A blog without moss

It’s day 2357 of the pandemic. (Just kidding, who’s counting?) My teens ask me where their father is.

There are several likely answers. Putting in more time on a major volunteer project or grocery shopping again because he’s eagerly embraced the hunter/gatherer role during the months when we feared All Things Indoor. His age placed him at higher risk, but oh the heady freedom of leaving the house to get groceries. Now that we’re all vaccinated (phew), we all leave the house more often, even to go Indoors Elsewhere, almost as if that’s a normal thing to do.

Instead, I say, “Your father gathers no moss.”

Blank stares, a few blinks.

“He’s a rolling stone that gathers no moss,” I explain.

“That means nothing,” says one teen.

“What?” says another.

“You know, he can’t be pinned down. He’s always on the move.” Since he bore the role of full-time father for the eternity that was early childhood, this statement is not without some irony.

“Why can’t you just say that?” another teen says, shaking her head.

“Nobody says that,” the first says.

My teens aren’t fans of proverbs and cliches, I guess. In their defense, it is not necessarily one of the more helpful analogies. I mean, stones rarely roll. Sure, there’s probably an avalanche now and then. And I’m certain none of those rocks are gathering moss during that short span of time. But then again, a lot of rocks that don’t move don’t gather moss, either.

Still, I’m a fan of such sayings, just as I have moments when I love words like epistemology. I know it’s annoying when the word or phrase is unknown. But once you get your head around them, it’s a nice shortcut rather than explaining the whole history behind it (which, if you are curious about the history of the rolling stone proverb, there are helpful explanations on Wikipedia and the free dictionary that are probably accurate).

All this to say, I always feel a bit apologetic when I post on my blog because it’s so random when I do (not to mention what I write). Sometimes I post regularly. Sometimes I post on predictable topics. Sometimes, not so much. Now technically, I think my blog gathers tons of moss. On the one hand, like cobwebs when I neglect it for months on end. On the other hand, I’ve apparently posted 146 times on my blog. That’s about five times more than I would have guessed. So by one reading of the proverb, this blog is taking root. The one who is not gathering moss is me, the blogger, because I regret to inform you that I have no idea what you might see appear on this page. I have a little time this summer and the desire (perhaps) to blog more often. I have a growing list of ideas and fragments to post. Is there a guiding theme or platform at work here? Nope. I’ve never been one to pick one idea or topic and stick with it, though a few tend to come up more often for me (time management, writing, democratic values, reading, my favorite tech, for example). But don’t hold me to it. I’m not sure that saying this helps anyone who stumbles upon my blog at random. I guess I’m mostly saying sorry, not sorry. I’m just a rolling stone…

“Stop it,” the kids say.

Okay.

We regret to inform you that you were not, after all, elected to Student Council.

It turns out that we have recently become aware of the potential for fraud in our past system of counting all votes and naming the winners of the most votes to our student council.

It has been explained that our previous system was part of a leftist, radical agenda that runs counter to everything we believe here at Freedom Patriot Public High. Therefore, we conducted a recount by allocating a set number of votes per hallway, regardless of how many students are actually in each hallway. As you can imagine, this made a significant difference, especially because the detention room is located in a hallway otherwise full of lockers. We can now announce that the most votes for your position went to Ima Dyck, who doesn’t appear to be enrolled here, but we aren’t sure that’s actually necessary, as long as our approach to voting doesn’t involve counting all votes equally.

We are so relieved to have nipped this problem in the bud, now that we are aware that some people were saying it was socialistic, if not satanic and cannibalistic, depending on where they were hovering in the alphabet. It is critical that our voting systems ensure that the elected are never held to account by the electorate.

We look forward to the way this new system supports more traditional values such as despair and cruelty.

Proudly yours,

Principal, Freedom Patriot Public High

/f

May in the mountains

One time when I lived in the world of NotBoone, a friend told me how much she loved May. I seem to recall we were riding a train somewhere, passing fields of brightly colored flowers. And I remember feeling surprised that I didn’t have any such associations with the month of May.

