My library is still operating on a hybrid basis. This means that while the public services department (of which I am a part) shows up every day to open and operate the library, the other departments (administration, technical services, etc.) work on a rotating basis with some staff coming in two to three days per week, some staff opting to work from home every day, with the exception of special events, etc. It’s a rich tapestry and it’s sometimes hard to keep track of who is working from where on which days. But we get by.
To be honest, it’s a lot for the five people—four, right now with someone off on a medical leave—to manage. Hybrid work is great if you can do it, work from home is even better if you can do it; but for people whose job is to staff the information and research help desk physically…well until holograms are a real thing, we’re kind of stuck.
I miss the days when we had a full contingent in the library. I miss the conversations that happen by accident or by coincidence when everyone is in the same place. I miss learning about what people are up to, what their kids are doing, how their ageing parents are faring in this new world. I miss a lot about working with a large group of people. What I don’t miss is the toxic lunchroom experience.
With only four of us working on a regular basis, we don’t get a lot of lunch company. And I like that. I like being able to head to the lunchroom with my food and my book or my journal and spend an hour either alone or in quiet companionship, should there be another staff member in there with me. Sometimes we will chat about the usual things people chat about in the workplace lunchroom, but more often than not we are both seeking time away from talking, so it’s quiet.
This week many of the staff who work from exclusively from home are in the library for meetings and the dynamic shift is palpable. The library is a bit buzzier, people are catching up, there has been lots of chitchat in the hallways and in a lot of ways it feels like “the old days” which is kind of nice, but which also comes with a price.
The quiet lunches with one or two of us are gone for now and involve more people breezing into the lunchroom and loudly deciding whether or not the snacks provided for the meetings are “worth the calories” and equally loudly asking why did someone bring in chocolate because “don’t they know we’re all watching our waistlines so we can fit into our bikinis?!?” I could go on. But I won’t.
And look, I know this kind of behaviour is a byproduct of diet culture; we’re all expected to shake our heads at cake and cookies or at least pretend like we’re not going to eat them so we can feel better about…something… And I further know people like to go on about what they perceive as “unhealthy” foods or joke about “oh no, the chocolate, what will I ever do?” but frankly it’s exhausting. And uninteresting. And in some instances, dangerous.
I’ve spoken before about my relationship with food and how messed up it was and how it sometimes still is. I’m on this journey and will be for the rest of my life and I’m fairly open about it. But not everyone is, and making these kinds of comments even jokingly in the vicinity of someone who may be struggling with disordered eating is just a really shitty thing to do. That adage that everyone is fighting a battle you can’t see so be kind? Definitely extends to negative food talk.
When these comments were made I was the only other person in the lunchroom. It took a lot of resolve not to internalize the words as being directed to me and me alone. It took a lot of energy to remind myself that those comments are more about the person vocalizing them than they are about me, and that in reality they are not about me at all. This person, I told myself, has a challenging relationship with food and in this scenario they are projecting their issues. This has nothing to do with you, I told myself. It’s good self-talk and I’m glad I have those tools in my arsenal. But when you’re the solitary chubby person in the room and you are trying to move past disordered eating and body image and someone is ranting about bikinis and the importance of not eating chocolate and ruminating on the caloric value of foods, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being attacked, because in the past so many similar remarks were passive-aggressive attacks; “joking” comments lobbed at me and others like me in the room.
That’s a lot of energy to expend and baggage to unpack while I am just trying to eat my goddamned lunch in the one hour I have to myself in the workday.
And so I said, quietly, that perhaps we should thank the person who brought in the chocolate because they obviously did so because they wanted us to have a treat. That perhaps we could simply enjoy the chocolate should we want to? And if we don’t that’s ok too.
My words did nothing to quell the rant and again, that’s not my issue. But it did cause me to pack up my things and go back to my desk and remind myself that this week might be a good week to leave the library at lunchtime. To go for a walk or at least find a quiet corner someplace to enjoy my food and my book in peace.
I’ll miss a lot of the full-house library vibes when the week is over, but I will also be grateful to be able to go back to a lunchroom that feels like neutral territory.