That Time When the Weeks Disappeared

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“One day here is just like the others,” I wrote to my daughter, whom I was trying to invite for dinner. And truly, I feel as if I have fallen into an early agricultural sort of rhythm here: I have a task list, for which I am grateful, and a good bit of almost entirely unstructured time, for which I’m trying to be grateful. The temporal pillars of my life have crumbled, and I admit to sometimes feeling as if I am now drowning in the unchecked sands of Time.

I’m something of a worker bee, getting my strongest pieces of validation from job activities, and I can have little spasms of workaholism. My daughter has ordered me to take time off when I have it, but somehow things are different now.

I’m having the hardest time remembering the day of the week. I spent part of Tuesday morning prepping for a Zoom group I was facilitating–on Wednesday. Moreover, I have realized that the days of the week came with feelings, feelings I no longer have.

For example, I was supposed to be happy it’s Friday, because it’s my break from my challenging Wednesday–Thursday bloc. But Wednesday didn’t happen (no work, no daughter, no actual physical choir with all that deep breathing), so the only fallout from the resulting Thursday fatigue (still got to bed late, thanks to a Zoom meetup) was getting a sleep hygiene lecture from my therapist.

I made my own appointment calendar this year. I drew careful lines separating the days, and now all that ink is being erased in realtime, as one day fades into the next. I’m all about going with the flow, but something about that feels scary: What would happen if I just did what I felt like whenever I felt like it? For a lot of people, I daresay that would be a healthy and stress-free option, but I don’t work that way. It probably has something to do with being INTJ.

Something inside me says enough is enough, and I need to put myself on another schedule, one which embraces the home time and the weirdness and the whole schmeer that we’re floating in right now. (I have ADHD, and we do much better on a schedule, which helps fill in for our vacationing executive functions.) Right now I need to try to focus on intentionality, it being Lent, which is for me a time to do that anyway. A Lent with a very different sort of Easter at the end! I just hope I remember it’s Sunday when it gets here.

RTFM

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I just learned something. Small, but with implications. (Doncha hate those?) What with the weather and all, I’m starting a migraine, so went to take my meds like a smart girl. The med (sumatriptan, for the curious) comes in those blister packs where you peel off the back to get your pill.

As I sat down, I happened to notice that on the back it said, “Bend and Peel.” I’ve always taken this instruction to be for people too stupid to realize they had to peel the back off. I would then fiddle a small bit with the end in order to get a corner up to peel. In other words, I wasn’t bending. Why bend? What’s the point?

It’s a boring day; I gave it a shot.

Well, oh my children, if you bend, the two edges spring apart as if by magick, making peeling a breeze. No more fiddling and wishing one had fingernails: RTFM, stupid.

This made me wonder about my non-manual reading life, in which I have ignored advice ranging from Scripture in my own faith, to Scripture in other faiths, to the instructions of medical personnel. Not always, but often enough. I wonder what else I’ve been missing; perhaps I should give it a bend and find out.

Awaiting the Big Bad Wolf

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Of course I’m scared. Of course you’re scared. And by now, I’m willing to bet the rent that you know the basics re hand washing, interpersonal distance, and staying the sheep at home. What’s the point, I ask you, of obsessively watching statistics and endlessly surfing for more information? Do you think it will keep you well?

It won’t. In fact, by adding to your anxiety load, you’re stressing your immune system, silly. Stop doing that.

I am pretty peeved right now. My often useful neighborhood listserv just ran a scare blog by a local woman (married to a physician) who is losing her sheep. I feel bad for her, and am grateful my own Huge Hospital employer sent my folks home as non-essential personnel. But nothing on earth would persuade me to “forward this post to all of [my] networks.” Who does this sheeping sheep think she is, the Director of the WHO?

So–pause and check for helpfulness the next time you’re about to hit post. Remember that many of us already live in a dark and threatening world beset by the the brambles of trauma and misfortune. Then, maybe hit delete and go do something else. Something which will enhance your life without increasing the panic.

Unless it’s a squirrel video or something. Dark humor is also OK in small doses. But for heaven’s sake, take those cleansing breaths.

