It’s another girl!

Welcome to the world, baby Emily!

My new granddaughter was born just before midnight yesterday, weighing 8 lb 7 oz.

Mom and baby (and dad) are all doing well. Emily reportedly has blue eyes and “quite a lot” of brown hair, but I don’t have a pic of that yet.

I’ve been told that her two-year-old big sister is excited to meet her. So am I.

My eyes have been leaking happiness at random moments all day.

 

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A Collection of Thoughts

I keep telling myself I should write something about this coronavirus pandemic, offer up some words of perspective or advice or simply as a personal record. But just when I think I know what I want to say, things change. Suddenly. Drastically. Irrevocably. The world keeps shifting on a flooding tide of disease and death, incompetence and greed, and I don’t know what to say.

Tomorrow, next week, things will be different again.

With that in mind, the following is a montage of sorts, false starts and re-starts of a blog post that kept morphing over time into something else. It feels like it spans an eternity, but I started writing this just over two weeks ago.

Overload is a real thing. Turn away if you need to. Maybe no one needs to read this, and that’s fine.

Maybe I needed to write it.

——–

March 12. It’s 8:09 AM and I’m standing at the back screen door, listening to the birds that have been relentlessly chirping their morning songs for over an hour, feeling the crisp cool air on my face. Watching the waning moon arc its way across the insufficient camouflage of a pale blue morning sky. I hear the distant drone of cars from a busy road several blocks away, not muffled by winter-bare branches. The relentless normalcy abruptly broken by the distant siren of someone’s commute gone wrong.

I haven’t yet gone to bed, night owl that I am, and I’m tired. No, more than that. I’m weary. News of a worldwide pandemic is horrifying, but it seems distant, almost unreal. It’s been a long week of stressful, unbelievable events. Even more so than the week before. And the week before that, the month, the year, before that.

And yet. Listening to the sounds of morning, both natural and man-made. I find hope. Life does go on.

People who don’t read the news, or who do and don’t care, or who care but can’t afford to change their lives. It all goes on.

We prepare, but are never ready.

——–

March 14. I find out that a dear friend has died today of an aggressive form of cancer, mere weeks after being diagnosed, and I am gutted. I had taken on the role, voluntarily, of obtaining updates on her health from 2700 miles away and now must notify our group of mutual friends about this awful news. I am as humbled by their trust in me to do this as I am destroyed by the need for it.

——–

March 16. Or so. I’m adding these dates in retrospect and my memory is suspect. I’ve lost track of time and days. I make note instead of numbers infected and dying, closures and restrictions. Early numbers say 26 confirmed cases, with only 100 people tested, in my state of 10 million people. All schools in NC are closed until at least mid-May.

We are advised but not required to stay inside now, in my county, due to the spread of this virus, and suddenly I feel compelled to go out. Me, the virtual hermit, who rarely goes anywhere.

Contrariness, sure. But also I think it’s a primal instinct for survival: we sense a threat and know there’s safety in numbers. We’re stronger together than alone. Band together or perish. A feeling reinforced by messages that we can get through this together if we all, as a group, follow guidelines. Except togetherness, in the physical sense, is not a strength in this case.

Not wanting to venture out, my normal state of mind, is an entirely different thing than not being allowed to. The primal urge to do something in the face of a threat is strong, yet we’re told to essentially do nothing.

“Surely there’s some prep to be done, some steps to take in advance, some action I can take. ”

“No, just stay home.”

“But what about—”

“No. Stay home.”

“I should stock up on ALL THE THINGS.”

“You’re making it worse. Just. Stay. Home.”

[Note: I picked up my usual online grocery order on the 12th and again on the 27th. Other than that, I haven’t been out of the house.]

I’m fortunate that I’m pretty well stocked up year-round. Living in the mid-Atlantic region, we’re vulnerable to hurricanes and winter snow/ice storms and spring/fall thunderstorms and tornadoes. I’m so used to being prepared for the worst, it seems oddly reassuring to realize this current disaster doesn’t come with roof repairs or the loss of electricity. I’ll still be able to cook, to use the A/C or heat, won’t have to worry about food going bad in a relentlessly thawing fridge or freezer.

It’s anti-climactic in very real and unsettling ways. And yet, this threat is far more deadly. How do I reconcile this dichotomy? This realization that what I’ve always prepared for is not, in fact, the worst-case scenario.

——–

March 21. Days later, my worries have now coalesced from a general, “OMG, we’re all doomed,” to more specific fear for the people I love. I realize they all fall into categories of the most vulnerable.

