29dec05: almost, home
I'm writing from public transportation for the last time in 2005 on a bus heading from Boston to West Lebanon New Hampshire. There's some terrible movie on, and the bus has complimentary water and pretzels but I'm pretty well set. Speaking of home, I've been crunching some data and it looks like I was on the road for 60-70 days last year. My guess was a little over a month, Greg's was "more like two months." A quick look at the guestroom queue
-- one shot of every guest bed I slept in this year, with no duplicate pictures for duplicate nights slept -- shows 27 places. I wasn't away for more than a week at any point this year. I went away for two family holidays, two conferences, two visits-to-friends and the rest was work, though usually enjoyable work. This year we're starting out with a vacation, then Greg goes back for his last semester of law school, then I don't know what. I've got work through September, assuming I pass my criminal background check AGAIN. I'm giving talks at conferences and I don't even know where I'll be living when I give many of them.
I wrapped up the family visit this time doing what me and my Dad seem to mostly like best -- driving around and looking at things and talking about other things. Before I left we did a lot of data management, or what I like to call information work. We moved 2000 MP3s from one computer to another. We burned DVDs with 4GB of pictures on them. We moved my Dad's Favorites from IE to del.icio.us, or tried to. I installed Skype on my sister's computer and got my Dad an IM account. When I first read Snow Crash -- Stephenson's book about a cyberfuture where people manipulate big blocks of information in the ethereal place known as cyberspace -- I had a hard time envisioning what working with big chunks of data would look like, since I'm so used to the small chunks: an email message; a Word document; an MP3 song. Now I'm faced with a lot of my last decade being tied up in bits and bytes and every time I move -- either for real or online, or somewhere in-between like getting a new laptop -- all that information has to be relocated, the same way as my actual physical self. Not knowing how to do any part of this work, for me, would at this point mean leaving part of myself behind. O Pioneers!
27dec05: over, home
I'd show you some pictures, but some of them are of presents I haven't yet delivered. I don't shop for the holidays but occasionally I'll make a thing or two to give people. My rule of thumb is that I won't buy anything that costs more than $2, and that's me keeping it real on xmas. Yes I don't have children, how did you know?
It's a little after eight and I'm holed up in the guestroom
at my Dad's house chatting and typing, typing and chatting. There's been a gradual attrition of people with Cindy heading for a vacation this morning, my sister going home this afternoon, and my Dad sort of absenting himself around 6 pm. I got a $20 bill for dinner and a suggestion to take the car to get myself something to eat. Greg's in Buffalo having a good time with his parents and sister and extended family and I'm thinking, as I often do, about what the word "home" means to me lately.
Tomorrow I get on a series of busses and get back to Bethel by bedtime. I've got a few small bags of food and warm clothes and presents I'm shuttling to Greg from family members. I've got a colleague's manuscript I've just finished reviewing, a laptop full of unfinished projects and a few hours of worthwhile music to listen to. There's such a pull between the idea of yourself as your own home -- the "I am an island" routine -- and the idea of home being other people, or at the least other places. I'm out of ideas, as always, but over the past few hours I've been chatting with a few friends who had horrible holidays, or are grappling with really difficult decisions, and I really hope that talking to me gave them some peace. Home doesn't mean much to me if I can't interact with other people there, and those people don't always have to be family, though sometimes it's sort of great if they are. Happy holidays to you and your families.
I got my laptop in the mail the afternoon after I wrote that last post. Greg finished all his schoolwork two days ago. Yesterday I got up with the sun and took a few photos
. Today we went down to the vocational school and I filled out the interminable paperwork that is associated with getting a new job. Actually, I have the same old job, just for nine more months in 2006, but they need to treat me like a new hire. Writing your name, address, phone number, email address and all that other good personal information has always been drudgework but in the information age it seems like AVOIDABLE drudgery and I resent it even more.
We've been enjoying doing silly errands, having free time during the day together, watching the chickaree
tunneling through the snow in the backyard. Tomorrow we go our separate ways for a few days, him to his folks' house in Buffalo and me to my sister's place in Somerville. Yesterday we picked up a gift box of snacks made by the kids in the culinary arts program. Eclairs, cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries (no wax!), enough to fill two small boxes, only $10. We got one box for his family and one for us, but it may be tough to eat it all before we leave. My gift
to him was a thermos for the long drive, we're not real big gift-givers. The more I type the less I pack so I'll be cutting this pretty short. Happy holidays to everyone if I don't manage another post before you have yours.
16dec05: virtuous? maybe.
