living in the past

a screenshot of a Windows NT desktop showing the movement of a file called smut9908.zip

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.

smoother

laptop top, covered in stickers

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.

little smiling face carved from a cucumber

media and memory

microfilm

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.

explore

bed with quilt made out of running  t-shirts

Whoops, I missed April. I had a headcold. Unlike the one last time, this one lasted a few weeks. I blame sleeping in the same room as a hamster.

Since last time I’ve done some more traveling and am in an extended period of being at home. Well, except for maybe going to MA this weekend but that’s another sort of home. After I travel I usually upload sets of photos to Flickr. I do this despite all the reports of Flickr being basically adrift with a very small staff and a parent company which has been bought by an even more who-cares parent company less than a year ago. I don’t care, I’m going to keep putting photos there until I stop being able to.

One of my photos, the one you see above, actually made Explore. Explore is a thing, algo based I think, where images that are some sort of popular show up. There’s a new Explore every day. A lot of people look at Flickr to just see nice photos and so if a photo “makes Explore” it suddenly gets more traffic. This was true back in the day and it’s still true now. The photos do have a bit of samey-ness to them but it’s still a good place to go look at some neat photos in an ad-free environment. I was surprised that this photo made the cut though. I mean I think t-shirt quilts are cool but I didn’t think they hit some sort of zeitgeist.

So, the photo sets I’ve put online since I last wrote include

So, not much to say but a lot for people to look at. Things are good. Spring is mostly here. I am mostly better and staying put for a little while.

mini-jinx, mini-fix

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.

image of Douglas Coupland art project

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.

stapler with a smiley flag sticker on it_f0fce3e108_c

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.

trying not to jinx february

immer  grafitti on the side of a brick wall in Toronto Ontario

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.

the music of solitude

home stereo set up

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.