A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.
“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”
The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.
The lesson most learn from the story of the A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.
I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.
I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.
Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.
When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.
I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.
I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.
She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.
Relationships were her super power.
Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.
I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.
After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.
And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.
Rise in Glory, Ann.
I was in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday and the clerk asked me if there was an occasion, since there were two cakes and some ice cream among my purchase. So I explained that my husband’s birthday was this week, and that we had friends coming over Saturday evening. Then she asked if it was a major birthday, and I said that he was turning 48. She grinned and said, “Oh! Forty-eight! You got yourself a young man, didn’t you?” And I laughed and said, “Yes, yes I did!”
There are people who might object to the characterization of a 48-year-old as young, but age is relative and my husband is ten years younger than me. When we first started dating, he was in his 20s while I was in my 30s. More than one of my friends and acquaintances at the time expressed (some less tactfully than others) worry about the difference in our ages. Though I think some of those worries were very inverted. He’s far more sensible and mature than I am, for instance. I know at least one of his friends was convinced that I was an evil old pervert taking advantage of him. I get it. Most of my adult life I think I’ve looked older than my actual age (heck, when I was in my late teens people kept mistaking me for my Mom’s brother rather than her son!). When I look at pictures of him from when we first started dating, I think he barely looked old enough to be in a bar, let alone working as a bartender!
And truth be told, I’ve also felt way too lucky to even be with him, so it’s not like I could blame people for having doubts. But we’ve been together for a bit over 20 years, now, so I hope we’ve put those doubts to rest.
I’ve written before about how wonderful Michael is. So rather than risk repeating myself, I’ll just quote one friend who observed one time when Michael pulled a tool from his pocket and casually repaired a light fixture at a mutual friend’s house, “You’re married to MacGuyver!” while another time when we had to the huge solid oak entertainment center and Michael grabbed it and moved it before the rest of us could get in position to help him the same friend commented, “Your husband is a circus strong man!”
Michael is sweet, kind, helpful, smart, funny, cheerful, and patient. He reads novels faster than anyone I know, and retains memory of even very minor details in the books long after. He cooks incredibly well (the homemade rub he made for the ribs this weekend resulted in supernaturally good ribs, for instance!). He chops vegetables so fast it’s like watching a movie being played back sped up. It seems as if he can repair just about anything. He always finds far more awesome presents for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and the like than I ever do. And did I mention that he’s both funny and kind?
So, to extend the observation of the cashier: yeah, I’ve got myself a young man, a smart man, a hot man, a kind man, a man that anyone would feel fortunate to know, let alone be married to.
Happy Birthday, Michael. Thanks for letting me share your life!
NYSFOP withdraws endorsement of GOP Senate candidate Julie Killian
Hicksville, NY (April 18, 2018) The New York State Fraternal Order of Police is formally withdrawing our endorsement of the State Senate 37th District Candidate Julie Killian. This decision has been made after Killian’s Fund-Raising host took to twitter attacking Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg.
The New York State Fraternal Order of Police will never support a candidate or campaign that condones the attack on child survivors of a school shooting.
Unfortunately, later that day they re-endorsed her after she denounced the fund-raiser and returned the donations. I say unfortunately because it isn’t just the fund-raising host who made the comments. As the story I linked above points out, she has attacked David Hogg herself many times. So apparently they will endorse someone who attacks child survivors of school shootings after all.
It’s not just state senate candidates: Sandy Hook Parents Sue Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Over Claim Shooting Was ‘Fake’. Personally, I hope they win big and put him out of business for good. Of course now that he’s facing possible consequences, after ten years of badmouthing these parents (and in my opinion, essentially desecrating the memories of murdered children), he’s suddenly saying, Alex Jones, Backtracking, Now Says Sandy Hook Shooting Did Happen.
I just keep shaking my head that these people are prioritizing gun manufacturer’s profits over the lives of children: Florida Leaders Keep Embarrassing Themselves by Attacking Parkland Survivors
I was trying to remember when I moved the flower pots from the old place, because last week maintaining my collection of pots and planter included a task I didn’t have to do last spring: flood control. To be fair, this is an unusually wet April. The local National Weather Service office observed that if the rains had stopped completely on last Saturday, it would already be the fourth wettest April on record in Seattle. And it kept raining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and a bit on Wednesday. Spring is usually quite damp around here, so I strongly suspect that even though the long range forecast is all dry, that we’ll get a bit more before the month is through.
I noticed the weekend before last that not only were all of the little catch basins under the pots full to the brim, but that several of the flower pots and planters had at least an inch of standing water around the flowers. I can’t just dump the water off. The thing I call our veranda is a 38-foot long deck at the back of the apartment, and on that side of the building we’re three stories up. There’s a neighbor with a nearly identical deck directly below us, and then the walkway for the basement apartments below that. And the lease actually has a clause about not dripping or pouring water off the decks, right?
Which is why all of my pots that have drain holes sit on a small saucer like thing, and each of those is inside a larger plastic catch basin.
I took a bucket outside, carefully lifted each pot and set it aside, poured the water from the saucer in the bucket, pouring off water from the planter itself if it had standing water, and then poured the water from the second basin into the bucket—trying my best not to spill any. I got through a third of them of them before the bucket was full and I had to carrying it away and pour it out and repeat. The bigger planters where my grandma’s irises and a few other things are planted were a bit more difficult.
I moved the pots and planters that don’t have drains away from the rail, and against the wall, so they wouldn’t keep getting rained on. Clearly until we get to the dryer part of the year, I can’t leave those out from under the roof.
