Thinking about Fiction

For most of my adult life, (or at least for as long as I have known what Myers-Briggs meant), I’ve identified as an introvert. Though I’m not any kind of Myers-Briggs cheerleader, I do feel that “introvert” makes sense for me. I like being alone some of the time, and I find that the best way for me to reenergize is to do some solitary activity: reading, writing, yoga, watching bird cams or people gardening on YouTube, blah blah blah, etc.
Lately, though, people have been telling me my self-perception could be wrong. During these last months of isolation, I’ve talked to a few friends who have teased me about how much I “do” while offering compassion for the sadness I’ve felt not being able to “do” all my things. “I don’t do THAT much,” I keep arguing. “You do a lot,” they say. “You do way more than me,” they also say.
I’ve had a long few months to mull this over. I guess it is true that I do a lot. One reason is because I live alone, and in order to make that work for me, (and it has worked well for many years), I need to have a life outside my apartment. I need to have robust community outside, so I can come inside and recharge like a respectable introvert. But also, if I’m being honest, I “do” things because they give me a serotonin boost. My brain likes the flashiness of navigating a busy downtown lunch hour, or the challenge of learning a new skill with strangers, or the wonder of walking around a new neighborhood. And then, I like to take that home and write about it. And my writing fuels my desire to walk more, learn more, and experience more.
I’ve probably mentioned this in this blog before, but several years ago my friend Arlie bought me a shirt that says, “I’m going to write about this.” I definitely have. And I definitely still would, except that right now “this” is eating cold spaghetti for dinner, leaning on the door of the fridge in a quarantine-fatigued daze. “This” is pulling everything out of my front hall closet and trying to stuff in back again in a way that allows more space for more stuff that I am compulsively browsing for on the Internet. “This” is the one novelty of what feels like my entire week: hosting a Zoom meeting with some writing friends and blasting them all into randomized “break-out rooms” at my whim. “This” is obsessively wondering what I can eat next. “This” is not anything I want to write about. And my guess is that “this” is nothing you want to read about, (uh, sorry about that), since you’re likely experiencing another painfully similar version wherever you are right now.
So, I find myself sprawled on the floor with my dog vigorously sniffing my hair, (weird), letting my crazy brain daydream about fiction. Letting my imagination frolic somewhere that is not here, through stars and caves and deep underwater and high over rainforests and pyramids. Or, I flit above other people’s imagined lives, float above their living rooms watching the kid chaos and the spousal stress and listening to the thoughts of escape. In my mind, I write fiction. I write about experiences I can’t have right now. I write, pulling from, hoping for, an imagination I have not previously tried to find. I try to “do” all the things I want to do in a new way.
Are you trying to think about things in new ways right now? Or, are there ways other people see you in which you’re only beginning to see about yourself?

What I’m Doing

Watching the tiny seedlings I planted 10 days ago slowly sprout. Misting them gently and warming my hands under their grow light. Thinking about eating microgreens.
Participating in a recorder practice challenge. Some people do push-up challenges, I do recorder challenges and I’m not sorry. Playing my etudes and all the chromatics. Composing little dances and fuges for the bass.
Reading too much stuff about coronavirus and our impending doom. Not reading enough other stuff. Wanting to only read poetry for a month, but feeling that would be irresponsible.
Tracking my resident neighborhood robin on my walks around the block with Kiva. Contemplating how comforting it is that birds have no knowledge of this.
Finally being able to adhere to my long-held but barely-enforced rule, “Drink the tea you have before you buy more tea, lest your apartment become a tea museum.” Ditto eating all the jam I made last summer.
Worrying about my pickle supply. Some people freak out about toilet paper, I freak out about pickles. Aren’t we all unique and wonderful?
Feeling freaked out and discombobulated and anxious and all the things that prove I am not, in fact, unique.
Cleaning stuff like my fridge. It was really dirty. I am shame.
Hearing about babies being born and thinking that being born into this world right now seems unfathomable.
Sipping whiskey at my kitchen table, watching the light dim in the sky.
Stretching while watching the sun come up.
Feeling helpless. Feeling sad.
Hoping I can be resilient. Hoping I can continue to remind myself that right now, this is not about me and my discomfort and my loneliness.
Rolling on the floor with my dog. She is the cutest and the best and the most oblivious.
Wondering about all of you. What are you doing? What are you thinking about?
Stay strong, my loves.