My elderly mother who has dementia and lives in a care facility; two of my sisters whose immunity is compromised by various health conditions; another sister who is at risk due to her job in education; my son whose industry is considered essential and has daily contact with an assortment of people, his wife who works in education and even more exposure; my daughter who is five months pregnant, her daughter who is almost two, her husband who is a physician in a hospital; a niece and nephew and their spouses who live in large cities in the northeastern US (NYC and Boston); another niece and her family who live in a midwestern metropolitan area and have been exposed to the virus, some of whom are showing symptoms, but can’t get tested.

I watch the numbers of cases and deaths increasing in other areas of the country and wonder how long it will take to spread, what path it will take. Our numbers here are still low, but testing is pitifully insignificant.

——–

March 25? I’m guessing at dates now. I read stories online, healthcare professionals telling of people dying alone, begging for a chance to say goodbye to loved ones who, for their own safety, aren’t allowed to be there. Tales of doctors and nurses using their own cellphones to facilitate unbearably wrenching goodbyes. I can’t help but think about how that would feel, if I were the one dying alone. Or how much worse it would be if I were not the one dying, but the one not allowed to be present and give comfort to a loved one in their final hours.

I cry, daily. Not sobbing, just random streams of tears running down my face without warning. Sorrow for people I don’t know. For things that haven’t happened and might not ever. For the sickness and death I feel certain will touch my life and leave an indelible mark before this is over. For the loss of innocence and sense of safety, experienced in past generations, newly revisited in ours.

——–

March 27. My county has issued an official stay-at-home order, effective the 28th. The next day, our governor issues the same order state-wide, effective Monday the 30th. I feel relief and gratitude for this willingness to make tough, unpopular decisions.

——–

March 30. We’re using the language of war. Interestingly, we’ve skipped back past decades of more “modern” warfare and are referencing experiences of WWII, an event most of us weren’t alive to witness. Sacrifices, shortages, rationing. Price controls, interrupted supply lines. Investors have turned to the bond market, albeit not officially War Bonds. What’s next, savings stamps? A no-strike pledge from essential labor?

I’m reminded of the letters my Great Aunt Mabel, an Army nurse, sent home from the Pacific theatre during WWII. From one dated June 12, 1943:

“We have a grand bunch of girls on nights and the five of us on this one ramp get together at three o’clock for coffee. We would perhaps perish without coffee to keep us stimulated so when you have to go without it sometimes just remember you are helping me keep vigil in the night.”

I hear friends talking about planting “Victory gardens.” Others are sewing surgical masks to donate, sharing patterns, comparing materials and techniques. It makes me think of women during WWI rolling bandages, back before we had the technology of machines to do the task.

But lack of technology is not our problem, now. Lack of leadership is.

This feels like war. For some of us, too many of us, the virus is the enemy. For more of us, the enemy is the indifference and cruelty and greed of petty-minded, ego-driven men.

I wonder how many more times we’ll be forced to fight that particular enemy, that underlying conflict of every war. How many more of us will die before we are wise enough to confer power solely on those people who don’t necessarily want it, who accept it only reluctantly as a means to effect change for the greater good.

——–

March 31. As a marker, numbers as of this writing:

Source: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/covid-19-case-count-nc

A local news site [WRAL.com] reports slightly higher numbers, as of 6 PM:

1,524 confirmed cases in NC
157 people hospitalized
10 deaths of NC residents
2 deaths of non-residents passing through

Again, in a state with 10 million residents, that number of tests completed is insufficient to the point of being criminal. Thanks entirely to lack of test kits provided by the federal government.

——–

At times, my thoughts turn selfishly inward, as they tend to do. I look at my current writing, the work I have chosen, and wonder what’s the use. It all feels trite and worthless. At the same time, I acknowledge that I read and even depend on the writing of others, their lovely fictional escapist worlds, and recognize the incalculable value even during trying times when I can’t quite focus on the words. I know I’d be even more lost without those stories.

Dare I hope to provide that for someone else? Can I bear not to try?

——–

We’re living in uncertain and changing times. Dangerous and unpredictable and infuriating times. Every day brings a shift and schism from what we thought we knew and once considered unshakably normal.

This pandemic will change us, the entire world of us, in ways we can’t yet possibly imagine. Intentions aside, the extent to which we might be able to direct or even influence that change is unknowable. I feel equal measures of regret and relief that my recently deceased friend won’t be witness to it, along with a sick sense of dread about who might, who will, join her in that stasis in coming days.

And yet, along with the fear of loss, I also wonder about possibilities. Given this rare opportunity of upheaval and chaos within which to either redeem ourselves or make things inextricably worse . . . will we?