Just don’t breathe too close to me. 🙂

Panic and Anxiety

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I’m on Xanax. Been on Xanax for a while now. It helps me sleep, so I take one at night with the rest of the handful in my cocktail. Every so often I have a random panic attack, and I take one then. Soldiering on, so it goes, etc. But yesterday was different.

See, my generalized anxiety disorder tends to not get triggered at work, because I’m too busy to live in my head. But yesterday felt like a movie. You know what I mean, I betcha, because you’re starring in one too. It’s the Doomsday movie with the mysterious virus which decimates the human population.

Because talking about our feelings is not only OK but encouraged at staff meeting (I’m a peer specialist), I admitted to feeling just plain scared–of what, I don’t know. And others agreed. As the day wore on, and we poured ourselves out upon the two or three people who made it in, it was hard not to notice the deserted halls. Panic hung in the air like an impending thunderstorm, with the same sense of pressure on the soul.

The coup de grace came when our director came in and announced that as of Monday, we would be closed until further notice. The phone support line folks can come in, but not those of us who do face time. Instead, my boss and I will spend some quality time doing some overdue things like writing an employee manual. Hi-ho. I’m trying to look at this as a weird Lenten vacation, sort of like Spring Break, only without the cheerfulness.

This is not the first pandemic H. sapiens has endured, and it won’t be the last. 9/11 showed us how cohesive our society is, and so far the 1918 Spanish flu makes this viral reaper look like a pitiful tryhard. So have some faith, beloveds. My hope is that the survivors take some lessons to heart, primarily that once expressed by the old saw “Man proposes; God disposes.” I expect to be one of the survivors, but I’m high risk, so time will tell. We are now all on an adventure; I am hoping the treasure at the end is an increased mutual trust and compassion.

Which is all very well, but my anxiety level is through the roof. (It didn’t help the bing-bing-bing that I was out of my ADHD meds yesterday.) So I have messaged my shrink like a good girl, and I am about to start applying all the non-allopathic tools I’ve assembled: Meditation, art, writing, breathing (I was probably on the edge of hyperventilating yesterday from all that deep oxygen intake), listening to music, and *sigh* processing my feelings.

Which sucks as a general thing, but fear is an old, old friend.

On Authorial Perspective

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I just realized how much I love the little boy I’m writing about in 1928. I feel like his mom or something. But there’s an unbearable poignancy to it. I’ve known this person for years, and some while ago I wrote about his death in the early 90s, when he was of a ripe old age and needed to be shuffled out of my master plot in favor of his successor.

I am holding his entire life between my hands. It’s an uneasy feeling.

I remember the first time I ever killed anybody. All I gave the reader–all Angie gave me–was a walk carrying groceries for a few blocks in Brooklyn. And yet her death–vital to the plot–hit me like a ton of bricks, and the majority of my beta readers got misdirected by my arty phrasing and didn’t realize the wench was DEAD, dead as a doornail not returning dead, because they didn’t want her to be.

But Angie is dead, except when I go back and re-read the first few pages of her story. Little Yin is dead now in 2020, and has been for a while. It just bothers me that when I killed him I didn’t even know his name.

Because Trade-Ins Aren’t Yet

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This is what happened this morning: My Inner Critic has always been my worst enemy, only I didn’t know it; and then last fall I started chanting and meditating, and my karma changed or something. A capsule broke open inside of me and I began producing more energized work, and started owning my skills. Et cetera. Your basic epiphany, size medium. Moving on.

So drawing has been a big issue for me. I draw fairly well, when the winds are right and the gods are satiated, but I have a whole insecurity bouquet about it. One of them has been working with oil pastel, which I tended to turn into an overworked, insipid mess of visual porridge.

Thing is, I hadn’t really noticed that my technique had changed! I know that I got up one day with this drawing bursting out of my seams and just threw it down on the paper. And it worked, in that Material A went to Location B and stayed there despite Challenges C–QQ of making the piece happen around that particular stroke of greasepaint. I drove it, it didn’t drive me. Woot! It was like that night when the clutch went up and the gas went down without my sweating blood over it.

Well, maybe not entirely like that night, because that next morning I had to drive 1100 miles, following the moving van while wrangling a child passenger. If the pastel technique came in the mail, the standard transmission technique was delivered by a divine first-baseman kneesliding towards home, wings curved against his landing.