This year, I’m remembering why. May in my neck of the mountains tends to mock us with the hope of spring. Sure, there are occasional good moments. The sky turns this crazy dark blue, and the air is crisp and fresh. The trees show off new leaves. Some of the azaleas and rhododendron decide to bloom.

Then comes the rain. The wind. It’s too cold to go out without a jacket, but embarrassing if you give in and put on a hat or scarf. I definitely regret leaving the house without pulling on long socks. My mind tells me it’s warmer than it was all winter. But that was winter. This is May. Come on.

Still, the rain can’t last forever (knock on wood). And here I am, creeping back onto my blog. Ready to write again, I guess. Even if it is just about the weather.

Fast Forward to February

So I haven’t posted on my blog since the start of November, and in my defense, November was a head trip, not to mention December and January.

I had hoped to breathe a sigh of a relief after the election ended, but I was afraid to post even that much because there were so many signs of trouble ahead. It was hard not to worry that the many lies repeated across right wing media and by certain politicians might lead to violence. I knew I would (rightly) sound paranoid if I said as much, but it made it hard to say anything on here.

And so tragic events ensued on January 6. It is hard for me to watch reports and videos of what occurred, though I did yesterday for the impeachment trial. I have to agree with commentators that this is an event that grows more horrifying the more you learn about it. 

Here’s my confession: ethics, morals, and ideals all matter to me. I believe that we should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, even if I strive to bring empathy and compassion to try to make sense of all the factors at play in any morally troubling situations. So my horror at what culminated on January 6 is matched by my horror that Republican Senators might not convict the worst actions ever taken by an American president against his own country. There is no line in the sand for the majority of them, apparently. They choose power and party over country, again and again and again. For too many, the ends justify the means, no matter how bloody or destructive. They would prefer to see this country burned to the ground than share power. Their actions are an affront to the core values of democracy and justice.

I’ve heard that some people are leaving the GOP to form an alternative center right political party. I can only hope they succeed. Center right would not describe my politics, but I recognize the value of differing opinions and points of view as long as we always condemn and reject lies, hate, prejudice, violent rhetoric, and any kind of take-no-prisoners mentality. It would also be great to see an end to bad faith arguments, though that might require a massive change in our culture to allow more time to think, gather information, and engage with nuance. 

At any rate, I did meet my Nanowrimo self-imposed goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of November. I find the daily writing goal of Nanowrimo so helpful for me, but I am aware that this approach isn’t always a positive thing for other writers. Plus, as I mentioned, November was intense, so I didn’t want anyone to think they should be doing anything but hanging in there. 

Anyway, it’s February now. The new year has brought hope in multiple forms including promising changes in federal leadership, not to mention vaccines on the horizon. It’s also brought more near misses and a few direct hits in terms of Covid19 in my circle of loved ones, so I am keenly aware that some people might lose the race just as our country begins to cross the finish line.

Still, I remain a glass is half full type, so I will focus on what lies around the corner. Where I live, this is the moment when winter drags on and drags us down. But better weather is inching closer. It’s February. Hang on.

Day One: Nanowrimo

It’s November, and some of us know what that means. No, not the election, but if that’s on your mind, this is the video that is giving me a burst of hope and determination despite some desperate acts of repression this weekend. And visit votesaveamerica.com to explore how you might help.

November is *also* National Novel Writing Month, the month where writers around the world choose to set a goal of writing at least 50,000 words on a new project, usually a novel, in 30 days. Or they set whatever goal they want because it’s just a chance to say, let’s write a lot, have fun, and not worry about getting it all right or making it all make sense. That’s my favorite kind of writing–writing for the joy of writing.

