the road ahead

I have gone far too long without an update here. Blogs being what they are, I am certain this has not been a problem but usually I just fail to update because I’m busy or because I don’t have much to say. This time it was much more because I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say. And I still don’t.

In short, I am fine and life is fine, but I made a decision to leave MetaFilter and do a few more things. Unlike leaving a shitty job where you wake up the next morning thinking “I did the exact right thing and why did I wait so long?” this one feels a bit weirder and I think I was putting off writing about it until I had that “This is totally right” feeling but now it’s occurring to me that I may never. It was not a shitty job and yet it was still time to go.

Anyhow, if you know me much at all or follow me on any other social media you know the story already. Revenue was way down, layoffs needed to happen. As employee #1 (after Matt) I had a choice to either continue working but in more of an “everyone works all the time” sort of way or move on and let someone else stay working there. The last eighteen months of working at MeFi had been, for me, difficult. We knew revenue was down, Google’s mechanisms were opaque, Matt didn’t want to tell the community about the problems, he and pb tried an awful lot of cost-saving measures but every so often there would be a “Things are looking worse than usual” email to the staff and continued discussions that the site might have to actually shut down or be sold. As Director of Operations–more of a title that I took when I also had to take a pay cut last year than an actual description of what I did–I offered a lot of suggestions and tried to keep staff morale up, but the final decisions were Matt’s to make. And it was hard, for a long time. And ultimately, as much as I loved the job, I had a few conflicting concerns…

1. I wanted to do more work with libraries. The MeFi job was pretty flexible, but the more public speaking I was doing the more I’d have to get coverage when I was away and the more I’d be working seven-day weeks including travel/speaking time. This was too much. AskMe is an amazing resource and I feel like I had a big hand in making it what it is but it’s not public and it’s not a library.
2. I was getting burned out. People who have done similar jobs know what this is like but I’d find myself looking at big fighty threads and just thinking that everyone was being awful (which, in truth, they may have been) and not wanting to wade into it to help sort it out. The community deserved better than that. Many of the other mods are better at not letting this stuff get under their skin so much. This was a good news/bad news thing. I think I was very good at my job because I cared so much about it, but it also took a lot out of me. And the meticulous attention to the work that I did may have been more than the site really needed. Maybe.
3. I was tired of covering. We’d been living with this news for nearly two years and I’d already nearly-resigned once. After the public announcements were made about the money problems and the layoffs, the community responded incredibly positively and started donating a ton of money to keep the lights on. This was, for me, incredibly gratifying but also sort of a bitter pill since it was a thing I’d wanted to do much earlier in the game, when I was still around. We’d launched a mod-intensive subsite a month before we were announcing that we were laying people off. I love the subsite, I thought the timing of the move was a mistake. But I think more to the point, I was tired of being one of the main public faces of a site where I wasn’t calling the shots, and disagreeing with some of the shots. Matt’s a wonderful guy as a person, he has some shortcomings as a boss. I’m certain I have some shortcomings as an employee. I really wanted to be in a workplace situation where I could work hard and get positive feedback for that work, or if not, feedback on how to improve. Instead I got paid well to work in a vacuum which was great but weird, mostly left alone but with occasional “Hey we’re going to make some big changes in 48 hours” emails. When Matt’s post on Medium about “the troubles” mentioned me only for my scheduling work, that stung. And made me think, more than anything else, that I was making the right decision. I needed MetaFilter to be less about me and I needed me to be less about MetaFilter.
4. I had a place to go. When the MeFi stuff started being difficult I decided I needed a hobby and I started a volunteer job over at Open Library helping do the support email there and beef up their FAQ, trying to make what had been a bit of a ghost ship into a live concern. As I was casting about thinking about what my Plan B was going to be, I asked them if they’d consider bringing me on and they said “Sure!” So I started a part time gig there a month before I left MeFi. Longer description of that here. And, since MeFi was such a good job for so long, I have a chunk of money in the bank so I don’t have to start scrambling for other work just yet.
5. I am aware this may sound snotty but I think I had sort of peaked at MeFi. I wasn’t sure there were new paths to explore there within the structure as it was and I didn’t see the structure changing. Ultimately I took the place from a Matt-and-sometimes-Jess place to a site with a staff of eight round-the-clock employees and a bunch of community-enhancing stuff (April Fool’s events, holiday swaps, music exchanges, the MeFi Mall, a user-built wiki with full podcast transcripts) better than any place else operating at a similar scale. A place where you could read the comments and not be appalled at how terrible “internet people” can be. A place where even if you did have a bad day, you’d have a chance for a better one. A place that was a good place to work as well as a good place to hang out, for the most part.

