by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Are you unusually overwhelmed at work? Do you fear that – contrary to your character – you are one careless comment away from smacking a coworker in the face, or bursting into tears in the break room? Can you no longer distinguish your personal life from your work life? If you’re otherwise healthy, but feeling out of sorts and out of control, maybe it’s time to take a mental health day.
A mental health day (MHD) is just like a sick day. Instead of staying home because of a sore throat or a twisted ankle, however, an employee takes this day off work for a legitimate wellness concern that may not present physically. Sometimes the need stems from a clinically diagnosed illness (i.e., Major Depressive Disorder), but not always. Depression, anxiety, grief, stress, and emotional trauma are some possible reasons to take a mental health day.
“That sounds like playing hooky,” you might say, skeptically. Indeed, our culture pressures us to put career first, ahead of family and sanity. You may know someone who missed a child’s birthday party, rescheduled an anniversary dinner, or cancelled a vacation due to being “on call” at a job that has nothing to do with life and death.
And there’s still a cultural stigma against mental illnesses. They often go ignored or misunderstood, and aren’t given the same consideration as a visible sickness or injury. People with depression, for example, are instructed to “buck up.” This places the demand for a cure back on the sick individual, rather than encouraging them to seek help. (Imagine telling someone with a broken leg to “walk it off!”)
I’m not suggesting we all abandon our jobs and start living like Thoreau in the woods. (Although that is my own personal plan for early retirement.) But I am suggesting we start to value mental health as a vital element of wellness. It’s irresponsible to show up to work if you’ve got a fever. It’s equally unwise to wait until you’re in psychological crisis mode before you take some time off work. When you see your emotional distress flare, consider scheduling a mental health day (people who know you well can help you spot the warning signs, too.)
Be sure the day is productive in some way. You’re not skiving off work; you’re taking care of yourself. Evaluate the reasons you are staying home from work, and decide what you need most. Is it sleep? Quality time with a loved one? An afternoon full of play? If a Netflix marathon usually leaves you sluggish and empty, skip it. This is a day to fill yourself up. Here are some elements you might incorporate into your MHD:
- Drink lots of water all day long, and eat healthy food. (Dehydration and poor nutrition amplify the effects of emotional stress.)
- Schedule an appointment with your therapist, counselor, or mentor; or catch up with a friend who will listen with compassion.
- Attend to personal issues that have been causing stress, such as a long to-do list or a wilting relationship.
- Get out in nature.
- Sleep in, or take a restorative nap during the day. Go to bed earlier than usual.
- Exercise, to get your mind and body back in sync. It should be something you enjoy, not a chore: yoga, swimming, shooting hoops, golfing, climbing rock walls, …
- Book a therapeutic massage.
- Drive a few towns over for a change of scenery.
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. This will help block out social media, e-mails, and marketing calls. (Most phones let you customize this option, so you can still get important calls from select contacts.)
- Do something creative and meditative, such as painting, writing, cooking, or gardening.
- Laugh – and cry! Both work wonders for stress relief. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or read a book that you know will engage your emotions.
During your mental health day, you may come up against a few lies, so be sure to equip yourself with the truth: Time spent resting is NOT time wasted. It is NOT weak to ask for help or to express your needs. You ARE worth taking care of! And self-care is NOT selfish!
If taking a paid day off isn’t an option at your job, you can still dedicate a day to your mental health. The same goes for those of you who work from home, or stay home as a caregiver to family members. You’ll have to be intentional with your scheduled days off. You may have to ask for more help and be firm with your boundaries. But you CAN do it, and it IS worth it.
None of these activities will cure a mental illness or replace a long-term management plan, of course. You may need to incorporate lifestyle changes, or find a counselor or medical professional whose job is to equip you to navigate life’s challenges. (Check the links at the end of this post for a starting point to that search.) But taking time to care for yourself in meaningful ways can help maintain a sense of balance, self-worth, and perspective. As the rallying cry goes, “Mental health is health!”
When you are ready to go back to work, I hope you notice that you’re feeling refreshed and in control. A healthy person can give more, and joyfully so, to all around them: at home, at work, and everywhere else.
A few links to help you search for a mental health care professional:
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.
So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)
Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.
France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.
Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.
Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:
- Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
- Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
- Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.
- May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
- Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
- Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
- Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
- Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
- Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
- Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Being a lover of memoir and “the classics” (think, “books you were forced to read in high school”), I’ve felt comfortable referring to those categories in previous blog posts. But when I saw the colorful genre bookmarks we have at the library – check them out on your next visit!–, I felt inspired to explore some authors I’ve never read before.
