Fatherhood, Libraryland, and Other Incomplete Thoughts

I managed to make it through the whole month of March without noting that it was the six year anniversary of this blog. Well, without publically noting, like I am doing right now. It’s a bit of a wild ride down memory lane to look at those blog posts in hindsight; the different styles of blogging that I was trying, the speed and sheer volume of blog posts I posted at the time, and the development of many professional and personal issues in those short years.

When I started writing here, I had only been a employed librarian for eighteen months, married to my first wife, and living in my grandmother’s house after she had passed. Now, I am the head of reference in my hometown (where I am also a resident), married to my second wife, and awaiting the arrival of our first child. The intervening years have seen awards, accolades, missteps, and recoveries, personally accepted as natural ups and downs within the rhythm of life.

In taking personal inventory, it’s undeniable that library, librarians, and library issues have been downgraded as a priority in my life. It’s not that they aren’t important, but they no longer take precedence over other aspects of my life. I can’t tell if this is simply a product of different life priorities, the change in the online librarian world, the history and experience of the past few years, or a combination of everything. I’m blinded by the bias of being in the center of my own personal world, making all measurements as they relate to myself. So I can just try to speak as plainly as possible and muddle through all of the things going through my head.

Fatherhood, so far, has been exciting. Yes, an astute observer may note that I am not the one carrying the child, a biology impossibility that was determined a long time ago by evolution. But, for me, the sentimental emotions I have been experiencing towards this tiny unborn person are ones that I haven’t had in a very long time. I feel hopeful without the looming specter of depression, excited without antagonizing my anxiety, and just (for lack of a better expression) a more complete person. I don’t lay awake at night anymore, pondering my mortality in the company of philosophical demons prodding me with insecurity. It’s a peace of mind that I have not had in a very long time.

I wouldn’t say that I don’t have concerns and fears, but I feel like I have some perspective on them. It’s hard to torment oneself with questions like “what kind of man will he become?” when the most immediate developmental benchmark will be when he is able to hold up his own head. I can worry about the former, but the latter is the more pressing concern. I can’t let myself get drawn into questions that are much further down the path when (a) the present requires more of my immediate attention and (b) there is an entire lifelong journey towards that overarching question, one that will not be answered within my lifetime.

Right now, I can say that my fatherhood is limited to hunter/gatherer mode with a side of personal maid. I get things, whether it is the phone charger from upstairs or a bag of a particular kind of chips from the local convenience store no matter what time of day. As The Wife heads into the last eight weeks, I’ve taken over most of the chores that require physical activity: vacuuming, shopping, washing dishes, etc. Since I can’t physically contribute to the growth process of our child, this is how I help out. I’ve been told this is an exception to other people’s experiences with their partner, which makes me both confused and sad to this kind of antiquated behavior. I’m sharing this not so much as a pat on my own back, but as a statement to be shown by others to get their partners more active via example and/or shaming.

Seriously, get your shit together.

In my librarylife, I’m just trying to get things completed, parked, or set on auto-pilot in preparation for Baby Woodworth. I have a couple of projects going on with NJLA that I’d like to get squared away before May; I’d like to get at least one author working on an article for the Journal of Creative Library Practice; and I have some projects at the library that will need to hit their benchmarks before the first of May. It’s fair to say that there is a lot of my plate as it is, which leaves blogging on the furthest back burner. (For the mildly curious, I’m only able to write this because I am off today and I got the time between chores.)

From my perspective, there doesn’t really seem to be same level of interest in any form of public intellectual kinds of blogs, articles, or columns anymore. It has become very niche, addressing one area of librarianship very well (such as the Storytime Underground and various book blogs). This is not a bad thing but represents the beauty of internet diversity which connects people to their specific needs. It’s only a bad thing for me, a person who likes to address broader issues that span across the professional realm. Based on my changing priorities, even that bad part happens to be convenient.

