my year in cities and towns, 2017

showing the foot of a wooden bed with a crane photo on the wall behind it.

Last year I spent a lot of time away from home but it wasn’t great for travel per se. I spent nearly two solid month’s at my mom’s place before and after she died. I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it, but being in one place, in that place, was useful for me. 2018 is going to be a year of less travel I think. I’ve got two airplane trips planned and I’m not planning to add any more.

Here are all the places. Seven states. Three provinces. Stars indicate multiple visits to the exact same place. Past years: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.

  1. Niceville FL – a great way to kick off the year with some sunshine and friendly librarians
  2. Cambridge MA* – Deb’s place is always good for the soul
  3. Toronto ON – a weird AirBnB and a great visit
  4. Toronto ON – Gabe’s duplex was a better resting place
  5. Stow MA* – chilling post-Superbowl at Kate’s
  6. Westport MA* – planned to spend more time here than I actually did
  7. Montreal QC – a catsit and a trip that was supposed to be a vacation with Jim
  8. Crystal City VA – a fun library conference and a chance to see a lot of library friends
  9. Washington DC – MeFites put me up and showed me the town, so lovely
  10. Brooklyn NY* – wound up here twice, the couch is fine but the love is great
  11. Brooklyn NY – hamsters!
  12. Weir’s Beach NH – Fun Spot was one of the year’s highlights
  13. Cambridge MA – another catsit, another funny little bed
  14. Concord NH – I spent a lot of time sleeping not far from home
  15. Boxboro MA* – moved in and did not leave for a while
  16. Edmonton AB – a great conference center
  17. Edmonton AB – the swank apartment of an old family friend
  18. Baraboo WI – place was as weird as it seems but the conference was grand
  19. Saratoga Springs NY – Liked this Hilton, loved this conference

the newest of years

an image of paerwhites that I got which bloomed one poozly bloom and keeled over

underwhelming paperwhites

I came home from the annual New Year’s Eve Party with a sore throat and it’s now the 4th and I’ve been dressed for about four hours of 2018. On the mend though, today I am just pretending it’s a snow day even though the weather has been fine. No bomb cyclone here. Working on my end-of-the-year lists.

I got a physical which says that, despite my high level of health anxieties, I am fine. Cholesterol is a little high. Mammograms always require an alarming do-over before getting the all-clear. I’ve got some grief weight to lose. The weird shoulder pain I’ve been having went away entirely when I quit sitting at my desktop computer all day.

I’m going to put my new calendar up today (I get them from NeuYear and they are quite good) and that will probably be it. Everything I thought was going to be a hassle about the holiday season in this Complicated Year really was not. I often feel like I’m coasting when things mostly work, like somehow I’m not working hard enough at being alive, that there’s some harder work I should be doing. This year, I’m just trying to take it as it comes to me, if at all possible. I’m dialing back on my travel (only going to Toronto and Hawaii this year as far as airplanes go) and ramping up on my back-burnered projects. Every year I pick a word or two to be my little re-centering mantra a quickie reminder of the things I want, or that I want to work for. The past few years have been FREEDOM, ANTI-RACIST, LET THIS DAY BE GOOD. This year I’m working from a few angles. My word is WAY, for three reasons

  • Get out of my own WAY. (i.e. take myself out of spaces where I don’t need to be, stop tossing up obstacles to things I want)
  • Find a WAY. (work on goals not problems, I’m a constant problematizer which is great for troubleshooting, less great for life)
  • Give things aWAY. (self-explanatory, I am starting with this little stack of old iPhones I have)

Simple. Three letters. Attainable by me. Best wishes for whatever you’re trying to get out of this year, may it be easier for us than last year was.

living in the past

a screenshot of a Windows NT desktop showing the movement of a file called smut9908.zip

Life is all about dualities; I’m keenly aware that every hour I am spending archiving and filing, inspecting old boxes of junk, dealing with my parents’ houses and belongings, or just thinking or worrying about that sort of thing is time I am not spending doing something else with my life. And I have mixed feelings about that. I love noodling around with old stuff. I think knowing where I came from is important and useful. I’m not sure what i was going to be doing otherwise. I found a box of old MAD books and magazines in Boxboro last weekend and Jim and I were completely happy and absorbed just sitting and reading stuff we’d read before. So it’s a balance. This week has leaned much more heavily towards the deal-with-the-past stuff than almost any other week this year, and it’s been a lot more fun than the other recent-post-mortem ones earlier in the year. A list, some of it I’ve already tweeted about.

