Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Conscious Effort to Live Joyously

I am blessed beyond belief. I have a husband who is a veritable unicorn, family that love me, friends who support me, a good job, a good education. So why am I always bitching?

I've been listening more this year. To birds, water, the wind outside the car on the interstate. To my husband's voice, my friends enjoying their new children, the assorted gurgles, snorts, yelps and barks that make up basset hound communiques. To myself.

I found myself complaining a lot. Some of it was general life-stuff that passes quickly - traffic, costs, a run in my tights, a dog-stomped toe, rotten salad in the fridge. Some of it stems from larger sources: work, finances, futurestuffs. Being chronically ill means a near-daily inventory of aches, pains, and difficulties so that I can properly report developments and improvements to the docs. There was a lot of complaining. I am also the sort of person for whom the immediate rage/rant response comes naturally, with thoughtful parsing of situations coming only after the initial flare. I'm passionate about a lot of things, and I tend to run hot. This doesn't mean I can't be thoughtful, just that it tends not to be my first response.

I got tired of listening to myself. I didn't really want to be me anymore. Which made me wonder how on earth my friends and family must feel.

And so I decided to start living joyously in a very conscious way. The things I complain about that I can do something to alleviate, I will. The things I complain about that I have no control over, I am working to let slide over me with less hateful reaction and little mention.

I've surprised myself at how quickly this changes the tenor of life.


This Attack of the Polar Vortex makes things difficult health-wise, since my rheumatic disease does not respond well to changes in pressure, temperature, or humidity. But the past month has been transformative.

I had some luck with going gluten-lite, and before Christmas my doctor recommended the Virgin Diet: No corn, eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, or sweeteners. While I can't say I'm 100% virgin (hahaha), I'd probably come in at about 95%. And I can definitely tell the results. My historically histrionic digestive tract has become positively mellow (minus the recent bout of antibiotic-induced illness). I thought the research and arguments about sensitivities to those seven ingredients made sense when reading Dr. Virgin's book, but the physical results have made me a believer. Post-script: you would not BELIEVE how many foods have unnecessary additions of corn, soy, gluten, and sweetener in them. My husband and I now deal only with real food, with only the occasional M&M or gelato slip.

I've finally realized the power of planning, something my mother has advocated since I was wee. I've found that preparing lunches for the week on Sunday, making sure we're stocked with good food (or prepping dinners via crockpot on Sunday), keeping frozen fruit and coconut milk around for breakfast smoothies, and having a supportive spouse help immensely. Having that breakfast smoothie keeps me sated until lunchtime. Eating a real lunch (usually consisting of 1/2c brown rice, 1/2c black beans, 1/2c chopped chicken breast, 1/4 chopped avocado) keeps me sated until dinnertime. Forcing myself to take 30 minutes dedicated solely to lunch makes me feel better and keeps me feeling good through the end of the workday. Knowing we have the ingredients around for dinner keeps us from scrambling, and keeps me from making poor (*cough, curly fries, burgers, pizza, cough*) decisions. Yes, I realize that this is a "duh" realization, that this is a simple thing to do, but it requires the effort of Past Planner Me to make the life of Future Me healthy and easy. It's a discipline, and one I haven't had before now.

Swimming has been an incredible way to get my exercise in. I have been disappointed at regular workouts, and how the RA/AS limits me. I feel unfulfilled, even working with a trainer, because everything has to be low/no-impact on my joints. (Let me be honest. Working out was a way for me to burn of my various rages. I *LIKED* flipping that huge tractor tire. I *liked* huffingly and puffingly conquering the elliptical. A bare sheen of sweat from low impact exercise made me feel like time in the gym was a waste of time, because I didn't feel wasted.

