It’s amusing that I have come halfway around the world just to get some writing done but that’s what the trip to Hawai’i has been like so far and I am happy for it. I am here to meet my students and talk about library stuff and learn about local libraries. It’s been a busy few weeks (or months) at home and I have been stoically enduring it without really even noticing I was doing that. Being somewhere where the ambient culture is a little more chill and a little less wintery has led to the relaxation of muscles I didn’t even know were tense. I stepped in the ocean yesterday and got great tours of the local area, buildings, food, and people from two of my University of Hawai’i colleagues, one of whom I had never met before (but who was born in the same hospital as me… HOW).
So I’ve been catching up on some non-Hawai’i stuff (hello blog) because there is time and space to do more than just endure. More photos coming when I get home.
Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 75. This is also the first week I’ve gotten a media mention where I thought “Oh hey mom would like that” (which she almost always did) but also “Oh hey I like that” (which I rarely do, photos of me don’t look like me TO me, I am aggravated by typos and almost-right facts) so the usual bummed-outedness is exacerbated a bit by that very small “Awwww, she would have loved this.” feeling. So, here’s the picture from the back page of this month’s Vermont Life magazine. It’s good, right?
I’ve been at home this week catching up on deferred life maintenance including whipping my filing system into shape. I’m the owner, now, of my files, my dad’s files, and (some of) my mom’s files. They were a little all over the place and causing me low-level psychic stress as we round the corner into tax season. Last month I got a new filing cabinet–one of those cute ones on wheels that opens from the top and locks on the bottom–and yesterday I decided to handle this. I dug out all my files from various cabinets and drawers, piled them all on the day bed, and just went at them with an eye towards ditching every single thing I couldn’t make an argument to keep. Loved my mom, but I swear she never threw a thing away. This is fine, right up until it’s not.
I had a nice sprint through the last two decades. Bills for houses and cars I no longer own. Thank you cards from speaking engagements I no longer remember. Manuals for stuff that broke a long time ago. I have two folders, one called I AM IMPORTANT (for “don’t lose this” stuff) and one called I AM AWESOME (for stuff like that VT Life article) and I enjoyed poking through them. My SAT scores. A letter from my kindergarten teacher basically calling me spacey. Along the way, I opened up some recent mail and found a recall notice for my car’s air conditioning, air conditioning which had failed at the peak of summer last year. In fact, it was worse than that, it literally died within the same 24 hours as my mom. I don’t look for meanings in coincidences, this just was what it was–an expensive and ultimately fixable side irritant when I had other things going on.
But! According to the recall notice, I could get that expense reimbursed. If I could find the mechanic’s bill and my payment receipts. Which, since I was already knee-deep in paperwork, I totally could. And I had all the envelopes and stamps at the ready. And I had this “Ha HA, gotcha!” moment which I heard in my mom’s voice. And I wrote Honda an only-slightly-bitchy letter about the hassle this caused me. And then let it go. But I did think “Man, mom would have loved this.”
I got my hair pinked up a few weeks ago. I like how it turned out. It’s fun having long hair, for the most part, but I get tired of hair being in everything all over my house. It’s not something that is well-known about me, but I don’t have long hair because it’s my perfect style choice (I think this one might be), and I don’t have long hair because I am lazy, I basically have long hair because the get-a-haircut? decision tree is too complex and fraught with peril for me, so it’s easier just to grow it out. I live my life with intention in so many ways, but not this one.
I’m sure everyone has these little quirks about some part of their personality, this one is mine. I manage my anxiety pretty well most of the time. I decided that since this haircut decision paralysis is true about me, I may as well rock the long hair I have stuck myself with. Even that took almost a year of planning and preparation. Not preparation like psyching myself up, more like finding the right place, making sure it didn’t cost too much, making an actual appointment (thank you Bliss Salon for letting me do this over Facebook) and then getting my ass there, describing what I wanted (this is close, I was looking for something more orangey, they didn’t have that and I am still a little bent out of shape about it) and sitting in a chair talking to a (very nice!) stranger for hours.
When I used to do the MetaFilter Podcast with both Josh and Matt, we’d often spend the first five or ten minutes of every pre-tape session just bullshitting about either how much we hated Skype or how much we hated getting haircuts. It’s a thing I weirdly miss about the three of us getting together, feeling like the normative state of at least one community was “Oh yeah, haircuts amirite??”
I do have a few other internet friends who feel like I do, one of them encouraged me to write this.
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.
- Niceville FL – a great way to kick off the year with some sunshine and friendly librarians
- Cambridge MA* – Deb’s place is always good for the soul
- Toronto ON – a weird AirBnB and a great visit
- Toronto ON – Gabe’s duplex was a better resting place
- Stow MA* – chilling post-Superbowl at Kate’s
- Westport MA* – planned to spend more time here than I actually did
- Montreal QC – a catsit and a trip that was supposed to be a vacation with Jim
- Crystal City VA – a fun library conference and a chance to see a lot of library friends
- Washington DC – MeFites put me up and showed me the town, so lovely
- Brooklyn NY* – wound up here twice, the couch is fine but the love is great
- Brooklyn NY – hamsters!
- Weir’s Beach NH – Fun Spot was one of the year’s highlights
- Cambridge MA – another catsit, another funny little bed
- Concord NH – I spent a lot of time sleeping not far from home
- Boxboro MA* – moved in and did not leave for a while
- Edmonton AB – a great conference center
- Edmonton AB – the swank apartment of an old family friend
- Baraboo WI – place was as weird as it seems but the conference was grand
- Saratoga Springs NY – Liked this Hilton, loved this conference
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.
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.
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.