Month: June 2020

Kitties Vs Plants

I decided that the flowers in my Aerogarden had reached the point where they were fading out. So I emptied the hydroponic unit and started a batch of herbs. The pods were in place and the little domes over the top waiting for the seeds to sprout. This is the third or fourth time I’ve launched a batch of seedlings since we acquired Callie and Milo. They’d pretty much ignored the process each time. Yet the morning after planting, I noticed that someone (I’m scowling at you Milo) had nibbled the edges of the cilantro pod pulling part of the paper out from under the little dome. I figured if that was the worst, we’d be fine. The next morning I discovered all of the domes knocked free, the cilantro pod looked like it had been dug into, and the thyme pod had been pulled free completely and batted across the room. I was headed out for weekly grocery shopping anyway, so I looked for a “Keep the cats out of my aerogarden” solution. I found deer netting.

I thought this might help. I was very wrong. Deer netting is apparently a preferred cat toy.

Milo wanted to tug at it. Callie wanted to eat it.

I thought that even though they liked fiddling with the netting, it meant they would leave the little plant pods alone. Nope. When I sat down to write this post I discovered that they had reached through the netting and knocked half of the little domes off of the pods. So now I have a new solution.

The aerogarden will get to keep its box cover for a couple of weeks until the sprouts are large enough to remove the domes. At that point I’ll get to discover if the cats plan to also eat my plants this time around.

The Power We Wield

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that another round of Me Too accusations burst open in some of my online communities. The pressure cooker of the pandemic is making any problem that was simmering come to a full boil. Once again, my communities must grapple with harm that was done, with the harm that exposing the previous harm does, with trying to decide whether restitution is possible, and with whether apologies are sincere or sufficient. Once again, I’m reading through threads and posts, not to judge others, but in an attempt to understand how I can exist in these communities without accidentally doing damage to others. Power dynamics are hard, particularly when I don’t always recognize that I have any power. The thing that I’m learning is that if I have any respect or friendship in a community, then I have power in that community. Even if I feel like a tiny fish in a big pond. If I have power, then I have the ability to use that power as a shield to protect others or as a weapon to hurt them.

My own power can be hard to wrap my head around because women are socialized to abdicate their power. We’re trained to back down and keep the peace. Sometimes our survival (either physical or social) depends on keeping the peace or not making waves. Or maybe it is not about female socialization at all, but is instead my significant conflict aversion linked to my anxiety. Either way, I’m much more likely to try to de-escalate a conflict rather than lean into it. Much of this is selfish. Making people upset is a huge anxiety trigger for me. Even a small conflict has physiological and psychological consequences that last for days or weeks. Yet my efforts to save myself from that distress can have the effect of reinforcing a status quo that is inherently unfair or even harmful. I keep thinking about how different this week would be if, early in their careers, a friend (or three) had pulled the abusers aside and told them to cut it out. If there had been small consequences for small digressions, then the abusers may never have become abusers at all. It is my job to step up and have the uncomfortable, small conversations which could help prevent the formation of the next generation of abusers.

It is on me to honestly, and without self-deprecation, look at the power I have in my communities. I need to be brave enough to identify my power, name it, claim it, and then wield it with conscious choices instead of unconsciously knocking others over because I didn’t realize how much space I took up. I need to ask myself some questions. Who am I shielding so that they can have relief from pressure? Is my shield creating a space for someone to grow, or is it protecting someone from consequences they need to have in order to grow? Who am I making space for so that they can have a chance to step forward? Am I taking up space I ought to yield to someone else? Because community power is fundamentally different than structural power. It isn’t a zero-sum game. When I yield some of my community power to another person, I’ve increased the sum total of power in the community without necessarily reducing my own. Lifting up others makes the whole community stronger. Gently, privately (or aggressively and angrily if necessary) confronting bad behavior makes the whole community stronger. I need to be better and braver about this.