Along came swimming. I discovered that Speedo makes suits for us long-torsoed (read: big bellied/butted) women. I found that my gym has a heated lap pool and a hot tub. I discovered that that switch from doggy-paddling to swimming was minor, and the rewards from hauling back and forth the pool were major. It's a whole-body workout that doesn't make me overheat, since I'm already in the pool. I'm too busy trying to both move forward and breathe-not-drown to pay attention to whether anyone is looking at me. I feel light in the water. I can feel all of my muscles working - shoulders, legs, arms, back, sides - and it makes me happy. Super bonus: while it lends itself to a good all-over muscle ache and great sleep, it doesnt just not hurt my joints, it makes them feel lubed up. I can tell my range of motion has improved, and weather-induced inflammation isn't as bad when I've been swimming. And so, I'm doing both doc-ordered water aerobics and my own lap swimming. And when I finish my laps, I am *proud* of myself. Bummed that I haul out of the pool fully tired at fifteen or so minutes, I calculated it and that's how long it takes me to swim just over 300 yards. Three football fields. I can make my body swim that far, and I'm not in any good shape yet. I am excited to see how that will improve, and I am proud because it is more than the zero I could have done, and more than I would have guessed I could do.

Free Time?

I have been very conscious of downtime lately, both because I need it and because I hate feeling lazy. Thus, dilemma. My schedule has more downtime in it than many folks', largely because overextension (a habit of mine) has deleterious effects on my health. I don't want my free time to be wasted time. I have the good luck of having found an incredible partner - I want to squeeze every last drop from our time together. I want to be present and engaged. I wanted to find something non-stressful that I could do in the evenings while sitting with my husband, talking, catching up on our preferred shows, and snorgling the basset hounds. This past autumn I dusted off some old craft skills to start crocheting again, and rediscovered my love of creating things.

This is something I can do to engage my creative side while still paying full attention to my little family. I carry it along in the car. I occasionally stitch at lunch. I've found myself creating up a storm, which now needs some outlet. I can crochet square things, and am now stretching out into using new stitches. Knitting is on the list to learn. And I've become obsessed with quilting - designs, fabrics, how-to books. I now have a sewing machine and a fabric library. It's odd how similar quilting and crocheting are to poetry. It brings me joy to bring something to life, especially things like blankets. I adore blankets. I usually have at least one wrapped around me at any given time at home. It makes me smile to think that something I made while thinking happy thoughts will warm someone's home, body, and heart. I have fond memories of being wrapped up in my mother's handmade blankets, and I take the opportunity to snuggle them whenever I make it home. There's something missing from a manufactured piece, fancy as it may be.

With my husband's full support, I've started a wee little business, less to make huge profit than in the interest of sharing little tangible bits of happy. I have the materials inventory, and am working on building up some saleable items. I'll be fiddling with my first Wordpress install here in the next few weekends, getting the site and Etsy shop up and running. A side-project, but one that brings me great happiness. I'll let you know when it's up and ready.

The Connection Between Self-Care and Joy

All of this self-care in terms of diet, activity, and time planning strikes me as incredibly selfish. It's a lot of time spent on myself. But:

  • I can be fully present in the moment, and enjoy time with my husband and dogs. They light up my life, and when I am out of commission, even if I am in the same room with them, I miss them.
  • I can call friends to talk about their lives without feeling guilty about being a downer.
  • I can be energetic at work, tackle new ideas and improve old ones.

  • I am rediscovering old loves - writing, crafting, reading, teaching. I feel more like my old self, the happy, active self.

Joy is work, a matter of changing old habits and patterns and re-wiring my brain into new patterns. But the results, while good for me, are also good for others.

  • It's good for my husband when I am healthy, and we can spend our time together without illness and pain tying me to the couch.
  • It's good for my friends when I feel good, because I can be a better and more involved friend, more active in contact and more pleasant to talk to.

  • It's good for my coworkers when I am healthy, and can attend to work without impinging on them for coverage.
  • It's good for my students, when I can fully concentrate on them and help them find small pieces of happiness in accomplishing their work.
  • It's good for all the people who care about me, who dislike seeing me in pain, to see me return to the happy person they knew.

