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leaving the continent

I haven’t left the continent in quite a while now and I have the fidgets. One of the great side effects of not having a regular sort-of-full-time job is that I can say yes to some opportunities that I’d been missing out on. Backstory: I am on the Advisory Board to the Wikimedia Foundation. Just one of the service-type things that I do. Mostly we just answer questions if asked, it’s not a high commitment thing, but I enjoy being involved because I believe in the Wikimedia/Wikipedia vision, imperfect as it may be. So one of the things available to the Advisory Board members is travel to the annual Wikimania Conference. This year it is in London. I have always wanted to go to London. It’s a little weird to me that for all my international travel I’ve never been to any of Western Europe. So I’m leaving tomorrow and today is getting all my ducks in a row, including writing some stuff in this slightly slow-motion blog.

An odd side effect of not having an internet job (mostly, the Open Library gig is super part time) is that emails languish in my inbox and my blogs are a little unattended. So I’ve been spending a lot of time since mid-June down in Westport (with a trip back up for July 4th and now again) and doing a variety of things. A partial list. Links usually go to photos or talks.

So, now that you are caught up, I am leaving to go to London for Wikimania where I will be volunteering in the Press Office and trying to go see a bunch of talks and get my phone working correctly. Don’t call me. I won’t answer. I have some library tours and maybe a Meetup scheduled. I’m trying to play the rest of it by ear other than making sure I have enough reading material to last me through a six hour plane ride there and back (seriously, this and sleeping are my largest travel concerns) and the right clothes to wear.

Despite this list, I feel like I’ve been able to have a lot of lazy downtime, more than usual. This may be because I’m just calmer inside than I’ve been for the past few years, or it may be that for the first time in a really long time, I’m doing summer right (for me).

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.

Patient

tadpole

So for the first time in ten years, I missed giving a talk (missed the whole trip) because I was sick. And I’m bent out of shape about it. No one likes being sick, of course, but I have a weird “Am I TOO sick to do the thing?” set of anxieties that I start getting when I am doing something with other people. Do I just lump it and suffer through it? Do I stay home and get better even if people are relying on me? Do I put the people on the airplane at risk of getting the crud because I have unrefundable AirBnB reservations? I have a hard time making these decisions and I am lucky that I have sensible people around me to help me make them. I’d been feeling punk for a few days but it was waking up on the day of my flight with a fever that clinched the “Don’t go” decision for me. The nice people at TXLA were totally understanding. My talks were even online and ready to go and I toyed with the idea of giving the talks via Skype but 1) no one really likes that and 2) I still didn’t feel that great.

And so since then I’ve been digging out of feeling bad about that. And I’m heading to Mackinac Island on Monday (assuming the ice gets broken up in good time) for the Michigan Rural Libraries Conference where I’m keynoting and I’m trying not to get phobic about staying healthy until then.

Meanwhile there’s been a bit of waiting-game stuff going on at some–oh let’s be honest, most–of my other jobs and I’ve realized just how terrible I can be at just waiting and being still without some sort of geography quiz or Vermont cop mystery or todo checklist to occupy me. I’m in Massachusetts for a few days (love the jobs I can do from anywhere) because it’s school break in Vermont and I’m trying hard to go for gadget-free walks and see how things are going in the frog pond day by day. The waiting isn’t easy but I think it may be healthy.

ceci n’est pas un cactus

"that weird cactus"

I like keeping pictures of green things on my phone to look at when outside is all just frozen wasteland. This is a plant that looks like a cactus but is actually some sort of stapelia. It grew from a clipping of my grandmother’s plant and sits in the windowsill being green. My landlady comes in to water my plants occasionally when I travel and calls it That Thing.

But this is just to say that Winter is still here and that is fine but I see Spring on the horizon and that is better. I traveled to Massachusetts this past weekend to give a talk at a library that was not to librarians. It was at a brunch hosted by the Cary Library in Lexington and I gave a no-slides talk about blogging. It went off even better than I expected it to. Longtime readers sort of know my whole history of online nerdery and self-promotion via this and other blogs but people who know me from more recent times might be interested in the talk I gave. It’s online (of course) and you can read it here: Blogs Bloggers and Blogging.

Was really nice to see some friendly faces in the crowd including my Mom, James Fox and Shannon McDonough. Now I’m back home with freshly-done taxes and big weekend plans to play Rock Band and talk to some library trustees about rural libraries.

