Tag Archive | life

Carmeggeddon! Viadoom! (Or maybe not)

Oh, Homer!

A couple weeks ago every local news site, local TV and radio station, and neighborhood blog was filled with dire warnings about how horrible traffic was going to be when the rickety elevated highway (known as the Viaduct) was finally closed and the final work would be done to connect a highway and other roads to our new gigantic tunnel. Because state and local transportation departments were using the term “maximum constraint” some folks have been calling it the Seattle Squeeze.

One of the local stations had a more pessimistic term: Viadoom! They used it in stories leading up to the closure, and during the first two or three business days after the closure the stories were headlined with “Day 1 of Viadoom” and “On Day 2 of Viadoom…”

We are now in week two of the Squeeze and so far, traffic has not been apocalyptically bad. No one wants to be the first reporter or blogger to say those fears were overblown, because the situation could get worse. The current conventional wisdom is the the first week went okay because some people are still on holiday break, many commuters are working from home, others who normally drive have switched to transit and/or biking. But many are convinced that most of those people are either going to get “fed up” with transit or will decide that because traffic has only been a little heavier than normal that there is no problem and they’ll all hop back into their cars.

Maybe they will. But I think the fears were always overwrought. For one, traffic analysis and computer simulations had shown—back when a replacement for the elevated part of the highway was being debated more than ten years ago—that all the traffic could be diverted to surface streets without causing gridlock. The horrible paralyzing gridlock that happens from time to time when there is a serious accident on that highway is because people are caught by surprise and are already on routes feeding to the unexpectedly blocked road when things go bad.

Those simulations also assumed that the number of cars being driven each day would be decreasing (because things were already trending that way). Lots of people were skeptical of that. Some thought the downward trend was temporary or something. Guess what? Single car ridership has declined faster than those simulations assumed. Many more people are already taking transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and so forth than before.

Other folks are focusing on the fact that the replacement tunnel has less capacity that the old viaduct, and that it’s going to be at least a couple more years before we have finished removing the old structure and making street improvements along its old route. There is also a big worry that, because the tunnel will be tolled, too many people will avoid it to avoid the tolls.

Yeah, while construction is disrupting other streets, things will happen. But anyone who has lived or worked in Seattle for any length of time already knows that there are only two seasons here: Rainy Season and Construction Season. We manage to keep getting around during Construction Season.

It’s never pleasant to be stuck in traffic. When traffic becomes persistently bad, people change their behavior. We try to find ways to work around it. We adapt. Well, most of us do. There are those whackos who decide, instead, to file initiatives to try to repeal or financially cripple big transit projects because they are so convinced they have a god-given right to drive an enormous gas-guzzling behemoth all by themselves and dang it, the state should just make the roads wider so they can do things the way they always have. I hate those guys.

I’ve been riding the bus to work for over 30 years. Yes, I have amusing stories to tell of some misadventures and unpleasant people I have encountered on the bus. But those rare times that I have driven instead of taking the bus have also led to stories about misadventures and reckless drivers. Because if you’re in your car, you’re surrounded by people just as much as you would be on the bus—it’s just that each of them is armed with a ton of glass, steel, and composites. And maybe you feel like you’re in control in your car in a way that you aren’t on the bus or train. But if there’s an accident up ahead, and you’re stuck in the middle lane of a long bridge, you don’t have any more control than the passengers in a bus.

Anyway, I think it is mildly funny that, so far, Viadoom hasn’t materialized. The station that was using the term has stopped posting daily stories detailing how the commute went, because each day there has been nothing to report. And really, how many times can you say with a straight face, “None of the bad things we predicted have happened yet, but just you wait!”

So, I’ll keep riding my bus and keeping my fingers crossed.

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Sometimes someone needs an explanation

“I have been forced to explain homosexual relationships to my four year old because his uncle is gay. This incredibly difficult and traumatic conversation went as follows: Child: Why does Uncle Bob go everywhere with Pete? Me: Because they are in love, just like Mommy and Daddy. Child: Oh. Can I have a cookie?   We're all scarred for life. Scarred, I tell you.”

“I have been forced to explain homosexual relationships to my four year old because his uncle is gay. This incredibly difficult and traumatic conversation went as follows: Child: Why does Uncle Bob go everywhere with Pete? Me: Because they are in love, just like Mommy and Daddy. Child: Oh. Can I have a cookie?
We’re all scarred for life. Scarred, I tell you.”

