I scored a 114 point word in Scrabble last week. The word was SEVENTY. On a double double, and then a bingo. Bam. I had a cold just after Town Meeting and a return from Montréal that lasted far shorter than it should have. In contrast, Jim has been sick an unreasonable amount with some sort of lingering crud so I haven’t seen him in a while.
What’s that, you say, you were on Montréal? I thought you were in Toronto! Both are true. Jim and I had a vacation scheduled to go see friends and walk around and eat food in Montréal. He was too sick to go. I figured I could stand to get out of the house anyhow. I had friends who had a friend who had a few cats that could use company and I hung out with them (friends and cats) for about a day and a half and had a nice drive up and back. Went to a new library and picked up some local library gossip. I’ve photographed 40 of Vermont’s 183 public libraries so far. Checked out a museum and got to use my Harvard Library card to save myself $10 (it’s almost like it was a paid fellowship!). Went to the public library and tried to get help getting on wifi from people who spoke French as a first language. Interesting experience. Stumbled into a street fair and walked for miles in five degree weather, it was a good time. More photos under this photo.
Lastly, I brought bagels down to Town Meeting which was the day after I got back. We have a little coffee hour before the meeting and I’d always fill up on cinnamon buns and then be all jangley and crabby through the meeting. This year I said “BE THE CHANGE, JESSAMYN” and brought something with protein. And so did other people. I wrote a little bit about my Town Meeting experience on the Harvard blog, it was a good experience. Between getting up for coffee hour and staying late for vote counting (and getting to tell my friend he’d won his election!) I had a 12 hour day being busy. This is not usual for me. More photos under this photo.
So I got home and crashed and stayed crashed for a few days. My positive self-talk is that I was snuffly because I hugged too many people and that is the story I am sticking to.
Next week I am working at an actual library (filling in for Virgil who got a new job!) and tweeting for a week the @ThisisVT account which is something done by the State Department of Tourism. I am also feuding with the State Department of Taxes so I am sure this will all be just grand.
I’m exceptionally lucky in that I’m not too affected by the shorter days. I mean… I require more coffee, want to stay in pajamas longer, and probably sleep more, but I don’t wind up with SAD and am generally able to get out of bed with good humor most days. However I post less frequently to my blog in the winter both because I’m a little more low-functioning generally and also because I don’t want to say “Hey things are great!” and then jinx something. I am aware that this is superstitious so I figured I’d come clean about it. Things really have been okay and February is more than half over.
- My trips to Florida and Toronto went just fine even if it was a bit too much travel for me (wrap-up on my newsletter, photos here)
- I had a fly-by trip to Cambridge which went really well and got to spend some time with Jim. We found a new favorite lunch place where if you show up right before closing they give you all the leftover hash browns!
- I kept to my writing deadline and submitted an article for Computers in Libraries magazine about some ways libraries could be using Plex a sort of Netflix front end for digital content. As part of that, I learned new software which is basically the librarian version of doing Sudoko to keep your brain limber.
- I’ll be going to the CiL Conference in DC (actually Virginia), running a panel on small/rural library directors and giving a cybertour on mailing list software. Not glamorous work, but worthwhile and very enjoyable.
- I made a MetaFilter post about a dead groundhog which is perfect.
Big things coming up include a visit from Kate, a trip down to Westport where we’re going to donate some of my dad’s old tools to the local vocational school here, and doing some more Wikipedia work for Black History Month. The usual, keep on swimming.
Wintertime is for woodshedding. For me this is a combination of catching up on reading (current title is an ARC about the North Pond Hermit), catching up on housework and home care, and catching up on correspondence (email, postal mail, social communication). I spend a lot of time busy usually, enough so that it’s a little hard for me to figure out what to do when I’m not doing paid-for work. Helen and Scott Nearing, when they were talking about their version of “the good life,” spoke of splitting up their day into thirds; roughly a third for vocation/wage earning, a third for the community, a third for fun and hobbies. Mine seems to go in bigger chunks: a day for fun, a day for community, a day for work.
Today I woke up determined not to do job-work and applied myself to more of the house projects here. I’m sure from the outside it looked like work. It can be hard to explain to people that, to a librarian, or at least to THIS librarian, putting things back in place is a deeply pleasing activity. So, I rewired the stereo, dusted all the bookshelves, found out when I went to put the iron back that there was already an iron there, hung up a few pictures and listened to some records. Yesterday I was the house manager at the Chandler for a talk by Amy Goodman and Bill McKibben, two favorites of mine. I got to help people find parking, help them find their seats, help the volunteers find their coordinators, help lock and unlock doors and keep the place running. It reminded me a lot of the work I used to do at the Odd Fellows hall and made me wish there was a little room in there somewhere where I could live. Jim was up before that and we went to VINS and admired the birds and I got to cross three more libraries off of my VT 183 list (Woodstock! Northfield! Quechee!) a list which is sort of slow to get filled out.
