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There’s an older deaf man who has been coming into my library for quite a while to use the computer.  At first, he always seemed annoyed with me and other staff because he had a hard time signing on.  When you sign on to our login system, you have to key in your 16 digit card number and last name exactly as we have it in our computer system.  Since his last name is St. ____, he has to put in both the period and the space, which kept tripping him up.

He spends his time online watching videos of car races.  Since he’s deaf, he frequently wouldn’t realize that the sound was on, and the normally quiet(ish) reference area would fill with the sounds of vrooming and squealing tires.  Then one of us would have to go over, tap him on the shoulder, and indicate that he needs to turn it down.  Since he can’t speak at all, when he needs help, he makes honking sounds and waves you over in an impatient way.

It didn’t take long before a lot of us got annoyed with the waving over, because we dislike being summoned like servants, but then something changed.  I was showing him how to sign in one day, and through a series of exaggerated movements, shrugs and occasional scribblings on a piece of paper, we were actually communicating.  He got over his annoyance and impatience, and I showed him how to do things for himself.  After that, we were totally bff.  When he came in, he’d wave hello, we’d communicate through a series of shrugs and thumbs up and seemed to always be on the same page.  I felt like I’d turned this once taciturn man into a happier human being through the power of teaching.

Then I got this email from a co-worker:

Turns out our deaf friend is also a paranoid schizophrenic. He threatened to kill his brother and burn down his house. There were 2 police, 3 EMTs, and a translator. He was very agitated and I felt really bad for him, even if I don’t care for his habit of barking at you when he needs assistance. I guess they took him in for observation

So there you go, it’s always the ones that I seem to connect with who end up being actually crazy.  I’m worried about him though, and he certainly never acted as crazy as most of our patrons who are not diagnosed schizophrenics.

My deaf friend, this is for you:

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Since beginning my job a year ago, I’ve found that gross old men who frequent the library just can’t get enough of me.  It’s annoying and bizarre and according to my boss, it’s unlike anything she’s seen in 22 years of public librarianship.  I love being unique, but I wish it was for something I was happy about.

Frankly, I just don’t get it.  Yes, I’m friendly and attractive, but so are my co-workers who don’t have to deal with these attentions.  Honestly, I do not feel that I am hot enough to have to put up with this.  I’ve never reaped the benefits of being a hottie i.e. getting free drinks or airline upgrades, so why do I have to put up with the drawbacks?

This also sounds like a whiny thing to complain about, but the fact is, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.  It makes it hard to do my job, to focus on the task at hand and to not overanalyze all my interactions with male library patrons.  I shouldn’t have to try to do my work knowing that there’s a person using a particular computer just so he can stare at me, and my co-workers shouldn’t have to field and deflect questions about my whereabouts and work schedule.

Since I’ve been having more issues with a new gross old man at work, I finally broke down and bought a stunt ring i.e. a fake wedding/engagement ring to send the clear signal without words, “I’m not interested in you.”  What’s hilarious about all this, is if I was actually engaged/married I probably wouldn’t wear a ring.  I really dislike wearing jewelry, and the few items I own, I never remember to wear.

We’ll see if this actually works and allows me to go about my workday in peace, or if I need to come up with a plan B.  The only plan B I can think of right now is dressing poorly, which sounds like a lot of expense and effort, so I’m hoping this ring is the magic bullet I need.

Day One: Wore the ring to work and discovered that not only is it slightly too big for me, but it is also incredibly heavy. I put some scotch tape on the back to make it fit better, and tried to ignore the heaviness.  Creepy Old Man #2 came in and did his usual use the 15-minute internet computers right next to me for over an hour and stare at me routine.  I make a point to run my fingers through my hair over and over, displaying the ring prominently as I did it.  The ring got caught in my hair a few times, which did not feel good.

By the end of the day, one of the fake diamonds was missing, but at least it’s one on the side.  I’m starting to think I need a different stunt ring, one that’s less cumbersome, but also would rather not spend a whole bunch of money on jewelry I don’t even want. Plus now, can I really sub in a new ring? Damage done, card played, I’ve got to keep up the pretense.  I am not cut out for jewelry wearing.

