Month: September 2020

A Study in Contrasts

The world is a strange contrast to my house these days. Today Utah was declared to be in a severe drought. The Covid-19 case rates in my state and county hit new highs. Supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died thus launching a massive political fight over her replacement. The election hangs over us like Damocles sword and no matter what the outcome a portion of the American public will be distraught and panicked. Wildfires are still burning all over the west and we’re having an incredibly active hurricane season; both signs of climate change. Racial injustice persists. The economy is in recession and, with all of the pandemic job loss and supply chain disruption, may be headed for a depression. Arguments flare over all of the above with people speaking as if everyone who disagrees with them is awful, evil, deluded, or stupid. All of these things swirl in a cloud of stress that shrieks of potential disaster.

Yet in my house things are finally reaching completion. I laid the last bricks for my pandemic patio. All that remains is to sweep polymeric sand into all the cracks and seal it. I may hang the last of the cabinets on the pantry wall tomorrow so we can call that portion of the kitchen project complete. We finally got someone to cut all the dead branches off of our trees so they won’t hit the house in wind. My kids helped me harvest grapes and turn them into bottled juice. I’ve hired my youngest two as assistants in my business and set them up with accounts so that they can get paychecks to learn about budgeting, saving, and paying bills. My son is enjoying learning how to drive and has his first of four GED tests scheduled for Monday. I managed to figure out how to update my websites so they’re presentable again. I figured out some back end tech things for our mailing lists. I’ve managed to catch up with friends I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. Howard only has to draft two more page spreads for the Big Dumb Objects bonus story. All of these things were causing me stress while they were incomplete, but are now either on the edge of completion or done.

Today the things of my house are filling me up more than the things out in the world. This is good. It is important to recognize the good things and the important connections we have especially when so many larger things are completely outside my control. Build joy where you can and don’t let it be stolen away.

The Pace Speeds Up

September seems to be skittering away from me. I’m not exactly sure how. Somehow my lists and thoughts have returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity. I don’t know yet whether this is an enduring shift or if I’m simply seeing a natural spike of activity around the onset of school season. I do know that I’m not being pulled up several times per day to process the experience of living through a pandemic. All of that just folds into my life right along with grocery shopping and making sure that my kid has a ride to their appointment. I’m having trouble figuring out what caused the slowdown in events and what has caused things to speed up again. Why did life feel paused for five months and why has that feeling of pause gone away?

We’re still limiting our social interactions. My daughter and her husband are the only visitors at our house. We’ve had workmen in wearing masks on a couple of occasions. We’re still doing our church worship at home with just the residents of our house. Groceries happen once per week, though I do confess that trips to home improvement stores happened more often this past month. I ship packages twice per week. We’ve gone to the doctor for necessary appointments. All the rest is still canceled. No conferences, no movies, no eating out, no social gatherings. So the physical movements of our lives are only a little bit different from the first shutdowns in March.

I think the difference is in the deadlines. I’ve got a list of gardening and house tasks I need to accomplish before the weather gets cold. I can feel the weight of our overdue Kickstarter that Howard is working to complete. I can see the edge of our financial resources and the work we need to do in order to make sure that funds continue to arrive before bills. I’ve a list of tasks for me to do in order to set up my consulting business. (Consultant for creator-owned small businesses, with an emphasis on writers and artists.) For several months all the deadlines were paused, everyone understood when things were late and that we were all adapting to a new situation. Now it feels like we’re all expected to just get on with things and find ways to hit the deadlines, because businesses have opened back up and life can’t be paused forever.

Or maybe the difference is just in me. But I’m back to feeling like I need to slow life down. At least I managed to hit one deadline only a little bit late. I sent out my monthly newsletter today. Tomorrow I have to start work on the Hypernode media (Schlock Mercenary) newsletter.

Fires and Embers

I grew up in the California Bay area. My parents still live there. I’ve seen photos from today and I know the sky is not supposed to be red like Mars. Fires have filled the sky with ash. My parent’s home is safe because they live in the middle of a town. It isn’t likely to burn, though there was a period where they were on alert to be evacuated for air quality issues. But as I was reading about fires and locations, I recognized another set of landmarks. I looked at the fire maps and my Grandma’s house is inside the “affected area.” Grandma is five years gone, and we sold the house more than a year ago. We have no legal tie to that property anymore. In fact it’s likely that the house no longer exists as the buyer probably intended to demolish it. Yet my heart twinges that a fire might have gone through there. I quick search doesn’t clarify if “affected area” means smoke, evacuation, or flames. It could be any or all. I am glad that we never had to help Grandma evacuate from her home. I am glad that my loved ones can feel sad twinges from places of safety. Yet I am reminded of how much I love that house and how I continue to be sad that it (needfully) passed from our hands and is gone. Fire burning through the area reminds me of the loss and adds a new layer to it because the trees, stores, and neighborhood may also be gone now.