Why is it that we tend to dismiss the skills we’ve committed to muscle memory and don’t pat ourselves on the back for them? Let’s give it up for walking, knitting, oh GOD driving, using chopsticks and (you just did it) typing! I bet you can add to that list. But we all go yeah, whatever, everybody can do that and some people make my mad skills look really lame, mumble.

I think this is part of the bad Western habit we have of discounting, mistreating, and ignoring our bodies. Childbirth isn’t the only time amnesia kicks in; stop for a moment and remember when you couldn’t do the things on our list–hunting and pecking, ending up with a twisted, grubby third of a potholder, and trying to merge onto the Beltline. Your body has learned a lot of tricks, and since trade-ins aren’t available yet, it’s time we made these tricks socially equivalent to long division, reading, and remembering the names of the people you go to services with. Now there’s a toughie, but that thing you did when you cut up your tofu chop yesterday–woot!

This essay is dedicated in love to Al, the guy who taught me how to tie my shoes.

Roll Them Bones

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I have always loathed the New Age theory which mumbles something fuzzy about how we have chosen everything which happens to us. This particular bilge is offensive to every raped child on the planet, but even discounting that for a moment, it’s the shoddy logic which gets me: It implies that human souls are like children who like repetition in their stories. Why on the literal earth would you go through the inordinate trouble which is having a life when you already know what it’s going to be like?

I suspect the people holding this belief to be significantly entitled (at least more so than I am, and that’s saying a lot) and unfamiliar with other people’s suffering. If we’re going to seriously entertain the notion that we spend our pre-game warmup time in such a way, shouldn’t it be more like putting together a roleplaying character?

I do think it’s reasonable, in this posited green room outside of Time, that we are instead given a certain number of points to be spent on a wide variety of probably vague categories. For example, I spent more points on being right-brained than left, and seem to have taken every single left-brained bit I have in linguistic intelligence: I’m a helluva wordsmith, but I count on my fingers, and ask anyone present at the Great Gingerbread Fail of 2018 what my recipe skills are.

It’s worthwhile taking a stab at what your character sheet might look like in this system. I’m pretty sure I traded in some stamina for extra wisdom (nobody ever asks how you get wisdom, which is why all those Zen sages spend so much time whacking people over the head). I also made the apparently pointless choice of IQ over Health (both Physical–I’m looking at you, fibromyalgia–and Mental: ooh, somebody rolled a 1 on Family of Origin over here, although I feel like if I bitch too much about this, the natural 20 I got on One’s Own Children might somehow evaporate on me), but maybe in the last round I was like, rilly stupid, y’know?

At any rate, I’d rather see the Supreme Deity as DM instead of child-abuse instigator, wouldn’t ya think?

On Visiting

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My choice of title has a bit of personal irony about it. (The Alanis Morrisette kind, not the Greek drama kind. Just chill out, people.) You see, “Visiting” is the term used in my Cats and Mages books for magickal teleportation: No muss, no fuss.

Instead, I’ve been visiting the human way: by bus. There’s a reason bus travel is a fraction of the price of other methods; they are small packages of Purgatory. I am old school and if I had my druthers and a whole pile of money, I would take the train—smoother travel, more leg room, and civilized restrooms.

Planes are buses with wings and interrogation from Homeland; their only real benefit is that they get you there a lot faster, so if you abstain from caffeine, you won’t have to pee between, say, New York and Chicago. (Although their toilets don’t have a disconcerting rush of air on your ying-yang while you’re trying—and in my case, usually failing—to relax your traumatized and nervous equipment enough to do the job. In the interest of fulfilling the Interwebs’ true purpose of providing too much information, I will share that I can only pee on a bus if I am close to severe physical pain.)

And then with any travel, really, there’s the schleppage. Because I replaced my laptop with a tablet, and can’t negotiate its wee keyboard, I travel with an additional fullsize keyboard and trackball, which makes for a bulky backpack which is also stuffed with all the things I falsely think I’ll get to on the trip, or forgot until the last minute. I also have a CPAP machine, which, being a prima donna, has its own small case that needs to be stowed in the overhead and thus possibly forgotten.