  • Week started off with a very moving memorial service for a high school (and current) friend’s mom. Lots of people from a long time ago, among them my first boyfriend’s dad. Took a selfie with him just in case.
  • I hung out with Barry and gave him some (most) of my mom’s old Christmas tree ornaments. I don’t think I’ve ever had “my own” Christmas tree, this felt like a good move. Kate and I kept a few ornaments for no real reason.
  • AOL Instant Messenger shut down this week and I spent some time chatting on its last day with the eight friends I had who were still logged in.
  • I decided to get my old floppies and zip disks out of my house, so fired up an old laptop (I have two older ones but can’t find the power cords, this incenses me and I am powering through it) and did the thing.
  • My mom has an extended family and some folks who keep track of historical stuff. They sent me a link to some old film of a bar mitzvah sometime in the 50s which includes footage of my great-grandfather (who I only know from a few random photographs), my grandmother and my mom as a teenager.

One of my friends I was AIMing with told me about a new (to me) useful phrase: Swedish Death Cleaning. The idea that a lot of your stuff may be serving purposes in your life now, but will just become instant-junk to your family and friends once you die, so maybe do a little of that work in advance and save them from having to do it? Anyone who knows me knows I enjoy my stuff and am not a decluttering bandwagon person. But sometimes it’s easier to motivate to do stuff like this when I think about reducing someone’s future post-me grief than worrying about the landfill or whatever else encourages people to do this work.

My mother had heaps of good qualities, but she held on to things. And had a big house and was generous with her space. And was unbothered watching her spaces fill up. Her house is full of not just her things but the things of my father (who moved out in the early 80s and didn’t take all his stuff), me (’85), my sister (90s), Barry (00s), my grandmother (90s) and various lodgers and tenants (various). And my problem is seeing so many things that might have value to someone, but don’t necessarily have value to me. And I want to get them to their good place.

I found out that there’s a local musician who has an old drum machine that takes ZIP disks and it was my pleasure to give mine to him. We gave a lot of my father’s power tools to the local tech school where a generation of kids can put them to good use. My ZIP drive is going to a technology library in Omaha. I sent a MAD book to a librarian friend in Canada who said it reminded her of her grandfather. We gave all my mom’s coats and cancer hats to the local coat drive where I hope they keep someone warm. My hope is that I don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect home for every last thing, but for now, with the low hanging fruit, it’s been rewarding getting to move some things from stagnant-past to future present.

smoother

laptop top, covered in stickers

So hey things have really been okay but I hit a snag which was that I came home from buying a new laptop–a thing I do less than twice a decade and always agonize over for several months–and my home computer had dropped dead. Like literally at the same time as I was at Best Buy arguing with a guy about what sort of charging port this laptop had (I can’t even imagine the type of confidence someone would have to assume they were right when there was an image of the thing ON THE BOX that contradicted what they said. I know I should not go to Best Buy, yes) my computer was at home, failing. I got home and said “Hey look what I got!” and my computer, perennially on, was off. And would not quite turn on correctly again. So, this is all sorts of metaphorically fucked because death has been on my mind lately. However, it’s also a computer not a person, so I had a backup (check your backups folks!) and I knew that if I could work this issue out, I would be fine.

I am a very good troubleshooter and problem solver but my knowledge and my patience has limits. I also hit an “I’d rather toss money at this than take out seventy-five screws and put them back again” wall earlier than some. Long story short, my friends do not share my CUT BAIT predilection and so through the help of several wonderful people–one who sent me RAM in the mail and advice in the email, one Internet friend whose name I hadn’t known until he emailed and said “Can I help?” and we talked on the phone for 90 minutes, and one who had always been my local hero for various problems both logistical and sometimes personal–I now have a computer that mostly works, has a new hard drive and RAM, and all my photos, music, and nonsense from the last twenty-plus years. The screen is being held on by rubber bands until my screen gasket sticky tape stuff arrives in the mail. My dad would have loved this story, it has a happy ending.

