Construction Zone

I’m figuring things out as I go along, so please excuse any mess, wonky images, etc.

English: Flagger symbol in construction zone. ...

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Case in point: the lovely image that I’ve substituted in the header is Road to Dos Lunas by David Wilbanks. It’s used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license. There’s some HTML code that I should be able to use to make that attribution more cleanly, but I don’t seem to be able to figure that out just yet.

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The Challenge of Pacing

Yes, I know. It’s been awhile. The addition of a second part-time museum job has occupied a lot of my time and mindshare in recent months. There’s no guarantee it won’t be another couple of months after this. But for today, at least, I feel like writing.

I’ve been running more since my layoff last year.  Running is a mental health strategy for me: I know it helps me cope with stress and I trust the science that says it helps combat the blues. I figured that this year I was probably going to need as much of both of those effects as I could get, so I’ve been diligent about making some time.

Honestly I fell into running.  Cross-country was the only unit in junior high school PE that I didn’t actively hate. In college, it turned out I could fulfill the gym requirement by jogging on my own and keeping a log. After awhile I started to appreciate the laps around the


Stopwatch (Photo credit: wwarby)

track or the time on the nature trail with music for company and a respite from all the reading.

I never competed and never had any coaching or training–at least not beyond basics of stretching and building mileage slowly. I just went out and ran miles around the neighborhood at a pace that felt natural to me. When I did it regularly, I ran longer and faster. Or at least I thought I did, as much as I could judge without really tracking things.

Now, I do track things. I have one of those little chip gizmos in my shoe that tracks my distance and pace. Slowly, I worked up to a 4 mile race this summer, then a 10K a few weeks ago. And here’s what I learned: I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

Apparently you’re not supposed to go out and just run, and repeat, and get better.  Or rather, you can, but if you really want to improve that’s not a great strategy. You improve more if you actually spend a good bit of time intentionally running slower so you can build endurance.

It’s not rocket science and I’ve probably even heard it before. I’m just not sure I actually believed it. But twice this year when I was stuck, slowing down has undeniably helped me do more. It’s hard–very hard–to make myself slow down.  I feel good, I’m brimming with energy, and it feels intuitively as if I ought to be letting myself go instead of holding back. Make hay while the sun shines, right?

The thing is, I seem to have this impulse in more than just running. Around the house, with hobbies, with others, and especially with work, I tend to expect myself to be at “race pace” all the time. Or, rather, to think there’s only one pace and that I’m either keeping it up or I’m lacking in willpower and discipline.

I think I need to work on a training plan for life.

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The Strange Allure of Sewing Straight Lines

Spools 02

Spools 02 (Photo credit: sarabeephoto)

I set out on this period of adventure with this idea that I’d like to learn to do and make some new things. Physical things, I mean: things I build, assemble, or fabricate, and that result in a concrete product.

Recently I’ve been working on sewing. My mom taught me to use her sewing machine sometime around the time I graduated from college. I made myself a jumper, felt a small sense of accomplishment, and that was about it. In the years since, I’ve never had much urge to sew anything, certainly not enough to motivate me to get a machine, figure out where to keep it, and get in enough practice to actually remember how to use it the once every 5 years or so an idea gets hold of me.

The ideas I would get weren’t very Martha Stewart-ish. They definitely weren’t Project Runway. (Well, I shouldn’t say that, really, because I’ve never seen Project Runway. But I don’t have the impression that they make things out of old tablecloths, so that lets me out.)  I would get fixated on a stained or holey tablecloth seen at a yard sale and wanting to be able to cut it up and turn the good bits into napkins or something. Or, I’d wish I could darn the holes in my socks. Small projects, silly even, but ones that would make me feel like I’d used things well or restored some order to my little corner of the world.

Now I find myself living in a house with three sewing machines, some wonderfully soft–but torn–cotton sheets, and a shortage of kitchen towels. It seemed like an opportunity.

There’s a kind of meditative quality to sewing straight lines that I’m finding very relaxing right now. True, my hems aren’t all that straight yet, but they’re getting there. And I’m wishing I had even more old sheets to cut up.

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Goals Report


Wikipedia (Photo credit: Octavio Rojas)

Popping in quickly to report progress on my goals from last week.

Oh, wait. You didn’t know I had goals, did you? Because I never got around to writing that post except in my head. (While running.  Which is a good time to think, but not a good time to type.)

No matter. Fortunately, catching up on blogging wasn’t one of my goals for last week.

No, I decided that I was drifting into a funk in part because I kept putting off some of the interesting things I wanted to do while underemployed until after I had finished all the things I should do.  I’ve always been an eat-your-vegetables-first kind of girl. But that approach wasn’t doing much for my spirits, or for learning, lately.

I resolved that in addition to doing my taxes last week, I would make tangible progress towards two different projects I had identified for myself. And, in fact, I did.

