Alone in the Storm

“Does anyone else have something they bought recently that they really like?” asked my friend B while we were on a group video call that was theoretically supposed to be a session of D&D, but which had devolved, as it so often did, into extended chit chat — in this case a game of show and tell. I had recently received a small print that I’d bought from one of my favorite artists. It took several months to reach me, traveling from Finland by the slowest untrackable mail. Even knowing from the outset that it would take a long time to reach my hands, I had to have it. I was drawn in by the oceanic imagery, because nautical stuff is one of my things, but also I looked at the girl alone in a tempest, on a narrow perch in a storm tossed sea, and saw myself. Melodramatic, but true. But when I showed it to my friends and explained that, B joked, “You’re not alone, you have us! You have to send it back.”

But somehow I do often feel quite alone. I’m a bit of the odd duck of my family, the only daughter, bookish and introverted. I also sometimes feel like a tangential person in my friend groups. Yes, I do think I am well liked and appreciated. I consider my close friendships to be solid, and I am grateful for that. But sometimes I do feel like everyone else’s connections with each other are stronger than they are with me. I get the sensation of being on the outside looking in.

I know that I do it to myself, though. When I can’t see friends in person I tend not to reach out as much. This is partly because if I’m not hearing from a friend I always just assume they’re busy living their lives and I don’t want to be a bother, but it is partly out of sheer shitty forgetfulness. I have literally lost close friendships due to these bad habits (although for the record, those people I drifted away from in silence didn’t try speaking to me either — it takes two people to make a friendship work, and I would have responded had I heard from them). However, equally harmful is my habit of withdrawing when my mental health is tanking. I would rather call out sick from work and run away from home for a day than tell my friends I feel shitty and need a pick me up, which is because I am worried about being a burden (despite repeated reassurances that I am not).

I live as the girl on the stony spire, silent as the rock erodes beneath my feet and I am swept into the stormy sea that I have wrought for myself. Sometimes at this point I’ll send out a text message expressing some of my misery, a rope flung out in a panicked prayer that someone will catch it and pull me to shore. I am lucky because someone always does. However, more often than not I allow myself to slip under the waves and be dashed on the sharp fragments of the stone that had been holding me up, preferring to tread water until I drown instead of risking worrying the people around me, because I know I am ultimately the one responsible for maintaining my own well being (although my loved ones are not stupid and can often see me slipping under anyway).

So far I have always managed to outlast my riptide, redevelop my sea legs, paddle back to shore, and start over again. The storm always passes and I find a new outcropping to stand on. As the clouds roll away I convince myself that continuing in this fashion is just fine because, after all, I survived, didn’t I?

(And here, please allow me to read your mind: yes, I know I probably need a therapist, but who can afford it? Blogging is cheaper.)

I fill my nights with my friends so I don’t have to live with the silence that often brings the storm. Two different D&D campaign groups. Watching friends’ streams. Thursday game night and the conversations with the late night crew that often follow. My closest friends just a text message away and more than willing to schedule time to hang out over voice chat. But everyone currently being only faces and voices inside of screens sometimes feels worse than I think it would be to be totally isolated and not have any of that at all.

Their voices fill the space until one by one they log off and disappear, leaving me with only the sound of my own breathing and the wind roaring in the trees behind my house, sounding something like the raging loneliness of a stormy sea. Somehow it feels too silent, too empty, too alone.

Farewell, Old Friend

When we met, it felt like fate. I was looking for a fluffy hooded jacket and there you appeared on one of the five racks my local Target seemingly grudgingly allots to plus size clothes, and in one of my favorite clothing colors to boot. I tried you on, olive green and cozy, and immediately fell in love. But all things come to an end, and now you have as well.

This parting has been a long time coming, as over the years you have been slowly decaying. First, months after we met, one of the buttons on your hood popped off. I always meant to give you a new one, but never got around to it and just lived with having to hold your hood up in strong winds.

Then it was your snaps, were one by one giving way and disappearing under the duress of the repeated fastening and unfastening of daily wear.

Your first drastic injury was the split up your back which I kept putting off sewing shut until finally on New Year’s Eve Eve I felt an odd sensation getting into the car after work and realized you had torn up to the middle of my back. I spent the night frantically sewing you as best I could because I knew I would have trouble replacing you, partly because I’m picky and partly because retail’s season ahead nature and my plus sized body meant my options would likely be limited. I didn’t want to replace you anyway, because I’m the kind of person who gets too attached to inanimate things.

