corona virus diaries: week 5

Five weeks ago yesterday, I shifted to primarily working from home. Spotting a coworker loading up monitors and other computer equipment from his office, I realized I could do the same. The prospect of working off of a laptop for weeks on end felt less onerous if it included the dock, dual monitors, full-size keyboard, and mouse. This was quickly set up on my dining table, and for the first time in 13 years, I have an office with a window.

I lasted one day sitting in one of the IKEA folding chairs that normally lives at my dining table. I lasted another two weeks using the office chair that normally lives at my home desk. Then on my brief weekly trip to campus, I snagged the chair from my office. Ahh… so much better. The ship date for the Steelcase office chair I splurged on (a much needed purchase long before now) is indefinite, so this will be my setup for the time being.

My work has settled down some since we got past the flurry of assisting faculty to transition their courses to remote instruction, and supplying access to ebooks and other resources for students who left their materials in their dorm rooms when they departed campus for Spring Break. For the first few weeks, it was all I could do to keep up with things, as email action items flew in as fast (or sometimes faster) than I could clear them out.

I was surprised-not-surprised to learn that my job really doesn’t require me to be in the building at all, for the most part. I think there will be things coming up throughout the year that would be easier to do if I were there, and some physical materials that will eventually need attention from me, but for now, I can quite easily work remotely. I kind of knew this before, but not having a good setup at home made the prospect less appealing in the past.

One of the things I worried about with working from home is not having a clear line between work and home. However, I have found that sticking to a schedule has kept that line fairly clear. I start work at 8, I finish at 4:30, and sometime around noon I take a lunch break. There are some exceptions, of course, if I’m trying to wrap something up and it’s nearing the end of the day. There’s always more that can be done, but there’s also always tomorrow and the next day.

Part of me wonders if I could continue this working from home thing even if we are able to open the building and return to our offices again? Part of me could get quite used to having a kitchen with snacks so close and a toilet all to myself. Part of me revels in not having to wear work clothes, and a commute that’s just a walk down the stairs.

Part of me worries that I will get too withdrawn and forget how to interact with coworkers in person. Part of me misses the casual interactions with colleagues that feels awkward over a digital connection. Part of me would really rather just go get lunch with friends at the dining hall today instead of thinking up yet another meal at home.

I’m not afraid of change (except when I am)

As a serials librarian, change is in the nature of my work. Titles change, publishers change, URLs change — change is the norm. I stay flexible and try to move light on my metaphorical feet. Some days I float like a butterfly. Some days I fall flat on my face.

I’ve been thinking about — and simultaneously feeling excited and dreading — the big change that is coming to my work in the next year. We’re on the path to migrate from Voyager/Summon to Alma/Primo. It’s going to mean a huge shift in how I do my work, though what I do, essentially, will remain the same.

I’m looking forward to the new (and sometimes improved) tools I’ll be using to do my work, but I’m not looking forward to the process of learning how to use them. And that’s just one of the unknowns that is making me afraid of this change, even as I’m ready to run towards it.

I don’t know what I don’t know. And it’s such a huge undertaking that I’m feeling overwhelmed by that unknown. What I really want right now is for someone to hand me a list of every thing I need to do to prepare Acquisitions and Electronic Resources data for the migration, but no one can do that for me. I have to take the resources the vendor has provided, as well as any information I can gather from other libraries who have migrated from similar products, and make that list for myself.

It’s daunting. It’s scary. What if I mess up?

photo by Mike McKay

I took Facebook off my phone…

…and I’m kind of surprised and pleased by what happened.

Admittedly, it’s only been two days, and I’ve done this before (for different reasons), so I know I might eventually add it back. But for now, it’s doing what I had hoped and more.

I don’t have an endless scroll of posts and links and memes and videos to occupy my brain in the down times. I still have other social media apps, so there are plenty of things to occupy that space, but they aren’t nearly as prolific. Also, although I’m still on Twitter, I barely read it and usually only a subset of content when I do. (Come find me on Mastodon, if that’s your thing, though I’m not much more active there.)

The thing that surprised me, though, was a resurgence of the use of Pocket. I’ve started throwing links to essays and articles there for later reading as I peruse the scroll of social media elsewhere. Then, when I’m waiting in line, or have a few minutes before the next thing, or eating a meal alone, I have some handy reading material that I actually want to see.