Perhaps, as my cynical heart tells me, there is a boredom factor to what appears to be the inherent cycle of libraryland topics. The value of the degree, the condition of the job market, the apparent inability to act on basic principles and fundamental values, and other issues operate on a biblio-celestial calendar. They zoom into sight, remarked upon at length, then slingshot their way back into the depths of rhetoric space, doomed to their eventual return trajectory. Even antagonists like Kleinman follow a Mobius strip of stale accusations, attempting to build mountains out of molehills anthills in a vain attempt for an iota of legitimacy. I just can’t keeping repeating the same discussions, arguments, and interactions without feeling like I’m in a constant state of moving old bones to new graves even before the grass has grown on the current one. It’s worse than insanity, it’s a Sisyphean hell of our own making and choosing. I’d like to think I’m making a difference in moving those conversations along, but it feels more like a reinforcement of the status quo.

But, then again, maybe I’m wrong.

In closing, I can say that after six years, I may have the least amount of certainty where this blog is going. I do want to write about fatherhood as it develops for me. I’m coming up on one year in my position and I have many reflections about becoming a supervisor. So there is content ahead, but who knows when it will appear. In the meantime, I thank everyone for their support, comments, and their readership.

I’ll see you around.

Anxietyversary

I meant to write this post a couple of days back, but my body had some other ideas (sneezy, wheezy feverish ones) as to how I should spend my weekend. Resting, Kleenex, and Netflix pretty much sums up the experience as my sinuses tried to bridge the ocular socket gap to achieve a unified homeland on my face. I’m still recovering today, but I finally feel well enough to sit at the computer to type this out.

It was a year ago yesterday that I had the largest continuous anxiety attack of my life. The proximate cause of the attack was the idea of flying to meet The Girlfriend in Aruba for a couple of rest and relaxation days. I had been looking forward to it for weeks since it was also where I wanted to propose to her. Tropical sunsets, sandy beaches, and the two of us together for a couple of days of doing not much of anything. That’s not the part that scared me.

I was nervous about the flight leading up to it, but my thoughts were decidedly mixed. While I was not the best flyer over the years, I did manage to Australia and back which entails fourteen hour flight times. The statistics are on the side of safety, despite what popular culture and media outlets like to tell us about flying. Surely, I could have a four and a half hour one.

I was decidedly wrong.

My previous experience with anxiety had been handled well by Xanax. Not so this time as each dose I took was steadily consumed by the terror that now wracked my thoughts and body. Literally, I could not stop shaking from the fear. Rational thoughts bounced off the irrational feelings like paper balls thrown at a fire door. Even with the intervention of The Girlfriend and my parents, I could not stop it. I got a few hours of sleep before waking up for my airport departure time. I couldn’t stop shaking or heart racing or the impending terror that was building from all the “what ifs” parading through my head, intensified by what limited options I would have once I was up in the air.

I simply couldn’t do it. And it killed me to finally admit.

It killed me because that day and the few days afterward I could not imagine my future at all. I felt detached from my life entirely, that it was over in the sense of I didn’t know what would happen next or what I should do. (I would note that feeling my life was over did not cross paths with suicidal thoughts. I just couldn’t imagine what I was supposed to do.) I felt like I was standing before a great blank wall, unyielding and impassable. So deep, so primal, so complete was this failure that I just completely shut down. I felt like I had disappointed everyone around me, that I was no longer reliable, and that I had nothing left to offer the world. It reminds me of an expression that Hell is not a place where we do when we die, but a place in our minds that amplifies all of our negative emotions. In that sense, I was in Hell.

Life goes on, as they say, and this simply notion is the first step towards emerging back into the light. As the cataclysm of that wicked day started to recede, I felt my feet return back to ground. That awful fog lifted and I started to see what I needed to do to recapture my life. I made the call to an employee mental health line and found a really awesome therapist. I found a good anxiety medication that works without side effects that I had experience before on other medications. I am very lucky in that I had a very good support system with The Girlfriend, my parents, my brother and SIL, friends, and coworkers. I’ve gotten back to almost normal not simply because I got treatment, but also had the support network to help me get there.

The importance thing to share is that my story doesn’t end there. While I didn’t get to propose in Aruba, but I did propose on Valentine’s Day in our hotel room in Lambertville, NJ. As she is now The Wife, you can tell what the answer was. I still do feel the anxiety especially when I’m traveling, but the more I go places the easier it has gotten for me. I feel that I am still moving forward, even though I have no plans for stepping on an airplane in the near future.