I’ve been finding myself doing a lot of eye-rolling and teeth gnashing and biting my tongue lately over extremely asinine questions and assertions that cross my various information streams. Some of these are on social media, but a lot are also in news stories and/or coming out of the mouths of politicians, pundits, and so forth. When it happens on my social media, I sometimes decide to mute, block, or just unfollow the person. And when I mentioned that recently, someone asked didn’t I have a responsibility to educate people who unintentionally said bigoted things (or asked questions that are layered in all sorts of bigoted assumptions) so that they wouldn’t keep causing other people pain.

I had several answers—all of them true:

  • It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
  • In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
  • I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
  • One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
  • Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?

However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:

“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.

“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.

“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”

And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.

So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”

I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.

Confessions of an information junkie

Having multiple tabs open is not a new phenomenon. (click to embiggen(

When I did most of my personal computer work on a desktop machine with a pair of large screens, my husband used to tease me about how many applications I had open all the time. One time when I had a browser window open on one screen, with about 12 tabs open on that browser, and a second browser with a similar number of tabs open on the other screen, he teased me about having two dozen open tabs, and what kind of drain that put on my system resources. I laughed and said, “Two dozen is nothing!” I then proceeded to show him the other browser windows that were minimized. After opening all of them and resizing them did some counting, and said, “Today it’s only about 62 open tabs.”

I have always considered this just a variant on an older technology behavior: I would have piles of books on my desk or stacked beside my bed with bookmarks in them. Sometime a small book with a bookmark would be acting as a bookmark inside a larger book. Yes, a lot of the books in those piles were books that I was reading, and just hadn’t finished. But a lot of them were part of one of my research projects, and the bookmarks were things that I wanted to be able to look at again as I moved forward with the project. Some of the projects were for school, so the books would be returned to their shelves once the essay or whatever I had to turn in was finished. Other projects were personal. I might be researching something for a story I was trying to write. Or I might be researching something for a scenario I was running for one of my gaming groups, and so on.

I do try to do a better job of limiting how many tabs are open on my computer, though improvements in browsers (sandboxing among them) has made it less likely that having all those tabs open is going to slow the computer down or cause crashes. And there are some websites (certain news sites, for instance) that I learned long ago that I need to close down as soon as I finish reading an article.

One problem with this habit is that it also means I always have a whole bunch of projects in progress at any time. Which means things don’t get finished as quickly as I like.

Which sometimes plays out here, as I will have dozens of draft blog posts ranging from a dozen or so words to hundreds that I just haven’t finished, yet.

Even when I give myself a totally arbitrary goal to post something every day for thirty days in a row, I find myself staring at a bunch of draft posts, opening one after the other, maybe adding a few words, yet somehow unable to commit and just finish one.

And it’s more than a bit frustrating. It’s also a little confusing, because finishing, and putting things away once a project is done, are things that I really enjoy. So you would think that would motivate me.

And yet…

This isn’t a political post, but this image was too funny not to share

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall...

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall…

I’ve got a lot of blog fragments that have been aggregating for a while, mostly about things happening in the mundane side of our lives, rather than having anything to do with writing, or sf/f, or political craziness, and so on. And there will be some who dismiss it as a “what I had for breakfast” thing, but I like to think of is as an “everything but the including the kitchen sink” post. You’ve been warned.

First, Birds: So, the saga of the bird feeder continues. Quick refresher: over a year ago I put up a bird feeder on our veranda in a spot where I could watch birds that visited it from my living room window. We got so many birds coming to the feeder that my husband decided we needed a web cam so I could get pictures more easily and/or check on it from the office. Much to my delight the number of birds kept increasing, we had cool species like Stellar Jays showing up, it was very cool. Until just before Halloween, when the amount of birdseed consumed each day suddenly dropped for, then a few days later I learned why as an immature Cooper’s Hawk landed on my railing. Over the course of the next many weeks I witnessed the hawk snatching chickadees and juncos and sparrows out of midair in the vicinity of the feeder and then all the little birds stopped coming.

The level of birdseed in the feeder didn’t go down between the last time I topped it off just before Thanksgiving up to New Year’s Day. I cleaned out the feeder and tried scattering some feed on the deck and different locations, because I still very occasionally saw little birds on the deck. I cleaned out the feeder and put a very teeny amount of seeds in it.

