Apocalypse Librarianship

So, I just read over my last post, to gauge the status of my Isolation Checklist. It’s day 11 and…

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It was a bad week, y’all. I was in tears by day three. I suppose I did make some progress on Vampire Diaries… perhaps the only real progress since that particular activity allowed for curling up on the couch, while I obsessed over the news, as the number of infected in my state doubled each day.

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I wasn’t even good at self-isolation. Nearly each day, I managed to convince myself of another vital errand that had to be completed, from grocery shopping to returning packages to Amazon to getting gas in preparation for not going anywhere. I felt a sense of purpose as I made trip after trip, for sandpaper and Funfetti icing, talking myself down from the remaining food-hoarding tendencies I earned in my poverty-stricken early twenties. When I wasn’t preparing for Armageddon, I was frantically texting my husband news updates, exclaiming that the world was ending… and yes I did read that article about taking a break from the internet if you’re feeling stressed, but I’m a researcher! This is is what I do… when I’m not staring into space, contemplating the end of civilization as we know it.

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What can I say? I read a lot of YA novels.

Speaking of which, I am a teen librarian. While I’m unbelievably fortunate to be receiving full compensation for this time at home, there’s not really a way to be a public teen librarian from home. The bulk of what I do, on a day-to-day basis, is interact with teens. I’m not allowed to interact with anyone, right now! My inbox is brimming with suggestions for children’s and adult librarians to help their communities, through remote story times and resource sharing for tax help and Covid-19, but when it comes to teen services, it’s crickets. Shocking. That’s totally new.

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Folks, I love my job. If I’d been offered two weeks of paid leave, I probably would have turned it down. I don’t want to be away from my kids and my work friends. I want to plan Minecraft relay-escape rooms, despite thinking Minecraft is stupid. I want to act as GM during my bi-weekly Teen Table Top Time, without having my apocalyptic role-play interrupted by the actual apocalypse. I want to recruit summer reading teen volunteers. Being a teen librarian is as much my dream now as it was 10 years ago, even more so now that I know what it looks like…

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Me… every day… if my boss trusted me on a ladder after the great guillotine paper cutter incident of her third day.

I know these are drastic times, but oh em jingles, y’all, I could not stay home, as a general state of being. Despite my rapidly developing depression, I did finish reading my 99 cent romance novel and listening to Lord of the Flies, which by the way, I recommend skipping when you already possess an irrational fear of the breakdown of society. I cleaned my house multiple times and upgraded my cell phone, which is not an easy task when Earth is closed. I took the dog for several walks and even attempted a few myself, before I was attacked by a hawk.

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True story, folks. After days of staring at the ceiling in despair, I decided to test out my new earbuds and call my Gramma, while on a walk. It was at the point furthest from my house, naturally, that I felt something hit me in the head… hard. I thought a branch must have fallen or someone had actually thrown something at me, but the only possible culprit was a giant bird flying overhead… which proceeded to follow me halfway home. Sure enough, when Jake got off work, he verified that there was a single long, bleeding claw mark under my hair.

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We’re in a pandemic and the birds are trying to kill me! Zetus lapetus, I can’t even leave the house! Just as I was graduating from Anna from Frozen to Jack from The Shining, however, I had an idea:

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While my public school teens are enjoying an extended spring break, before joining virtual classrooms with their teachers and a dozen friends, my homeschool teens are still following their normal curriculum. They don’t have cell phones and the ability to spend these weeks texting and sending booby pictures to all of their classmates. Their parents would never let them spend a month playing video games and streaming without end. Without their co-ops and sports and library time, they’re probably feeling just as isolated and bored as I am. If public school teachers could engage with their teens virtually, however, so could I! All I needed were some fun, remote engagement opportunities, and I could librarian during the apocalypse, y’all!

So, I messaged all of my regulars’ moms, asking if their children would be interested. After several enthusiastic yes’s, from stay-at-home moms who’d been trapped inside with bored teenagers all week, I arranged for a Neflix Party, through the Google Chrome extension. I would take movie votes, verify their appropriateness with parents, schedule a time, and send the link to a video I controlled. While I did sporadically participate in the chat, I mostly oversaw the kids’ behavior to make sure twelve teens weren’t driving each other crazy… and immediately proved the necessity of my presence when one of my regular girls started impersonating everyone two minutes into The Dark Knight.

Folks, this was really just me supervising a chatroom of my regular teens, but there was something so normal about telling kids I see nearly every day “No one is trash. You’re all beautiful little buttheads, now knock it off,” even via chatroom. There was something about explaining why we don’t joke about Coronavirus that made me feel a little more grounded. So, Friday, as we wrapped up The Dark Knight, I asked if they’d had fun, if it was something they’d want to do again and they all said yes. On Tuesday, they watched Avengers: Infinity War, while I watched New Moon (making my way through that Twilight Saga rewatch) and threatened to text their parents, so they could explain why it wasn’t funny to joke about Covid-19.

As the credits rolled, I suggested we try our apocalyptic RPG during the actual End Times (not verbatim), through Zoom. So it is, that I’m planning to video conference 12 teenagers later this afternoon, to discuss how we’ll fight off Zombie Hitler if things get really bad… and it’s my lifeline, the key to my sanity… just in time, because yesterday I received the automated text message that my library system will be closed, at minimum, until April 16th and we’ll continue to be paid “unexpected closure leave.” It seems, I have plenty of time to hone my apocalypse libriarianship skills and possibly be a little more productive these coming weeks. That or take up day drinking.

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“Hunkering Down”

Coronavirus has arrived stateside, y’all. There are 10 confirmed cases in my state, one in my county that’s been declared locally transmitted. Whether your claim is that “it’s just the flu” or the end is nigh, it’s become apparent that, globally, we’ve all slipped into a game of Plague Inc., 80’s movie style.

The flu has a vaccine and has still killed 55,000 Americans this year, by the way.

It’s difficult to predict how bad things will get in the US, but I must say, I’m getting scared, especially with the start of spring break. As the zoo, museums, and all of the other obvious attractions announced their closures over the past week, I was growing increasingly worried that the libraries would be the only thing open and we’d get an even larger crowd than normal. Fortunately, however, all three major library systems in my state have closed their doors for a minimum of two weeks and mine is providing all employees with unexpected closure leave, meaning I get full pay and benefits, without draining my accumulated leave.

While working from home has been briefly discussed, there aren’t a lot of ways librarians can work from home. Facebook story times have been mentioned, but I’m not a children’s librarian… and I refuse to participate in social media. Program planning and calendar entry deadlines will likely still stand, but I have mine completed through October. That leaves program prep, so I suppose I’ll be practicing my balloon animals and contact juggling for June’s Sideshow Skills, along with following an online painting tutorial for an eventual Paint and Pop program. I could also further my research for May’s Norse mythology themed LARP… assuming we’re open by then.