We had spent four winters together. Your body sheltered me from the cold. Your sleeves accepted my tears without question. Your massive fluffy hood brought me a lot of joy in its oversized ridiculousness. Your long length allowed for deep pockets that let me go on winter adventures without a purse, as everything I needed fit neatly inside. (I apparently wrote about one such adventure in the first year of this blog.)

The next day I ventured into a mall for the first time since the pandemic started only to come up empty handed. I was okay with it, though. I hoped that sewing up the back would help you last the rest of the winter and then I could lay you to rest and buy a new coat next fall. But that was not to be.

It started with a tiny hole next to the right side pocket that I really didn’t pay very much mind to. Such a little hole didn’t seem poised to become a huge problem. But then as I settled myself in the seat of my car one night after work in late February I heard a ripping sound and felt something tear by my right hip. When I got home, I inspected the damage. I considered sewing this tear as well, just to get me through the last month of winter, but had a feeling that it would just pop open again and again considering how the hole wanted to gape open when you were worn. I resigned myself to your immediate retirement.

I luckily have a peacoat that I wore instead of you, for the last few weeks of cold weather, but it isn’t as warm and it made me mourn you even more. When I seek a new coat next winter I will likely have to settle for something lesser and it somehow doesn’t feel fair. I have loved you immensely, as silly as it feels to admit it, and I am very sorry to see you go.

I suppose it is lucky that one of my most significant pandemic losses (besides, you know, a year of my life) was “just” a coat. But you were never just a coat to me.

The Cuddling Dream (or, Missing Touch)

The first week of February I had a dream where I was romantically cuddled up with a friend of mine that I have never considered dating. We were in a small bed and I kept accidentally getting pushed onto the floor, which I later joked on Twitter was my brain trying to forcibly eject me from a dream that, while lovely, was ultimately incorrect because while he’s a nice person, I just don’t feel that way about him.

Last year I wrote a blog post about finally feeling like I wanted to date again, a couple of years after my last relationship ended. This was mere weeks before the pandemic locked everything down and now I can’t imagine when I’ll be able to have a go at it because I just don’t trust anyone to be fully honest about how covid-safe they’re being. I mean, I have coworkers who claim they’re being careful and then post photos on Facebook of them doing things like indoor dining. Besides, where can we go on dates anyway considering outdoor spaces are crowded with people who are also trying to get a break from the confines of their homes?

I went from getting hugs from my friends on a regular basis pre-pandemic to more or less nada apart from rare hugs from my mom or my brother. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of scientific studies done about how hugs and other forms of touch do positive things for the human body and mind, and not being able to give my friends hugs while we’ve all been struggling has been hard on me. I’m so touch starved it’s no wonder I dreamed about snuggling up with somebody that I consider friendly and trustworthy. Each time I was pushed off the bed in the dream I would pull myself back on, as if my deepest unconscious was begging for someone, anyone, to hold me despite my logical mind trying to shove me back into reality.

Honestly, I really do feel like cuddling is largely underrated in relationships that have a sexual component. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the things that happen when clothes come off, but that isn’t what I miss the most about being in a relationship. It’s the soft warmth of laying my head on someone’s chest and hearing a steady heartbeat, the soothing sound of relaxed breathing as we lay with our legs entwined, the simple grace of arms draped around waists to hold each other close, fingers occasionally comfortingly caressing a back or a shoulder. Those cozy velvety moments are colored reddish gold in my mind, like late afternoon sunshine or the light thrown by a fireplace. Time is warped, simultaneously deliciously abundant in the moment and dreadfully lacking when it is over.

As I slowly gained consciousness after the dream I could still feel the ghost of a stubble covered face nuzzling my shoulder. I opened my eyes to the other side of my bed, empty except for the pillows I hug when I sleep. The dream had felt extremely real, and although it was about the wrong person waking up alone still felt very lonely. Disconcerted, I rolled over onto my other side in an attempt to shake it off, in an attempt to prevent myself from falling right back into the same impossible dream as I drifted off again.

Thoughts On the Cusp of 30

If you’re reading this then that means I am officially 30 years old. The past few years have disillusioned me in some ways. I no longer believe that the arcing arm of a clock or the crossing off of calendar squares will create a new chance for miraculous change, and, in fact, given the results of the hellish series of world events that comprised my 29th year all I can see stretching ahead right now is more of the same.

I never thought that this time last year when I was introducing my friends to the wonders of the Street Fighter movie that it would be the last of our birthdays that we would spend together until who knows when and it makes me wish that I had chosen something more cooler or more special.