I get “all caught up” on Instagram more quickly than I used to, and I’m trying to browse the Flickr app regularly, too, but it’s not a well designed.

When I do look at FB, it’s on a desktop browser with a plugin that filters out certain content. I mean, I know that one cousin loves right wing media and posting racist/homophobic memes, but thanks to the filter, I can remain ignorant on the details.

I find that in my time away from FB, not much had actually happened that needs my attention. I hope eventually I can settle back into the apathetic disinterest I had for it years ago.

I still have Messenger, though. Too many people I like use it instead of texting or email.

progress updates: January 2019

I didn’t make any resolutions or goals for 2019, per se, but I did have some lifestyle changes I want to make. Here’s how things went for the month of January.

Ragged Mountain Reservoir
Ragged Mountain Reservoir

In 2018, I didn’t use enough vacation leave and found myself in danger of losing days as my work anniversary month concluded. So, I crammed in some days off as my workload allowed. This is not ideal, and it is also an indication that something is off-kilter with my work/life balance. So, I decided that for 2019, I needed to plan some days off in advance so I’d actually use my vacation leave, since I rarely take actual vacations. So far, I haven’t used any of my leave time yet, but I have scheduled a long weekend in February and am taking Spring Break off in March, and have plans for May and July on the horizon. I’ll be looking ahead to other times of the year when I can take off a week or more without negatively impacting my workload.

snapshot of a Fitocracy month indicating workouts recorded

I tend to get really busy once the semester begins, because that’s when all my “extra-curricular” activities kick in. One thing that often gets de-prioritized is physical activity. So, for the month of January, I mapped out a workout schedule to fit around my regular obligations with a varied plan that would keep me from getting bored or using “recovery” as an excuse to not do anything. It’s worked, mostly, though it does require me to make some adjustments towards the end of the week if I haven’t also done a good job of getting to bed on time and sleeping enough. This process has been helpful for me to reach my goal of 219 workouts in 2019.

infographic for the YNAB principles

Midway through January, I decided to have a hard conversation with myself about my budget and long-term goals. This was in part due to a decision in early January to start seeing a therapist again, and the impact that would have on my budget. Despite making more money than I ever have or ever thought I could, I still manage to spend nearly all of it every month, living paycheck to paycheck. I had been trying to use Mint to make and stick to a budget in 2018, but that just wasn’t working. I’m giving the YNAB philosophy (and software) a try this time around, and it’s already helping me re-think how I budget and how I make spending decisions. If you decide to give it a try, too, I highly suggest reading the book and/or making use of the free webinars. On its own, the platform is okay, but it’s so much better if you understand the underlying system.

twenty years

a red brick building with white stone foundation and staircase, with arches and windows
Northlawn dorm, where I lived for three years

I’m spending some time at my undergraduate institution this weekend. Since I moved back to Virginia in 2007, I’ve lived close enough to visit the town and friends there several times a year, though in recent years my calendar and aging pets has made this a more complicated process than it used to be. I have managed to make it back for each of my five-year reunions, as it happens, and the fourth one of those is tomorrow.

Twenty years. How has it been twenty years? Twenty-one years since I lived in the dorm pictured above and ate in the basement cafeteria. The women’s dorm is now co-ed, I learned with some dismay at my fifteenth reunion. I guess that’s progress of some sort.

I don’t regret my life path to this point, but it wasn’t what I expected when I graduated from college. Some vague pencil marks of the outlines match up, such as getting my graduate degree in library science and continuing to work in higher education. The specifics of where and what, and the things that now fill my everyday — I don’t know if I could have even imagined them back then.

I haven’t done the best job of keeping in touch with my college friends. Casual connections at best, passively keeping up with their lives to the extent that they share them on Facebook. I’ll reconnect with a few tomorrow, probably, and as with years past it will be pleasant but also vaguely awkward, as we try to rekindle connections over twenty years old, and none of us are entirely who we were then.

I’m feeling a mix of things as I think about the next day or so (I’m driving over this evening) ahead of me. There’s a bit of FOMO with not having made firm plans to meet up. There’s a bit of jealousy that so many of my college friends seem to have ended up in the same places and can maintain the connections on a more regular basis. There’s a bit of nostalgia for a more innocent time in my life before adult responsibilities fully kicked in. There’s the ever present desire to be included while feeling like I’m on the outside looking in — not straight enough, not Mennonite enough.