And so I am done with feeling selfish for doing the things that need doing to keep me healthy and sane. I need to prioritize my energy-spending, so that instead of doing fifteen things poorly, I can do five very well. Those activities with the biggest impacts on my health - diet, exercise, and planning - take a considerable amount of time and energy. I am making a conscious effort to celebrate this instead of resenting it (my past thought-pattern), since spending the energy on these things actually begets more energy. I have the unwavering support of my husband, my constant cheerleader, and of the friends I trust.

This is not to say I don't complain anymore. I do. On occasion a stressor comes up, and I flare. But I am taking a step back, deciding what to spend my energy on. That very act has me making better decisions than I used to. With time, I hope this becomes second-nature. I can already see how being happier bleeds into my work in the classroom, with students, faculty, and library colleagues.

I wish you joy, and the courage to do what you must to pursue it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anatomy of a Mid-Career Library Job Hunt

As noted in my previous post, I will join the library folks at CSU Channel Islands as an instruction & reference librarian in July. Since I've been asked about the job search by various folks through DMs, PMs, and IMs, I thought I'd throw some information out into the internet for those who are interested. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I'll answer as I can. (I wasn't quite brave enough to Open Access Job Hunt while it was in-process.)

Let me preface all of this information with two things: (1) I was incredibly, incredibly lucky and I know it. This may not be what the job hunt looks like for everyone, I am relating my own experience. YMMV, and widely. (2) See (1).

What & Where

Between 7/15/13 and 9/24/13, during evenings and weekends, I submitted 46 job applications. All but four of those were for academic reference and/or instruction positions (those four were for 9-month teaching faculty positions in Education and LIS departments, known long-shots since I'm still ABD). All of the library positions I applied to noted significant instruction responsibilities, which (as noted in a previous post) is my professional interest; because of my advanced degrees and research experience and interests, I applied to a number of social science and humanities librarian positions in addition to general R&I slots.

Because my husband and I are pretty flexible in terms of where we are willing to live, those 46 applications spanned 23 states. There are a bare handful of states we refuse to live in, but we have friends and family scattered widely across the country and only the two dogs to worry about disrupting, so that helps. It also helps that Jed is currently working as a contractor, doing his doctorate from a distance, and can work/study from anywhere. I'm convinced that geographic flexibility was really the major factor in having so much luck on the job hunt - while Kentucky would be an easy first choice for us in terms of where we want to live, job postings for a mid-career instruction librarian there were few and far between.

Cover Letter Habits

I'm a little weird about my cover letters; mine tend to run longer than average. After a brief intro paragraph, I let the search committee know how I meet the required and preferred qualifications. I bullet-point and bold the text from the ad, and then try to briefly describe how I meet each bullet. This is a habit I've developed after serving on search committees where we worked from a rubric. If you meet a requirement, you get a range of points, if not, no points. I don't want the committee to have to guess whether I meet a stated requirement. Again, having served on many committees, things become a blur quickly. The folks who make it easy on committee members, through the two extremes of throwing themselves out of the pool or making an excellent case for their candidacy, are usually much appreciated.

I used my introductory paragraph to briefly note why I wanted to move from access services back into reference and instruction work - a move I knew might raise some folks' eyebrows. Might as well answer their un-asked questions outright, and let them know that I still heavily dabbled on the instruction side. I use the prose in answering the requirements to let some personality shine through.* My cover letters ranged from 2 to 3 pages; no one seems to have had an issue with the length of them, though I know some folks cringe at letters going over 2 pages. The letter should get the job done, in my opinion, and I have enough experience at this point that a one-page letter is rarely appropriate. I try valiantly to keep it to 2 and to let my CV deal with the details. I'm happy to share cover letters (both successful and not), so feel free to comment or email to ask.


Out of 46 applications, I was eventually rejected outright for 7 positions, with automated letters. These were mostly sent by email, though I did receive two by post.

I was offered 12 phone interviews and 5 Skype interviews** (these spanned 14 states). Two libraries skipped the phone interview stage entirely and offered me on-campus interviews out of the gate, which I thought was both bizarre and incredibly flattering, knowing how resource-intensive it is to bring in candidates. I was dumped (in a most friendly manner) by one place after the phone interview. Due to the timing of my offer, I ended up cancelling on 9 phone interviews.