While my library has officially closed for a tentative two weeks, schools statewide have announced their closure through at least April 6th and the CDC has recommended we hunker down for the next eight weeks (not verbatim). So it is that I find myself with a surprise paid leave of an undetermined length. Since Jake’s job provides pretty essential services, even if things get bad enough to make the Good Ol’ Boys take them seriously and limit his hours, he’ll still be required to go in and perform some tasks. I’ve done the shopping: procured frozen meats and vegetables, canned goods, treats like chips and frozen pizzas and brownie mix, dog food and cat food, toilet paper and paper towels, cleaning supplies and medicine in case we do get sick. I’ve refilled my inhalers and informed my boss that I am not willing to empty the book drop, since asthma puts me in the higher risk category, according to the CDC. I even gave blood last week. The prep is done, folks. What now?

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The last time I had what felt like unlimited free time, I was in my mid-twenties and worked half time at the library, while substitute teaching. During school breaks, I only worked twenty hours… and I went stir crazy every time. There was the year I filled my apartment with art I created following YouTube tutorials; the spring break when I binged watched Sons of Anarchy to the point that I was screaming “Rape her with a billy club!” and realized that maybe I needed a time out; The Christmas I tried to teach myself the Single Ladies and Thriller dances; the summer I delved into string art. Zetus lapetus, I’m lucky my downstairs neighbors were always too high to murder me.

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Once again, with appropriate respect for the lives lost and suffering yet to come, I have to figure out what to do with myself for the next few weeks… and I won’t even be working those twenty hours. I’m a planner, y’all, a woman of action… but I just made my last trip to Wal-Mart before parking my Kia Soul for weeks. I’ve done all I can do to prepare for this pandemic, checked off the final items on the list. So… I guess I need a new list. Goals are important, folks.

Finish Vampire Diaries
I have been working on this series for the better part of a year, people. I am sooooo tired of Elena Gilbert and her confusion. It’s Damon already! It’s not a fucking Rubix Cube.

Take Up A New Terrible Teen Show
Maybe I’ll catch up with Riverdale or try I Am Not Okay With This on Netflix. It makes me better at my job to be able to talk to my teens about these shows. That’s totally the only reason I still watch them.

Reread Jodi Ellen Malpas’s This Man Series
I’m a lover of romance, but this is a terrible series, y’all. I mean, it is really bad… but the last book takes place 15 years later, after the heroine gets amnesia and the hero has to make her fall in love with him again, Notebook style. I can’t not read that.

Do This Yoga Thing
I bought the mat and blocks and checked out all the DVD’s we had on shelf, after attending one free session at work. I was pretty on the fence at first, but I’m willing to concede that yoga might not be all hokum.

Master Egg Drop Soup
I started thinking “Oooh, I could make a souffle!” Then I Googled it and thought “Woah… walk before you run.” Egg drop soup looked easy enough, though.

Play a Videogame
Jake always wishes I were more of a gamer, whether it’s Mario Odyssey or Skyrim. Maybe I can give one of these a real go now. At the very least, I finally have time for The Sims.

Complete That Afghan
It’s been sitting on the couch, ready to be worked on, since Christmas. This will not become a project I never finished.

Rewatch Every Nicholas Sparks Movie I Own
I’m a sucker for The Longest Ride, Safe Haven, and The Notebook.

Finish Lizzie Maguire
Oh my gosh, this show is still super relatable, but maybe that’s because I work with teens.

Complete That Painting
Last weekend, I bought the supplies to follow this tutorial. It seems I have plenty of time to do it now. I can even gauge whether or not my teens could follow a similar one.

Tackle That TBR List
Librarians have notoriously long To Be Read lists, but I promised myself I’d read 25 classics this year. It’s a lofty goal, but it seems I have the time to get caught up with this month’s selections, read that LGBTQ YA novel I downloaded, and start my reread of Kresley Cole’s Arcana Chronicles before she releases the final installment this year.

Watch All Five Twilight Movies
Haters gonna hate, but at 20, I was Team Edward. Today, however, I’m definitely Team Jacob. He was hotter and could have given Bella a normal life, without her having to change.

Watch All Three Fifty Shades Movies
The books are horribly written and Jamie Dornan looks like he’s physically pained during all of the sex scenes, but I just love the “rich man saves poor, naive virgin, with a pretend degree” storyline. It’s just so relatable. I can’t figure out why…

Learn to Contact Juggle
This is surprisingly applicable to my job.

Learn to Make Balloon Animals
See above.

Work On My Tan
I own a 2,300 square foot home with a gym quality elliptical and a rowing machine. I’ll get plenty of exercise, but I’m not so sure I’ll get much sun, unless I make a deliberate effort. Social distancing shouldn’t be much of a challenge on an acre and working on my tan should help to minimize the cabin fever.

Teach Myself The Thriller Dance
That living room was really way too small. That’s definitely why I can’t do the Thriller dance.

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The Only Millennial Who Hates Travel

Jake was born in 1984, so strictly speaking, he’s a member of the Millennial generation, a title he greatly resents. You see, my in-laws, Jake’s parents and aunts and uncles, were some of the first Baby Boomers, raising his cousins and sister (and he and his brother, by default) firmly in Generation X. While I watched Rugrats and played with my Bop-It and Furbies, Jake was like… playing outside or something. He never saw a single episode of Full House or listened to NSYNC or owned a digital pet. With only a three year age difference, it’s amazing how different our childhoods were and even our personalities and interests are today. He was Varsity Blues to my Mean Girls and I could probably fashion a Jake Granger drinking game, where I do a shot every time he grumbles about what a Millennial I am… and more often than not, he’s right.

Jake: “… and how are you going to figure out how to do this?”
Me: “YouTube? I learned how to crochet from YouTube, I can learn how to paint a house from YouTube.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “My Kindle died! My book is out of batteries!”
Jake: “If only they made a paper version.”
Me: “Ugh. Gross. Those aren’t even backlit. It’s 2019.”
Jake: “You are such a Millennial.”

Me: “I hate that show. Nothing happened.”
Jake: “It’s a slow build. You like Stephen King.”
Me: “I like his books. The show is boring.”
Jake: “We’ve watched one episode. You are such a Millennial.”

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In so many ways, I am my generation. I love new tech and all things Harry Potter. I took out six figure student loan debt, for a master’s degree, to work in a field I chose based on how much I thought I could Do Good and Change the World. I haven’t had cable in seven years and refuse to watch anything I can’t binge. I’ve hinted recently at the one stereotype I just cannot claim, though: the love of travel. Y’all, I hate travel. I hate it so much that “hate” isn’t even a strong enough term…

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… and I’ll tell you why.
Packing
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Jake and my travels for a family rodeo event, in a neighboring state, where we enjoyed the shenanigans of acting like college kids together. What I didn’t mention, however, was how much I hated leaving home for four days, in part because of the comforts I couldn’t take with me and the ones I could, but would inevitably forget.