Since then, I have seen pairs of small birds (usually pairs of juncos, but occasionally a pair of chickadees) show up on the veranda together and they have all adopted a similar strategy: one bird perches in one of my larger lavender plants, or on the branch of a nearby tree, the other hops around on the deck for a couple of minutes picking up seeds. Then the one that has eaten will flit to the spot where the buddy bird as been keeping watch, and the buddy bird flits down to the deck to peck at seeds. They trade off like that, one standing lookout the other eating, a few times before flying away.

Very, very occasionally a pair will take turns at the actual feeder, but it is clear that they all feel safer down on the deck where they have the planters and other things as cover.

I haven’t seen the hawk since late November.

I’ll keep scattering birdseed on the deck for now.

Dining: When we moved from Ballard to Shoreline, we decided to try to make some changes in the way we did things around the house. One of those changes was that I wanted us to sit down and eat one meal together at the table every day. The old place had not had adequate counter space or cabinets, and the way the kitchen was arranged, our table wound up being supplemental counter and storage space. So we almost never could clear it off enough to have a meal at the table. We instead would use the TV trays (or folding tray tables, as some people call them), or just each of us eat separately at our computers.

I admit that one reason that I wanted to make this change was the incredible guilt I felt at the dozens and dozens of tablecloths I found squirreled away in a couple of the closets. Tablecloths that had never been removed from their packaging. At least two of which I recognized as ones that were bought before my late husband, Ray, died. In 1997.

Michael had one change to my original proposal that we start using the tablecloths and eating at the table: he wanted to haul all the vinyl tablecloths to Value Village, and only use actual fabric cloths. Mostly because he just preferred fabric ones. Anyway, we got rid of all the vinyl ones, which left us with only a couple of fabric ones. We have since acquired a number more, some of them I think of as seasonal, some aren’t.

But we have eaten at least one meal at least six days out of every week at the table since moving. And the fact that on weekends we often eat two or three at the table in a single day, I think lets us off the hook for the nights that we go out instead of eating at home.

One of the things that means is that we have to keep at least half the table clear most of the time. That is a bit of a challenge, given that the table is really the only horizontal surface of any size near the front door, but we’ve been doing it.

So far, whenever we are cleaning for company, it never takes more than a few minutes to clear the table, pull off the tablecloth, wipe down the table, and pick out and deploy a clean cloth. And I can’t tell you what kind of happy goosebumps I get every time.

Haunted by Expectations: We have a certain number of habits about how we clean and keep the house that cause the voices of my grandmothers to occasionally admonish me. Both my nice Grandma and evil Grandma had very strong feelings along the lines of “a place for everything and everything in its place” and it’s amazing how much of that stuff got engraved in my neurons.

So, for example, t-shirts and laundry. A few years ago, thanks to a care label that came on some t-shirts we bought on Red Bubble (each with artwork that had be created by friends), when I did laundry I would pull those t-shirts out of the wash while transferring laundry from washer to dryer. Those t-shirts were put on broad hangers and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.

About six months after I started doing that, I noticed that some other cute graphic t-shirts which we had purchased as a sci fi con around the same time as the bunch from Red Bubble were noticeably much more faded. As in, they looked years older in comparison. So I stopped running any graphic t-shirts in the dryer. They all get pulled out and hung up on the shower curtain.

When I started doing this, Sunday was our laundry day, and the t-shirts were often still damp when we needed to shower Monday morning, so Michael would move all the hangers to the end of the towel rod & take his shower (since he went in to work much earlier than I). And then I would, after finishing my shower, move them all back up to the shower curtain rod and spread them out to finish drying.

At our new place, for various reasons, Friday evening is when I do laundry, and the t-shirts wind up hanging in the bathroom all weekend. If one of us decides we need a shower, me move them, then put them back. Until Monday morning.

Neither of us puts the t-shirts away Monday morning, mind you. We just leave them hanging in a bundle on the towel rod. Michael often chooses one of the shirts hanging there to wear to work that day. While I don’t wear t-shirts to the office, on Monday night, when I come home and peel off the office drag, I’ll pick a t-shirt, sometimes from the ones hanging up, somethings from my drawer, to wear while kicking around the house.

