Twelve weeks ago, I drove home from the Rainforest Writers Retreat to discover the world had changed more than expected in the five days I had almost no internet and even less motivation to look to the outside world. That’s what writing retreats are for.
When I left for RWR, there was worry about the growing pandemic, but it was still more of a threat than an actual thing. When I came home, well, that was another thing.
- …The Husband was now required to work at home.
- …Voluntary self-isolation had begun but wasn’t yet government mandated. Since the Husband’s work had decided to cancel all his business trips and send him home, that was enough of a sign for me.
- …Masks were becoming common.
All of these things had a learning curve to them. At the same time, I started watching the news and the numbers of the United States versus the World in Infected, Dead, and Recovered rates.
According to my journal, my first recorded notations were on March 18. All numbers are from the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
As of Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
US: 10,775 infected. World: 235,701 infected; 9,786 dead.
As of Sunday morning, May 31, 2020.
These are not good numbers and I’m pretty sure things are only going to get worse as the summer continues on.
I’ve had my moments of pain over the last twelve weeks. Mostly grieving for my father who I last saw alive over Memorial Day weekend 2019. I do miss sitting in coffee shops, gaming in person with my friends, and having my weekly writing group at my house. Overall, I’m fine. I’m an author and an editor. I spend most of my time at home anyway. My biggest sadness is the necessary cancellation of my convention season. It’s the best thing the world can do right now, but I really do miss going to conventions. More than missing the revenue I got from them (ko-fi anyone?), I miss meeting up with my editors, publishers, and peers.
The Husband and I have worked out the new daytime working routine. We take walks. Cook a lot more at home. Occasionally order out to help support our local mom-and-pop restaurants. We are incredibly privileged and we know it. It’s why we do what we can to help out.
Twelve weeks in and we’re doing fine. I don’t see this pandemic burning itself out anytime soon. I have no idea how long this is going to last. So, we make the best of it as we can. It’s all we can do.
It’s about six weeks into quarantine for me. I’ve heard a bunch of names for this period of time: “Covidcation,” “The Year without a Convention,” “The Virus Troubles,” “The Year of Self Quarantine,” “The Plague Year,” and my favorite “The Great Pause.”
It truth, while I’m doing well most of the time, I have had my moments. I am grateful that I am in quarantine with the Husband and the kitties. I am grateful that I am an introvert 90% of the time. I am grateful for my job of novel writing and anthology editing. Most of all, I am grateful for my latchkey kid upbringing. It taught me independence, self-sufficiency, and self-entertainment.
I was a latchkey kid from the time I was nine years old. In fact, from 9-11, I pretty much lived in a quarantine situation. We lived in Belgium, off-base. That meant I knew no one around my house. We rode the bus home, let ourselves in, did homework, and prepared dinner on our own until our parents came home around 6-7pm. We entertained ourselves. We played in the backyard, read, played card games, and made up stories.
That brings me to the wall hanging I’ve dubbed, “The Three Bears of Childhood.” We had this wall hanging in our house for as long as I can remember. My sister found it again while she was helping mom declutter. She pinged me and my brother to see if either of us wanted it. We both did. I acquiesced. A couple weeks later, I was still thinking about the wall hanging. On a whim, I searched for, and found it, on eBay.
Of course I bought it. (Though, I ordered the 37” x 54” one and got the 54” x 78” one. Luckily, the spot I wanted to hang it in—the library nook—was big enough.)
This wall hanging is one of the reasons I’m dealing so well with self-isolation. I have memories of me, my sister, and my brother staring up at it while we created stories about what the three baby bears where doing and how the mom bear was reacting to “our” antics. Because, of course, we were the three baby bears. There were three of us and three of them. (Dad worked a lot in those days. So, we always said that dad bear was out hunting for food.)
Like rereading a favorite book, I am comforted by the sense of familiarity, of “home.” The wall hanging reminds me of my childhood and more innocent times. It is a balm during this time of self-isolation. For me, it’s soothing to hold such childhood memories out for examination and remembrance.
(12 days left in the kickstarter for limited editons of my Bram Stoker nominated anthology, A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. It’s funded. Now we’re trying for interior artwork. Please help if you can.)
North Carolina was hot and humid and generally awful to Seattlite me. Good things and bad happened; more good than bad, all things considered.
