camping in the woods

Vacation: All I Ever Wanted

Got to get away!

Let’s recap the last year:

  1. After 2.5 years of doing a nation-wide search I finally landed a new position at UNLV.
  2. In as little as two weeks I secured an apartment that met my needs sight unseen from 1,600 miles away.
  3. Rented a pickup truck which we loaded with everything I’d need and drove with wifey on a 25-30 hour single push (including stops) from St. Louis to Vegas.
  4. Spent a week with wifey getting set up and acclimated before a tearful goodbye to her for what at the time was an indefinite period.
  5. Excitedly started the new job.
  6. Fairly quickly learned the lay lines of the building.
  7. Realized my hiring manager was not… a stable genius?
  8. Wifey visited for two weeks in August. YAY!
  9. Made friends. Not a small feat for me.
  10. 1 October shooting at Mandalay Bay happened.
  11. Wifey got a job and moved here in October. SUPER YAY!
  12. Same week wifey moved here I went back to St. Louis to present at a conference.
  13. My best employee got promoted and moved to a branch library.
  14. Went to another conference in Atlanta in November
  15. Spent a winter spiraling into depression when the fabulous new job wasn’t going so well.
  16. Got a really poor 7-month evaluation.
  17. Thought I was going to get fired.
  18. Not-a-stable-genius hiring manager announced she was leaving for another job and stopped speaking to me for the next two months.
  19. Started getting training and guidance from my Associate Dean (and new boss).
  20. Depression spiral dissipated.
  21. Promoted an employee into a different position internally.
  22. Same employee was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
  23. Parents came to visit. Their first ever Vegas vacation.
  24. Same employee died of colon cancer.
  25. Hired someone to fill the first open position (#12 above).
  26. Promoted someone to fill the position initially left vacant (#21) by the deceased employee when she was promoted.
  27. Passed my final probationary review with a much better score.
  28. Hired a person to fill the position vacated by my deceased employee when she died.

What’s your year been like?

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. This may have been my most eventful year since the feverish days of poor decision making in my early twenties. Probably, more so.

Even though we’re out of the spring semester I’ve not really been able to slow down. I’ve been in the process of on-boarding my most recent hire who started on the 17th (#28), plus end-of semester cranky patrons are shocked, shocked! that they have blocks on their accounts because they didn’t return something on time back in February. No rest for the conscientious!

The good news is that I’m fully staffed for the first time since October.

Also, the good news is that I’m going on a two-plus week vacation starting next Friday, May 25. I’ve never done a two-week vacation before, but this time I really think I need it. We’re going back home to camp, hike, see family, and do touristy stuff in our home town. While emotionally, I’m not ready to go back home. I’m excited to be getting away and not have these issues to deal with. The added bonus is that since we’ll be camping most of the time, I’ll have minimal internet access and generally be inaccessible.

Another benefit of going back home is that we can stock up on all the products that we otherwise can’t get in Vegas: Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce, St. Louis craft beer, norton wine, etc.

Like I said, we’ll be camping in a favorite MO state park most of the time outside of Ste. Genevieve, unless we’re traveling. The park happens to be roughly centrally located to all the family that we plan on seeing and we got two sites so that not only will there be our tent, but my parents’ camper and my step-son’s pop-up. For most of the time we’ll have the grandkids (eight and eleven years old) staying with us. We’ll be kid-sitting. Doing fun outdoors stuff during the day, taking them to their little-league games in the evening (eight times!, as far as I know). Plus, We’ve got Cardinals tickets, plans to see wifey’s friends at a potluck lunch, and some city sight seeing to do. We’ve got to go to our own house — yes, we still own a house in St. Louis where my step-daughter lives — and do some work there, and grab the rest of our stuff which we’re going to pack in a U-Haul trailer and haul back to Vegas with us. It’s going to be a busy two weeks.

We’re not doing the single long car ride this time though. We’re going to take the northern route, I-15 to I-70 to I-55, on the way out stopping in a hotel in Denver and at friends’ in Kansas City. On the way back, with the trailer, we’re taking the southern route where there are a lot fewer mountains, I-55 to I-44 to I-40 and then north from Kingman, AZ, with a plan to stop in Amarillo, TX which is almost exactly half-way.

