Hold on.

This weekend I was pondering what to write on my blog today. I thought I might list all the people I am worrying about, fellow humans who I do not know but who are in extreme danger. Syria comes to mind often. Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan. People around the world and within my country living in places in a permanent state of violence and/or deprivation. All the refugees adrift in a world that itself is coming adrift with each passing day. Individuals who are made vulnerable by circumstances or systematic oppression. And the people who are not in extreme danger but who are experiencing heartbreak of the small kinds. Perhaps something they have worked for and planned for is suddenly crashing to a halt due to this pandemic. Or who took what seemed like a small risk in 2019, a new venture of some sort, that now appears catastrophic in 2020.

I am not especially comfortable with organized religion, but I have a spiritual side. A phrase from the American Friends Society always resonates with me: I will hold you in the light, one says, the way others might say I will pray for you. I like the idea of light, the echoes of healing, of renewal, of better days, of hope and possibility. I like the idea that I might be able to hold someone in the light, that this is an action I can take to make the world a better place. I am holding you in the light. Everyone, really. I send out light, hope, and love to the world.

As I write these words, the first two weeks of Full Scale Pandemic Alert have passed, and the threat has become very real, and in some places, nightmarish. It is predicted that in two more weeks, we will reach the peak moment when we are least able to manage the spread of Covid19.

I don’t know how to prepare for that. I hide away. I peek at the news, then turn it off when it threatens to overwhelm me. I take deep breaths, trying to make sense of the knowledge that a worldwide disaster is unfolding, slowly in some places, and at light speed in others.

Hold on.

Viral anxiety

This weekend I became an expert in epidemiology. No, not really, but you’d think that was my goal. The past few weeks have not been ideal in terms of limiting the time I spend on Twitter or skimming the news. It’s been several years of what feel like daily shocks running the gamut from cringes to gut punches. I stumble to find a response, any response, to all that is happening.

Today my mind is still sifting through what I’ve read. There’s a story I can’t tell in detail because it belongs to a loved one under 18, who went through a nightmare of a health crisis a few years ago. At a moment when we felt most helpless to understand what was going on or how to stop the suffering, we had to go back to the doctor’s office during the height of flu season. I walked as if in a dream because I couldn’t imagine how to deal with what was already happening AND the added risk of flu.

As of today, though, my loved one’s crisis has abated. On the other hand, I have a beloved parent in assisted living, another beloved parent with respiratory issues, both over 80, not to mention friends battling cancer, others living with asthma, and quite a few working in health care. For all of them, coronavirus is one more threat among many ongoing risks.

Though we learn more each day, none of us know what to expect from this coronavirus. My new online colleagues in the field of epidemiology make clear that without sufficient testing and mitigation, we will reach new levels of crisis within weeks and may have to endure several really tough months. But none of us know what will happen, not for certain.

What is certain is that so many people who already bear heavy loads, including just the challenge to make it from one day to the next, are weighed down even more by the thought of what might lie ahead.

I feel that weight, too. So let me hold us all in the light, as the Friends say. And I will do so every time I wash my hands, like a prayer going out into the world around me. I can’t do everything, but I can do this much to keep you healthy. To let you know that it matters to me what you are going through. Hold on. Stay in the light.

Next episode?

I rarely binge watch anything. I am more the type to stay up late to finish a good book.

But then Perry Mason showed up on one of our streaming services this winter. This was good news because my mother has lost the ability to operate her TV or to hold a conversation, so when I bring her home for a meal, it helps to find a show she enjoys.

Seems like we watched Perry Mason any chance we got over the years. The joke was that no matter how many times we watched an episode, we never remembered who did it. On the other hand, we knew the killer was usually on the witness stand in the last ten minutes of the episode.

After awhile, I got sucked in and started watching the show on my own. I enjoy mysteries in general, and these stories entertained me. Yes, I roll my eyes, often, at the stereotypes, not to mention the shocking number of affairs between boss and secretary (not Della and Perry, for the record). I also grind my teeth more than once at the sight of Perry or Paul acting as if Della needs their help to walk. In general, these episodes depict a world that never existed, but instead replicate false definitions of gender, race, sexuality, and power. All fair critiques, but I still like the stories, even the cheesiest ones, where Perry intones deep insights like a prophet.