I literally have email on this thing from when I was in library school. And yes I sometimes read it over. It’s interesting to me, in my 50th year, to read emails written by thirty year old me and realize sometimes I don’t recognize my former self. Most of the time I do, but occasionally I’m surprised to realize that some event from my past was gone completely until I read about it like I was some disinterested outside observer. I know this is normal.

So today I got up early to restore all my old data back on the thing from my backups (check your backups folks!) and I’m writing the last stuff on my old iMac, a ten year old computer I’ve gotten re-acquainted with but never really warmed up to. I’m looking forward to–no really–sorting through three weeks of digital accumulation and putting everything in folders. I haven’t actually used my new laptop yet because I’m superstitious like that. I figure once I put a sticker or two on it, it will feel more like mine.

Nothing else is really going on (a lying sentence that I seem to say all the time like it’s some sort of tic but I’m committed to it here) other than me being done with travel-for-work and I’m now starting travel-for-family/holidays which I like significantly more. Things mostly work, they’re still a little broken. I’ve been reading books like they’re going out of style and doing a lot of walking in the woods. I’ve worn my sloth head at least twice. I’ve been cooking squash. Cleaning closets. Connecting with librarians. Dominating at local trivia and getting smucked at online trivia. Trying to make every little thing run a bit more smoothly than it did before.

little smiling face carved from a cucumber

media and memory

microfilm

So hey I am sometimes telling funny stories over on Twitter and I’ve been less in the mood for longform posting. I am spacey lately. I am overcome with little fits of very bad or very good moods. This is all normal. But it means I’m better at communicating in person or over email than blogging for whatever reason.

The original purpose of this blog, way back in 1997, was to make my mom quit calling me. No, seriously. I lived in Seattle and if I was gone for a weekend she’d call my house sometimes three or four times, leaving increasingly agitated messages wondering where I was. I was a late-twenties woman doing my own thing who didn’t always check in with her mom before heading out of town or just not returning a phone call. My mom was very close to her mom in a sort of “Let’s stay in touch about day to day things” way. I was always less like that. We had mismatched expectations. So I’d keep the blog up to tell general stories and tell my mom if she was agitated she could go there and read what I was up to. And she did. Over the last few years I’d made more of an effort to keep in touch: sending postcards when I would travel (a trick I learned from my dad) or, in 2017, emailing her every day.

Once email became more ubiquitous, I was a little more reachable (and responsive) but I never got the hang of the “Let’s call to check in” routine, with anyone. Apologies to those who would prefer telephone interactions with me, they are not really an option. The blog grew and became the place I would tell little stories and add updates. As social media has been more of a bigger deal, a lot of my intermittent communications to the world have taken place there. I also have a library newsletter and that’s taken away some steam from my library blog. I really like telling these stories, I just do it less frequently.

So let me tell you what has been up.

  • My mom’s Celebration of Life was better than expected and you can see a few photos here. If I had any regrets it’s that I didn’t wear something more flattering because some of these people I may not see again.
  • I returned to Vermont with no firm plans about what Kate and I are doing about anything. This is fine and something Kate and I agree on. As always, I am lucky to have her in my life.
  • Re-entry has been great and only rocky because I am a bear of very little brain and maybe trying to do too much. Everyone has been kind. Drop-in Time has started up again. My romance with this state continues.
  • I am suing Equifax because everyone needs a hobby.
  • I went to Edmonton Alberta to keynote a library conference and it went well and I met some great people and learned some great things. Amy, thanks for hosting me. Some photos.
  • Jim got cataract surgery on the same day/time as my keynote (it went well too!) and we were both pleased to discover we seem to have more resilience for dealing with difficult/stressful situations as a couple and that’s neat to find out.

And I’m sure there are more things I forgot to mention. I’m keeping up my usual civics/volunteerism thing and doing a few odd jobs that invariably turns into seven odd jobs. The Equifax thing is getting some attention which was most of what I wanted out of it anyhow.