So it worked out. MetaFilter did right by me and I think I did right by MetaFilter. I’ve committed myself to not starting to look for other work until the summer starts winding down. I’ve been keeping up on my public speaking and redesigned my “Hey you might want to hire me” site and it looks really nice. I’ve taken over the Twitter accounts for Open Library and the Vermont Library Association and I’ve recommitted myself to reading books as if it were my job (check the reading list). I’ve been pruning the junipers at my dad’s place a lot these past few days and realizing that my grandmother (who used to do this a lot) may have really had something there.

And MetaFilter? It’s still my internet home and I’m still there a lot of the time, but being there because I want to be is a whole different kind of being there, and one that I like a lot.

my world of work and money

2010income1

I think I usually make this post around tax time, but I kept good track of money stuff last year (thanks Excel, and USAA website) so it’s easy enough to make now. Without giving actual numbers, this is where my income came from last year. Nothing too surprising except that the library sliver is teeny. Interestingly, it’s not that I worked so much less at the library on an hourly basis but that the jobs pay so much worse. Working at the library pays about 30% of what working at the high school pays. I decided that my library job was going to be my public service work for last year, so I donated all the money I made working at the library directly to the food bank. I’ll probably do the same this year.

My MetaFilter job now comes with health insurance, a 401K and all those other “normal job” perks. It’s a little strange to have a job that is largely invisible to most people, but I muddle through. I passed my five year mark at the new year and got a gold star next to my username as recognition. And then some random MetaFilter person sent me a pen set anyhow.

I’m trying to do less travelling for work this year, something I did fairly successfully last year. I’ve got two trips to Austin and one to Connecticut lined up. I’ve picked up a few more volunteer jobs, possibly against my better judgment. I’m teaching some classes for the Vermont community broadband project. Natural fit, right? Unfortunately, there’s this reinventing the wheel aspect to the whole thing that I find maddening, I’m trying to be the change I want to see in technology instruction, but it’s an uphill climb. I’m reminded of one of the inside jokes we have on MetaFilter, when you see yourself (or someone else) again doing that same old thing that drives them crazy and expecting different results….OH LOOK SISYPHUS THERE GOES YOUR ROCK AGAIN. I’m also the web editor for the VT 251 club which has so far been delightful.

My book (available April 30th) which has so far paid absolutely nothing is in the copy-editing stages. Like all nerdy types, I’m not really a gracious editee but I’m doing my best to just power through it and not turn into a fussy irate special snowflake dork. It’s going okay.

Holidaytime wound up okay which I attribute to my decisions to make tiny presents for people and to bring slice and bake cookies everywhere I went. Could it be that simple?

down/up with this sort of thing!

So as a result of the post-holiday morass, I haven’t done other wrap-ups or much else. I had a week of good sleep and getting ready for work and then I woke up with the sniffles and was like “Oh THIS again” but it seems to be mostly at bay. Works going fine. I quit my job at the library. You can read about that decision over at librarian.net. I still feel pretty weird about it. I’m sort of at a point where if I make a big decision in my life, I’m likely to have a bunch of people being supportive (see librarian.net comments). This is lucky for me, I’m fortunate to have a large peer group of people who mostly like me, and yet it’s hard when I’m doing something that feels wrong. I wonder if they’d tell me if I was screwing it all up? Maybe I can’t screw it all up.