This time, though, I realized watching was a way for me to travel through time. I seem to be climbing into the screen to stare at this city in black and white, the long angular cars, the jazzy street scenes, all depicting a Los Angeles that doesn’t seem quite as endless as what we have now. Not that I know anything about L.A., just my own corner of the world that continues to expand and shift around me.

I took my mother to the eye doctor yesterday. “Hold this over your eye,” she was asked, several times. Eventually, she did.

“Can you tell me what you see?”

No answer.

“What about now?”

Letters changed to pictures.

No response. The questions did not mean anything to her.

It will be her last trip to the eye doctor, at least for an annual check-up. You have to be able to answer questions. You have to read.

Afterwards, I felt gravity pull me down. Maybe if I am smaller. Maybe if I roll myself into a curve so I take up as little space as possible, maybe this won’t hurt so much.

Later I queued up the next episode of Perry Mason. Only five episodes left, the peril of binging. The screen is full of black, white, and gray tones, flickering, fading. There is chaos, but it is predictable. We know at some point, someone will find a body. Usually it’s the defendant, who sometimes gasps and then picks up the murder weapon. It’s hard not to hiss: What are you thinking?

But there will be a trial. Berger will be cranky, but in the end he will be grateful, mostly, that the real criminal is revealed.

There is always a light note at the end of the show. Someone died, someone else will face the death penalty, but there’s always reason to laugh.

Another episode is over, and a small box appears, inviting me to click to watch more. My mouse hovers over the _next_ button. I am running out of episodes.

Whether I click now or later, there are only a few left.

Shoulder woes

This morning when I would have preferred to be writing my morning blog post, short, specific… all those goals I blathered on about yesterday… I was instead seated on the edge of a black rolling chair as an orthopedic PA stabbed a needle into the top of my shoulder. All this because my physical therapist said such a treatment might accelerate my progress in overcoming a strained rotator cuff muscle in my left shoulder, a matching set to my not-painful-anymore-but-pretty-frozen right shoulder. Accelerate is such a tempting word. I know too well that I need to celebrate slow progress in life rather than reach for quick fixes. I know this. Still, the prospect of putting on shirts without grimacing was so tempting.

And, as they say, no pain, no gain. I wish whoever they are would stop saying that. It’s not very comforting. No pain was what I wanted to gain.

Most of the day since then has been spent icing, medicating, and seeking creative ways to position my left arm that aren’t super annoying. So scratch off most of my goals for the day.

Good news. Sorta. My shoulder hurts less, almost back to its normal state of discomfort, so I am here whining, I mean, blogging, but not quite on the topic I intended. I will save it for tomorrow, and hope you all will treat your shoulders better than I have. I suspect that ignoring my posture and spending too much time in front of computers might have played a role. Just a guess.

Rate your last meeting.

I wanted to write a post on time management tips for women in honor of women’s history month, but anything I came up with sounded too snarky, and even worse, inaccurate.

It occurred to me that women may not need time management advice but tips on how to survive some of the things they have to do but may not want to do. My mind leapt immediately to meetings, in particular meetings at work, perhaps staff meeting or some kind of large committee meeting that pursues laudable yet opaque goals.

At first I was going to create a bingo card but those could look bad if you were to fill them out during the meeting, and I don’t mean to add stress to your lives.

So instead I thought I’d offer this mildly snarky rating quiz, rather like the ones you might find in a women’s magazine.

1. Was food provided at the meeting?
a. Yes, a few cheap candies that throw off your nutritional goals for the day. -1 point
b. Yes, so much that you don’t need lunch, courtesy of your organization. +5 points
c. Yes, a potluck provided thanks to guilt trips on you and your underpaid colleagues. -5 points
d. No. 0 points
e. Not only is there no food, but you are not allowed to bring in a cup of coffee. -10 points

2. Do the same people do all of the talking during the meeting?
a. Yes, 10% of the attendees do 90% of the talking. -1 point
b. No, it varies, and you’ve even spoken up a few times, and you are not even one of those people who always talks. +10 points
c. Yes, and it’s the facilitator of the meeting. -10 points
d. You’ve never noticed because you can’t seem to pay attention. 0 points

