Tag Archive | personal

Seriously, it’s all Greek — more adventures in dictionaries

“...involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one's own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one's own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.”

“…involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one’s own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one’s own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.” (Click to embiggen; I got a new self-lighting magnifier for my Compact Oxford—isn’t it neat?)

It happened after a committee meeting for the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus when we had devolved to chatting. I don’t remember exactly what was being discussed, but one of the women got upset when I used the word “gay” to refer to the entire community. “That excludes women,” she said, icily. I apologized and said I didn’t mean to do that, it was just fewer syllables and sometimes I just wished there were a shorter way to refer to everyone, and homosexual is so clinical. She interrupted, leaning in and getting much angrier. “Another word for men! Geeze, how can you do that?” When I protested that it was a clinical term originally coined to refer to both men and women she really got upset, insisting, “Homo means man! Yeah, yeah, it’s like mankind means everyone because men think they’re all the matters!”

At this point I was no longer feeling defensive, I was feeling angry. So I explained that while if one were speaking Latin, “homo” meant man, but the word wasn’t built from Latin roots, it was from Greek roots, and in Greek, homo means “the same” which is why the doctor who first coined the term picked it, as he had written about extensively that he was describing people who were attracted to and formed attachment to member of the same sex, in contrast to hetero which is greek for “other or different.” So “heterosexual” meant someone attracted to the other sex, while “homosexual” meant someone attracted to the same sex. Also, the doctor in question was himself non-heterosexual and spent much of his life trying to prove that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

Suffice it to say that she did not appreciate my lecture.

That was not the last time I got into that argument, by any means.

Other times when I’ve pointed out the difference between the Greek root and the Latin word which sounds the same, people have countered that “a lot of people think it means male!” To which I replied that a many people think the world is flat, but I’m not going to stop using the word “world” because some people are ignorant.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand that perception is important, but here’s the thing: if I point to a crowded room full of people of many different genders and say “they’re all homosexual” not one English speaking person in the whole world is going to think I’m only referring to the men. No one will be confused. Yes, a few of the women in the crowd may raise the same incorrect objection as the person in my first paragraph, and some bisexual or pansexual people in the crowd will make an equally incorrect objection (there is no portion of homosexual that means exclusively with one’s own gender, just that there is a propensity toward one’s own gender). I will grant that if there are any asexual people in the crowd they will have, linguistically, a valid bone to pick with my sweeping generalization.

The thing is, I don’t happen to like using the word homosexual because it sounds so clinical, and despite the word being coined by a pro-homo doctor, originally, it was quickly adopted by the parts of the medical establishment who insisted we were mentally ill or depraved. But I also don’t like using it to refer to the community because no matter how you slice it, it does exclude asexuals, as well as trans people who are also straight.

If I’m in a situation where queer isn’t accepted, I will sometimes punt to “non-heterosexual,” but that has the problem of defining us by what we aren’t, rather than what we are.

There are people who object to the term because it places emphasis on sex, while we often argue that the real issue is love. I have some small amount of sympathy for that line of reasoning, though it often digresses into rather sex-negative prudery. And while there is a difference between love and sex, for most non-asexuals, the two things are tangled together pretty tightly. I am attracted to other men. The initial attraction is, to be honest, about hormones and desire. For me, at least, love is a choice I make as I get to know a person. Yes, there are feelings and admiration and so forth, but I have feelings for lots of people who I don’t choose to commit myself to. I admire lots of people I don’t choose to commit myself to.

This attempt to separate the sex from sexual orientation also ignores another important reality: heterosexual relationships are just as much about sex as queer relationships are. Don’t believe me? What were the only legal arguments that anti-gay people had left by the time the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court: that marriage was exclusively about reproduction, and that heterosexual people would never make the lifelong commitments necessary to raise the resultant children is legal marriage wasn’t reserved for straights (no, that argument makes no sense, and yes, that’s really what they wrote in their legal briefs!). Yes, the people who claim that we’re the perverts obsessed with sex argued that it was wrong to define marriage as a loving relationship geared toward mutual support (yes, that was also in their legal brief).

