Burning Down the House

I’ve had this Talking Heads song circling through my brain for the past week:

Burning Down the House

“My house
Is out of the ordinary
That’s right
Don’t wanna hurt nobody
Some things sure can sweep me off my feet
Burning down the house

No visible means of support
And you have not seen nothin’ yet”

When David Byrne wrote the lyrics, “the title phrase was a metaphor for destroying something safe that entrapped you. I envisioned the song as an expression of liberation, to break free from whatever was holding you back.”

When I first started to write this post, I couldn’t say that Byrne’s definition was what I was feeling. I was feeling burnt out and broken for sure. But breaking free? Maybe. I did want to burn everything down but not necessarily to start again. Just burn it all down and walk away.

I had several nightmares last week, which I haven’t had in a very long time. In one dream I was a passenger in a car that was going too fast and about to crash (easy to analyze that–I felt and feel like everything is out of my control), but I don’t know what happened in the other dream. I just woke up at 3:30am scared with my heart pounding. You know, the usual. Then I had a very unsatisfying therapy session on Friday. I just felt like I was spinning my wheels, talking about shit I had talked about before but won’t do anything about. I even felt like my therapist was a little frustrated with me, although she tried not to show it. (Of course, I was also her last client on a Friday evening and I bet she just wanted to get the hell out of there and go home!) That night I ended up burying what I was feeling in a bag of guacamole-flavored chips. I’ve been very good about not emotionally eating for months, but I blew it out of the water that night.

But now it’s a few days later. I finally finished a few things at work and let a few other things go. I know you should never try to be everything to everyone, either personally or professionally. But I suck at it. After all of the trauma my family has faced in the past 5 years, and all the kindness we received during that time, I do make an effort to help my friends when they’re hurting or even if they just need someone to listen. Does it take its toll? Sometimes, but it’s more the combination of being a good friend while trying to run a library that also tries to be everything to everyone—which you just shouldn’t do. Take it from a librarian of a small, rural library who has kept committing to programs and events and being on committees and boards while still running the library with a temporarily smaller staff. It’s nuts and things have fallen through the cracks. Don’t do it.

We all have to implement boundaries in our work, our relationships, and within ourselves. How many committees are you willing to participate on? How late in the evening will you keep texting or talking to a friend? Do you really need to get up at 7am on Saturday to fit all of your chores and errands in while still squeezing in a run? Or can you skip sweeping the floors and sleep in?

Tonight I can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I go on vacation in four weeks. I have one large report to write still, but only two more programs to facilitate before then. I don’t have an exact date for my upcoming distal pancreatectomy and possible splenectomy, but I know it will be in June, and my body scans and extra vaccines are being scheduled. Life is moving along. Not always in ways I want them to, but that’s what life typically is, right?

Just hang in there, everyone. The world is shit right now I know. I have to stop watching the news and read about what’s going on instead, otherwise I end up crying every morning. Stay informed but if you have to distance yourself then do it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You have to put on your oxygen mask before helping your neighbor, right? So do that. Take care of yourself then you’ll be able to help others.

Hugs to you all, friends. Let’s try to survive another day. ❤

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. ❤

Live What You Love

Nearly 10 years ago, when I left my job at the University of Maine Bookstore, my friend and co-worker, Diane, gave me this:

DSCN2863

Although I had decided to take what I thought would be a short break from librarianship (I never expected it to take me 4 years to get back to it), I was dying to be a librarian again. When I got the job at the Pittsfield Public Library back in 2005, Diane gave me this stone, LWYL–Live What You Love.  She knew how much I loved being a librarian, how much I identified with it. And since that day, I have carried this stone with me nearly everywhere I’ve gone. Each time I change purses or go on vacation, I look over everything I carry around each day to decide what to get rid of and what to keep.  This stone has gone in each and every purse I’ve owned and has been to New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Florida.  I am not a person who likes many “things.” In fact, if I could, my house would be quite sparse. (Living with my husband and son has forced me to do otherwise.)  And yet I have always held onto this stone.

Being a librarian, specifically a librarian in a small town library, is something that I truly love. I think I’m good at it, and maybe even more importantly, my library patrons (and hopefully my boss) think I’m good at it, too.  It’s never paid much, and I knew it wouldn’t.

After nearly a decade, I thought it wouldn’t bother me that I don’t make much money. In fact, it didn’t really bother me at all until a few years ago when I started to pay for health insurance for my family. That’s when my paycheck dwindled to nearly nothing. That first year, I was ok with it. It’s good insurance, and with my husband’s current health issues, it’s necessary. “Money isn’t everything,” I said. I kept telling myself that at least with my husband’s work, we can still pay our bills and everything is good.

But you know what? It’s not good.

After 2-3 years of working for health insurance and my take-home pay only being enough money for after-school childcare for my son and groceries…what the hell is the point?

Yes, I love what I do. Yes, it does fulfill a part of me that probably would go unsatisfied if I did something else. And yes, with my husband’s work we can pay our bills and take care of our son and even get to go out to dinner occasionally. But that’s with my HUSBAND’S pay. Not mine.

Before we got married, I always thought that I’d be the one in the marriage to make more money and provide the benefits. I was the one with the college education, so I should be making the most money, right? And maybe if I stayed in academic librarianship where I began my career, then I would be the breadwinner of the family, or at least a more equal partner.  But academia wasn’t for me.

Rural librarianship called my name  and I ran to it. I ran with my eyes, arms and heart wide open. I knew it would cost me, and I didn’t care. And I will agree that I’ve been happier in my career because of it….but….can I keep doing it?

Can I keep getting those tiny paychecks while someone else watches my child after school and still be ok with it? Still be happy with what I’ve chosen?

I honestly don’t know anymore.

I do know that I love what I do. That much I’m certain. It’s not just what I do, but who I am. “Librarian” would be the second label I’d give myself after “Mother.” But as I watch my son grow and mature, and the days and weeks whiz by faster than what should be possible, I keep asking myself, “How can I spend more time at home? How can I spend more time with my son, yet still contribute to our household AND maintain my well-being by being a librarian?” Or do I need to find something else to do and be, at least for a while? How do I live what I love but still be there for my son, the love of my life?

I don’t know.

I don’t have any answers. I’m hoping that if I put it out there to the universe then I’ll have the courage to change or I’ll have an epiphany or I’ll just be happier and accepting of my current situation.

I suppose time will tell.

But I do hope *you* live what you love. If not, may you find the courage to do so. Life is too damn short to be unhappy, and when we think about how many years of our life we’re actually *at* the workplace? Let’s not settle and be content with misery.  Like Pharrell Williams sings, “happiness is the truth.” So no more lying to yourself.

LWYL