civics and the things that measure the day

side of a barn entirely covered with license plates

Yesterday I slept through my alarm and nearly missed my court date. Today that same alarm woke me right the hell up but it’s a Saturday and I didn’t have to be awake but hey there is stuff I can do.

The last month was sort of a blur. I went in for a routine “Hey can you refill my anxiety meds prescription?” appointment and my slightly-new-to-me doc said “No.” (for a number of reasons, none of which had much to do with me) In addition to making my anxiety sort of spikey, this just set off more appointments and more “wait and see” nonsense and it’s been a month of alternating between irritable and frightened, so I haven’t been super chatty. Things are mostly stable for now. Though I still lack a long term plan, I am set up for the near future. I don’t talk much about my mental health here because it’s boring to me and it’s always been one of those “I have some issues, they’re being effectively treated.” things. But it might explain why I was MIA in a lot of October.

I did do a few things however. I testified in the trial of the guy who defrauded the town by doing a Kickstarter to raise money for a drive-in movie projector and then skipped town with it. I was the star witness. Exciting. I did a different thing for Halloween (walking around with friends instead of handing out candy) and it was a nice little shake-up to a routine. I’ve been helping a friend campaign for a state office which is where this photo is from, the hills of Granville. Drop-in Time continues and I tweet a little thread about it every week. Tuesday I work the polls all day. Today I get in a car and go see Jim in his new apartment in Belmont and visit with him and his friend Karla. Before that I help my sister clear some stuff out of my mom’s house.

The days are shorter. I’m spending more time in bed with the covers over me with my nose in a book. I’m on track to read 100 books this year which was my “stretch goal” (booklist is here) and maybe do 100 library visits. I have to put my snow tires on. We all get a free hour tomorrow. My friend has a tag she uses on Instagram that has always resonated with me #thingsthatmeasuretheday and that’s where my head is at lately. These are the things. They measure the day. And that is enough for now.

leisure

several home made brightly colored envelopes made from pages of an atlas

The coda to the last post is that I wound up with another consulting gig, same amount of time and over twice the pay. I am happy to be a person who lands on her feet.

This summer has been a nice mix of some work and some play. Staying off the internet is good for my mental health and yet I am bad at it. So I made an offline project which is my 50 x 50 project. I turn 50 in a few weeks. I am sending 50 cards and letters in the month before that. If you are reading this and we know each other in real life and I have your address, there is a decent chance I am sending you one. This started out with making notecards using a technique in a book called Creative Correspondence. It’s a fun book with simple suggestions. One of them is basically bubble stuff + sugar + food coloring + straw to make these cool lunar patterns on paper. After sending out a few moon-y postcards, I was doing some cleanup here with Kate, getting rid of extra books, broken books, bad books. One book was an old atlas that had grown some green fuzz on the outside. It had gotten as far as the recycle bin when Jim asked after it… weren’t there some good maps on the inside…? Jim is always a sucker for maps. And since the green fuzz was only on the OUTside, we took the inside of the atlas back inside the house and I’ve been using it for envelope making, another thing described in the book. In this one, you take one big piece of paper and fold it a few times and then you have an envelope that is held together just by the stamp on the front. It’s quite elegant.

So, you know me, perpetual helper-lady, I made a little photo-essay so other people can see how to make notecards and envelopes too. This is where I admit that the Virgo Month of Leisure starts tomorrow and I am busy already. I will make another post outlining my decade-plus of Virgo Month of Leisure fails. I did make a new little web page for it. #VirgoMOL What are you doing this month?

losing

fortune cookie reading "I learn by going where I have to go"

So I lost that job I was sort of excited about. And when I say lost I mean I was summarily fired last Friday afternoon with a vague collection of reasons after working there eleven days. I’m not even mad so much as “Wow, I guess that was a terrible fit, huh?” I own my part in it. Here’s the story anyhow. This is not intended to be a call-out, so I’m leaving some things vague.

This company, or rather, one person at this company who I had worked with elsewhere, had been asking if I was interested in work since last January. I had a Skype interview that I thought went well, where they said “We’ll call you” and then didn’t. Contacted me again later in the year and we slowly started putting together a gig for me there. I have a lot of requirements, but I also work my ass off. I think I’m a good employee but it depends what you’re looking for. Eventually we settled on ten hours a week contracting (temporary but maybe an option to extend) at a rate of pay that made it worth it. I’d be doing spam fighting. Not glamorous, but necessary, and really interesting in a puzzle sort of way. This company uses an agency to do all the hiring for their part-timers, so I’d technically be an employee of the agency, but this was seen as a mere hurdle. I started the process in June.

Onboarding was a serious pain in the ass. You can read the set of tweets about it here. Being publicly grousey about this may have been part of the issue, but who knows? My future manager saw my tweets. Heck, he listened to the MetaFilter podcast where I talked about the job. I presumed he knew what he was getting into. I had to e-sign fifteen different documents, read dozens of curiously formatted URGENT emails, get logins to four different portals and a new Outlook email address, and drive to a service center to show someone my passport, all before I got any credentials at the job. There’s a longer discussion about how the tech industry treats contractors generally, I just figured this was a temporary hassle, a one-time gauntlet. My soon-to-be manager was with me sympathizing every step of the way. I had a STAFF badge on my profile page.