I do have somewhat selfish reasons for writing this since making it back this far over the course of a year is something to crow about; I’m proud of having brought my anxiety under control and resumed my life. But I also know that these kinds of posts can help others by encouraging them to seek out treatment and help, to step out and say that they have anxiety, and to bring visibility to the issue. My career has not yet peaked and my life is not yet done for all the things I want to do. Anxiety is my personal struggle, but not something that I will suffer in silence or let contain me.

Happy anxietyversary to me.

Honeymoon

It’s been over a month since the last post and with good reason. I got married at the end of October in a wedding that I can only describe as perfect. Granted, I am biased on this account. Also, given that I have been married before this is certain to raise questions and/or ire in some people, but since I have no control over that I’m going to move on. It’s just how I saw it.

The event itself was on a gorgeous albeit windy (and therefore chilly) autumn day attended by a small group of family. The Wife and I wanted it to be a cordial and close knit family affair with some drinks, dancing, and the accoutrements that make weddings memorable experiences. Personally, my favorite wedding story comes from the ceremony itself which took place outside. The Wife had a veil over her face which upon entering into the sunlight turned it into a giant white wall through which she couldn’t see. All she could think about was that there were people who could see her so she had to keep smiling and rely on her father to guide over the asphalt and brickwork. She only saw me (and everyone else, for that matter) for the first time once she was right next to me.

These last few weeks have been about learning to live together since we had not before the ceremony and getting into a new rhythm and schedule. I’m both happy and sorry to say that this has been a rather mundane process punctuated with some amusement as we find where our pet peeves cross. In settling down with each other, I’ve also taken the time to put some distance and perspective on the library world. As hindsight tends to be 20/20, I’ve realized how overdue I’ve been for such a break. No one can keep up this kind of pace forever, especially on their own, and as other priorities assert themselves (family, eventual children, friends, hobbies) it puts it in its place.

Overall, I know that my interest in writing in this blog comes and goes, waxing and waning in the topic cycles of the library world. While there are issues that I like to follow, there are only some many times I can hammer on things like eBooks or intellectual freedom without feeling like I’m regurgitating stale points to the same audience. There is a difference between being a cheerleader and a strategic leader; while each has their own value, I’m starting to feel like I can’t tell the difference. Or, more importantly, which role I should be playing.

I’ve previously expressed my disappointment in the state of discourse in the columns and blogosphere of libraryland; with notable exceptions, the rest is bland, sterile, and eyerollingly passive aggressive. I don’t share as much as I used to on Twitter because there isn’t that much worthy of sharing. I would bet dollars to donuts that I’m not the only one who has seen the same pattern in the online librarian community.

I’m not certain what awaits in this blog and as downcast as I make this post out to be, this is not an announcement that I’m completely out of the game. I’m enjoying being on the proverbial bench, watching other people try their hand at this game of ours. In resting, I draw on my other major strength of being a catalyst for people and ideas. I’m a very social creature so I’m looking fine tune my extended network and see how I can help out from behind the scenes. That’s the action that interests me now, but I’ll be sure to keep you guys in the loop.

Just like the new life I’m starting with The Wife, I feel a new life coming on in my profession. It’s just a matter of taking it day by day.

The Eternal Clouds of the Anxious Mind

I have anxiety.

It may seem strange to some, but I labored over the wording of that first sentence. Other phrases like “live with”, “suffer from”, and “have been diagnosed with” didn’t seem to quite capture the nuance I was seeking. It’s not an unwanted roommate on equal footing with the rest of my mind and all I have to do is find a way to evict it. While there are times when I suffer from the symptoms that relate to anxiety, I don’t feel it warrants a term that is more aptly used to describe people in pain, torture, or other greater forms of physical or psychological duress. The diagnosis angle seems too impersonal and clinical for my preferences in approaching this topic as a blog post. While I won’t deny other people the right to use these terms for their own anxiety, I’m not a fan.

