That I am no longer in the D League in my trivia league, a fact that has pleased me considerably. You don’t really have to understand this chart except to know that the little orange flag next to WestJ is me and that being in the green zone means you get promoted. Welcome back, my brain.
There’s a lot of talk locally about the new normal. If your house got swept away in the flood and you maybe got a big check from FEMA or other places, there’s still adjusting and a lot of pieces to pick up. FEMA and the local community action places tell people it’s 18 months before things get back to normal and even when you get there, it’s the new normal, not the one you used to have.
I’ve been back on the horse lately. Drove to give a talk in Maine which was really fun and went well. Hid out in the state library awhile afterwards which is a cute little gem in Augusta and where this photo is from. Now I’m home making flight reservations and travel plans and worrying about staying healthy during flu season and idly thinking about buying new luggage and getting a haircut like I always do. Some people count sheep when they’re falling asleep, I design optimal luggage.
Kate and Ned came up here and, with me and Jim, we went to the Tunbridge Fair. It was so stupidly nice to get to spend some time together that wasn’t all wrapped up in memorial services or catching runaway cats or meeting with lawyers or money people. I ate a lot of junk food and took photos of chickens and had a good time out in the sunshine. I’m pretty good at this shoulder to the wheel routine–doing what needs to be done–so it’s sometimes difficult to remember that there are other things I’d rather be doing. I made a new little mossarium. I’ve got a book I’m excited about reading. I have a treadmill [NOT a metaphor] to get back on now that running club is over for the year, I have classes to teach.
I even decided to put my place up on AirBnB, you know if someone wanted to rent it while I was away. I think this unlikely but what the heck. You can see some photos here, they’re burning through venture capital so they’ll send a photographer to your place if you ask. If you’re AirBnB curious but haven’t signed up yet, feel free to use this link and it’s like some hobo ponzi scheme where I’ll get travel credit when YOU travel.
Oh and I’m in the promotion range for trivia, aiming for the C League. If you remember my earlier discussion about my trivia league, you’ll know that this is a very good sign. I even got some leisure in during the Virgo Month of Leisure. I could like the new normal.
Richard Brautigan wrote a very short story that I’ve always liked called Complicated Banking Problems, about a guy in line at the bank and the amusing things people ahead of him are doing, things that are taking forever. The guy right ahead of him has 848 checks to deposit which cover the counter “like a success snow storm” an evocative phrase that’s always stayed with me.
The last few weeks have been full of paperwork, mostly executor stuff (I can not bring myself to say ‘executrix’ it sounds silly) and some of my own stuff. It’s mostly the good kind, bills to pay, papers to sign, communications from lawyers and tax people and money people, money moving around, papers to fax, stuff to file. I’ve finally mostly gotten things into a sustaining system where it’s not all in piles around my house, but until this point I’ve been looking around and thinking “success snow storm” in its own bizarre way. Not that someone dying in your life is in any way “winning” anything, but that a life devoted to working hard and earning money and supporting your family (as my father’s was) can be assessed to be a success if that’s what you wound up doing, met those goals, didn’t leave people a mess to deal with (as my father mostly didn’t). It sounds weird to write it all out like this, but that’s the refrain in my head lately. I encourage anyone who doesn’t have a health care proxy, a regular current will, and clear documents for your surviving family and friends to get on that. It’s important.
And since I’m a weird Yankee, I find it difficult to talk about a lot of this. My sister gently teased me for saying I was going on a spending spree because I bought two six dollar camp chairs when my old ones still worked (sort of, they are rusty) and I am sheepish when asking for advice about how to talk to the gardener at my father’s house, a house on its way to becoming mine and my sister’s. There’s a lot going on.
And this is in addition to other things you might have heard about. The flood (I am fine, immediate neighbors are mostly fine, people further out, less so), a friend visiting for a nice long visit, and a weeklong trip down to Massachusetts where I got to do the thing I’ve been missing up here in my treehouse, get to hang out with a bunch of friends at once, where there is space for everyone and things to do or not do. I love living in a small one-person place here, but it’s nice to have the option of a twelve-person sleepover when it’s appropriate. If you couldn’t make it or didn’t know about it or whatever, there will be other opportunities. For now I’m back at home, filing papers, making grilled cheese sandwiches with my new little griller ($3!) and wondering where my wool socks got to. It’s not quite Fall yes, and the Virgo Month of Leisure has some time left, but it smells like leaves and it feels like hunkering-down.