Yes, yes, I know, I can’t take the cat, or so say Jake and Thackery Binx alike. It seems, however, that it’s equally impossible to pack the most basic necessities of home, without taking so much that I risk forgetting something important in a hotel room in the Rocky Mountains. On this particular trip, I remembered three pairs of boots, four different dresses in varying levels of fancy, two different belts, and four different sets of jewelry. I had a suitcase, a garment bag, the original box for my wedding boots, and a bag full of items to keep me entertained in the car. I, however, forgot most of my makeup, my hairspray, and socks. But you know, it’s a good thing I brought a physical audiobook, outside of the three I’d downloaded to my phone, and the crochet project I never touched, to potentially take my mind off the fact that I forgot my makeup.

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Transit
Just this month, I had the privilege of attending YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association symposium in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a riot, naturally.

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As a cost saving measure, and as good stewards of tax payer funds, our system-wide group of six drove the approximately seven hour trip, including stops, in the library van. While Jake and I had just driven an undeniably uncomfortable 10 hours in August, I correctly surmised that this was going to be an even less cozy trip. For starters, I was not in my own car and could not fully recline the seat to sleep, but instead had to sit in an appropriate position, no matter how much it made my back ache. I wasn’t driving with my husband, but several virtual strangers and colleagues and could not repeatedly complain that I was bored or ask how much longer the trip would be or request an unreasonable number of stops. No. I had to spend seven hours in a car, acting like a professional, and it sucked. The only benefit was that driving meant there was no weight limit to our luggage, and every one of us brought an empty suitcase to haul home all of our free YA novels… for the seven hour return trip.

I’m not convinced that a plane trip would have been any better, regardless. In fact, the last time I flew, was on my honeymoon and I spent the entirety of those flights with my head in Jake’s lap, too airsick to function. Seeing a new place and experiencing new things would be a lot more fun, if I didn’t have to actually get there.
Resting
Y’all, I’m a next level homebody and I know it. I don’t know if I’m just traumatized from the years in my late teens and early twenties, when I was forced to move every few months or if I’m just that basic, but I just cannot relax in a strange place. Still, I can appreciate the desire to see something new, or something ancient, to dip into another culture and hear another language. As with woodsy activities, however, I want to end my day in a comfy bed, preferably my comfy bed, because anything comparable is in a suite I can’t afford. While I might prefer a stay in a mid-range hotel room to camping, it still pales in comparison to a good night’s rest in my home.

I remember reading Ready Player One and thinking this is my kind of travel. I could fully experience entire worlds, without checking the bed bug registry or hauling around a comforter, because I know hotels only wash them twice a year. I could order sushi that I know I like, from the chain restaurant in town, and eat in an authentic Japanese restaurant. I could meet new people and learn about new cultures and shower in my own bathroom. Forget about the fantasy of flying cars and pet unicorns, that’s my Oasis: adventuring all day long and unwinding at home.

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People
Can I experience another culture, without talking to people? Seriously, I spend all day, every day, talking to people. Librarianship is surprisingly extroverted, so my idea of a vacation involves a lot fewer people than most of the traveling I’ve done, because at the end of the day, I want to see Thackery Binx and Jake… maybe. Yes, I can turn it on, quite convincingly, for $25 an hour. Vacation isn’t supposed to be work, though, and weaving through throngs of people in an airport or a theme park or a cruise ship or a hotel, mingling with strangers, is work. I don’t even like the first few chapters of a book, because I don’t know the characters yet, so socializing for several days in the real world, when I’m not getting paid for it, is incredibly taxing.

Sure, YALSA was a working weekend, but despite the thrill of being surrounded by teen librarians, each evening still found me alone in the hotel gym, taking a break from all the trying… trying to share honest, but politically correct opinions, trying to be friendly without coming on too strong, trying to strike up meaningful conversations and get the most out of a trip I knew cost taxpayers good money, trying to make a good impression with both my system and national colleagues. By the second day, I was so overstimulated, that I found an architectural anomaly in the form of a little nook, tucked away behind a pillar, where I hid from all the cardigans, read on my phone while drinking coffee, and even called Jake crying because I was so bad at this traveling thing and wanted to come home.

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Millennials love to travel. Zetus lapetus, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that stereotype referenced, I’d never have to pay for my avocado toast again, but I hate travel. I’m no longer convinced that I’m doing it wrong, either, because what seems to be a rejuvenating experience for most people is just exhausting to me. I don’t remember a time when I traveled anywhere, in fact, that I didn’t require an additional day to take a vacation from my vacation, whether it was my Alaskan honeymoon or the last time Jake and I drove three hours to see his parents. I don’t even have children yet and after a weekend away, I feel the way I think an average parent of three must feel after a week at Disney World. There’s so much preparation and upheaval and stress and so… many… people. I’d rather do porn… locally, of course.

Roots

Roots are a funny thing. For most of my life, my roots have been shallow, at best. As a child, I suppose I took stability for granted, as all children will and should do. Our trailer house on five acres, with my grandmother living next door, was all I knew. My parents were never… happy, but they weren’t overtly miserable, either. Besides, Gramma was right next door and seeing her was the end game of literally every day. Fuck parents.

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When I was 8, we left the trailer and my grandmother moved to town. After a year or two of finally having all the things, my parents still began their Lifetime Original Movie level divorce and my brother and I were more or less left to fend for ourselves. Stability was a thing of the past and I wouldn’t claim to have gained anything resembling it until after my divorce at 23. My new roots were shallow, indeed, as I worked two jobs to afford my single girl apartment and attended grad school part time. I hoped that, in time, all my efforts would pay off and my roots would deepen. I dated on and off, at times wondering if I even wanted to try the marriage thing again. At 24, my brother told me I’d better get on it, because the good ones marry early. At 25, my aunt offered to set me up with some cute musicians, to which I responded that that’s exactly what I needed, another man without a job.

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#goals

At 26, the cynicism began to fade and the panic began to set in, as I wailed to my Gramma that I was going to die alone. All the while, I worked to climb the ladder in my library system and shared my dating stories with you fine folks. At 27, Jake showed up, fucking finally. At 29, I married him; and at 30, we bought our own home. In these six or seven years, I found myself at six different libraries, living in three different dwellings. In short, it was a crazy time. I yearned for stability.

Today, I’ve begun to set down new roots. I’ve been stationed at the Cherokee library, heading the teen programming for all five satellite locations, for almost two years now. Jake has received a promotion to crew chief, with the city. We’re fixing up our home and planning on children soon. We’ve formed some tentative friendships at church. Still, not three months ago, I was in tears, because the connections feel so insubstantial. We live near no one. My family isn’t nearby and if they were, I wouldn’t be especially close with them. As wonderful as my step-siblings and their spouses are, Jake and I have vastly different interests and are simply in a different stage of life. I have delightful friends, but they have different goals, dreams, worldviews. Jake’s friends, who are much more relatable, in these regards, are in another state. His family is scattered across both states and again, are largely in different stages of life. I love my husband and feel entirely secure in our marriage, but I can’t help but wonder, will I ever feel anchored in any other area of my life?