Taking a deep breath and re-centering myself, I hope that regardless of what happens this weekend, I am able to be fully me in all the ways I can be now, and that will be enough. I hope that I am able to rekindle a bit of the connections that were essential to my collegiate successes, and that this will truly feel like a homecoming.

greyscale photo of a group of students with two faculty members, all dressed in winter clothing
my traveling companions, taken before we left for a semester in Ghana in 1996

resisting my inevitable death

black and white photo of a kettle bell weight and two medicine balls, along with part of a human leg and sneaker-shod footI’m getting older. It’s hard to avoid. My body isn’t as resilient as it was fifteen years ago when I started this blog. As my income increased, so did my pant size, and being in a sedentary job didn’t help.

January began as January often begins, with a renewed commitment to stay as physically active as I can and work on getting stronger. For the first two weeks, I managed to get out and hike/walk/gym every day but three. Then my choir rehearsals began and things picked up again with new music being sent to the radio station, and I was reminded why I don’t spend two hours at the gym every day.

One of my favorite blogs is Fit is a Feminist Issue, and several of the bloggers over there are talking about a 218 workouts in 2018 challenge. I missed jumping on from the start, but I’ve been keeping track for other reasons and I’m up to 23 so far. Not bad. Could be much better — there was one week in there with zero. If I’m going to hit that goal, I’ll need to be doing 4-5 workouts a week, not the average 3-4 I’ve been doing so far.

I’ve also been keeping track of the food I eat. I’ve done this in the past with mixed success, but I’m finding the tool less frustrating this time. (Or maybe I just care less about being absolutely precise?) I haven’t approached this with the intent to prescribe some sort of diet regimen, but the data has been useful for making tweaks. Since I’m also weight training, I’ve been paying closer attention to macros and increasing protein without blowing up the fat percentage, too.

I’ve also discovered how easy it is for me to consume a massive amount of calories and not even realize it — it simply doesn’t seem like that much food, and by weight, it isn’t, but the nutritional composition is very densely packed with caloric energy. So, I need to out-think my survival brain that compels me towards high energy foods my body can store for later use in the lean times that will never come.

My goals are simple: get stronger, avoid physical injuries, lose some weight to relieve stress on my joints, and get ready for prime softball/baseball/hiking season. Oh, and delaying my inevitable death.

have fun out there

softball
“softball” by tinatruelove

Exercise should be fun. That’s not to say it should be easy — if it’s easy, you’re not really doing anything. No, what I’m saying is that it should be fun. It should be something you look forward to doing, and not just look forward to having done.

I’ve participated in some fitness programs run by the gym at my workplace. These have been short-term programs meant to get the participants started on a path towards better fitness/lifestyles. I have found them very useful as a structured and goal-oriented accountability crutch, where the slightly competitive and also supportive nature of the program makes it harder for me to skip the workouts when I’m tired or busy.

However, after my fifth or sixth time through (I honestly don’t remember how many years I’ve done it now), I found myself in the odd situation of knowing almost as much as the trainer about what I should be doing, and in some instances, assisting my fellow participants on technique when the trainer was busy with someone else. I realized then that I didn’t need this crutch anymore.

Well, at least not when it comes to strength training. I’m all about the strength training. These days, I’m at the gym 4-5 times a week, primarily during the work week, lifting weights for 30-50 min and walking the track to finish off my daily step goal. I love it. Even when I’m the only woman over 22 in the weight room (often the only woman, period), and these college bros don’t quite know what to do with the fat, middle-aged woman who seems to know how the fly machine works.

I feel stronger when I’m at the gym. On days when it’s so tempting to get in the car and drive home after work, just a few reps will get the adrenaline going and all of a sudden that tired goes away for a little while. I feel like I could keep doing reps forever, until I hit the wall and it’s time to stretch.

Strength training is fun. There’s variety. I can focus on a specific muscle group on one day, or do a little with all of them. There are many different exercises to target specific muscle groups, and pieces of equipment to do them, so when I get bored with one, I can change it up for a while.

