I had a small dip in productivity this week. I think I mentioned that at the end of last summer I had shingles. It was a super mild case, but I wound up with something called “post-herpetic neuralgia” which is basically nerve pain. It’s super well-controlled with gabapentin, which also has some positive effects on my mood and anxiety level. But, it’s a lot of medicine and so I figured I’d try to taper off of it once I stopped feeling like maybe my nerve pain was a thing (for most people it stops eventually and many people only deal with it for a few months).
Everything was going fine. Over the past few months I moved from taking 1300mg to… 300 and eventually 200. And then BLAMMO all of the sudden not only did the nerve pain come back, but it was accompanied by a rush of free-ranging anxieties, so instead of saying “Hello nerve pain, my old friend” I got convinced that I was immediately dying of any number of really terrible diseases. It makes sense in retrospect, what was happening, but at the time it was just several days of pure panic. Now it’s handled, I’m back on my bullshit (drugs) and I’ll work on this taper some other time. Stupid brain.
But! Before that I’ve been doing a ton of stuff around here (#dadshouse) and then getting finished and saying “Gee, I should have taken a ‘before’ picture.” I wanted to keep track of those things, so here is a list.
- Trimmed all the raspberries and volunteer other trees by the dumpster
- Got rid of all the nonsense paper in the “attic” and all the manuals for things that are no longer in this house
- Scraped the lichen off of the upper porch railing in preparation for re-staining it
- Hacked down all the plant life growing in the berm in the backyard by the spruce trees
- Emptied out the last boxes from Seattle. Prepared 10+ boxes to go to the local book sale, once I feel up to lifting/hauling them
- With Jim’s help, took out all the vestigial cabling behind the television set (so many cables!).
- Put away all the stuff that had been on the tables in the TV room since I sold my Subaru (!)
- Got the two wingback chairs that no one likes out to the garage and hopefully will find someone to take them away (want some slightly clawed chairs? call me).
- Emptied out drawers of nonsense in the kitchen.
- Re-arranged coffee can shelf in the garage and got rid of old dead stuff.
- Got the labelmaker working.
- Replaced the grotty curtains in the living room.
- Cleaned the whole area around the woodstove, took all the kindling OUTSIDE (why is it inside in the summertime!) and swept up all the bark
- Told the wisteria “No, you grow up over this thing, you don’t creep along the ground.”
A lot of these were just dumb little things that had been back-burnered sort of indefinitely, not even difficult projects mostly. Now that they’re done it just frees up psychic space to just be in a room and not have to pretend to not-see the thing that really needs doing.
There’s always something else to be done in this house, but I’m really working to try to get the broken stuff unbroken and the unseen stuff seen. I did get one before/after photo, from today.
I lied to a government official today (a small lie) which practically seems patriotic nowadays.
This weekend was a blur of party planning, partying, and party recovery. MetaFilter turned twenty and I decided to open the doors down here in Westport and have a good time. Kate and Jim and Other Jim and Chris and GJ and Allison all helped out. At some point in the last decade maybe, my peer group switched from being a group where a potluck might net seven salads or seventeen bags of chips and a dozen hotdogs, to one where you and everyone else could eat good food for days. I had a good time and I put a small set of photos up. I’m sorry if you couldn’t make it. It was a good time and I have no complaints, which is unusual for nitpicker me.
I’ve used that extra shot in the arm of having successfully entertained to catch up on stuff like emptying the seven lingering boxes which I put into a friend’s basement in Seattle in the 90s and, over time, moved around until they were in #dadshouse here in Westport. It’s time to clean them out which, nowadays, involves getting rid of a lot of books, being ruthless about whether I will actually enjoy my stamp collecting books again in this lifetime (likely, no), and saying “Awww hey thing I loved, thanks for your service and goodbye.” It’s going well. I hit some new level of not giving a fuck about some things, somehow, without losing my general good nature. I wish I knew what I did to get here.
I got a driver’s license photo and a passport photo taken and they’re both… fine. We had a lot of leftover food at the party and I’ve been managing to give some away and eat some and get rid of some without worrying that I’m wasting food. Technically, I am wasting it in the most general sense, but being able to sincerely say “Thank you for bringing that!” without having some background concern of “Do we have too much of that?” seems like a better way to be a host.
Which is to say, if you’re in the area and would like some potato salad, you should look me up. I’ll be over here in cut-offs and a tank top looking at high school photo albums that I haven’t seen in 20 years. It’s been good to have some perspective.
“My life has always been like this.” is what I say to people when I have to explain how, through an amusing hashtag contest, I wound up winning a year’s supply of free cheese from the best cheddar makers on the planet. A year’s supply, in this case, is 100 lbs., delivered in 25 lb. installments. Here’s the first one. Hi, come over for some snacks.