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The first couple of months of the year were hard for me. As much as I love working with my teens, my library system doesn’t provide any additional compensation for working in the satellite branches. We get such varied experience, it makes us obvious candidates for promotion, something many gladly take, because working at five libraries is substantially more stressful than working at one. Even small issues, such as sharing supplies, covering the desk, and filling out mileage forms, often become huge stressors. Naturally, this results in much higher turnover and every time a position is filled, another is vacated. We finally get a strong team, in which everyone works well together, only to have to train someone new. It’s exhausting, particularly when coupled with the general chaos of the system as a whole, which was turned on its head nearly five years ago and has never quite righted itself. For literally the first time in eight years, I’ve begun looking at my options. Yet… my library system is all I know. I’ve worked there since I was 23 and the idea of leaving is scary… but since I don’t seem to have set down any deep roots, just yet, perhaps this is the right time.

I’m reading Gone with the Wind and I find myself envying Scarlet. I’ve never had a Tara, a place for which I feel a true sense of home… and maybe, as hard as it’s been lately, that’s for the best. Just maybe, before Jake and I have children, get them into school, plant ourselves more firmly into our fields and our community, we could consider uprooting, once again. I still have a valid teaching certificate and I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of education for the last ten years. I could leave my system and work as a school librarian, my original goal, when I began pursuing my master’s degree. I could continue to work with teens, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and have more time in the summers, the most hectic time of year for public librarians. If we were to relocate to Jake’s home state, I could make very similar money. We could move closer to friends and family, before starting a family of our own, and be there to support Jake’s parents as they move into their seventies. We could even use the superior public school system and save money on tuition for Catholic school. We could transplant these shallow roots, in a way that might not be an option in five years.

And yet, I worry that the constant shifting within my library system, although beyond my control, has created a sense of professional wanderlust in me. Am I considering leaving so I can have something more consistent or have I just been in Cherokee for almost two years, which is about my turnaround per branch? Am I looking for a stronger commitment or a bigger challenge? Do I crave predictability or chaos? Have I spent so long with a shallow root system that, although appealing in theory, the idea of deep roots has me feeling trapped? I don’t know, but the prospect is terrifying. Roots are a funny thing.

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The Curse of Ambition

When I was in pre-school, I overheard my parents talking about my brother getting “straight A’s,” as though it were impossible. In my childhood literalism, I understood this as a reference to handwriting (“A” was, like, the easiest letter to write) and confidently declared that could make straight A’s. Something about the way my dad responded that he wasn’t sure if that were true, because getting straight A’s was hard work, alerted me to the idea that there was clearly more to it. Regardless, at four years old, admittedly uncertain as to what I was being challenged, I essentially clapped back with “It’s on, bitch.”

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Not verbatim.

As I grew up, I became used to being, if not the best at every subject in school, one of the best. I hated P.E., because it was rooted in the only area in which I couldn’t excel. It didn’t matter to me that I always got an A in the class. I wanted to be on the National or Presidential Physical Fitness Award wall. If I couldn’t, I didn’t want to fucking play.

I always viewed athleticism as simply unattainable… which to some extent, was an accurate assessment. I was born with asthma, in lieu of any innate grace. I was blessed with a broad rib cage and enormous breasts, at a young age, as opposed to a naturally svelte form. I couldn’t change the fact that I was slow and short of breath, so I was an inattentive daydreamer, which does not make for the best team member. If I tried my hardest, I was middling, so I chose to save my energy and just not try at all. Of course, this meant that I not only missed out on the sport itself, but all the benefits that might have come with it, such as exercise, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills, just to avoid the embarrassment of being not one of the best. 

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Intellectual endeavors, however, were totally my jam. I was overweight, antisocial, and lazy, but straight A’s came easy… more or less. The only time I received a C, was a 79 in reading, because I refused to follow the totalitarian Accelerated Reader regime, a stance I still proudly hold as a public librarian, today. While I struggled in math (a failing I credit to my parents’ claim that the Addin’ Muscle resides in the penis), I always managed at least a B. In high school, I was able to enroll in AP courses and, for the first time, I felt somewhat challenged. Not only was the subject matter explored more deeply, but my classmates were actually engaged and competitive. I was no longer certain of my status as the smartest person in the room and that sparked my sense of ambition. I wanted to continue to be one of the best, and I was willing to work for it, knowing it was at least possible. Unfortunately, these AP courses only made up two or three hours of my day, so I largely found high school to be only slightly more demanding than all that preceded it. Although Rory Gilmore promised college would be different, I did not go to Yale. I went to the third largest public university in my state, and while I did eventually feel engaged, I can’t say that I ever felt truly challenged, until I began my master’s degree.

Lacking social, musical, or athletic graces, prior to graduate school, my sense of ambition was almost exclusively rooted in academics. I’d have ceaselessly climbed that ladder, too, had I been offered more rungs, or encouraged to pursue the areas in which I struggled, like science and math. It should come as no surprise, though, that I gravitated toward an intellectual field and, in hindsight, that I eventually did so well… perhaps too well.

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When I started as a half-time circulation clerk, my goal was simply to gain experience working in a library. Originally, my dream job was to work as a middle school librarian, because I didn’t even realize that teen librarian was a job title. Once I learned what this job entailed, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that working in my system was both more stable and more lucrative, while lacking many of the headaches of working in the public education system. I set my sights on a new goal and for two years, I substitute taught, worked 20 hours a week at the Southside library, and pursued my MLIS.

After graduation, I was fortunate to move, almost immediately, into a half-time librarian position, no specialization… where I stagnated for two and a half years, because there are plenty of 70’s and 80’s feminists, who haven’t recovered from the mentality that women must tear each other down to succeed. Truly, this woman had a list of people she didn’t want to destroy and I was just one of many who failed to make that cut. When the time came for her to retire to her cave and eat puppies, however, my ambition was reignited and I jumped at the chance to move up, as surprisingly to some, there are many opportunities for upward movement in the library world.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that at the end of 2015, I accepted a new position, advertised as 80% librarian and 20% supervisor… and rocked it for eleven months, before succumbing to the fact that I just could not be a manager any longer. If I had to tell one more grownup that she couldn’t wear her jammies to work, I was going to be on the news. For the first time since the semester I took 22 credit hours, I realized that my ambition had bitten me in the ass. I had thought long and hard about stepping down, about the possibility that I might never get the chance to be a manager again… and ultimately decided that I’d prefer that to never being a librarian again. So, I became an adult librarian… and as the result of a grassroots restructuring and an impassioned speech on my love for teens, with no experience as a teen librarian, I was eventually mapped into my current title: teen librarian for the five Satellite Libraries, primarily operating out of the Cherokee branch.