The upshot is that the t-shirts that were washed last laundry day often hang in a bundle on one of the towel rods all week long. Unless one of us is suddenly inspired to put them away, the pile slowly dwindles as we wear some from it, but there are usually still about three hanging on the towel rack by the next Friday evening when I carry up a new pile of damp t-shirts from the laundry room.

Both my Grandmothers would be appalled. My Nice Grandma, if she saw it, would give me that look and ask, “You know, it only takes a couple of minutes to put things away, right?” Whereas my Evil Grandma would say something like, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect you to understand how important cleaning is, since your mother was atrociously bad at housekeeping. I remember one time…” and a story implying that my mother was not only insane but also morally corrupt on a Lovecraftian level would follow.

And some mornings while I’m rushing to get ready to work, I hear one or the other of those voices in my head, wanting to know why I don’t just put the t-shirts away.

And while my Nice Grandma’s version of the question does sound perfectly reasonable, we often forget that the inverse of the question is just as reasonable: “What is the harm in leaving them hanging there, clean, dry, and within easy reach, for a few days?”

Yeah, putting them away (folding and separating them into my chest of drawers of Michael’s, putting the empty hangers into the hall closer) is probably only a two-spell-slot task… most mornings I don’t know how many slots I’m going to need that day. And getting myself dressed and out the door with my lunch packed and everything else I need for the day are tasks that much be done. Putting away the t-shirts? Not an imperative.

Some times I realize I have the slots and the time and let’s get this done now. And that’s great. But I have to remember that it is okay to prioritize.

My New Year’s Wish for You, 2019

Never forget: you are amazing. You are worthy of love. There have been times when you were the moment of light in someone else’s day—and you never knew. Believe that.

It doesn’t require a hero and a pulse-pounding battle to change the world. Each of us can change the world if we just remember to show up. To be kind when it’s needed. To be resolute, even if we’re scared.

To be a moment of light.

Three Considerations On the Third Day of Christmas Vacation (or the Eve of Christmas Eve)

Don we now…. (click to embiggen)

One: Different families have different Christmas traditions. Some of the traditions are really strict. My ex-wife’s family, for instance, was really really really invested in Christmas Eve. You simply must attend the Christmas Eve thing, or you might as well just skip Christmas. This caused a little bit of an issue, since attending my then Mother-in-law’s Christmas Eve in Oregon meant missing my Nice Grandma’s Christmas Even in southwest Washington. And that’s symbolic of a conflict many couples have: there are at least two family traditions and sets of extended relatives that you want to try to accommodate at major holidays. And it just gets worse if there has been divorces and re-marrying and children now have to contend with even more sets of grandparents and step-grandparents and cousins and step-cousins and so on.

My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.

I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.

Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.

Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.

Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.

Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”

Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”

And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.


Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.

And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.

Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.

Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”

My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.

My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.

The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.

That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”

The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”

While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.


Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…

(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)

After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.

The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.

I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.

Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”

Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.

Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”

I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.

Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.

Mixing up some festive tunes… or, how else do you think I manage 2538 Christmas songs?

Holiday Mixtape?

Sometimes my absent-mindedness just makes me laugh. For instance, I was working from home recently, sitting in my recliner with my work laptop on a lap desk when my phone buzzed. So I read and replied to a text message, and noticed that it is almost time for a conference call I need to join. So I set my phone down, turn, pick up my earbuds, open the meeting notice on the laptop so I can get the conference ID, and then thought, “I need to go find my phone. I bet I left it by the coffee maker again.” And I set the lapdesk down and stand up and only as I was turning to leave the room did I see that the phone was sitting on the lap desk right next to the laptop. You know, the exact spot I set it down only seconds before deciding to go look for it?

So I supposed I can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting that I own a particular book or a music album, right?

I own a lot of Christmas music. According to iTunes I own 2,538 Christmas songs. While a substantial fraction of that comes from Christmas albums recorded by a single musician or band, a whole lot of the collection comes from various compilation albums where every track is by a different person. Before the era of digital music stores, I would go through displays of Christmas CDs at this time of year, reading the track lists on those compilations and sometimes buying a particular disc just to get one single track. And because my friends and my husband know I love Christmas music, I have been gifted with various albums over the years.

