Which we were on Monday when I went to Costco. I arrived close to opening, I was masked up, had a list, and was hopeful to get through the trip quickly. By the time I got to the front of the line, the guy managing the line said: “I feel like a bouncer at a rock concert!” The woman in front of me said something along the lines of “You’re the guy to know!” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out from 6 feet away and over the sounds of the rain. The guy managing the line then said, “Everyone’s being cool about it, even those that were caught by surprise.”
I got in. The store didn’t seem deserted, but it wasn’t super crowded, either. Most people were being good about trying to observe social distancing. I found the items on my list, got in line, and felt the need to tweet about the fact that I was in line with the only things in my cart being items on our list. The cashier who checked me out opined that the lines outside would vanish completely as soon as word got out that they were out of toilet paper and paper towels.
When I got out of the store it was raining a lot harder than it had been while I was waiting to get in. I particularly noticed that the cardboard boxes my purchases were in were beginning to get noticeably wet in that short time. I quickly loaded the back of the car and closed the tailgate.
As I had been transferring my stuff, another Subaru of similar vintage as ours pulled into the empty spot next to me. I was just turning the cart to roll it to one of the cart return racks when the guy from the other car said, “I’ll take your cart!” He was fumbling to get his mask on.
I replied. “If you want, though it might be awkward in the line.”
He looked at me like I’d grown two extra heads. I shrugged and stepped back to let him take the cart, and he rolled off, grumbling.
I got in the car and before I had taken my masks off my glasses completely fogged over. I started the car and turn up the defrosters. After a minute or two or so I realized that the windshield seemed clear but my glasses were still completely fogged. So I held my glasses in front of one of the defroster vents and waited for everything to clear up so I could drive.
I was just putting the glasses back on when the guy reappeared in the spot between our two cars, empty handed. As he climbed into his car his gaze met mine, and his unhappy expression got more angry (he’d already taken off his mask). He exclaimed, “They’re out of toilet paper!” As if it was my fault, and slammed his door.
I decided to wait another minute, and as I expected he started his vehicle right away and backed out fast.
I drove home at my usual pace. While unloading the goods, I had a little issue with the case of diced tomatoes almost falling apart in my arms as I dashed inside. It was raining really hard. Amongst the bounty I brought home was a 10-pound turkey for Thanksgiving (small enough for just the two of us) and a 10-pound bag of sweet potatoes (there will be several dishes those go into, not just for the holiday). The pantry is also once again well stocked with canned vegetables and related things.
Even though my husband has to go to work each day, I try to limit my trips out of the house. So a trip where I get us enough food to last a couple weeks again if we have to is all right.
On the other hand, I just got a notice from the pharmacy of a refill being ready, and that means over the next week or so most of the rest of my prescriptions will come up. I try to just make one trip for all of them, but sometimes (as happened a couple months ago), when I do that I get a call from the pharmacy saying that they’re going put it back one the shelf if I don’t come get it that day–or assure them that I am coming in soon.
Completely unrelated, I need to finish putting away the Halloween decorations. Should have happened earlier, but, well, time has become a fog.
For a lot of weird reasons related to various social commitment we had (all of which were fulfilled through online meetings, so we are still isolating and practicing social distancing), he wound up accompanying me on this last weekend’s main grocery run. And a couple of funny thing happened.
At one point we turned the cart up an aisle, and I pointed down at the second from the bottom shelf and said, “We are either completely out of or nearly out of those, so pick a couple out.”
His reply was a confused. “Are you sure? I mean, if you mean the variety packs, maybe…”
I explained why I was certain we were nearly out, having had to throw at least one of the cardboard wrappers in the recycle earlier in the week. And he asked, “Cardboard???”