But I’ve digressed enough. The word “homosexual” does not simply refer to men, it comes from the Greek word homo meaning “the same.” Neither does the word refer to any exclusivity in that sexual orientation. Also, although hetero means “other or different,” neither heterosexual or homosexual linguistically imply only two genders. Heterosexual literally means sexual activity with someone of a different sex, not the opposite sex. So not only isn’t the word sexist, it also doesn’t deny the existence of genderfluid or intersex or third sex people.

And now you know!

Weekend Update 6/10/2017: Holy Wensleydale, Batman!

Gromit and Wallace © Aardman Animations

Yesterday’s weekly round up of links did not include a Farewells section, and it should have. With this morning’s news, I have to include another farewell.

Farewells

Peter Sallis, Who Voiced Wallace From ‘Wallace And Gromit,’ Dead At 96

Peter Sallis, Voice of ‘Wallace and Gromit’ Cartoons, Dies at 96

Adam West, TV’s ‘Batman,’ Dies at 88

Adam West, beloved actor and star of Batman TV series, dies at 88

Adam West as Batman from the TV series © Greenway Productions and 20th Century Fox Television

Adam West as Batman from the TV series © Greenway Productions and 20th Century Fox Television

When Batman the tv series came on the air in January 1966 I was immediately hooked! What 5 year old wouldn’t be? Sure, the show was campy to the point of ludicrousness, but there was Batman played with a droll unflappability by Adam West. He was smart, brave, and always ready to stop the bad guy. The fact that he and Robin were running around in tights all the time added to their appeal, as well, though I didn’t really understand my fascination with their costumes until I was older, watching it in re-runs.

It has been said in many interviews, including by West himself, that the reason why he got the role among the actors who were screen tested for it was because he was the only one who could deliver the dialog with a straight face. The series’ incredible blockbuster success typecast West, making it difficult for him to get work, but he eventually embraced the role, eventually calling his version of the Caped Crusader the Bright Knight (as opposed to the Dark Knight of later incarnations).

And while I appreciate some of the other versions of Batman, five-year-old me looked up to West’s Batman as a hero who stood for justice and compassion, who was willing to risk everything for others, and always ready to answer the call. It was West’s commitment to the role that made that version of Batman real. You’ve answered your final bat-signal, Adam West. Rest in peace, and thank you.

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel, or an oncoming train?

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. The crazy wrinkle this year was that we knew that sometime after May 8th the new owners of the old building would give us a final move out notice, but that we couldn’t actually move until after Michael’s surgery and recovery was complete, which made it difficult to find a place to move to, since no one was willing to hold a place for more than a few weeks.

The last time I posted about the goals was at the end of March, when Michael was only a bit over a week into the recovery. My specific tasks for April were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Pack and move.
  • Squeeze some writing time in somehow.
  • Remember to have fun at NorWesCon (whether we attend the whole weekend or not).
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like.

Once we finally had a lease signed in mid-April, that meant that my goals for the rest of April and all of May were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Move and unpack.
  • Clean out the old place.
  • Try to keep squeezing writing time in.

We’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do, but we’ve moved, so yay!

I got some writing in, but most of it was blogging. I did a lot of blog writing on the bus and during lunch at work. Having a slightly longer bus ride in (and being too far out to walk home, so I’m busing both ways) gives me a bit more time to write on the bus. Which is nice, though I’m finding it harder to get myself to write scenes on the phone than blog posts. I’m not sure why.

We didn’t attend NorWesCon, other than to show up at dinner time on Saturday evening, have dinner with our gang then run up to one of the hotel rooms to watch Doctor Who. But it was a great break during the first weekend that we were actually moving into a place, rather than packing and trying to find a place.

I’ve already written more about the packing, moving, hauling, cleaning, and so on than anyone cares to read, so let’s move on.

The big goals remain, though this is probably a good time to revisit them.

Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.