Not once last spring in the two months I spent working from home, watching the trees burst to life outside my window while I withered from loneliness did I think that when everything slumbered again I would still be separate and alone, that I would be anticipating still being in solitude when the leaves grow in again in a few months. I do live with my mother, but it isn’t the same as being with my friends. The way the salt used to de-ice the roads and clear the way bleaches all color from the road forward isn’t a new sight, but this winter it makes me feel particularly hopeless.

I have an increasingly distinct awareness that by the time this is “over” I will probably wind up losing nearly two years of my life, but even then there’s a chance that it probably will not ever be properly “over” because of all of the currently unknown variables. It’s weird to think that my life now has a very dramatic before and after in it, a sharp fracture between two distinct ways of life.

I know I am lucky to have my job, but I am increasingly resentful about working in an office where some of the attorneys haven’t come into the office since March, but us staff are required to come in like everything is normal, except we’re all wearing masks and using hand sanitizer now. It’s nice to talk to people who aren’t my mom, but I would give it all up for the return of the Saturday nights with my friends, spent the way we used to spend them in the Before Times — dinner out and doing dumb nerd stuff. I do get to do different nerd stuff on Saturday nights now, D&D with a different group of friends, and it’s a nice replacement, but I keenly feel the lack of the people who know me best.

I feel bad for thinking about the things I miss, because it feels trivial to miss them when people are literally dying. Lipstick. Diner food (especially gyros). Walking aimlessly around public places. Having a reason to wear cute outfits. My friend’s cats. And I must be getting really desperate because I even miss taking daytrips to NYC, even though I find the city exhausting and don’t care for it that much overall.

All this said, it will probably come as no surprise that I hardly accomplished any of my goals for 2020. I did wind up with 12 blog posts like I wanted to, but that was only after cramming November and December with extras to make up for the months I didn’t get a post up. My gaming backlog remains mostly unchanged, although I did give my permission to quit World of Final Fantasy because I realized I was dragging myself through something I wasn’t enjoying at all. There’s a cute little adage that goes “last one hired, first one fired” and that combined with the economic instability kept me in my current office, despite my frustrations there. I did not carve out specific time for creative hobbies, but I found myself doing creative writing and doing art more than I have in the past couple of years. Which, well, anything is more than zero, but the fact that I managed to do anything is a victory.

In the face of this largely unaccomplished year it feels a little pointless to consider new/renewed goals, but I feel compelled to for some reason. They fall into two categories: things I’m already making a habit of and want to continue, and things I want to be doing.

Continuations:

  • About a year ago I started taking walks on my lunch breaks (or after work before driving home when it was really hot out in the summer), and I want to continue doing that at least three days a week as weather permits.
  • Please for the love of god let this decade of my life begin with a new job. (As embarrassed as I feel to bring this one back again, I’d like to reaffirm it for myself anyway.)
  • Post one blog each month. I considered making this number larger, but thinking back on how this year went in that regard, 12 posts for the year is what feels the most manageable and consistent.

New Things:

  • I really ought to play more video games that aren’t Red Dead Online (aka my favorite way to escape this hell year for hours on end, just wandering the countryside).
  • Read more of the physical books I own, not just my Kindle at lunchtime.
  • Do my creative hobbies more.
  • Ages of watching Christy Lou’s (now ended) bullet journal YouTube videos made me feel like I could do one despite having little artistic ability, so I’ve made one and I want to see it through to the end of year.
  • Do a better job at keeping in touch with people, a thing which I am historically really shit at. If I don’t see someone, I often reach out, sometimes because I don’t want to be a bother, but often just because I’m awful and get caught up in my dumb little life and just forget to talk to people, and then so much time passes that I’m like “well now it would be weird to try talking to them.” But because of this bad habit, I’ve have spent huge chunks of quarantine feeling desperately lonely. The series of video calls and voice chats I’ve been on this year has reminded me how good it feels to connect with the people I care about and I don’t want to fuck up and go back to dropping the ball on that.

It feels like easy mode to have made so many low ball goals and goals that are continuations of what I’m already doing. But it does feel good in a way to sit down and formally commit myself to these things. I am far better at keeping bad habits than I am at sticking to productive ones, so we’ll see how all of this goes. It’s not exactly turning over a new leaf for my new decade, but it’s something!

Happy birthday to me!

New Years I Have Known

(My first selfie of 2020!)

1. When I was a child the high school in my aunt’s town would hold a First Night event on New Year’s Eve, filling the school with activities and performers. My aunt would bring my brothers and I over to check out a few acts before decamping to her apartment in the building across the street where we would enjoy junk food and struggle to stay up until midnight. I didn’t always make it, but on some of he years that I did the town set off fireworks as the year changed that we could see from the apartment building’s parking deck, the blasts sometimes setting off car alarms in the area, much to my amusement.