It’s going to be a long, fun, humid, busy trip different than any I’ve ever taken before. It’s much needed and much deserved. We owe it to ourselves to take trips and do different things sometimes. They don’t have to be new things all the time, but different things. We all need to get out of our routines, out of our towns, and do something different. I never have been and never will be someone who has to be told to to take vacations. I don’t understand that mentality. Normally, we take a lot more short trips in the course of a year that we’ve done this past year. With all the moves and new jobs and difficulties the year has brought we simply haven’t been able to do that sort of thing since I got to Vegas last May.

I’ve noticed a difference in myself because of it, too. A few weeks ago I thought I was in the early stages of mental exhaustion, possibly even another depression spiral. I’m certain it’s because I’ve not been able to get away as much as I’m used to. Call it forest bathing, escaping, self-care, or retreating, it doesn’t matter. You need it. I need it. We all need to get away from time to time. Now, it’s my time.

See you in a few.

It’s Finals. How Are You Doing?

kenny-rogers-gambler
There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealin’s done.

I’m at work. It’s Saturday. I don’t work Saturdays. I’m closing, which is not that unusual, but I’m closing at midnight. My bed time is around 10:00. This all feels so wrong. I remember the days when staying up until midnight was no big deal on any given night of the week. I remember regularly staying up until 3:00 AM playing cards. Rummy, of all things! I’m not Kenny Rogers.

This has been my second finals season at this job and the first in the springtime. I remember last fall being a ball-buster of a period in which we’d have well spans with over 200 patron interactions an hour. We’d have class-switches in which all six of my circulation computers would be in use (on average we use three), and the line would still be stretching toward the exit.

This semester, armed with data, I built a schedule that was prepared for the serious influx of stressed out students. What’s weird is that I’ve seriously over-scheduled the circ desk, at least for Study Week. We haven’t been close to 200 patron interactions. When I had built a schedule that called for two or three supervisors to be present to help with class-switch, there’s only been need for one. This is in part to having plenty of student assistants to help — a BIG improvement from the start of the semester — and also in part to the fact that the students simply aren’t here.

I’m not saying this is worrisome, but facts are facts. Spring semesters have always been slower than Fall semesters at every university I’ve ever attended or been employed by. It always even seemed the homework load was less when I was a student. I don’t know the reason for this disparity. I assume it’s dropouts. College retention is a huge problem, especially for first generation students, of which my university supposedly has a higher-than-normal number.retention

882egreenscantronsl
A Scantron

Now, finals start in earnest on Monday and one would assume that our usage numbers would skyrocket, mostly with people asking for Scantrons and “blue books.” One would think that my carefully constructed supervisor schedule wouldn’t be SOOO off-base two weeks in a row. Would one?

We’ll see.

For it being a surprisingly light workload at the circ desk, last week was rather stressful and exhausting for me, to the point in which on Thursday I seriously considered taking sick time to get some rest. But, since I was taking all day Friday off to allow for tonight’s shift I stuck it out, but I never perked up that day and was all but useless by 2:00.

About three weeks ago I made an error on the telephone about a policy question. That patron acted on my bad information and then was quite put out when he learned the truth. This week he raised a ruckus. Ultimately the worst thing that happened was that I got some egg on my face, but it knocked my supervisor’s confidence in me down a couple of pegs. Luckily, I was out of my probation period by then. This whole thing threw me for a loop, though and I was physically and emotionally spent by the middle of the week.

Twenty days until vacation.

 

 

book and red wine on a marble table

Optimism: a.k.a. Depression Lies

So, last week was rough for me. I was feeling mentally exhausted and by Friday was beating up on myself for making a simple and entirely fixable mistake. By Saturday night I was sitting alone in bed — Wifey had fallen asleep on the couch — with that old familiar depressive feeling and wracking my brain to figure out why I was feeling it. This, by the way, is a Sisyphean exercise, as depression needs not have a specific trigger.

giphy2

Sunday was better and the exhaustion I was feeling all last week did not return on Monday. I’m halfway through the week, now, and am still feeling positive. Things are going well. I’ve been productive. I’m conducting telephone interviews for a position in my department and we had a very good one to start yesterday. We’ve got another this afternoon, and three more on Thursday. I’m optimistic.