Escape

I am about to do something so middle class, so privileged person with a job and no kids, something that I never thought I would be able to do. I’m about to go to Hawaii in February. I am escaping Seattle. Leaving leaving leaving, for a week of sunshine and a beach and no work. I am a tourist. And honestly, though I FEEL like I should have some chagrin about this, I just don’t. Of course, I want to be mindful of my footprints: plane travel, in particular. And, I want to buy locally and ethically while I’m there as much as I can. Tip well, be considerate, etc. But I am so, so excited to get out of the moss-encased wet hell that is the Pacific Northwest in February. Especially this February, after our record-breaking January rainfall. I’m over it, you guys. I want out.
The other day I caught myself complaining about how much money gets taken out of my paycheck for taxes. I absolutely do feel chagrined about that. I’m happy to pay taxes. I hope with the fervency of Hermione Granger raising her hand in class that I will never forget how I financially struggled through my 20’s and early 30’s. And who knows, I may struggle again. If paying taxes can help offset that for others, even a tiny bit, I’m for it and I hope to always keep that perspective. But I’m also for using my new middle class privilege to leave the drear of this place for a week and a half.
People keep asking what I’M going to do in Hawaii, and to be honest, I don’t know and I’m not that concerned about it. What I really want is to sit in the sun for hours, drink iced coffee, eat coconut, and write. Oh god I want to write. And I want to be alone, away from crowds, from a big city, from people I don’t know. I might get the gumption to try snorkeling or rent a kayak, but mostly, I want to write and I want to feel what it’s like to be warm and dry again.

New Year, New Intention

I like the New Year. I know I’ve said so before, but I know resolutions are dumb and I would break mine in about two seconds, so I usually try to set an intention rather than a resolution. Something that is more qualitative than quantitative. Something that invites me to consider my behavior and reactions and try to improve them situation by situation. The idea being that incrementally progress is as valuable as, if not more so, tasks I can check off of a to-do list.
With that long preamble, this is my intention for 2020: I will show up like I have a right to be wherever I am.
I like learning interesting random skills. (Did you know that the saying is actually, “Jack of all trades, master of none; but oftentimes better than master of one.”?) Anyway, when I get the idea in my brain to learn something new, I try to game out what kinds of things I need to think about with regard to my disability. Will being blind affect my ability to do the thing? Or, will the task simply be to convince whoever is teaching my newly coveted skill that I can do the thing, even with my disability? Usually, the latter is the harder task.
In the past, I have gone about making teachers and instructors comfortable with my disability by demurring to their expertise. “I want to do this thing,” I’ll say to them, “but I’m blind. Do you think I can do it?” I depend on their knowledge of the thing to determine whether I’m allowed to try it. Never mind that in most of the new skills I’ve tried, the instructors have no context for blindness. They’ve never tried to teach their thing to a blind person. So often times, even if they’re game to try, they tend to have trepidations and be quick to attribute any struggles I have to my blindness instead of the learning curve of the skill. I often find that instructors do not push me or challenge me. Whatever it is I can manage is “impressive” enough because I’m doing it without sight, which they can’t imagine being able to do.
I’ve had generally ok experiences with most instructors. Unlike my struggles with potential employers, I’m usually paying them for the instruction and they don’t have to make any big commitments to me. Yet, I still feel like I can do better here, going forward. I can ask and insist on being challenged. Instead of saying, “Can I do this, Wise Instructor?”, I can say, “I think I can do this, and here’s some challenges I think I might face and some things we can try to work through them. Yay!”
These are a lot of words to get to the crux of what I want to attempt to do: I want to present my disability as an interesting feature, not a problem. Come to think of it, this could apply to many aspects in my life: my job, my relationships, etc. Over the years, solving the problem of my disability has become more tiresome and annoying. I have concluded that most of the time, my disability and I are not the problem. The structure of our framework is what’s flawed.
I’d like to spend less time being timid when I show up. I see people who walk through the world every day with the knowledge and confidence that they have the right to be where they are: learning and living and failing and succeeding. i’d like to show up like that, too: with the full knowledge that I belong, and have a right to belong, just as much as anyone else.
Happy January, all!

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this here, but in August of last year I quit Facebook. It’s been one of the best mental health decisions I’ve made, but it means that I am completely out of touch with social media trends. (I was never able to commit to Twitter, Instagram is way too visual, and at the end of the day, (every day, really), I feel fine about not having these distractions in my life.) As if proving my point, I’m apparently “missing” people posting “decade in review” videos and lists all over the socials.

It occurs to me, with this blog, I get to have it both ways: I can post my decade in review list without having to read anyone else’s. Score! No, I kid, in fact, I’d love to hear your decades in review in the comments, if you’re so moved!
The tens were a great decade for me. The tens were not a great decade for me. Both statements are true. One of the things that eventually drove me off Facebook was the curation of people’s lives: everything polished and-or adorably messy. With that in mind, here are some highlights from my decade, with as little sheen as possible, messy or otherwise:

