Be Seen

“Showing your vulnerability is how we get stronger, right?”

I was at a library conference last week with loads of other Maine librarians. For me, it was one of the best Maine conferences I’ve attended due to a number of factors: I was on a panel with folks I consider my new friends and we discussed having community conversations (yup, we were talking about talking and I loved it), I got to hug and chat with some colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in person in some time, and I met new colleagues and did my best to welcome them into not only the library conference world but into librarianship and some of the beauty of it. (Which is kind of funny since I’ve been thinking about changing careers at some point. But that’s for a future blog post.)

The commonality among everything I loved about the conference, were the people. Meeting new people, getting reacquainted with others, talking about our libraries–both the successes and challenges, but also just talking about our lives–our interests, our children, our families. And in these conversations– sometimes in hallways or at a table before a session began or over a drink and a meal–many of us were vulnerable with one another.

Now, maybe this happened because this is me. When you “wear your heart on your sleeve,” it means you often advertise how vulnerable you are–you show your feelings even when you could be hurt. You’re willing to say “I love you” first, even if it feels like you’re stepping off a cliff. It’s scary shit, but my word, it can be exhilarating. And if you’ve read many of my blog posts or if we’ve been friends for a while, you know that I tend to put most of my feelings out there for the world to read about. But maybe people were willing to share more because we’re living in frightening times and we were willing to say, “Hey, my friend died of Covid last year and I really miss her,” or “Thank you for saying you don’t think you know what you’re doing as a librarian, because I think that every day” or if you were me, in front of a large group of people in a session that you were attending, you admitted that you cried in a meeting with another colleague because you felt overwhelmed and lost and needed help.

Because, you know, I REALLY put it ALL out there.

But after that session, the person leading it came to me to say, “Thank you for being so vulnerable. And showing your vulnerability is how we get stronger, right?”

I think I nodded my head and thanked them but then walked away thinking, “Really?!? Then emotionally, shouldn’t I be freaking She Hulk by now?”

I let the phrase “showing vulnerability begets strength” simmer in my brain this week. (And yes, I’ve read and/or listened to a LOT of Brene Brown, but for some reason it never quite clicked like this.) So, I tried it out. I shared some information with some people that I might not typically and was happy with the results. I felt more connected with them then I had in some time or ever. A few friends have also shared some deeply tough issues and emotions with me recently, and besides feeling that wonderful connection it has created, I feel so much gratitude towards them for trusting me, for letting me really see them.

I know this isn’t for everyone. And I’ll be honest, it hurts like eternal papercuts when you open yourself up to someone and they don’t want to hear what you have to say or see who you are. But my friends, when someone DOES finally see you? To me it’s like taking a bite of a pie that you’ve been dreading because it sounded awful but you knew you should because it’s supposedly healthy and recommended by a friend and it won’t kill you so just friggin’ do it already. So you take that bite…and it tastes like the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted. You’re so happy because it made your mouth and tongue sing and you’re relieved because you can tell your friend that you ate it and it was delicious.

Yeah, that was a stupid analogy, but I hope you get what I mean.

I know you see me. And I can see some of you.

Please know I’m glad you’re here.

Take care, my friends. ❤

Surviving

Today is my 3-year anniversary as the director of a small public library. I’ve worked at the library for over 16 years, but was given the gift of leading the library for the past three years. It’s no secret that I love what I do, and as much as I don’t believe in “things happen for a reason” or “soul mates” or even “destiny,” I think being a rural public librarian is the absolute perfect profession for me. Do I still dream of becoming a writer and actually making a living from it? Of course! But I know my writing isn’t good enough for that to happen, not without a lot more effort and practice and education. Right now, though, my heart is with librarianship.

As I talked to my husband today about everything that’s happened since I became director, I couldn’t help but choke back a sob. How did I make it through it all? Let me give you the timeline:

February 2019: Become director of the library. This was 2 months after my husband had been laid off. He was unemployed when I got this job. It was 18 1/2 months after my brother died. That may not seem relevant, but his life and death impact me in ways most people cannot understand.

March 2019: My funny, sweet, lovely father dies on St. Patrick’s Day.

May 2019: My husband gets a new job. Yes!

June 2019: I break my arm while walking with my son. I break it so badly that a plate and nine screws had to be implanted in my upper arm.

September 2019: My mother becomes ill and I make the choice to place her in hospice care.

October 2019: My loving, supportive, bad-ass mom dies on October 4th. She left this planet five minutes after I left her bedside.

January 2020: After the difficulties of 2019, we decide to plan a fabulous Florida vacation with a cruise.

February 2020: Husband goes into the hospital with pneumonia and the flu, then ends up on a ventilator and in a coma. Both our son and I have the flu, too, and for two weeks we wait. I answer questions from the doctors because they cannot wake him up from the comatose state they put him into. Questions about kidney failure and brain damage are thrown around. Yet on Valentine’s Day, he finally wakes up. ❤

March 2020: While my husband continues to recover at home, I manage pancreatitis at home. I know if I go to the hospital, there won’t be anyone to take care of my husband or son. So I drink fluids, get blood drawn every other day for my doctor to keep tabs on me, and I go to work to keep us all afloat. Then COVID-19 hits the U.S. and I close the library on the evening of March 16th and we cancel our dream vacation.