I have very good reason to feel good. My job is going well. I’m told that I’ll be passing my next review, so that my probation period will finally be over. I’m making positive lifestyle choices in that I’m working out more and drinking (a little) less. I’ve even participating in an organized sporting event this week; something I’ve not done in years, especially one that involves me being on a team and not just competing for myself. We’re going on a big vacation after the semester is over that will be much needed and are planning smaller trips after it. There is so much to look forward to.

 

 

Emotionalism, the Trials of Public Service, & Vulcans

walmart-black-friday-deals-doorbustersWe’ve all been there. You’ve got a line backed up to the exits, the phone is ringing off the hook, and a patron is standing there wanting to argue policy with you. You could be working in retail, a public library, an academic library, or anywhere there is a front-line public service desk. It is difficult. It is stressful. It is rarely fun. About the only positive thing you can say about it is that it makes the time pass quickly. Thirty minutes or an hour can pass in a few seconds.

Those of us who are the best at this can view these times as exhilarating periods of service and problem solving. The rest of us dread these times and feel panic and stress. Either way we’re exhausted at the end of our shifts.

sleepy bunny
Actual footage of me on a Tuesday at 3:00 PM during the first week of the semester.

I tend to agree that the busy times are exhilarating, and exhausting, and that they definitely make the day go faster. But I’ve never looked forward to them, and now that I’m the boss I have the added burden of being the top problem solver.

I’ve had primarily public service jobs since I was seventeen years old. At thirty-nine, now, that’s a lot of time on a sales floor or behind a counter. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of successes and I’ve had a lot of failures. I have been praised and railed at; solved problems and caused them; kept my cool and lost my temper. I’ve been taken advantage of by a quick change artist, and called an ambulance for a patron in a medical emergency. It’s been an eventful twenty-two years.

If you do any job for long enough you’re naturally going to build some proficiency. I’ve never believed the “10,000 hours of an activity makes you an expert” meme. It’s too exacting and doesn’t account for raw talent, interest, ambition, or the ability to learn. I don’t know how many hours I’ve worked public services, but I’m certainly not an expert, even after twenty-two years. I don’t know that I ever will be, and I don’t know that anyone ever is. We all have our success and we all have our failures.

spider-man falling down stairs
No matter how amazing you are, sometimes you fall on your face.

I’ve recently had a few too many incidents in which I fell on my face and it got noticed by the wrong people. There are no immediate problems this has caused, but I am having to mind my P’s and Q’s a bit better. The thing is, though, all of the coaching I’ve received lately is all stuff that I’ve known for some time. I keep having the gnawing feeling that I used to be better at this.

Too Many Feelings

I am an emotional person. I always have been. As a child I got fingered as a cry-baby at school and the social ramifications of this created a cycle of repressed feelings, anger, and depression that have had a life-long affect on me. To this day, I describe myself as an angry person. I’m constantly having to suppress feelings of anger and frustration, but now, it’s less that I don’t feel “allowed” to have these feelings as much as expressing these feelings are counter-productive to my life.

I’m not angry all the time. I don’t have a secret violent side. I make friends and function as well in modern life as anyone can be expected. But constantly having to dial back my “negative” emotions takes a lot of willpower, and willpower is not something that we hold in infinite supply. Willpower is like a muscle. It can be conditioned to be strong, but after too much use it looses energy and needs to be recharged. The incidents that caught the wrong kind of attention of my superiors were ones in which my willpower was critically low.

giphy1This does not mean that I have no culpability for my actions. My behavior was as flawed as my techniques. I didn’t cross any professional lines, but I certainly did not behave in a way to solve the problems. I was not working to get to “yes.” I was defensive, pedantic, and arrogant. I let my frustration with my patrons’ senses of entitlement get the better of me. And something I had not truly begun to grok until recently, I displayed a terrible example for my employees, especially the student workers. Furthermore, in the social media age I could have provided fodder for negative publicity for the library if someone had videoed the incidents and posted them without the context of my actions. This not only could have been bad for my library, but bad for my career, as these things forever float around the internet. I’ve been a very bad boy.

