Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The obligatory "thankful" post

I'm not one of those people that goes through every single day in November and lists something that I'm thankful for, because honestly I'm afraid I would run out of things to talk about halfway through the month and end up desperately trying to come up with something to post for the last ten days before Thanksgiving, like, "Uh, um, okay.............oh yeah, I'm thankful for garter belts, yay!" Which I totally am grateful for, because I hate pantyhose, but that seems pretty lame to mention in a thanksgiving tribute, especially in light of the myriads of things that other people are talking about for days on end. It's not that I'm an inherently ungrateful person, it's just that I don't particularly want to shed light on a lot of the things I'm grateful for, because so many of them are private and my gratitude for them is deeply rooted and sometimes triggers tears. Tears make my head hurt, and that sucks. So I make sure the people that I'm thankful for know that, in abundance and throughout the year, and I go about my own way of feeling gratitude for inanimate things like Diet Coke and chocolate covered strawberries (the former I consume in abundance, and the latter I almost never have, because I'm afraid I'll get sick of them and that would be the worst thing ever).

However, since I have spent the last couple of months finding my way out of an abyss of darkness that I haven't experienced since my early twenties, I decided to write about the things that I'm grateful for. Not the people. OF COURSE I'm grateful for my family. OF COURSE I'm grateful for my support net of friends, both old and some very new. They know how much I love them, or at least I hope they do. If you're reading this, and you regularly talk to me, and you don't know whether or not I love you--guess what? I love you. I truly do. I don't waste my time with people I don't genuinely care for. Know that you are loved and appreciated and that just because I may not say the words, often or in some cases at all, you have a special place in my heart that has been reserved just for you.

Instead of writing about those people that I love and who keep me going when things are hard, I decided to write about the things in my life that do the same. There are many things I am grateful for that most wouldn't consider all that important. For example:

I am so very thankful for my ability to get lost in other worlds, whether it be though books, movies, television, theater, RPGs, or video games. I'm easily distracted, yes, but I love getting completely absorbed in nonexistent realities. I love falling in love with characters that aren't real. I firmly believe that if heaven exists, my heaven will look like the world of Spira in Final Fantasy X. I'm not even a little joking, go ahead and make fun of me. No shame over here.

I'm thankful for music. I am so very thankful for music. I'm thankful that I truly appreciate it, in all forms, and that it serves as such a balm to my soul. Not only to my soul, but to my kids as well. It is a powerful thing, to see what music does for my five year old son, who can be inconsolably hysterical one moment, and then the instant I begin to sing "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins to him, he goes completely still, calms, and relaxes against me. A couple of days ago, my eleven month old daughter, who is teething, was in my arms, crying from pain and discomfort, and I started to sing "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd. She lifted her head from my shoulder and stared at me, wide-eyed, and after a moment, quietly put her head back on my shoulders and fell asleep in my arms. I'm thankful that I have worked so hard at piano and voice, so that I can find not only comfort, but real satisfaction from my own musical gifts. Pride in one's self, in small doses, is important. I'm grateful for Mozart, who makes me laugh when I play his piano sonatas. I'm grateful for the ocean of sound I am given over to when I play Debussy. I'm grateful for the richness and warmth of Puccini. So yes, I am immensely grateful for music.

I'm grateful for Memphis. I love this city, and all of its gifts. I love its diversity and character, and its history. I don't know where life is going to lead me, but I know that Memphis is and always will be my home. I'm thankful for the gift that is kickboxing, even if I haven't had the chance or energy to go in some time. I plan on jumping back in next week when things slow down a bit, and I think that's important because heaven knows, I need some stress release. It's a marvelous anger management tool, and I'm thankful for the therapist who introduced me to it last summer.

Mostly, I'm thankful for the quiet moments that allow me to escape the stress of life and just BE. Sometimes that's driving around in my car (despite the fact that I generally hate driving). Sometimes it's sitting at a restaurant bar by myself, drinking a beer and journaling my thoughts so that I don't go crazy. Sometimes it's going to a movie alone. These days, I find that it's often spending time with one person, just one, and talking. Maybe a friend, maybe a family member, maybe a coworker, and talking to them. Not about anything life altering or important, but getting to know someone new, getting to know someone else's story. I'm grateful that I am finally able to let my guard down for a moment, even when I don't want to, and being reminded that it might not be so bad to be vulnerable. There is trepidation, but also awe, in watching the walls that you've built up so carefully around yourself be smashed to rubble, by someone who doesn't even realize they've done anything, and discovering you're grateful to them for it. There is something freeing in being stripped down to your barest self, and knowing that there are people in the world who want you to be that person, and no one else. No false masks or body armor. I'm grateful for those moments, and for those people.

Yes, I said I wasn't going to write about people, but how could I possibly avoid it? I'm writing about gratitude. It would be one hell of a lonely existence without people in it, and all those things that I'm grateful for would mean little to nothing if I had no one to share them with. 