Dad’s memorial was 90% good and 10% awful. I enjoyed and appreciated everything that John (BIL), Shannon (sister), and Pastor Stan (former pastor) said and did. I think those parts of the service were a memorial worthy of Dad.
Unfortunately, the “new” pastor—he’s been there 3 years and I still can’t remember his name—took a religiously myopic view of the service, turning the memorial into a sermon without any regard for the friends and family of differing faiths that my father had.
I mentioned this to Mom a couple days later. I’m glad she likes him, he is her pastor after all, but I think he really needs to rethink his process for future funerals/memorials.
Basically, he preached that Dad was baptized at 50, thus saved…and any of you heathens out there, that aren’t saved in the proper manner, won’t see him again unless you convert to the one true way. Of course, the words were prettied up, and backed by an odd reading about the centurion who wanted his servant healed…and how he was a military man who understood he wasn’t worthy. I think the pastor chose this reading because he really didn’t know Dad. He was a man who had left the military over 30 years ago and often didn’t want to talk or think about that time in his life.
It was almost as if the pastor didn’t actually know what a funeral was for or that people of different faiths might attend…like the Muslim woman who was one of Dad’s longest friends from when he first came to North Carolina. Much less the different Christian and non-Christian faiths that were represented. Mostly, I wish it had been a funeral rather than a sermon. Instead of being soothed, I walked away irritated, feeling unwelcome, and not charitable towards that church. It’s an unfortunate memory to carry with me from my Dad’s memorial.
Mom was brave throughout the memorial and only cried through Taps. She says she isn’t a strong woman. I guess she’s got enough stubbornness, persistence, and willpower to fake it. I think my relationship with Mom has leveled up in some undefinable way. We talked and laughed and remembered together. For the first time, I really worried about leaving her to go home and understood the stereotypical meme of wanting Mom to move in.
I think my relationship with my sister also leveled up. The day after the memorial was done, Shannon gave herself permission to fall apart. At one point, she started crying and said, “I need my sister.” I hugged her and pet her hair. We’ve talked more in the last few months than in the last few years. I think we’ll keep it up.
The Husband was a rock through this whole thing. He was ready to help out, move things, and run-go-fetch at a moment’s notice. He also was happy to sit there in companionable silence. I appreciated that so much. So did Mom.
Grief has not been kind to my writing career. I’m months late on the next BattleTech novel. My editor knows and understands. I’m going to spend some time at the ocean by myself in a private writing retreat where I can work and cry and re-center myself in the new normal that my world has become. Life goes on for those of us who are still living. I know my grieving isn’t over but I hope after my retreat, it will mostly be at peace.
Declutter Monday for the 19th was a bit scattered. The first task was to gather up all the cat toys, beds, and stuff that the cats don’t use but clutter up the floor. The second was a round 2 on the family room. It was a lot of editing down of big furniture. Not that exciting.
Declutter Monday for the 26th was actually a Round 1 for me; I tackled the rarely talked about digital decluttering of my phone, my desktop, and my computer file structure.
Thought 1: Decluttering my phone was hard…and easy. I deleted all the shortcuts of programs I never use. Moved like items into their own folder (IE: social media, businesses, games, and office programs). Then examined and removed unused programs. One of the most annoying things is that there are programs you don’t use that you cannot remove from the phone. The only thing you can do is remove it from the start screen.
Thought 2: One of the hardest things for me in decluttering my phone was hiding/grouping all my social media apps and all my game apps. I'm so use to going to them out of habit—a habit I want to break—that putting them one layer down will make me stumble. One day later and it’s annoying, but I’m twitching towards my phone less. So, that’s good.
Thought 3: Desktops are like dining room or kitchen tables: prone to collect things. Decluttering my desktop turned out to be surprisingly easy. I pulled ALL of the shortcuts, images, and files from my desktop into a single folder last week. If I reached to click on it, I pulled it out. I decided that if I hadn’t wanted to click on it in the last week, I didn’t need it on the desktop. I moved the one picture and two PDF files to their appropriate places and deleted the folder. No muss, no fuss.