I turned around to look at him, and instead of looking at the nearly-at-the-bottom shelf I had pointed at more than once, now, he was looking at the very tippy-top shelf…
I had pointed at collections of snack-packs that we both liked. I like them because they were a balance of protein, fat, and minimal carbohydrates and were perfect for those times between my meals when my blood sugar dips lower than it ought. And he likes them because they were mostly shelf-stable and would tide him over between meals at work when needed. He was looking at the packs of cheese sticks. And he was right, we were nowhere near being out of the cheese sticks.
But they were not the thing I pointed at, and he admitted that he couldn’t remember if he had actually looked at my hand to see what I was pointing at. We decided the confusion was that since he is so much taller than me, he is always looking at things at his own eye-level first, and he just thought when I said “those” I was referring to what he was already looking at.
At another point in the trip we turned up the spice aisle. I pointed down at a low shelf where, among other things, various containers of pepper were arrayed. There were tins of ground black pepper, jars of whole peppercorns in black, green, or multi-colored, similar pepper variety jars with grinders build into the lids, and so forth.
Michael asked why I was stopping. I said, “The big pepper grinder keeps falling off the back of the spice shelf, and it’s hard for me to retrieve it, so I thought we should get a small one to keep next to the stove.”
And he looked at me with a very perplexed expression and said extremely slowly, “Okay…”
I continued, “Just pick out one of the small pepper grinders and we’ll be fine.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “If you don’t want to limit it to one, pick out one of the other pepper grinders, too, they’re all on sale. Maybe a black and a green? Or a black and a variety?”
He was now looking at me with an extremely concerned expression, as if he thought I was having a stroke. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, honey.” And his tone of voice implied he thought something worse than a stroke was happening.
I was really irritated by this point, and opened my mouth to explain again from the beginning. Except at that moment some far off slice of my brain interrupted, and did the equivalent of playing back to me the recording of the conversation. The beginning of which was actually, “The big coffee grinder keeps falling off the back of the spice shelf…”
Every single time that I had meant to say “pepper grinder” what had actually come out of my mouth was “coffee grinder.” And, of course, since we were standing in front of the spices, there was no coffee anywhere in sight, never mind that while American grocery stores may sell both ground and whole bean coffee, they don’t usually sell the grinders.
I laughed and said, “Pepper grinder. I meant to say that it’s the pepper grinder I keep losing behind the shelf, and I don’t usually feel like moving the chest freezer so I can get back there.”
“Oh! That makes sense!”
After we got home, while I was putting other groceries away, my husband pulled out the chest freezer and the shelf unit and retrieved the big pepper grinder… and then he went through the rest of the shelf unit and he found not one, not two, but three medium-sized bottles of whole peppercorns meant to refill the grinder. And each of them had been opened at some point and had some of their peppercorns removed. He was able to finish emptying all three and completely fill the big grinder, getting rid of three some bottles and making the shelf somewhat less crowded. So I might possibly be slightly less likely to knock something off the back of the shelf moving forward.
Keep your fingers crossed!
Even though I am an introvert, this current situation has made me acutely aware of just how much regular contact with friends has, in the past, contributed to my ability to cope. We’ve been able to mitigate that in a couple of ways. Every month we have continued to have Writers’ Night, for instance, we’ve just been doing it virtually in a voice chat on my Discord server. Even those months when no one has anything new to read (and it is difficult being creative when you’re dealing with all this very justified anxiety), just getting to hear familiar voice and chat has been a blessing.
My gaming group had been meeting on Discord for much longer (some of the players live about an hour and a half drive north of my place, one lives nearly a five hour drive south) than the pandemic. Previously once or twice a year some of us would make a road trip out of game day, so we could play in person, but we’d been pulling it off online fairly well. Again, it’s a time I get to chat and laugh and otherwise spend time with some dear friends, and I’m really appreciating it.
I’ve been quarantining since mid-February (before the first identified case in the U.S., but while the threat was in the news, I woke up one morning with a cough — by the time the cough went away just a bit over two weeks later, the corporate overlords had issued the directive that everyone who could work from home should do so as much as possible), but there are still aspects of it that surprise me.
For instance, how fast I go through a bag of coffee beans.