2. Most of my New Year’s Eves from the time I could drive have taken the same course: a simple get together with whoever of my friends is in town and available. These gatherings are much like our normal hangouts – video games, takeout, maybe a movie. But around midnight we find a feed of the ball dropping in Times Square and maybe pop open a bottle of sparkling cider or (rarely, we’re not big drinkers) having a little champagne or prosecco if someone has brought it, although it is usually far too dry and bitter for my taste. Low key hangouts like these with my friends are probably the thing I’ve missed the most during the pandemic.

3. I’m not sure what year it was, it was either while I was in college or just after, my friend B invited our group to a New Year’s party at his parents’ house that he and his brother were having. I was a little apprehensive because I knew there would be a bunch of people there that I didn’t know, but enough of my friends were going that I decided it would be fine. It was interesting to see someone else’s traditions. Despite the fact that B and his brother not being Hispanic, they insisted we had to find a Spanish language broadcast of the ball drop for midnight. (I forget the reasoning behind this.) Just past midnight we huddled together outside in the cold to smash a pinata that B’s brother and a friend had built that day. We didn’t have any place to hang it, so someone tall awkwardly held it while trying not to get hit in the process. There were a few little other party games and some good food. All in all, a good, memorable New Year’s Eve!

4. Last year, 2019, my younger brother and his girlfriend hosted a New Year’s Eve party at her parents’ house. I had already been to a game night they held earlier that year, so I already knew the other guests a little and I knew it would be a good time. I don’t often drink, but decided I was in the mood for it (only to be reminded after I sobered up and drove home, that while I love prosecco it does not love me). There was a lot of delicious garbage food to eat and we played Jackbox games and laughed until we cried. Also, the family’s dog was there and ready for attention and pets that I was only too willing and excited to provide. At midnight we found a ball drop on the tv and the party did continue, but I left shortly afterwards because I had sobered up, but was starting to get sleepy. I went home that night very content, having enjoyed myself thoroughly.

5. I thought that this year would be one in the series of New Year’s Eves that I have spent on my own, watching the clock tick past midnight and feeling lonely, but the universe has deemed that that should not be the case. Obviously I’m staying home, but I’ve somehow wound up with invitations to multiple virtual parties. One of them is a session of Red Dead Online that my younger brother plans to stream. The other invitees are members of the D&D group we became part of this year. We’ve had a lot of fun playing all kinds of games together this year. The other invite is to spend an evening with my Massachusetts/upstate New York/college friends playing Among Us (aka “sussin’ and stabbin’”) and chatting on Discord. Usually I’d have seen at least some of them at some point this year, but, again, the plague happened. I’m going to buy myself some good snacks and maybe some alcohol even though I’ve been a bit wary of booze since my ER trip for a kidney stone in September. I’m just going to try to relax and have a good time trying to drown out the dread in my head that 2021 will just be more of the same awfulness that 2020 was, because the calendar flipping over to the new year is not a reset button, but a continuation.

(My last selfie of 2020, snapped when I had to unfortunately go to a mall for the first time since March because I have emergency need of a new winter coat. I was unfortunately unsuccessful.)

An Autumn Hike

As I write this, I’m currently using up the last of my vacation time from work for the year. I had all sorts of grand plans about errands I needed to run and I thought maybe I would take a hike on one of the many trails in my area and then Mother Nature said, “no, screw you, I’m sending a huge blizzard.” So instead I’m just sitting here looking at the pictures I took on a hike I did last month and wishing I could go outside.

It was the week of Thanksgiving and I had taken off the three days before, as I usually do if I still have vacation time at that point of the year. I live in a pretty populated area, but I’m not far from a whole area of woodlands specially set aside for preservation and recreation. I’d been wanting to go into the woods for awhile, but because people can’t do indoor activities due to the pandemic the parking areas are often quite full. But on my second day off I had a very early doctor’s appointment so I knew I would have a good chance to get a spot at the area I wanted to explore, and I was right!

The area of the woods I went to has well defined trails, often covered by gravel, so I wasn’t too worried about getting lost or dealing with overly difficult footing. I meant to go to a waterfall that was nearby, but apparently can’t read simple maps so I wound up following the trail that snaked alongside a river, which was fine by me because if you’ve been following this blog for a long time you will know I love a water feature.

The trail was wide and easy to follow and while the weather was cool it wasn’t overly uncomfortable because I had my heavy coat and a pair of mittens. And also I’ve found that my mask is actually very nice to have in the cold! Even though I didn’t see many people, I wore it most of the time I was walking to protect me from the chilly breeze. The sky was mostly grey, but occasionally the sun came out. All in all, I thought it was a nice day for a hike, but maybe that’s just me!

