the perils of domesticity; and, on writing

It is Whole Earth Festival weekend here in Davis and it’s a good weekend for it — not blazingly hot as in some years, overcast in fact, which is a rarity this late in the year. I got to sit out on the quad during my lunch break yesterday, getting some sun and listening to a local band and checking out all the vendors and people-watching, and it was a pleasant slow-motion moment, but it was enough; I haven’t been back yet this weekend.

I have been home now for five weeks, without traveling anywhere except for a day trip up to the coast, but for five weeks I have slept every night in my own bed — a period of time that is both delightful and impossibly long. This is a first in three or four years, I think; it’s not that I have to travel so much for my day job, but I like to take precipitate weekend trips to see friends and family, and between that and vacations and conferences and Wikimedia events I just end up away on a pretty regular basis. I know the airline safety speech by heart, for instance.

So  I don’t really know what to do with myself at home for such a long uninterrupted period. Oh, I have big plans — when have I ever not? — but I find myself at the end of the month with much undone, with an office that’s still a mess, with friends unseen and gyms not gone too and projects untouched, just like normal.

Here are some things that I have done in the past month.

  • I started a pottery class, which earned me a bit of derision from a friend who claimed that being a potter in northern California was about as stereotypical as I could get. But I’m not devoting my life to it, and it’s soothing. I went through a period in my very early twenties of filling my time with art and art classes, and I did a fair amount of handbuilding then, but I never threw on the wheel; this is a wheelthrowing class.  I haven’t made anything I thought was worth keeping yet. But the rhythm of learning how to form a simple cylinder: cone up, back down again — is addictive and is a kind of tactile knowledge that it does my brain good to try and learn. I needed something less think-y in my life.
  • I have been working. (It helps to like to multitask in this job, which is one of the things that I find pleasing about it, and it also helps to enjoy the sensation of having an endless amount more you could be doing.) Most notably this month I have been beefing up on the NSF data mandate. I know this sounds like a deathly dull bit of big-science bureaucracy (which it is); but it’s also actually fairly groundbreaking and cool — do science on the public dime and you have to share your results (not just your publications) with others. No one is quite sure what this means yet, so there’s much discussion in my corner of the library world, and I have been doing a fair bit of reading, spoke on a panel, put together a webpage for the library, etc.
  • Along with the rest of the Wikimedia Board I helped craft our first-ever resolution about the community.
  • I just got done hosting a program for our local SLA chapter, which I am the president of this year — the national president came to visit us — and I put together a new website for our chapter, which I am pleased with. I didn’t design the template, but I did learn a lot more about WordPress in the doing, which is useful.
  • I went to see some roller derby! Our local girls the Sacred City Derby Girls, who I am becoming a big fan of. They were awesome, of course.
  • Miscellaneous domestic junk, like cleaning out my closet (though in truth I abandoned the effort halfway through). Also, tearing up the lawn. Don’t ask. (We’re mulching it).
  • Aforementioned trip to the coast, which was awesome.
  • I’ve been watching a fair amount of tv and reading a lot too, online and off — nothing very notable on either front, but I don’t seem to quite have the brainpower to tackle anything very hard. I feel like I’m in recovery from something, though I’m not quite sure what.

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I have not been writing much, which makes me feel like a fool; all this time, and I have my hands on a keyboard 9 hours a day or more, but I haven’t written much meaningful lately (haven’t even kept up with a diary or the blog). The lack makes me itchy and depressed in a way I find hard to diagnose until it’s too late, too persistent and too obvious. I’m afraid of starting to write seriously (rather than just incidentally), in a way; like it will all be too much and I won’t be able to write anything, or else like I won’t ever stop. Clearly I need to put my mind to it and try harder, or else I really will feel like I’m just marking time, which is something that threatens during long stretches when I’m prone to boredom.

You know what I read that was inspirational the other day? A writer’s biography, of all things. I read this mystery author named Elizabeth Peters, who you have probably heard of if you work in a library because her books are in with all those other awful bestsellers where the author’s name is larger on the cover than the title. (The kind of author that, as a young page in a public library, I used to mentally measure in shelf-feet — Daniel Steele is one of the worst offenders, as a three or four shelfer). My excuse for reading Elizabeth Peters is that her books are funny and smart and fun, especially the Amelia Peabody series, which is the only one I’ve devoted myself too — it’s about a Victorian lady archeologist in Egypt, and since the author was trained as an Egyptologist it’s all spot-on and accurate so I can claim I’m learning things too.

But here’s the thing; her name isn’t Peters, that’s a pseudonym. Her name is actually Barbara Mertz, and Barbara Mertz in turn writes under the name Barbara Michaels, who I know you have heard of if you work in a library because her books not only have the author’s name larger than the title but there’s about a million of them. In fact, all told, Mertz/Peters/Michaels has written some 70-odd books, including two scholarly books about Egypt. 70! Sure, a lot of the novels are formulaic, and I can’t really speak for the Michaels books because I’ve never read any of them, but at least the Peters books are pretty damn good, too (which is not just something I’m just saying because I like them; Mertz was awarded a MWA Grand Master in 1998). And you know what the kicker is? She wasn’t published until she was 37. 37! Before she wrote her first book, Mertz got a doctorate (in Egyptology), raised a couple of kids, lived abroad, etc.  She is 83 and just published her latest books last year.

Now personally, I am under no illusions that I’ll become a best-selling novelist; I’m not prolific enough, nor am I interested in writing genre fiction, as much as I love to read the stuff. Nor have I even done the things Mertz managed in the first half of her life. But that’s not really the part I find inspirational; it’s the sheer undaunted vitality that is clear in her life and works, the energy of doing it all and spending forty years writing after already living what most people would call a full life. I will read her books with new appreciation in the future.

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