My New Library

After accepting the fact that my desire to read all the books ever written has impacted my finances, I returned to my local library today for some free words-in-print goodness. I love the shelves upon shelves of awesome at the library: Young Adult fiction over here, Books on DVD, over here, adult fiction and nonfiction over there — all ordered using the Dewey decimal system. The sliding doors even whoosh in a celebratory manner when I walk in. In my mind, the library showcases the slight musty smell of well-loved books, and the soft noise of small children trying their best to be quiet by using their whisper voices: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M WHISPERING!” I’ve heard on more than one occasion – while I’m in the adult section. With headphones on. I am always proud of my fellow parents who will answer, “You’re doing great, try talking like this now,” before they create a whisper game.

I am only digressing a little since kids and parents feature in this narrative again. I entered the library humming a jaunty tune (off key, Prince for you inquiring minds), went through the lobby, the sliding doors, heard the whoosh – and stepped into the Starship Enterprise. Gone were the juice-box spilled carpeting, the books for sale section, the rotunda of librarians on call, and the cluster of parents with their overflowing baskets of movies and books. In its place was gleaming flooring, computer stations galore, and noise level posters with accompanying directions on how to set the phones. No musty smell, no bounding children (they were in a sequestered section with soundproof glass or something because I saw them tumbling about even as I couldn’t hear them). I felt underdressed because Captain Kirk the librarian was standing at his station looking dapper in his polo shirt and Dockers. Me, I was in my library uniform of denim cutoffs and a slouchy t-shirt.

I was disoriented. With the emergence of Librarian Kirk and his triple-screened computer system, it appeared as though Dewey Decimal System had taken a semipermanent vacation. I found my way over to a computer terminal and began teaching myself how to find the books I wanted. I tried four times before I found the Young Adult section, but at last I found it. You might wonder why I didn’t ask the librarian to give me a tour. I might wonder why you’d ask such a silly question. Teaching myself means trial and error until I can kinesthetically absorb the knowledge. It is the most effective way I have to navigate new surroundings, and these surroundings were bright-sparkly new. Eventually, I figured out the system. The challenge then became a personal dilemma over whether to get audio books, of which were abundant, or e-books. Many of the classics have been rendered available and check-outable on e-reading devices. Cool, I have one of those, so I asked Librarian Kirk to show me how to check out e-books.

While still slightly bemused, I turned to leave the library, and heard the dulcet tones of a child who was practicing his whispering: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M BEING QUIET!” Thank you, small human person for reminding me that the more things change, the more constant they are. Leaving the library with nothing but a couple of download code options, I was content.

If you haven’t gone recently, please join me in reading all the books ever written (or audiotaped, or electronically published) for free. I will be wearing my Lieutenant Uhura ensemble the next time I go so I feel dressed appropriately for the occasion.

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Endurance

If you are a breathing, sentient adult-type person, life will occasionally whoop your ass. I don’t swear in print often, but when I do, please know it’s not for extravagant effect; it’s because no other word will suffice. We all get our asses kicked, by situations within or outside of our control, by events, by illness, by the death of loved ones, by financial stress, by whatever Life with a capital L decides to throw at us. I don’t care if the Good Luck Charm o’ Life has been hanging around you like a happy monkey of joy feels, there will come a time when that charm gets ripped off your neck. Not my usual lighthearted introduction, I know, but take heart: there’s a reason for this.

One of the most harmful phrases in the human language is “I should.” I should be doing this thing, feeling that thing, living that life, having these types of people around me, and so on. The only “I should” that we should be should-ing is “I should be giving myself permission to be a human person.” My heart breaks and then heals again on a pretty regular basis, but never moreso than when someone I love is hanging around in the land of “I Should” or the flipside, “I should not.” It’s not that I don’t think we need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, it’s that we deserve to treat ourselves with at least the same attempt to understand that we treat others. For example, after a fantastic conversation with one of my favorite people today, I was struck with how my perception of him is so vastly different from his perception of himself. I see him as powerful, awe-inspiring, brilliant, loving, passionate – he sees none of these qualities in himself.