Day Two: Forgot to wear stunt ring and got asked out by a man named Earle.  Is this some kind of joke?

I decided to replace initial ring with something smaller.  I then spent an hour on overstock.com shopping for engagement ring for myself for less than $15, which was odd to say the least.  I finally found something that was the right price and size, and was moderately attractive if a bit ostentatious.  Let’s hope it doesn’t turn my finger green.

It’s not bad, I don’t hate it.  I hope it doesn’t start some kind of rumor in the workplace.

Fast forward to three weeks later, and I’ve been wearing the stunt ring every day at work, and then taking it off immediately at the end of the day.  I’ve injured myself several times getting it caught in books, clothes and all kinds of hazards I never previously noticed.  I also find it a bit hard to type while wearing it.

Several co-workers have asked if I’m engaged, one scoffed and said “my god that looks fake.”

The newest creepy old man in my life has stopped coming into the library since that first day I wore the previous stunt ring.  He may still be coming in on my days off–but who cares!  Life is good again and it’s all down to a piece of ugly jewelry.

If I wasn’t so happy I’d be totally depressed.

I’ve had a lot of friends looking for jobs lately since we all graduated around the same time.  It’s funny, but this is actually the first time that I’ve been in this situation, since I’ve been hiding my head in the sand of grad school and cavorting almost exclusively with students for ten years.  Now I’ve run into something that I never anticipated, and find both odd and insulting in this whole interview process–when the interviewer has preconceptions about you and you can’t change his or her mind.

I first became aware of this when Wise Lawyer Friend was going on a lot of job interviews.  She graduated a semester before me, and I got to learn all about this hateful process from my safe nest of “one more semester.”  She was interviewing all over the country, jetting here and there, and even though the interviewers had thought her serious enough to fly out, feed and put in a hotel, some also seemed to not believe that she would actually relocate, and told her so (very carefully so as to not break any laws) in the interview.

A similar thing happened to me last summer, when I interviewed for a cafe job and the interviewer seemed convinced–through no action on my part, that I must just be biding my time and saving up enough cash for a U-Haul back to the Midwest.  I could do nothing to persuade her otherwise, and got a clipped email within a few hours of the end of the interview telling me that I wasn’t a good fit.  Jewish Friend actually landed a job a very commutable distance from her home, but now her co-workers are chastising her for not relocating.  One even went so far as to try to sell her a condo.

Penelope Trunk wrote a blog a while ago about long-distance job searching where she basically said that unless you tell an employer you’re already planning to move somewhere, as in “I’m packed and waiting for the movers to show up”, you will not beat a local candidate.  That’s disheartening to someone who likes to move around, but I guess it makes sense.  In the case of the cafe job–I’m already here, but I couldn’t beat a local candidate because everyone seems to think I should be planning to go back to where I’m from.

The problem, in my case, is that I’m not really from anywhere.  I grew up in two states, and moved among five different towns.  Since my first major move was at age one, I’ve spent my whole life being told, “you’re not from here.” When I lived in Hallock, Minnesota until age 12, I was from “somewhere else.”  After moving to Cavalier, North Dakota, I was “from Minnesota.”  Once I moved to Fargo, I was “from Cavalier,” and now that I live in Rhode Island, I pick and choose whether to tell people I’m from Minnesota, North Dakota, Fargo (always mention the movie to give people a frame of reference) or just generic Midwest.  If I want a bit more street cred, I mention things like “30 minutes from Canada” or “damn cold” but for the most part, I don’t go into detail unless requested.  My parents live in a town they moved to while I was in college and my small extended family (who I’m not close to) is scattered across Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.  Where I’m from, doesn’t matter.  Short of telling someone that entire story, I don’t know how I’ll be able to convince anyone.

I thought we lived in an increasingly nomadic society where you have to widen the net when doing a job search, but it seems harder and harder to convince people you’re serious about relocating.  Now I’m hearing you have to pick a town, move there, and hope you’ll find a job.  There has to be a better way.