One genre I’m pretty unfamiliar with is Urban Fantasy, so I thought I’d start there, and every research trip begins with a visit to Wikipedia, doesn’t it (just don’t tell your teachers)? From there, I gathered these elements of the Urban Fantasy subgenre (1):
- A primarily real-world, urban setting, in the past, present or future
- Earthbound mythological creatures (sometimes)
- Coexistence / conflict between humans and paranormal beings (some other times)
- Often explores how city life changes after the discovery of magic
- Does not rely primarily on a romantic plot (as distinct from Paranormal Romance subgenre)
This sounds like many of the bestsellers and blockbusters in the past couple of decades! So who are the storytellers behind this enduring pop culture phenomenon?
Even I, in my ignorance, recognize the name Neil Gaiman halfway down the list on the bright yellow bookmark before me. His novel, American Gods, is a prime example of the genre. In it, Gaiman posits that “gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them.” (2) Therefore, in modern America, new gods – representing media, the internet, and the stock market, among others – have more authority than the old gods brought over by immigrants; and fantastical creatures hold commonplace occupations. But a mysterious man wishes to shake things up, and he needs the help of ex-con Shadow to rouse ancient powers. A strange, epic journey, with elements of horror, fantasy, and magical realism, this award-winning novel has an international fan base.
Neil Gaiman, and indeed the genre of Urban Fantasy, would not be where they are today without Terri Windling. She created the Bordertown universe, tales of which have been written by a multitude of authors. Bordertown is “a dystopian metropolis that lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “The World”.” (3) The tagline on some of the book covers reads, “Where Magic Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I find charming. As one reader puts it, “the aesthetic of Celtic punk rock, elf/human gang warfare, and glamorous urban decay absolutely succeeds. You can understand why this series inspired its own new wave/nerd subculture back in the eighties.” (4)
Interestingly, 57% of writers in this genre are women. (1) Another such writer who caught my eye was Patricia Briggs, with her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic who was raised by werewolves. She interacts with vampires, gremlins, and other creatures of the night. Ignore the sexy artwork on the book covers: this is not a steamy series, but rather one with compelling dialogue and a strong, sensitive female lead. There are plenty of books in this series, starting with Moon Called.
I’d like to leave you with some more author recommendations, which is a hard thing to do as I haven’t actually read any of them. But thank goodness for those bookmarks, and for Goodreads.com, a great resource for book lists and reader reviews. Searching Goodreads by genre, I found that there are some Urban Fantasy authors whose books have been reviewed by community members hundreds of thousands of times! (Side note: If you find a reviewer whose taste matches your own, you can follow him/her on the site. It’s like having your own personal book critic who delivers tailored book recommendations.)
- Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries). These books are the source material for HBO’s True Blood.
- Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only wizard P.I. This series is the Urban Fantasy high standard for many reviewers.
- Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers A genetically-engineered teenage necromancer’s powers are out of control: she raises the dead without even trying. On the run from her creators, she’s accompanied by a sorcerer, a werewolf, and a witch.
- Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children Children who have gone through magical portals – like Wonderland’s rabbit hole, or Narnia’s wardrobe – find it hard to adjust to normal life once they return. Luckily, there’s a home just for them.
- Kevin Hearne – The Iron Druid Chronicles. The last of the druids runs a bookshop in Arizona, but that won’t throw an angry god off the trail of his magic sword. Celtic mythology meets vampires, werewolves, and Thor. Yes, this series definitely has a silly edge to it, but reviewers say it’s a lot of fun!
- Holly Black – The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Elves, werewolves, vampires, faeries: whatever your creature obsession, there’s a short story for you in this YA/adult collection from the author of popular middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
- Terry Brooks – Word & Void There’s been a long strike in a steel town, and it’s the hottest Fourth of July on record. Into this volatile atmosphere come a knight of the Word and a demonic servant of the Void, whose opposing goals are mysteriously linked by a teenage girl. The fate of humanity is to be decided amidst the fireworks that celebrate freedom.
- Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels Magic feeds on technology, creating a chaotic backdrop for tales of a mercenary who lives in Atlanta, cleaning up paranormal problems.
I plan to broaden my literary horizons by adding a couple of these to my reading list. If I abandon my classics and only ever write about Urban Fantasy from now on, you’ll know what triggered it!
- Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Fan Art by DeviantArt user AnamikaB, https://anamikab.deviantart.com/art/Neil-Gaiman-s-American-Gods-Fan-Art-346033119
- The Dresden Files by DeviantArt user Mika-Blackfield, https://mika-blackfield.deviantart.com/art/The-Dresden-Files-575902031
By Allan Cross, Reference Department
Poetry isn’t the simplest thing to appreciate. At a passing glance, it may not have the same immediacy of film, music, and visual art. When placed alongside other forms of literature, a book of poems can struggle to match our latest bestsellers in accessibility. For all these reasons, some of us might dismiss poetry as a medium for high-minded wordsmiths, rather than a readership of less heady taste. But exceptional poetry has endured for millennia, and verse as a creative avenue stretches onward still. Why, then, do so many others read and derive worth from it today?
The convenient answer nowadays might be to quote Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating, an English teacher played by the late Robin Williams, inspires his students (and unceasing scores of audiences) with his speech about why people read and write poetry. One of the film’s great strengths lies, of course, in its poetry readings. These, combined with well-chosen samples, bring forth the emotional meaning that fuels successful verse. The film serves as a great access point to poetry, emphasizing the importance of reading it aloud. When we readers encounter a given poem, we can better involve ourselves by audibly speaking the work. By doing so, we should enhance the piece with our individual voices, each one conducive in its own distinct way.
Testing this in light of three widely known poems seems a good place to begin. The trio we have selected consists of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Rudyard Kipling’s “If–,” and Shel Silverstein’s verse children’s book The Giving Tree.
In the third stanza of “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes:
And both that morning equally lay/
In leaves no step had trodden black./
Oh, I kept the first for another day!/
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Andrew Spacey, a commentator for Owlcation, points out that Frost’s work reflects on the many choices we make in life, and how we tend to regret those decisions after committing to them. It is also commonly read as a statement in support of individualism, and the promotion of opinions that contrast with majority views.
Below is an excerpt from Kipling’s “If—”:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;/
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;/
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/
And treat those two imposters just the same;/
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools/
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,/
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools:
The theme of Kipling’s work, which regards the importance of thought, but not to the point where it impedes action, seems like a stirring antidote to Frost. It acknowledges the significance and moral need for regret, but urges the reader not to allow past mistakes to obstruct the path to future growth.
The Giving Tree addresses similar concerns, as shown in some of its final lines:
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree./
I wish that I could give you something…/
But I have nothing left./
I am just an old stump./
I am sorry….”/
I don’t need very much now,” said the boy./
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.”/
I am very tired.”
Rivka Galchen, in her 2014 review for The New York Times, argues that there is an unavoidable dilemma in The Giving Tree, it being whether we read it as a statement on thoughtless acquisition or unreserved giving. The two characters, the boy and the tree, do what is most fundamental to their natures. It’s up to the reader to then decide how to feel about the situation, including the conclusion about whether it turns out morally right.
The takeaway from all of this, in spite of all the people who attempt to influence our points-of-view, is that we allow ourselves to read and study works on our unique terms. As mentioned earlier, it may prove worthwhile to read these pieces and others to ourselves (at the risk of seeming foolish), in order to bring out their inherent humanity. We should remember that reading can be, in its way, a roomy type of interpretation. There’s a mysterious element of poetry, one we cannot entirely rationalize and so must trail behind. Rather than strain for full understanding, this is the process we might instead come to accept.
- Weir, Peter, director. Dead Poets Society. Touchstone Home Entertainment, 1989.
- Wikimedia Commons
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
It’s National Poetry Month.
There. You have a year.
That’s when it started.
The American Academy of Poets.
That’s who started it.
Not much else factual to say.
But poems aren’t about facts.
Poems are about themselves.
They say whatever they say.
You hear whatever you hear.
That’s a poem.
They’re not about rhyme (though they can be)
They’re not about time (though they can be)
They’re not about meter (rigid or free)
Or fanciful words like “lugubrious.”
Which no one uses any other day.
Or any other way.
Poems are just whatever you want to say.
The way you want to say it.
Your poem is yours.
It can be no one else’s.
It’s National Poetry Month.
So go write a poem.
I just did.
— Howard Shirley
Now it’s your turn! If you are a teenage resident of Williamson County, age 12-18, you are invited to submit your own poems to our Teen Poetry Contest. You may submit up to three poems. Poems are welcome in any form on any subject—the choice is yours (as it should be). A poem may be any length and any style—haiku, sonnet, ballad, limerick, free verse; however your muse takes you. All poems must be your original creations.
All poems must be typed on plain white paper in an ordinary font. Poems with multiple pages should be stapled together. All poems must include the poet’s name, age, school and grade, and contact information (e-mail or phone) at the top of the first page.
We are accepting poems through April 30. You may turn your poem in at any Williamson County Public Library branch, or upstairs in the Teen Room of the Main Branch in Franklin. Contest winners will be announced in May during our Teen Poetry Slam as part of our Summer Reading Kick-off event.