All the documents requiring signatures could be signed by checking a box, or you could draw something in a signature box. There was no room for discussing the terms of the contracts, one of which was a loyalty oath. I won’t lie, I had fun with this. Signing my NDA “ABOLISH ICE” was probably something I’d do again, but it was also something that got called out as “unprofessional” and I can’t argue with that. That said, the agency approved all my signatures and everything else and cleared me to work on the 5th of July. I thanked them and told them about the typos I’d found in their documents.

My job start was delayed due to the difficulty of getting my work laptop to me as I was traveling for the holidays, rural package delivery is always a challenge. I wasn’t expecting to be given a work laptop, so I got to add “learn Chrome OS” to my todo list which wasn’t that difficult but did take some time. The regular workers at the company mostly use Macs. On July 11th I got all my credentials, set up various two-factor authentications, and did a little training. I worked every day from then until the 20th, sometimes just a little, sometimes a few hours. The work was fun, the people were nice. I really liked being on a team. I really enjoyed having a boss who was good at being a manager and seemed to like the work I was doing.

Friday the 20th I got a phone call from my manager at 5 pm saying the agency could not extend an employment contract to me. He had received an email from one of his superiors and was asking me if I could think of why that might be. I could think of a few possibilities but was pretty confused. Then I got a call from the agency saying my “assignment was wrapping up” which I knew wasn’t true. I asked for some clarification and the woman from the agency–I rag on the process a little, but the people who worked there were pleasant and professional across the board–made a few phone calls and said there were two issues:

  • my NDA signature was unprofessional (truth)
  • I had used a computer other than my work laptop to do work (my manager had said this was ok and apparently it was not)

My manager had no idea, this had happened without his input. A spam fighting job is technically a security job, my title was Platform Health Security Analyst. Security jobs are more SRS BSNS than other jobs. I am not SRS BSNS, but I am pretty good at following rules. By the time I got back to my computer, all my credentials were revoked, my STAFF badge was gone. My manager said he’d check in with the big boss on Monday but he was pretty sure this was a done deal. I was told I could keep the laptop which had a list price of around two weeks of work. I talked it out with my sister. “Dude, I work for state government and we fire people all the time, this seems like a weird firing.” That said, it was a done deal and so I’ve sort of made my peace with it. I’m even a little hesitant to write about it because of my concern that someone will tell me that the real reason I was fired was because I am awful, or an idiot, or something. I can’t help feeling that there is more to the story, it’s tough to settle with the idea that I’ll probably never know.

My sister and I had Chinese food that Friday and I waited to open my fortune cookie until I’d gotten the final word on Monday that I wouldn’t be coming back. I got the final word. My fortune said “I learn by going where I have to go.” I don’t know if all Chinese food eaters are readers of Roethke, but I was, and I knew this poem. I’d written a report on it in high school. And I could make all sorts of hand-wavey interpretations of it within this context, but it felt good to see something familiar.

I’ve got no wrap-up here except that writing this down is my symbolic “OK now that’s over with.” I wasn’t even there long enough to put it on a resumé. I have some vague concerns that maybe I am secretly unemployable, but they’re pretty low key. My dad had a Bob Dylan song he liked to sing a lot, more than anything parts of it are running through my head, and not always the same part.

P.S. I’m giving the laptop to my Drop-In Time intern. His parents said it’s ok.

winning

image of letter and check I received from Equifax

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.

more of the same, or is it

maroon screen saying "Hi I'm jessamyn,. I'm a Vermont Librarian. I can teach anyone to use a computer"

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 have long hair because I am afraid of the barber

image of a braid as seen from the back

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.

my year in cities and towns, 2017

showing the foot of a wooden bed with a crane photo on the wall behind it.

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.

  1. Niceville FL – a great way to kick off the year with some sunshine and friendly librarians
  2. Cambridge MA* – Deb’s place is always good for the soul
  3. Toronto ON – a weird AirBnB and a great visit
  4. Toronto ON – Gabe’s duplex was a better resting place
  5. Stow MA* – chilling post-Superbowl at Kate’s
  6. Westport MA* – planned to spend more time here than I actually did
  7. Montreal QC – a catsit and a trip that was supposed to be a vacation with Jim
  8. Crystal City VA – a fun library conference and a chance to see a lot of library friends
  9. Washington DC – MeFites put me up and showed me the town, so lovely
  10. Brooklyn NY* – wound up here twice, the couch is fine but the love is great
  11. Brooklyn NY – hamsters!
  12. Weir’s Beach NH – Fun Spot was one of the year’s highlights
  13. Cambridge MA – another catsit, another funny little bed
  14. Concord NH – I spent a lot of time sleeping not far from home
  15. Boxboro MA* – moved in and did not leave for a while
  16. Edmonton AB – a great conference center
  17. Edmonton AB – the swank apartment of an old family friend
  18. Baraboo WI – place was as weird as it seems but the conference was grand
  19. Saratoga Springs NY – Liked this Hilton, loved this conference