So it’s sort of crazy but I actually sold the house. The crazier part of it is that when I signed a purchase and sale with these buyers months ago [the first people to make a serious offer on the place] they were interested in moving in as soon as possible and we set the closing date right then, July 13th, and that’s actually when the house closed. Apparently this rarely happens. The actual event was pretty much pro forma. Sign a bunch of stuff, say hi to the buyer [and his wife and adorable little kids] who I was meeting for the first time, receive a big check and then go driving around taking photographs of Vermont towns hoping even more than usual to not get into a major accident.

The whole thing wound up really well, in exchange for me chipping in some of the closing costs (not part of the original deal) the buyer basically took the place as-is meaning waiving the usual back and forth that happens when they get the place inspected and say things like “Well there is a kestrel in the chimney, will you take $500 off the price for kestrel removal services…?” which I was happy for. This meant a little less angsting over what “really clean” means in barn terms. I gave away a household’s worth of furniture to the RE-Store in Barre (wonderful people). I gave away ladders and drill presses and card catalogs to friends. I threw a lot of things away, even stuff that was maybe recyclable. It felt weird. I put some stuff in a friend’s shed until I can figure out what to do with it. I have even more stuff in my place here than before.

Not being a homeowner [of my OWN home, yes I technically own some part of my dad’s place but I certainly do not feel that it’s mine] is about as good as I thought it would be. Not having 40 acres of land does not cause me psychic distress. Or if it does, it’s significantly less distressing than owning a house that is too far away and too high maintenance and not enough fun. As my sister, who sold her own house a year and a bit ago, presciently said “You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it years ago” and she’s totally correct.

As an odd and only-sort-of-related coda, I am heading out to get my stuff that was originally in a friend’s basement in Seattle since I moved out of there for good in … 2003? Yes, 2003 (thanks Scott!). Another friend drove it partway across the country last year and now there is a storage unit full of … things I haven’t seen in almost a decade that I am going to retrieve. Renting a van, the whole deal. I think it’s mostly books. Some clothes. A few odd bits of furniture. This is the sort of thing that I call a vacation.


I know everyone thinks that their friends are the best friends that ever were but I will fight them, they are wrong, these guys are the best ones.

No sooner had I posted a breezy little “Hey here’s what’s up; check me out, posting twice in a week!” than things got busy. And this is busy-for-me busy which is somewhat crazed by other people’s perspectives. In short, I got a buyer for the barn and they were interested in closing as soon as possible. And this would mean handling all the deferred maintenance and whatnot in as short a timespan as possible. And that would mean dealing with all of this in the same two-month is period where I had six (6: MA, ME, NH, NY, NC, Montreal) talks planned along with the usual stuff. My thought at the time was that school would be wrapping up and then I’d want to be busy and then would kick back, spending some time in Westport and maybe just noodling around New England. Instead I’ve been following this schedule where I’ve been working at RTCC Tues/Weds then leaving for somewhere Thursday, giving a talk, then coming back Saturday and assembling people to go do stuff at the barn in the meantime. And also trying to get contractors to fix things at the barn that have needed fixing for longer than I care to admit.

The whole thing sort of pushes a bunch of buttons for me that are difficult. Having to make a bunch of phone calls to poke people about getting things fixed (I had to call the furnace people six times to get a set date, this seems abnormal to me). Having to face that this all might have been simpler if I’d handled chunks of it before now. Feeling time pressure on someone else’s schedule. Writing big checks for things like surveying and renting a dumpster. Getting friends to help me with a sort of messy annoying task and trying to manage a bunch of people doing a weird hard-to-outline job. Dealing with the fact that I bought this house when I was maybe too young and too isolated to really manage it properly. Explaining to people that I’m actually mostly happy being this busy but that yes, I don’t have time to hang out when I’m in their city. Deferred gratification hoping it will all feel worth it at this point. Managing a lot of other people’s stuff that was left behind at various points and being annoyed at that. Throwing away things that might, in some other world, be reusable and repurposable. And doing a lot of this while also managing my full time job at MetaFilter while other people are trying to go on vacation and have their summers be fun also. There is no cell service in Topsham. I can’t multitask there. This is the good news and the bad news.

This weekend my friends Stan and Brian and Forrest (pictured, with me. I keep forgetting I am short) came up to help me clean out the barn and it was an incredible surgical strike of efficiency. We were there for about 2.5 hours and got most of the barn emptied out. This means now I have to mostly sort out the small stuff and figure out what goes to the thrift store and what goes to the yard sale, but that the bulk of the “things I can’t lift” have been lifted. I have about three weeks.

