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July

It is full summer now. The world outside is hot during the day and comfortably warm at night. When my kids were little this was the season of running through sprinklers, eating popsicles, and playing with friends. Once the kids got older, summer was unscheduled days and lots of video games while mom and dad both worked. Sometimes there would be family gatherings and outings. Holidays like Independence Day were an opportunity to look up from the habits we’d fallen into and gather together. This year I watched fireworks from my front lawn by myself. Howard joined me for a bit, as did one of my sons, but mostly it was me watching explosions in the sky. Some furnished by the city, but most from the hands of neighbors. I had a moment of sadness for how different life is now than it used to be. Yes the pandemic, but also the natural shifts of children moving into adulthood and family events not coming together the way they used to. I’m not sure if my failure to orchestrate these events is evidence of me being tired, or if it is simply the natural result of kids growing up.

I sat down to do accounting on Saturday. Because of a conversation I’d had with Howard earlier in the week, I opened up my Accounting Instructions file. These are a series of documents designed to walk someone else through my accounting processes, just in case there comes a time when I’m not available to do the work. The were in dire need of updating, and I discovered that some tasks which are supposed to happen quarterly hadn’t been done since June of last year. That gave me pause, I’m usually far more conscientious about the accounting. Then I remember the series of events from the past year. How I spend all of last summer tearing apart my house and then fixing it again (all while in a blind financial panic at the massive hole blown in my finances) because we had to replace the sewer line. That project wound to a conclusion just before my daughter became engaged, which led to me acquiring a wedding planning job (across the Christmas shipping season and holiday celebrations.) We’d just triumphantly celebrated the wedding when Howard got sick, and then the pandemic changed everything. I haven’t had a period of emotional/event stability for more than a year. No wonder I’m tired. And no wonder I’m not spending extra effort to pull my kids from their settled pursuits into an activity that would expend more energy in service of bonding. I know the value of bonding, but energy is still in short supply.

I wonder how much of my emotional state in the past few weeks is because of remembered trauma from last year. Even though I’m not consciously thinking about it, the limbic lizard brain inside my head tracks things like daylight and weather, then it sends alarms “Last time conditions were like this, things suddenly got very stressful. Remember all that stress?” Of course this year has a sufficient supply of stress all by itself. I just think I got a dose of remembered stress on top of this year’s stress. No wonder I’m nostalgic for the Before Times, but I need to reach past 2019 to find memories I’d like to dwell in.

I still have half a summer ahead of me. During it, I want to teach my son to drive. I want to finish a patio. I hope to buy flooring for the next stage of the kitchen remodel. In service of these things, I have work to do to bring in funds, and new ways to work that still need to be figured out. I need to fully embrace being in July and not waste energy trying to see beyond it. Hopefully I can do that.

All the Scattered Thoughts

On the day before Independence Day, my brain is full of too many things. I’ve been struggling to pull them into some sort of coherent order and failing. So instead I’m just going to list stuff without trying to make anything relate to anything else. Welcome to my brain which almost always has piles of unrelated thoughts in it.

I’ve been following through on my plan to spend the week prior to Independence Day posting links to people I think are helping my country be better. It has been fun to seek out people doing good things and to share them with others. The twitter thread is here.

I’m still watching Covid 19 graphs and case counts in my state. I don’t like the look of the graphs. I don’t like that Howard ran a fever last weekend (Covid test still pending, I expect it to be negative.) I really don’t like that apparently a worker at the Orem Driver’s License division was Covid 19 positive on the day I took my son to get his driver’s permit. I’ve reviewed the visit in my head and I think transmission to us is unlikely, but it still shows me how this is everywhere. I’m trying to not spend brain cycles worrying about what to do for school in the fall. We can’t make those decisions yet.

Howard continues to have good air days and bad air days. With the pulmonary function test claiming that his lungs work just fine, we’re entering a new round of testing where we kick the tires on every other system in his body. Blood tests, echocardiogram, various other labs. Surely some of this additional data will help us form a path forward. If nothing else it will help us prune some branches off of the massive contingency tree I’m holding in my head. I’m trying to stay focused in now, to answer today’s needs with today’s resources, but on the bad days, when Howard is really struggling to function, my mind races ahead to the things I might have to manage, to what long term looks like. In the mean time, Howard has focused all of his available energy on delivering a good ending to the Schlock Mercenary comic. Once that is accomplished, he’s under orders (from me) that health comes before work. And we’ll build a new life structure which prioritizes his health.

In the last few weeks I’ve given up on writing fiction. I’ll come back around to it, but I have to quiet my brain first.

The kitchen project is stalled because the next step is purchasing flooring, which is a big spend. With not being sure the extent of testing that will be required to chase down a diagnosis for Howard, and with the end of the comic meaning that our income streams are about to shift, and with the national economic downturn, now is not a great time to be doing a big spend. So instead I’ve done a much smaller spend on concrete pavers to create a patio in my back yard. I now have hours of digging, leveling, and setting pavers ahead of me. I’m really glad to have some sort of project where I can visibly see that my work turns something ugly (a dirt patch) into something pretty (a patio.) It is also work I can do with my hands no matter what state my mind is in. I need something like that right now.

I still don’t know how to build a path forward for my young adults who are cloistered in my house. The driver’s permit is our one push, and it is stalled because the car my son is learning how to drive has its Check Engine light on. Probably because the car didn’t like being repeatedly stalled while a 17yo learns how to drive a stick shift. It is such a tiny roadblock, but when I’m this emotionally worn any bump is enough to make me stop.

Local temperatures now top 90 degrees daily. This impedes my ability to bake as much bread as I would like because the AC struggles to keep the house comfortable when it has to fight with both heat from the oven and heat from outside. I’ve been exploring more stove top cooking as I’m trying to find uses for all of the vegetables that came in my farm share bag. I only get a bag every other week, but so far it has taken me that long to use what came in the first bag. Figuring out savory uses for fruits, and ways to make beets delicious has provided me with some focus during the hours when it is too hot for me to work on digging for the patio. Also, people need to eat anyway. Right?

I’m still paying attention to national conversations about race and police reform. I’m still learning new things and holding myself to the resolutions that I made several weeks ago. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m also spending some thought on how people hurt each other and how communities should prevent someone who habitually hurts others from doing that. I’m thinking a lot about punishment and shame as tools to control harm. They concern me because punishment and shame inherently cause harm even when used trying to prevent it. There needs to be a structure where we can prevent harm completely instead of just shifting the recipient.

I’m struggling with feeling like I am not productive enough, like I’m not using my time wisely. Then I sit down with that feeling and ask exactly what I mean by “productive” and why that should be more important than personal satisfaction in house tasks done. In some ways it comes down to money and stress over money. Because I’m worried about other things, the financial squirrel in my brain wants to stash away all the resources against possible future need. I want to make debts vanish and build up reserves so that I can handle every single one of the branches on that medical contingency tree. So I feel guilty when my day is spent on tasks that use resources instead of accumulating them. Which is silly, because the point of having resources is to use them. This includes time. However stress reactions are hard to short circuit and this is apparently one of the ways I react to major life shifts in the middle of a pandemic that has no end date. I’m working on letting go of the guilt, while simultaneously being understanding with myself that it shows up.

I’m being impressed with how kind some people are even when their kindness is invisible to everyone.

There are so many more thoughts in my head, but they are so fragmentary that I can’t even put them into sentences. Hopefully these pieces of thoughts will either coalesce or fade away. For now, I need to go make lunch.

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.

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.