Triage Endurance

I’m enjoying the morning Latin lessons more than I thought I would. Something about wrestling with lingua Latina before caffeine soaks in makes my brain feel sharper. Of course, the rest of me feels slow (stultae, even) before the caffeine soaks in, and I make far more errors than I like.

Latin for breakfast, French for lunch, Turkish before bed so sleep can hopefully help me retain verbs and grammar. I was doing German after dinner and Turkish before bed, but that was Too Much. I’d still like to study German some day, maybe when I’ve brushed up my French enough to read some Voltaire in the original.

Goals. I have them. Loads of them. Whether they’re achievable or not is an open question.

Instead of German, though, I think I want to go back to piano after dinner. I never thought I’d miss wrestling with Bach post cena, but here we are.

Mostly I’m trying to keep my brain busy so I don’t brood on current world events. I’m doing literally everything I can–social distancing, wearing a mask if I absolutely have to go to the store, washing hands, reaching out to friends, caring for my neighbors. It just doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m hitting empathy exhaustion on a daily basis.

I’d rather that than not caring at all, but still. If I tire myself out with work and study, the anxiety dreams are a little less fraught. At least there’s a delicate balance being held and I can sleep.

How are you doing out there, dear Reader? I meant to tell you the story of Big Barda, Boxnoggin, and the Birdfeeder, but Squirrelterror tales take a little more work than one might think. Maybe next week, because there’s more than one part. Knocking over the heavy iron pole and breaking a glass hummingbird feeder was only the beginning, and Barda’s got quite a mouth. Poor Boxnoggin literally could not believe some of the stuff she yelled at him.

Anyway… I do have something to say today. I was talking with a friend about the looming, constant empathy exhaustion yesterday, spurred by this Vice article, and she commented on the advice often given.

Exercise. Eat well. Sleep. Well, for one thing, the distribution chains are creaking under the load, fresh produce and “healthy” foods are more expensive than junk–by corporate design, I might add. And if you start nattering on about “bulk buying” and “just make your meals ahead of time” I swear I will start tossing things and screaming, because that takes energy too and a lot of people live in food deserts even before the distribution systems took the first giant hit of lockdown. Not to mention some of us don’t have the equipment to exercise in postage-stamp living spaces, and if your only time to get some sweat-effort in is the evening and you’re female, going out to walk or jog when men who might have mayhem on their minds and nowhere else to congregate can be hazardous to your health.

And sleep? Don’t even get me started.

I know the science says this is what helps, but it’s just not feasible for a lot of people. I agreed that while veggies and exercise might be the best, they can also be out of reach for the non-privileged, and a bit of wine and pizza on the couch might be all one can achieve.

And you know, that’s okay.

If you, dear Reader, need permission to do things science says might not be helpful but you know are helpful for you and within your means, consider said permission given. We’re in an endurance round of triage, and whatever gets you through is A-OK.

For me it’s it’s legal weed on Fridays before D&D with a group of close friends, and setting aside Sunday to eat whatever the fuck I want in whatever quantity I desire. (Last Sunday was the Great Molasses Cake experiment, and I think I put away half a two-layer cake just by my lonesome.) It’s also mumbling Latin in the mornings and watching weird YouTube fanvids because I don’t have the energy or brain-cycles for binging new shows. (Although I did make it through The Umbrella Academy recently, which is less misogynist on the screen than in its original format–not by much, but I’ll take what I can get.)

Whatever it takes to get you through this in one piece and of reasonable sanity is A-OK. Feel free to tell me about your coping mechanisms below–you might even find a couple fellow Readers saying “hey, that’s a good one, I’m gonna try it.”

I’ve finished absorbing some coffee and my head is full of Latin phrases, if not declensions. (Mostly involving a drunk parrot, thanks, Duolingo!) Time to take the dogs for a walk and let the night’s dreams settle into their proper places under the floorboards of consciousness. Yesterday was difficult, today promises to be only slightly less so.

It’s okay. We’ll get through it together.

Over and out.

Brooding, Adapting

I’m spending Monday mornings getting subscription and Haggard Feathers stuff ready for the week–mostly just editing and scheduling, since I’m trying to work so far ahead.

The “far ahead” part isn’t working, but the “work” part is definitely happening. So much so I feel like I’m running in circles with my hair afire, but even more than usual.