  • I reacquainted myself with the basics of machine sewing & whipped up a drawstring bag and a couple of kitchen towels.
  • Familiarized myself with Wikipedia editing procedures and made first steps towards a project to enlist the Charlotte History Roundtable to help clean up the entry on Charlotte history before the DNC madness descends on our city in earnest.

This week is a particularly busy one, so I’m setting the more modest goal simply to make more progress on one of those things.  Grandma Meyer’s 30 year old Bernina Nova quit working about 3/4 of the way through hemming the second tea towel, so the smart money is on Wikipedia.

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True Confessions

I’ve had a few weeks of wanting to pull into my shell and hide from the world recently. The phone rings and I find myself hoping it’s not for me. I see someone I know briefly, in a public place, and am secretly relieved when they don’t notice me.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the specific people involved. I enjoy talking to friends on the phone and I mostly enjoy any of the people I might run into in public. It’s just that interacting feels like it takes a lot of energy right now, especially if I’m taken by surprise. My ability to go from 0 to full-on sociability in 10 seconds is really lacking.

If you’re an introvert, this may sound familiar to you. I recognize it as an amplification of my normal introvert tendencies, something that just happens sometimes, especially if I’m tired or feeling a bit blue.

While I was in this mode, a very nice person did a very nice thing for me, passing along Versatile Blogger Award. Per the instructions, I was encouraged to post seven little-known informational tidbits about myself, and then pass the award on to seven others.

Now I know these kinds of awards are a bit of a longstanding blogging institution and a completely friendly way of encouraging new people and bringing attention to their blogs. But, I also have a long-standing aversion to — and semi-official policy against — anything that involves passing a set of instructions on to five, or seven, or ten different people. And while I was trying to reconcile these two contradictory things I.  just.   kind   of.   froze. Mix in a couple of bad dreams about it, let stand for a few days while preoccupied with something else, and behold: one case of very solid writers block and a craven desire to avoid the blog altogether.

I’m going to attempt to get out of this fix simply by publicly admitting it and moving on. While sidestepping official participation in the award protocol, I plan to write an upcoming post on things you may not know about me. And I resolve to make more regular efforts to direct your attention to other blogs and bloggers you might enjoy, but I’m going to do it in my own way.

Stay tuned: hopefully I’ll have more to say in the future than I have in the past few weeks.

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Have You Thought About Teaching?

Piece of chalk and blackboard

Piece of chalk and blackboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently when people hear that my full-time museum job was eliminated. Often, it turns out that the asker is thinking about college or community college teaching.

I totally understand why this seems logical. After all my career has mostly been in teaching and learning–albeit outside the classroom–and in a core subject that almost every institution of higher learning has multiple classes in every semester. I don’t have a Ph.D., but I do have a subject area MA, which is generally enough to qualify you to teach in community colleges and maybe, sometimes, in certain circumstances, to teach special classes at four year colleges (though almost never on an ongoing or full-time basis).

I exist on the fringes of the academic world, sort of on the periphery of a cluster of occupations that are coming to be known as alt-ac, or alternate academic careers — the sort of things that involve advanced learning and are often embedded in, or contiguous to the academic context without actually constituting the traditional faculty role. So I’m pretty attuned to what’s going on in academia in ways that I forget  many people are not.

And that’s why I know that it doesn’t make much sense for me to think about teaching as a major career direction. It’s because of things like this. And this.

It’s worth the time to take a look at the links if you’re interested in higher education or labor conditions. Or if you’re thinking about going to graduate school in the humanities. But for those who don’t have the time, the bottom line is that most teaching jobs these days involve adjunct positions (i.e. part-time, pay-per-course gigs). As summarized in the ProfHacker post linked above, this often means you max out the number of courses you can teach, while earning about $375 / week. “Depending on the number of hours this faculty member spends with course preparation, teaching, grading, and student conferencing, this professor’s hourly rate is often below the national minimum wage.  It’s important to keep in mind that this rate does not usually include any kind of health insurance or retirement benefits.”

It is not, unfortunately, particularly unusual for those college teachers to qualify for food stamps or other forms of public assistance, or to find that they’re stuck in a pattern that they can’t get out of, partly because they’re working every spare minute to keep their heads above water.

That, in a nutshell, is why I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about teaching.

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I’ve got some catching up to do here. First off, this is the completed version of a post I started a couple of weeks ago.


Captain Field's Improved Parallel Rule, c. 1854, uploaded by Rodhullandemu to Wikimedia Commons

My job search is a bit amorphous right now. Yes, I’m looking at job announcements for full-time museum positions, especially those that involve history research, writing, interpretive planning, or curatorial work. I’m also thinking about transferable skills and where else they might be useful. I’m working as a contractor on some projects for my old museum, and setting up a small business infrastructure to take on other freelance work if the opportunity presents itself. I’m open to an economic strategy that involves combining different temp, part-time, or sideline work. And I’m consciously thinking of frugality as part of my strategy. After all, money not spent is money I don’t have to earn.