Before the quarantine I only made coffee at home on the weekends and on work-from-home days. I was only scheduled to work from home twice a week, so that meant at least three days a week that I was exclusively drinking the company coffee. In theory, that should mean that I’m using up coffee beans almost twice as fast as before, right?
I was going through coffee almost three times as fast. When i mentioned that to an acquaintance online a few months ago, they pointed out that (at that time) my husband was also at home full time, and I wasn’t taking that into account.
I hadn’t laughed so hard in months. Seriously.
My husband doesn’t just not drink coffee. My husband positively loathes coffee. (Which doesn’t stop him from buying me big lattes to deliver to me if we’re at a convention together and I’m staffing a table or something, but that’s another topic).
I wound up in a discussion about coffee with a group of coworkers about two months ago and thats when I actually thought about it and realized something that I should have noticed but just hadn’t. When I’m in the office I drink at minimum one mug of coffee or one mug of tea every hour (and there are a couple of hours in most day where I’d slip an extra mug in for reasons). Typical mug holds 8 ounces of coffee, that’s 64-80 ounces of caffinated beverage per office day.
But at home I would usually make one pot of coffee, and that was it. That’s only 60 ounces of coffee on those days. Similarly, I usually only made a single pot per day on weekends.
I think part of the reason I was able to get by on only 60 ounces a day on work-from-home days is because they were usually less stressful. Even on infuriating days, the fact that I could step away from my desk and step outside on my veranda made the stress easier to manage.
Now what I typically do is make a pot on the morning of the first day of work, then some point in the afternoon I make a second pot, and drink as much as half of it. One the second work day of the week, I first reheat and drink the leftover from the second pot (a notion I know makes a lot of people shudder, sorry), then I make a fresh pot and finish it off.
And I think the reason is that being able to step out on the veranda or whatever is no longer a novel or special thing. So the stresses of work (more than some of which have gotten worse during the pandemic) just pile up exactly the same way as they used to only do when I was stuck in the office.
And if I’m feeling frazzled on the weekend and reach the end of the coffee pot early in the afternoon? Guess what? I make a second pot on those days, too.
So, before the pandemic, working from home two days a week and then making coffee at home on the weekend, I was usually making four pots of coffee a week. Now I’m making at least 9 pots a week.
I’m trying to mitigate this is some ways. Some months back I stopped making coffee on Sundays at all, switching to making tea in my infuser pot (this also gave me a regular opportunity to run the coffee carafe and other washable parts of the coffee maker through the dishwasher instead of only doing just a perfunctory rinse each day). Tea is still a caffinated drink, but it’s generally lower in caffeine, so that helps me back off the weekly total a bit. I’ve also sometimes stopped myself from making a second pot and instead turned on the electric kettle to switch to single cups of tea made from bags.
I can’t cut it out completely, because I’m sure you’ve seen the memes that say that coffee is a warm, delicious alternative to hating everyone in the morning? Well, sometimes, “hating” is a euphemism for “murder” — so, don’t even think of suggesting that I give up the coffee altogether… because I know how to hide a body.
Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-seventh anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twenty-first National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.
I’ve written many times about how important it is that queer people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, trans, aromantic, genderfluid, two-spirit, questioning, intersex, and so no) be out if they safely can be. Studies show that being closeted has several deleterious effects on one’s mental and physical health. When you’re in the closet, you aren’t being yourself. You are pretending to be someone who others wouldn’t guess was part of the LGBT. When you’re in the closet you’re in a constant state of anxiety—the very real fear that if some people knew your secret, they would reject you, shun you, or maybe even physically assault you.
That takes a toll.
Studies have also shown that the more LGBT people that a straight person knows, the less likely they are to harbor bigoted beliefs toward the community. And queer young people who have out role models in their community are far less likely to attempt suicide.
So there are many, many good reasons to get out.