Miss B’s health isn’t doing so good. She is an elderly statesdog by now, and has very definite ideas about what Should and Shouldn’t Happen. Which isn’t a problem, gods know everything in this damn house has an opinion and never hesitates to voice it, including inanimate objects. (You guys should hear Shirley the Penguin bitch. Fishbreath and Fury, that’s her.) But her eyesight is going, she’s cranky, and there’s some arthritis going on too. Each new sign of her bodily systems slipping is, I suspect, more upsetting to me than her.

She’s a Zen creature of the Now, my dog, but I am looking forward to the moment I lose her and it’s not a comfortable thought. I always expected to lose Odd Trundles; every day with him was a gift. Every day with B is a likewise gift, though there’s a bitter undercurrent now that I realize just how little time we might have left. It’s going to devastate me when she has to go.

Cheerful thoughts on a Monday, huh? I know the world is on fire, I’ve adapted to Stay At Home and Wear Masks in Public, but what I’m really brooding about is my dog’s health and how wrenching it will be when she’s too tired and has to go.

I could be selfish, of course. I could focus on extending time, completely disregarding quality-of-life. But that would be a betrayal, even though she wouldn’t blame me.

Sometimes I hate being the one in charge. It means I can arrange things to suit myself, mostly, but the price is steep. Some days, it’s nothing but the price.

At least I have the gift of knowing. Meaning I can focus on making the end of her time with us, however long that takes, as comfortable as possible. She’s more than earned it. I suppose when it comes Boxnoggin will be the most inconsolable, since I suspect he’s managed to forget there was ever anything other than our chez, our family, and the playmate who chose him out of all the other dogs at the shelter. He’s going to need a lot of cuddling when it happens, and go figure, I will too.

But until then, life continues as usual, only with a few small additions for Miss B’s comfort. And I never miss a chance to tell either dog how good, how beautiful, how wonderful they are.

I’m bracing for the inevitable in more ways than one. And, to top it all off, it’s a Monday.

The world keeps on turning, like the moving finger on the wall. Best to take a deep breath and focus on what must be done now. Brooding over the future, while a fun party game and necessary in some amounts, threatens to vapor-lock me today.

Head down, machete out, boots on. Onward and upward. And all that.

Cake, Terror, Love

Apparently the bees are following me even into the kitchen. The Princess brought this home from work for us last night, along with a completely fabulous Dunder Mifflin pillow that was on sale. There was much hilarity.

Since she works at a grocer’s and the general public seems to think the worst is over, I’m terrified she’ll catch the current plague. Of course she’s young and not in the most at-risk group, her store has started providing masks, and my writing partner also sewed us cloth masks, so at least there’s that. And the Princess knows she can quit if she decides to, but she’s determined to stay the course for now. If it was up to me she’d be home and safe, but she’s well over twenty now and… yeah.

I thought I knew what terror was. Then I went and had children. Love rests cheek-by-jowl with fear; after years of listening for their breathing in the middle of the night, constantly focused on the safety of small dependent beings, it’s hard to loosen one’s grip. The habit of constant vigilance, care, and correction is difficult to alter, especially when it was ground in over years of sleep deprivation bordering on psychosis.

Toddlers are not for the weak, my friends. And the thing about children is… they grow up.

Now there are bee cakes and pillows, laughter and hugs, dogs to pet and a cat to cuddle. There’s seeing my babies grow into fabulous human adults, and learning to leave them space to breathe while still holding the last line so they have somewhere to retreat if needed.

And if I get frosting in my hair from perching a plastic bee decoration in it, if I am so excited over a pillow I act like a complete dork, if my pride is still stung by the need to say “You know what, I’m absolutely wrong. Let’s try that again,” daily, it’s an infinitely small price to pay for the love that fills every corner of whatever house we live in and slops out into every other part of my life.

The world is a dangerous place. But we have each other. Love is unutterably precious in all its forms, and the cracks of heartbreak make that organ bigger. The gold of grief hammered into those fissures can grant us grace and strength.

Gods help me never to forget that. And let me always, always be grateful for bee cakes.

Perception, Proportion

I may have wildly overestimated my ability to keep up with the firehose of bad news.

Of course, I am ambitious when it comes to seeing how much punishment I can absorb, a habit left over from childhood when it became a point of pride to disassociate during bad events so I wouldn’t cry or give any sign of weakness.

It’s only taken me decades to realize this is perhaps just the slightest, the very tiniest bit unhealthy.