I was offered 10 on-campus interviews***, and attended four. One I had to cancel due to an unexpected hospital stay. (Talk about worst interview experience ever - calling a search chair at 7am to report that I would not be on a plane since I was in the hospital and in unpretty condition now tops my list. Major hat-tip to those libraryfolk for being kind and understanding.) Five I canceled because of the in-hand offer that wouldn't hold long enough for me to make the scheduled visits.****

I received two incredibly attractive offers. One I turned down due to a downturn in my own health that would have complicated a fast move. I was lucky enough to receive another offer with a later start date at CSU Channel Islands.

An Aside: Actually Enjoying It

Aside from the stress of ERMEGERDINTARVIEW, I have to say that this job hunt was an incredible experience for a number of reasons.

First, the support I received from my colleagues and references who knew I was hunting was invaluable. I also have a secret cabal of fellow library ladies that I consider my mentors, and they were incredibly supportive.

Knowing that you made the top-three or-five list for a position is an incredible compliment. These places were all places I would have been happy to work, with good people and energetic students and faculty. Instead of spending time stressing out (because I was stressed over personal factors elsewhere in life), I decided to take an "I'm cool, you're cool, wouldn't it be cool if we were cool together?" approach. I had the luxury of being employed while looking for a position, which was part of it. The other part was that I've started at enough new library jobs at this point in my career that I want a semi-comfortable transition into new and exciting work, and a not-uptight workplace.

I had fun with the process (if not the airport travel), and asked questions I might have been too timid to ask as a n00brarian, such as "What are the library's weakest services and relationships as they relate to this position?" and "What is your honest assessment of the Library's relationship with its Provost/Academic Affairs Office/etc.?" Because I have more time under my belt, I have better answers for questions about both my successes and failures. (I've noticed the failure stories don't get really good until you're given some major responsibilities. Heh. Don't be afraid to fail big and learn from it - if nothing else, a search committee will remember that you were interesting.)

Another Aside: The Un-Secret Disability

I have what is considered an "acquired disability" with my rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. The last time I interviewed, going on four years ago, I was not afflicted. This go-round, things were a bit different. My current library dean asked if I was planning to remove my previous blog post discussing my difficulties getting my health under control. I did not delete or hide the post. I felt that search committees should know what they were getting. I work damned hard. I am incredibly dedicated to my work and my faculty and students. I am interested and engaged. But occasionally I need some help. The committee may not be able to legally ask about it, but the information was out there for them to see, if they came across my blog. (This was against the express instructions of my mother, who wanted me to have the best chance possible at finding a new gig.) For all my in-person interviews, I used a cane, necessitated both by good sense (no sense in breaking a hip during a campus tour) and because traveling and being corralled through airports tends to be extra-hard on my joints, even on good days.

If I Could Award Prizes...

Prize for coolest interview set-up was easily won by a university that took its interdisciplinary and diversity mission seriously. Candidates for positions across the university are all brought in as a batch over two weekends, and the candidates interact with each other as well as with their home departments and faculty and staff from across the university. A little weird, but fun, and not at all cutthroat as one might expect. Another library candidate and I even struck up a friendly email exchange.

Prize for best attendance at a candidate presentation goes to a midwest university. Standing room only to hear a presentation about social science data? Incredible feeling as a candidate to see them care so much about who they hired.

Prizes to almost all the places I interviewed with for having faculty from outside the library represented on the search committees and throughout the interview days, for being warm and welcoming, and being forthcoming about both opportunities and challenges facing the library.


