to mention, this extreme privacy doesn’t allow for every romance or friendship that started because someone was curious enough to look at what book the other was holding, and then take the bold and vulnerable (and sometimes well-received) gesture to start a conversation about it.

The frenzied desire to block all others out irritates me. I can’t help but feel that anyone in a public library is freely forfeiting at least a tiny bit of their privacy just by stepping into  a public space. How is carrying a book around any building not placing someone “at risk” of revealing its title? And, if someone is truly ashamed of their reading material, why would they request it to be held for them instead of venturing in and selecting it, by hand, by themselves?

I think back to a woman I had in my line at the bookstore when I was 19. This glamorous 30-something placed a small pile of books on the counter, barely raising her lips in greeting when I smiled and said hello. I, observing her gorgeous diamond ring, turned my eyes to the books. All three were about surviving the death of a spouse. I was shocked that such a horrible event could happen to someone so young and pretty, and I hoped I didn’t offend her or make her sadder during this, the symbolic purchase. Unsure how she would want me to act in this minor exchange, I tried not to widen my eyes and tried harder to eliminate any pity from my voice. More than anything, I was proud of her. Here was this young woman, whose own eyes (once I looked up from the ring) I could see were red and puffy. She was obviously not shopping for a gift. She was in mourning.

And she bought these books to help herself heal.

She did not buy them online, preserving her privacy as she sobbed in her pajamas. She very easily could have, and would have, if she were embarrassed of her emotionally vulnerable state, or concerned with how the young, desperate for adult life and love cashier or other browsing strangers would treat her.

Instead, she braved the world. She drove to us, got out of her car, located the section she needed, and from the shelf, handpicked not just one, but three books, in what I interpreted as her sadness and desperation morphing into resolve: a series of clear actions she took towards helping herself. I hope those books and all this time gave her what she needed.

And I am grateful for the spontaneous human connection that books, bookstores and libraries can provide. The fleeting moments with strangers where we mutually reveal something of ourselves.

We deserve to relinquish privacy on occasion. We need to leave room for vulnerability.

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, 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?