In combating the symptoms, I’ve been taking a low dose of anti-anxiety medication for the last few months. Prior to that, I had not been a big fan of the SSRI drug family. My first experience with these kinds of drugs was not the product of anxiety or depression, but as a migraine preventative. Where previous migraine bouts were limited to a couple of headaches over a couple of months then years apart, the migraines I experienced in my late 20’s decided to go full time. I was getting them every day or every other day which, combined with a visual aura followed by extreme light and noise sensitivity, puts a giant crimp on daily life. The SSRI I took then stopped them cold within a day and brought a scary health episode to a close. The downside while I was taking them was a lack of moods and insomnia, a combination that lead to lying awake in bed to think about why I didn’t have much emotional range. These aren’t exactly the best thoughts for lulling yourself to sleep each night. In later years, I took another drug from the SSRI group on a short term basis to deal with depression associated with my divorce. I had to switch medications because of the side effects which included those really bad thoughts they warn you about. While I would prefer not to be on medication, I can’t argue with the positive results with another drug from the same group this time. 

The mental health history of my family tree reads like the lineage of European nobility, for it is long and illustrious and apparently a tradition that is handed down from one generation to the next. I have three family members with paranoid schizophrenia diagnoses (a great uncle and two second cousins once removed). Beyond that, I’d have to take off my shoes to count the number of family members who have dealt with anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD, and other mental conditions over the course of their lives. Needless to say, family reunions are never dull.

There are times when I wonder how much (if at all) these mental illnesses influence my own mind. Do I have those occasional disturbing, haunting thoughts because I have an overactive imagination or it is the product of a dissociative condition? The realistic answer is former but the anxious mind doesn’t completely agree which is enough to put the splinter of doubt at the periphery. It shouldn’t be that way since I had an MRI of my brain done a couple years back when I was experiencing visual distortions every now and again. My neurologist went over the results and told me that my brain was structurally normal which also rules out other conditions. (Me, after finding out the results: “Good, I can now tell me I have a normal brain.” Neurologist, without missing a beat: “The structure is normal. This doesn’t cover function.”) 

I’ve wanted to write about anxiety for awhile because talking about it has always been helpful to me. The reality of acknowledgment always edges out any horrible possibilities that my mind can conjure while some obstacles just evaporate or become clearer by simply articulating them. The mental isolation, that all too often feeling that I am the only one in the world who can understand what it is like, melts away as others open up about their experiences. Sunshine, as they say, is the ultimate disinfectant and it has held true for me when it comes to anxiety. It’s not a silver bullet but it curtails the influence that anxiety can exert over me.

During his lifetime, Winston Chruchill referred to bouts of his depression as visits from his “black dog”. I wouldn’t call my anxiety that (mainly because I like dogs), but I can appreciate the frame of reference: something that comes and goes without much indication as to duration or frequency. Since my massive panic attack back in February, I’ve been on the march back towards the (relatively) normal life that I had before that time period. I’m much better than I was and continue to improve as time slowly marches that event further into my past and, yes, I still have a ways to go.

When and how it will make itself known in the future, I can’t possibly guess. But I will try to stick to that little phrase I picked up during my semester abroad in Australia so many years ago:

“No worries.”

Housekeeping

Call it “spring cleaning in the summer”, but I recently went through my social media stuff and took the time to figure out what I wanted to keep or delete. I’ve gotten bloated in the sheer number of social media accounts I have and I took a hard look at where I’ve signed up, what I still use, and how I want these sites in my life. The divide for how I use these sites is somewhere in the middle between personal and professional; while I maintain good contacts with friends and family, I also use it to promote my blog (read: myself). So, with some of those factors in mind, here’s how it went down.

Gone: My accounts on Google Plus and Pinterest as well as my Facebook author page. The first two I never checked ever unless I was at the brink of web boredom death. I never really saw much traffic from Google Plus to my blog and it turned into yet-another-place to dump a link. Even then, there wasn’t much interaction from my links and more often than not the notices were telling me how people I don’t know had added me to their circles. Or worse, that they have invited me to an event that I couldn’t give two damns about attending. Google Plus was the large annoying fly in the room and I finally just had to swat it.