The Changing Social Cues

Humans are inherently social creatures. Even the introverts among us still interact with networks of others, live in towns created by cooperation, and rely on contact to keep us grounded. This inherently social nature means that we react instinctively to hundreds of thousands of social cues which tell us how to feel and behave. We do this on a subconscious level, which is why we can walk into a room and instantly recognize when two people have abruptly changed the subject because we entered. We can tell within moments whether a gathering is a funeral or a birthday party. This is why I found it interesting that the deli counter of the grocery store was no longer shuttered. Two months ago, everywhere I looked in the grocery store I was reminded by moved furniture, shuttered deli, empty shelves that the world had changed. It helped me to remember to be cautious about keeping distance, to not plan big family parties, to limit my outings. Now I go to the store and it feels more relaxed than it was. The re-opening invites me to relax too. I’m watching networks of friends decide to meet in person, decide to go to church, decide to go out to dinner. And I’m watching the graphs which say that all this increased interaction are increasing the Covid-19 infection rates across the state. My state stopped short of moving to green, but the governor has said he has no intention of shutting down the economy again. I think it will take weeks, until the hospitalization numbers increase dramatically, before he will walk back that statement. They’re saying “wear masks” with the implication that everything else can stay the same if only people will wear masks. Except all of the social cues are saying “there is no need to worry.” So people leave their masks at home.

At the same time I’m worried that the social cues aren’t helping people be appropriately wary about pandemic, I’m noticing the shift in social cues around racial issues. I’m seeing statements made by middle-of-the-road or conservative people which were radical ideas only 2-4 years ago. The social norm has shifted. I’m glad of that. I think that the practice empathizing with the Me Too movement helped. I think the collective thinking required by the pandemic helped. I think the decades-long push for more representation has helped. Different conversations are possible today than were possible just two months ago. The conversations continue to be hard, and so they need to continue for months and years. We can shift the social norms into a place which is more fair.

Social norms and reading the room is also why I’m glad to see the news that the EU isn’t likely to open their borders to Americans any time soon. When my country’s leadership is so far out of step with all the other governments in the world, it takes steps like this to help wake up US citizens so we can vote in better leadership. It will not be comfortable to live in a country that is being censured by other countries, but maybe that is what it takes to change the social cues and create a course shift.

My brain is tired from constantly evaluating all of these shifting norms, from deciding which shifts I want to roll with and which I should stand against. Just being alive in the world requires more thought than it used to. And all that is without even beginning to evaluate the ways that social media allows the creation of illusory norms. If we’re basing our reading of social norms on what the algorithms of social media are choosing to feed us, then our perceptions of our communities become skewed. We feel beleaguered and attacked when few people actually wish each other ill. I don’t have any answers for any of this, I’m just noticing patterns and feeling tired.

Social Shift

I liked the “We’re all in this together” part of the pandemic more than the current stage where it becomes obvious that some people have advantages and others don’t. The governmental choice to release restrictions doesn’t make the choices go away, it just passes them downstream onto individuals. We’ve reached a point where most of the people in my communities are willing to go to small group activities, to attend socially distanced church meetings, to eat out at restaurants. Instead of being able to commiserate with people who are having the same experiences I am, now I’m having to say “No I won’t come. Sorry.” I know in the grand scheme of things, and on the scale of life hardships, this is such a small grief. But it is real and it is mine.

Miracles Unrecognized

In 1854 the pioneers were still new to the Salt Lake valley. They were struggling to grow food in an unfamiliar desert climate with limited resources. The possibility of starvation loomed large. That was when the crickets came in swarms to destroy the crops. The pioneers were in despair when seagulls came in great flocks and devoured the crickets to save the crops. It is a story that is part of the mythology of my people. When it is told in church, the arrival of the gulls is evidence of God’s miracles. I wanted to reference this event in a story I’m writing, so I delved into some first hand sources to see how accurate the commonly told version is. There were swarms on multiple occasions in the early years of settlements in the valley, sometimes crickets, sometimes grasshoppers. There is no doubt that the intervention of gulls helped save crops though perhaps not so dramatically as the retellings say. However the tidbit that fascinated me most was a small notation that for the indigenous peoples of this region it would have been the swarm of crickets that was considered a divine bounty. Insects are packages of protein for people who are willing to eat them. Upon reading that, it amused me to think that God noticed his people struggling, so he sent them crickets, but they weren’t able to comprehend crickets as their mode of salvation, so then God had to send a secondary miracle in the form of Gulls. This is not how I think God actually intervenes, yet the train of thought gives me pause. What if the things we view as the hardships in our lives are the very miracles we need, but it requires us to transform in order to benefit from the miracle?

I’m going to be sitting with this thought and examining its implications relating to the pandemic, system racism, and some personal challenges in my life.