The few people I did see had apparently gotten up even earlier than me because they were headed in the direction of the parking area. Pretty much everyone said good morning to me, which as someone aware of how curmudgeonly my fellow New Jerseyans can be made me feel kind of weird. Is it proof that being out in nature can life someone’s mood? Who can say?

I walked along for quite awhile, completely losing track of time, and then I came to kind of a weird clearing and finally thought to check the clock on my phone. I realized about an hour had passed and I figured that considering I hadn’t brought any water with me I should probably head back. The hike out was a little more challenging in some respects due to some parts of the path that had been downhill on the way in now being uphill, but it took me less time because I kept stopping to take pictures of neat trees and other things that caught my eye on the way in.

For instance, there was this tree that made me wonder: how much other foliage is here in the summer that it wound up growing like this?

I had a really good time on this hike, just getting to escape for awhile and enjoy being alone someplace different, as crazy as it probably is to take a hike like this by myself. It wasn’t my first time doing this kind of thing, and it definitely won’t be my last. Considering that this area is still quite close to civilization and I never lost cell service I didn’t really have a fear of getting into a bad situation. I definitely wouldn’t go on a hike in some unusual out of the way place alone, I’m not quite that stupid!

I do want to go back and actually take the path to the waterfall, though. Hopefully this massive pile of snow will melt away soon so I can go!

Things I Shouldn’t Wear: A Lookbook

Hello, my name is Krys and I am a fat woman. I don’t use that term in a self-pitying way, it’s just a descriptor for the shape of my body. I’m fortunate that I generally don’t interact with people who make disparaging comments about my size, but posting pictures of myself on social media means risking that happening. Back in the summer, I posted a picture of myself in an outfit that I thought was really cute and received a comment from a man (because it’s often men who feel the need to voice negative thoughts about women’s bodies) saying something like “that’s disgusting.” It didn’t bother me because honestly, the negative opinions of anonymous internet people mean nothing to me. But it did inspire me to put together a plus size fashion lookbook featuring outfits that some people might think I shouldn’t wear as a fat person, but that I have totally worn anyway. It took me months to finally get around to it, but finally here we are!

I styled all of these outfits as I would wear them out of the house were there not a pandemic, down to accessories and makeup. Also, these photos are unedited, except for cropping them because shooting photos alone is tricky and I wound up with way too much headroom, lol.

OUTFIT 1: Easy, Breezy, Summery

WHY I SHOULDN’T WEAR IT: A bit of my stomach is showing, plus I’m exposing a lot of leg and upper arm, body parts that overweight people often feel self conscious about.

So let’s start with the outfit that kicked everything off, this crop top and shorts combo, which was really just an experiment for a warm summery day spent hanging around at home. For ages I didn’t understand why companies made crop tops in plus sizes, but I like the fit of this one a lot. However, it does have the unfortunate habit of riding up in the front, because my stomach is larger than my bust, which is why I usually wear this top with a high waisted skirt. I did make one improvement over the version of this outfit I posted in the summer and that is the belt. I bought these shorts a couple summers ago in the size 24 I buy all my pants in, but because clothing sizes make no sense they turned out to be a bit too big. The belt holds up the shorts so I don’t show more belly than I want to in an everyday outfit. (I love this belt, btw, because it is reversible! I’m wearing it brown side out here, but usually wear it black with my work pants.)

OUTFIT 2: Let’s Go For a Swim

WHY I SHOULDN’T WEAR IT: A fat woman in a two piece bathing suit that exposes her midriff? Preposterous!

I hopped on the “fatkini” trend before I gave in to crop tops because I was sick of hanging around waiting for damp tankini fabric to dry. It just can get kind of clammy and gross. I like a skirt bottom not because I’m self conscious about my hips/butt, but because I just think it’s cute! This top and bottom were both bought at Torrid a few years ago. The top is maybe a little too cleavage-y to wear at a pool where children might be, but no one has criticized me to my face yet. The top does ride up on me in the front because it’s in that “long line bra” style, but I appreciate that it isn’t a halter top because so many swimsuits are built that way and I haven’t found a way to wear one without being strangled.

OUTFIT 3: I’d Wear This On a Date If There Wasn’t a Plague

WHY I SHOULDN’T WEAR IT: Horizontal stripes! And also here are my legs again.