I liked Pinterest, but beyond uploading the funny pictures I made, it didn’t hold much interest for me. I never remembered to pin things to it nor did I ever want to do so. I mean, isn’t that what Tumblr is for? (More on Tumblr later.)

As for my Facebook Author page, the apps were starting to get on my nerve. I had something that would import Tumblr and WordPress posts, but it was asking and re-asking permission every few weeks. When I realized that it had not posted in a few weeks, I was just plain frustrated. It didn’t bring much traffic either, but I will miss posting pictures with all the sharing ease it possessed. But, after all the other Facebook crap of the last couple of weeks, I just let it go.

On The Fence: Oh, LinkedIn. You’re like that person from high school who thinks that after graduation we should all stay in contact with each other. I keep getting emails from them so every now and then I go clear out all my messages and invitations. There are some people I know who really know how to work that site in terms of getting consulting and speaking gigs. God bless them, but it looks more exhausting to me than I care to do. I updated my profile and added my TechSoup writing to my experience, but I don’t know what else to do. Sure, I’d like more writing and speaking gigs and be able to help out libraries create social media strategies, but I’m still not entirely converted to the value professed to exist (nor am I willing to pay for the upgrade). I’ll keep it for now, but only because it’s a good passive billboard.

Keeping: Twitter is by far one of my strongest online presences professionally, so that’s certainly going to stay. I have lots of good contacts on Facebook so that will remain as part of my online “personal” life (yes, even if it is being supervised by the NSA). I’m enjoying being on Imgur, but I still have my toes in the water on that one. There is another social media website that I’m keeping, but it’s my last bastion of online privacy (I know, har har) so I have to defend it by keeping it secret.

I’m going to take another shot at Tumblr. All those Tumbrarian/Tumblrarian posts have made me take another look at the service. I enjoyed using it for the New Jersey Library Roadshow back in the fall since it can handle any kind of post, but I’ve had a harder time getting into the habit of using/checking it. The shame for me is that I really like how easy it is, how many formats I can post in, and how the new interface has moved along. I’ve used it in the past for "A View from Your Desk” (a collection of pictures taken from people’s library workspaces) and “LOLbrarian” (homemade memes). Right now, with it being connected to Twitter, it has worked well for things I want to post that are longer than a tweet. I’ll have to get better at tagging posts and adding content on a regular basis.

For what it’s worth, this cleaning has been very cathartic for me. In deleting some accounts and out of date blogs, I’ve removed some of the internet debris I’ve left lying around. I highly suggest taking a close look at your online footprint and taking action where needed.

It’s good to do a little housekeeping.

Something about Anxiety and Depression

I’ve been wanting to write something on anxiety and depression but I couldn’t think of a good opening. Having a good hook at the start of the post is important to me since it was important to all my English teachers over the years who taught me how to write. Sometimes I’ll find myself stymied because I know what I want to say as the major point I want to make, but I’m not always certain how to get to that point in order to say it. It’s frustrating to have a middle and an end but no opening.

So, yes, in writing about how I couldn’t think of a good way to open, I have given myself one. I think the major issue was that this topic is so personal and so hard to talk about sometimes. Yes, I am someone who lives with anxiety and depression. I was going to say “suffers from”, but I don’t think that puts the right spin on it. It’s something that inhabits me, not the other way around. To be fair, it’s more like a main entrée of anxiety with a side order of depression. And, like many of my fellow Americans, I am having difficulty with portion control.

I’ve had bouts of anxiety for a long time over the course of my life. It’s only within the last few years that it has intensified to the point where it has become (for lack of a better phrase) life interfering. Specifically, it has made travelling anywhere very hard at times. At its worst, it could turn a short car trip (think 15-20 minutes) into a white knuckle experience. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that the kind of imagination and creativity that was used some of the projects I’ve done over the years doesn’t always work for the good side of my brain. No, it has staked its claim on darker territory.

I remember a previous counselor remarking that I live a lot in my own head. It’s not that I’m unaware of what is going on around me or unable to empathize with others, but that there are thought processes go on without an outside check. That, despite best evidence otherwise, I don’t always articulate the thoughts and feelings I’m having very well so that I get some sort of feedback from others. This has lead to many a conversation in which I feel very silly or stupid once I say what the issue is because (oddly enough) it’s not that big a deal otherwise. I will build things up in my head that aren’t always as big as they purport to be.