Yeah I’m shouting. This is my annual me-festival, one of the made-up holidays that I celebrate because I find the standard palette of holidays uninspiring, though I do enjoy many of them.
The idea, which started sometime before my blog, is that Virgos are uptight and overly analytical and so they need to take some time off and chill out, regularly. I think my friend Anne and I thought this up, or maybe it was her idea alone. In any case, I’ve run with it and made some sort of mention of it online every year. I also attempt to unwind and pay special attention to my stress levels and try to moderate them as best I can. The punch line is that the Virgo month is also the beginning of school and all sorts of crazy things happen [9/11 happened, Jet Blue does a special sale that I’m always tempted to buy in to, I’m frequently in transit, school is starting, this month there is a lot of paperwork that I’m dying to be done with] and it’s usually the very opposite of relaxing and haw haw, the stereotype is correct after all.
So, to recap, the Virgo Month of Leisure started today. It’s been slow going so far–I was interviewed in the Montpelier ACLU office for a cable access project about privacy and then I had a delicious dinner with pie–but I expect it to ramp up. Here, because it’s funny, is a linked list of the last fourteen years of Month of Leisure failures.
- 2011: OK so far!
- 2010: Finished writing a book
- 2009: Several trips including one out of the country
- 2008: Turned 40, got a fancy picture-taking bicycle, moved
- 2007: Became a lifeguard
- 2006: Incoming terrible roommate & trip to Maine and later North Dakota, Mom in hospital
- 2005: trip to New York, trip to Indiana
- 2004: Slow month, possibly the first since this all started.
- 2003: I move to Vermont full-time, I start a new job.
- 2002: Working on a book.
- 2001: I start a postcard project, we know what happened after that.
- 2000: Burning Man followed by the hospital
- 1999: driving cross-country & my barn roof blows off
- 1998: in Guatemala
- 1997: Bought a house
I’ve also created an event on facebook. If you’re a facebooker, you can sign up to “attend” over there. My birthday is on September 5th. I’m hoping it’s a good one.
As of yesterday I am finished up with my summertime work-type obligations and looking forward to some R&R. Yesterday I gave the commencement speech at Goddard’s individualized studies MA program and had a nice warm and fuzzy flashback to my Hampshire graduation. I got to talk a little about what I’ve been doing since then, and the opportunity to reflect was actually sort of useful. I’ve gotten a lot done, now that I think about it. And graduation was a long time ago, now that I think about it.
I continue to limp along otherwise, wanting nothing more than to sit in a chair in the backyard wrapped in a blanket and stare into the trees. Everyone’s got their little happy place in their head and for some reason mine mirrors someone recovering from tuberculosis, I can not explain it. I’m now officially the executor of my dad’s estate which means that me and my sister go through the long difficult process of wrapping up his affairs and at the end of it all of his things are no longer exactly his. I got some books from the library about how to be an executor, but have put off starting to read them.
I don’t talk too much about my dad and his complicated legacy except to say that I felt that I got along with him well and, of course, I miss him. We had the life celebration which went as well as we could have hoped and I’m so grateful both to everyone who showed up as well as my real-life and internet friends who helped Kate and I plan and prepare. There’s always the weird things that sort of get you when you don’t expect it, of course. I’m sure this is different for everyone.
For me, it was reading about Amy Winehouse’s death and especially Russel Brand’s poignant description of loving someone who has a problem, and the long wait for the phone call. My relationship with my dad always had a lot to do with technology. I think it might surprise people that often that technology was the phone, the regular long chatty phone calls we had, the late night calls I wouldn’t answer, and the one that I was always dreading, the one that I finally got. For a guy who was in many ways so unique and fascinating (to me, to other people) it’s comforting but also a little sad to see someone in another country and living in a different world so completely encapsulate what’s always been a difficult thing for me to explain, both to myself and other people.
Whenever I’m down on myself, doesn’t happen that often but it happens, for not being able to do something or figure something out or solve this or that problem, I console myself that there are frequently downsides, big ones, to being the sort of person that Russel Brand describes, “a fucking genius” and maybe it’s okay, on balance, that while I have many other very nice qualities, that is not one of them.