As someone who likes to manage time well, at least sometimes, I love that the power strategy to succeed is to write at least 1,667 words a day. Since I wasn’t 100% confident my head was in the right space to write, I decided to aim for just 1,667 words today. And my opening scene actually ended right at 1,668.

Seems like a good sign. Find out more at www.nanowrimo.org

So other than everything, how is it going?

Even before the pandemic, I wouldn’t always treat the question, “How are you?” as an empty exercise in good manners. If the right person asks and there is something to complain about, my answer was almost never “Fine.” Still, I also sometimes answer “Great,” in a hearty voice, mostly to show how happy I am to see the person again (or at least, the box with their face in it on my computer screen). But given the state of things in the U.S. right now, that answer seems off the rails. Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are contracting a disease that carries a risk of permanent disability, even death? And the risk of passing that fate to others, carrying the weight of that knowledge forever? Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are unemployed with every option running dry and the U.S. Senate is dominated by a man only interested in legislation that will protect businesses when they carelessly expose their employees to the disease?

Meanwhile, an election year that has been a decade long inches to a close, as voters choose between someone who has the potential to conduct a FDR-like Presidency or someone who will help us find out what would have happened if Gollum didn’t bite the ring off of Frodo’s finger. (Well, maybe we’re already finding out. I read today that the current administration is trying to undermine Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch. I guess I should know better now, but it still feels so disorienting to imagine the people who orchestrate these policies. What can it be like to be so deeply indifferent to human suffering?)

So much is going wrong that I feel like a character in one of those movies when the asteroid is about to hit Earth or space invaders are filling the sky, shooting laser beams at anyone who is in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Yet unlike those movies, instead of uniting to stave off the asteroid or aliens, we are supposed to find ways to go about business as usual. Ding! My phone reminds me of my next online meeting. Kaboom! Somewhere outside my window, another one bites the dust, stricken by disease or economic despair.

I don’t know what will happen on Election Day. I’m hoping for the FDR-like guy to win, of course, preferably surfing a wave of blue. No matter who wins, a long winter lies ahead. And rebuilding the Shire may take a lifetime.

Seven months in

On March 23, 2020, I recorded the following numbers on my blog: 

341,500 identified with Covid19 worldwide; 15,187 have died. 33,018 identified in the U.S., and 428 have died.

Today, Sunday, October 11, here are the numbers:

Worldwide: Over 37.2 million cases: over 1 million deaths.
US: Over 7.7 million cases; Over 214,000 deaths.

I know we don’t have a way to process these numbers—to understand the significance of it all. I don’t know how to make sense of one death, let alone numbers at this scale. 

There was an interactive graphic on the Washington Post that let me try to connect, for a moment, with the scale of grief: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/coronavirus-deaths-neighborhood/

Currently my own county has become a hotspot, and I keep reviewing in my mind how to be safer, after months of trying to be safe. How to help my children make sense of being careful even if there are people around us who aren’t.

One of the challenges, of course, is that the threat of Covid19 is not simply death, though there have been far too many. It is one of risk. Every case contracted carries the risk of more. Just look at where we were in March versus now. Every time Covid19 spreads, it doesn’t mean the person who got it will die. That person may not even experience symptoms. But they might spread it to someone who will. And these numbers don’t tell us how many people will deal with long term consequences of an illness that can harm organ function, even brain function, in ways we are not yet prepared to measure.

I stare into this landscape of grief, not just for the loss of lives but in some cases, for the loss of empathy, the numbness and indifference that some people embrace as an armor against it. I know that we still should avoid doing anything that isn’t 100% necessary. We should still embrace social connections but physically distant—ideally around 12 feet apart, outside, masks on. Or online. We can complain about life on screens but accept that this might keep us safer than the alternative.

I will keep doing what I can to be safe, and I will keep hoping that others will find their way to do so, too. It seems as if too many people prefer to fight over problems, rather than fix them. And this time, the solution is to take care of one another and to be safe for one another. How odd, too, to think that we may be saved not by some miracle vaccine or expensive treatment, but something as cheap and simple as wearing a mask.