There are reasons to be wary of being out. For instance, 40% of homeless teens are homeless precisely because they have been kicked out or driven from their homes when their families found out they were queer. And there are bigots in every community who pose financial, social, and physical threats to queer people. So I understand why staying in the closet sometimes feels like the safer option.
But I have to say from personal experience, that not living with that constant burden of fear is such a relief. Now, the relief don’t always come right away, because sometimes the people closest to you — even those that you are absolutely certain will be okay with learning this about you — don’t react positively. When I came out, several friends and relatives I thought would at least be tolerant absolutely flipped out. Two that I was certain had just been waiting for me to admit it categorically denied that they had ever suspect at all — and one of them insisted that the mere fact that I thought they knew already was somehow proof that I had been brainwashed into thinking I was gay.
On the other hand, there were family members and friends who I had thought wouldn’t take it well who turned into my fiercest defenders against the other.
The sad fact is that you aren’t going to know who will stand by you until you come out.
But the flip side of that is, the ones who reject you? The ones who through the worst fit when you come out? They never loved you. No matter how much they insist that they did, the truth is that they didn’t love you, they loved the straight person they imagined you to be. And their rejection demonstrates that their love had always been conditional.
Coming out was scary. But once the initial difficulties blew over, I made an amazing discovery: since I was no longer expending all that energy pretending to be something I wasn’t and scared to death people would find out I was pretending, I had a whole lot more time and energy to spend on the things I love. And the more time I spent doing the things I love, the more new people who were ready to accept me for who I was came into my life.
If it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing proud in the opne, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!
The rain has returned to Seattle, which also means that my hay fever has kicked into high gear. Since I have moderate-to-severe allergic reaction to every single pollen, spore, and mold there is, hay fever season last most of the year. But there are certain times when I can count of sudden worsening of symptoms, and one of those is when the rain come back in the fall after the relatively dry period that usually lasts from about July 12th until the end of August/early September.
This year the coming of the rain meant the end of hazardous air quality from the smoke plumes from wild fires everywhere, which means that as my lungs were clearing and my cough was subsiding, the sinuses became painfully clogged and sneezing fits became the norm.
Just before that smoke came in and turned September into a new kind of hell, I had picked up some spot-color flowers to plant in some of the pots out on the veranda, because all the dianthus, violas, and pansies that had been growing in some of the pots had died off. Most of my planters are full of lavender, but most of them are going to seed, so there was suddenly not much color out there. But I didn’t get the plants in before the air quality turned really bad, so I set them up where I could water them and waiting for the rain to come clear us out.
I mentioned this elsewhere and was asked (for not the first time) why I grow a bunch of flowing plants on my deck when I’m allergic to all those pollens.
The amount of pollen produced by the number of flowers I can personally grow is negligible compared to the pollens put out by the thousands of trees and millions of flowering plants growing throughout and around the city. Since I’m going to have the hay fever regardless, I might as well have some pretty flowers to look at when I feel like it.
And I like seeing bumblebees going from flower to flower. I even get hummingbirds feeding on the flowers!
There is a challenge with the smaller spot colors in that we also get a lot of squirrel activity on the veranda. This was true even before I added a squirrel feeder to the mix. They like to bury things in the flower pots and later try to dig them back up.
The bird population coming to the feeder has finally gotten back to what it was two summers ago before a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk starting hanging around our deck and eating the little birds. The hawk only lingered in our neighborhood for a month, but it ate a lot of bird during that time! The small bird population has taken a while to bounce back. We have so many juncos, sparrows, chickadees, and finches coming to the feeder that I have to refill it every day.
That may change, because Tuesday afternoon I looked out in time to see another juvenile Cooper’s Hawk was perching on one of the drain pipes from the roof. Before I could take a picture one of the local crows divebombed it and it flew off. It was distinctly smaller than the one from two years ago, so it is probably a male.
I don’t know if it’s going to start hunting in the neighborhood and we’re going to have another mass die off of the little birds. The crow might have sent it packing. On the other hand, it may be a bit stubborn.
