To Linger, Longer
I wasn’t really looking for work. But, I do love an unusual gig.
So, I am kind of always looking for work.
Pre-kid: In between working as admin and advisor in Universities and Government, I couldn’t resist adding on jobs that expose me to the human experience. I’ve been a census worker, walking door to door in the arctic (Yes, Nunavut arctic) in the middle of winter. I’ve worked in an Irish pub in Dublin’s City Centre. I was a delivery walker for the Christmas rush with UPS, resplendent in a brown uniform pulling a sled full of boxes. I’ve ridden around on motorbikes delivering condoms to cornerstores. I have my fireworks tech certification and have hand-fired explosives in MB + SK. I’ve dressed ballerinas and Oompa Loompas backstage for theatre. These are some favourites. I can go on. I kind of want to go on. But, let’s leave some to mystery.
And so, in the midst of making up my own cool gig (aka being madame MomAlong), I stumbled upon a gig that is active, centered around delivering programs, certainly bookish, and smack dab in the middle of the human experience.
The reference desk at my local library.
In terms of logistics, it fits: part-time and a bike ride commute. When not pulling books from shelves, I am delivering programming to tots, babes and families, or finding an answer to a very random question. But, one other thing happens.
It’s an hourly job. So, as hours pass, tasks are completed. In self-employment, when tasks are complete, I am done working. I like to think of that as efficient. In hourly work, I’ve remembered how I stay until the designated time, and fill the hours, even if the tasks are complete.
The hourly rule creates an inevitable moment between tasks, a breath. In poetry, it would be a line break. In reality, it’s a moment to linger.
I have to linger. Between tasks, between spaces. I am there, at the desk, an open slate to whatever comes my way. A resource person. Roving between book stacks. I am becoming a familiar face, a friendly stranger, seen in the commons. In the lingering, I get to be surprised. I get to discover a person or a book. I have very few expectations.
Eric Klinenberg says in the podcast How to Talk to People, “Efficiency is the enemy of a social life.” Efficiency holds us back from connecting randomly in public parks, libraries, playgrounds, or what he calls social infrastructure. Lingering, on the other hand, enriches a social life. I lingered at the playground during the pandemic. I still linger at the farmer’s market near my house. But there’s one linger I love more than any other.
It’s the parting ways linger.
I started a neighbourhood mom walking group this summer, and since I start it from my house and pick people up along the way, I also get to finish the walk. I get to drop off the last person, say goodnight, thanks for the walk. Smile. Sometimes, one last thing is said. One more golden truth after dark. Sometimes, it’s a bit more chatter. Sometimes, we simply part ways, our shout something funny into the night.
The end of walk linger is my favourite because it reminds me of childhood. Of walking home from school, arriving at our last stop, and not wanting it to be the last stop. So, we talk, and talk, and stand on the same corner as cars drive by, the sun lowers, as our parents wonder.
After the past few years of self-employment, pandemic, and new motherhood, I see how accidentally, community can become hand-picked. Curated. That’s one way to live: we only have so much time, may as well see the people we already know. Do the things they like to do. Or, meet people who are precisely in the same life phase. Efficient.
But, all of a sudden, here I am, regularly in the public commons. Surrounded by books and friendly strangers and hours to fill. and thinking about how lingering is a possibility. It’s the person sitting on the bench, with their head up. It’s sticking around after baby rhyme time is over, flipping through books just in case someone else stays, too. It’s doing nothing in public, and hoping for something.
So. All this to say, I got a job.