In those first few months in my position, I had the following conversation with my immediate supervisor:

Me: “I am wildly unqualified for this position.”
Supervisor: “There’s… room for growth, but I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Me: “If this job had been opened for interviews, I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

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My sense of ambition had been more than sparked, y’all. I was petrified. After all the years I’d spent yearning for the title of teen librarian, only to feel as though it had slipped from my grasp, when I became a manager and then an adult librarian, I finally had my dream job… like my ten year plan dream job. I’d been willing and eager to head the teen programming for one library, in one community, not five. Although, I’d worked as a substitute teacher for six years and enjoyed the teens there, I had no actual experience working with them in a library setting. What if they didn’t like me? What if I completely missed the mark and became the guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks to them, never actually making a difference? What if I never built a following and decimated the teen attendance in the Satellite Libraries?!?! I’d been forced to take a bite, much larger than what I felt I could  chew.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my initial home school teen book club from an average attendance of four to 17. Moms comment in Facebook groups about how much I do for my teens and how much they love me. One of my regulars has decided she wants to cut her hair like mine. I remember the names of more than thirty teenagers who come in and out of the library, in a given week. We’ve had murder mystery parties and nerd trivia battles and played Clue and improv games. We’ve debated Doctor Who vs. The Hulk and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. My teenagers are the highlight of my work day, every day. I’m no longer overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me and have long been making jokes with Susie, the children’s librarian and my good friend, about how we’re both going to die at the reference desk of the Cherokee branch.

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For years, I’ve been joking about how I wanted to get a teen librarian position and simply stagnate. In actuality I just wanted to get the perfect position and be really good at at it and never move up again. It seems that’s a perfectly reasonable and delightful plan, at this point, except… there’s a possibility that a librarian position might soon open in the materials selection department at our downtown location. The pay would be approximately $11,000 more a year, though the commute would increase by at least 45 minutes round trip… but the position would entail selecting books and materials for the entire system, digitally and physically, ensuring we have a balanced collection. It’s one of the few titles I’ve ever said could tempt me away from Cherokee and the Satellite Libraries, my teens and my non-existent commute… but no one ever leaves materials selection. They all stay until retirement, which means that these jobs almost never open… and I see that little spark of ambition in the girl who once cried over a 98.5% . She just wants to put in an application, when the time comes, and see what happens. Except this time, I’m not working for half the hourly pay as a circulation clerk or half time as a librarian, desperate for benefits. I’m not miserable as a manager or being forced to choose an age group with no knowledge of where I’ll end up. I’m happy and if I vacate my job, it may never open again… but I also know I’m at least a decent candidate and I may never get another chance… and yet, there’s always the possibility that I’d regret it. I suppose it’s a good thing the position hasn’t actually opened yet. I still have time to try to lift the curse of ambition.

I am a millennial. I am not drowning in my student loan debt.

In 2006, just months after graduating from high school, I stood in line for an hour at my university’s financial aid department, waiting to digitally sign a promissory note, stating… well, I don’t actually remember that part, because I was 18 and I didn’t read it. Legally, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol, own a gun, gamble in a casino, or run for public office, but I was allowed to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt… per semester… and they just trusted that I’d read the fine print.

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From 18-25, I went through the same annual process, spending approximately 45 minutes filling out paperwork, declaring that I understood what I was doing and the conditions thereof, in exchange for a direct deposit of thousands of dollars… wait for it… post-tuition. Despite the fact that “longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s,”* and the fact that it’s against federal law for a credit card company to give a card to anyone under 21, without steady income or a cosigner*, I was sixty thousand dollars in debt to the federal government, when I received my bachelor’s degree four years later. What was my desired career field, you might ask? Did I want to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? Nope. I wanted to be a home-ec teacher.

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Plenty of research has already proven that the human brain hasn’t fully matured until age 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully developed.* This is not new information, either. The very fact that you must be 25, 30, and 35 to run for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, defends the point that the federal government has long been fully and accurately aware of the immaturity found in most 18-25-year-olds. Recent neuroscience simply backs up that decision. The government is offering a terrible deal to college students… and judging by the articles in my Google feed, it’s become pretty common knowledge.

Just this week, I’ve read about how Maine will offset the cost of student loans, through tax cuts, in an attempt to entice a younger population to relocate to the aging state. Several articles report that saving for retirement, buying a home, and having children are just a few of the major milestones being delayed by thirty-somethings “drowning” in student loan debt. To add insult to injury, Twitter is apparently full of Millennials, pissed at Hasbro for Millennial Monopoly’s blatant failure to capture their plight… which should surprise absolutely no one, when the company itself is run by a baby boomer, who brings in $7,000,000 annually. It’s everywhere, y’all… this news that student loan debt is ruining our lives!

Except, if we’re discussing federal student loans… they shouldn’t be, because our student loan system is a dreadful model, not just for borrowers, but for the federal government and by extension, the tax payers. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, only to find there were no teaching jobs available, I was able to immediately enter graduate school, extending my borrowing period by another three years… still three more shy of the 10 year cap. As was the case four years earlier, my major and intended field had no bearing on how much I was able to borrow. I chose librarianship, a field rarely more lucrative than teaching and much harder to break into, and the payout was another sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Why did I borrow so much? Well, not only was I going to school, during all those years, I was also going through some pretty weighty personal crises. Married at 19, I suffered a house fire less than a year later, an eviction and a total of ten moves in the next two years, a sociopathic partner who refused to work, a miscarriage, the death of my best friend’s infant daughter, and finally, a divorce… just as I entered grad school. After all that, a good portion of it was spent consolidating my debt; because, I did start thinking about the long term financial implications of borrowing so much, when my life settled down a bit, at 23.. I worked two jobs and took online classes, but graduate hours were so much more expensive than my undergrad hours, that each year I told myself it would be the last time I accepted the max… and it never was, until my last semester, at 25… the age when modern science says my brain had finally matured.

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Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been in school until the full development of my prefrontal cortex, because when I totaled my student loans and realized where I’d be after graduation, I started doing my research. For two years, I read up on debt consolidation and forgiveness programs like it was another course… which it should have been, because there was a lot of information out there. So, when I graduated at 25, I was prepared… fortunately, because the surprise semester that followed the failure of my graduate portfolio presentation ate up the six month grace period for repayment. I had approximately two months to send in all of my loan information for consolidation under an Income Based Repayment program, because they wouldn’t qualify if they were in default. Prior to consolidation, just two of my loans would’ve added up to $1,900 a month.