Unlike in the past where I’ve had a chart about swimming, last year I switched to a more maintenance approach to exercise. That is, I do it for mood balancing and if I feel I have been slacking in the fitness department, but not in the same auto-competitive way as years past. I also started running. I know, weird right? I had always assumed I couldn’t really run, both because of my mild asthma and also my “loose ankles” which means I was always spraining them. Some combination of years of swimming and better footwear seems to have mostly fixed this. I now trod along on the treadmill sometimes instead of swimming. I like this because I can listen to music and the time commitment is less and my pulse races higher. I can do a mile in 13:22. I am aiming for 12:00, for starters. Kelly’s been good at setting me up with some good habits and now I’m sort of motoring along on my own.

As a result of this, I had to buy sneakers. Since I’m paid something like adult-level wages now — and we got healthcare and assorted benefits with my job at MetaFilter this year — I figured I should invest in some decent clothes. So I now have a new winter vest, new sneakers, new “snow clogs” and a few sharp-looking pairs of second-hand pants. I agonize over spending money like this, but less than I worry about becoming some crazed Hetty Green type person, so sometimes I shop.

A few more things you should know:

– As a result of rejiggering my morning routine, I have now created a slot for brushing my teeth and do it every day. I’m dumbly proud of this, as well as embarassed that it took me this long to figure out how to do this.
– I have decided that if I’m going to eat soup every night [I love soup!] like some rooming house hotplate owner, I could at least make it myself. So there’s been some cooking going on. Man… soup!
– I’ve got a caretaker in Topsham who is paying (a little bit of) rent and that seems to be working nicely for both of us.
– The plan for this year is much less travelling-for-work. We’ll see how that goes. More to the point, I feel that there was some aspect of me that enjoyed scooting around and overprogramming myself because I was concerned about having downtime, maybe being bored? I have decided that I am never bored (even in the absence of the internet) and have set out to prove that with more opportunities for doing what my Dad calls “the nothing” We shall see.

how do I get a job like yours?

I’m on my way to the SXSW Conference in Austin Texas. This will be the third time I’ve gone. The first time was in 2000 and I met my boss and co-worker there, though I didn’t know it at the time. The second time was last year and I gave a little presentation about being a community moderator for a job. As I mentioned in this photo on Flickr — and I’m working on a longer post about the topic for librarian.net — I culturally identify as a librarian, whatever that means, but being a community moderator (or Chief of Operations when I’m sounding fancy) is what pays the bills and is the bulk of my income. It also keeps me in computers and free Internet when I travel but I’m one of those folks who loves what they do so I could probably get paid in sand and still be doing this.

It’s only been lately, really, that you could say “Oh I ‘run a community’ for my job” and have people know what you meant. Back in the day AOL had people who sort of kept track of what was going on in chatrooms and had some admin privileges but nowadays if you interact with any website that allows you to post or comment or rate anything, chances are there’s someone like me behind the scenes making sure it goes smoothly. The panel is going to be talking a little bit about that: what does it mean to do this sort of thing as a job, or even a career? I’ll be on the panel with people from Flickr, YouTube, CurrentTV and Etsy, all big name sites. I’m sort of the small potatoes person. MetaFilter was a community before any of those sites existed, but it’s stayed pretty small (relatively) and texty and off of people’s radar. That said, Matt Haughey who runs the place has been doing some form of community moderation since 1999 which is the Stone Age in Internet time.

People often ask how they can get a job like mine. Sometimes that means running a website, sometimes it means doing public speaking stuff, sometimes it means rural public librarian stuff, sometimes it’s teaching email to old people. The way the crazy swinging mobile of my work-life arrangements work, it would be hard for me to do any one of these things without the other three (though I do think about it) and my advice often turns into some hippie-dippy “follow your bliss” combined with “don’t get into debt so you can work for cheap while you wait to get paid well for being good at what you do” The last bit of advice I have is “You don’t want my life” Not that it doesn’t work well for me, it does, but when I talk about what’s really involved in keeping all these balls in the air (lots of travel, lots of online time, lots of multitasking, lots of new faces and places, lots of diplomacy, lots of apologizing for me and for others, lots of late nights) it’s really rarely other peoples’ idea of a good time.

I tend to re-configure these questions into something more like “How can I live where I want and do what I want while feeling like I’m having some sort of positive effect in the world?” and that’s the question I try to answer. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other panelists have to say about similar questions.