What’s not fun for me is cardio. Cardio is that necessary thing (or so they say) for burning fat. When I’m lifting weights, I’m putting effort behind it, so the heart rate goes up a bit, but not like it would for an aerobic exercise. I know I should incorporate cardio into my routine, but my options at the gym are so boring. Stationary bike, treadmill, and many variations on elliptical machines. The stair climber is right out. I could swim, but the hours and availability of the pool aren’t ideal for me, and it’s an extra hassle I haven’t felt motivated to tackle yet. Anyway, cardio: yawn.

That being said, I do like to do some athletic activities that involve an element of cardio in them. I play softball once a week about six months out of the year, weather permitting. I hike and bike when it’s not super hot or super cold out. Those are fun activities that I look forward to doing.

I figured out today that the one aspect of strength training I don’t enjoy — targeted core exercises — is one that I can kind of do with fun activities instead. One of the areas I focus on with core exercises are my lateral muscles, primarily because they help me have a stronger swing of the softball bat. You know what’s a fun exercise for lateral muscles? Swinging a softball bat.

This afternoon, I did several rounds (20 balls each) at the batting cage swinging right-handed and left-handed. This made me work both sides fairly equally. It also made me focus more on the ball and not just using muscle memory in my swing when I was batting left-handed (not my dominant side). I immediately noticed I was making better contact with the ball when I switched back to right-handed batting. Bonus! I did exercise that was fun and I got more out of it than I planned.

If exercise is chore for you, I my recommendation is to get out and try a bunch of things until you find the one that is fun. Then, just keep doing it.

battle decks

my #erl15 Battle Decks topic
my #erl15 Battle Decks topic

I participated in my first Battle Decks competition at ER&L this year. I almost did last year, and a friend encouraged me to put my name in the hat this year, so I did.

I was somewhat surprisingly not nervous as I waited for my name to be chosen to present next (the order was random — names drawn from a bag). Rather, I was anxiously waiting for my turn, because I knew I could pull it off, and well.

This confidence is not some arrogance I carry with me all the time. I’ve got spades of impostor syndrome when it comes to conference presentations and the like. Battle Decks, however, is not a presentation on a topic I’m supposed to know more about but secretly suspect I know less about than the audience. They are more in the dark than I am, and my job isn’t to inform so much as to entertain.

Improv — I can do that. I spent a few seasons with the improv troupe in college, and while I was certainly not remarkable or talented, I did learn a lot about “yes, and”. My “yes, and” with the Battle Decks was the slides — no matter what came up, I took it and connected it back to the topic and vice-versa.

There was one slide that came up that was dense with text or imagery or something that just couldn’t register in the split second I looked at it. I turned back to the audience and found I had nothing to say, so I looked at it again, and then made an apology, stating that my assistant had put together the slide deck and I wasn’t sure what this one was supposed to be about. It brought the laughs and on I went.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jesse Koennecke for organizing the event, as well as Bonnie Tijerina, Elizabeth Winters, and Carmen Mitchell for judging the event. And, of course, thanks also to April Hathcock for sharing the win with me.

#erl15 Battledecks Monday
photo by Sandy Tijerina

reading and goals

“Reading” by Stefano Corso

I’ve had  lot more time on my hands over the past few days than I usually do. The University is closed, and I’ve been on a paid holiday since last week. I returned from visiting family on Saturday, and since then my time has pretty much been my own. This has involved mid-day naps, lounging in pajamas, and reading.

Normally, I don’t have much in the way of true leisure time, in part because I don’t allow it. On the occasions when I have found myself with “nothing to do,” I quickly get stir-crazy and regret not planning something in advance. I worried that might happen this week, but I had plenty of house projects if I felt inclined to tackle them, so I knew I’d be okay. What has surprised me, however, is how I was able to slip into a mode of relaxation I haven’t be in for a long time.

A big part of that has been trying desperately to at least get to half my 2013 reading goal before midnight last night. 2012 was a good year for me and books — I read 27 that year, starting at a goal of 25, so I figured I could make the goal of 30 this year. I didn’t anticipate eventually taking on music director responsibilities at WRIR in late spring, a job that consumes most of what remained of my downtime. As of last week, I had read only 11 books in 2013. The time off over the past few days coupled with a road trip (yay audiobooks!) helped me cover the ground and hit 15 in time. You can see what a motley crew they were on my GoodReads page.