I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
One of the troublesome tropes under discussion was that Old Canard, Bury Your Gays. If you aren’t familiar, the trope refers to the fact that often in fiction, queer characters are killed off and written out of series far more often than non-queers. I wrote about this a few years ago (Invisible or tragically dead… reflections on representation) in a year where over the course of the first 80 days of that TV season, 22% of all the queer regular or recurring characters across all network shows had been killed. And I pointed out that if the same rate of “anyone could die” actually applied across all of the casts of network shows regardless of orientation, that that would mean 2.5 characters being killed every single night of prime time television, and would mean that each season shows would have to replace more than 94% of their casts.
Many people have rightfully pointed out that a major contributor to the problem is that so many series, movies, novels, et cetera have at most one queer character (and rarely a pair of queer characters). In those cases that means that the only representation a show has of nonheterosexual people is erased by one character death. And even in those rare cases where there is a second queer character, since the second character is almost always in some sort of relationship with the first, that means that the sole queer representative left in the series is now an example of the equally bigoted/stereotypical Tragic Backstory Gay.
The lack of adequate representation is only part of the problem. Another very big part of the problem is that many writers think that queer characters are only suitable for queer plotlines, and so once the series has dealt with an incident of homophobia and an relative/friend learning to truly accept and support the queer character, that there is absolutely nothing else one can write for the character so they are now dead weight. But there are folks—most of them members of the queer community or allies—who genuinely think that the lack of realistic numbers of queer characters is the only reason Bury Your Gays is a problem. And unfortunately this causes other problems.
The discussion that I saw this week illustrated this well. One person was explaining what Bury Your Gays means, and went on to express their personal opinion that because they have read or watched so many queer characters get killed off so many times that they just don’t want to ever watch or read such a storyline again.
And people got very angry about that assertion. “How dare you say that I can never kill a queer character in my story!” “How dare you demand representation but also special treatment!” And so on.
Which is absolutely not what the person said.
Let’s switch topics for a minute. I was physically and emotionally abused by my father as a child. For that reason, I find it very difficult to sit through storylines involving abusing characters in stories I read or watch. This means that sometimes I stop watching a series or I put down a book never to pick it up again. I experienced a lot of that in real life and would rather spend my free time (which is what the reading of novels and watching of series or movies is, my free time) on other things. Similarly, many years ago a particular series I and friends were reading seemed to be obsessed with rape (and the gleeful humiliation and torment of vulnerable characters in general) as a plot engine. I decided that I didn’t need anymore of those kinds of scenes in my imagination, and I stopped reading the series (and when the editor of said series later became the author of an international best-selling fantasy series that similarly pruriently reveled in rape and torture, I swore off that, too).
In neither case am I saying that no one has the right to write such stories. Nor am I saying that people who want to read them should be legally banned from doing so. I’m just saying that I am done that that. I don’t want to read that. I exercise my right to choose what I read and watch and will go read and watch something else.
That doesn’t mean that I am weak. It doesn’t mean that I’m fragile. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong or immature about me. I am making a choice and stating a preference. That’s all.
And yes, I’m generally in sympathy with the commenter who said she’d rather not read any more deaths of queer characters. For 59 years I have read stories in which if gay people like me were included at all we were the depraved villains or the tragic victims. And if I could go another 59 years of life and never, ever read or watch another story in which that happens, I would be happy (and not just because it would be cool to live to be 118 years old).
It’s not that I refuse to read stories where that happens. I do, even when I have been warned, sometimes. And full disclosure: in the series of fantasy novels I’m working on a lot of queer characters have bad things happen to them. In book one a canonically pansexual character appears to die (and his apparent death is quite important to the plot), though it is revealed later he survived. But as the series goes on I kill off an asexual character, a bisexual character, a genderfluid character, and (in flashback) a trans character. So as a queer author I’m doing this. But I also point out that there are a lot of other gay, lesbian, bi, pan, genderfluid, ace, and trans are in the story who don’t come to untimely ends. And as I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, I’m one of those authors who literally cries at the keyboard while writing a death scene, so I don’t take these things lightly.
