looking back, towards future me

I was wrong about spring being here which is no surprise (there was one more snow) but this week has been nice. I even took my bike to the transfer station along with a tiny bag of trash and that was good for a few laughs from the pickup truck brigade. A few things have happened this month since I got back from Kansas. I did my last (3rd) talk for the season in Plymouth New Hampshire. Went well and I had a good time. I want to put together some “What’s what in copyright and fair use” talks for next season. I also took a few trips down to Massachusetts, see family, Jim, dad’s place. Counting the days til we can close the estate and move on in some actual way but everyone told me to be patient and I have been. A funny thing happened last week, along those lines.

As you may or may not know, Flickr did a big redesign recently. I’m on the fence about some of it, I sort of feel that being a person who lives on the web means I have to accept that things will sometimes change (as readers of my blog you have to accept that I redesign every half-decade or so). They also redesigned their account structure. Previously free accounts got space for 200 visible photos. If you uploaded one more, one would drop off (not deleted, just not visible) unless you upgraded to a paid account. Paid accounts got what basically seemed like unlimited storage. My dad had a paid account and had uploaded about 4000 photos that he’d had scanned from old slides, a lot of neat old family stuff some of it before my time entirely. I’ve been pretty good at paying bills that come due on the estate but that one escaped me. So suddenly instead of 4000 photos there were 200 and only the most recent ones. I wasn’t sure of the login for that account (I have most of the others) and the whole thing was just weighing on me along with all the other “When is this huge stack of paperwork going to be over?!” executrix concerns. “Man, I should really take care of that…” I’d think.

Anyhow. The redesign/reconfiguring meant that all of the sudden, nearly two years to the day after my dad died, all the free accounts had unlimited storage which means all the old photos came back. And the timing was good. And I spent a lot of time clicking around looking at photos of my family when they were younger, from before I was born, when my dad was just a kid. This is a photo I’d never seen before, it’s my grandmother’s stepmother who we always called Nana and my grandfather’s mother Agnes Wylie West who I never met who was from Vermont. Both from my dad’s side. It’s not quite “awesomepeoplehangingouttogether” but in jessamynworld it sort of is. There’s a photo on my mom’s Flickr page that might have my other two great-grandmothers at a photo of her parents’ wedding.

I was having a great talk with my friend Joe from college yesterday about how wonderful it is to be basically middle-aged. I like feeling I know who I am. I like having the health and the resources to do the things I want. My slightly fading memory is more helpful than harmful at this stage. I enjoy my nerdy hobbies. I have interesting friends. He pointed out a thing that I had somehow never noticed–and that probably everyone knows about me but me–which is that I’ve sort of always gravitated towards “things that older people do” for lack of a better term and then been really interested in those things and excitedly sharing them with other people. Blogging and Twitter nonwithstanding, I could list a handful of examples off the top of my head: The 251 Club; The Odd Fellows Hall; being a Justice of the Peace; my roommate/landlady situations; town parades; terrariums. I’m not really sure what it is about any of those things, and never noticed a trend at all until he had pointed it out, but I think it bodes well for future me.


There are a lot of fake springs but I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the real one now. Trees are all popping out their leaves. Neighbors are all rooting around in their yards. Birds have fled the birdfeeders for Real Live Bugs out in the world someplace. I got out the newspaper and spray cleaner and scrubbed their suet smears off the window so I can see them better when they get back.

I went on my first on-an-airplane trip since last June sometime. After all my talk about desiring to travel less I realized that the best way to not travel is to not travel and said no to a bunch of things. Or no thanks, because that’s me. The downside of course is that I like giving talks, telling people what I think, meeting other librarians, and going new places. The downside is that I find travel sort of tiring, I like my home, and one little wrench in the works (a late flight leading to a late arrival leading to a delayed parking lot pickup) can mean I’m driving home from New Hampshire at 1:30 am thinking “Was this trip really necessary?” like one of those old cartoons.

