- figuring out once and for all which people in my family are related to the Simpsons from Craftsbury
- seeing some great old photos of family that I hadn't seen before
- seeing family from California that I don't see nearly often enough
- going for a lovely drive on the only sunny day we've had in a long time with my trusty co-pilot sister
- getting five more towns added to my 251 Club list [ignore the map on that page, it's old]
- walking into the John Woodruff Simpson Library that was started by distant relatives and seeing one of my "the FBI has not been here" signs on the bulletin board. I know you're not supposed to pick favorites as a librarian, but this little cozy no-computer library really stole my heart.
In less exciting but still important news, I can qualify for state health care as long as I don't file for unemployment benefits. My new job has started and I'm enjoying it. I have another family trip coming up that I am looking forward to. Nothing in my immediate world is broken, so I can focus on fixing more long-term problems. As of the end of next month, I'll be shifting from the travelling to the writing part of my year [I'm hoping] and putting together some articles about technology while I teach basic skills to people from town. Working with and not for the library may give me the room to breathe that I've been looking for.
On the other hand, I'm tired and spacey and I feel like a blob. I haven't taken a good bath, taken a good walk, or eaten a good vegetable [snacks of Sarah's salad greens nonwithstanding] in a week. As I sat on the DC Metro at 10 pm last night and watched a woman about my age talk on two cell phones at once about how she was ready to leave Anderson [Cooper] to go work for the 3 hour Wolf [Blitzer?] show that she was going to help CNN launch, I realized I missed the birds. My house can seem like a little chaotic whirlwind sometimes, but it's nothing compared to the weird me-centered hurricane that I become, ferrying myself around like this. I've enjoyed it. I'll be happy when it ends.
One of the people I was working with this weekend -- doing grant reviewing for some biggish digital libraries projects -- called my perspective on many topics "earthy". I, in return, was happy to be working with people who seemed to have a deep knowledge of some of the science and education things we were supposed to have some real knowledge about. I suppose there is something to the earthiness comment, though I think it's just part of my perpetual outsider thing which I am going to rechristen the "just visiting, thanks!" perspective. As I've said before, I think it's important to all vital communities that some people stay and do the work, and others leave and cross-pollinate the projects with new ideas and inputs and stories. I've been a busy bee this month.
The good news was, I figured it out and had a pleasant visit to Pittsburgh. The Holiday Inn is nothing fancy but the wireless is free and the rooms are quiet. My talks went well. I was doing an in-service training day for the staff members at Northland Public Library and I talked about progressive lirbarianship, blogs, Flickr and a bunch of other things. Most people enjoyed it, one audience member was particularly hostile saying things to me along the lines of "If my staff were using that [Flickr] while othey were at work, I'd fire them." I even showed people the way my old job makes use of Flickr to upload pictures for their web site. No dice. I'm used to the occasional sleeper in my talks, but the hostile library worker was a new one for me.
I'm on my way to the bus station to head to Silver Spring where I'll meet up with Greg [who has been updating his site lately]. We're staying with Rick and Sarah for a few days and then back up to Vermont on Wednesday.
Yesterday I got to hang around the State House which was significantly more interesting than I thought it would be, though not without its dull moments. The "you and the government" video taught me some things about Vermont's citizen legislature that I didn't already know. We got a special audience with Matt Dunne who just happens to be my state senator in addition to having led AmeriCorps at a national level under Clinton. I asked him the question I've always wanted to ask the "Rah rah national service!" people: if the whole purpose of national service programs like AmeriCorps is getting people civically involved, and helping to fight poverty, why is there such a bright line forbidding AmeriCorps people from doing anything that is actually involved with the political process like, say, registering people to vote? [there is a long list of prohibited activities on this page] So, we fight poverty but I can't go to an anti-poverty demonstration as part of my job? I know the history of why -- too many VISTA volunteers in the sixties led union drives and helped get bad people out of office -- but I wanted to hear something closer to the party line about this disconnect.
Dunne had a pretty good answer which was basically to think of the job as a wait-and-see period for actual social change. Do your work. Pay attention to what is broken in the systems used by the people you are trying to help. Think how it could be better. Get antsy for the entire year you are working -- seven months in my case -- and when you are done go do something about it. My fire to do a lot of this probably began when I was a VISTA volunteer briefly at Seattle Public Library in 1996 and realized just how limiting a lack of understanding of technology, and a lack of access to technology, can be.
I spent some of the morning watching the state senate debate some sort of state-wide health care plan. There is still a wide gap between where each side is now [the Republicans and the Governor don't want a state plan to compete with private industry, the Democrats politely point out that private industry is what got us into this mess in the first place] but seeing people debate this issue earnestly, and with some haste to try to get something accomplished, made me feel a bit better about the process as one of the marginally insured Vermonters that they are trying to assist.
I'm not saying that I'm getting all misty-eyed about the positive role of government in affecting social change and I'm writing a big check to the Democratic Party, just that I believe in the good faith intentions of many of my legislators and I've got their home phone numbers in the event that my beliefs falter.