The two day work week

I got moo cards

A friend asked me how my “work downsizing” project was going and I reflected that it’s going pretty well. I looked at my calendar from last semester and realized I was working more, enjoying it less and not doing the sorts of work I wanted to be doing because I felt like I was so busy doing the work I should be doing. That had to change. It mostly did.

I kept most of my travelling work because I enjoy that a great deal, but I set things up so that I’m not coming back from a long trip just to go back to work the next day. I’m also not on call for as much tech support. I also say “no” more often. So I travel a few times a month, alternating between local and farther away. I charge more so I get paid better when I do travel and if the trip is a total nightmare (happens less and less often, but travel is always uncertain) I at least feel well-compensated. I trimmed down my drop-in and teaching days to one a week. Seems like almost none but teaching adult learners is a lot of work and this way drop-in time is full, rarely empty. I’m also a real librarian, sort of.

I’m helping a local library automate their collection of about 8000 books. I’m also doing their website and maintaining their computers. I have a job with librarian in the title but I’m not working with patrons, unless they bring their laptops in. I do that one day a week, sometimes a little more at home.

This month is vacation for a lot of the local students so I’m also lifeguarding at the pool. It’s just barely work to sit in an 85 degree room in the sunshine for a few hours but they do pay me. Add to this that my apartment is pretty much set up the way I like it — so I’m not endlessly re-arranging and can just sit and BE here — and I’ve actually got travel for fun scheduled during the holidaytimes when travel for work drops off.

Though I haven’t mentioned it much here lately, the treehouse has a guestroom, or a guest closet, and another spare bed. People cruising through Vermont won’t get quite the same palatial digs they may have gotten used to over the past five years, but this place also comes with no early risers and a barely used Bananagrams game. I’m expecting the WinterWonderland snowdump any minute now — had a little preview on Sunday as I was coming home — otherwise see you in the Springtime!

double-digit 08

Our Mother the Mountain

First off, thanks to the random internet stranger who sent me a random gift card. I got a nice orange necklace. Note to all other random internet strangers: postcards are fine, anything else is overkill and vaguely unsettling. This is not intended to be a “mixed signal”, this is intended to be a very clear one.

This year has started slowly. I went to NH this weekend because I have a friend in Manchester and a friend in the media and we traipsed around looking at things. I still find the whole political machine strange and fascinating. I do prefer it this time as a more disinterested observer than I was in 04. So, I came down and listened to my pal Robert talk about all the wacky candidate hijinks going on that he was covering for NPR. I even made him a Wikipedia page while I was down there. We checked out the Google/YouTube party (briefly met Obamagirl) and messed around in the science center where the party was, stopped in at the Ron Paul bar and took a sign home which I used to amusing effect later. I don’t mean to be an annoying liberal arts major postmodernist about this, but it sort of amuses me that my neighbors probably have no idea if I’m really voting for Ron Paul or not.

That brings me to my next topic: going back to work. I love my jobs but there is something pleasant to me about having no real schedule and a surplus of cash, books and friends. However, that time seems to come in January when all I feel like doing is playing online Scrabble and drinking more coffee. So, going back to work after the holidays is usually great. I got in the pool, my boss took me out to lunch, I’m hammering out a few classes to teach in a few months, and my drop-in time was going swimmingly. I was apalled, then, when in the normal course of chitchatting about computers one of my students (adult, older woman) mentioned rather offhandedly that she thought that all illegal immigrants should be lined up and shot, apropos of nothing. I had been helping her learn to take photos of stuff so she could put them on Ebay and I just sat and stared at her. Another student offered at that moment that he was a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. I believe the segue was “while we’re talking about crazy ideas…” and showed her some website he’d been looking at (and I taught him how to type a URL into the box, I did). She looked at me with an almost smug expression and said “You’ve gotten pretty quiet.” and I replied that I wasn’t going to talk to her about that At All and we could move on or it would just stay quiet. I’m not sure if it was the right choice.

My last student and I just sat at her desk while all the noisemaking was going on. We’ve been helping her get the photos of her trip to China on to her ancient laptop running Windows ME. She’s Chinese, I believe. I don’t know if she was particularly annoyed or outraged at this outburst but I know that the whole situation made me wince and then wonder what the right thing to do was, or is?