But I digress. This essay is on visiting, not traveling per se, so we need to talk about the reason for the purgatorial urine retention, which is to see important people in my life. I love these folks a whole lot, which is why I’ve done an unprecedented amount of busing this holiday season.

First up was my trip to my sister and brother-in-law in New Jersey, which was a lot of fun once I got there. I returned home with loot from their fantastic thrift store and a quarter of a metric sheepton of silk scraps. (I’ve always wanted to make a classic crazy quilt, and the Junior Sister scored big on the going-out-of-business sale of a fancy lingerie maker.) And then there was the ride home, which is when the bus broke down halfway between Hartford and Boston. At night. It had lost power, which meant no heat and no phone charging. Our luggage was lined up on the side of the road in the dark while we awaited rescue. Sigh.

Second is my current expedition to New Hampshire two scant weeks later to see my good friend and writing, shopping, and schmoozing buddy, who abandoned Boston several years ago to my great dismay. So far this trip has also not gone as planned, because my hostess’ back went out right beforehand. (The shopping took place anyway, as she introduced me to Amazon’s lightning deals. Sigh again.)

The thing about visiting is that you are taken out of your usual routine. Each hostess inquired about my essential needs with some anxiety, and I replied that all I really needed was pudding to take my evening meds. But that expanded when I arrived—Sis had run out of distilled water, which I need for my CPAP machine, and the writing buddy hadn’t been able to get to the store because of the back, so she provided scrumptious homemade apple-and-pearsauce instead of pudding.

As it happens, neither household does dairy, so my Morning Beverage routine was disrupted. A well-meaning young plumber had misinstalled my sister’s john when replacing the wax seal, so the potty was catawampous, which the reader may by now guess was disconcerting, and my New Hampshire friend keeps her house at a temperature I find bracing, to say the least. (I have Raynaud’s, so keeping my core temp up seems to help keep my hands functional.)

The result of these small deviations from the paths of my life is that I have ended up feeling like a princess, and not in a good way. It’s as if a magnifying glass has been focused upon me, and the bright light of Difference is scorching the skin of my complacency. If I were honest, there’s a whole slew of things I find “essential,” and going somewhere else just points that up, because very few of them are in fact necessary to my vital continuance. I can get by without my CPAP for a night. I can take my pills with food. I put whipped cream in my tea at one house, and almond milk at the second.

What’s really important is maintaining connection with the people: getting to see their faces, hearing their jokes and stories, commiserating with their pain, and peeking into their own life paths. That’s priceless, and well worth a broken-down bus or two.

Back to the bus fail: I learned three things that night:

First: Don’t overpack. Even though I had my sturdy brother-in-law at one end and my son and faithful Sherpa meeting me at the other, I ended up schlepping all that silk along the roadway myself.

Second: Don’t travel with your sweet little messenger bag that doesn’t zip. I dropped all my stuff trying (and failing) to scramble onto the first Good Samaritan bus that stopped, and lost my pricey prescription reading glasses.

Third: People are awesome. As soon as the other passengers heard about the loss, at least four people leaped off our cold and dark bus into the colder and darker night, looking for my glasses with their cellphone flashlights—and they were found. It utterly transformed the night for me.

And in the end, that last is what visiting is all about. People are awesome, and each treasured friend is worth the adventure.

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”—Bilbo Baggins

My Brain is a Border Collie

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I have this freakish thing going on: Although I can be miserably incompetent at many things (like housework and math), I’m wicked good at decoding my native language–I can read really hard stuff (and really bad stuff), think about it, and then spit it back out in writing. I also write at least tolerably well myself, and I write a lot. (No, not here; I’m sorry, followers! I just don’t want to have a whineblog, so I try to post only when I have something to say.) But I’ve written a doctoral dissertation and ten novels, seven of which are finished. (My first book, which needed to be split into a trilogy, is currently up on a mechanic’s lift being taken apart. In my copious spare time.)

I can also write non-fiction, and I’m an excellent editor. If I didn’t enjoy my day job, I could probably manage as a free-lancer. (I’m on disability, thank God and my fellow taxpayers, which limits my income. So I’m not fantasizing about limitless wealth here.)