Anyway, I spent yesterday getting the week’s subscription stuff edited and scheduled, as well as hopping out to the grocer’s. I made it between two waves–retail and food service taught me the magic of “dead times”–and was pleased that most people were wearing snotcatchers (i.e., masks) but not so pleased at the visible signs that most of them also considered the worst to be past.

It’s not. Even I can tell as much. I’m not the brightest bulb in the marquee, but I am possessed of a professional imagination, and predicting is somewhat of a hobby. Of course, every human being is somewhat of an expert in predicting human behavior–we do it all day, every day, and our survival depends upon it. The trick is to trust your own perceptions while simultaneously checking them against trusted external sources for a sense of proportion.

So here I am on a Tuesday, feeling pummeled even though I’ve barely been out of bed for two hours. At least there’s coffee. Both dogs are all but prancing with eagerness to get out the door. I should spend some time deciding the next Quarantine Edition–Jozzie & Sugar Belle is pay-what-you-want until tomorrow; after that, it’ll probably be something else.

On the bright side, that leaves most of the day for actual wordcount. I just want to crawl into a book and forget everything going on outside my four walls. Anxiety is eating the energy I desperately need to get Season Three of HOOD and The Bloody Throne out. I’m trying to moonlight with a trunk novel and The Black God’s Heart, but making books jealous by working on other books requires the wherewithal to work in the first place.

I also have to stop reading The Body Keeps the Score until things calm down a little. There’s a whole lot of useful in that book, but underlining bits that resonate on almost every page is bringing up a whole lot of things I don’t have the bandwidth to process or think about right now. I should probably shift back to The Sailor From Gibraltar even though the narrator is a complete asshole1, because piercing nostalgia is better than quivering from remembered disaster.

So. Today at 11am the latest Haggard Feathers will drop; last month we talked about marketing, this month we’re talking about self-care. We’ve covered physical and emotional self-care, this week we’re talking about what burnout is, and next week we’ll go over strategies to ameliorate said burnout.

Regular readers will notice I’m blogging less; I have a few more balls in the air than I used to and the global situation has robbed me of a lot of the energy that went into the usual Daily Grind schedule. Right now I only have the spoons for Tuesday-Thursday updates; Haggard Feathers and the fiction subscriptions are eating up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s energy quota. If we ever get back to non-apocalyptic times, I’ll be back on my bullshit pronto.

It feels weird not to be blogging all the time. Peering back through the archives, I can see I’ve been at this for years. It’s a lot of content, and a lot of history. Reading some posts from years ago reminds me of things that didn’t make it into the daily updates, and sometimes those are pleasant. Other times… not so much.

I wish you a serene Tuesday, my chickadees. Remember to be gentle with yourself so you can be gentle with others–at least, the others who warrant it. I’m just ill-tempered enough today to bite back when That Fucking Guy shows up on my feeds.

I don’t know who made this, but I love it and use it all the time.

Off I go to walk a pair of Very Excited Dogs. See you in a few, dear ones.

Spring’s Lady

My writing partner had a blood lily that made a whole new bulb, so she gave me the new one. Since then it’s died back every midwinter and returns every spring.

I was feeling rather down last week (really, weren’t we all) until I noticed a tiny green nubbin. Which meant it was time to make sure the potting soil was good, and also time to bend over the pot nightly and whisper encouragement. Things like you’re going to grow so well this year and I’m so happy to see you and would you like to hear a story about a small green thing just like you?

Somehow, despite all the flowering outside, spring never feels really real until this lady returns. Now here she is, ready for another season.

May we all be as quietly resilient.

From Sugar Belle to Toki

Jozzie & Sugar Belle

I’m barely settled with coffee; I finally dropped off the edge of the earth into a deep sleep last night. I’ve been toss-turning restlessly for days, and was beginning to think I’d have to go back on anxiety meds.

It’s amazing what sleep will do for you. I feel damn near rested.

Anyway, I have good news! Every Wednesday during this quarantine I’m going to pick an item in my Gumroad store for pay-what-you-want. This week it’s Jozzie & Sugar Belle–just click here and pay what you want–including nada, zip, zilch, zero if you’re short on cash. Then you can download .epub or .mobi, and read about a hungover kangaroo shifter missing a Very Personal Bit, a snarky witch of the Virginia Belles, and the end of the world in Hollywood.

Well, sort of the end. As Sugar (and Jill Kismet, sometimes) points out, we’re dancing on a knife blade all the damn time.