I’ve never had the temperament of a leader, or someone who really likes to be in charge of things.  I do like to be in charge, to a point, but once things get a bit difficult, I like to be able to foist responsibility onto someone else better equipped to deal with it.  This is probably quite an immature attitude to have, and probably something I should be working to remedy, at least that’s what I’ve been thinking since I became a professional librarian, and began the quest for a professional “grown-up” job.

At this point in my career, I should be hustling, and networking, and making contacts, etc.  I should be wowing people on a daily basis, and thinking outside the box.  The problem is, I just don’t think I can operate that way, and I can’t decide if I’m being lazy, or just realistic.  Even though I love my job and the people I work with, it’s not full time.  Does the fact that I’m not breaking my ass to find full-time work mean that I’ve given up, or just that I’m aware of the economy?

I was talking to another girl who graduated library school around the same time as me.  She is another one, like so many librarians–including me, who floundered around for a while not knowing what to do with her life, and then got an MLIS. After a few months of post-graduation unemployment, her mother finally asked her something like, “are you finally going to get a real job?”  My friend then had to explain that yes, she would love a real job, but there just aren’t any.  Even though that’s 100% true due to the fact that most public libraries are working under extreme budget cuts and can barely afford to keep the doors open, most colleges and universities are in hiring freezes, and private libraries and archives never have money in the best of times.  It’s all true, and none of it is our fault, but we still both feel like we’ve failed somehow.

After I graduated I had a similar conversation with my mother where she basically said, “You told me that you were going to get your degree, and then get a job.  Why are you now saying you’re not going to do that?”  The fact that I really like where I live, my friends, my boyfriend, didn’t seem to matter to her.  Why should it though?  When I tell people “my boyfriend is in a PhD program for another three years at least, and I like being around him” it sounds pathetic even to my ears.  It makes me feel like I’m choosing relationship over career, even though I’m not.

My mother also clings stubbornly to the idea that as long as you have a degree, that’s all that matters, not what the degree is for, which is just not the case anymore, of it ever was.  She drilled that idea into my head throughout undergrad, and I repeated it to other people as well.  I’ve since figured out that the degree may matter less, but the work experience is what people really want, and that people only want to hire you to do what you’ve already done.

I started working at Dairy Queen when I was fifteen, and it took nearly ten years for me to get away from food service.  Then, naturally, I wanted a food service job again last summer, and my experience seems to have expired.  Even when I decided that I was sick of food service and went to a temp agency, the woman tried to hook me up with a new cafe that had opened at a truck stop, “I told them about you, and they’re really excited!” she promised.  When I told her that that was the opposite of what I wanted to do, that I wanted an office job where I could wear nice clothes and not smell like baked goods or a fryer at the end of the day, her face fell and she told me that that would be a much harder sell.  Even though the qualities she had espoused to the truck stop people were some that could apply to any industry, I had passed my typing test like a pro, and had plenty of computer, filing, and multi-line phone knowledge, she was not willing to go to bat for me because I had never worked in an office.

Similarly with librarianship, I’ve got a lot of experience, but not a lot of professional experience, and practically no experience working in an academic library, which is where I ultimately want to end up.  I spoke to the Dean of Libraries of a small college in Massachusetts last week who told me flat out, “If I see a resume, and there’s nothing but public library experience on it, that person won’t get an interview.”  Basically, I’m working in public libraries to gain experience that won’t parlay into the kind of library job I want.  It’s like my career has stalled in year one, and all I can do is hope that not all deans of libraries have the same attitude as her.

I’ve accepted that it may take a while to get a full-time job, and I’m also damn lucky to have a job in my field that I actually love and that’s not just a filler position to pull in a little bit of cash.  Being poor is boring as hell, but never having had a real job, at least I don’t know what I’m missing.  I just want someone else to acknowledge that it’s not me, and that I am capable of getting a real job; or maybe I need to accept that it is me after all.