April 2020: We celebrate our son becoming a teenager with a family party via Zoom. Not quite what we had planned.

May 2020: While working from home, I go for a lunchtime walk and am bitten by the neighbor’s dog. My husband rushes me to the doctor for stitches and to check out all the puncture wounds on my legs. We re-open the library this month for curbside services.

June 2020: We re-open the library doors.

August 2020: I run a half-marathon because I can.

September 2020: I run another half-marathon on Mom’s birthday in memory of her bad-assery.

January/February 2021: I start training for a marathon. Just weeks later I get a stress fracture in my right leg. We watch our beloved cat, Miso, have a seizure and die in front of our eyes as my husband calls the vet and my son and I cry and try to comfort the sweetest cat that ever lived. We all hold him in our arms afterwards and cry until bedtime.

March/April 2021: I start taking walks and short runs again. My sanity is somewhat restored.

June 2021: Our son “graduates” from 8th grade. My husband has a widow maker of a heart attack on June 15th. He only survives because he was near a university medical center.

August 2021: The boy enters high school.

September 2021: Husband goes back to work.

Late October 2021: Husband told by doctor to stop working until he has another heart surgery.

November 2021: Two stents placed in husband’s heart. His energy improves dramatically!

January 2022: I have a procedure on my pancreas to determine if I have cancerous tumors or the possibility of cancer forming on said tumors. Still waiting for the results.

And there you have it. There were MANY activities and emotions not mentioned, and a lot of those were fabulous. I smiled every day, I think. They weren’t all real, but many of them were. I laughed nearly every day. I, like so many of you, juggled lots of other crap we don’t talk about because it’s life—flat tires, sick pets, stress from work and COVID and paying bills and EVERYTHING.

But…I’ve also read over 800 books since I became director. (Many of them middle-school novels.) I’ve written blog posts and poems and reports and letters. I’ve made new friends, some of them being my library patrons. I’ve created new connections at the library, both personally and professionally. I’m trying to lead the library into being the center of the community, and with the amazing support from the Board, the volunteers, and the residents, I think we can do it.

Yes, WE.

If I’ve learned anything from these past three years, it’s that I can’t do my work by myself. I can’t succeed alone. I have an incredible staff, support system and library users that makes the library a wonderful place to be a part of.

But I also know that I would never have survived these three years without my family and friends. Never. I received gift cards and meals when my husband was in the hospital. People sent me cards when my parents died and gave me hugs when I needed them. They were also there to just listen. I have friends all around the country and so many of them reached out in various ways over the past few years. Sometimes just listening is all I needed. And that’s why you reading this blog has also helped me. Tremendously.

So…thank you. I think that’s really all I’m trying to say tonight. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for supporting me in however you know how. Thanks for being you.

Now go to your local library. They need your support even more these days. And remember, keep reading. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am not a judgy librarian! Read what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, tell them your librarian said to screw off. ❤

Late to the Party

I am a librarian. I’ve been a librarian for nearly 23 years, with over 14 of those years at the Pittsfield Public Library. This library was one of the libraries I used as a kid (although I didn’t like it then). It’s close to where I grew up and it’s my second home–as it is to many people in the community. I used to be the Circulation Librarian, until a year ago when I was hired to become the director. It wasn’t a job I always wanted, but it’s a job I have become to love more than I thought possible.

On March 16th we had to close our doors to the public due to the health and safety concerns of COVID-19. Some of my staff and I cried that day because it was surreal and sad and our patrons are the lifeblood of the library. It’s not the building nor the books or films or programs. It’s the people. For a while we were still able to leave books for people in a secure location where we never saw each other (except by camera), then we did that by appointment only, and then we stopped it completely. Now tomorrow, April Fools’ Day no less, will be the last day the staff and I can go into the building. We will still be answering emails and conducting online programming and we’ll still be able to “see” and assist some of our patrons. But not all of them. So many of these folks we won’t be able to help again until we can re-open.

I’ve read a lot about grief over the past 3 years, and even in the past 2 weeks the articles about grieving what our normal once was. But I didn’t grieve quite as much because I was still going to the building where I worked. I couldn’t help as many people, but there was still a smidge of normalcy there. But tonight? Tonight I feel like I felt the evening before I went to say goodbye to my brother. Or that morning at 2am when I called my sister to tell her to come to the hospital because our father was dying. Or the morning when I was at work and the nurse called to say Mom was actively dying. Strangely enough, this really does feel like all of those awful moments. Those moments when you know your life is forever changed.

I know we’ll come out the other side. I am confident of that. What I don’t know is who will be there with us. Or who will be there with you.

But we’re here now, right? Let’s try to keep moving forward together. Reach out to those you think about, even if they just cross your mind. Those little moments of acknowledgement matter.

You matter.

So let’s be alone together. Just know that when this is over, I may be hugging you a whole heck of a lot.