Wintertime is also for Wikipedia. I have more free time, enough that that if I learn a new thing (particularly if I got it from a print source), I try to add it to an article if it’s not already there. The next few weeks are a project called #1lib1ref, a campaign to try to get every librarian (or anyone really) to add a citation to Wikipedia to help make it better. There is a tool called Citation Hunt where you can look for articles needing citations in categories you are interested in. I found the five articles about African American Librarians needing citations and went and tracked down some sources. A lot of this can be done with some determined Googling and some Wikipedia-wrassling to get the citations right.
It’s more challenging finding citations in categories like this because history is often racist and the historical achievements of people of color didn’t make the papers in the same way achievements of white people did. One of the things that helps with this is libraries and the (Googleable) finding aids that they create. Not everyone can become famous for single-handedly recording 40,000 VHS tapes worth of TV news footage, sometimes you have to dig harder to make the connections and verify the claims. And all the while I got to do this stuff while listening to all my old records. Woodshedding may look like work, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
My place will never be immaculate. As long as I have long hair, it will fall off of me and wrap around every piece of fuzz and create pernicious dustballs. However, the place can be organized. One of the great things about being underemployed is being able to really attack the mini-shameholes in this place. I live in 700-ish square feet. It’s a good amount of space for one person, but I have a grown-up lady amount of stuff including a full kitchen, set of tools and hobby equipment, multiple computers and laptops, ample book collection, and a guest bed. As much as I like to keep things in order, I’m not going for the minimalist aesthetic. At the same time, clutter clouds my mind, pulls away little parts of my attention that I could spend working or bird watching. So, every few days I pick a little part of the apartment that has been “silting in” as we say in my family, and take it apart and put it back together again somewhat improved. This week that included putting up a shelf in my kitchen that I’ve been meaning to do for about seven years. Yesterday it was emptying and refilling the hall closet, the one that is storage for coats, mailing envelopes and packing material, window screens and storm windows, tents, tripods, houseplant equipment, and birdseed.
Along the way there are assessments to make. Are you ever going to wear your seventh favorite scarf? Can you justify needing three separate tripods when you used your camera maybe three times last year? Does a raincoat need to spark joy, or is it okay if it just functions as a raincoat and you live where it rains? Tough questions.
“Jessamyn, just because those rocks that look like Vermont bring you joy, that does not mean you NEED to keep them.”
I’ve been swapping messages with an online friend who works as a professional organizer and she’s sent me links to a lot of interesting critiques of the recently faddish Kon Mari “magic tidying” approach which has been my latest hobby reading. I’m a big fan of “What works for you.” but we all know that “My way or the highway!” approaches sell more books.
– Why The Magic Art of Tidying Up Doesn’t Work For American Women
– A (slightly snarky) book review of the life changing magic of tidying up
– The real reasons Marie Kondo’s life-changing magic doesn’t work for parents
– Confessions of a Professional Organizer (I’m organized enough, and not one bit more.)
Ultimately while having a tidy closet will save me a little bit of time and a little bit of hassle, the glowing accomplishment of an offline project well done from start to finish (and an excuse to use the labelmaker) was the true reward here.
Here are photos of the places I slept in 2016. I only took airplanes twice for travel last year (once to London and points south and once to San Francisco) so a lot of these places are closer to home. There was also a treehouse. And a very fancy hotel in Boston. And a place with no running water up a mountain near me. And one redeye flight. Lots of multiple visits. Two real vacations. Summer at #dadshouse. Twenty-seven places that were not my place or a family member’s place. You can tell I’ve ramped up traveling when you compare it to last year.
Eleven states. Three UK locations. Stars indicate multiple visits to the exact same place. AirBnB links for your convenience. Past years: 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.
- Boston at the Waterfront Westin – right by ALA
- Cambridge at Deb’s house* – comes with excellent cats
- Washington DC at the Saint Gregory – a porch I wish I used more
- Washington DC at Mary Early’s place – small and quiet, escaped right before Snowmageddon
- Westport MA* – I think I have slept in four or five beds in this house this year
- Washington DC Hilton – excellent hotel, got a terrible cold by having the AC on for a week
- Amherst MA – did a panel at my alma mater (Hampshire) and stayed with friends
- Stow MA* – Kate’s house, always love staying here
- Braintree VT – there was a humming noise at my house so I stayed at a friend’s place for a little bit
- Dunbarton NH – Treehouse! Sounded more fun than it was. (AirBnB link)
- Albany NY – the start of the “weird AirBnB places” road trip (AirBnB link)
- Buffalo NY – where I learned to sleep with an AC unit three feet from my head (AirBnB link)
- Huron OH – stayed in two different rooms, great place, noisy train
- Gary IN – a great little place right near the beach (AirBnB link)
- Chicago IL – Eamon Daly’s Murder Room
- Zwingle IA – a town of 91 people (AirBnB link)
- Michigan City IN – a weird motel but I liked it!
- Barkeyville PA – sort of a trailer, sort of the best AirBnB we stayed in (AirBnB link)
- London UK – more odd AirBnBs, this one had a library thing going on (AirBnB link)
- Okehampton UK – fancy but not my kind of fancy (AirBnB link)
- Windsor UK – near the airport, strictly decent and small (AirBnB link)
- Boston MA – why wasn’t this place better? It looks amazing.