I’ve never seen my desktop so clean. I now have 10 shortcuts on my desktop: 4 social media, 3 programs, my dowloads folder, trash can, and my main computer. Note: I do have a number of programs on my taskbar at the bottom of my screen and a notes app on the right side with a list of dates and tasks coming up. This is how I actually use my desktop. I like the minimal look.
Thought 4: You need to be thoughtful on your clean up, declutter, and re-organization of your file structure. I made the tactical error of moving a large folder with 8000+ files in it. That took 90 minutes and seriously interrupted my flow. Start small. Declutter/delete FIRST then organize. As a writer, I have way-way too many old files, novel versions, and redundancy options for “just in case.”
Thought 5: Decluttering your file folders and modifying your file structure is going to reveal emotional landmines you didn’t remember were there. (Terrible) Old, half-finished stories. Letters. That folder of ECC LARP admin stuff? I will say, as much as it is a pleasure to shred, it is also a pleasure to delete. I’m an intellectual magpie, but I’m old enough to know that I don’t need a lot of this hanging around.
Thought 6: If you think it will embarrass you, or your family, should the worst happen…and you don’t actually need that file or folder or story or information or letter…delete it. It’s not worth the mental or emotional baggage.
Thought 7: You may have to keep unpleasant stuff: stalking/doxxing proof. Bad contracts. Stuff that you need a history of. Put them in their own purgatory file. You’ll have them, but you won’t run across them unexpectedly.
I think this ends my official Round 2 of decluttering. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I can let my things and stuff rest for a bit. I suspect I’ll do a lot of random little decluttering here and there as time/emotions permit. I’ll try to keep track of them for a round up Declutter Monday.
Note: I know I haven’t done any sentimental decluttering. At all. I’m feeling a bit fragile right now with the death of my father. It’s probably going to have to wait until next year. Until then, the sentimental drawer can sit where it is: cluttering up the bottom of my nightstand—where it is out of sight and mostly out of mind.
Dad died yesterday. Born: 14 May 1946. Died: 19 Aug 2019. He was 73 years old. I’ve been mourning him since my last visit over Memorial Day weekend. It was the last good time he had. His health declined rapidly after my visit, then plummeted after my brother’s visit. He was diagnosed with IPF 4 years ago. It started getting bad about 14-18 months ago. It’s been the worst for the last 3 months.
I sent him this letter after I got home. Mom said he cried over it and reread it many times. I sent him a post card or greeting card every week since then. His favorite gift from me was a subscription to LetterJoy. He loved non-bill mail. It was the least I could do to try to brighten his day as the end neared. This letter says everything I could say as a memorial to him.
28 May 2019
I’m on the plane home from our visit. I thought, since you enjoy real letters so much, I would write you one. I’m so glad I visited. I’m glad you were having a good week and we got one last chance to spend time together. I’m glad I got to share “700 Sundays” with you. I knew you would like it.
It is both wonderful and terrible to know that you are probably speaking the last in-person words to your father you will ever speak. When you said that you were “on your way out.” I said, “I know.” I thought I had it all together. I didn’t. And I didn’t realize this until we spoke our probable last good-bye. Not everyone gets that chance.
As soon as we got in the car I thought of so many things I meant to tell you. Little things like the fact that I still have the Christmas letter you wrote me in 1980, giving me the gift of Charity. I have it framed and hanging on my wall. It’s something I will never forget. I cherish that letter. I think it changed me, changed me for the good.
There is so much of you in me. I know you don’t always approve of my actions—my tattoos, some of my personal opinions, my language—but I am your daughter through and through. I am grateful for many of the lessons you taught me early in life. Things like doing a job well, considering the consequences of my actions, taking responsibility for my successes and my mistakes. Fixing what I can and passing on what I can’t.
I remember dinners when we were growing up where you’d entertain us with jokes and stories. I remember the good times. The tough times have faded into an indistinct blur. We say that you are the sentimental one in the family. I think much of that has been passed on. I cherish our football watching days and times you would tell me about a particular stone I got for you.
I want you to know that you’re in my thoughts and always will be. I will never forget that you always tried your best with me, Shannon, and Scott. All I want for you now is peace and contentment. I hope you get it. I want you to be happy. I don’t know how to make that happen, but that thought is always on my mind.
You told me that you loved me and to remember that you’ve had a good run. I’m glad of that. Not every family gets to say such while they’re together. It will make Memorial Day that much more important to me. To remember you as a veteran, as my father, and as our last visit together.