This was a 251 Club contest and speaking of the 251 Club, there’s a great movie called One Town at a Time that documents filmmaker Mike Leonard’s trip through all of Vermont’s towns in 2006 (with a video camera) and then does some of it over more recently. It’s a loving look at our lovely state. I went to the premiere last night and not only is it fun, but I’m in it. I’m one of maybe 10-15 people interviewed for the film (you can see me in the trailer) and I have some of the funnier lines and you can hear me singing some of my 251 Towns song that Jim and I wrote.
Since the last post basically a month ago, I feel I’ve gotten my mojo back. I did a ton of mostly local talks, stayed in places that were not my home and did not hate it, and have been getting out and about more as the weather improves. We had our Vermont Library Association conference which is always a nice shot in the arm and the annual Brag Deck I put together is a high point of my year. We’re doing the Passport to Vermont Libraries program again, though I am not in charge. It’s hard to not be in charge, for me. It’s a good thing for me to learn how to do. Part of the mojo return is having more energy, I’ll see if I can channel it into something other than eating (and delivering) cheese.
This title is a metaphor. My romantic life is just fine. Jim and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary and marveled at how we can still stand each other. But! Today I gave a talk in St. Johnsbury. It was excellent, if I do say so myself. You can judge it for yourself and read it here.
If you’ve been following my ups and downs you’ll know that I’ve been pulling back from public speaking a little bit, mainly to just get my house in order (real, metaphorical) and also because I’d been enjoying speaking less. And you know that thing where you’re not enjoying the things you used to do? That was me for a while. I mean I still enjoyed sleeping and reading and eating and watching birds, but my work stuff was seeming more like a chore. So I decided to see if I could retool, say yes only to things I really wanted to say yes to (I am lucky to be able to do this), twiddle a few more knobs, and see if that helped. And boy did it. I did a webinar for the state of Wisconsin a few weeks back that went great (see it yourself here – link goes direct to video). And this talk today was great, start to finish. Fun to get to, fun to be at, fun to hang out and talk to people afterwards, fun to go home. I’m aware that all of life can’t be fun all the time, but I do aim to be able to enjoy it more than I don’t. And it’s springtime and that doesn’t hurt. And so I’m finding myself sort of falling back in love with public speaking, slowly, cautiously, and I’m happy for it. A few other pieces of today that were just dandy:
– Driving through the Northeast Kingdom on my way up and seeing that there was still a little bit of snow on the ground and thin sheets of ice on the water in places
– Possibly the best piece of coconut cream pie I’ve ever had at the Miss Lyndonville Diner, highlighted by an older lady walking by me and saying “Good pie right? I really like pie too. Enjoy that pie kiddo!” (I assume she was serious and not watching me hoover it and thinking “Whoa Nellie, I better distract this woman.”
– Stopped by a library on the way back I hadn’t been to and the librarian asked me “Are you Jessamyn?” and we had a nice talk about libraries.
– That library had a collection of taxidermied birds, so we talked about taxidermy. Turns out a local kid is learning the trade so he cleaned all the birds and they look spiffy.
– People nodded understandingly during my talk when I talked about my love for creepy basements and attics.
– My GPS trying to kill me on the way back by sending me up some very muddy mountains and having the foresight to think “You are alone on a mountain, with no cell service and you know there is a perfectly good road back which may be a mile or two longer… please turn around”
– Stopping by a pond on my way back just to watch the ice move around and try to see a loon (no luck)
– Driving by my old house on the way back and not actually recognizing it–they took down the barn which I knew but I hadn’t seen it–and having that be totally OK. I wasn’t sure it would be.
– Getting home after seven and having there still be light in the sky.
I knew I’d jinx myself with that last post being like “I’m sleeping just SWELL!” but I’m still sleeping mostly okay, maybe a little less than usual, but getting out of bed a bit more excited to greet the day and a little less dreading it. I’ve got a lot of weird little things coming up, meetings, travel, more meetings, and I’m glad I’m feeling not just alive for it, but actually up for it.
I’ve been focusing on positive self-talk, or at least being aware of negative self-talk, lately. Noting the times when I’m saying to myself “And then you did that thing that screwed it all up” and trying to reframe that feeling/expression somewhat. But there are some expressions that may SOUND like they’re negative, but that really aren’t. I was a weird kid. That’s not negative self-talk, that’s fact. Spacey and solitary, things went fine for me for the most part. I grew up, went to a college for weirdos, and wound up finding my path and things are good. I occasionally struggle, but I don’t feel out of step in my little town here.
I wrote a thing and was interviewed for a thing that both touch on this feeling. One is about Hampshire College and the financial mess that they’re in, maybe closing and maybe not. I both care and don’t care about this. But I was surprised to find that I had some left over grar feelings from back then, and they open the article. The other was a very short piece I wrote about how much Alison Bechdel’s book Fun Home affected me, how much I felt, to use the common parlance, seen. Here are the two pieces:
I’m mostly off my Wikipedia jag which is probably just fine for now. Expect to see it flare up again this time next year.