Like I said, I used to be better at this. My emotionalism has gone through many stages in my life. It’s gone from the unbridled emotionalism of my childhood to the repressed emotionalism of my adolescence. After that came the bumpy emotional integration of my early adulthood. It was this time that I developed a reputation for “brutal honesty.” Engaging with my feelings were paramount to compassion or empathy. I was hard to like.

By my late twenties I had begun to grow that empathy, even in spite of myself, and began questioning what kind of person I wanted to be. I didn’t become less judgmental, as much as more aware of others feelings. I still may think your taste in music is terrible, but I’m not going to tease you about it anymore. Then, something unexpected happened. I started crying again.

yhuyo9pOn a scale of one-to-ten, if I’m between three and seven, everything is fine. If I get pushed above or below that range, however, it’s cryface time. I cried more at my wedding than my wife did. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry with any kind of excitement. Anytime my emotions are red-lining, or heck, orange-lining, I’m crying.

…New Life and New Civilizations…

So how do I handle it? How do I handle dealing with my habitual anger and the constant threat of tears in the face of the crush of a busy library. What was it I thought I was so good at? The only solution — as with so many things in life — is the wisdom of Spok, or more generally, the emotional discipline of the Vulcans. As Star Trek developed the ideas of Vulcan philosophy it went from a biological inability to have feelings to a spiritual discipline. It’s not that Vulcans don’t have emotions, it’s that their emotions were so powerful it nearly drove the species to extinction. It was their development of this emotional sequestration that allowed them to function and become the force in the Alpha Quadrant that they became — or will become by the twenty-fourth century.

spock-and-sarek-in-star-trek-vi

Obviously, this is an extreme model, but a useful analogy. The ability to build an emotional wall to separate yourself from your emotions is vital for someone like me. The point is to not make the emotions inaccessible, but to sequester them until they can be expressed in a healthy manner. It takes discipline. It takes willpower. It takes a psychic awareness of your own emotional extremes and current state. I did used to be very good at this. In fact, I had gotten so good at it that I started to worry about my ability to connect emotionally with anyone. I had become too Vulcan. At one point I thought I might even have turned myself into a sociopath, but then I actually looked up what a sociopath was saw that that was not remotely the case.

My challenge now is to reconnect with my Vulcanness; to regain that emotional discipline that used to be so easy for me. “Under-react” my boss tells me. When I’m feeling worked up, I need to mentally take a step back and evaluate what I’m feeling. Which emotion is it? Is it reasonable in the situation? Am I hungry? What is the real problem? How do I solve it in the best way? I knew how to do this once. I believe that I still do. Now I just have to practice.

 

 

 

Recent Comment Cards

I don’t get a lot of mail in my inbox at work, so it was a bit of a surprise when I got up and saw a stack of comment cards inside. I thought I’d share them with you.

Not my people, but I’ll take it.

Words [can’t] express how helpful, friendly and professional the computer help desk employees are. They are without a doubt the most helpful individuals in [the library].

Definitely my people.

I forgot my phone charger and the Front Desk Rep walked to where I thought I left & found it! Thank You! good job! I didn’t take his name 😦

Cranky “alum.”

Old newspapers should be left out in a certain area so that patrons can take them. This really won’t require much effort on behalf of the staff.

And the best of the bunch…

If you feel it necessary to take time out of your day to wake somebody up who is doing nothing wrong then you could feel free to stop breathing at any time.

Believe it or not, the last one actually signed his name. Classy as he is clever!

Oh, life in public services.

Breaking Up with Facebook…For Real, This Time

If you’ve been watching my Twitter, lately, you may have seen that I have permanently deleted my personal Facebook account and the associated page for TOAL. I’d threatened to do this several times over the last five years, or so, but I finally went through with it yesterday (03/20). Technically, it still exists and my personal Twitter is still feeding into Facebook, causing some confusion as to my status. This is still happening because Facebook, naturally, doesn’t want you to leave so they kindly keep your site active for fourteen days hoping that you’ll change your mind; hoping that after a cooling off period you’ll run back to their open arms.