Of course, “end stage” IPF means so many things. 2 months to 2 years on average. You’ve never been average a day in your life. If you live to see Memorial Day 2020, I will rejoice. But I’m never going to regret telling you these things. Some things are meant to be heard by the living and to be remembered after death. I wanted to make sure you know and understand how much you mean to me, how much of you lives on in me, and how grateful I am to finally understand this.
Sometimes a child has to grow up to understand the adult their parent has been all their lives. I love you. I will see you when I see you.
My favorite picture of me and Dad, Monterey Bay, 1992
If you would like to donate in his name, your local animal shelter would be good. Dad loved dogs and rescued many over his lifetime. Or PBS. He really liked PBS. Please send all cards to:
6830 NE Bothell Way, STE C #404
Kenmore, WA 98028
My father is ill. Very, very ill. He probably won’t last out the year. More likely, he’s already seen his last holiday season. I’ve been dealing with this on an intimate level for months. My writing and my mood have suffered. My sister and Mom have been dealing with it up close and personal for much longer than that. They’re suffering, too. But we’ve all been taught to “do what you have to do when you have to do it.”
My father has end stage idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis AKA his lungs don’t work and he’s not a candidate for a transplant. I visited him over Memorial Day weekend. Despite how he looked shocking me, it was a good visit and he was doing great for the time I was there. Once I left, though, he went downhill bit by painful bit until “worse” became the new normal. He was put on palliative hospice care.
Last week, Dad was moved to a hospital bed in the house. The last bed he will ever be in. His literal deathbed—and figuring out if that was one word or two really sucked. He can’t really walk anymore. His blood oxygen level fluctuates too wildly, too low. Even when he’s just sitting there. I saw him have coughing/panting fits. I thought they were bad. According to my family, no, they weren’t. At all. They say watching him in a “real” coughing fit is like watching him drown in slow motion (another phrase I never wanted to understand). It also sounds like dementia (it runs in my family on my father’s side) has kicked in.
I work to be there for my sister. She vents to me. We cry together. We support each other. I let her (and Mom) know they’re doing a good job. As much as it hurts to hear the latest update—he can’t work the TV remote anymore, he has a hard time following conversations, he gets angry and confused, he’s lashing out physically—I want to hear them. It helps me process the current and forthcoming pain. It’s giving me a thicker skin. (poetic words here about salt from tears building a scab…)
Yesterday, my sister let me know that we’ve gotten our last StoryWorth story from Dad. He needs to be medicated to such a degree that makes it impossible for him to continue. If he’s awake and aware enough to answer questions, he gets upset because he doesn't understand what's happening. He doesn’t want to answer questions and he doesn’t form many coherent sentences. Still, we got 18 stories from him. 18 out of 52 is better than 0. I’m glad I discovered StoryWorth before it was too late. I have 18 stories and a bunch of pictures that will be put in a book. Memories for the future.
My grief comes in waves like the tide. My father, who has always been one of the strongest people I know, is failing. The man I grew up with is hidden within the shell of a little old man and only comes out to visit on rare occasions. I’m happy he still finds joy in small things…his Neil Diamond CDs, his Astérix & Obélix comics that we were introduced to when we lived in Belgium, my sister and mom bringing out his silly side. But I’m sad, knowing how near the end is.
I’m limiting my time online these days as much as I can. I only have so many emotional spoons to give and they are reserved for my family and my writing. So, that’s my life for the moment.
Declutter Monday started over the weekend with decluttering the art in my bedroom, bathroom, and office. I have a LOT of art on the wall. When I go to conventions, I need to know where art is going in the house before I buy it. The Husband is very good at moving around artwork and hanging it. He gets out a level and a tape measure to do it. It makes everything look fab.
Thought 1: In the past, I’ve bought a lot of artwork on impulse. I don’t do that anymore. Not only do I not have space, my tastes have changed. I won’t say it’s become more refined, but I will say I’ve become more particular. I no longer keep artwork I don’t love.
Thought 2: I’ve bought a lot of artwork from friends to support them and help their conventions be better. Artwork I haven’t particularly liked. It’s okay to get rid of it now. My friends have the money. They won’t be heartbroken because I no longer have the print of that sketch they’ve sold hundreds of copies of. Don’t keep artwork that you don’t love.