——–

I don’t know how to wrap this up with a tidy conclusion. I don’t have insight or wisdom to offer in the midst of this storm. I don’t know what comes next.

We’re currently witnessing both the best of us and the absolute worst of us, and I’m trying to believe the best will find a way to prevail. I despair, but I haven’t lost hope. I mourn, but I find strength in that which endures. I do what I can, knowing it’s not enough.

And I try to have faith that maybe — for the person waiting alone and scared and fearing the worst, for the person seeking a temporary respite from bleak reality — what I and countless other writers do and the stories we tell might possibly, in that dark moment, mean everything.

So I go back to work.

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Resignation and, well, resignation

I made a tough decision last week, but one that had been a long time coming, to be honest. After 16 years of membership, including two years serving on the board of my local chapter, I resigned my membership in both RWA and that chapter. This will not surprise those who have been following this debacle since the events that came to light on December 23. Those who don’t care and have not been following along . . . well, you won’t care about my reasons and, frankly, you’re better for not knowing.

But just in case there is some third group of people who do care and don’t know what I’m talking about, or in case you just want to see what I sound like when I’m being all stern and serious, here’s a link to the twitter thread where I posted a portion of my resignation letter.

I normally wouldn’t share something like that publicly, even though many other writers have done so. But part of the problem with RWA is the dearth of communication and lack of transparency about process and decisions. So it felt important to be clear and open about my decision and the reasons behind it. After 16 years, I figure I’ve earned the right to Say Some Things.

As I mentioned, this has been a long time coming, a response to deep-seated bigotry and discrimination in RWA that might never be resolved. I expected to feel some degree of loss or remorse or maybe have second thoughts. Interestingly, I don’t. It’s more a feeling of immense relief. RWA is not my problem anymore.

It’s a heavy toxic weight off my shoulders, a clearing of brain space, a freeing up of energy. Much needed.

*   *   *

And then there’s the other definition of resignation, which I also dealt with around the same time:

“2. the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.” – Dictionary online

I refer, of course, to my trees. Specifically, to my trees, and parts thereof, falling.

OK, here’s something you might not know about me: I have fears.

Everyone: We knew that.

Me: FEARS, I tell you.

Everyone: Yes, we’re aware.

Me: Good. Glad we cleared that up.

Mostly these fears involve storms, especially storms with high winds. I refuse to qualify these fears as phobias — which I also have, thanks brain — because they aren’t irrational. And they’re different from general anxiety — which I also have, thanks again brain — because they’re specific.

I’m trying to be less fearful and more resigned to the fact that if you have tall pines and massive oak trees in your yard, and I do, and you also live in an area where occasionally there are storms with strong winds, and I do, eventually those trees are going to fall. And they do.

Obviously, it just serves to reinforce my fears, rather than alleviate them, when this happens.

It’s always disorienting to look out the window and see a large piece of tree or a root ball in a place where it doesn’t belong. My poor flowering cherry tree, getting crushed like that. There’s a fraction of a second when your brain refuses to accept what it’s seeing. “How can that possibly be there?”

Followed swiftly by, “How much is it going to cost and how quickly can I get that mess cut up and hauled away before the city gives me a citation for blocking sidewalk traffic?”

Partial answer: Before noon the next day, for the cutting up part. Impressive response time, yard guys. And see how neatly they piled it up?

Still waiting for them to find time in their schedule to come back and haul it away. And send me the bill.

Luckily, as you can see if you look waaaaay up (I’m guessing that’s about 80 feet up, on a 110-foot-tall tree), losing a limb of that size didn’t damage or weaken the pine tree AT ALL.

Probably the rest of it won’t come crashing down with the next strong wind. Or heavy heaping of snow.

Did I mention tomorrow’s forecast is for some unknown description and quantity of wintry precipitation? It might be anything from some light cold rain to perhaps several inches of snow. Or maybe just sleet. Or freezing rain that clings to branches and weighs them down and . . .

*twitch*

So far, I’m one-for-two on achieving various definitions of resignation this month. Fingers crossed I don’t get the opportunity for more practice any time soon.

 

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IN WHICH: I get overly personal in an attempt to find catharsis

So. *clears throat* Hello again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it.

I decided back in November (I think?) that I was going to resume blogging sometime in January. And here it is, already the 30th, and I’m wondering what happened to the rest of the month. Or most of last year, for that matter.

I didn’t deliberately stop posting over here. It’s just that the last half of 2019 was really tough for me, with one damn thing after another.

I think it started with the air conditioning not doing a super great job of cooling. But outdoor temps hadn’t been too terribly hot and I had my fingers crossed for a cooler than usual summer. I was miserable — I HATE being hot — and every passing day brought a sense of surly dread. Because there’s no such thing as a cool summer in the South.