But it worked out really well. I gave a keynote speech to a group of librarians from the North East Kansas Library System about copyright and the work I’ve been doing at Open Library. I got to stay in Lawrence at a nice AirBnB place and meetup with MetaFilter folks. Then I hung out for a few extra days in Manhattan and saw colleagues and friends and ate tamales. This image is from a hike I took out on the Konza Prairie with my friend Donna. I went to Kansas four times in 2007-2008 and had a weird kind of amnesia about some of it. So coming back felt familiar and new all at the same time. It’s sort of a weird thing to say but if I had to go get a library job in a state that was not Vermont, Kansas would be one of the top three places I would look. They have a cool state library system, a lot of librarians doing really interesting things (David Lee King does amazing things at Topeka Shawnee Public Library and Donna is getting great stuff done at KState) and a population that seems to be really into their libraries, though I suppose most populations are.

I came back to exactly zero snow on the ground (less than when I left), a bunch of postcards from people all over (mainly MetaFilter, for dealing with some difficult weeks) and friends who had been scheming things to do while I had been away. Jim came up this weekend and we attempted a straight up a (small) mountain hike and mostly did it. Now on the lookout for new mountains to climb, new things to see. Thanks to Kansas librarians and other friends for making my trip so great.


I swear I am not turning this blog into some sort of Pinterest thing–although I will note that we did that for MetaFilter on April Fools Day and it was pretty well-regarded–and I haven’t really been traveling much or anything (up and back to MA, not much else) I’ve just been taking photos of birds and sleeping a lot and waiting for Spring to come. Which it seems to have mostly done today. Yesterday I walked to and from work in the rain since I needed the exercise. Today it was one of those days where you talk about it to everyone you meet. “Today is just a terrific day, isn’t it?”

And I’ve been going to the gym. A lot. I don’t know if you pay any attention to Foursquare but it’s one of those location-based things you can do with your smartphone where you “check in” when you go places and you can keep track of where you’ve been and see if your friends are at the places where you are (for me, here, usually, no). But it’s good for doing some gamification of stuff that might otherwise be difficult, or more difficult. Hey I’m the Mayor of the gym (meaning I go there more than anyone else who uses this app)! Hey I’ve been there every week for the past four months! Hey I’ve been there 98 times since I started counting! Between that and only watching recent episodes of addictive television shows like Elementary (the US Sherlock Holmes, not bad at all) and House of Cards (Netflix-based political drama) when I’m there, I go to the gym a lot. Ride the bike. Walk around on the revolving sidewalk. Swim in the pool. Take a long hot shower that is longer and hotter and higher quality than my shower at home. Get real tired, get real clean.

Oddly while there are some tasks that I do that I seem to always resent “I did the dishes YESTERDAY and they are dirty again?!” there is something about getting all tired out that is something I look forward to. I’m keyed up and spend a lot of time, especially lately, interacting with other keyed up people on the internet. Starting real soon now I can go run around in the woods instead of a pretend never-ending sidewalk, and even though it’s going to be a bummer for all my stats, I’m pretty excited about it.


So I’ve been reading this great book I got for my birthday or possibly for holidaytime called Naturally Curious. It’s written by a Vermonter lady and it’s full of all this great trivia about local flora and fauna, with photos! It’s arranged by month so you can read it and see what’s going on in the natural world at any given point in time. And this month I learned a new word–I love learning new words–which is subnivean. Some animals hibernate for the winter, but some merely burrow. Mice and voles, among other animals, spend a lot of time under the snow but above the ground, scooting around and doing stuff. When the snow starts to melt, you can sometimes see their little tunnels. This is especially true if you happen to have a birdfeeder. I was all interested in this, Gooling to see if I could find some subnivean photography (upon cursory glance, no, but I will keep poking) and then I walked outside with my squinty “What’s that big yellow ball in the sky?” Mister Peepers look and noticed that I had some subniveal tunnels right at my front door. The photo is not much to look at, but it must have been something I’ve seen in the ground hundreds of times and just didn’t know what I was looking at. Little fuzzy animals, burrowing in the snow, secretly eating the sunflower seeds that fell from my feeder. Another winter mystery uncovered. And one more sign of eventual spring.