Now, please note that I might not have a different work for pay-as-you-want each week. I’m frazzled and overwhelmed too, just like everyone else. But I’m doing my best, and if I can bring a smile or a catharsis to a reader or two in these troubled times, I’d like to.

I’ve swung wildly between “there might be hope” and “smoke ’em if you got ’em, we’re goin’ down” all week, sometimes with only a microsecond between the extremes. Which is bloody exhausting, and wears one’s nerves down to ribbons.

There is, however, an odd comfort in my anxiety actually being commensurate to the emergency. Nobody–not even my internal critic–is telling me calm down, it’ll be fine, you’re overreacting. Even the people whose judgment I rely on to keep me between the rails agree that running around screaming and waving one’s arms is a perfectly reasonable response to a bloody pandemic, thank you.

The thing I’ve drawn most strength from this week is a character from Princess Mononoke. There’s this scene where Irontown has been demolished, the great forge has gone out, a group of forge-girls and other workers have barely escaped. Kuroku, one of the forge-girl’s husbands and a particular variety of comic relief, is freaking the fuck out.

And his wife, the forge-girl Toki, snaps, “We’re still alive, Kuroku. We’ll manage somehow.”

The kids and I have watched Mononoke so much it’s quoted almost as much as Monty Python, The Princess Bride, or the Mummy movies at the dinner table. We all agree Toki (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith in the English language version) is a Whole Entire Mood, and every once in a while when someone in the house is dealing with what seems like a world-ending difficulty, one of us will say we’re still alive, Kuroku.

The line is all the more stunning because Toki is a former brothel worker, a woman who works the great forge of Irontown, a sharp-tongued unofficial leader. Lady Iboshi is Irontown’s brain and determination, but Toki is its guts. You get the idea Toki’s world has ended before, and she knows that even when you’re standing in the ashes, even when your body and mind have been violated, even when there is nothing left…

…you’re still alive, and you’ll manage somehow. Sometimes it’s from sheer stubborn spite (my favorite fuel) or anger, sometimes it’s from deep painful love, sometimes it’s just because there’s no other option or one is simply in the habit of enduring.

It’s the most poignant, true, and take-no-prisoners comment on the nature of hope I’ve ever run across, and it’s a single line that is almost, almost a throwaway except for the weight Miyazaki and Pinkett-Smith give it.

I get chills every time I hear it. (Along with Lady Iboshi’s calm “I’m going to show you how to kill a god,” and Kuroku’s wondering, “I didn’t know the Forest Spirit made the flowers grow.” Or a woman muttering to Iboshi’s guard, “Even if you were a woman you’d still be useless.”)

I suspect in the coming weeks I’m going to be muttering “we’re still alive, Kuroku, we’ll manage somehow” a lot.

Funny, isn’t it, how a fictional character can give a real person strength, how a story can provide comfort. We are creatures in search of meaning, which means we are creatures in search of stories. I didn’t know, when I began writing (at the tender age of Second Grade, my gods) that I was signing up to become an architect of the soul.

Maybe not a very good one, maybe not a very effective one, but after glimpsing the great cathedrals of creation at the core of every volcanic star and every human being (because what else do you think making a story is, if not building in the heart of a star?) I know I wouldn’t want to ever do anything else.

We’re still alive–you reading this, and me. We are still breathing. We are still here.

We’ll manage somehow.

Where Planted

These two African violets and the spider plant go to the Princess’s best friend, who loves plants almost as much as I do. I’ve since brushed the growing medium off the violets’ leaves and sung a happy little welcoming song to them, and the spider plant has been getting daily encouragement to sink its roots into new soil–it was part of a very large duet in a very small pot, and is much happier now.

I had a hideous headache for most of yesterday, one I’m not calling a migraine only because there was no aura before it struck and I could still eat in very small bites through its claws. Even getting out into the garden and dealing with the compost pile didn’t help, although I got two very full wheelbarrows of black gold wriggling with worms.

The world is on fire and my heart hurts. But the dogs still need walks, and the garden still needs tending, and the houseplants need to be dusted, sung to, and trimmed. Those under my aegis still need to be fed. There’s no time to feel the twisting in my chest, mostly, and for that I’m grateful. When I’m working to conserve and protect, I don’t feel the sadness as much.

I wish you a pleasant weekend, my chickadees, and the peace to flower where you’re planted. Even if one is uprooted and placed elsewhere.