Oct 18 2011
This week marks, more or less, the sixth anniversary of my move to Davis in order to take a job in a library. Six years! I moved in mid-October and started work on November 1. My initial nervousness was quickly extinguished in a rush of things to do and to learn. That first month was all training and shadowing colleagues, frantically taking notes on our resources and how to do things. “Take advantage of this year,” my boss told me at the time, “because this is when you will learn how to do your basic job, and have the luxury to concentrate on it. Later, you will be juggling many other things.” Six years on, I certainly know what she meant. The core parts of my job — the collection development, reference, instruction — are still my favorite parts of the work, and still challenge and inspire me, but they often seem to get done now in the small spaces in between other projects.
Six years. This has been an interesting, challenging and deliberate period of my life. I have taken this time — and I feel like I have needed all of this time — to figure out how to be self-sustaining; to figure out myself. Sometimes this kind of self-inquiry is a midlife experience for people. I took my late twenties for it, instead of having a child or being hedonistic or going to grad school or I suppose any of a number of other possibilities. I do not know if I will regret this choice later on in life, or be pleased at my own deliberateness. I do not know if I am just being pretentious about something everyone goes through anyway. In the Eighties I would have been a new career woman. In the Oughties I just feel lucky to have gotten a job in the first place. Time will tell.
Space for reflection is important. I have lived in one house since I moved here. I have made it my own. I have hung pictures. I have assembled bookcases. I have learned to live with my own lack of housekeeping, which never pleases me. Before Davis, I have always had housemates or partners, roommates or parents to keep me company. Here I have lived alone, aside from a month or two here and there when a friend stayed with me, and frequent visitors. But this is my house (though I don’t own it, I have claimed it). I have spent a lot of time inside it. My genetic lineage is to be a homebody, I suppose; like my father before me, I feel comfortable when I am at home. I love to travel but do not like to move. The thought is mildly horrifying to me.
I have kept myself to myself here. A good friend only became that way because she pestered me. “You’re hard to get to know, Phoebe” she said. Since then we’ve traveled together, lived together, I went to her wedding the other month. I guess persistence pays off.
Not only am I hard to get to know but I don’t put much effort into it, either. I am not especially social. I have not dated seriously in six years (an occasional cause of angst, but not something, if I am honest with myself, that often actually worries me). I’m pleased in fact that I have managed to figure out how to take care of myself, in all of those elaborate planning-for-emergencies ways that single people do and that people with a strong social network don’t have to think about as much. I think it is fair to say that this is my personality showing through at this point rather than the hardship of moving to a brand-new place and starting from scratch; I have a number of good friends here that I love spending time with, a number of communities that intersect in pleasing ways. I am even occasionally internet-famous in a small way here; I once sat at a table of people at a cocktail party in SF and people started talking about my book. They didn’t know I had written it. I was cool with that.
I suppose it is more conventional to take a look back when you reach five years, but aside from a mention at work I didn’t pay much attention to that anniversary last year. I was busy. That’s perhaps the most notable thing about my time in Davis: I’ve done a hell of a lot. I co-wrote a book (though I am still working on that impossible goal of writing well). I have done a different big project at work every year. I have gotten to be known as someone who is pretty good at planning and facilitating events, which wasn’t true when I started. I’ve also learned how to give a talk comfortably in front of just about anyone — also not true when I started.
And then there’s Wikimedia. That first winter here, lonely and a bit bored, I volunteered to help plan a conference in Boston, threw myself into it, and haven’t looked back since. I have made many of my closest friends doing this work, and have been absorbed pretty much continuously in what I think is the most exciting project of our generation. I could not have dreamed back in 2006 that I would end up on the Board this year; but my interest in it has actually grown since then in a fairly linear way, as I became interested in community governance and what that means. This Board service is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do for Wikimedia; I am full of self-doubt and often exhausted. But I cannot imagine anything more important, either.
Over the last six years I have also learned, simultaneously and in large part because of Wikimedia, most of what I know about copyright politics, and free knowledge as a movement, and open access. They did not focus on these things when I was in library school. I hope they do now; I think these are also the core issues of our profession. I’ve thought that I wouldn’t mind becoming a full-time scholarly communications librarian, but I think I would miss science and engineering if I did that. At any rate, it is fair to say that after six years of being a professional librarian — which means that I’ve worked in libraries now for a decade! — I know how the field is shaped, and I know what I am interested in, and that is valuable as well.
But all of that aloofness aside I’ve worked hard since moving here to keep up with my friends, who are neatly divided between the northwest, the east coast, my hometown and the rest of the world (which is problematic for deciding where to go on long weekends). I rely a lot on those friendships; I am grateful to them. My best friends would say that the above about being self-reliant is all rot and that in fact I need them for validation and shoulders to cry on all the time, as if I were homesick, which perhaps I am. It is unclear where I would call truly home at this point. I sometimes feel like I am a tiny pioneer; a pioneer with IM and facebook. What is this land of aged hippies and college students that I have found myself in? Are they savage, or kind? Shall I investigate, and report back?
I like to practice having a detached eye, it seems. I wanted to go to every continent before I was 30. I came close. I am missing Australia and Antarctica. I could really care less about Antarctica so basically it’s just Australia. Also sub-saharan Africa, to be fair. And also I have never been to either India or China, which are practically continents; at any rate my list won’t be complete without them. And I haven’t really spent enough time in South America, and hardly any at all in Latin America. Suffice it to say I still have a lot of places to go. But I have flown a lot in the last six years; for quite a bit of the time I’ve lived here I’ve averaged a trip a month somewhere. I know it makes me kind of an asshole considering all the poverty and climate change and inequitable resource distribution in the world, but I really love to fly. I don’t think that was true before I moved here. Now there’s something about the takeoff of a plane that thrills me every time.
Which means I suppose that the last six years have been as much about learning how to leave as learning how to stay. I have gone places, and discovered things, that I only dimly imagined six years ago, and some things that I didn’t imagine at all — and those have been the best.
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