So I’m saying that it is perfectly reasonable for a reader/viewer to make a decision about what kinds of stories they want to watch. And while writers get to decide what they do in their own stories—readers, viewers, and other writers are allowed to point out if we think they are portraying harmful stereotypes or perpetuating bigotry.
There was a second trope discussion where I felt attacked. People were lamenting the Gayngst trope. This is the tendency of many writers to portray all queer people as being unhappy with their lives, and specifically wishing that they weren’t gay. The people participating in this thread were unhappy with this trope because they were convinced that it is never true. One person asserted that there were no queer people anywhere who, once they got past the questioning stage and realized that they are queer, wished that they weren’t queer.
Which is where I really felt attacked. I realized that I was a gay boy at the age of eleven. Puberty hit like a freight train, as I said in that post, and finally I knew that all those people (including my father, some pastors, numerous teachers, and other adults in my life) who had bullied me for being a sissy, pussy, c*cksucker, and f*ggot had been correct.
I did not magickally become a wildly pro-gay activist at the moment of that realization.
To use the terminology of the the great James Baldwin quoted above, among the filth that I had been forcefed throughout my life up to that time was the absolute certainty that queers like me were going to spent eternity burning in Hell. And, since god is supposedly a Just Creator, we deserved it.
So, yes, I spent the next 13 years of my life frequently crying myself to sleep at night and begging god to take those feelings away.
It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I started to believe that maybe, just maybe being queer wasn’t a curse that absolutely meant I would never know love, that I would constantly be fighting off depraved urges, and that I would ultimately deserve to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
I was well past questioning for those years. And it wasn’t until I was 24 that I let a female friend talk me into the notion that maybe I wasn’t gay, but was actually bisexual. I would say that was the beginning of my questioning years, not when I first realized back at age eleven.
If some queer people younger than me really do immediately go from, “I don’t know why I seem to be different than what society expects me to be” to “Hey! It’s great to be queer” than I am very happy for them. I have my doubts that the transition is that instantaneous, but maybe it is.
Regardless, I know for a fact that millions of us spent a number of years mired in that self-loathing. And it isn’t just old fogies like me—earlier this year gay millennial Presidential hopeful Pete Butigeig admitted that “If you had offered me a pill to make me straight” he would have taken it.
So, while Gaynst shouldn’t be the universal portrayal of all queer people in stories and pop cultural, it’s okay to admit that some of us experienced that as part of our process of becoming who we are. And you should be able to criticize the stereotype without also erasing the queer people who experienced coming out differently than you.
It wasn’t until I was 31 years old—literally 20 years after I first realized and understood that I was a gay man—that I finally vomited up enough of that self-loathing and other filth to start walking this earth as if I had a right to be here. And the struggle of getting that point is something which should be honored, not erased.
Meanwhile, only a few hundred miles south of us (where some friends and relatives live) the air quality was frequently “too bad for the sensors to measure.” So I was also feeling a lot of anxiety about their safety.
Despite closing up the house and changing the hepa filters in the air cleaners, I started coughing eight days ago (and had almost constant headaches and itchy eyes). After calling my doctor to verify that the inhaler he has me keep around for when I get bronchitis was okay to try to use for this, I began using it. I’m only supposed to use it four times a day, and each time it gave me relief from the coughing for about an hour at a time. Which isn’t much out of the day, but better than nothing.
My husband had headaches and a little bit of coughing during the same period, but nowhere near as bad as the symptoms I had. I blame past me. While I quit smoking 27 years ago, I did smoke for a number of years (which is why I tend to get bronchitis so often), whereas he never did. So I suspect part of the reason I reacted so badly is the damage done to my lungs back when I was a smoker.
It was not fun keeping all the doors and windows closed as much as possible, as things got uncomfortably warm and stuff on several days.