Thought 3: It’s better to leave an area blank than fill it with crap. I love artwork. I find my wall-full of artwork inspires me and makes me smile. It helps my mood. But, a piece of art I don’t care for has the opposite effect. It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson. I no longer keep artwork I don’t love (I have to keep telling myself this).
Thought 4: Random revisits will happen and you will change your mind. After 10+ years of having a Keurig, we have given ours away. The Husband doesn’t really drink coffee and I’ve been drinking my instant, imported coffee. Less mess, less waste, better taste. I was happy to give the machine to a neighbor whose Keurig was dying and they were considering a new one.
Thought 5: Some of the most unexpected things need to be decluttered. Our game table, ubiquitous and ever-present, I was blind to it until the Husband said something that made me think we needed to look at our dice collection and he suggested we clean out the game table.
Thought 6: I have a lot of dice. A whole lot of dice. A lot of very pretty dice I’m not willing to part with. I did bag up a bunch of dice to share with my D&D group, though. So I feel virtuous. Plus I only kept sets of dice.
The more I get into the general living areas, the harder it is to be concise on where I’m decluttering. There’s also a lot more organizing and cleaning in Round 2 of decluttering than there is of actual decluttering. I am not a minimalist. I just want to be more intentional about what we have in the house and what we use.
Next week I’m going to tackle the family room and the cat products.
Declutter Monday started over the weekend with the master bathroom, round 1 and ended on Monday with my office, round 2. That meant the bathroom was easy and the office was hard. It’s usually easier to declutter something for the first time. Especially when you have help. It’s always harder decluttering something for the second time because you don’t have the easy stuff to fall back on.
Thought 1: Pretty fades fast. The first thing we did was change out the shower curtain rod. The one we had was really pretty but it wasn’t stable. It kept falling on us. We switched it out for a simple tension rod with a holding bracket. Now it isn’t pretty but it doesn’t attack us. Pretty things need to be stable and functional.
Thought 2: Closets are a magnet for stuff. So much stuff that you don’t know what’s in there. Example: we found four Costco-sized bottles of the Husband’s shampoo. Mostly because he never knew what we had and couldn’t remember if we had shampoo. The answer is yes. Probably enough for the next two years.
Thought 3: Clean closets with enough space to store everything (while still being able to see it) lend themselves to more/better organization. The Husband surprised me and decided he wanted to clear 90% of the stuff on the sink and store it in the closet. Lucky for us, I already had the perfect organization solution for that. Now, he has only the stuff he uses on a daily/near daily basis out and the rest is at eye-level in the bathroom closet.
Thought 4: My office. What a rollercoaster. Declutter, round 2, of the office was hard. Some things were very easy to declutter like letters from 1991 from people I couldn’t remember, didn’t care to remember, or were no longer the same people they once were. It is always a pleasure to shred. On the other hand, I couldn’t get rid of my leather boots. I kept both pairs because they both looked good, felt good, and would last. Apocalypse Girl doesn’t care that I didn’t wear them at all this last winter. I might need them someday. Then again, I did get rid of three pairs of sandals I haven’t worn in ages.
Thought 5: While the closet, cubbies, and bookshelf were pretty decent to give another go over, I realized that I’d never dug into the boxes I had on my desk and cubbies. Why should I? They hid the mess. My desk boxes were fine. They still served their purposes. But the cubby box was just depressing. It was hard to force myself to go through the process of finding a home for everything that didn’t fit in the box.
Thought 6: The more you clean/declutter, the more you see what needs help. With this round 2 of my office, I’ve realized that I want to do a complete reorg of all my artwork. This time with intention. That, however, is a project for another time.
This time on Declutter Monday, I tackled the hall closet, the cat room, and my jewelry box. We were supposed to do the Master Bathroom, but we didn’t because of reasons (life). I’ll try to get that done for next week.
Thought 1: Round 2 of any declutter seems to fall into one of two categories: really hard or really easy. Hard, because you’ve already done the easy decluttering. All that’s left is the hard stuff—high quality, sentimental, unique. Easy, because you’ve already done all the hard work. What’s left is a bit of organization—now that you have space and a new eye.