I’m a big lover of stripes, and there was a point in my life where I had so many I had to literally make a rule that I couldn’t buy any more. This particular top is about decade old and it’s got this button detailing on the long cuffs that I just adore. The skirt is a newer acquisition from Torrid and I love the slightly vintage vibe to it and that it has pockets. Some people may think that blue and red is a weird color combination, but I’m quite fond of it and wear it often. I think this particular outfit would also be cute with some black tights and boots, but I felt showing my legs was more thematically appropriate for this post.

OUTFIT 4: Glam Time!

WHY I SHOULDN’T WEAR IT: It’s very tight and look! There are my upper arms and legs!

Because of the size differential between my stomach and my bust I struggle with dresses sometimes, but this one is thankfully not awkwardly loose in the bust. I love this teal color and gravitate towards it a lot, especially for fancy party clothes. I would absolutely wear tights with this if I was going to be leaving my house in it because it is so short there is a serious risk of flashing people, but even with tights I consider this the sexiest dress I own. It’s still relatively modest though thanks to the bars of fabric across the neckline. A funny story about this dress is that one time I was wearing it while out with friends and one of them looked at me and said, “It looks like your boobs are in prison.”

So if by now it isn’t apparent to you, I’m a big believer in wearing whatever it is you want to and feel comfortable in. Some people spend way too much of their time policing the things other people wear when it really isn’t any of their fucking business. I just thought that maybe posting these outfits might help someone else to realize, “if that person can wear that thing I’ve been wanting to try then I can too, regardless of what assholes want to say!”

In many aspects of life I have yet to master the art of not giving a fuck about other people’s opinions, but when it comes to clothing, I’m pretty much there. So why not try something new you’ve been wanting to try?

Apple Picking in a Pandemic

It feels like a fact of life that if you grew up anywhere near an orchard someone took you apple picking at least once as a child. My own childhood apple picking memories are not my favorite. Us kids were grumpy about getting up super early, usually there was at least one dramatic squabble, and we always wound up coming home with what felt like Way Too Many Apples. Oh, and as the morning progressed and warmed up So Many Bees would terrorize the orchard seeking the sweet juice of apples that had fallen on the ground.

I believe these are Jonagolds, a variety of apple that I didn’t know existed before this trip.

So it’s probably not surprising that as an adult I’ve largely had an aversion to apple picking and have turned down several invitations from my friends over the years. The only time I said yes the weather was terrible and we drove all the way out to the orchard only to decide it was too awful out to go apple picking, so we wound up exploring the downtown of a nearby town instead. But this fall when I received an apple picking invite I jumped at it because I was quite desperate to see my friends. Because of covid and the United States’ awful response to it I haven’t spent any time with my friends since March. We’ve been keeping in touch, but it’s not really the same as being able to hang out together in person.

Many of the rows of apple trees led up to this area of mostly leafless trees that were spread out in such a circular way that I joked it looked like a ritual would be done there, lol. My plant-loving mom thinks they’re cherry trees.

It was an exciting moment when we realized that apple picking was a viable option for a socially distanced hangout activity and we quickly arranged a date. The date happened to coincide with my mom being away at her little house in upstate New York, so I invited everyone to come hang out in my backyard afterwards. It -also- happened to be our friend B’s birthday that weekend, so he planned a whole menu of food and entertainment for our little group of six.

Our group setting off an an apple adventure!

And before you cry “social distancing!” we played this gathering really safe. We generally kept a good distance between ourselves (there was no hugging, even though we really wanted to!) and except for eating, which we did sitting apart from each other, we all wore masks the whole time. There was also liberal use of hand sanitizer and hand washing. Everyone had their own sanitizer because 2020, but I also set up a little table that I called the Sanitation Station. Perhaps some people would find this gathering a bit risky, but thankfully we and our immediate circles have been covid-free so far, so we decided to go ahead with the gathering.

Sanitation Station set up in the backyard of my house.

The orchard we went to is called Melick Orchard, which is about an hour from where we live, but was well worth the drive, I think. It was a really beautiful morning to be outside, sunny and just a little warm, and we took a lot of pleasure just from being outside and being together in person instead of over video chat. We made a reservation for 9:30 a.m., which turned out to be a very good choice because by the time we left about an hour and a half later the amount of people around was starting to increase dramatically. It wasn’t quite so many people that social distancing was impossible, but it was starting to perhaps be a little more crowded by the entry areas/little store than we were comfortable with. But out in the orchard there is a lot of space and there are many varieties of apples in long, wide rows. Each type of apples was available in multiple rows so if, for instance, we saw a family taking up a lot of space in one of the rows we could simply choose another one.

If you look closely you can see cows at the farm across the road, which we were very excited to see.