Utah is also smokey today. We have our own fires that are burning, as we do every summer. None of them are particularly bad right now, but they could be. All it takes is a dry wind to whip up the embers and send a fire racing again. We had hurricane-force winds just two days ago which knocked over trees and semi trucks. About 90,000 people are still without power a full two days later. Fortunately the winds don’t seem to have sent any currently burning fires further out of control.

I think about fires and embers as I do my daily check in on the pandemic numbers in my area. The graphs for my state seem fairly steady, but the county-level numbers are telling me a different story. Utah County used to account for about 1/4 of the daily increase in cases. Now it is hovering just below 1/2. My county has two universities which started in person classes in the past two weeks. All of the elementary, junior high, and high schools began in-person classes three weeks ago. Utah county does not have a mask mandate. I’ve been watching carefully, and I think we’re about to see a spike in cases. How high a spike I don’t know. I also don’t know how quickly local officials will take steps to curb the spread or how effectively they’ll do it. (My guesses are not quickly and not effectively.) Suppressing a fire early is the difference between a burned field and a named forest fire. I do not want to have to grieve for people lost and lives permanently altered by out-of-control pandemic.

I can’t stop the forest fires. I can’t stop the embers of pandemic. All I can do is stay in my house and try to distract myself with projects. Yet underneath the satisfaction of working to make my house nicer, is a thread of thought about the impermanence of all things and how anything I create could be taken or destroyed in a way that I’m powerless to prevent. When those thoughts get loud, I remind myself that even if my physical creation is destroyed, the memory of making it will stay with me forever. Making is worthwhile even if the result is impermanent.

Or so I try to remember, when I step out doors and breathe the smell of forest fires in the air.

Instead of Words

Sometimes the words escape me. I sit down feeling that I want to write, knowing I have thoughts to sort into words, yet the words themselves are just outside my reach. I am left with an empty white space on my screen, too tired to chase after the words. So I close my computer and let them go. I’m trying to be better about resting when I am tired rather than pushing to get things done. However I notice the accumulation of days with unwritten words. It is a symptom and the point of symptoms is to provide information about the status of the system. I’ve been a little bit broken this past week. The world felt heavy and I felt a little under the weather. Though, ironically, our weather has been nothing but sunny. We haven’t had a solid rain since mid-July and I find myself longing for one, water to clear the air and my head.

Instead of words, I place bricks in a pattern on top of sand that I smoothed on top of gravel that I poured in a hole that I dug. The pattern is nearly complete, patio finished. The work has been slow because I was making sure I rested when tired. The next pieces for my outdoor space will require funds instead of labor, so they’ll have to wait a while.

Instead of words I watch the inhabitants of my house, holding their moods and needs in my head. They are adults and custodians of their own thoughts, but the habit of tending flows strongly through me. I’m not sure how much of it I should attempt to unlearn. Some definitely, but not all. To stop care-taking would be to stop being myself and the world needs more care-taking not less. Despite that, I still worry that I do too much.

Instead of words I scroll through news feeds and posts. I scroll past the point of being informed, past catching up with people I love who are separated from me. I end my scroll and step away yet an hour, two hours, three hours later I am scrolling again. The day has not changed. There hasn’t been time for news to accumulate, but I check again anyway because somehow I feel like it has been enough time and something new will be there. I formulate plans for stopping the doomscroll, but when I am tired I forget them.

Instead of words I ship packages, fold laundry, answer email, wash dishes, write lists, buy groceries. My mind fills with the administrivia of keeping a household running.

Words are not my whole life, but they are how I make sense of the life that I have. I need to rearrange so that sometimes I am writing words and all those other things land in the “instead of” column.

Considering Before Clicking

I have a new practice that I’m trying out. When I see a link that I want to click on and read the article (or meme, or post) I pause and close my eyes for a moment to consider the following:

Do I really need this information, or am I just chasing input (IE Doomscrolling)

Will reading this thing add value to my day

Am I reading simply to confirm an opinion I already have, to gather evidence for “my side.”

Are there better, non-clickbait, ways for me to learn about this topic

A dozen times today I did the pause and decided not to read the thing. At least a dozen times more I forgot to pause, or I read the thing anyway despite the pause, which is why I deliberately chose the word “practice” to describe this new behavior I’m trying to teach myself. I’m not good at it yet. But I do think that working on this practice, like a meditation practice, will help my brain be less full of noise. It is worth trying.