The other half of this equation are the physical symptoms I’ve experienced. Dizziness, shaking, chills, and the ever popular chest pains have made appearances over the years and especially recently. They are the perpetual motion machines of symptoms since they can expand and fuel an ever increasing anxiety reaction. What starts out as a “I’m feeling a bit off” can become a “DEAR GOD I WANT TO GO HOME AND CRAWL UNDER THE COVERS AND NOT COME OUT EVER AGAIN” with just enough lingering thoughts over the interpretation of symptoms. It’s been my experience that there is nothing too small that the mind can’t blow out of proportion.

Writing this blog post has not been the easiest. As I said before, it is something personal. But even if no one was to read this, just the act of typing the words has been liberating. It’s as if I was transferring it from my brain to the screen thus freeing the former from the latter. It’s certainly not a cure-all, but it takes away the power that comes from suffering in silence. As someone who lets those thoughts rattle around his head, this can be the change that is needed to come out ahead.

This latest bout of anxiety comes and goes. Last week I was feeling pretty great; this weekend and last night hit me sideways. Right now I’m on an ‘up’ so I’m taking advantage of it. I got some exercise this evening, ate a nutritious meal, had a non-nutritious snack, and have been on-and-off dancing around in my apartment. I just have to remember I’m not alone and that anxiety doesn’t define me even though it gets the controls every now and again. To everyone who has it or been touched by it in their lives, it’s a good reminder of all the benefits that come from facing something as part of a crowd.

(Everything But) National Library Week

If you asked me what library related activities went on this week, I’d be hard pressed to give an answer. The Digital Public Library of America launched on Thursday to much social media fanfare. The Circulating Idea podcast Kickstarter was also launched and within two days was fully funded. After those two events, I can’t really think of anything else significant this week. Something I read in one of the regular columns in Library Journal made me want to punch the screen but that’s nothing new either. No, it wasn’t the Annoyed Librarian because both of their columns were rather banal this week. No, it wasn’t John Berry’s piece either even if it lead to an epic ALA Think Tank thread.

No, what I can tell you about this week is that it was bookended by the bombing in Boston as well as the (currently unfolding) hunt for the bombers. It was a fertilizer factory in Texas blowing up, well, most of the town (This is a map of the blast area with landmarks via Reddit. Skip it if you don’t want to be additionally horrified.) Congress dropped the ball on passing a gun purchase background check amendment to a bill despite widespread support. Chicago got all manner of weather, suggesting that the Bermuda Triangle may now run through Hinsdale. The Gosnell “House of Horrors” trial continued to unfold in ways that would give Stephen King the willies. Iran experienced a scary giant earthquake. I’m stopping here because, unfortunately, I really could go on.

Without a doubt, it has been a rough week. In an age of instant information transmission, it’s hard not to avoid breaking stories which bring all of the incomplete uncertainty with it. Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook can send rumors, speculation, and inaccuracies around the globe in moments. To be fair, it can also send corrections, confirmations, and official accounts in the same time frame as well. But doesn’t lessen the resulting moments of confusion.

The human brain doesn’t like information gaps so it tries to fill those with anything it has on hand, be it real or imagined. Rationalizations play Monday Morning Quarterback to our thoughts as a way of finding reconciliation and closure using causation and correlation that doesn’t necessarily follow through. Elsewhere in the brain, our primitive risk calculating system (best thought of as “the gut”) makes risk calculations that are based on emotional factors, not logic. This can push aside our better judgments in favor of immediate action, whatever that may be.

It’s hard to sit tight and wait for events to unfold so that a bigger clearer picture emerges. Like many people, I want to know what is going on and a lack of larger perspective stymies that. I’m going to try to step away from the computer for a bit to allow things to develop, but I know I’ll have one eye on the screen as I pass it. I try to keep in mind that, as rough as this week has been, this too shall pass. We’ll come out on the other side of all these things a bit older, a bit wiser, and hopefully a bit stronger. It’s just a matter of getting there.

In the meantime, be kind and try to take care of one another.