I'm right in the middle of the Librarian Spring Tour this week, and winding down as of the middle of next week. I woke up with a cough and some nasty feelings in my lungs and thought "Oh crap, I'm too busy to be sick" [isn't that how it always is?] but I got an appointment with my doc within a few hours and was out the door with some zithromax which appears to have cleared up whatever I had. The stuff costs $2 a pill even with insurance [most of that money appears to go to their web designers] and I again had mixed feelings about insurance. I found myself thinking "Good that I was insured!" and yet there is no way that one 10 minute appointment and one prescription cost anywhere near what I paid in premiums this month. On the other hand, if I had needed some sort of arcane lung surgery, maybe I'd be counting my blessings
I'm up early to go to Legislative Day out in Montpelier which is one of the [fun?] side benefits of being an AmeriCorps volunteer. I get to go on a tour of the state house, watch some nifty "you and the government" presentation [all while wearing my AmeriCorps vest which means I can't say anything "political"] and noodle around in the Vermont History Museum. I'm one of only 340 AmeriCorps volunteers in Vermont this year. The group that holds the contract for my job -- part of the TechCorps program though I am unclear if it's affiliated with this TechCorps -- doesn't have a web site. This isn't that unusual for Vermont, but in 2005 it's pretty unusual for everywhere else in the country. In a nutshell, this sort of digital divide problem is one I'm hoping I can attack for the eight months I'll be working with them.
I've been thinking a lot about persuasion and education lately. Yesterday was a good opportunity for me to really work with live examples. In the morning, I gave a talk on blogs and rss to about a hundred librarians. The day before I'd given a keynote speech to about 300 librarians. Last night Greg and I went to Dartmouth on our way home and saw Ted Leo at a small rock and roll show for a few hundred people. Even though the show was supposed to be more entertainment and less education, and the talks were more about education and less about entertainment [though I do try], there were aspects of both in each.
For example, Ted Leo has a song about the war in Iraq called The One Who Got Us Out which is critical of our country's current efforts. The kids in the audience [and I was one of the oldest people there except of course for Ted who is also my age] knew every single word to that song. Even if they hadn't thought through them -- I'm sure some had, and some hadn't -- I'm sure there is a subtle osmosis affect. People went home sweaty and happy and exhausted. Ted Leo called people "dude" a lot, which they seemed to like, as in "Dude, I outrank you, you can't take your shirts off in here, it's distracting."
I spent some time in my talk discussing internet filtering, the Children's Internet Protection Act, and the way the newish Attorney General has been on a one-man crusade [with generous support from the MPAA and the RIAA, I have no doubt] going around the US telling kids that if they download music from the Internet they will go to jail, the bully. This is the best use of his time, really? Instead of just saying that I think the guy is an asshole, I made a few jokes about baseball players and other confusing uses of governmental inquiry and oversight and, I think, made the point I wanted to make: "This is the guy who thinks that the USA PATRIOT Act is appropriate?" People seemed to enjoy themselves, smiled and nodded appropriately, and the crowd of folks who were mostly older than me went off to lunch not too sweaty, not too exhausted, but hopefully also happy, and maybe having learned a thing or two. I tried very hard not to call any of the librarians "dude," although I say it to my Mom often and she is quite forgiving.
My car and laptop are both fixed. I actually went without my laptop for less time than I went without my car, even though my mechanic is in Royalton and the laptop fixit folks are in Tennessee. I'm home now for five days and I have another whirlwind trip to Pittsburgh and DC that starts up on Thursday.
My car is broken and should be fixed tomorrow. I shall be able to drive it without watching the temperature gauge.
My other car is driveable but the guy who runs the auto shop at the vocational school says you can't get it inspected if it has only one winshield wiper. When I told him the age and make of the car [1978, Toyota, Cressida] he just shook his head and laughed.
Greg is reading books for fun again for the first time since January.
My job started this week even though I haven't gotten oriented by the home office somewhere up in St. Albans. I was introduced to the lab where I'll do a lot of my instruction and came up against Internet filtering [well, it's a high school, I try to be understanding] in many maddening ways. All web email, blocked. Librarian.net, blocked. Jessamyn.com mysteriously not blocked. In fact, it's a funny day in the lab when you can find an indecent picture of yourself on the Internet but you're prevented from checking your email. Didn't get a chance to look for Superbowl XXX. Telnet, unblocked.
Me, I'm working hard writing -- and procrastinating from writing -- two speeches that I'm giving at the New Hampshire Library Association conference at the end of the week. If anyone has some can't-miss things to see in Manchester, please tell me what they are.
Today I met with my soon-to-be sort-of boss to talk about our ideas for bringing technology education to the information poor who are also known as my neighbors. She runs the Adult Ed part of the vocational school's programs. Since she has summers off, I'll be working mostly at the Kimball Library in Randolph. I may also be able to use the school's computers for some open lab time. However, the school's computers use filtering and they have a very restrictive use policy -- not surprising, they're a high school -- which is going to make some parts of my job a challenge. One of the problems with technology instruction generally is teaching new users how to generalize from "this is how this computer works" to "this is how computers work in general." The more a loaner computer fails to work like a computer they would have in their home, the less helpful it is for instruction and education.
I made Greg a cake today.
The benefits of the roll-y bag continue to amaze me. I was able to schlep home extra bras from my sister [I get hand-me-down underwear, so sue me], extra cookies and cables from my Dad and Cindy, and extra books from Matthew. Of course we still mostly live in a 10x12 room, so unless I also store all the stuff in there, it presents some logistical hassles when unpacked.
This is a busy month of travel. New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Northern Vermont. Four trips, three talks, two hotels, one memorial service, and one very tired Jessamyn. Also, and more importantly, Greg turns 29 this Wednesday right before his two finals. Having Greg in my life is wonderful, and rarely a day goes by when we don't tell each other how happy we are. Feel free to drop him a note and wish him a happy day.