There was also a pumpkin patch in the back corner of the property, in a corner at the end of the apple area, but it looked a little sad and picked over, and none of use were super interested in pumpkins anyway, so we didn’t peruse it at all. Plus I doubted that any of us really wanted to lug a pumpkin over the considerable distance back to the entry area. Melick Orchards also has pick your own fruit during other seasons and on our way back to the front of the property we passed some rows of peach trees that I thought had a certain magical charm.

One of the enchanting rows of peach trees.

Once we paid for our apples we piled back into our cars and drove to my house where we quickly set up a production area for preparing apples for pie, under B’s supervision. Somehow we wound up with an obscene amount of apples cut up! Luckily B had accidentally bought four bottom crusts instead of just two (but only two top crusts). However, even after filling all of the crusts and improvising tops for all of them there were still So Many Apples left. (Don’t worry, the leftovers went home with party guests and did not go to waste!)

This is what we had left -after- I filled the four pie shells. I’m not sure how this happened.

Our original plan was to stay outside and rig up a TV on my family’s picnic table to play an obscure Wii game called Fortune Street that B wanted to show us, but just when I thought this apple picking day would be devoid of bees since we hadn’t seen any at the orchard, we were driven inside by them because one of our group is allergic. My house fortunately has a good amount of room for sitting spaced out, and we opened all the windows and doors so there would be good safe ventilation while we settled in to play.

I turned my back for one second and of course one of the pies suddenly had something lewd cut into it, lol.

Fortune Street is a game that’s kind of like a cross between Mario Party and Monopoly, but there’s a stock market? And all kinds of weird business types? I don’t know, I only got the vaguest sense of it because I didn’t play. Instead, I was fussing about with the pies, trying to make use of the Too Many Apples that had been prepared as I mentioned above. I didn’t mind missing out on Fortune Street, because to be honest, it seemed really confusing. Apart from B, who really really loves the game, my other friends who were playing seemed to be enjoying the experience of playing together more than they enjoyed the actual gameplay itself.

I don’t have any photos from this part of the day, so here’s a dried up cornfield at the orchard that I thought was pretty!

Fortune Street took so long that we were losing daylight fast by the time it was done. So B heated up the spaghetti squash he brought us to have for dinner (and I boiled some spaghetti for those who didn’t want the squash), and we ate in my quickly darkening backyard. By the time we were done it was getting too dark to be out in my unlit backyard so instead of eating pie together we split them up and everyone went on their merry way. Instead of hugging goodbye like we would have in the Before Times we all took turns clunking ankles with each other, which my friend L came up with earlier this year as as a weird, slightly cursed covid handshake.

My friend S looking determinedly for apples that sparked joy.

It was really nice to see everyone, but equally unpleasant to say goodbye. The sadness I felt immediately after everyone left me alone in my house almost made me wish we hadn’t met up at all. It felt a bit cruel of the universe to let me have a taste of the time with friends I should have been getting to indulge in all year, only to have to swiftly return to the interminable question — “When will I get to spend time like this with them again?” Don’t get me wrong, I had an extremely lovely day and I’m very glad we were able to have our little gathering, our beautiful warm golden autumn day. But in the immediate aftermath the silence of my house was very loud and very lonely.

A family photo. ^_^

I hate to end this post about a happy day on a downer, but also I prefer to be honest about my feelings and I just miss my friends so damn much! So our day of apple picking turned out a bit bittersweet for me in the end. But I definitely don’t regret doing it, and wish I could live it again now as the cold, dark part of the year creeps over my area and makes me feel pandemic loneliness even more strongly than I did before.

A bin of pumpkins for sale near the orchard entrance that was simultaneously reassuring and disconcerting. “It’s Harvest Time…try”

Putting Pen to Page (or How I Write Best)

In September and October I missed posting blogs again and somehow that makes me feel like trash. It shouldn’t. I’m the only one who cares. One post a month was a self-imposed goal I set at the start of the year, a desperate attempt to introduce a little discipline into my meandering life of picked up and dropped hobbies. I like writing. I’m constantly creating stories and even portions of potential blog posts in my head. And yet somehow I have now for the third time this year missed posting. At least in July I had a good excuse. I was in a car accident in the last third of the month that wound up totaling my vehicle and I was too stressed dealing with the fallout from that to even consider trying to post anything. But for September and October I have no such excuse besides the fact that every time I set up at my laptop to try and put something together the words only reluctantly, awkwardly come out. It’s a fight every time.

The handwritten draft of this post.

Most nights I get home from work and wind up doing nothing more productive than, say, taking a shower or watering my pumpkins in Animal Crossing. For nearly two months this summer I played Red Dead Online every day, saving up imaginary gold to buy an imaginary horse, putting off doing anything in the real world that might improve me in some way like playing one of the instruments I own again, doing one of the crafts I keep meaning to do, or yes, writing down any of the things I have in my head, even if they’re not destined to be read by anyone who isn’t me.