I have rules about when I listen to Christmas music. The earliest that I can listen to Christmas music each year is after Thanksgiving dinner. And usually I wait until the day after Thanksgiving. I can keep listening to Christmas music up until Three Kings Day/Epiphany (the literal 12th day of Christmas). For most of that period each year, I pick my Christmas music by choosing from playlists. If I’m in a silly mood, I might pick the list called “A Silly Christmas” or “A Quirky Christmas” or “Xmas Oddments.” If I’m in a more serious mood, I might pick “A Grand Golden Christmas” or “A Choral Christmas” or “A Sombre Christmas.” An other days I’ll pick “A Dame & Diva Christmas” or “A Gay Yultide” or “A Jazzy Christmas” or “A Swingin’ Christmas.” If I can’t decide, I just grab “A Class-ic Christmas” which contains the songs that I think of as Christmas Classics.

And I update these lists. When I get a new album, I often pick a few songs from the album to add to one of those playlists.

Unfortunately last year while updating one such list I added a song that I absolutely despise. It was part of an EP that I wound up buying without sampling all the songs. As I recall, someone linked to the music video for a song, and I liked it enough to go see if I could buy the song, and that’s when I found a it was part of an EP of five I think it was. I listened to the samples of a couple of other songs on it, decided that I wanted to buy those three, so might as well just buy the whole thing. And four of the songs are great. But the fifth… no.

I went to delete the song from the playlist that it didn’t belong on (wondering briefly how I had added it), and when I right-clicked, onr of the options on the pop-up was the remove the download entirely. So I picked that. And it was oddly satisfying.

Anyway, while between all of those lists that’s a lot of Christmas music, it isn’t everything I own. So several years ago I got in the habit of Setting up a smart playlist each year that would gather all the Christmas songs that haven’t been listened to in over a year. I’ll set that list on shuffle and listen to it on shuffle for a day or two, watching it shrink (because each time a song plays, it gets removed the list, right?). Every time I do this, some music that I forgot even existed comes up. And that’s fun—most of the time. Of course, there are some songs that come up in this list that, well, there are good reasons I haven’t listened to it in a while.

Not necessarily because I dislike them as much as that one song I deleted. For instance, some years ago I found in one of those displays of music that pop-up in retail stores at Christmas time, an album by a pop singer whose heydey was during my childhood. I had fond memories of his music on the radio, and the disc was on sale, so I figured, what the heck?

Oh, boy. Now, it wasn’t awful. It wasn’t gouge your ear-drums-out bad like the Dylan album a couple years ago, for instance. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is Great, 1 is Dreadful and 3 is Mediocre? The album is a solid 2.5. The orchestration was by-the-numbers. The session musicians who recorded the accompaniment all did just fine. The pop singer’s voice was still pleasant. He hit the notes without needing autotune. But his delivery on every track except one is just bland. And the tempo of several of the upbeat songs was just a little slower than what you would call festive. No single track on the album is terrible, but likewise, there is only one track that I’d say is good. Not great, but good.

Looking at the album more closely, it’s a great example of why sometimes these Christmas offerings by musicians who are no longer burning up the charts can be so hit and miss. Only two of the tracks are songs that are still under copyright, so licensing for the album was very cheap. Pop and rock and other genre musicians often do a Christmas album when they’re in the downside of their careers because they are usually cheap to produce, and while people were still buying most of their music as physical media, mass-produced copies were reliable sellers year after year. I still see some of the racks of Christmas music CDs in some stores, but even my inner Christmas music packrat can seldom get me to stop and look at them any longer.

Which is probably a good thing. Yeah, maybe I’m missing the occasional surprise treasure, but I have so many great treasures already! And I just got a new idea for a Christmas playlist. Gotta go!

So today is our wedding anniversary…

© 2017 Gene Breshears

We don’t pose together often, so here is us last Christmas Day.

Today is the six-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. We didn’t pick this date. The voters of Washington State picked our wedding date. Because we’d been together for more than 14 years when our state approved marriage equality by a vote of the people—by a wider margin than any of the other states who approved it that year. And because sometimes this things get taken away (see the entire Proposition 8 nonsense in California in 2008), we went in on the very first day same sex couples could pick up a marriage license, waited the required three days, and then had a ceremony at the home of some of our friends.