Reduce, pack, and prioritize. Now you might think this big goal could be marked “done” for the year, since we’ve moved, but it just needs to be rephrased: Unpack, reduce, and prioritize. We tried to purge a lot of things during the packing, but as we unpack we keep finding things that we realize should have been pitched rather than packed. And though the new place is a couple hundred square feet bigger than the old, we have a lot less storage. So, a lot of work to do here, still.

Take care of us. It’s important to remember to take rests, not to let ourselves stress about things, and so on.

Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization. I have thus far totally failed to get organized regarding submissions. Nearly half the year is gone and I’ve only submitted to two places. I have consolidated all of my notes for the revisions, and now that we’ve moved I can get back to that.

So June is going to be a reset month, now that the big disruption is over. My specific tasks for the month are:

  • Get back into the rhythm of editing the novel.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries.
  • Get the iris bulbs, monitors, and other things that we want to give away handed off to people who said they wanted them.
  • Go through the rest of the Christmas decoration bins and finish that purge.
  • Write something that isn’t in one of the novels.

Dancing my plot with a playlist

“Music is like breathing—I don't get tired of breathing, and don't get tired of music.” —Ray Charles

“Music is like breathing—I don’t get tired of breathing, and don’t get tired of music.” —Ray Charles

I often listen to music while I’m writing. But I don’t just listen to random music; I make special playlists for certain characters or projects. My oldest playlist (rather uncreatively named “Writing”) was created in 2003, when iTunes first became available for Windows1.

A friend recently commented that a lot of my playlists re-use songs. He’s right, particularly since many of the lists I’ve been sharing lately are based on some of my writing lists2. That’s because I assign some songs to particular characters. Or I assign some songs to particular character combinations. For instance, I use the Matt Goss song, “Evil” if I’m working on a story or section of one of the fantasy novels when the characters of Madame Valentina and the Zombie Lord figure prominently; because the song’s lyrics sound like something that Madame Valentina would say to her former friend and comrade-in-arms about why they are no longer friends. Other songs represent something a bit more abstract and just wind up in lots of playlists.

I listened to music while writing long before having a program that could play pre-programmed lists. And I even had playlists, of a sort. I used to make myself mix tapes3 on cassette. Like the playlists now, they were often meant as sort of a soundtrack for a project I was working on at the time. Before I had that technology, I used to like to listen to certain albums on vinyl while I wrote4. But more often I listened to the radio, where I had no control on what music would come up.

I’ve had multiple friends comment that they can’t write at all while listening to music that has lyrics. They can only write to music if the music is only instrumental. They mention this because they are confused when the vast majority of my writing playlists are made up of songs (often dance, pop, or rock songs, but queercore, baroque pop6, and broadway style musicals7 figure heavily as well) that have lyrics. I attribute this ability to two things. First, the fact that back when I was 11 years old9 and such I listened to the radio while I wrote. But another factor is familiarity. I usually only put songs that I know relatively well into the playlists, which means I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power parsing the lyrics when I hear it.

But even when I put new songs that I have only just discovered into the playlist they quickly become familiar. Because—and this is something I only realized recently is different than the way these friends use writing playlists—I don’t just listen to the playlist while I’ve actually writing. I listen to the playlist to get me in the mood to write a story. By which I don’t mean I sit quietly listening to the playlist hoping that I’ll eventually feel like picking up the keyboard and getting to work. No, I listen to the playlist during the day at the office, or while riding the bus to work, or while walking home, and so on.

I mentioned above that some songs function as themes for some of my characters or certain relationships, but I also have some songs that are essentially theme songs for specific subplots, or story arcs, or even specific plot twists. It’s not that I sit down and think, “Okay, this moment here needs a song,” it’s more that I’ll hear a song and find that when I listen to it it makes me think about that bit of the story. So I add the song to one of my existing writing lists; or I take subsets of several existing writing lists plus this song that hasn’t been in one of the lists before, and put together a new one. Which is another reasons that some of my lists repeat songs in other lists.

I know that I’m not the only person who uses inspirational playlists this way. But clearly the idea of listening to a writing playlist other than when you’re writing isn’t an obvious one. And it is true that sometimes I find, while I’m actually writing, that I need to switch to something other than the new writing playlist I’ve been listening to recently. There are times when I’m focused more on the words than the story. But that doesn’t happen often.