Putting it a different way, my brain is one of those amazing little Welsh border collies who can herd sheep into marching-band patterns: Neither of us is close to the unified field theory, but man, are we good at what we do! It took skilled training and the sort of hyperfocused attention that only dogs and ADHDers have. (All dogs have ADH–squirrel!)

I’ve spent twenty hours this month working on a huge grant which is vitally important to a bunch of people I love dearly. They have a spectrum of writing skills, and the first draft was sorting out their various snapshots of the same subject, so we wouldn’t make the nice folks at DHCD tear their hair out. It was sort of like the Hebrew Bible, where important stories in different versions are all just plopped in next to each other, leading bored children to try to figure out just how many animals Noah took with him anyway. Only I don’t just have the J and P authors, I have three social workers, an accountant, a grantwriter, an IT guy, and the entrepreneur heading the organization. Kind of crazy–and I love it!

Taking paragraphs apart, fixing sentences, and moving things around is fun for me. I am more than happy spending my prime creative time (3 a.m. to 8 a.m.) doing this. I would probably do this for free, but I crave an iPhone. (Hey, only a 6, and I found a good deal. I’m not that crazy.)

My border collie gets bored a lot. NaNoWriMo is sort of me buying a flock of sheep to keep it occupied. But that’s only once a year. Major grants like this one only happen once every decade or so. What to do?

So the answer occurred to me this morning at about 5 a.m.: Maybe I should try writing poetry. Truth impels me to say that I can change things up most by attempting to write good poetry. It will be interesting to see if the mutt can make the sheep tap dance. (I promise not to overwhelm you with the results of this cockamamie idea.)

Confession: I loathe most modern poetry (the sort you wrote in high school with lots of emotion on each line) so will probably pick some random classic format for structure. An extra lap or two around the flock, and a nice huddle of well-behaved words as a result. Sounds like–squirrel!

Stuffing

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I was eleven or so. One afternoon my parents called me into the living room for some minor task, and inquired almost angrily what my deal was.

My face working, I stammered out that I was trying not to cry.

Well, what did I have to cry about?

I had cut my finger just moments earlier, while peeling an apple in the kitchen.

So why didn’t I cry?

“B-bec-cause y-you told m-me n-not to,” I wailed.

Oh, well then, cry away! I was told, with the largesse of a Victorian philanthropist, and I burst into tears.

I don’t recall being told not to cry, but I’m sure that I was. My mother was sexually abusing me nightly, although my conscious recollection boiled down to an eternal blazing fury: I hated my mother, but didn’t know why. My dad, on the other hand, as ignorant of the abuse as I, merely beat me a lot with his belt, mainly for not cleaning my room. To this day, when I hear somebody sweeping, there is a flashknot in my stomach.

But despite the abuse and neglect, I was not allowed to cry. What to do? I stuffed it, of course, and those tears waited with corrosive patience until an excellent therapist coaxed them out in my 40s. It took a lot of therapy, and to this day I am what’s called a “stress crier.” It’s a pain in the butt, if only because my sinuses swell from all the mucus and I can get a migraine from the pressure unless I hit myself with four sprays of fluticasone, which tastes unpleasantly of an incongruous lilac but works well.

I still stuff emotions, primarily anger, but I’m working hard on that. I write the feeling words large and circle them in my journal. The result is something that looks a lot like cantankerousness: I suffer fools badly, and have started to show up for myself.

I am trying to turn into a cranky old lady; to further this end, I have stopped dying my hair now that I’ve buzzed most of it off. My face still looks ten years younger, due mainly to genetics, not smoking, and sleep and hydration, but the crop of silver on top is like a snake rattle: Step over my log with caution, because I’ve been here for a few many turns around the sun now, and I have learned how to bite.

I nipped somebody this morning over something small, and was amazed at the level of satisfaction it afforded. (There is somebody who has taken it upon themselves to walk the website I manage, and if they find a 404 link, they email all of upper management. It’s been annoying for eight years, and I finally had enough. I told him that this tactic just made me look bad, and I would appreciate being given a private heads-up, being the webmaster and all.)

I’ve been chanting to change my karma, and (coincidentally I’m sure) had the most stressful month since I was homeless. I thought meditation was supposed to mellow you out, but maybe the mellow has to clear away a whole lot of muck before it rests easy in your soul. What do you think?