On Not Creating

The day’s work landed me in my screenshots folder. Since the work of the day was one that triggered my avoidance circuits, I ended up looking through the entire folder to see all the things I’d decided to screenshot over the past four years or so. I was cleaning out mostly boring detritus when I came across a set of tweets from Howard that I grabbed in 2017. He was talking about supporting me in the creative work that I want to do. It was one of those threads where Howard was saying things out loud to help cement them in his own brain. (This thread for the curious.) During 2017 my time was completely consumed by Planet Mercenary. It was heavily creative work which landed my name on the cover of the book. I’m immensely proud of what I did. That book is mine. It would not exist without my force of will. Yet like everything else, there was an opportunity cost. I suspect that Howard’s thread was prompted by a conversation between us about the things I was giving up to make Planet Mercenary happen. The outcome of the conversation seems to have been that once Planet Mercenary was launched, we needed to make more time for Projects Sandra Wants To Do rather than Projects Sandra Gets Assigned to From Need and Then Makes Into Her Own.

I’m now three years post-Planet Mercenary, and the first thing that set of tweets did was make me sad about all the stuff I meant to do, but haven’t. Howard making space for me to do projects accomplishes nothing if I don’t claim the space. If I end up cleaning out my screenshots folder instead of writing the fiction I say I want to write. I’ve seen all the memes and reminders going around that creatives should be gentle with themselves if they’re unable to create in these unprecedented times, but I’m not sure I can claim that excuse since I was failing to create even before times earned the appellation “unprecedented.” (Aside: These times aren’t actually unprecedented. Basic historical analysis says the current pandemic and social behavior maps very parallel to what happened in 1918. It is just that no one has living memory of how this goes. Oh, and we’ve lost social memory of how to handle infectious diseases since the vast majority of adults don’t remember when polio, measles, or whooping cough were common.)

Last month I delved into my creative self doubt during my monthly newsletter. I came away from that exploration feeling calm and resolved. In less than 30 days, I lost both the calmness and the resolve somewhere. I’m right back where I was, avoiding writing by doomscrolling or by cleaning out my screenshots folder. I’d say it is time for me to re-read Around the Writer’s Block by Rosane Bane, except I’m moving so slowly through Story Genius by Lisa Cron that I’m not sure giving myself more homework would help. At some point writer homework becomes another avoidance tactic. The core of it is that I have to believe in myself enough that I claim space and put in the hard work to do the creative things. I wish that were easier. I wish I didn’t fail at it so often. But I can’t go back and claim any of the time I spent otherwise in the past three years or in the past 30 days. All I can do is choose how I spend today. Spending it on regret is the opposite of helpful. Time to move forward instead.

My Anti-Racism Plan for the Next Month

The following is a list of specific actions I intend to take in the next moth to combat racism and prejudice. I’m listing them here so I can hold myself accountable.

  1. Read at least one non-fiction book that specifically addresses understanding racism or anti-racism
  2. Seek out books of fiction written by marginalized writers. The books themselves do not have to be about marginalization. I’m just expanding the range of perspectives in the storytellers I give attention to.
  3. I’ll celebrate the 4th of July by spending a week posting on social media to promote the work and businesses of POC or LGBTQ creators. BUT the focus is on promoting the work not on their marginalization. This means I need to do the homework and find brilliant works that fit my criteria. They’re already out there, I’m just ignorant of them.
  4. Take steps to expand my professional networks beyond my currently existing network of mostly white, middle-class, American people. I am missing out on amazing talent because I haven’t taken the time to become familiar with their work. I’ll start by following some new people on twitter.

I can’t fix the country all by myself, but if I choose to take actions that help, and hundreds of thousands of others also choose to take actions that help, then the whole country is better off. It works exactly like wearing masks for the public good. It seems so small, so insignificant, so inconvenient, yet collectively it makes a huge difference. In a month I’ll check myself and see how I’ve done in relation to these goals.

Contemplating Apocalypse

I’ve seen lots of friends online throwing the word apocalypse to describe the events of 2020. It made me curious about the specific definition of apocalypse. Google came up with this:

a·poc·a·lypse/əˈpäkəˌlips/ Learn to pronounce nounnoun: Apocalypse; noun: the Apocalypse; noun: apocalypse; plural noun: apocalypses.

1. the complete final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation.

(especially in the Vulgate Bible) the book of Revelation.singular proper noun: Apocalypse

2. an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

This matches common understanding and usage for the word, but further down the page, I found a more historic definition.

Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling”.