One of the best things about no longer working in an office environment is being able to grapple with the holiday season in my own way. Unlike my poor sister
who is enduring the opposite, I can pretty much do whatever I want about Christmas. Last year I had to share an office with a woman who complained loudly about how lousy it was that her kid could no longer sing Silent Night at school, and I had to endure mumblings about Jewish people wrecking what had been a nice homogenous holiday from another woman. The last comment was made by a possibly mentally-ill volunteer, but she was wearing a library name tag same as me. As for me, I usually do very little or nothing for the holidays. This year Greg is going home but I'm staying here and hanging out with my sister in what is becoming a really excellent holiday tradition. We'll probably watch movies, eat Chinese food and maybe go for a walk. The usual.
So, when my tech students brought me little presents or wished me a Merry Christmas, I could just be gracious because 1. they weren't my boss and 2. my relationship with them is as close to voluntary as it can be. The high school I have an open lab in is all decked out with a tree in the front office and a door-decorating contest that each classroom participates in [my favorite is the health sciences kids who made a little cookies-for-santa display with a note "Santa, we hear you have been constipated lately, here is an enema for you...." alas, no photo]. They also do an adopt-a-family project wher each classroom adopts a needy family. Needy in this case means rural poor, not homeless
. The family sends in a Christmas list and the kids in the classrooms all get together and donate, shop and wrap. We're not talking "get me a new DVD player" requests either, people were asking for socks, a red sox t-shirt, work gloves, pajamas, a cookie sheet. There was one teacher who had done a sub-par shopping job, and my boss was trying to figure out what to do to fix this at the last minute. Greg and I offered to pitch in and he did a little shopping at the hardware/food stores and dropped a few things off for me which I wrapped while I was helping students with their computer questions. Today -- or maybe Monday since it's snowing like hell outside -- the families come to pick up presents which they'll put under their trees at home.
We've been watching the snow accumulation and I've been watching Greg study while watching my inbox for an email from Apple saying "we've shipped your laptop!" While I'm happy to be getting an unflawed machine out of this, I must point out that when I've only gotten my laptop repaired, it's gone 2-day shipping both ways and been back before the end of the week. I'm really hoping I'll see it here before Christmas. I'm sure I'm not the only one watching Fedex like a hawk this season and really, if I have a backup laptop
I have to face that fact that I truly want for nothing this holiday season.
13dec05: and remote
Next year is ramping up to be a banner year. I've got work through September since my contract was renewed. Greg will finally graduate and take/pass the bar. I've got a good handful of trips already planned. Maybe my new laptop will arrive on the scene before the end of 2005.
I just got back from a few days offline. During finals week I try to skip town for a long weekend. This gives Greg some self-involved time studying for finals and gives me an excuse to get out of the house. I went to visit my friends Matthew and Michelle
who I've known since college. Matthew and I hung around and did some computer projects while Michelle worked on her spinning wheel. Later we went for a short trip to the Quabbin reservoir
. It's a beautiful place, made slightly less beautiful by the knowledge that four towns
to make a big lake to provide drinking water for Boston. It was neat to get some air and some exercise and then come home to Vermont to a blustery snowstorm and some appreciative librarians who I taught to use their scanner.
2006 will likely be the year when I worry about being a little too popular instead of not being popular enough. This isn't something I worry
about per se, but it's a good feeling to have a solid platform for your ideas. I think for me it's the consolation for not going into academia. This past year I did about a talk a month
, about half of them in some way paid. In 2006, I have a talk a month scheduled already almost, with two ALA conferences and a very early vacation. Then I'm done with ALA, then Greg gets a job someplace (hopefully in state), then my contract is up and who knows what's coming up next?
Speaking of me and my ideas, there's an interview with me
(big mp3 file) on the MobyLives
web site. I talk about the digital divide and radical librarianship and camel librarians. You know, the usual stuff.