That’s one way our veranda is different than those one floor down. Our deck serves as their roof, and it is as wide as their deck, so even planters put right up against the rail on those decks get a little shelter from the rain. Whereas the roof of the decks on our floor is the eave of the building, and while the deck is five feet wide, the eave only extends four feet out. I thought of this as a feature last year. The planters got plenty of water when it rained and lots of sun when it didn’t.
By the time the heaviest rain was coming down in November, most of the flowers had died back, and I just didn’t worry about the pots getting super saturated. I regretted that a bit when I discovered that the cute otter planter froze and crack in a whole bunch of places. It hadn’t done that during several winters at the old place, but at the old place it was draining into the flower bed. Similarly, the hanging pot I had last year got too heavy when it’s soil was constantly soaked all winter and the plastic hanging parts broke.
They’re all learning experiences.
I now know I need to move some of the planters under the roof during certain times of the year. I’m seriously considering replacing the small pots that don’t have drain holes. The problem is they’re both purple—which makes me want to keep them despite being a bit more work. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting rid of the larger planters. I haven’t seen many that size with drains and matching catch basins. Those few I have seen have very tiny catch basins that I suspect would wind up dripping on the downstairs neighbors during the times of year when I have to do the watering.
Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:
Life of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.
Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.
The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.
The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Scurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.
Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.
“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.
Oglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!
So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.
And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.
And that was only the first day of the fever.
I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”
And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.
There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.
The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.
So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.
And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.
Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrates and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.
I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.
I’m continuing to never quite having the time or energy to finish more serious posts. This week one complication is that what seemed to be several worse-than-usual hay fever days in a row turned into a full-blown cold with fever, body aches, sore throat, and significant loss of energy. One of those symptoms that can be either bad hay fever or signs of an actual viral infection is red, swollen eyes. They can be bad enough that it hurts to be in a well-lit room—let alone in a brightly lit room where I’m required to stare at a computer screen for hours. On such days, whether it turns out to be a cold or not, I’m grateful for the option to work from home. I can make progress toward my work deadlines while sitting in a dark room with the laptop screen brightness turned way down.
That’s not the only light management I do.
Work from home days have been different in that regard since moving to the new place. At our previous residence, because all the windows had heavy, lined curtains, and because almost every window was in a location where random passersby could see everything if the curtains were open, the curtains stayed closed in most of the rooms all the time. No matter how bright the sunlight was outside, the living room tended to be the same level of dimness.
The new place has an open floor plan, and more windows that shed light into the living room/kitchen/dining room space, And since all the windows are equipped with white vinyl blinds rather than the thick curtains, if the sun is out, a lot of light gets into the room. There’s a point some mornings when for about 15-20 minutes the sun lights up perfectly with a gap in the trees east of the house, and the closed blinds are almost like a bright spotlight. When those sunny days coincide with bad hay fever days, I have a considerably more difficult time avoiding pain in the eyes.
On overcast or rainy days the amount of light from outside is considerably less, making it easier to manage light.
When it is sunny outside, people often suggest that I should go out and enjoy the sunlight. When I explain that even if I’m not having a bad hay fever day that bright sunlight hurts my eyes1, people express skepticism. Plus a tendency to skin cancer also runs on one side of my family4, and since I have now had one small tumor that had to be removed from my forehead, I am under additional medical orders to never go outside without wearing a hat with a broad enough brim to fully shade my face and neck.
And it’s not just the doctor’s orders. That lack of pigment in the retinas? If I get more than brief bits of sunlight without UV sunglasses, my eyes start hurting because of the burnt retinas. And when the retina burns, it kicks off the release of mneurochemicals which make me drowsy, but it I need to stay wake, that means that I just get that “I should have gone to bed hours ago” headache along with the crankiness and decreased ability to concentrate.
Explaining this to someone who has never experienced it almost always turns into an adventure of, “but what about? And what about?” Not to mention the expressions of pity—it’s not sympathy about my medical issues, it is definitely pity that I don’t enjoy sunlight the same way they do. And there’s frequently a hint of disbelief. As if I could tolerate sunlight if only a wanted to.
Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy sunlight, I just have to have it filtered. I’m perfectly happy outside if I have my hat and my UV-blocking sunglasses that wrap around the sides, and can get into shade when I want. I just don’t look forward to it the same way that other people do. Think of it as the intense cold winter of places like Manitoba or north Wisconsin. As pretty as snow is to look it, needing to take all those precautions to avoid frostbite can dampen one’s enthusiasm for the weather.
Days like today when I have a fever, my eyes are red, and my sinuses are congested and sore, I like sitting in a dark room. I’m happy. It isn’t gloomy in here, it is pain-free.
1. I have no pigment in my retinas2 and am actually under medical orders never to go out in the daytime, even on overcast days, without UV blocking sunglasses, because your retinas can get sunburnt3.
2. A not uncommon thing in blue-eyed people.
3. The first time an opthamologist told me that I was surprised as can be! “Your retinas are sunburnt right now,” she said, peering into my eyes during the exam.
4. Also not that uncommon in those of us whose most recent ancestors came from northern Europe and thus whose natural skin color is pasty pale5.
5. I have been known to point out that my skin isn’t actually white, it’s very pale pink with blue highlights6.
6. Unless I have been out in the sun at all lately, at which point my skin will be either bright pink or very red. After which it will fade back to the pale bluish pink but with more freckles. My skin appears to be utterly incapable of tanning.