Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mess Up

I messed up.

I've been working at the library for the last four and a half years. Not gonna lie: I'm surprised they hired me. I felt like I was getting away with something in a sense. Like I managed to fake it just long enough that they no longer thought to ask questions. I'm surprised they hired me, and I'm surprised it took this long for them to find out I'm not professional, and I don't aspire to a career in this field, and really I'm an immature little brat who's more interested in flexibility/freedom and emotional happiness than in higher pay, longer hours, and so-called "benefits."

I thought maybe the blue hair might have tipped them off, but then that's only been the last six months.

Okay, so here's what happened. Now that a little of the dust has settled I have more clarity than I have for a while now.

My coworker left for a different position in local county government, leaving her Reference position vacant. Like I mentioned before, it involves longer shifts, it offers a retirement plan and the accrual of paid vacation hours, and it is still in my branch, a place I know well and would be reluctant to leave. Taking this position seemed to solve a lot of problems. First, more money. Great. I can pay off debts faster, and not have to worry about not running the A/C or stretching groceries for another week just to make sure I can pay rent. Second, every other person who does teen programming in our library system is a Reference person. It's always caused a little trouble that I've been technically a children's person but not really doing any children's programming. So by taking myself out of children's I'd be easing that issue completely. Third, everybody kept telling me I should do this. The coworker herself told me she hoped I'd apply. People from other branches texted or emailed to recommend I do it. It's a step up the career ladder. It'll be good for you, they said.

So I did it. I interviewed.

The interview went terribly... which is interesting, because the last two interviews I've done have gone really well. When I want the position, I feel confident, engaged, and even if my mind goes blank on an answer I can laugh it off and not give into nerves. But with this one I was a mess. I was nervous, stumbling, saying all the things I thought they'd want to hear, and at the very end when they gave me an exercise to do, I burst into tears.

I got it anyway. Go figure. And instead of taking time to weigh my options, I just immediately accepted. It all made sense on paper. It didn't matter that I felt a great unease at the thought of this new position; that was surely just me being fearful about change. I'd get used to it in time.

I didn't. The first week I was just at the home branch covering in children's and working up in circulation. It was overwhelming, and I hadn't even gotten to the new stuff yet. And then some really horrible, crushing news: while my "benefits" give me paid time off, this vacation time accrues at a rate of 6 hours each month. Since my average work day now is 8 hours, that's not even a day a month! I would have to wait 4 months to get three days off. Well, fine, whatever. I don't care about getting paid for time off. But here's the kicker: in this new position, unpaid time off is limited to SEVEN DAYS A YEAR. ONE FREAKING WEEK. THAT'S ALL. Before the change in position, I had already asked for 5 days off for the funeral, and 5 days for Salem in September. My branch manager was being really nice and trying to make this work for me, but you know what? I couldn't get the ringing in my ears to stop. I thought my brain might be melting and oozing out of my ears. SEVEN FREAKING DAYS. A YEAR. A WHOLE YEAR. Any shitty retail job will give you more than that. I was livid. I was so fucking angry. And that anger fortunately manifested itself in tears instead of swearing, because if I hadn't burst into sobs I definitely would have said something that would have gotten me fired. Seven days. Gaaaaaaaaaah. I knew right then that if I stayed in this position, I'd be gone from the library within a year. There's no way I'm missing the Europe trip next year, or cutting it short to fit these ridiculous guidelines. So yeah, that was roadblock #1.

The second week I started training at the main branch, and the first day went okay. It was all really boring, to be honest, but nothing too difficult to grasp. I could do this, surely, given time. I would be able to function as a reference librarian. But the second day I went in to do my reference interview training and halfway through I again burst into tears.

Are you sensing a pattern? I cried in the interview. I cried upon finding out about the limitations to my days off. I cried when being given important reference training.

The woman giving me the training was very kind. I explained I was likely just overly-emotional with my grandmother's funeral on the immediate horizon. I didn't even think about how the last week of summer reading is already just a stressful time in and of itself. And then of course all these changes.

The problem was, once I started crying I couldn't stop. We rescheduled the second half of the training, and I was sent to the back room to work on some database test questions. But people kept popping in to check that I was okay, and every time a new person asked I would start up again. Finally, the head of reference called me to her office and sent me home. Before she did, she told me to think long and hard about whether I really wanted this position, and to report to my home branch the next day instead of to the main branch for training as planned. I was to tell my branch manager my decision.

So I did. I told him that I wanted my old job back if that was still possible. He's checking with our library director, and with human resources at the county government center. I still don't know where all this stands.

Reasons I would be willing to give up more money and more respect and to make myself look like a fool in front of everyone I work with: because the only reason I have stayed at this job as long as I have is because of people and books. The people part is mostly programming, but also all the regulars that come in to the children's section, the folks that need help with book suggestions or finding pictures to go with a report they've written for school, that kind of thing. The books means what's inside the covers. It means talking about books, thinking about books, recommending books. Books as more than objects or statistics. In my new position, well - I'll be honest. The kinds of people I'd have to help wouldn't be nearly as cute or fun. If I ever talked about books, it would be reference texts, and not necessarily as a recommended pleasurable pastime but as a means to an end.