3. Could this meeting have been a memo?
a. Yes. 0 points
b. No, a few of the comments by several participants made a difference to what you will be able to accomplish. +10 points
c. No, because someone brought up something the meeting facilitator didn’t know. +5 points

4. If it were possible to record a past meeting and set it up on instant replay, could it substitute for this meeting?
a. Yes. Even the people are the same. -1 point
b. Yes, just different people. -1 point
c. No, but this is the first time you’ve attended this type of meeting so you don’t know why everyone is so cranky. -10 points
d. No, this meeting was different, but in terrifying ways because of a not-so-positive change in management. -5 points
e. No, each meeting covers new ground. Your organization doesn’t use meetings to do anything that could be done more effectively outside of the meetings. +10 points

5. Rate your level of boredom.
a. Bored? Never. You are on the edge of your seat. You can see so many possibilities in this organization. You are inspired. +100 points
b. You’re fine. Wait, what was the question? 0 points
c. You are losing all sensation in your fingertips. -10 points

6. You have shared ideas with the meeting facilitator about how to improve the meetings, and this was the result:
a. The meeting facilitator implemented one or more of your ideas. +10 points
b. The meeting facilitator stared at you in silence, clearly wondering why you are trying to steal their job. -10 points
c. The meeting facilitator agreed those were great ideas. Yet nothing changes in any future meetings. 0 points
d. You are the meeting facilitator, and you resent the tone of this quiz. -10 points

Score:
If your score is below zero, you are in meeting purgatory. Take deep breaths a half hour before the meeting starts, engage in tense-and-relax exercises during the meeting, and chat with a good friend after the meeting.

If your score is 0, your meetings are typical. Sorry about that.

If your score is above 0, my advice is to appreciate what is working while you can.

If your score is over 100, I’m curious where you work. Asking for a friend.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year, and as those who know me might predict, New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday because of the chance to make resolutions. I actually set goals as often as every day, every week, and/or every month, so of course I like having one more reason to resolve to do something. I am drawn to the potential of the blank slate that lies ahead. Even though people like my husband are often eager to tell me that no one ever keeps New Year’s resolutions or similarly dire insights, I believe it is never wrong to hope or to resolve. I can’t control how it all will unfold, and I may have to adapt or start over, or even fall down and get up again more than I would like. Yet how inspiring to imagine something better and move towards it.

I have taken a bit longer this year to sort out my resolutions due to some kind of sinus infection, but I think I am ready to make a few commitments.

1. I have a list of several books that it’s high time I read, and I will tackle them this year (and buy them, if possible, from our local bookstore). If I love them, I will share more on here later.

2. I have finished the (I lost count)th revision of my novel set during the 1898 Wilmington race massacre, and I have begun seeking feedback from readers. While I work through that process, I will use the time to research and reflect on how I might seek to publish this book.

3. I will post on this blog once a week. Or maybe an average of once a week, since some weeks will be busier and/or offer more inspiration for blogging.

4. I will post on social media once a week, too. I have had such mixed feelings about social media due to the terrible ways our data is being used and our politics have been subverted. But this article was helpful https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/opinion/delete-facebook.html among others that discuss ideas for regulation, something desperately needed even though, like all solutions, it may take time, tweaks, and political courage. Sigh. I also saw a similar sentiment on Hasan Minhaj’s fabulous Patriot Act, which I just now have started to watch. Our checking out of social media won’t change the harmful effect it is having. So we need to explore ways to reclaim it.

5. I will work a few days a week on my YA/SF series. I seem to have lots of choices of next steps for that project, so it may be a bit like tending a garden, just checking in to see what deserves attention right now.

6. My health and fitness goals will chug along as usual. The general theme is to exercise a bit more and eat a little less. Piece of cake, right?

Back to work

The days before and the day immediately after a break tend to wreak havoc on my ability to get work done at my day job. I move as if underwater, and my brain seems to lock up. I get something done. I really do. But I find myself getting up more often to get a drink of water, find a not-really-essential file, or rearrange papers on my desk. While phone calls at work can sometimes seem like an interruption, today they were a welcome change.

Still, there is something reassuring about the return to work. The rhythm. The routine. The edges that give shape and substance to the ways we fill our days. And perhaps tomorrow I will be more awake, a bit more efficient, even.