Not that we weren’t both deliriously happy to be doing it, and while we weren’t like some of those couples who had been together for more than 50 years and were finally getting to tie the knot, it wasn’t a date we had picked.

That’s just another thing that is awkward about our society’s history with queer rights. Michael mentioned that he was just recently trying to explain to a co-worker that we have several anniversaries: the anniversary of our first date (Michael and been a friend to Ray and I for more than a couple years when Ray died, so our first date was not the first time we met), the anniversary of when we moved in together, the anniversary of when we registered or domestic partnership (and we had a small party with friends), and then the wedding anniversary.

Due to cultural conditioning, the wedding date was the one that felt most dramatic. And I know that all couples have significant milestones before they officially tie the knot. But it is a very common thing, when one is meeting a new straight couple, to ask how long they’ve been married. And even if you phrase it differently, 90-some percent of the time they will respond with, “we’ve been married X-years.”

Even though marriage equality has only been existent in this state for six years (and nationwide only three), I’ve still found myself being asked by people, “How long have you been married?” And the first few times when I just said the number of years, yes, people were shocked that we had only been together such a short time. So I’ve started automatically answered, “We’ve only legally been married X years, but we were together for nearly 15 before we could get married.” And sometimes people respond to that with confusion, and then incredulity when I tell them that same sex couples couldn’t legally marry before then. Even some people who think of themselves as open-minded and supportive of gay rights don’t understand that marriage equality is a very recent thing.

Which, given all the media attention and the millions of dollars worth of anti-gay political advertising put up in each state when votes about domestic partnerships or marriage were in the works, seems a little weird. How could they miss all that Sturm und Drang?

Oh, well.

And so, while today is our sixth anniversary, and just thinking about it and looking at all the pictures our friends took that day makes me cry, we’ve actually been together for 20 years and 10 months, or 250 months, which may explain why we finish each other’s sentences and so forth.

He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.

Happy Anniversary, Michael!

We are supposed to be giving thanks, after all

“Have a gay ol' Thanksgiving”

Click to embiggen

Last weekend I was at Costco with a medium-sized list of things we needed that are cheapest there. One of those items was a small turkey. In the past when we’ve been trying to make dinner for just the two of us, we’ve had trouble finding a turkey that wasn’t gigantic. One reason is that back at the old place while we had two refrigerators with freezer compartments, both were standard apartment-sized things so didn’t have a place to keep a turkey frozen for any length of time. So we’d wait until it was nearly the holiday and by then most grocery stores only had the largest sizes left. Then last year Michael discovered that Costco stocks a much wider variety of sizes of turkeys than most grocery stores, which was very handy.

Now this year we do have our small chest freezer, so storing a big bird is possible—but we had to start making an effort a bit over a week ago to cook dinners exclusively from things in the freezer and refrain from buying freezable-things we found on sale at the grocery store until we made enough room in the freezer for the turkey.

But I digress… I was looking for a small turkey, when I heard a voice nearby say, “Isn’t it a bit to early to be buying a turkey?” The person wasn’t talking to me, but rather to the woman who was with him. It appeared to be a small family of like a grandpa, grandma, a mom, and two children, and the grandpa-looking guy was the one questioning their search of the turkey bins. The subsequent conversation was quite amusing to overhear: grandma and mom told him Thanksgiving was just five days away, he argued, the kids got involved. He was absolutely certain that Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November. One of them had to show him their calendar on their phone before he believed then that Thanksgiving was this week. Then he said something along the lines that he had a lot less time to get the house ready for everyone coming over.

Anyway, I wasn’t quite as bad as he was, but it was just a week previous that both Michael and I had been shocked to realize Thanksgiving was less then two weeks away. It wasn’t that we didn’t know the holiday was the fourth Thursday, simply we didn’t quite realize that much of the month was already gone.

Tomorrow it is just the two of us for Thanksgiving. Despite trying to keep the menu small, I know we will have way too much food. Still, I’m looking forward to my turkey and stuffing and sweet potato pie and all the rest. And I’m feeling quite a bit less gloomy this year than the previous two holiday seasons. Many things in the world are still very messed up, but there is more than a glimmer of hope, now.