So in the original Greek, apocalypse did not necessarily mean the final end of the world. I suspect somewhere the word picked up connotations from the word Ragnarok. Or perhaps it took those connotations when the book of revelation was referred to as the Apocalypse of John and then people read the passages and assumed the end of all things. Yet I find the original Greek definition more compelling. Not the end of all things, rather a disruption of the current order of things so severe that we are required to transform our understanding and our ways of being. An apocalypse is the cocoon where the caterpillar is completely unmade so that a butterfly can be made instead. It surely looks like the end of all things from the caterpillar perspective. Using the Greek definition of the word, then my country is definitely experiencing an apocalypse. The process of going through this pandemic, and the protests, and whatever crazy shift comes next are transforming us as a people. Laws are changing. Ways of being polite are changing. Social norms are changing. Naturally all of that change comes with heaping quantities of dismay, anxiety, fear, and grief. Even for those who have been wanting change for a long time.

As a Christian person, I also find comfort in this Greek definition of apocalypse. Church discussions of Revelations or The Millennium (which may be a Church of Jesus Christ specific terminology) have always made me anxious. I don’t want to be contemplating the end of the world. But what if it is not an end, but instead an unveiling, a change in our ability to comprehend that is so vast we literally can’t wrap our heads around it. We are caterpillars who struggle to understand the concept of being a butterfly.

Maybe having an apocalypse isn’t so bad after all.

Rainy Day of Rest

We’re having a rainy day. It is unusual for Utah to have a day where clouds stay over head and rain happens more or less all day. Usually a storm blows through and we’re back to sunny in only an hour or two. Somehow this storm is lending a sense of calm to my heart. The rain seems to soften the world and makes looking out windows more interesting. Combine that with it being Sunday and me trying to stay off of social media for the weekend, and I’m less anxious today than I have been for a week. On Monday I’ll pick up the load and participate in the world again. But this Sunday is a day of rest.

Wading in Waves

Life since March has been like standing in the surf on a northern California beach. (The type of beach I’m most familiar with.) Sometimes I’m ankle deep, squishing my toes in the sand and contemplating the horizon. Sometimes I’m knee deep and feeling pulled one direction or another. Sometimes I’m waist deep, watching another wave coming and thinking I should run for shore. Then there are the waves the smack into me unexpectedly and knock me off my feet. Every time I think I’ve found a life rhythm, something shifts and I have to adjust again.

The days were all feeling long and empty, but then my business brain kicked back into gear and I had a slew of small administrative tasks again. The 20th anniversary of Schlock Mercenary is next week and I scrambled a bit to prepare new merchandise to launch in celebration. Along with that I was able to knock out some tasks related to Kickstarter fulfillment. This ran in parallel to the weeks of protests and uproar around policing and race. The result was that the days still felt long, but they also felt full of things.

My emotional state has been like waves as well. Grief over pandemic would crash to shore, but before the wave could recede it would be crashed over by grief about all the emotional pain on display at the protests. That would be crashed over by fears and grief relating to Howard’s health. Which would be crashed by the news about a spike in Covid cases in Utah. Wave upon wave upon wave, so I can’t be sure where one ended and the next began. Mixed in with the waves would be the small joyful things, like sand birds dancing in the surf to find treasures and snacks.

Today I decided to consciously step back from the surf. I’ve parked myself further up the beach where I’ll still see the waves, but not be directly impacted by them. I’m glad to reach a point where this retreat is possible. I’m glad the protests have become less confrontational. I’m glad that cities everywhere are beginning to discuss how to re-adjust their policing strategies. I’m glad that Howard’s pulmonary function test ruled out the scariest options, though frustrated to still not have definitive answers. (The next experiment is for Howard to finish out Schlock Mercenary and once he doesn’t have daily comic updates, to put his health first in his schedule rather than work being perpetually first. ) The most concrete manifestion of parking further up the beach is that I’m going to spend less time doom scrolling today. Limit my social media and news checking, try to focus on doing some writing and house tending instead.

Later today I’ll check in on the pandemic numbers for my state. There was a vote earlier this week to move the state into green status. The next day the Utah Department of Health advised against that. The decision will be made today. No matter what color the state chooses, my household is keeping our current set of patterns. The same patterns which we’ve had for several months now.

The thing I have to remember is that I can’t control the shape of the waves, when they hit, or how fast they recede. Emotions come, news cycles arrive, other people make decisions. I can’t control any of that, but I can work to keep myself safely on the shore where they don’t knock me down.