*Successful letters included such gems as, "While I wouldn’t boast that my Spanish is entirely fluent anymore, it is workable enough to get me around in Madrid and San Juan for a few weeks at a time, my Italian is passable enough for the folks in Rome to understand me, and both have helped me engage international students in Library programming on campus. (My French, on the other, hand, is terrible and generally draws sympathetic laughter from our Haitian students)", and "I have the passion for the subject, the experience working as a collaborator, liaison, and collection developer for subject faculty, and an unabashed love for the Oxford comma (which I’ve found is an excellent way to bond with English faculty)." I'm too far along in my career and in having had my real-self exposed to other libraryfolk to pretend that I don't come along with a bit of cheek. As a committee member, I always appreciated seeing a bit of personality coming through a cover letter. This can, of course, go horribly awry, but I don't want to work anywhere that the librarians would be offended and clutching their pearls if I referred to my "awesome library instruction voodoo."

**A note about phone interviews: I find them more, not less, grueling than in-person interviews, despite them being shorter in length. Having been on the search-committee-side of them, I know how easy is is for verbal tics, tone and energy level to influence committee member opinions, and how easily a thorough answer becomes perceived blathering. As the interviewee, I am always fully dressed in business casual, sitting at a desk or table in a room where I am the only occupant with a pen in my hand and a notepad with my own questions, items that I want to make sure to hit from my experience that match the position, and room for me to make notes about long questions coming from the committee. Skype interviews add the visual and technology aspects to interviewee stress. My advice to other interviewees: plan accordingly, ask friends to help you test your equipment and sound. And for the love of all that is holy, beg, plead or steal to get yourself a quiet solo space. I was on a (non-library) campus search committee where one candidate Skyped from his local Starbucks that he referred to as his office-away-from-office. It was loud, incredibly distracting, and created an immediate unflattering picture of the candidate's planning and common-sense skills.

***A few notes about on-campus interviews: Many (most, in my experience) academic libraries will bring in candidates the day before the interview, expecting the candidate to dine with the search committee that evening before the next day's all-out full-day interview. Some places will make all the travel arrangements, others will have the candidate make the arrangements and offer reimbursement. (Smaller places and community colleges may expect candidates to pay their way with no promise of reimbursement.) Make sure you are clear on the expectations - the person handling the arrangements will expect the question, and it is not at all rude to ask and clarify expectations to prevent expensive misunderstandings. Other things to consider when visiting: try to get it all into a carry-on; there's nothing sadder than a candidate whose luggage has been lost. (Truly, it happens. Ask Chadwick over at NCSU.) I recommend the Samsonite 18" - it fit easily beneath the seat in front of me even on the smallest propeller planes, was easy to maneuver even with a purse and cane, and it easily fit 2 sets of business clothes, a set of comfy travel clothes, 4 thick paperbacks, 1 set of shoes, and a 15" laptop with its cords. Make traveling as easy on yourself as possible. Bring comfortable shoes. I have never cared if a candidate wore ugly shoes (though I appreciate funky ones), but I have considered it poor planning if they were limping and/or barefooted with blisters at the end of the day. Finally, the daylong interview is intended to give both you and the institution as much information as possible within that daylong timeframe. You'll answer the same questions over and over - don't worry about it. People will joke about the interview being long and grueling - smile and keep your energy and humor up. The interview is as much a test of your stamina as it is a test of fit.

****About cancelling interviews: With attractive offers in-hand from places where I quickly felt a good fit, I debated attending some of those interviews just to see the other libraries in action (and because I had applied since I wanted to work there!). Decency got the better of me, and I called the search chairs as soon as I knew I wouldn't be able to wait on them to interview and make a decision. As the candidate, I stressed over whether the chairs would hate me for putting them out of a ton of effort (and in some cases, funds, when the plane tickets were already purchased). To a one, every single person I contacted to cancel (both phone and in-person interviews) was gracious. As the candidate, it gave me a panicky feeling -- I didn't want to come across as ungrateful, I had applied because I truly was interested in working with those folks, and I didn't want to burn any bridges. Now, as a search committee member and chair, I have had people cancel on interviews due to receiving other offers, and it is simply part of the process. Sometimes the timing isn't on the search committee's side. I never took it as a personal affront. I don't know why I was concerned that might be the case when the shoe was on the other foot, but I was relieved when they wished me well and thanked me for letting them know. Shout-out to libraryfolk, the polite professionals!