So, here are things I’m thankful for:

  • my smart, kind, sexy, super capable, funny husband
  • the people who turned out and voted bue
  • coffee
  • purple
  • books
  • science
  • people who laugh and fill the world with joy
  • sci fi books that tell of wonderful futures
  • people who help other people
  • people—often from segments of society who are always told they don’t matter/should listen to their betters/et cetera—who ran for office large and small this year
  • beautiful misty grey mornings
  • people who make art or stories or music
  • music
  • NaNoWriMo writing buddies
  • cocktails
  • modern medical science
  • people who love
  • living in the future
  • tweety birds and kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
  • flowers
  • people who keep striving in spite of it all
  • stuffing
  • my crazy, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
  • not having to spend the holiday with (especially) the most infuriating relatives again this year
  • my sweet, clever, mega-competent, long-suffering husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list twice!)
  • music
  • gravy
  • all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me even at my most dickish

Thank you, each and every one. And whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it

Word counts and other markings of the passing of time

"Marvel's The Avengers" ..Loki (Tom Hiddleston)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal  ..© 2011 MVLFFLLC.  TM & © 2011 Marvel.  All Rights Reserved.

You really should…

I’ve been doing pretty well on this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’m well ahead of the pace needed to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. But part of that is because this year my goal is to beat my previous record, which was a bit over 65,000 words, so I set the progress counter in my Scrivener project to that goal. Not everything I’ve written has been great. I do break one of the unspoken rules: I don’t revise scenes (well, other than when I notice a typo or something… sometimes I got back to a scene and add a sentence that I realize is needed to set up something later that I just wrote), but sometimes in the past when I have been really unhappy with a scene, I try writing the scene again, usually from a different character’s viewpoint.

There is a particularly pivotal scene that I have been having trouble with, and so far I have written it from three different viewpoints. In each one, I’ve also started the scene from a slightly different place. Between the second and third attempt at the scene, I flashed back, as it were, and wrote some possible set up scenes from various viewpoints of various characters getting ready for the event in question to try to figure out what wasn’t working in the scene itself.

Now, there was already part of my plan to write some different events in the book from multiple viewpoints. I show the villain coming into a situation that is already in motion and trying to deal with it. Then later I show the beginning of the sequence from the viewpoint of one of the protagonists, explaining some things that seem mysterious. There is similar thing where one of the protagonists comes in after some awful things have happened and is trying to pick up the pieces, then later I show what the villain actually did that led to the situation as this protagonist found it. That’s a specific dramatic ploy that isn’t the same thing as revisiting a scene multiple times from different viewpoints.

Anyway, it’s all valid first draft stuff. We always know that some of what we write is going to get cut later.

Completely unrelated to all of that, I wanted to note that last week we passed the 21st anniversary of my first husband’s death. This was one of the milder years, for me. Most years beginning a bit before my birthday (because I can’t think of my birthday without thinking of his, as our birthdays were only two days apart) through October and up until about the anniversary I tend to be more moody than usual and more susceptible to bouts of sadness and such. Three years ago it was a whole lot worse than average, last year it was a bit less bad than usual. I can never predict how it will go.

I really can’t say that it has steadily gotten better over the years. There have been years more than a decade ago where it was about as mild as this year. And then there are the really bad years.

I still think that part of why last year was better than usual was living in the new place. Every anniversary of Ray’s death before that, I was still living in the home we had shared when he died. So every day when I stepped out the front door I saw the climbing rose Ray had planted, for instance. There are still plenty of events and moments, and yes some things around the house, that remind me of him, but there are some things that used to recollect him that just are no longer here.

Thinking about this made me realize something that I haven’t been making a note of, however.

This week will be the twentieth anniversary of the first Thanksgiving that Michael and I celebrated together. I started to type that the coming Christmas will be the 21st, but that one is tricky. Michael was our friend before Ray died. And Michael dropped in several time in that December to check on me. So while the actual Christmas day I spent down in Oregon with my mom and relatives there, just before I went, Michael and I had a gift exchange. And though we weren’t yet officially dating at that point, at least one of my friends later told me that thought they had noticed we were already falling for each other.

I think I’m going to be a bit pedantic and say, since the first time we hung stocking together on Christmas Eve, slept under the same roof, and woke up together to find out what Santa had left in those stockings on Christmas morning was 20 years ago, that this year will be the twentieth anniversary.

Of course, a few weeks after Thanksgiving and more than a couple before Christmas, it will be our sixth wedding anniversary. Can’t forget that!

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