Once I was accepted for the IBR program, however, my monthly payments were $0. Working half time at the library and substitute teaching simply didn’t provide enough discretionary income to require a minimum payment. The following year, it only went up to $40. Only when I became a full time librarian was I expected to make a substantial payment, of about $300 a month… which went down when my family size increased with marriage and will go down again with each child we have. If I was drowning in anything, it was my private student loans, not my federal ones, which doesn’t seem to be the dominant complaint. Even so, my struggle with these was less about the monthly payment and more about the lack of impact, considering the interest rate. While my federal loans were also accumulating interest, I was able to sign up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

You see, because I’m working as a public librarian, a lower paying position than many in the private sector, providing much needed services to the community, the government has struck a deal with me. If I work in public service for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments, I can apply to have the remainder of my debt forgiven, tax free. While there are plenty of fear mongers writing narratives about how this won’t actually happen, there’s no research to actually back that up. Even the current administration has only suggested closing the doors on the program, not pulling the rug out from everyone already enrolled. In fact, I’ve actually already been grandfathered into my repayment program, as it only considers my income and the current ones consider the income of the entire household.

While many of those who have applied for forgiveness report being denied, it’s simply because they didn’t do their research or were given the wrong information, having enrolled in the program early. There is a catch to PSLF, in addition to a lower paying job: annual paperwork. Every year, I recertify my income for the IBR and my employment for verification that it qualifies. In exchange, I get an update on the number of eligible payments I’ve made, all but canceling out any chance that I’ll make the aforementioned mistakes.

Now, plenty of Millenials, with outstanding student loan debt, work in positions that don’t qualify for PSLF. The ones with smaller totals are paying them off as quickly as they can, to avoid interest charges and that’s undoubtedly the best approach. The rest, however, have their own option under an IBR, which is to apply for forgiveness after 20/25 years of payments, depending on when they signed up and under which program. This, however, is not tax free. That’s the only catch, beyond paying on these loans for so long.

Is this good for the federal government, for tax payers? Fuck no. This is a wretched, absolutely unsustainable model. Canceling PSLF seems like an obvious choice to some, but the core reasons are still valid. If there’s no incentive to do so, few lawyers and doctors will work in low paying public service jobs. Rural and poor urban areas won’t have teachers or librarians, the latter of which requires a master’s degree. Few will even enter into careers as police officers and EMT’s. Should all of these positions require advanced degrees? Absolutely not. Higher education, in many ways, is a total scam… but it’s a scam we’re still supporting in this country. While I hope to see more emphasis placed on technical degrees and apprenticeships and on-the-job training, more companies demanding applicants show them what they can do, as opposed to who taught them, we’re not there yet. I had to have my degree to do my job, a job I not only love and am lucky to be well-compensated for in my field, but one that makes a huge difference in the community.

I didn’t break any rules taking out my loans to get my degree and I’m not breaking any rules with my plans to receive loan forgiveness for working in my position. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to change the rules and prevent people from getting into these situations in the first place. We shouldn’t be giving teenagers tens of thousands of dollars to major in journalism or literature or education. We shouldn’t be letting people borrow for 10 years, if they’re not going into fields that can repay the debt. We shouldn’t be giving out thousands in direct deposits, after paying the schools, because my personal crises shouldn’t have been covered by the federal government. Some would say the government shouldn’t even be involved and private banks should have to compete for borrowers and choose what fields they invest their funds. Whatever the solution, students, the government, and tax payers are all getting screwed under this system, unquestionably. The only entity coming out on top is the universities, because as many economists agree, the reason tuition costs have risen so much is that colleges know their students can secure the funds through the federal government. Hopefully, future generations will boycott these institutions.

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In the meantime, though, no one should be “drowning” in federal student loan debt. If it’s that bad, follow these links, get out of default, do the paperwork to consolidate and get into an Income Based Repayment plan. Don’t be more the victim of this terrible system than you already have to be as an American tax payer. Take advantage of the fact that our truly fucking awful student loan system does favor the borrower, in some ways… while it still does.

PSLF – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

PSLF application – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-application-for-forgiveness.pdf

Income Driven Plan information – https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action
Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892678/

https://www.thebalance.com/credit-card-companies-love-college-students-960090

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

https://www.businessinsider.com/age-brain-matures-at-everything-2017-11

Being the New Girl… Again

One year ago, very nearly to the day, Jake was staying at my apartment while he worked nearby, and woke to find me crying in my living room over frozen yogurt. While I pride myself on my emotional control, it’s only because I’m fully aware that at my breaking point, I’m quite the drama queen. I’d even go so far as to attribute this to a professional norm. Librarians, we’re a… passionate bunch. You’d have to be passionate to essentially major in research and community service and fandoms. No one has ever shown you cat pictures, raved about their favorite fictional characters, or detailed their recently discovered genealogical history, quite as aggressively as a librarian. If we don’t reign it in, we can be exhausting.

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Last year, however, it was my turn to be exhausted, as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that the job I’d started in January of 2016 was not, in fact, 80% librarian and 20% supervisor, but 80% librarian and 100% supervisor. After some internal struggle, I ultimately decided to step down and be just a librarian, at the Jackson Library, in the same county system, but a different city. It was perfect… for literally six weeks.

I cried the day our grassroots restructuring was announced. I was planning a wedding. Jake was unemployed. I was commuting to work about an hour each way, while trying to find a rent house closer to Jackson. I’d escaped one bait and switch position only to find myself in another, at an even less convenient time in my life. Ultimately, there was a single sparkly silver lining to this ever-darkening cloud, however. Asked to choose an age specialization, I was finally able to declare myself a teen librarian. Though it had always been my goal to work with teenagers, I’d made peace with the fact that that ship had sailed, after I’d fallen into adult librarianship at the Northside Library and continued the trend at Jackson. This was great news… which meant relocating to the Cherokee Library… eventually, because we were still so shorthanded at the Lakeville Library, that I’d have to cover there for the summer.

Folks, I have been at seven libraries in six years. I was at the Southside Library, as a half time circulation clerk, for two years. I spent two and a half years at the Westside Library trying to get full time. Since January of 2016, though, I’ve been a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library (11 months), adult librarian at the Jackson Library (5 months), essentially a circulation clerk at the Lakeside Library for the summer (2 months), occasionally filling in at the Harmon Library, and now finally, I’m a teen librarian at the Cherokee Library… and I’m almost too worn out to enjoy it.

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As a stereotypical, forward-thinking millennial, I’m the first to admit that there are some definite advantages to having worked at so many locations in the same library system, y’all. I have experiences in several different communities, under several different managers. I’ve seen best (and worst) practices at multiple branches and can see policies and procedures from a system perspective many branch loyalists lack. I know so many people now, there’s almost always a friendly face at every training and when there isn’t, I’m no longer as prone to the shyness and nerves I felt on my first day at the Northside Library. That being said, I am so tired of being the new girl.