- Painted Post NY – looks like not much but was the best!
- Burlington VT – staying with friends before a flight
- San Francisco CA – weird but my kind of place (AirBnB link)
- Berkeley CA – the au pair’s room
- Airplane – redeye on the way home
- Salisbury NH – my librarian pal’s house where I watched the Cubs win
- Cambridge MA – Sheraton Commander is a great hotel
Its very weird not working.
I should back up a little. After my really fun trip to San Francisco where I got to meet a lot of my colleagues for the first time, I came home thinking about what I wanted out of life. My job at the Archive was great, but very hours-limited. Part of the reason for my trip to San Francisco was to have face to face meetings to try to change that. They were not successful. As much as I had Big Ideas for the future of Open Library, I felt actively restricted from doing almost anything, given the actual tasks my job included. At the same time the site was being aggressively promoted without being aggressively supported and it felt like a secret.
Working on a team with others who worked four times as much (and who coded) meant a lot of time spent trying to advocate for changes and bugfix and not enough time actually getting things done. There’s a solid team. The place will continue to exist. The Internet Archive is a great place but one that doesn’t prioritize community engagement the same way I do. I wrote more about this decision on my newsletter (mostly library stuff, feel free to subscribe, it’s approximately weekly) but it feels like the right choice. I decided to leave sort of quickly, before Thanksgiving, so I wasn’t working through the holiday season.
This is not to say I don’t have work to do, just that I have LESS, and almost none that isn’t on my schedule. What I specifically don’t have is the “Oh hey the code we released late Friday afternoon has a bug, so angry people will be emailing all weekend. You don’t have to write back to them until Monday if you don’t want to” pressure. Which, again, comes from working someplace where my values are not as in line with the values of the organization as I’d hoped. I’ve got a strong personality, I was hoping I could sway people. And I did, but not enough and not in the right way. They will miss me. I will miss them. It was a bad fit and I sort of wish it wasn’t.
So I spent Thanksgiving not worrying about email for the first time in a decade and then I went to Harvard and gave a talk about the dangers of innovation (pdf) which I am quite pleased with. While I was on campus I toured some libraries and my friend Jen suggested I check out this small art exhibit at the Radcliffe Institute. And I don’t know how to explain it but it was cathartic; scale models of buildings, made for blind people (many as WPA projects) that you could touch and interact with. All the while weather reports were piped in sort of through the walls. The invisible made visible. The visible made invisible. I had the gallery to myself. I vaguely remembered when my sister and I used to go to the Perkins School for the Blind when we were kids because we had a family friend who worked there. We met and interacted with blind children and learned about their worlds. I thought about how important that was to a rural kid in a very not-diverse environment, and how that happened because my mom made it happen, and how much that mattered.
You can learn a lot more about Perkins by looking at this lovingly curated Flickr photoset. Because, just to drive this point home, it’s the loving curation that makes some jumble of random digital crap into knowledge and not just data. Ahem.
I know many people do not, but I really like redeye flights, the ones where you get on a plane late at night and arrive at your destination in the morning. That is, I like them when I am heading home from the West Coast. If I am on the West Coast it’s usually because I’ve been working which means I don’t ever get over jetlag because I am waking and sleeping at the same “time” as I would here (7 am in SFO, 10 am in VT). So on redeye flights, I get to the airport at night when I’m actually cognitively doing pretty well. I sit on a warm quiet plane full of sleeping people and read my book uninterrupted for hours at a time. I see the sun rise. I drink a lot of free coffee. I get home at around lunchtime and take a shower and scrub the travel off of me. And I stay awake just long enough for the sun to set and I go to sleep and am dead to the world–a way I otherwise never sleep–for half a day. I wake up feeling back to normal and start my day at a decent hour.
My trip to San Francisco was fun but a little hectic. I put up a set of photos here. And I got home just in time for Halloween Neighborhood Mob Scene and photos are here. Then I turned right around and headed down to New Hampshire for a talk with stops in Cambridge to see Jim and pop by Harvard. I don’t think I have mentioned this here but I’m a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Library Innovation Lab for this school year. You can see me on this page. I’m working on issues of inclusion and access, exploring ways to make Harvard (and libraries generally) more accessible and inclusive. Harvard does a great job with digitizing materials but their physical buildings are inaccessible to anyone outside of the Harvard community besides scholars and those who know the secret handshake. In contrast, MIT’s libraries are open to the public. This is interesting to me and I’ll be exploring it more. This is an unfunded fellowship, though I did get a free library card, so I am still looking for that elusive part-time job doing outreach, service, support, something, to help make libraries better.
I also got my snow tires out of the garage in Westport since it’s about that time of year here. While southern MA is enjoying a lovely autumn, we’ve already had a school-closing snow day up here. Today I’m on my way to the polls where I work from four til closing. Vote if you want to, it’s a democracy.