My other year end lists, over at the other blog are online now: reading list, library visit list. It’s the 13th day of the year and I’ve already racked up five library visits, but mostly because I’ve been filling in at the library. It’s been fun.
The big other winter hobby, which I somehow pick up every winter and then drop again when the weather improves, is picking away at Wikipedia’s representation problem, which I wrote about in March (shortly after I wrapped up a brief consulting gig with Wikipedia). Everyone’s got their own special set of skills and I’m always trying to use mine to do the things I like doing. This winter, the plan is to create Wikipedia pages, mostly for women and people of color. I’ve done a page a day so far and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve also been able to upload a bunch of photos of people that are better than the ones that were there. Until this weekend the general plan was:
- go to the NYPL’s Digital Collections
- do a search for the word “portrait” and limit to images that are in the public domain
- scan the results (all 6000 of them) for people who look like they might not be well-represented in Wikipedia
- add them
- GOTO 1
Then I finished scanning NYPL, and discovered that the Digital Library of Georgia also allows you to search by what is in the public domain, so that is next. Previously I’d used Florida Memory. I’d love to be adding photos from Vermont but there is no statewide image resource, much less one that allows searching by rights. Which is too bad. To be fair, most states don’t have this sort of archive.
I felt like listing what I’ve done somewhere and, while I speak Wikipedia, not everyone does, so here’s what I’ve been up to in a bloggy format. These are pages I created.
I also added a bunch of photos and you can see those mainly over at Wikimedia Commons. Most of these people either didn’t have a photo of them on Wikipedia, or they didn’t have a good one. A lot of people grab images from public domain books to add to Wikipedia which is great but then time passes and better images are available. It’s good to be able to add better photos and improve someone’s legacy. Once a photo is up on Wikipedia, it makes it to Google within minutes, it’s actually a little eerie.
The photo that leads this post is the one I’m stuck on. The caption just reads C. A. McGill and the photo is from Monrovia, Liberia. I’m pretty certain that this woman is part of the McGill Family who emigrated to Liberia (I added the woman’s photo that is on that page). There are photos of a few of the McGills and other early Liberian colonists in the Library of Congress. But, documentation is scarce and I haven’t been able to prove that this woman is related to those McGills. I’ll noodle around some more with this next week which is when #1lib1ref starts up again, and maybe write a few more pages. It’s good to have a hobby.
I did most of the things (books, tires, momhouse cleaning) from the last post. I am no longer mostly irritable and/or frightened, but managing this stupid mental health issue is still an open trouble ticket. Thanks to all who offered various kinds of support, I always appreciate it. We’re now halfway through the holiday season (after Jimsmas and Thanksgiving and most of Hanukkah, before Solstice and Christmas and whatever New Years is going to turn into) and it’s good. I went away and I came back and took some pictures while I was out (which is where this license plate photo is from). There is snow on the ground. There is a flock of pine siskins on my feeder. I finally cleaned out the grotty place around the kitchen trash can which was a coffee ground pointillist painting for months because I could not be arsed to get on my knees and handle it. I cleared the “to get to” stuff off of my standing desk, rewired the space underneath it, and put up a new light. Now I can use it after the few hours of daylight are gone and I’m up for another day’s worth of time.
One of the people I checked in with about my mental health, when I would tell him about my days, said repeatedly “You do a lot.” It was said in a way that seemed sort of suspicious, like it was a symptom of something, like I was maybe doing too much. All I know is that I’ve always been this way, it’s nearly always worked, and I’m not sure of any other way to be, nor do I have any desire to explore other ways to be unless something is wrong. Maybe I talk about “doing things” a lot, listing out every errand, everything I clean up in my house. Maybe I have performative tendencies “Oh I am so busy!” but I know people who are like that, and I don’t feel I am like them. I am reading a great book by David Sedaris, his latest, where he talks about talking to his husband’s mother. She is a very reserved woman who doesn’t believe in talking about one’s good deeds publicly because it’s like you want credit for them. I’ve always come from a family where you talk about all the things–the good things you did, the stupid ways you fucked up, the errors you made, the way you tried to fix them–and talking about some of the good things is, I’ve always felt, a way to encourage others to do good things too. The internet can make things weird, and people worrying too much about “virtue signalling” may be part of that.
Last night I worked at a party at the Chandler Music Hall. This involved mostly stocking restrooms, sitting around, directing people upstairs, answering the occasional question. But while I was there, I ran into a woman who is the mom of a woman I knew was looking into being on the Conservation Commission. We’ve been looking for a new member for a while and I put in a good word for the committee “The meetings are well-run. You get a chance to give back to the town. I think she’d be a great fit.” I know I may be being overly optimistic, but I truly feel like nearly everyone I know in town is involved in some sort of civic endeavor. Some of the people who aren’t might just need a nudge. Talking that sort of thing up can be that nudge. Civics can be catching.