A playful approach to revision

Lately I have been making tiny steps forward in my writing. The most effective strategy for me to be able to write anything is to NOT look at the news or social media. Because the news is so terrifying on so many levels (with the occasional flash of hope for something better in the future… which is almost painful given the circumstances), I can’t quit reading the news. But if I want to get anything done, I need to try to do my work before I let myself peek at the latest scenes from this slow-motion disaster. There are true villains in this drama, and I am also carving out time to try to change that by working with Vote Save America, which provides some solace, at least, to know I am not alone in wanting something better.

So anyway, that is step one for me to get writing done. But the other challenge is the same challenge as always: I just don’t feel as excited about revising my writing as I do writing first drafts. When I write first drafts, I am a rock star. I am creating something new and amazing. When I am revising, I feel like the lowest form of life imaginable. I can’t believe how much is missing or poorly executed. You won’t be surprised to hear that procrastination is a challenge right now.

I have found this blog a useful accountability partner, so I may start posting progress reports on here again. So for today, I want to remind myself of the ways I can make revision feel more creative and rewarding.

1. Journaling.
I love journaling, free writing, brainstorming. It goes hand-in-hand with my love of writing first drafts, I guess. There is no standard to achieve when I journal. It’s just a chance to let the ideas flow. And it seems to cheer me up if I tell myself, okay, journal a bit about what you are going to write or revise today, and then you can journal afterwards on how it went. If I journal specifically about the novel, I call it process-writing, and keep those notes in the same Scrivener file as the novel. If I journal more generally, that part stays in my journal file on Ulysses.

2. Timers
I know that timers are a source of torture for some people, but I have found it inspiring to set a timer to see how much I can get done within a time limit. This works with fresh drafts, yes, but it is a powerful tool with revision because it helps me commit to the moment rather than pondering ways to procrastinate. I can also count on the time running out, and then finding some small reward. Or even better, to get so wrapped up in the work that I keep writing, even though the time ran out.

That’s the irritating thing about my reluctance to revise. It’s so doable. If I can just start, I discover all sorts of ways back into the work, little fixes that are easy to make.

3. Reread my work.
Sometimes, when I feel most resistant to the work, I say, okay, that’s fine, why not just reread it? Just by reading over what I’ve written, I usually find myself making changes. It’s super easy and doable. It also helps to read the work aloud, but I tend to save that for editing, not revising.

4. Creative writing prompts
I love working on writing exercises from creative writing books. I think there are probably tons available online or via apps, now, too. It is perhaps what I miss most when I am trying to be disciplined about focusing on one main project. But creative writing prompts can be applied to revision, too.

5. Switching Point of View
If there is a section that needs work, I can try writing it from a different point of view to see what happens.

6. Conversations with the characters
I can write a conversation with a character asking them for advice on a section. Sometimes they are wiser than I am. And it’s just fun, too.

Takeaway: Be playful.

I have to admit that I prefer to approach writing with a sense of play rather than with some serious, grim Calvinistic demeanor. It is the joy of creative play that draws me to this work. It seems to me revising should be, or could be, just as playful as writing the first draft.

So my goal this week is to find ways to enjoy and look forward to the time I spend revising. I will report back here now and then on my progress.

I hope you all are finding ways to write, too, and possibly to find moments of joy in defiance of all that is so grim right now.

If I were to write about Black lives…

I would begin by reminding you that there is no such thing as race in terms of biology. Biologically, we are all the same. And one need only engage in a modest amount of logical thinking to know that we all rise or fall together.

I also recognize that culture is more powerful (and violent) than biology, and I value the power of identity embraced by those who identify as Black people. So if I say race does not exist in biology, I also know that identifying as Black (and being identified as Black) is real and, at times, empowering.