After a year as a manager, feeling as though I couldn’t make friendly connections, six months in Jackson, not knowing where my job would lead me, and a summer working the desk alone in Lakeside, the lack of roots has really gotten to me. So, despite how I’ve longed to work as a teen librarian, despite being at my dream location, just up the street from our rent house, despite having a supportive manager and a job I love, at the end of my first week at the Cherokee Library, in true Over Dramatic Belle Form, I finally broke down.

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As adults we’re supposed to have transcended our cliques and biases, in our enlightened anti-bullying society, and truly, everyone at the Cherokee location has been very welcoming. No matter how inclusive they are, though, I don’t know them, yet. I don’t know what subjects to avoid, their senses of humor, religious and political beliefs (something of a landmine in our field, more so than others), hobbies, living situations, career goals and histories, or who is friends with whom outside of work. It’s been so long since I’ve felt like a member of the club and I’m tired of standing at the edge of the lunch room, wondering where to sit.

In addition to meeting all new people, in a new city, at a new library, I’m starting a new job. I don’t know how to be a teen librarian. My boss has been supportive and encouraging of my ideas, but I feel like I’m floundering, amidst all this change and all these people with more experience. I haven’t had my head in the world of teenagers since I was substitute teaching. I don’t know the literature or the trends or interests. I’m not sure where to start and how to form bonds with the teens in the community. I’m beginning to understand why some of my friends in the system are so change averse. Everyone and everything is new and it’s terrifying… and it has been for over a year and a half.

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On that note, we have had one more major change, as a system. Our executive director, the person responsible for the craziness of the last two years, (craziness that has not only effected me) was recently… well, “fired” is the word used by many. Officially, the library commission has chosen not to renew his contract, but no matter how it’s worded, the end result is the same… and I think we’re all hoping this means no more major career changes for anyone who hasn’t asked for them. At one time, my dream, was to be the teen librarian at the Cherokee Library and now… it’s to remain the teen librarian at the Cherokee Library. It would be awesome, in fact, if I could have the same job one year from now, that I do today. It would be fantastic, if I could work in the same location, with the same community connections and coworkers, for a full year. It would be glorious, if I could spend years without being the new girl.

Protecting the Future of Libraries is Ruining My Life

If you’ve been following my blog for the past year, then you know my professional life has been a bit hectic. Last January, I started as a Supervisory Librarian at the Northside Library. Finally full time, I was able to quit substitute teaching for a new position that was envisioned as 20% supervisory and 80% librarian. Sadly, the title quickly evolved and my true role ended up being 100% supervisory… and still 80% librarian. In addition to acting as manager at all times, I was also the adult librarian, in charge of local and off-site book clubs, building the adult programming department, working the reference desk, maintaining and weeding a quarter of the collection, and performing readers’ advisory. After eight exhausting months, I tearfully explained to my manager that a good week was one in which I was the only person crying in my office… and that I was stepping down, internally.

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This took a bit longer than I thought it would. I assumed I was the obvious choice for the adult librarian position in Cherokee and was rather overdramatically devastated when the job went to a woman who I now know was the more qualified candidate. Then, just north of Cherokee, a position opened in Jackson, also for an adult librarian. While teens have always been my passion, my experience at the Northside Library in adult librarianship just seemed to go further than my bachelor’s degree in education or my six years of substitute teaching or even all the teen-centered classes I took in grad school. No one cared about my goals or theoretical experience as much as they did my actual experience. Since I enjoyed working with seniors and I hated being a manager, it seemed unwise to be picky. Exactly 11 months after my first day, I celebrated my last as a Supervisory Librarian, before starting as just a Librarian at the Eastside Library. Life was good… for a fucking minute and a half.

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Towards the end of January, came the announcement: my library system is undergoing a grassroots restructuring. Literally everyone’s title and job description are changing… no matter how new they might be. Less than two month’s, y’all. I had my position at a small town library with a touch of adult programming for less than two months… which was still enough time to relocate.

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The Jackson Library is unique in that it’s grouped with the Lakeville, Harmon, and Nada libraries, which all serve small, almost rural, communities around a thriving metropolitan city. Together, these libraries comprise the Satellite Libraries of my system, which until very recently, have been treated as the Hillbilly Annex, when it comes to resources and funding.

Me: “I just hate the way everyone talks about these libraries. My bachelor’s degree was in home-ec. I constantly had to defend it, even to those in the education field, and here I am again, defending the Satellite Libraries to the rest of the system.”
Boss: “How do you mean?”
Me: “We’re part of a fifty million dollar system and we didn’t have color printing here, until 2017. I had a color printer in 1997.”

This is one reason why I asked my managers to see if I could be transferred to a new branch as part of the restructuring, since it seemed at least two librarians would be moved from the Satellite Libraries and no one else wanted to leave. Additionally, despite my asking before the interview and during the interview, if my position would require traveling to every Satellite branch and being told no, it seems this position has also evolved. Instead of doing the occasional adult program and working as a librarian, as promised, I would be expected to spend my days in meetings with city officials and schmoozing business owners in four different communities.

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Me to my boss: “This is exactly why I got out of management. I spent all my time in meetings, talking about changing the world instead of actually changing the world.”

The restructuring, however, isn’t just about revising the positions themselves, but also deciding who fits best within them. We were asked to evaluate our strengths and truly consider with which population we could make the biggest difference: children, adults, or teens.

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Children’s library has never even been a consideration of mine. I only like the children I’m required to like and sometimes, not even them. I’ll like my own. I probably won’t like their friends. As a whole, I don’t like kids and I’m not sorry.

While I sort of fell into adult librarianship, I did enjoy it, especially seniors. I had a group of ladies I visited at the nursing home, and they fun, sassy, and opinionated. I was the first stop at the Northside Library if a senior needed help with an iPad or Kindle Fire, because I loved reassuring them that they weren’t stupid, technology is hard, and they could do it. Still… my heart has always belonged to teens.

For the same reason I love seniors, I love teens. They’re the forgotten population. We push them aside in favor of the most active tax payers. When they’re children, we love them because they’re cute (or so I hear) and we cater to them because their parents are watching and voting.  As teens, however, they come in alone, make a ruckus, and can’t vote. Most people view teens as little adults who have not yet learned to behave. I know that their brains are just as different from adult brains as those of children. One of the most miserable parts of management was watching the teen librarian plan and orchestrate programs and mentor volunteers, when I had missed the chance.

As much as I didn’t want to travel to a different library every day, I decided to chance it. I tossed my hat into an unknown ring and claimed teens. I could end up staying and travelling or leaving for any of our other 14 system libraries… but I’d get to be a teen librarian. Management has assured me the decision isn’t permanent, but I don’t see how it couldn’t be. No one will ever be more qualified for a position than someone who’s already doing it. Nevertheless, I was assured that they could probably still find a new place for me to serve teens, in system,  but outside of the Satellite Libraries… or so they thought.

