So I won my case against Equifax and received my check at the end of last month. There was some media attention and my photograph (taken by my mom, in my favorite library) was in the New York Times. I find this all delightful. At the same time, like all good activism work, the struggle continues.
This has always been the hardest thing about being occasionally and intermittently ambitious: once you get the thing, really all you do is go figure out what other thing you might want to get. I remember this from when I finally visited the last town in Vermont that I hadn’t been to, Somerset. Jim and I celebrated with a beer and took some photographs and then the question was “Well what do you do for an encore?” (answer: go back and photograph them all, which I am in the process of doing). My dad had a few quotes he was known for, from Soul of a New Machine. One of my favorite ones was the concept of pinball: the reward for doing a thing you love well is getting to go do it again. Here’s a quote from Wired in December of 2000.
An engineer’s essential desire, after all, is to design and build a machine and see it through to completion, but completion itself is therefore not the ultimate reward. In the Eagle days, West called this paradox “pinball.” In pinball, he reasoned, the prize for winning is getting to play again.
This resonates strongly with me. What I am doing now–besides trying to have a summer full of books and outdoor activities and not full of grief–is starting a new super-part-time job–doing “product health” over at GitHub a few hours a week–and pinballing myself into some other interesting tech environment where I can offer constructive feedback about improving systems to make them more useful for everyone. Oh, and playing Scrabble.
Jim and I are entering our ninth season of head to head Scrabble matches. We’ve played 623 matches and I am up by eight games overall. He led last season’s 109 game run by one game. Our average has been 405 points per game. I often look at my Scrabble performance (and my internet trivia league performance) to gauge how I’m doing mentally. Spacey and forgetful = worse on trivia. Distractable and dopey = worse on Scrabble. I am doing okay on things. I get to keep playing. This is good.
I was chatting with someone on Twitter the other day, as one does, and I checked out her website. It had the lovely spareness that I had been hoping to use on my own website. Better yet, it was in HTML which meant I could copy, alter, and use it (after asking, of course). So I redesigned the entryway to jessamyn.com and I’m pleased with it.
I’ve also been recommitting to my VT 183 project, wanting to visit all of Vermont’s libraries. I got jazzed and re-energized by the Vermont Library Conference (which is exactly what it’s supposed to do!) and went to five new libraries this week.
I’ve done a lot of legal stuff, from my day in court with Equifax which you can read about, to visiting the Vermont Attorney General’s office to talk about suing the recent managers of the local drive-in for defrauding the people in the town via Kickstarter, to updating my will. People who know me may know that I almost went to law school instead of library school. The structure of legal theory and thought appeals to me.
I’ve been able to get a lot of this stuff done because my teaching, public speaking, and related travel are wrapping up. And, for the rest of 2018, I am planning to not do much more of it. Not for any bad reason but for a few good reasons:
- I’ve been overdoing it. I’ve been stressed out and for whatever reason (maybe grief, Jessamyn!) this same-old combination of things has not been allowing me to thrive.
- I don’t have to, right now. I’ve got a stable, if low, income and I’m going to make that work for now.
- I’ve had my head in the sand about global warming but the biggest thing I figured I could change in my life was not getting on any more airplanes. This isn’t a total overhaul, just a reminder to be more mindful about when I decide to travel and maybe doing it more for fun and less for work.
- I’m throwing myself in to my hobbies and my neighborhood. This includes visiting more libraries, stepping up my work with the Vermont Library Association, joining the town’s Conservation Commission, and (my new announcement) joining the board of the Vermont Humanities Council
More to the point, I think my definition of “thriving” is going to include more community work and less get-money-for-Jessamyn work. I’m really lucky to be able to make this choice for a few months (or longer) and gosh is it lovely outside.
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
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.
So hey I am sometimes telling funny stories over on Twitter and I’ve been less in the mood for longform posting. I am spacey lately. I am overcome with little fits of very bad or very good moods. This is all normal. But it means I’m better at communicating in person or over email than blogging for whatever reason.
The original purpose of this blog, way back in 1997, was to make my mom quit calling me. No, seriously. I lived in Seattle and if I was gone for a weekend she’d call my house sometimes three or four times, leaving increasingly agitated messages wondering where I was. I was a late-twenties woman doing my own thing who didn’t always check in with her mom before heading out of town or just not returning a phone call. My mom was very close to her mom in a sort of “Let’s stay in touch about day to day things” way. I was always less like that. We had mismatched expectations. So I’d keep the blog up to tell general stories and tell my mom if she was agitated she could go there and read what I was up to. And she did. Over the last few years I’d made more of an effort to keep in touch: sending postcards when I would travel (a trick I learned from my dad) or, in 2017, emailing her every day.
Once email became more ubiquitous, I was a little more reachable (and responsive) but I never got the hang of the “Let’s call to check in” routine, with anyone. Apologies to those who would prefer telephone interactions with me, they are not really an option. The blog grew and became the place I would tell little stories and add updates. As social media has been more of a bigger deal, a lot of my intermittent communications to the world have taken place there. I also have a library newsletter and that’s taken away some steam from my library blog. I really like telling these stories, I just do it less frequently.
So let me tell you what has been up.
- My mom’s Celebration of Life was better than expected and you can see a few photos here. If I had any regrets it’s that I didn’t wear something more flattering because some of these people I may not see again.
- I returned to Vermont with no firm plans about what Kate and I are doing about anything. This is fine and something Kate and I agree on. As always, I am lucky to have her in my life.
- Re-entry has been great and only rocky because I am a bear of very little brain and maybe trying to do too much. Everyone has been kind. Drop-in Time has started up again. My romance with this state continues.
- I am suing Equifax because everyone needs a hobby.
- I went to Edmonton Alberta to keynote a library conference and it went well and I met some great people and learned some great things. Amy, thanks for hosting me. Some photos.
- Jim got cataract surgery on the same day/time as my keynote (it went well too!) and we were both pleased to discover we seem to have more resilience for dealing with difficult/stressful situations as a couple and that’s neat to find out.
And I’m sure there are more things I forgot to mention. I’m keeping up my usual civics/volunteerism thing and doing a few odd jobs that invariably turns into seven odd jobs. The Equifax thing is getting some attention which was most of what I wanted out of it anyhow.
I rarely think of “social capital” as some sort of cosmic karma bank that I would need to make a withdrawal from, but it’s nice to know that there are other people out there just fellow traveling who are around to pitch in a word or a beer or a sandwich when it’s useful. I hope I can do the same. Thanks for reading, thanks for caring.