On the ground, this being open to multiple options sometimes translates into aimless wandering.  Or at least that’s how I suspect it looks from the outside. As someone who likes to have everything all planned out, I cringe a little bit when kind people making small talk ask me about my job hunt and I hear how unfocused my response sounds. Or when I have to admit that I have a privilege license and a tax id, but only worked on a business plan briefly one morning before becoming absorbed in another task.

Beneath the self-consciousness, though, I really do believe there’s some sense in what I’m doing.

I found myself in a hands-on workshop on eighteenth-century surveying and map-making techniques recently. (Yes, I know, the very idea of finding yourself in a class on how to plot roads the 1700s way is enough to provoke snorts from most of you. All except the select few who are deeply jealous.) Here’s the one thing I learned that will stick with me longest: you start the map by marking all your angles. You might be tempted to mark your starting point, use the protractor to find the angle to your first landmark, measure the distance, make a dot, move the protractor to the dot, find the next angle, etc. But every time you move the protractor, you introduce a new opportunity for error. Maybe you place it only a fraction of a degree off its previous orientation, but those fractions add up over time.  So, you place the protractor once, mark all the bearings you’re going to need, and then use a parallel rule to “walk” the angle to wherever on the paper you need to draw your line.

Not only did I find this process deeply satisfying in some mysterious way (perhaps similar to what some people get out of knitting?), it also gave me a useful way to think about my current career juncture.

I may look like I’m standing around looking off in a lot of directions while putting off actually moving. Really though, I’m finding my bearings.

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Mental Mini-Vacation

I haven’t had the urge, or time, or energy to say much recently. So I’ll simply share this link to some gorgeous, starkly beautiful photography of the Highlands. Spending a few minutes mentally immersed in the landscapes has done my heart good this morning.


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The Week that Was

Winter Trees

Winter Trees (Photo credit: mikecogh)

Last week was an up-and-down week. Some immediate next steps for me suddenly started to come together. Then, just as quickly, other things started falling apart–some in ways that are eminently fixable, if exasperating, and some in ways whose ultimate impact is unclear.

Friday through Sunday I attended a professional meeting that was close enough to commute to, but far enough to keep me in the car for 2-3 hours a day. That didn’t leave much time for writing, but it made up for it in thinking time. A lot of those highway miles sped by in processing events I encountered in the last week that were discouraging and demoralizing.

But, when I’d worried those around long enough inside my head, I consciously started a list of affirmative things I’d encountered in the last week, things that spoke to my better nature, inspired me, or gave me joy:

  • the beauty of language, abundance of wit, and mad translation skills evident in The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • a friend’s joyful announcement that he was to be ordained a deacon in his Baptist church and his reflection on the acceptance he’s found in a congregation that affirms his identity as a person who also happens to be gay
  • an object lesson in responding to ill treatment with integrity and grace
  • the sere beauty of strong early-morning sunshine on bare trunks and branches
  • the satisfaction of using old instruments and eighteenth-century techniques to make a map
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A Pinterest Artifact Board

I’ve been on Pinterest for while now.  Long enough that the early thrill of madly pinning stuff had worn off. Recently, I’ve mainly been using it as my morning . . .and break time . . . and evening . . . dose of eye-candy, taking quick scan through the images that the people I follow have been saving.

But Pinterest seems to have achieved some kind of critical mass in the last month or two, at least judging by the number of new people who have followed me and the increasing number of how-to articles and “finally succumbed” references I’m seeing.

I’d read a couple of people’s ideas about how Pinterest might be used in PR, including for cultural organizations and museums, but nothing was really clicking for me until this week.  Recently, though, I’ve been checking out Melissa Mannon’s ongoing project to create a crowd-sourced board about archivists, and just yesterday I followed a twitter link to NEMA’s impressive (and apparently brand-spanking-new) collection of boards on New England museums.

So, this morning, when I ran across a cool, vivid pink, end of the 19th century, designer evening gown that I liked, I changed my pattern.  Instead of debating whether to repin it to “my style” (I like it a lot, but not sure I’d want to wear it) or “old” (admittedly a catch-all for anything of that description that doesn’t fit another category) I created a board called “cool stuff from museums.” If nothing else, maybe it will remind the other users that see it that these images of neat things don’t magically appear out of the maw of the internet (or Photoshop), but represent real items in actual physical collections somewhere.

The way Pinterest works, I can designate other users to add to this board, but I need to know their Pinterest IDs; I can’t just make it open to anyone. (Or at least, if I can, I don’t know how.) So if you have some cool museum artifacts to add, just let me know and I’ll designate you an editor.

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Elsewhere on the Internet

My second guest post for The Uncataloged Museum is up today. If you happened to miss the first, you can find it archived here. Thanks again to Linda Norris for giving me a platform.

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