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.
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!
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?