I licked my iPhone today and it reminded me of my dad. Family members will get this immediately, but for everyone else… My dad used to get up in the morning and do the exact same thing every day (as near as I can remember, being a little kid when he still lived at home). Shower with the same soap, come downstairs with his hair combed and wet, fold his shirt cuffs up to his wrists and stick his glasses in his mouth to clean them off. He was sort of blowing on them but I think maybe licking them as well. My iPhone was all grotty from my sweaty fingers and it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Sure did work.
In any case, I am still doing okay and improving. It is funny, however, how subjectively I really feel like I am doing pretty well but objectively I’m not really all there. I am clumsier than usual, my proprioception is all off. I bent a fingernail nearly off while doing the dishes the other day, hitting it against the fridge. I bumped my head bending over to do something and forgetting the window was above me. I’m generally sharper than that. More objectively there is my online trivia league. I won’t say that I’m awesome but I usually hold my own. I started in the Rookie League, went up to the C League where I stayed for five seasons, and this season I wound up demoted to the D League which didn’t even exist when I started. This is clearly, to me, a sign that I’m not all there and this is mostly fine. It’s summertime.
Jim was up for a long holiday weekend and we got to eat food, go exploring (see above, this is in my backyard), play bocce, roast marshmallows, watch a parade, see a free concert, ride bikes, sleep in, go to the drive-in and stare at birds. I made a little post on MetaFilter about birders which you might enjoy if you like that sort of thing. Small public service announcement: I feel like we’ve told everyone but if you wanted to come to the Celebration of Life thing that we’re doing in memory of my dad, it’s July 23 in Westport and feel free to contact me for more details. I’ll be zipzipping around planning stuff, so if you’d just like to see me, this may not be the time for it, but there will be plenty of time over the next few months. It’s summer time.
I don’t believe I’ve taken a month off from writing here since I started writing here in 1997. If you know me at all you’ve probably heard the news but my father died about a month ago. Somewhat suddenly, not entirely unexpectedly. The things I write here also wind up over on Facebook, so I’m less inclined to talk at length here, but it’s Father’s Day tomorrow and I know some people are wondering how I’m doing and I wanted to put a marker up and say I’m doing okay. Not thriving, but okay. A little slow in the head but okay in the spirit. I’m generally a fairly cerebral and introspective person, some have said an overthinker, and managing grief that you’ve been preparing for for a while is an interesting animal. I loved my dad and he loved me and we were on good terms with each other and I’m thinking that’s the best you can hope for in this sort of situation.
I apologize if this sounds cold, but logistically, having had an organized and meticulous father (and being a bit of a chip off the old block in this case) has been a godsend. Paperwork is in order. Arrangements have been made. People have stepped up in almost surprising numbers to help out, lend an ear, be present. My sister, who has always been one of my favorite people, continues to be an absolute joy to have in my life when the chips are down. I have a supportive and capable boyfriend who seems to understand the “I need to be completely alone for a while” feelings I’m having and random demands I’m making.
The details aren’t that gripping. For now we’re keeping the house in Westport, where I’m writing this from. We had a small service and there will be a larger “celebration of life” thing in late July that I am sending out an email about this weekend. You can read the obits that made the rounds
- Tom West Dies at 71; Was the Computer Engineer Incarnate – from the NY Times, no one in the family has ever seen that photo before
- Data General’s Tom West Dies – from the Channel Register, by techies, for techies
- Computer Legend Tom West Dies – from the Wall Street Journal with some nice crabby comments
- Tom West; engineer was the soul of Data Generalâ€™s new machine – the Boston Globe talks about their local guy
- J. Thomas West 71, of Westport – the local obit that I wrote, just to make sure there was something in the paper
- A little memories site that we set up to have a place people could share photos and stories.
A lot of people who knew my father as a computer engineer or even a sailor may not have known that he was also a musician, played the guitar and sang, had a wonderful voice. He was in a band called the Islanders on Martha’s Vineyard in Chilmark. Apparently (and I am not totally clear on details) there was a little make-your-own record pressing machine service there and we have eight or so albums of music performances that he was a part of. My mom has been digitizing them and put up one of the songs recently and you can hear it here.
So, sorry if I didn’t get to tell you before this. Thanks to people who have sent cards, emails, well-wishes and the like. I expect it will take a long time to get used to the new normal around here. This is one of the many times I’m feeling fortunate to have a solid group of near and faraway friends and family even though, like my dad, I can have a tendency to keep people at arm’s length.