• Apartments lived in: 4
• Cats petted: as many as I could, but always never enough
• student loans paid off: 0
• credit cards paid off: 1!
• 1st dates: a lot, like, a lot
• People I met on first dates who are now my friends: almost everyone I consider the best people I know
• recorders acquired: I swear this number was supposed to be four, two bought and two borrowed, but while digging through my music bag last week I found two altos and a soprano that I can only assume simply showed up on their own.
• people lost: 2 grandparents, 3 friends. I miss them every day.
• dogs: 1. Longest relationship I’ve had, human’s best friend, etc. Kiva to whom everything is food. My little spoon. Doggiest dog of my heart.
• number of times someone has asked me: “How does your dog know which bus is coming?”, “What’s your dog’s name?”, “How old is your dog?”, “How does your dog read traffic lights?”: To infinity and. Still worth it for the dog, but if I charged for these questions, I could pay off those loans in a month.
• Therapists: 4
• Times went to the dentist: 1, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared, and also I has healthcare now
• times I thought my apartment(s) were haunted: 3
• baby rabbits I held in my hand: 2
• Education: 1 degree and 3 professional certificates
• people I called 911 for and waited for help with: 1
• Restlessness, on a scale of 1 to 10: 8
• book clubs joined: Also 8. OK, that’s a weirdly large number.
• Saddest I was: the last four months of 2016
• Happiest I was: the last five months of 2017. And any time my work, life, exercise, hobbies, learning, and friends balance is right. It’s rare but worth it.

Now seriously, tell me things about your decade. They don’t have to be inspiring or grand. In fact, it’s better if they’re not.

I miss my parents this summer. I’ve been out of the state where I grew up for over a decade, and even though I am occasionally homesick, I am feeling it harder this past month. I don’t know why. We usually see each other about twice a year, usually once around June or July, but their visit to Seattle is a bit later this year. Maybe that is why I feel the missing more.

I miss their Sioux City house, the house in which I spent my teenage years. It’s an old house. I wrote a poem last summer that I recently rediscovered, and in it I mention the trees in the sloping yard of that house. And now I am missing those trees again, and the swing where I played out fantasies in my mind of how great I was going to be during the upcoming schoolyear. I miss the prickly bushes that scratched my arms on the way up to the wooden porch in the front. I miss being so bored on a summer afternoon that I thought the day would never end and I would die seeking entertainment and never being fulfilled.

I miss being hot, like Midwest summer hot, and walking into an air-conditioned room. (For anyone keeping score, please note that I do not miss Midwest cold.)

I miss a best friend I used to have. We both had summer birthdays. I never felt I had the amount of time with her I craved. I remember the power I felt being someone’s “one and only” best friend, and how I loved that she was mine. We certainly tested our intimacy. I believe she was the first person I said “I love you” to who was not part of my family. That, in itself, felt potent and rebellious.

Perhaps I am thinking about missing because tomorrow will be my second Seattle anniversary. I moved back on August 1, 2017. I got in around dinner time, and ate a pizza at Arlie’s house and fell asleep not having any idea if I’d done the right thing. Two years on, I think I did. Here is where I want to be, at least for now.

August 1 is also my grandfather’s birthday. My family would travel to Indianola, Iowa, where my grandparents lived and my grandmother still lives, to a hot-air balloon festival every summer in late July. I remember my grandpa’s birthday celebration being a big part of those festivities. Not because it was grandiose, but because there was cake, and he was the oldest person I knew. I deeply miss him, too.

The thing about missing. Sometimes, certainly, it is painful and unhelpful. And other times it feels reverent to spend time missing the people and memories that shape the years we get to be alive. Right now, missing feels like honoring. It’s why I write memoir. It is such a bone-deep privilege to miss.

This summer I’ve been rowing on Lake Union. It’s been about two months now, and for about the first month, my biggest desire and concern was not tipping over the boat. I committed huge amounts of brain space to making sure my boat would not tip. I imagine most of my techniques were merely psychologically soothing. Until recently, when it started to occur to me that it might be nice to just tip the damn thing and get it over with, so I know what it will feel like falling from a boat and won’t have to wonder about it so much. I had even been considering asking a coach if I could purposely tip a boat, just to get that first time out of my system, under somewhat controlled circumstances.

As it happened, I didn’t have to voluntarily flip my boat. I flipped it this morning, involuntarily, along with my three crewmates, just off the dock. One minute I was in the boat, the next, slow motion, I understood that I was going into the water, and I let myself fall.

My feet didn’t touch bottom, but treading water is the one thing I mastered from years of swimming lessons as a kid. It occurred to me that it’s been ages since I’ve been swimming, and the urge to flip over and backstroke like a lazy otter while the sun blazed my cheeks was hard to fight.

Instead of leaving everyone in the dust and swimming until my arms ached, I let myself be summoned to the opposite dock and paddled my body out of the lake. “Woo-hoo, we fell in the water! Hell yeah!” I yelled, before I could remember I’m an adult and beatific displays make other adults feel awkward.

“Wow,” someone said, “you’re apparently the happiest person about this.”

And ok, ideally, we wouldn’t have tipped our boat. But if we were going to tip, which was sure to happen eventually, let it be near the dock, in the July sun, where the water, if not exactly warm, is indeed fine.