Ola is having what should be her last Christmas party this coming weekend. If there is anyone in the Vermont area I haven't invited, feel free to just drop on by. As far as the Christmas season, the manger hasn't made its appearance on the town common yet and for that I am thankful. My sister wasn't so lucky dodging Christmas at her workplace
. I can't say that I've changed my mind about Christmas much -- I still think of it as a shopping-oriented holiday
at best and a state-sponsored religious holiday
at worst -- but this whole war on christmas
angle to the season is really bringing out the worst in everyone. As long as someone is not trying to get me to buy anything, I think I can be pretty happy with lights and the occasional santa
My local newspaper has this bizarre business model that puts all their online content behind a pay wall for a week. So, if I read something in the paper and think "Wow, I'd like to link to that" I have to wait seven days. I have no doubt that it is hard to run a small-town newspaper in the age of the Internet, but I seriously wonder how much they make through this scheme since a lot of my neighbors don't seem to use the web much anyhow. That said, this is what I wanted to show you:
Nations oldest driver's ed instructor retires at 84
I had many more tales of small town life to regale you with, including the wedding announcement of the beaming couple, he in chain mail and she in some long flowing robes. The announcement said they were married by their friend, the wizard. Delightful. However my news is less delightful, though there is a happy ending: my laptop broke for the fourth time. As you may know, iBooks like mine have a design flaw, bad logic boards
. Every time mine has dropped dead I have faithfully mailed it back to Apple and they have sent it back to me fixed in under a week. However, this time I decided to try another tack and politely tell them that maybe asking me to get a repair on a laptop that had been repaired three times already was asking too much. I said I'd like a replacement laptop and, somewhat to my surprise, they agreed to give me one. So I mail off my old laptop and give it a good Viking Post Office Burial and then my shiny new (and faster) laptop arrives in a week... or two. They were unclear on specifics but they did send me a Fedex label over email. This is not quite as good as, say, a shipping box, but I guess they figure I should have THREE OF THEM lying around here already. The hassle is trying to back up 37GB of music and photos in a way that doesn't make me a wee bit anxious. We have a backup drive, but it would mean that I only had one copy of my data for a while, usually I have two. In any case, the customer service guy, who was polite but unyielding when I tried to get them to let me have both laptops just for a few hours, was surprised, possibly even incredulous that I had that much data on my computer. I don't know why, all their ads clearly say "fill your laptop up with crap!" I was just following orders. The funny joke is that I am typing all of this out on my sister's old laptop, an old Dell affectionately known as the Frankenputer after a brain transplant we did on it last year. My sister has a new iBook, one without design flaws, and she gave us this one basically for scrap. However it's scrap that has a web browser and a wireless card, so any port in a storm.
Other big news includes our upcoming January vacation to Alabama -- more on that in a future post -- and I gave blood today! I had high enough iron, I was long-enough away from Romania and my pulse, temp, and blood pressure were good (94 over 58, woo!). The great part about giving blood in rural Vermont, besides the lawn chairs you get to sit on as they stick you, is that instead of cookies and juice, you get ham salad sandwiches and pineapple upside-down cake AND cookies and juice. They gave me a free Red Cross ice scraper for my troubles and this adorable pixie of an old woman refilled my juice glass in her floor length red dress with stars on it, wearing a Santa hat. I wasn't so thrilled to be listening to Handel's Messiah when I was swimming last week, but this was a holiday tradition I could get behind.
I'm not sure I've mentioned much how much I enjoy teaching. Adult Education is an odd niche here. The classes I teach are offered by the vocational high school in Randolph which also employs me as an AmeriCorps "volunteer." I propose classes that I think will be interesting and useful and say when I'd like to teach them. My current Tuesdays and Thursdays go sort of like this: wake up late, coffee/breakfast/email, go swim at the VTC, go eat lunch (my boss takes pity on my low income and takes me out often), go staff drop-in time at the RTCC computer labs and answer computer questions, take 45 minutes off, teach class for two hours, go home to where dinner is (often) waiting. It's nice work.
The class I'm currently teaching is called "digital pictures" which is a way of saying "We're going to talk about GIFs and JPGs but not how to get your photos off of your camera." I gave students a CD I burned for them that had free Mac and PC photo editing applications on it. Otherwise they're stuck with a few clunky Microsoft apps or iPhoto. All my students use dial-up and have one phone line. At 4MB Picasa is not something they would take the time to download. I also included a ton of sample photos saved at different resolutions and compression and filetype to give them an idea of what the differences were, and why the person who sends them the 2MB photo of their new baby over email is wasting pixels. I even made a little web page about filetypes
for them in case they wanted to read more about anything I'd been talking about. It's fascinating, as I think I have said, meeting new people who have entire lives that have little or nothing to do with computers. There is a couple in my class who have a wire recording
of their grandparents from the early 50's. They're going to bring their printer in to class on Saturday to show the other students what priting a photo looks like, something that I can't do with high school equipment.
In my free time, I've been watching old episodes of Lost
with Greg. He's a little more wrapped up in it than I am. My summary of the first season and a half of Lost is as follows:
Character 1: "We've got to stick together to stay safe"
Character 2:"Hey where are you going?"
Character 3: "There's some very important reason I have to go off into the jungle alone."
Offscreen: "AUUUUGGGGHHHH AGH AGH AGH AGHA GHAGHGHGAHAHGAHGA"
Character 4: "We've got to stick together to stay safe"
Jessamyn: "These people are all a bunch of total idiots. Stay out of the jungle, idiots! Shit, there they go, right into the jungle. At least bring some water! Damnit!"
Greg: "Sweetie, it's just a TV show."