The good news is that we finally got real rain over both our state and Oregon for the last two and a half days. The Air Quality Index starting Saturday morning was all the way down in the Good range! I still have a bit of a cough but things are definitely improving.
Unfortunately, wildfires are still burning in Washington, Oregon, and California (not to mention many other parts of the world), so I’m not sure how long we’ll keep having good air quality.
In other news, I have a significant birthday coming up, and we have toyed with trying to do a virtual party, Unfortunately I don’t have a guarantee at this point that I won’t be called in to work despite having requested time off months ago because I’m the only Tech Writer that hasn’t quit, been laid off, or retired over the last few years in the entire division, and we have software releases this week.
I’m also still reeling from the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That has really done a number on my mood.
Still, we have to keep resisting, right?
More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
August is almost over and I’m trying not to freak out at how fast the year has gone. Along with trying to maintain a reasonable level of anxiety (rather than completely falling about) as the political situation and the related pandemic and civil situations continue to get worse, dealing with the stresses at work, and so on. I keep meaning to write about things more mundane and personal that all the news related and sci fi related stuff that has been dominating this blog for the last many weeks. Let’s see if I can pull that off!
One of the challenges of me working from home every work day (and because of being in a high risk group the current guidelines are that I try to avoid going shopping et cetera more than once a week) has been just trying to keep track of what day of the week it is and what time it is and what I’m supposed to be doing on particular days.
Being home constantly does strange things to my notions of housework, as well.
For instance, I was finding myself getting more and more annoyed at how cluttered two parts of the kitchen counter were all the time. It was on either side of the sink, making it difficult to deal with dishes and the dishwasher, because there was always the chore of assessing and dealing with the clutter before I could get to the chore I had gone into the kitchen to do in the first place. And given how easily I distract myself and go down metaphorical rabbits holes and forget why I went into a particular room in the best of circumstances, this was getting much worse.
One day I made myself stop and look at all the clutter and ask myself why it was there. A small part of it is that both my husband and I have a habit of drinking multiple glasses of water a day, and so each of us has a glass or mug that sits next to the sink to be reused through out the day, then put in the dishwasher and a new one is used the next day.
But that was a miniscule part of the problem. A lot of the clutter were things that aren’t dishwasher safe. We have a rather lot of those. And what I realized was happening day after day was that I’d notice several of them beside the sink, and then not be certain if they had been washed out or not, so I would wash it out, and since and then I would sit it on the counter to dry… and later in the day Michael might to exactly the same thing, so I was come in and notice that one of the plastic water pitchers, for instance, which I thought I’d washed in the morning, is wet again. So I’d leave it. But then the next day I would find myself worrying that maybe I was mixing up a time it had been rinsed and waiting to dry a week ago, so I’d wash it again.
Several other things were items that don’t normally go in the cabinet after being washed, but instead have a spot in the pantry, which is slightly more work to get into, and so they were stuck in a similar cycle. And I realized there was a simple solution that we just hadn’t thought to put in place. So I bought one of those folder bamboo dish racks, cleaned everything and towel dried some things and put everything away.
The rack takes up one of the two places that used to be filled with random clutter all the time, but not the space is serving a purpose. If something in the rack and is dry, neither of us has to worry that it hasn’t been cleaned. We put it away, hand wash anything else that is on the other side of the sink, put in in the rack, and the rest of the counter is available for whatever.
It shouldn’t have taken me several months of being frustrated to think of that, I know.
So, we have replaced a bad habit with a more useful one, which is good. But I noticed a little wrinkle that has developed since. Every Sunday I put all the parts of the coffee maker that are dishwasher safe in the dishwasher and run in. I get down one of the antique bone china tea cups (which belonged to my late first husband’s grandmother), a saucer, and my infusing pot, and I drink tea all day instead of coffee.
At the end of the day I wash out the teacup and saucer and put them on the rack to dry, right? And the pot goes into the dishwahser when the coffee maker (and other cleaned dishes) come out. Throughout the week my husband and I wash other things, take dried items from the rack and them away… except we both keep leaving the teacup and saucer in the rack all week.