I prefer to read my fiction cover to cover in one sitting, unless it takes more than four hours. I’m a pretty fast reader, doing about a hundred pages an hour of your typical mass market paperback, so four hours or more makes for a long book. I prefer to read my non-fiction in audiobook format, where stops and starts don’t interrupt the narrative too much, and having someone talk at me makes me pay better attention to the words. Given those conditions, and the types of nonfiction and fiction I prefer, it’s not always very easy for me to find something I’m interested in at the moment, and far too easy to choose a podcast or a project instead of reading. I’m not making excuses — I’m just working to understand myself better so I know how I can “trick” myself into making the time and space for books.

But why? What’s so important about reading? Funny thing for a librarian to ask, don’t you think?

Reading books was a huge part of my identity as a kid. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my bed, propped up on my elbows, mind far away in the story in front of me. Relations with my younger sister were tense after years of yelling at her to leave me alone when she would come in my room, looking for a playmate. Even then, I didn’t like to interrupt the story. We’re friends now, and ironically, she’s more of a reader than I these days (she read 80 in 2013, with an original goal of 75).

I distinctly remember when I stopped craving books and reading regularly. It was the year I went to graduate school for my MLIS. The coursework demanded so much reading, and I was taking four classes a semester instead of the usual three course full load, that after a while, I took more pleasure in not reading a book, using my time for other leisure activities. I recognized this shift a long time ago, but the new hobbies and interests didn’t go away, either, so I’ve struggled to make time for both.

I’ve winnowed down my book collection regularly over the years. I still acquire new ones, particularly hardcovers I plan to keep forever, but the discount books and mass market paperbacks I picked up over the years because they looked interesting have had to survive several severe weeding projects to remain on my shelves. And so many of them remain unread. At times it feels like a weight around my neck, dragging me down. At other times, it’s so overwhelming that I can’t choose what to read from among them, so I keep whittling it down, becoming more selective, and also having fewer to pack with each house move.

Books still remain important to me. Stories rattle around in my mind long after I have finished reading them. I don’t need their escape as much as I did as a kid, thankfully. But, I do appreciate the mind-expanding properties they offer.

So, I continue to set annual reading goals, striving to meet them, and struggling to not feel like I’ve failed when I don’t. The last thing I want to do is to turn this into a chore or assignment, which is what turned me off from reading all the time in the first place.

if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me right here

my favorite sign in the library

Not long after I started working at the University of Richmond, a coworker told me that most people stay at the University for five years or forever. At the time, five years seemed like a really long time to be anywhere, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever stay in one place for the rest of my career.

I’d had two professional, post-graduate jobs at that point, neither of which lasted more than three years, for various reasons. I took this one because I liked what I saw when I interviewed, and because it was in the part of the country where I wanted to live. And, as much as I enjoyed the work environment and collegiality (particularly compared to the previous job), I was not going to commit to anything more than my three years.

The first year is the honeymoon. The second is when things get real. The third is when I decide if I want to keep going or try something new.

The path to what has now been five and a half years was… interesting, to say the least. And not without a good helping of uncertainty. Just as I would be getting comfortable with the organizational structure and my job expectations, someone would come by and upset the book truck, so to speak.

I’ve just completed a long period of uncertainty, and while things are not yet entirely settled, it’s finally dawned on me that I have the power to determine, or at least guide, the outcome of this uncertainty, which I’ve never been in (or realized I was in) the position to do before. It also helps that there are some clear dates for when change will have to happen. I always function better with a schedule.

As I enter into the second half of my sixth year here, I don’t want to go anywhere else, and that’s a good feeling to have. Sure, there are still unknowns that could change things. Something could happen to my boss and his replacement could be horrible. My coworkers could leave and be replaced with difficult people. I might fall in love with someone on the other side of the world and decide to move there. It’s all possible, albeit unlikely.

It’s not the best job in the world, or the most perfect library, and I certainly could do with less humidity in the summer, but it’s better (for me) than any place I’ve ever been, and better than most of the horror stories I hear from colleagues elsewhere. Sometimes, when you know how bad bad can be, good enough is good enough. Sometimes good enough is all you need to make it awesome.