Starting in middle school and continuing up through my college graduation at the end of 2012 I filled multiple notebooks with scrawled stories. Yes they are largely messes that no one should ever read (and my handwriting is such that they’d have trouble trying anyway), but I had fun writing it all down. Even now connecting a pen to paper is the most natural way for me to write and that is the only reason this post exists at all. I pulled myself out of the well of self loathing and guilt I fall into when I know I could be doing something productive instead of looping between the same three or four apps on my phone by hauling myself to my desk and grabbing a notebook and pen, breaking the nightly cycle that I somehow so often find unbreakable.

One of my high school notebooks from my collaging things phase, edited to hide personal information I’d written on the front.

I know I will clean up and potentially rearrange my thoughts before they’re available for you to read on my blog, but I’m realizing that my brain apparently does not like my inner words to exist outside of my head unless it is in some kind of ink. In about half an hour I wrote so much more than in an equivalent time on the computer and what I wrote sounds better overall. Somehow a pen in my hand opens more creative phrasing pathways in my brain than computer keys under my fingers.

So maybe this is how I’ll have to blog from now on, drafting all of my posts by hand first and then typing them up after. And if that’s what it’s going to take, then fine. Because I set myself a goal, made myself a promise, and if I accomplish nothing else in 2020, at least I’ll be able to look back and see that I wrote, see that I didn’t totally waste all of my time due to my persistent lack of discipline because I made 12 little things. I don’t give a shit if anyone reads any of it. I give a shit about fulfilling a commitment that isn’t strictly required and, for once in what feels like a very long time, following through.

Mentally I am here.

There’s this meme that’s been going around Twitter lately of tweets that read “mentally I am here,” captioning some sort of photo, usually setting up something humorous in nature that expresses one of the many depressing vibes of 2020. But as for me, mentally, I am here.

It was the end of August in 2013. I was on vacation down the shore with my aunt and younger brother and was just beginning to come out of the deep, post-college, “shit I’m an adult now” depression that had plagued me ever since I graduated at the end of 2012, but which had especially affected my summer.

Long days of lounging poolside in the sun with my family were followed by evenings cut loose on the boardwalk, my nightly spending money from my aunt in my pocket waiting to be spent on whatever treats or entertainment I wanted. Many 22 year olds would use this as an opportunity to get wasted, but not me.

I bought delightfully unhealthy fried sweets and played my way through the arcades, as one does at the Jersey Shore. I also spent a large amount of time just wandering through the crowds or strolling to the more residential ends of the boardwalk, looking at the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy the previous fall with a melancholy eye.

Here is an ancient video from my defunct YouTube channel that I wrote and filmed on this trip!

But the first thing I did most nights was sit in the sand as close to the sea as I could while staying dry, watching and listening to the crashing waves while the never ending carnival of the boardwalk thrummed distantly behind me.

Being by the sea has been a balm for my soul my whole life, even before I knew to call it that, and this time spent quietly thinking and dreaming and occasionally scribbling away in a little notebook, was what I needed the most. And since this was my first extended beach trip since I’d received my DSLR on Christmas in 2011 I took so. many. photos. I had a list of photo opportunities in my mind that I wanted to pursue and I checked them all off.

The weekly fireworks show.

Playing with fancy settings like shutter speed by the lights of the rides.

Snapping what I could see on a walk down the jetty.

And in a little place by the part of the inlet where people fish during the day I took a whole series of these sunset sky photos.

I don’t think I can adequately put into words the feelings of freedom and satisfaction I got from my nightly wandering. I think it possibly had a lot to do with feeling in control for the first time that year. I got to determine where I went and what I did. I didn’t have to worry about the unemployed mess my life at home was, especially because my aunt was generously giving me spending money. She didn’t care what time I came back to our motel room because I was never outrageously late and she never asked much about what I’d been up to. I think I just really relished not only being my own person, but being a person who felt like I had options and possibilities.

Seven years later and this is still one of my favorite photos of myself.

I think my mind has drifted back to this particular trip now because 2020 has been a year where I don’t feel like I have a lot of control over my life, which is a sentiment I’m sure is shared by much of the world.

I know I could revisit this location now. The town still exists, after all, and I still make day trips there to this day. But I can’t go back to the feelings I had on that trip, especially given the current pandemic. I confess, I did venture down to this town back in July, and it was an incredibly odd experience. So I suppose, in the meantime, if you need me, mentally I will be here.