Most Sundays when I get ready to make tea, I put the teacup and saucer that have been sitting in the rack all week in the cupboard, each on the bottom of their respective stacks, and take another from the top of the stacks down to make tea. The latter part because I’m justifying hanging on to these small number of specialized dishes for all the years since Ray died by making sure I rotate so that all of them get used regularly.
Now, where I keep the teacups and saucers is on a high shelf in one of the higher cabinets precisely because unlike many other dishes and utensils they aren’t used every day. So I suspect I’m not putting them away sooner is because it’s fractionally more work. And I strong suspect Michael doesn’t want to put them away for fear that he’ll mess up my rotation system.
And it’s not really a conscious decision. At some point after we’d had the rack for a couple of weeks, I just started putting away everything on the rack except the cup and saucer, and now it’s like my brain literally doesn’t perceive them as being a separate object from the rack itself until the day that I go to make a cup of tea.
I know that it’s a very minor glitch in our improved habits on this issue. It just… when I notice that my brain isn’t doing what I want it to do, I get tetchy.
I am continually amused at how strangely our minds work. For example, a few weeks ago a friend was talking about crime being up in his neighborhood. I expressed surprise and mentioned that just the day before I had listened to a story on NPR about how overall crime has gone down quite a bit during the pandemic, with a few specific exceptions, such as property crimes in commercial building that are mostly deserted because so many white collar workers are working from home.
This prompted the friend to specify that by crime what he meant was specifically people breaking into cars. Which of course is precisely the type of crime that the NPR story said was the exception: property crimes that are less risky than usual because people are staying inside. It took me a minute of thinking to realize that car prowls would also be up, during which time I rambled more about the overall crime rates being down, and how I would only use the phrase “crime is up” if it were multiple categories of crime—but then I am rather pedantic.
The next morning I was getting a cup of coffee while my work laptop was booting up in the other room, and as has become my habit, I paused at the dining room window to look down and confirm that our car was still parked in our spot, windows intact and so on.
Which is when I had to laugh at myself.
See, that specific habit started back in late March when I read a news story that the local police departments had found a number of abandoned cars that the owners hadn’t even realized had been stolen because people were staying home and many couldn’t see their driveway from most windows in their home. Which is when I started the habit of every morning looking out the window to confirm our car was there.
Checking the car every morning had become such a habit that the reason had fallen off the normal shelves of memory and then sunk into the mist in the back of my mind. Such that even when my friend had mentioned car prowls being on the increase, it didn’t remind me of that news story. You would think that one’s memory would correlate such things. But apparently not.
This made me think about something I was reading on an acquaintance’s blog recently. A couple weeks ago we learned that people in the White House made the explicit decision (and documented the discussion) that since the early COVID outbreaks were in Blue States, that the Feds didn’t need to do anything. All the people dying would be in states that will never vote for Trump, anyway, and Trump could blame the democratic governors of those states.
That’s genocide. That is a war crime. That is a decision to let voters you perceive as not yours die from a preventable cause.
And the President only changed his tune and started urging people to at least wear masks when the virus spread to Red States. There was even a graphic that showed that the highest COVID deaths were happening in districts that previously voted for him.
And while several of us commented on that at the time (some of us with great outrage…) it barely lasted as a blip in the national media consciousness. Let alone most of the public. Because since Day One this administration has done many illegal and immoral and outrageous things. Those of us who care literally can’t keep up. How do we expect people who aren’t already news junkies to keep up?
The outrage and the illegality became this constant stream and eventually all of it fades to just being white noise. Crap is pushed from our collective consciousness by the ever-growing stream of more crap.
And I wish I had a solution or an answer to this problem. I just feel like the person implied in the meme I attached above: laying on the ground damaged from the fall, looking up at the cats who pushed me, stunned and unsure how to proceed.