I rarely think of “social capital” as some sort of cosmic karma bank that I would need to make a withdrawal from, but it’s nice to know that there are other people out there just fellow traveling who are around to pitch in a word or a beer or a sandwich when it’s useful. I hope I can do the same. Thanks for reading, thanks for caring.

mom

mom

If I have a love language, it’s cleaning and organizing and sorting and making smooth what was rough and mostly keeping my mouth shut about the whole thing. My mom died two weeks ago today and I’m just now starting to be communicative more than light social media and emails. She was a firecracker. She’ll be missed. Her obit is online which she mostly wrote herself (she chose that photo, I prefer the one in this post) but she’s better memorialized by her twelve thousand Flickr photos with their permissive Creative Commons licenses.

I’ve been living in my childhood home (a place I haven’t been for more than four days in a row since I was seventeen) and immersing myself in the work to be done. Kate and I are doing the usual paperwork and meetings and bill-paying and notifying but there’s also the work of assessing and presenting a life. My mom lived in this house for 45 years. When my father left twenty-five years ago he took some but not all of his stuff. Many other people have lived here and made their impressions. We haven’t made any long-term plans about the place, thank you for not asking, but one thing we do know is that we’re having a bunch of people over for a Life Celebration in two weeks (email me if you want details). I’ve decided it would be nice if this house highlighted the best things about my mom–her artistic sense, her adoration of nature, her fierce sense of humor, her deep and abiding love for this town and the people in it, her lifetime civic commitments and her reading and writing activities–and maybe downplayed her “don’t give a fuck” attitude, as much as I often admired it, that could make this magic castle of a house less than welcoming to anyone who was not-her.

I’ve been touched by people’s concerns about how I’ve been doing and sharing their memories about my mom during all the stages of her life. I have, however, deeply and soulfully enjoyed just getting to spend a lot of time alone with her spaces and her stuff, doing my little acts of service and love and saying goodbye in my own very particular way.

notes from fields

image of the cover of a book "Naturalists Notebook" with a lizard on it

As a night owl, I really thrive when the days get longer. As a freelancer on the east coast, my circadian rhythm is also good news. Starting in late May I have been teaching an intensive class at the University of Hawai?i at M?noa LIS program which ends today. Intensive means students get three credits for six weeks of work instead of sixteen. So I try to make it count. They do a lot of work. Which means I do a lot of work. The class is asynchronous, but I still try to get us together in a Slack channel once a week. However, since they are all on HAST (Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time) and I am on EDT, we’re six hours off this time of the year. So we meet at my night time for ninety minutes and it works out okay. I’m glad I have this option.

The class is Tools for Community Advocacy and it’s all pretty much online. I’ve been asked to teach another class for them on Community Engagement in the Spring. I took everyone’s advice and asked if there might be a way to actually GO THERE for part of the class, even a half a week, and they said maybe. I like the idea of travel more than I like the mechanics of traveling but I like being “somewhere else” whatever that means at the time. And I like the state of having been somewhere. I like that I’ve been to all the US states. I wish I had been to all the Canadian Provinces. I’ve been following the Mayor of Yellowknife on Twtter. I’m going to Edmonton and Toronto in the Autumn (both provinces I’ve already been to but I’ll schmooze with people from up north I hope).

And, since it’s Summer (please see this excellent Summer Solstice page Matthew made) I’m now down in Westport MA, just another way I can be somewhere else. I’ve been doing the usual things, tidying, organizing, evicting animals and insects from the inside and feeding and watering them outside. I’ve been trying to get house projects done including getting the septic pumped, getting my old car out of here and plugging away at deferred maintenance. I’ve never been good at leisure time, so I decided to mostly redefine it. I know it sounds a little woo, but waking up and meditating can make the entire rest of the day seem like it’s going by at a more “normal” pace. I used to always feel rushed, now I’ve gotten better at determining my own role in generating that feeling and doing something else with it. I’m getting a lot of reading done. The usual open door policy applies if you’re in this neck of the woods. It’s nice here.