And aware that another holiday lies not too far in the distance, too. Which means I’d better get things done while I still can, before the fog of vacation descends again.

Be skeptical but not cynical.

I fear my country is being harmed by a penchant for dualism—yes, I know you hear that all the time, but I won’t rant about it today. Instead, this is an invitation to tackle the challenges we face as a skeptic but not a cynic.

Take voting, for example. Is it reasonable to be skeptical that some of the candidates who are stepping into the ring who seem so inspiring, and there are many this year, may not be as wonderful as we hope or need or want? Or that somehow they will let us down or themselves down? Or even that they might be perfect, and some of them come pretty close, yet they will be up against almost impossible odds in trying to help the people they represent? Sure, be skeptical. Hope for the best, make the best choice possible based on the information available, but leave room for skepticism that positive change is rarely quick or easy. And that humans are, well, human.

But don’t give into cynicism. Cynicism says not only might things go wrong, but they will go wrong. Cynicism argues that we should never bother, we should never try, that nothing we think matters actually matters. That everything we build will be washed away in the tide.

Cynicism leaves us vulnerable in dangerous ways. Cynicism is a fancy way to say, “I give up, and you should, too.” Here’s the sneaky part: Cynicism sounds smart. Cynics get to claim they were right when things go wrong, while ignoring the responsibility we all have to one another to at least try. The truth is, to be cynical is to be lazy. It is much easier to give up than to do something, so I guess it’s lucky for the cynics that they sound smart, because… how do I say this? it’s not smart. Cynicism means giving up any bit of power or choice or opportunity you may have (and I always concede that these things are not fairly distributed), but if I’m dealt some bad cards, I’d rather play them than throw down the hand and storm out of the room. Play the game. Build something that matters to you. Yes, we can be skeptical about how long it will last. In the case of writers, we probably should keep our day jobs. But build it anyway. And if it falls down, start again. Live this life now.

Be skeptical, but not cynical.

And if you haven’t voted yet, what the heck? Go vote.

Voting matters.

It’s a lovely fall day with more colors on the trees than the forecasters had promised. And I have been trying to articulate something to myself, something about embracing hope rather than fear, a belief in abundance in opportunity, abundance in possibilities. I want to envision a cultural space in which there is room for all of us. A space where we understand that we need everyone and that everyone matters.

Next week is the U.S. midterm election. In online spaces, I frequently encourage people to vote because I consider it one of the most important responsibilities we have. I am sappy about the idea of democracy. And, for that matter, justice, peace, and ethical behavior. So I hope anyone reading this blog who can vote next week has done so or will do so on Tuesday.

The results of this election may give me reason to hope or reason to fear. I cannot change that. But I know this: I will still be here, and so will you. I will still exist. I will still stand for what I believe in. When necessary, I will call out cruelty, hatred, and indifference to suffering. Whenever possible, I want to embrace kindness and compassion, even the radical notion of treating everyone with respect.

I hope you will, too.

Class news

Class of 1990Periodically I see requests from our class representative to send in updates for our college alumni magazine, in which classmates report events such as weddings, births, prestigious awards, enviable trips, and promotions. I never got around to mentioning anything that might have fallen into those categories, so as it is, I compose then delete contributions such as the following:

Cama Duke ’90 reports that she finally found a brand of decaf coffee she likes, much to the relief of her coworkers.

Cama Duke ’90 discovered that “Mmm hmmm” is the most effective response when her teenage children speak to her. She is still investigating how much eye contact is wise and under what circumstances.

Cama Duke ’90 reports knowing people who have made impressive career advances or life-saving innovations, and she finds that rewarding enough.

Cama Duke ’90 recently drank one of the best glasses of iced tea that she’s had in awhile, an experience she is yet to replicate.

Cama Duke ’90 sends her apologies to friends from college who used to get letters or emails from her before she had kids. “It’s not you, it’s me,” she says. “I did think about posting an update on Facebook the other day, though.”

Cama Duke ’90 was immensely relieved to find out that you don’t actually have to drink 64 ounces of water a day and that coffee and tea actually count as hydration.

Cama Duke ’90 begrudgingly drove across town last week because her children received gift cards to a store that was neither in walking distance nor online.