caveman winter

pictures of food, clothes and me with syrup

So this winter is a lot more like real winter than last winter. Snow. Cold. I broke my snowshoes and they are in (hopefully) for warranty repair. Which means I’m a lot more like a big hibernating bear, or maybe some smaller hibernating animal, perhaps a hedgehog. Sleeping a lot. Slow. Squinty. Muzzy-headed when I’m awake. Foraging for squash and other easy-to-eat foods. Doing a lot of communication that amounts to “Ug” and “Not-ug” (thanks to Andrea and Corey for this formulation, it’s very helpful). Today I woke up briefly energized so I headed out into the world and spent some money and got some things done, tidied up my den. I have a Board of Civil Authority meeting tomorrow (Hear that, world? I AM A CIVIL AUTHORITY!) so I’m drinking tea and fumbling around with paperwork. Working on a mix CD that I’m sending out. I got a Kindle and I’ve been reading a lot. I feel like just holding up pictures to show you what I’ve been up to. But instead here’s a price list of where the last $73 I spent went.

$12 haircut at the barber
$2 tip
$37 syrup (grade B, from the librarian)
$11 thrift store purchases including electric kettle postage scale, one whole outfit including fuzzy socks
$11 sandwich, soda and cookie at what I’ve taken to calling “the clip art cafe” because of their window display but maybe I should stop because this sandwich was amazing

Last night I went out to this thing that happens in Randolph, a Community Supper. Last Tuesday of the month a local organization puts it on and they provide food whether it’s hot dogs or group-potluck or spaghetti. You get to eat a free meal, hang out with your neighbors who all look about as moleman-looking as you do, and have a good excuse to get out of the house. This month’s host was the Bethany Church who put on a good event, over a hundred people as far as I could tell. It can be tough to stay connected to folks when everyone’s snoozy or sniffly or snippy. It’s nice to get out and be reminded that it’s not just you.

a few words from the other jessamyn

I hate to hear myself. I never listen to an interview. I don’t sound like the person I think I am.”
– Jessamyn West interviewed for the Paris Review, 1977

Totally forgot one of the things I wanted to add last time I typed in this box. WNYC has an Archives and Preservation department. They got a grant. They are putting their old stuff on the air and online. I think I’ve mentioned in the past how I like Jessamyn West’s writing and how I’ve always imagines she would have been a neat person to know. She liked writing in bed, she didn’t suffer fools gladly, her books had compelling and interesting female (and male) characters and she always looked snappy in photographs. I’ve read a lot by her–she sent me a few cards as part of a “write a letter to someone famous” assignment I had in elementary school–but never heard her voice. Here is a speech she gave at a Book and Authors Luncheon in 1960: Jessamyn West on an Author’s Responsibility to Her Readers . Ignore the photo of her, it’s from fifteen years earlier.

taking the time


Last years resolutions, such as they were, went pretty okay. I lost the weight I’d wanted to lose, I cooked at home like crazy, I spent more time home and with my family, friends, and boyfriend, and felt like things went okay. Now I’m chipping away at some other things I’d like to do better on. Most importantly: not rushing through things in the name of “efficiency” when I don’t really need that extra few minutes for anything else more important. If I rush through doing the dishes I often break them. If I rush through errands I often forget something. If I rush through a meal I often don’t appreciate it. If I rush out the door I don’t feed the birds and where did I have to be in such a hurry anyhow?

So, I’ve been getting into the habit of not being late exactly but not trying to be so punctual that I am painfully early. And not being such a taskmaster about things. I have the capacity for great productivity, but that’s not the only axis along which I should be measuring my value, to others as well as to myself. I get to work at the school more or less on time, not thirty minutes early. I start working at MetaFilter when my shift starts and not whenever I sit down at the computer. I cook meals that take hours sometimes.

It’s tough because I get the fidgets when I’m not crossing things off of a checklist, but for me that sort of thinking was a bit of a trap. Or, rather, maybe I didn’t have the right things on the checklist. Things like go stand in the woods, have a cup of tea, call a friend, lie down and read for an hour or more.

So far, okay.