Thought 2: My jewelry box fell into the hard category. I had already gotten rid of the trash, the mis-matched, the tarnished, the stuff not worth saving. I was down to good stuff I had a hard time donating. Suddenly I understood some of that need to pass it (whatever it is) on to family and friends. However, one of my sisters-in-law whom I recently re-met has almost exactly the same taste as me and is more than happy to take my good jewelry off my hands. That made the task of sorting, keeping, purging, and packaging it up so much easier.
Thought 3: The hall closet fell into the easy category. It had already been worked to death. All it needed was a bit more organization. I got to move some stuff out of the cat room now the closet had space. A place for all things. That’s the nice bit about the closet. I know what is on each shelf.
Thought 4: When decluttering a place like the cat room where you don’t want to have to dig the cat(s) out of the closet, there are some steps you need to take. Step 1 is to close the room door before you get into the closet. Step 2 is to make sure there isn't a cat already in the cat room, hiding. Steps 3 and 4 is to close the closet door before the cat gets in and remove the cat. Then you can get down to the looking, staring, and organizing.
Thought 5: The cat room was easy. Mostly because I avoided the “office/convention” shelves. All of them have been cleaned up but not perfectly organized. Since I’m about to destroy it by going to Gen Con in a couple of weeks, I decided I would do the official clean and declutter of that one bit of the room in August after we got back.
Thought 6: In truth, I think the hardest thing to declutter was my jewelry box—made easier by knowing who those pretties were going to. Yesterday's Declutter Monday focused on areas that have been cleaned and organized and not actively used in a general sense. They are not “lived in” areas. So, there wasn’t much to do. Mostly, after a bit of thought, clean and straighten.
Next week will be a different story. Sunday will be the Master Bathroom with help from the Husband (unless life) and Monday will be my office. I’m really not looking forward to my office. All that’s left is the hard stuff to think about. We’ve already bought me a new shredder in anticipation. My last one died a horrible death yesterday. Then again, it was twelve years old.
This time on Declutter Monday, we tackled the Husband’s closet and drawers (Sunday) then my bathroom (Monday).
Thought 1: When encouraging your partner to declutter, be the change you want to see. It took about a year to convince the Husband to tackle his closet. (It’s open to the bedroom. I look at it every day. So does he.) Most of the convincing was me doing my decluttering and exclaiming how awesome it was, the relief of knowing what was in my closet and loving everything therein. My closet is not perfect but it is a 1000% better.
Thought 2: If your partner has a block, see if you can figure out what it is (use your words, make observations) and suggest a solution, then let it go. His block turned out to be the second shelf that the cats liked to climb on and hid in his shirts. It (and the shirts) was SO full of cat hair, it seemed like too big of a deal. I suggested we get rid of that shelf. After a week, he agreed.
Thought 3: Don’t do the decluttering for your partner unless they ask. Be there to support them. Fetch and carry, express an opinion, but let them do it themselves. This is stuff that belongs to them. They get to decide what they want to keep, what they love, what is too sentimental to let go, and what to get rid of.
Thought 4: Revel in the new found space and hidden gems (Gothic Hawaiian shirts). Celebrate with your partner. Understand when they want a sentimental t-shirt drawer. They have the space now. Listen when they ask for a specific type of help. Do that and nothing more.
Thought 5: Decluttering my bathroom, Round 2, wasn’t hard this time but it was a lot more thoughtful. It’s been six months. This time, I didn’t have anything expired, but I did have stuff that I hadn’t used and wasn't thinking of using in the near future...but...I grew up very poor and had a rough patch in my 20s. Some of these things are hard habits to break: Hotel shampoos. Hair/face products that came with what I actually bought. A birthday gift. In the end, I got rid of most of the excess stuff I just won’t use. I also rediscovered some stuff I use all the time in travel size and moved it up to where I would use it when not traveling. (I keep a separate packed toiletries bag now—it will get a declutter in Jan 2020.)
Next week’s decluttering will start on Sunday, too. The Husband decided he wanted to be part of the master bathroom clean out. I said I would do it without him. He didn’t want that. I didn’t touch this room last time, so this isn’t actually a round 2 on it. Since the Husband wants his two cents worth on it, he gets it. That bathroom closet needs help in a big way. After that, it’s the hall closet and another look at the cat room.