I think that might be another difference. I’ve always had a little trouble understanding why some people get so hung up on what to write next. Particularly when they describe struggling to find exactly the right word, or that a particular sentence kept coming out awkward. Because writing isn’t about showing off your gigantic vocabulary. It’s storytelling. And you can tell any story, even a new and unique one that is yours and yours alone many ways. This is sort of an extension of an idea that Stanley Fish talks about in his excellent book, How to Write a Sentence. Fish argues that the basic tool of the trade of a writer is the sentence, not the word, because words don’t take on their exact meaning until they are put in the context of a sentence, right?

The important part of a story aren’t specific sequences of words or astonishing turns of phrase. The story is about the characters confronting a problem, how they react to it, how they grow (or fail to) as they endure the slings and arrows of the tale. It’s about how the reader feels about those things. It’s about how the reader is moved by the events, what those events mean to the characters, and the state of each character as they reach their final fates.

That’s why lyrics shouldn’t distract you. Because good songs speak to your emotions. And emotions and events are what you need to be focusing on while writing your story. The words are just how you get there. They aren’t the end, they’re the means.

Put on your headphones, queue up some music that makes your heart and soul want to dance. Then, start writing.


Footnotes

1. That’s right, I used iTunes for three years before I owned my first iPod.

2. I very very occasionally publish lists of the songs on my blog. I slightly more often zip up all the songs in a list and share the file with friends who express interest.

3. Other people made mix tapes to get to people they were romantically interested in or already dating as a way to express their feelings. I assembled tapes of songs for myself.

4. Once I had my own record player, I could put a stack of vinyl albums on the spindle, and it would play one side of each album one after the other. It only held three albums5, but it was a way to build a very primitive sort of playlist.

5. The big stereo in the living room could hold five or six albums in a queue!

6. For instance, Rufus Wainwright or John Grant.

7. Yes, I’m the kind of queer man who listens to musicals! So sue me!8

8. It almost goes without saying that I appeared in musicals in school, but the truly frightening thing is that I’ve written a musical!

9. I decided to become a writer when I was four or five years old, after Mom responded to my question about where books come from. I wrote my first “book” when I was six. I learned to type at age 10, and wrote a lot of short stories on my mom’s Easter Pink Smith-Corona Silent Super typewriter until, just before my twelfth birthday, my paternal grandmother gave me her 1952 Remington Let-R-Riter. I owned my own typewriter! And I went crazy with the writing.

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

According to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” a particular ethnic group had over 50 words for snow. Though I’ve also heard people misquote the same pseudo-factoid as 180 words for snow. You can follow the link to get some information on the faulty reasoning that led to the initial viral spread of the misunderstanding of an anthropologist’s book in the 1940s, but I always thought that if the myth were true, that the dialect of English spoken by inhabitants of Seattle would have developed at least 180 synonyms for drizzle. Not rain, drizzle.

Despite Seattle’s reputation for rain, we don’t get a lot of the heavy rainstorms that people who live in other parts of the world are used to. We don’t actually get that many rainy days at all. What we have are lots of overcast days. Many, many days of cool, damp weather that may include a little drizzle or mist here and there. Yeah, during some months (November, for instance) we get some deluges. This year we had literally the wettest winter since we started keeping records here 122 years ago, and last year was the second-wettest ever, so the pattern may be changing. We’ll see. In any case, much of our reputation for rain comes from all those cool, damp overcast days where it feels as if it must have just rained a bit ago, even though it may not have for several days.

Another reasons we have such a reputation is the sneaky prank Mother Nature likes to play on newcomers every spring. Every year, at some point in the month of May, we get a week or two of weather that seems like summer. It usually only gets into the low or middle seventies (Farenheit), but the thing is that after months of overcast days, drizzly days, and occasional rainstorms, a week or two of sunny weather with no rain at all and warm temperatures in the daytime fools people who think that summer is here. Never mind that most of those nights the temperatures drop back down to the 50s or 40s, in the middle of the day it was warm and sunny and dry, so summer must be here.