After two months of drowning in darkness, and finally finding a treatment that helps and has started to pull me out, I now know that my ability to recognize the important things, the ones that make me grateful to be alive, is what has kept me here. I'm grateful for that, for all of my escapes, and for all of you. I hope, if you're reading this and can't see through the darkness yet, that you can continue to be strong, even if that means you can't be strong right at this moment. Give yourself a break to be tired, and sad, and sick. It's okay. I believe you'll get back up. I hope that you can find a way in the darkness to remember that you are needed. I hope that you can find a small corner of your heart to find peace within yourself. It is possible to come out of the dark and into the world again. I'm living proof, even though I'm still shaky and pretty fragile from the reentry. I hope you all have a warm and gratitude filled holiday this week. I am going to be grateful that I'm still here to do the same.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why I do what I do

I'm so tired of being down and serious, so I'm going to focus on what inspires me. Right now, for as stressful as it is, what is inspiring me most is my job.

I think anyone who hasn't been living in a bomb shelter or under a rock for the entirity of their lives would agree that life rarely allows you to take the path that you laid out for yourself. Something always twists and veers and leads you not to where you think you are going, but where you are headed (whether you know where that is or not). When I made the decision to go back to college in 2009, it was ostensibly to finish a degree I had started long earlier, with one slight change--I decided that, since years of playing piano through multiple hand injuries had taken their toll, it no longer made any sense for me to pursue a music degree. I changed my major to my second love--history--and in about fifteen months, I had my B.A. I never anticipated falling in love with the history program, but within six months of being in it, I was hooked. I also witnessed the collapse of pretty much any job opportunities I might have had coming out of college at that time (thanks to the housing market and subsequent economic crash), so I decided to stay in school and pursue a Master's of Arts in history. I took the GRE, applied to grad school, found out I was pregnant, was accepted into the MA program, had my son three months into my first semester, and roughly two and a half years later, graduated. From the moment I decided to pursue graduate coursework, the plan was always to either work for the state department as an interpreter, since I'm good at languages, or to work for a museum as a director or curator.

I ended up being hired as a senior level manager in the city's main library. 

Without question, at the time I considered this position to be a stepping stone job. I never intended to stay long--two, maybe three years, get the experience I needed, and move on to a museum job, wherever it might be. It really made sense though, that I ended up in the library, and with kids in particular. My entire professional career had centered around education, direction, management, event coordination, and the arts, so I certainly had the chops to do the practical side of the job. As for the books part, let me assure you that the word "bookworm" doesn't even begin to describe me as a kid. For years, my mom's nephews (by her stepsister), whenever we would see them, couldn't remember my name. They would simply ask, "Where's that girl with the book?" I've always been a particularly voracious reader. Regardless, it took me until I had been at the library for well over a year before I started recognizing that there might be a real career there for me, and that I could make a real difference in this city that holds such a stronghold on my heart.

During my second day on the job, one of my colleagues said, "The public library is the last true bastion of democracy left in the world." I had never really considered that before, but it's so true. Anyone can come in, for any reason, and have access to whatever information they need or want, no matter what. Or as a far more eloquent American that I once said:

I work with kids, so I am constantly searching out ways for them to find the best information for research projects, upcoming books from popular authors, or helping them find something new to read when they've hit a wall (we've all been there, I think). I love working with the public, talking to people, hearing their stories, making personal connections. I love testing the limits of how accepting the community can be--for example, last June I raised a LOT of eyebrows by approving and helping to implement a display for LGBT Pride month. It was a massive success though. Last summer we had a family that found themselves homeless and came to the library every day, from open to close, to escape the intense heat and to scour the internet, looking for employment opportunities. They had a shelter to go to at night, but during the day, they lived in their car. Family of five. After the third week, with the start of school coming and the end of summer reading, and aching from seeing the kids wearing the same clothes they had worn the week before, but inside out, I and a few members of my staff gave the kids some of the prize books from summer reading to put in their donated book bags, and made sure they had plenty of pencils and notebooks so that mom and dad had a few less things to have to provide. They were so happy, and we've seen very little of them since, so I'm hoping that means that the tide has turned a little. What a gift, to be able to help those in need in such a small, but important way.

Kids are the next generation of leaders, whether our current leaders want to admit it or not. The future of our communities, cities, states, countries, and the entire world, is in the hands of those children and what they are learning AT THIS VERY MOMENT. I understand that there are important and pressing problems that need to be addressed right now, that can't wait, but the bottom line is that if those problems are being dealt with at the expense of our children, we--ALL OF US--are screwed. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but in twenty or thirty years these problems will come to a head and we will have an entire generation of leaders who have no idea how to work collectively, how to problem solve, how to search for the right answers, and most importantly, have the proper perspective to know what those right answers are, not just for one segment of the population, but for everyone. Right now we have a generation of children that are being taught how to take tests, not how to learn. The standardization of public education has taken precedence over teaching the next generation how to think critically. I can't change that by myself, as much as I would like to scream it from the mountain tops. What I can do, however, is make sure that I influence every single child that comes into the library in search of information, talk to them, work through problems with them, and try to spark a love for learning and researching in them. I think that's one hell of a career to have, and those kids--and their caregivers, no matter who they are--inspire me every day to work harder for them. They truly are our future. They are worth as much time as I can give them.