I realized too late that the pride I feel at getting to say I'm a librarian actually stems from getting to say I'm a children's librarian. If I've messed it up and can't do that anymore, maybe it's just time I moved on to something entirely new...

Saturday, August 9, 2014


My grandmother's funeral is today. Or memorial service. However you want to say it. She died back in April but was cremated, and we are putting her ashes to rest about 15 hours from now in the grave plot right next to my grandfather. I'm typing this from a hotel room in King of Prussia, PA. I've spent the last hour or so trying to write a eulogy.

Now, I haven't been asked to write a eulogy exactly. More to say a few words about my grandmother. (We called her "Oma.") But for the last several years I haven't seen Oma much, and even when I did see her she didn't seem like herself. Pain and fatigue were wearing constantly away at her edges. Plus, I was (am, really) an egocentric young person, too caught up in the immediate concerns of my own life to put much of an effort into trying to connect with her.

So I've written this eulogy, which I will type up for you below. But I don't like it. It's supposed to be about a person, and I spend most of my time talking about a sketchbook. (Which sounds weird, but I hope it will all make sense...)

So here it is, what I may (or may not) end up saying at the service later today:

I have many memories of days spent with Oma - the time Laura and I went with her to visit Old Sturbridge Village, fun trips to Deep Creek or Cape Cod, Florida or Sedona, and even that time she tried to drive me to a place in uptown Charlotte and we ended up getting lost, on the road for hours taking turn after wrong turn and getting trapped in the crazy mess of rush hour traffic. To me as a little kid it all seemed like a grand adventure, but I'm sure it was really stressful for her. So many memories of doing things, going places, all this exciting stuff happening.

But so much of life is in the still moments. Which is why when I remember spending time with Oma, one of the things I recall with the most fondness is this sketchbook.

I don't know if many of you have looked through this or really know what it is. I mean, basically it's what it looks like: a little sketch journal. Early on it's filled with her pencil drawings - a basket of flowers, a place setting at a table, a vague outline of a chair. She tried things, using watercolor pencils and investigating the different effects she could make. And at a certain point other artists' work start to take up pages as she began to invite us grandchildren to draw in it too.

I won't flip through the whole thing here, but there's a hodgepodge of sketches after this - Zach's depiction of grandfather clock, various attempts by me to try to capture those small toys she would keep on the ledge next to those stairs that led down to the basement, and of course many more drawings of her own.

I know I'm going on and on about this book, when I should be talking about her, but I kind of am talking about her. You've got to understand something about me. I've always been so caught up in my own distractions. I was the girl so busy reading that I'd be in the stands at the baseball game and not even know the score. But Oma wasn't like that. What's amazing about this sketchbook, and even more amazing about the lady who started it, who sketched out that place setting at the table, or the view of the street in Belmont, New Hampshire (even down to that stop sign there in the corner) - well, it's this: To make art like this, you have to be willing to stop and take the time to look at the things and the people around you, to really see them, and not only that but to appreciate that there is something of significance and beauty in them, something worth recording, worth remembering. And that was Oma. I mean, you all remember her stories, don't you? She had so many things in her house that she had collected over the course of her life, but these things, while some of them may have been quite valuable, weren't really important in and of themselves. There was always a story, a history behind an object or photograph, and if she'd catch you looking at something she might even share it with you. That's why they were important, at least to me. Because she said they were. She observed and she noticed things and she cared enough to remember.

I saw her sketches in this book, and I wanted to follow her example. I wanted to try too. Over time it came to be an inevitable part of any visit with her. Whenever we spent time with Oma, several more pages of this book were sure to be filled in. Sketches of beloved pets like Tilly and Bobby and Buffy, of Wes playing Game Boy, of the red glasses and Santa napkin rings on the table at Christmas eleven years ago...

I'm grateful for a lifetime of details like this, not just the big flashy photo-album-worthy times with her, but these little quiet memories that I know will continue to creep in at unexpected moments in the years to come, reminding me of her.

I miss Oma. We all miss her - Oma, Nana, Mother, Adelaide. But I'm glad she's no longer in pain, and I rejoice to think of the fullness of life she now knows in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

It was He who commanded us to "love one another as I have loved you." And what kind of love is this? One that sees beauty and worth even in the unlikeliest of places. A love that does not falter or forget. A sketchbook kind of love.


Yeah. That was really preachy and stupid. I didn't say any of that. Instead, I told a brief story about the time Oma was visiting us when it happened to be a blue moon. Mom, Oma, and I got in the car and drove up to the top of the drive way. It was almost like a little theater: the trees on either side were the parted curtains, and above us was this spectacular star-strewn sky and a huge, bright moon. "God was putting on a show for us that night," I said as I burst into tears. I didn't say a lot of things because I was too busy crying. I guess that's okay.