On the other hand, I dread the way white privilege flows towards me regardless of my desire to support sweeping reforms or my grief for the losses experienced by what are, biologically-speaking, my siblings. I cannot renounce this privilege nor claim that I am somehow not responsible until I find a way to dismantle it. And by I, I mean we, of course. Anyone who tells you that “I alone can fix it” is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it.

I have hesitated to post anything lately because the only voices I want to hear right now are those best situated to guide us forward, the we who wish to dismantle the violence of white privilege. It does not feel as if my voice is needed right now.

But, for the record, I am quietly cheering on the steps forward and grieving the steps backward. It is hard to know what to focus on in the chaos of this moment in our history. It is chilling to observe the indifference with which so many people in power embark on what can only be defined as mass homicide and suicide in the name of a boost to the stock market, like giving up our world to build the grandest of sandcastles. Any success is fleeting, but the losses could be lasting.

I will venture back onto this blog gradually. The violence and grief existed before this year; it’s just more visible right now, and it feels more egregious. I must continue to navigate the same challenges, contradictions, and injustices of daily life as always, doing what feels ordinary during a time that calls for something extraordinary. And hoping that we find a better way.

As someone who cares about democracy, justice, and humanity, I will say as often as necessary: Black lives matter.

I also want to amplify three articles that provide an important counter narrative to racist mythologies and manage at times to carve out a space for hope and even moments of joy.

One is the article by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the 1619 series that I blogged about earlier. Title: “Our democracy’s ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true”
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

Next is the podcast version of Wesley Morris’s contribution to the 1619 series, “Black music, forged in captivity, became the sound of complete artistic freedom. It also became the sound of America.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/podcasts/1619-black-american-music-appropriation.html

Finally, I really loved this article:
Imani Perry “Racism is Terrible. Blackness is Not.”
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/racism-terrible-blackness-not/613039/

My Goodreads Review of the novel 2020

As a starting point, it was impossible to suspend disbelief when I discovered this book centers on a character two parts buffoon and one part dictator who believes he owns our country thanks to a few backroom deals with various autocrats around the world (plus a special thank you to Deutsche Bank and Facebook). It is disappointing given the array of examples of finely constructed villains throughout literature to be offered one so completely devoid of any redeeming qualities that it beggars all belief.

While it is typical for this kind of thriller to continue to raise the stakes, I question the decision to include both a deadly pandemic and sweeping protests against police brutality that are then met with relentless amounts of police brutality. For that matter, the entire premise of the pandemic doesn’t make any sense. I mean, what country would dismantle all of its governmental functions, place stooges in charge of every government agency (and the Senate) with the explicit goal of making money for themselves and undermining the agency’s ability to protect its people in the case of a crisis? The narrative behind the spread of the pandemic itself is so poorly constructed—the administration didn’t bother to quarantine or restrict the travel of people returning from other countries if those people were easy to recognize as American citizens? As if being white, rich, and an American citizen makes them immune??

And then we are supposed to believe the administration would seriously offer, though it sounds like a parody, solutions to a pandemic along the lines of “cut taxes and regulations, destroy the environment, and block all immigration.” Are there any readers who would believe in characters this incompetent and immoral? I struggled to keep reading when the author thought it would make sense that any American leader would suppress all information about the virus in a transparent effort to boost the stock market, as if time would somehow stop at that moment. The author was so pleased with this scene that it was repeated with little editing in response to a not-especially-meaningful jobs report.

And it wasn’t enough to make visible the ongoing violence of anti-Black racism upon which this country was founded, but then the author decided, hey, let’s randomly impose curfews as a way to increase violent treatment of both peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, as if the police were otherwise incapable of recognizing who was peacefully protesting and who was breaking windows with their skateboards (because it’s apparently confusing if the former is Black and the latter is white?) The entire novel is so chaotic, depicting what it might be like to live in a country dominated by selfish people with short attention spans and no awareness of history. I rate this book a 0 out of 5, and I beg the author to take a history class.