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The next week, I was informed that I would probably be staying with the Satellite Libraries, as the teen librarian, despite the fact that two librarians will still need to leave and no one else wants out. I felt like management was trying to make a point that this wasn’t about me, but was it really so unreasonable to think I could still benefit, if someone had to leave anyway? Furthermore, why did they even open the Jackson Library in December, filling three positions, if they knew they were going to pull the rug out from under us all? After what happened with the Supervisory Librarian position, how could they do this to me, again? For the last six months, I’ve had no idea what my professional future holds. On the one hand, I understand the importance of the restructuring and I’m thrilled we have a director will to take it on to keep our libraries relevant… on the other, I’m trying to move and plan a wedding and prepare for marriage and management is ruining my life!

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I’ve gotta give some credit to Jake, here, y’all, because as much as I tried to keep my cool, I… so… horribly… failed. You have not seen dramatic Belle, until you’ve threatened her future as a librarian and at this point, the back and forth was just too much. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do teens for sure. There was still a chance I’d have to spend all day in meetings with city officials and lead book club discussions over boring grownup books about the Civil War and economics. If they made me travel and sit in meetings all day, I was seriously considering look for teaching jobs… and education in my state is not looking good. I’ve said it before, folks. I am the old man declaring that what you do is who you are and if I’m not a librarian, who am I? I spent days in bed, sleeping and crying over the stress of just not knowing.

Finally, I was able to sit down with my own Supervisory Librarian and the manager above her, where they explained that it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the Satellite Libraries, but if they do, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be their only passionate teen librarian. I was even informed that no one actually knew the restructuring would be so drastic, until after the Jackson Library was opened. My manager also made the point that, despite all this stress and upheaval, the teens in these communities need someone to champion them and I could be the best person to do so, considering the similarities between these towns and Shetland, my upbringing and theirs.

As icing on the cake, amidst all of this craziness, we received some other news: IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) might lose their funding, because President Donald Trump is ignorant and shortsighted and wants to give the appearance that he’s cutting real spending when the only impact from defunding libraries at a federal level, will be a negative one. It’s a drop in the bucket as far as government spending goes, but if it’s eliminated, libraries all over the country will have to cut staff, hours, and resources and some will probably have to close their doors for good. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in a library system that receives zero federal funding. While we benefit from a state database resource funded by IMLS, my job and that of everyone in our system, is secure.

So, over this past weekend, I was really able to process what my manager said, now that I’ve been assured that there are no hidden agendas and I can at least count on being the teen librarian for the Satellite Libraries. Maybe I really can make a difference out here and be truly fulfilled. Would the traveling even be so bad, once I’ve gotten used to each branch? After my talk with management, I realized that everyone in the system is facing major changes in their title. If I moved, I’d just be in the same trailer, different park. I told my Supervisory Librarian as much on Monday morning only to hear that the wheels are still turning and the Cherokee Library is now considered a Satellite Library, as well. I may end up working there as a teen librarian after all.

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As exasperating as they may be, however, these changes are the reason we’ll be thriving in five years. They’re going to be the reason we’re still standing as other libraries fall, because while I’ve been crying in bed like a fucking Disney Princess, because I don’t know the future of my library, others in my field have been crying because their library has no future. This isn’t just a great chance, because it’s my opportunity to work with teens.

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– I GET TO BE A TEEN LIBRARIAN, Y’ALL! –

It’s reassurance that I can still even be a librarian… because for many in my field, it ain’t looking good.

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Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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2016 Was NOT the Worst Year Ever

With only two more days left in 2016, ’tis the season for everyone to bitch about how awful this year has been… and I do mean everyone. Whether you bought your first home, got your dream job, or finally conceived a child after struggling with infertility for years, social media dictates that you must spend the next two days wailing about the cruelty of 2016, usually in conjunction with the death of a long forgotten celebrity.

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I, however, love New Year’s. Like birthdays, New Year’s provides an opportunity for reflection… which is basically receiving a grade, and that’s my favorite.

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A year ago, I had been dating Jake for six months, was excitedly preparing for my first day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library and dreaming of getting a cat after  I moved from Shetland to be closer to work. I was struggling financially, having worked as a half time librarian while substitute teaching for so long, and was still relying on the health insurance that is prayer. I was excited about all the major life changes that would come in 2016… and change things did. While I’m not so heartbroken by the death of Debbie Reynolds and Prince as to lament of the despair of this past year, I will admit that the amount of change has been a bit… overwhelming.

It all started with my new job and its surprise levels of management. As I adjusted to the demands of full time supervisory work in a new library with new people, Jake worked two weeks on and two weeks off… and then two weeks on and one week off. We made the best of the time we had together, going skiing and seeing movies… growing closer and beginning to discuss marriage. When I realized moving wouldn’t be worth the time it would save, my commute increased to about 35 minutes each way… but I still got my kitten. Thackery Binx weighed a half pound the day he joined the family and he has brought nothing but joy. Jude loves the company of his brother and even Jake likes him. Though he won’t openly admit it, I’m pretty sure he wants several more.

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By fall, I’d decided to step down from management and Jake had agreed to quit oil. I never saw him. He’d been demoted and his pay had been cut numerous times. I wasn’t game for being the oil wife, enjoying manicures and designer handbags to take her mind off the fact that she’s mostly alone. So, as the holidays neared, I chased a new dream and worked to control my nerves over Jake’s unemployment, reminding myself that he’s hard working and good and not my ex-husband who refused to hold a job for four years. In the meantime, Jake spent his weekdays on the Granger Ranch, working cattle for $100 a day and I spent mine crying in my office over how much I hated my job… simultaneously counting the days until the weekend, when I could see Jake again.

Despite all this upheaval, on November 20th, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Jake asked me to marry him, just days after I’d accepted a voluntary demotion and transfer to the Jackson Library. We could’ve waited until Jake had the perfect position and we’d relocated to Jackson, but why waste time, when we could move forward with our lives? We enjoyed our first Thanksgiving and Christmas together, since we refused to join our holidays until we were committed.

For me, this was my last Single Girl Christmas. I’ll say goodbye to my pink tree and purple glitter bulbs forever, when I put all my décor away in a few short hours. It’ll be the first of many bittersweet goodbyes as I bind my life to Jake’s on May 6, 2017. I’ll leave my little apartment, the first place I ever felt truly safe as an adult… my hometown of Shetland, where I spent my teenage nights driving around with Gaily… my maiden name and my identity as Just Belle… the time in my life where the only decisions that effected me were my own. While 2016 has been a year of change, 2017 will put it to shame as I become Belle Granger, wife of Jake, and resident of Jackson. I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday, and happily so, having accomplished nearly everything I’d planned by such a big date.

So for me, 2016 was a stepping stone to all the great things 2017 will bring… and I am so excited.

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