Then it was the moths. Pantry moths, aka cereal moths. They come home from the grocery store in a box or bag of something-or-other: cereal, rice, dried beans, pasta, whatever. I had them in my pantry once way back when we lived in Atlanta and THEY ARE NOT FUN. Did I mention my A/C was not working properly? This made things even less fun.

I had to throw away almost everything in my pantry. Five garbage bags worth. Then scrub every single surface of the pantry with vinegar water (I had help, thank all the gods). I added several drops of peppermint extract to the solution, as moths reportedly don’t like that. My kitchen smelled like candy canes for a week. Christmas in July.

Upside? My pantry was, and still is, remarkably clean and no longer contains any expired items.

And then both A/C units died for real. Like, not even making an effort any more. I tried to hold onto hope they could be repaired, but they were simply too old and had already been repaired more times than was wise. And, BONUS, upon closer inspection it turned out both 40-year-old furnaces had cracked heat exchangers, a dangerous carbon monoxide risk. So, that was a fun expense, replacing both upstairs and downstairs HVAC systems. It resulted in a more than 50% reduction of my electric bill, which was a nice surprise. I did the math and, at that rate of savings, the new systems will pay for themselves in roughly 102 years. So there’s that.

Temps were in the upper-90s when these guys showed up for an entire day of heavy lifting:

They were very conscientious about not messing up my already stained carpet:

And then my sluggish kitchen sink drain line stopped draining altogether. Again. And an upstairs toilet had developed a tendency to “run” unless you jiggled the handle just right. So yeah, got both of those fixed, after vowing to never again use the plumbing company that promised the drain was clear less than 12 months prior. [Note: I stopped putting food waste in the garbage disposal years ago; this was not user error.] Sorry, no pics of that mess.

So far, all of this non-stop calamity involved phoning and speaking to and meeting in real life with people. A lot of people. Customer service people, scheduling people, repair people, sales people, patronizing people, people making excuses, people giving estimates, genuinely helpful people, people who told me their entire life story and medical history, more customer service people, installation people, people checking up on the other people. ALL THE DAMN PEOPLE.

Look, I’m an introvert. Making phone calls is torture. It’s not that I dislike people, exactly. They’re fine in limited quantities, for a limited time. None of this was limited and my eyelid was starting to twitch.

At one point there was the combined electric/internet/TV/cell phone service outage, for no good reason whatsoever. No bad weather, no accidents nearby, no alien invasion. Couldn’t even contact anyone to ask for a status update. It lasted for hours and hours. At least I didn’t have to interact with any people during that time, but I was starting to feel cursed.

By now, it was sometime in September. I think? None of this seemed worth writing about over here. It would’ve been just a lot of whining.

Oh, but we’re not done. Because then there was the Epic Ant Invasion. To be honest, this is a not entirely uncommon thing here in the South. You spill one drop of juice or leave one piece of a chip sitting out and suddenly you have 30 to 50 THOUSAND feral ants on the kitchen counter. Tiny little ants you mostly don’t even notice until they swarm. Luckily, I have discovered a really effective ant deterrent [poison, ok? it’s poison] and that problem cleared up after enough of them ate it. A full week later. In the meantime I didn’t, couldn’t stand to, use my kitchen to prepare food.

The aggravated whining had now reached Olympic competition levels.

The fall months held the usual threats from hurricanes, which seemed a lot more potentially dangerous than usual. Not going to complain, as we got off easy in this part of the state, but the prolonged worry provoked by large, powerful, slow-moving storms is a real and stressful thing. My heart breaks for Puerto Rico, especially, and for the Outer Banks.

Somewhere in the timeline was being the recipient of the anger and disappointment of someone I respect, caused by a major misunderstanding on my part, with resultant shame and regret. And the devastating terminal cancer diagnosis of someone I like even though she’s not a friend, but who is important in my children’s lives. Even the very welcome decision to move to a new place in 2020 has been stressful. Downsizing, UGH.

Mixed in with all this short-term drama is the ongoing heartbreak and grief of my mom slowly dying from non-Alzheimer’s dementia (frontal lobe dementia, or FTD, if anyone wants to look it up; I find I can’t write about it). And of course the interesting family decision-making dynamics of that, when you have three sisters and you all were raised to be strong-willed, opinionated people (not going to write about that either). Mom was officially diagnosed in November 2016, after displaying symptoms for a couple years, to give you an idea of what I mean when I say slowly. This is not a thing that gets easier, or will ever get better, with time.