And so there were a bunch of other things I was going to talk about, but today has been my first Totally Free Day [where I wasn’t writing a talk or having a thing scheduled or out of town] in quite some time. And I’ve been meaning to write this all down. I’ve still got a few small jobs there if people are interested in coming up and saying goodbye to the place. All barn jobs come with a free meal at the Wayside afterwards. Worth considering.

the siren song of the road I didn’t take


Late Thanksgiving means fewer days of somewhat aimless dread between now and the great holidaytime EXIT door which is New Year’s Eve. Actually I’m doing pretty much fine this year. I’m participating in some random holidaytime stuff [gift exchange via Elfster and a card exchange with internet friends] as well as some real life stuff. I’m getting enough sleep and almost enough exercise. I’ve seen some good movies and the weather has been very accomodating.

This photo is a current one of my house up north. I finally took Jim to see it over the long Thanksgiving weekend. It did its siren song job on him and he was standing in it looking around saying “Wow this place is really neat” at the same time I was grabbing a few Scrabble sets and moving towards the door saying “Get out before you decide to live here for the next decade!” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I feel at some point I made a choice to go from living in a drop-dead lovely place as a vulnerable slightly lonely hermit to living in a pretty great place where I have friends and a job and I run into people that I know when I go into town to do errands. I have a feeling I will enjoy no longer owning this place up north, but I could be wrong about that.

This weekend Kate is moving to her new house up the road from where we grew up, a dynamite place in a cute neighborhood with a funky name. I expect to be spending some time down there and thereabouts over holidaytime between Xmas and New Year’s in case other people are in the area and want to say hi. I have a car with a magical trunk; things you put in it just disappear. Helpful this time of year. There’s a spectacular bonfire in town here on the 19th, contact me for details if you’re in the area.

Jim’s birthday is Monday and it’s the one event of all of them that we’re not spending together though I did send him a fun package of loot. If you’ve got a free minute or two, please wish him well on the facebook or the twitter or I’ll send you his email and you can send him your favorite YouTube video from the seventies.

return to soxboro!

So the wedding and all the other kerfuffle last weekend was a lot of fun. I went back to Vermont Tuesday evening after a quick visit to my Dad’s. Had a three day week which was meetings and houseguests and cleanup.

The guy who is caretaking my place in Topsham — yes it’s still standing, no I don’t really have a plan for it yet, thanks for asking — came by my place with a truckload of stuff of mine, just odds and ends. He dropped it all off on Thursday evening and the next night I was having overnight guests, folks from the internet who were stopping by on a New England driving vacation.

I did my handflappy thing of “oh my, the house is now a mess!” and set to looking at all the boxes of stuff and it was a speedy trip down memory lane. I found old newspapers from Burning Man 2001, part of a novel that Greg was writing, some things from my childhood [a sign for my door that said JESS made by my grandfather, the dress I wore to my high school graduation], a lot of miscellaneous cables, CDs [music and data] and lots and lots of paper. Apparently paper was very popular in my household in the pre-internet days. Or maybe it wasn’t and that’s why I had so much of it left.

In any case, I still had the five mystery garbage bags of junk left when my guests came to visit. They seemed game for whatever, and I was leaving town for ten days, so I did an impromptu “hey let’s see what’s inside THIS bag” fashion show and managed to separate everything into “keep” “toss” and “donate” piles. My guests were good-natured and amused and I got a big dumb project done before heading out on the Nova Scotia Road Trip to Maine which commences tomorrow. They drove off in the direction of the Vermont Country Store and I headed off to the bus station. Will let you know how Maine is. Signing off, from Soxboro.


A good question, I think

My favorite part about holiday days isn’t so much how the town empties out (and its pretty empty here even on a work day) but how the whole world seems to quiet down. My internet world is quietly muttering about chocolate. My email inbox is empty. MetaFilter is subdued. The lack of buzzbuzzbuzz in the periphery gives me some freed up cycles to do a lot of weird maintenance things.

  • I upgraded WordPress on both my blogs. If you are reading this, it worked.
  • I added a few new stories to the Donald Barthelme page and contemplated a redesign but I don’t think I’m there yet.
  • jailbroke and customized a loaner iphone; no good for calls, good for everything else.
  • I’m bringing a ton of stuff into my apartment that I brought back from Topsham

Topsham is my “rise from the dead” story for today. I have friends moving in to caretake the place and it needs a lot of work. I’m approaching this work like a long distance runner, but it makes me bolt awake eyes wide open wondering “what next? What now?” Yesterday I went with a friend and brought home some books (OED and Encyclopedia Britannica, you are home now) and my tent and some photos and a big container of clothes. When I looked at the clothes there was this whole “Oh wow, I forgot all about that t-shirt!” experience. I’m generally pretty good at compartmentalizing; this brought back a big chunk of time I’d long since filed away, in good ways and bad. I looked at my Burning Man outfits, my tie-dyed socks (really?), my orange coveralls, and my shorts that were too big on me even then and now aren’t even options as clothing. There were a lot of Greg’s clothes too, things he left behind that I never even knew were still there. I’ve split the stuff into “to wash” and “to get rid of” piles and I’ll be looking at old photos today and hanging up my spurs that were a 30th birthday present from a friend I’ve lost track of.