I hate it that I’m reminded of an internet quotespiration at this moment, but here it is anyway: I wish we could see ourselves the way others see us. Self-concept gets distorted over time, particularly in times of stress, when we’re most likely to isolate ourselves at a time when we would least benefit from doing so. Stress, my good friends, is no stranger to any of us. In fact, with each passing year of my life, I am increasingly convinced that the Bogeyman living under the bed and hiding in the closet, lurking around the finish line of every goal we achieve, every obstacle we overcome, is Stress. My stress looks different from your stress, but it’s still an ugly beast. Do we tame it? Do we fight it? Do we ignore it? I don’t know about the last one; ignoring stress is rather like pretending that everything’s okay when it isn’t. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. Just saying.

Back to my lovely conversation and “I should.” My favorite person felt like he should be climbing his mountain of stressors more victoriously, a Rocky Balboa of life endurance. With all due respect, no. Absolutely not. When life has broken out a can of whoop ass so severe that there are no lemons to make lemonade with because the lemons have rotted, what do you do then? Some people pray, some meditate, some gather their loved ones around, and that’s all great, but in the quest to climb that particular mountain, sometimes the mountain itself is too high. What then?

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Having faith that everything will all work out with cookies and back slaps for all is too high an aspiration for the types of life-altering stress that I’m referring to. Instead, step, breathe, step, breathe. There’s a rhythm in that, a cadence. In a quote usually attributed to Martin Luther King, the phrasing goes, “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But keep going.” My friend was ruminating on how to overcome all these stressors, and was looking for faith in the fact that the answer would be found. It would be vapid for me to suggest that of course he’ll find the answer, even when the question itself is elusive.

I suggest most humbly, most excruciatingly, lovingly humbly, that this wasn’t the question he was trying to answer. The question, as I see it, is “Is all this trouble worth it? Am I worth it?” I happen to have the answer to that. You are emphatically worth it. You are essential, necessary. I have faith that there is a time where you will see yourself the way I see you. Until then, breathe and step; breathe and step.

Then There Was Coffee

Work, even when it’s work you love passionately and that you might conceivably do for free, is still occasionally work. Motivation or not, love or not, dedication or not, sometimes work is work no matter how smoothly the flow is a-flowing. You get the idea. Today was a day when work took effort; I did not summon my typical hi-ho-hi-ho off to work I go spirit this morning, and I didn’t even bother looking for it.

Having typed that, I can’t say it was a bad day. The students were lively, engaged, quirky, cranky, and all that makes being in a room teeming with middle school hope and ennui wonderfully, educationally rewarding. It wasn’t their doing that my usual perk was percolating somewhere else today. When performing a job that requires a certain level of behavioral consistency, it can be self-fulfilling to engage in the day because sometimes you catch up to yourself. Fortunately, this was the case today. It just took a while.

I followed my normal routine this morning, which includes a stop at my favorite coffee emporium. This is ritualized behavior and I realize as I type that I spend more money on this than I would if I simply brewed the bean-based goodness at home – but that’s beside the point. This ritual is almost necessary, I tell myself, because I am incapable of making good coffee. I therefor rely on my local emporium for both the good cheer of its workers and the fact that their coffee is better. There is a part of me that realizes I could be using this bit of money for multitudes of other purposes. The other part doesn’t care (I’m pretty sure that’s the spoiled toddler part of me).

The day began to feel like work at about the time my computer stopped loading a program I needed. Since I was without students for the moment, I walked to the teacher’s lounge to stretch my legs, practice my deep breathing, and regroup. The lounge features a couple coffee carafes which are usually empty by mid-morning. Today, however, one of the carafes still had coffee in it. Not only that, but it was it fresh, and it was good. I don’t know who made the coffee, but at that moment, I loved them with a fervor bordering on hero worship. I posted a thank-you note on the bulletin board, and returned to my project with a renewed sense of purpose. Trite and quirky it may be, but the sentiment is still very real: I was slightly off-focus, and then there was coffee.