And then the June Gloom hits.

An upper atmosphere trough settles in causing almost constant on-shore flow. Cool, moist air from the ocean keeps coming inland. So every night we get overcast/foggy cool weather, and the clouds and fog may or may not burn off at all during the day time. And we get drizzles and light showers. Temperatures may get up into the low 70s for a little bit each day, but between the lack of sun, the damp, and the rain, it doesn’t feel that warm. Statistically, we have mostly June Gloom instead of summer until about July 12. And particularly in contrast to those couple of weeks of what seemed like summer, that long cool period breaks the spirit of people who from around here.

This last weekend was the end of our faux summer. And it was a lot warmer than our usual May foray into warmth. The temperatures got up into the 80s. But then the drizzle and rain came back. I happen to love the rain and the cooler days, but it this time it was a bit of a shock even to me. I couldn’t figure out last night—after I got home from work and ran my two errands, then peeled off my office drag and switched to shorts—why I was so cold! I actually had to pull a pair of sweat pants out of the drawer!

I’ve also heard a theory that the reason people who don’t live here long think it rains a lot is precisely because common English doesn’t have a single word that means “cool, overcast, with the impending feeling of rain.” Since the categories we sort things into are at least someone dictated by the language(s) we speak, the argument goes, people actually mentally perceive those days without rain as rainy. A friend once told me about the time she admonished her husband and son to go outside and get some activity in while the sun was out… it was late winter/early spring and the sun was not out at all, the sky was very overcast. But it wasn’t raining and it had been the day before. She said, “You live enough years in Seattle, and you start seeing any time when it isn’t raining and it isn’t so dark you need artificial light as sunny!”

We’d had enough warm days that I was starting to think that making a pot of ice tea might be a good idea. Of course, we tossed out a lot of redundant dishes and such during the packing, and when I looked in the cupboards, I couldn’t find a proper pitcher. We haven’t completely unpacked, yet, so I may well have something that would work in one of the boxes. So I didn’t want to run out and buy a pitcher. The other problem is that Michael will only drink tea if it is so saturated with sugar that you can’t get more to dissolve in. Ordinary sweet tea like my grandma’s used to make (where you dissolve several cups of sugar into the tea when the water is still boiling, because once you’ve iced it you can’t get them much sugar to dissolve into it) isn’t quite sweet enough for him. Meanwhile, I can’t drink that much sugar anymore, so I drink all my tea (hot or cold) or coffee without any sweetener.

If we had had one more day of hot weather, I would have broken down, made a mug of hot unsweetened tea with my electric kettle, then poured it into a big glass full of ice cubes. Which isn’t quite as good as having a whole pitcher of tea you can refill from, but tastes good. And now we’re going to cool weather for a while. So I’ve pulled my collection of tea bags out of the pantry. The tea bags had been out of sight since sometimes early in the move, so I haven’t been making tea at night. On days that I’m home all day, I wind up making a second pot of coffee and drinking coffee into the evening. Which is fine, except I think that tea in the afternoon and evening changes the way my brain works.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get back into the writing zone. Or maybe I’m just too tired from all the packing and unpacking. And it isn’t as if there isn’t still a lot of unpacking to do!

Maybe I should have a nice cup of tea before I tackle the next box.

Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?)

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me...

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me…

At some point a few weeks ago I made a promise to myself: “There will come a weekend where I don’t have to drive multiple times back and forth on that route from Ballard to Shoreline.” Back in April when I first checked the address on a map, I was delighted that it was so close to the home of good friends. I knew most of the route quite well! Driving up for the appointment to look at the place and decide whether to apply for it wasn’t just familiar, it was comfortable. Driving the route had usually meant we were on our way to spending time with good friends. It was merely 25 minutes each way! But after we signed the lease the route soon became something else. The first weekend we drove the route back and forth at least 9 times. And just about every work night the following week I made the trip at least once.