Not this time.

I thought I’d use the analogy of an unhealthy — even abusive — relationship to describe my relationship to Facebook, but after looking up some sites on the subject I realize that that is completely inappropriate. I do think there is a romantic breakup analogy to be made, though. Maybe I should try it in a letter.

Dear Facebook,

We have been through so much over the last ten years. You were there when I got my first job out of college, when I got married. You supported me through the years when I was acting, and you were there when we first started camping. Because of you, I was able to share all of these special moments with friends, family, and acquaintances across the world. Literally, across the world. My friend Marisol lives in Australia now and you were my principal means of contact with her.

But it wasn’t all happy memories and hiking photos, either. Because you felt like a safe space I allowed my own freak flag to fly as high and as proud as I could. Understandably, this made others uncomfortable. Even if I wasn’t frequently rude, I could be sometimes. And even being polite about my thoughts and beliefs I still managed to alienate myself from any number of people. Most, if not all, of those relationships never recovered. The fact is that through you I probably damaged more relationships than I strengthened. That may not be exactly your fault, but you did facilitate it. You were my enabler.

We’ve both changed a lot over the last decade. When we started you were a source of connections to far flung individuals with whom one would share photos and a running account of your day. Now, you’re a major media empire. Since I joined with you I’ve gotten married, changed my philosophical lifestance, added hobbies, changed jobs twice, moved a whole bunch, and even relocated across the country.

While I’ve always known you had been associated with some shady characters I was able to salve my conscious by thinking that wasn’t personally contributing to the worst parts of your business. But now, now I can’t do that any more. As I told my former pastor all those years ago, “I can no longer believe beyond reason,” as I once did. I no longer believe that even the most careful and studious practitioner of information literacy and privacy policies can successfully use your service in good faith. You have broken that faith. It is an infidelity that I can no longer turn a blind eye to. That is why I must end our decade-long relationship. 

I would wish you good luck in your future endeavors, but honestly, I don’t believe your future is bright, and the best thing I can possibly do is walk away, not look back, and leave you to the consequences of your own actions. Goodbye, Facebook.

Sincerely,

Me.

Doing the Deed

If you want to breakup with Facebook like I did there are some steps you need to take. Obviously, they don’t want you to do this so they don’t make these features all that easy to find. Luckily, I’m here to help you.

The first thing you need to do is to get a copy of all of your Facebook data. You can do this at anytime, but it’s probably good to do this just before you delete your account so that you don’t completely lose all of that valuable stuff that you’ve posted over the years. You can find those directions here.

I wasn’t timing it yesterday when I did this but I’d say I got the zip file of my data in less than ten minutes from making the request. That file I then dutifully placed in my Dropbox folder for safe keeping.

Once you’ve done that, you can then get on with the deleting. Again, these directions are not easy to find. I originally got there by going the account deactivation tutorial that had an embedded link to the deletion process. Since I’ve already gone through the deletion process and any new logins to Facebook over the next thirteen days will cancel my deletion I can’t link directly to it now, BUT there is a helpful set of directions here from TheVerge.com.

Deleting a Facebook account is not a decision that should be entered into lightly. I had three people with whom I was the most concerned about losing contact with through the medium, including Marisol in Australia. However, I was able to get reliable contact information from all three of them and I trust that those relationships will continue. Some people from my past that I will always think fondly of will likely be lost to me forever. That is sad, but truthfully, my valuation of those relationships are most likely one-way anyway, considering the amount of contact we actually had via Facebook. I will always hold a place of love for them, and should we reconnect via another medium later they will be welcomed with open arms.

I’ll also point out that when I announced on Facebook that I was seriously considering this I listed in that post approximately twenty other media by which I could be contacted, including telephone, snail mail, and in person. No one asked for any specific contact information or handles. Chances are, the people who want a relationship with me already have the contact information they need and those who don’t really don’t need it to begin with.

So, twenty-four hours after deleting my Facebook account my life has not ended. I doubt yours would, either. Make good choices.

Make it a good day.