Of course, there’s that other event from November 2016 with a result that just keeps getting impossibly worse, a manic hellscape of cruelty and indifference and greed and corruption, one that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored (no intention of writing about that either).

It all adds up. There were many times last year when it felt like the combined weight was simply too much. Too much to bear, too much to process, too much to write about or through or around.

It’s hard to write this now, even when I can make light of some of the small stuff that has been resolved. But it feels necessary.

Yes, the year had bright moments too. Of course it did. My children are a constant source of love and laughter and hope. They also don’t really want me to write about them here (are you noticing a trend?). “Mom, don’t be weird,” is an oft-heard phrase. But I have managed to obtain their permission to post a few uplifting pics.

My son and his wife recently added a second puppy to their family:

She has the softest fur I have ever sunk my fingers into. And is really sweet when she’s not being encouraged into mischief:

My granddaughter continues to be an absolute joy. My daughter is fiercely protective (takes after her mother) and adamant about not posting identifiable pics, but she approved these:

This girl loves outdoor adventures:

So no, life over the past months has not been all doom and gloom. Not even close. But there has been an unusual amount of stress and worry. And whining.

It’s complicated by the ever-present elephant in the room: the ongoing struggle to write fiction, to be creative, under stress. The guilt and self-disgust of failing at that, or not making sufficient progress, over long periods of time. The pressure to “at least” write a blog post or five, to be entertaining in short bursts even if I can’t yet manage to finish an entire book. The feeling that everyone is watching and judging, disappointed and losing faith.

When the truth is that most likely no one cares or has even noticed. I don’t mean that to sound like self-pity. It’s not. It’s simple reality that people are busy with their own lives, of course they won’t notice when someone is NOT doing something.

But that perception has definitely had an effect when it comes to writing posts over here. I recently read back over a bunch of my old posts and I distinctly recall the feeling, early on, of not giving two fucks about what anyone thought. Whether I wrote something funny or serious or ridiculous or even just plain stupidly trivial. I didn’t care. It was freeing. Not sure when that changed, or why, but it did. I increasingly began to feel that I had to write something, I don’t know, important. Or meaningful. Something “worth” reading.

Yeah, I know, what a self-important twit. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at myself.

Do you want to know which post is my “most viewed” since I wrote it in August 2016? I mean, by far, it’s not even close. This one [CW: profanity and frogs]: “Yet another incident of critters in the fireplace, dammit

I want to recapture that care-free feeling, if I can. Get back to writing whatever strikes my fancy, whether funny or serious, without any imagined expectations. Maybe it’ll spark confidence that will carry over into my other writing as well.

No promises, no resolutions. No pressure. But I’m going to give it a try in coming months. Expect some randomly worthless nonsense, I guess, while I sort myself out. I appreciate those of you who might still be along for the ride.

 

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Filed under deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing

Between Seasons

We had severe storms here yesterday, as predicted, with heavy rain and strong wind gusts and multiple tornado warnings in areas all around me that lasted for hours. It’s unsettling how quickly tornados pop up and how fast they move, unlike a hurricane that you can see coming for days.

Graphic credit: WRAL.com

Today is sunny and cool and breezy, a storm-washed crispness in the air usually only felt in the fall. I’m fortunate that debris cleanup in my yard will be minimal. A few small branches, several downed clumps of fragile new leaves, a scattering of maple “helicopters” and oak tassels carpeting the deck.

The blossoms from the flowering cherry tree are blown or washed away from where they adorned the sidewalk just last week.

A small child (I assume; perhaps a playful adult) helped with the first pile of petals, an unexpected bit of “artful destruction” that made me smile.

A few weeks earlier, the dark bark and purple blossoms of a redbud stood out against a thick morning fog. So hard to capture a good picture of elusive fog (especially with my amateur photography “skills”).

The dogwoods are mostly done blooming and in full leaf now, the azaleas and camellias hanging on to a few stubborn displays of red and coral and white among new growth.

Signs of spring in the process of giving way to eventual summer.

I’m sitting here with the back door open, listening to birds and the lull of distant traffic. Too wet still for the intrusive drone of leaf blowers or lawn mowers, an occasional gust brings the rustle of young leaves and, no doubt, our persistent spring pollen through the screen.

The breeze is cool enough that the cat is curled up in a chair, burrowed into a carelessly thrown blanket, snoring softly.

It’s a quiet afternoon.

I’m feeling the kind of melancholy that is more pensive or nostalgic than true sadness. Memories are there along the edges my mind, as are plans and anticipation, the past and the future, pushing gently or pulling insistently as is their wont. I acknowledge both, allow neither, pausing for a moment in the now. Between seasons, as it were.

 

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