I’d come home from work, load up the car, drive to new place, unload the car, then possible do a couple of small things before driving back. While I was out Michael would be packing more boxes. Once I got home I would usually start packing, too. Sometimes I would simply load up the car and drive up again. Then the next weekend it was multiple trips every day again. Until the day of the big move, and we started sleeping at the new place. Then my routine became come home from work, hop in the car and drive back to the old place to pack more little things and/or clean. And so on. Thus did the once familiar and happy-making route become a dreaded chore.

We managed to take at least one night off each week. One night where each of us came home from work and did virtually no packing and there was absolutely no driving back and forth. I didn’t always skip any and all moving activity on the night off. Just not having to spend that time—nearly on hour—in transit was quite a relief.

A couple of weekends ago, when I said to some friends how much I was looking forward to the weekend that I knew would arrive eventually when I didn’t have to drive that route again and again, one friend shuddered and said, “Oh! I know that feeling. Believe me!”

It isn’t fun… Read More…

It used to be called Decoration Day… (or, Memorial for Grandma)

I’ve written before about why Memorial Day shouldn’t be confused or conflated with Veteran’s Day — and I am hardly the only person to draw attention to that distinction (Washington Post: Why Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, CNN: Get it straight: The difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington Examiner: Why you shouldn’t confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day NPR: Memorial Day Dos and Don’ts.

Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I  on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa.

Flowers from Mom, my sister, and I on the grave this year for Grandma and our step-grandpa.

Some of those articles mention the original holiday, but they get one bit wrong. Before the first official federal observation of a Memorial Day, at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, there was another holiday observed in many parts of the country—long before the Civil War—called Decoration Day, which was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. My Grandmother observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968.

Grandma died exactly ten years ago last week, and it still hurts to think about. The fact that she was putting flowers on the grave of another beloved family member when she died just makes me even more of an adamant defender of the original, non-jingoistic, non-warmongering version of the holiday. But rather than rant about that, I should post about my grandmother, a wonderful woman who taught me so much.

So, for Grandma (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) seven years ago on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter


Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa's grave this year.

Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa’s grave this year.

And if you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that we also put flowers on my Grandpa’s grave. Grandpa served in WWII in Italy. He didn’t drive a tank, he drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. And this post is also dedicated to his memory.

And we’re out!

The flower bed after I dug up all the irises. Will be sharing rhizomes with people who offered to take some.

The flower bed after I dug up all the irises. Will be sharing rhizomes with people who offered to take some.

I had to be at the old place in the middle of the day Tuesday to meet the people who were going to haul away our second fridge. Or, since we don’t actually own the other fridge at the old place, I guess this one was our only fridge. How we (Ray & I originally) came to have a refrigerator of our own in addition to the appliances that came with the rental property before moving into the Ballard place 21 years ago, leading to some years later when said fridge died Michael & I buying a replacement so we still had two fridges is a tale for another day. Regardless, since someone needed to be there the meet the haulers and sign paperwork, and since we’d disconnected the internet service at the old place, and there wasn’t any real furniture (so I didn’t want to haul my laptop there and try to work from home the whole day), I took most of the day off and spent the time I was waiting digging up the irises.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, these irises are descending from a small bag of rhizomes my grandma gave me some years before she died. Every few years I’ve dug them up and thinned them, usually finding some people to take the excess off my hands. I’d mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago that this might be the last time I’d see grandma’s irises blooming, since we don’t have a yard at the new place. And a bunch of people, including several of my in-laws, said if I did want to dig them up they would take some. And one former co-worker pointed out that she had kept some large irises when she lived in an apartment without a yard in a one of those large, half-barrel style containers for several years until she bought a house and could plant them.