Looking

Snowy Owl and Tower

I’ve been really lucky these past few months. There has been a snowy owl irruption (you can thank the lemmings) and they’re all over the US in places that they usually aren’t. They like places that remind them of the arctic prairies which means you find them at airports and windswept beaches. This is tough in New England because they look like hunks of dirty snow of which there are many. The good news is that someone has usually done the tough work of finding them and so all you need to do is walk around a bit and look for the people staring excitedly into the dunes and usually you’ll see them. This is how I saw my first snowy owl a few weeks ago and how I saw my second just this weekend. Jim and I wrote OWL in the sand with an arrow to point to where the guy was hanging out. You’d miss him otherwise. Which I’m sure is what he probably wanted. Our arrow was blown away within ten minutes. You’re welcome, owl.

So yesterday when I hurled myself out the door in 25 degree weather order to get some exercise and vitamin D and walked around Gooseberry Point/Island/Beach/Whatever, I didn’t really have owls on my mind. But by the time I was rounding the last bend, I was a little curious if that big hunk of dirty snow might actually be…. And then it peeped at me and fluffed its feathers and I knew for sure. It was pretty exciting in that “simple pleasures” sort of way to get to have a private audience with an owl. I took a few photos as he rotated his head to keep an eye on me and then I continued on, made a report on ebird’s Snowy Owl Alert page (so gratifying to see it marked “confirmed”) and came home to look at the photos.

I’m occasionally posting stuff on Instagram also, for people who use that. It gets cross-posted to facebook (just like these posts do) so no need to install another app if you’re not already using it. If you are already using it, let me know your handle.

hunting season is over

orange vest on braided rug

I have this orange vest. Orange is my color. It looks good on me and I wear it as much as I can get away with. This was a non-issue at home, at Hampshire and no big deal in Seattle. Around here it attracts the occasional joke about hunting season. Which is fine. It’s perfect actually. As a kid, and even into adulthood, I always hated being teased, even friendly teasing. I know it’s mostly irrational and learning to roll with the occasional jab is just part of being a grown-up. But I still bristle and dislike it and always feel that people are playing status games with me when they subtly put me down for no reason, when I thought we were having a nice time. That said, I’m sure there is something that I may be missing about how I treat other people that makes them think maybe I went there first? Or that I enjoy this sort of thing? Or that I have it coming? Unclear. A big secret about me is that I am often confused.

Anyhow, I went to RTCC to go hang out at drop-in time and give people tech support. I made a joke with another teacher (intentionally, I knew it was a joke and I knew the person I was making it towards would know it was a joke, we are work friends, some things I understand) and he looked at me and said “Hunting season is over!” and we both laughed. This vest, a really nice soft vest with a lifetime warranty, is so much better than just being a bright orange down vest. It’s a predictable-teasing attractant. No one makes fun of my haircut when I wear this vest, or my shoes, or my phone, or whatever else it is that people like to point out and say “Hey you’re different, and weird!” Just that bright orange vest that makes me look like a misplaced hunter. It’s perfect, I’ll take it.

that was the year that was

I feel like I skipped a year and now I am back to visiting the US and various libraries and guestrooms with backpack or travel bag. I missed it. I am freshly back (well not even home yet but holed up in Westport watching it rain) from a long trip to see Jim’s parents outside of Phoenix and a short trip to New York City to give a talk and see some friends.

Highlights included a musical instrument museum, a drive out at night in the desert, a few easy train trips, an AirBnB place that was jessamyn-perfect (sort of unusual), a fun meetup, a great dinner (lentil flour donuts!) and cracking some kids up trying to explain to them what a Jiffy Lube was.

My year-end reading list is also online over at librarian.net as well as links to my talks and some info about the conference that I was at. I started the year with inbox zero but that’s been creeping up not because I’m not on top of things but more because my inbox is my to do list and there are some things that need to stay on that list until I get all the way home. There is probably a better way to manage this than I am currently managing it.

The word for the early part of this year is hygge (one of those non-translateable ones, read up on it, you’ll be glad you did). “You know, the thing you have to understand about the Danes is that we believe that when you’re moving, your soul doesn’t catch up with you until you stop for half an hour.” and hygge is about that slow down and catch up part.