A few people got in touch with me to say that they thought my last post might be a “hey I think I need to leave Vermont” post, which it wasn’t. I’ve been a little melancholy lately — family stuff, not too much personal stuff — and looking at other people’s plans makes me investigate my own more closely. This is the best time of year to go see Topsham. The snow has melted, the grass is greening up and not yet so tall that you can’t see the shape of the land. I feel like such a weird schoolgirl having a dysfunctional love affair with a piece of property. Every time I go up there, even as the house continues to silt in and deteriorate and the barn leans more and the taxes go up, I look at the 40 acres of field and hill and woods and things seem rich and full of possibility. It’s a tonic to an otherwise bumpy set of weeks.

music and soup

One of the things I schlepped down from Topsham was my old iMac. I got it in exchange for one of my first webbish jobs, a job that I was forced to learn CSS for. I turned it on and learned that it hadn’t had a software upgrade since 2003. Not surprising since I never had more than dial-up in Topsham and you can’t do 100MB downloads realistically over a 42K connection. Two more things about it. 1) it has all the music on it, or most of it that I lost in the “oh shit” music massacre of a few years ago, that’s neat 2) it has kickass speakers. I’ve been on laptops since that machine and they all have pretty lousy speakers. I have the iMac set up on the kitchen counter belting Goodness which is great for reasons 1 and 2.

The last few days have been a blur, enough so that when I looked at the online Scrabble games I had been playing, it was my turn in all (9) of them. Whoops! I had a soup party thing at my house to welcome Chris Mear to town. He’s a guy I’ve known from MetaFilter and he’s on a VT – MA – NY trip for a few weeks. He stayed with Rick and Sarah for a few days and then me for a few days. There’s something about having a guest in town, particularly during an amazing week in October, that kicked my ass into gear getting things done. I got my oil changed, took out the recycling, cooked two pots of soup and some tasty foccacia, went to Montpelier for barbecue, hosted seven people for dinner, upgraded my WordPress install, cut a bunch of flowers and put them all over the house in jars of water and even cleaned up afterwards. Not necessarily in that order. Now I’ve got a day of downtime — actually getting four talks ready for next week — before my friends from Brooklyn show up and we try to find the tastiest chicken pie supper in Orange County.



One of the things I rarely talk about is the fact that I grew up near a small airport. I don’t think of myself as any sort of airport rat. No one in my family flies a plane. And yet, it’s one of those things that I have a hard time remembering isn’t part of most people’s growing up experience. My sister and I grew up “at the end of the runway” of the Minuteman Airfield in Stow, Massachusetts. We could walk across the street and down the field that my Mom photographs so often and walk along the runway to the airport restaurant. My Mom would go get coffee there and talk to pilots sometimes. I remember they had a pretty good candy machine.

When my sister and I got older we both got jobs there. My job there was my first job ever, minding a coffee shop for a few hours after school. I made $2.10 an hour, plus tips which were scant. I was about 14 years old and at the end of my shift, I’d lock the door behind me and walk home down the runway and across the field in the dark. Sometimes the pilots would take us flying and we would fly over our house. Once I got to ride in a helicopter. We’ve had plane crashes happen both across the street and in our backyard. One was on my birthday. My Mom does some work for the same restaurant, the same people I worked for. They’ve owned the place since I can remember. She helps them with their newsletter, they pay her in gift certificates. We often go eat there when I’m in town. This is just a big explanation for why, when I went flying with my friend Mark (the pilot!) today and he said “Here, you want to fly it?” and handed me the yoke I could say “Oh yeah, I’ve done this before.” We had a really good time, you can check out the photos.

We flew over my house in Bethel, totally obscured by trees, and took a look at the quarry in Bethel which is hard to see from anywhere but the air. Then we headed north sort of following Route 91 and turned in at Route 25 and we were in the hills, just trees and trees and trees, mostly red, some green, pretty impressive. The photos are a pale reflection of how amazing it looked from up there. I looked down trying to find my actual place in Topsham, but it was obscured by clouds.