So many people offered to take some, I figured that I’d try to dig up the whole bed. Fortunately, the part of the structure that is transplantable (sometimes people call them bulbs, sometimes corms or tubers; when I looked it up to see if I was using the correct term, I learned that anatomically the part in question on irises is a rhizome) tends to grow close to the surface and half the time above the surface (particularly if you’re a bit overdue on the thinning, because they start growing over each other), so there wasn’t a lot of actual digging. I had to use the tiller a lot to loosen the soil, but mostly it was a matter of just pulling them up, shaking off the dirt, and piling them. Then I went through the pile to cut off the flowers and leaves so that I only bagged up the part people will need to replant to get them growing again…

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Confessions of a penny pinching packrat

Every single penny accounted for…

A recent Tumblr post reminded me of one of the reasons that people who aren’t packrats don’t understand packrat behavior. Packrat behavior is sometimes clinically defined in terms of controlling anxiety. The biggest anxiety in question, and the one we mention least often, is economic anxiety. And the thing about economic anxiety that is most misunderstood is that it is not irrational.

Tumblr user Ignescent explained it really well:

This really locked into my brain when I was reading one of the declutter your space things and it suggested getting rid of duplicate highlighters and pens. /Pens/. It suggested that you needed one or two working pens, so if you had extra you should get rid of them. That was when I realized minimalist living was /innately/ tied to having spare money, because the idea was, of course you just went out and bought the single replacement thing whenever the first thing broke. You obv. Had the time and money to only ever hold what you needed that moment, because you could always buy more later.
—ignesecent.tumblr.com

There were several years of my life when every single dime of every paycheck was already allocated before I got it. This wasn’t because I was bad at money management or because I was living above my means (at least not the way that people who like to throw that phrase around use it) or because I was lazy, it was because I made very little money, period. I was attending college part time and working three jobs (three jobs). My mom was working full time (when for health reasons she shouldn’t have been working at all), lived in another state, and was trying to support my younger sister. My parents had been divorced for years at that point and one of my dad’s least awful behaviors was that he absolutely refused to even fill out financial aid forms for any of his five children, let alone send any support that wasn’t ordered by a court.

In that situation, any unexpected expense—no matter how small—meant skipping at least one meal during that pay period. I’m not exaggerating. At least half of my meals at the time were things like cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. Not the “expensive” kind with a picture of orange sauce-slathered pasta on the box. I’m talking the plain white box with black block printing that sold for 20-cents a box (and about four or five times a year would go on sale for 10 boxes for a dollar, so you’d buy five bucks worth when it did because that meant you had a cushion in case of an unexpected expense later).

And a good portion of my childhood was spent with our family living like that. I talk about the bullying in school, but that wasn’t the only horror that school sometimes visited upon me. You don’t want to know the terror and humiliation that comes over a kid from a struggling family if you are informed that this next assignment requires your parent to buy something unexpected. Or that there is a $10 fee required for this class activity that is part of your grade.

So, yes, when Michael and I were loading the last of the Christmas decorations out of the storage space at our old apartment this weekend and I discovered yet another old monitor that we had wrapped up and stashed when we replaced it years ago, I felt a bit of embarrassment, because that meant we had a total of six old monitors to get rid of, instead of the two that we had thought just a week ago.

But another part of me knew why it was there. Because things break. You have the money now to buy that new monitor you’ve been pining after for months, and you’ve double-checked, triple-checked, and quadruple-checked your bank accounts and all of your bills for the next few months before spending the money (because you always do that before spending money), and it’s nice and pretty and so much better than this old thing you probably should have replaced a year ago.

But you do not, repeat, do not dispose of the old monitor. You don’t donate it to charity. You sure as heck don’t throw it away! You put it away, because if some disaster happens and your shiny new monitor gets fried when lightning strikes your building (it happened to my ex- years ago, one lightning storm and half of her electronics were fried) or whatever, you can pull that old monitor out of the basement and keep working for however long it takes to save up to buy a replacement.

Yes, sometimes when we replace an appliance or a computer part or accessory, we will pass it on to a friend we know needs it. But the reason we are able to do that? Is because we know that we still have the older one that we replaced four years ago in storage, so if something goes wrong for us, we have that back up.

It doesn’t matter that for years I’ve been lucky enough to have relatively stable employment and the wherewithal to cover my bills without worrying about skipping meals if a tiny unexpected expense comes up. It doesn’t matter because I know I’ve had to live that way before, and I know that it could happen again. It isn’t about an irrational fear or lack of planning.

It is planning.

There are checklists in the back of my mind all time: do we have enough food in the cupboard to make meals for the next couple of weeks? Do I know which bills I have to pay in the next two months and the approximate total to cover them? Is the gas tank on the car full? Did I pay up the Orca card so my bus pass will work for the next two weeks? If the microwave or stove break do I have an alternate/backup means to cook until we can get something replaced or repaired? And yes, if my pen runs dry when my rent is due, do I have backups so I don’t have to make time to go buy a replacement before I can write the rent check and hand it in on time?

Those aren’t silly, or paranoid, or stupid fears. My living spaces haven’t been cluttered my whole life because I have a sloppy mind.

I understand that there are hidden costs to the packrat behavior. I know that storing all these extra things is using up space that could be used for something else. Packing items super tight into every available nook and cranny means you have to spend more time later looking for something. It can mean that you aren’t aware of a physical problem with part of the house because you can’t see that back wall over there and don’t know that some water damage happened because the neighbor tried to fix a sink themselves rather than call a professional, and they cleaned up their side, but not before some seeped through to your wall.

And I right now I’m am hyper aware of how much extra time, effort, and money it takes to move (or sort through and dispose of) all that extra stuff that I’ve been storing all this time.

Knowing this makes it a little easier for a time to tamp down that chorus in the back of my head that speaks in the voices of my grandparents and great-grandparents about not getting rid of things that we might need some day.

The truth is that the chorus isn’t wrong. We might need that some day.

I say this because I don’t want my recent self-deprecating comments about my packrat tendencies to be taken as justification to upbraid anyone for being a packrat. It’s one thing for me to decry my own issues, but it’s important to remember that the “ideal” uncluttered minimalist lifestyle is a product of economic privilege that not everyone has. Scolding someone for not being able to achieve it is just as wrong-headed as blaming young people for not owning a house on the occasional purchase of avocado toast.

(Click to embiggen)

Unknown Search Terms and other meta-blogging emphemera

Cat with a manual typewriter.One of the things that I have enjoyed since moving my blogging to FontFolly.Net hosted on WordPress five years ago has been seeing all the information about traffic to my site at a glance. Such as the Referrers–a section of the dashboard that shows you when someone followed a link on another site to my blog, or used a search engine. That information is available over on my author site (SansFigLeaf.Com), but I have to work harder to get the logs and parse them. WordPress does the work for me.

I used to really enjoy about once a month looking at the list of Search terms that people use to get to the site. As more and more people use private or anonymous browsing options, that list doesn’t change much, with more and more searches lumped into the category of Unknown Search Terms. Not that I don’t begrudge anybody some privacy, but it was amusing to speculate as to why someone had typed “bland relish tray” or “ceramic figurine queen jubilee” into a search engine, and whether whatever post of mine it was that they clicked on was at least entertaining to them.

On the other hand, the person who once typed “collecting dictionaries” so far as I know never left a comment or asked any question about the topic. Which is kind of sad, because if they typed that search term in, I hope it was because they or someone they cared about collected dictionaries, just like I do, and it’s always fun to meet someone who shares your interests.

Search terms aren’t the only thing of interest. Another part of the dashboard lists all of my old blog posts that someone has clicked on today. Certain old blog posts come up again and again. When it is one of my series of posts about why I love science fiction and fantasy (which are usually a review of a book or series of books or a particular author or a movie or sci fi TV series), I understand, and hope that the person enjoyed the post. When it is a particular post I wrote some months back about some infamous closet cases: former anti-gay Congressman Aaron Schock and former Pinal, Arizona County Sheriff Paul Babeu, I know that most likely it means that there has been a new development in Schock’s criminal trial on federal corruption charges, because whenever a story about his case gets published on news sites, I get a few hits. This week, though, it seems the reason why is that there has been a new development in the federal corruption investigation against Babeu. So, it was interesting to learn that he may yet be brought to justice.

I am happy that the all-time most read post is one about writing, Time doesn’t work that way. Makes me think I should get some more of my draft posts about writing, storytelling, et cetera finished and uploaded.

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