August

At the beginning of August it occurs to me that perhaps the worst of the summer is over.

Yes, it is still hot and skin scorchingly sunny, but I can feel the time shaved off the end of each day, my neighborhood filled with gold earlier and earlier each evening. As the sun begins to angle itself away from the northern hemisphere, the daylight takes on an odd, but lovely, glow no matter the time of day, necessitating sunglasses for both directions of my commute to work. The heat will linger with us until well into September, summer lazily stretching itself over more and more of the calendar every year, a cat in a sunspot abbreviating fall and spring, even as far north as New Jersey, much to my woe.

And yet, I’m not someone who urges on the next season, one of the people who rushes out to buy autumnal merchandise as soon as it hits the stores at the end of July. I make plans that fall under the umbrella of “summer” well past the equinox so long as I have good weather and light, which has often come back to bite me when I realize I need just one more pair of shorts or swimsuit for a mid-September adventure only to find myself out of luck.

After losing more than two years of my life to dreadful global circumstances, I find I don’t want time to rush on by. I want to live in as many days as I can. And yet they slip swiftly through my fingers like I’m standing on a beach and the tide is rushing away from my feet, swift and unstoppable.

That being said, I am glad for the arrival of August all the same. Shortening days means cooler nights, means not waking up drenched in sweat despite the fan blowing directly into my face. It means the floor no longer warm under my feet when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom because of cold water I gulped down right before bedtime. It means more nights when I can turn off the fan to fully and properly take in the summer night serenade in the strip of woods behind my house that has finally reached the crescendo I’ve spent all season waiting for. I prefer to go to sleep in silence most of the year, but that gentle forest cacophony is my favorite lullaby and one of the main reasons I keep an air conditioner out of my window. I’m not fully sure what’s back there, but I know that the chirping and croaking seem to pulse in time with my breath, with my heartbeat.

When the conditions are just right in my little corner room I can hear the hum of the nearby highway or the horn of the train, and imagine myself heading off somewhere in the warm darkness, adventure spooling out beneath the wheels. Actually escaping isn’t quite in the cards at the moment, but I’m not bitter. I find ways to be content where I am. I’ve discovered a field near the local trails with a canopy of trees that provide perfect shelter for warm afternoons spent reading books on a blanket with a snack and a big bottle of crisp, cool water. I lay on my bed in front of the fan, eyes on the trees behind my house, watching peach colored evening clouds scuttle along as night steadily spills its ink across the canvas of the sky. I take the long way home after hanging out late with friends, breathing in deeply to taste that lush, green smelling nighttime air.

Yes, I think August is the very best of summer, fire forged and drenched in gold.

The Dog Days of Late Winter

The glittery, distant urban sprawl, taken at an overlook spot in my area.

There’s something dreadful about the way the latter part of winter drags on. The weeks are filled with seemingly interminable strings of grey days, even when it doesn’t actually rain or snow. The trees are still bare, allowing the skyline to shimmer temptingly in ways it can’t when covered up with foliage. The light in the backyard behind mine is able to make its way through the woods separating the properties and into my room like a dim distant spotlight into my mind, exposing me to myself in a way I don’t like.

Invariably, this time of year fills me with restlessness and I find myself browsing apartment rental websites. I’m not even seeking someplace sunnier or warmer, just contemplating making a new life closer to the shore or to my distantly flung friends (despite feeling guilt about the idea of leaving my local loved ones). But such a change feels impossible to make when I can’t even afford to rent alone in the area where I currently live on my slightly better than average salary, and when I know the housing situations elsewhere are just as dire.

I’ve read so many times about how in decades past people would just decide to move someplace new with nothing but a little money and a few possessions, but I don’t know that such a thing is possible most of the time anymore. Life has too many prerequisites. People need jobs to get experience, but can’t get hired because they don’t have experience. Landlords want proof that you’re employed, but local candidates who can start immediately are often more desirable than the person who has to delay their start date to relocate.

A friend once told me that if I want a new job I just need to make a list of places where I want to work and call and ask if they’re hiring. That isn’t advice that particularly works for my field, but I wish I had that kind of courage, that kind of audacity, the chutzpah that this same friend has told me I have. I wish I knew how to just go for the things I want without talking myself out of them by telling myself the reasons they won’t work. I want my life to change, but feel so overwhelmed by not knowing how to place my first step that I just stand still. Meanwhile the world keeps rushing by, leaving me feeling left behind, and stagnant, and choking on the recycled air in the little bubble I’ve created for myself. Caution served me relatively well in my 20s, but now that I’m in my 30s it feels like just another bad habit to break, if only I were any good at doing that kind of thing.

I don’t know where to go from here, only that I want to. I don’t know how to change from here, only that I need to.

To Do in 2022

I think that even if I wasn’t born in the same month that people usually set their yearly goals I would still choose to do so in whatever my birth month was. Beginning my own personal next trip around the sun just feels like a good time to set intentions for myself, which is why I always wait until the end of January, closer to my actual birthday, and have a god long think about what I want (and need) to achieve instead of rushing to decide the first week of the month.

When I look back at what I wanted to get out of 2021 the results are pretty mixed. I carried over some goals from 2020 and those in particular went especially poorly, but I’d like to focus on successes instead because there are good reasons for (most of) my failures. For instance, while I still have games in my backlog, I did in fact play games there were not Red Dead Online. I did clear the backlog of physical books I owned and even (shocker) started getting books from my local library again after several years of not doing so. I managed a whole year of bullet journaling (which you can read about here). The various weekly online game nights that started during the pandemic are still going pretty strong and are some of the highlights of each of my weeks.

This year is my “golden birthday” (turning 31 on the 31st) and while part of me wants to declare grand intentions re: my job, my living situation, or my love life, the ongoing pandemic has me hesitant to reach out in those areas. I know I shouldn’t let it hold me back because covid is probably going to be part of the rest of our lives, but somehow the situation still feels too precarious. I somehow don’t feel too bothered by the idea of getting sick myself, but I am terrified of the idea of being the one to infect my loved ones. I will likely slowly, casually try making some progress in these areas (especially on the job front because WHOO BOY it’s been rough there lately), but I’m not formally declaring them major goals.

So what am I hoping to accomplish in 2022? Well, there are two really significant bad habits I’ve been grappling with, especially over the last several months, and there’s no time like the present for squaring my shoulders and starting to deal with them.

The first thing I need to do is divorce myself from my fucking cell phone. I don’t even want to think about how many nights I’ve lost to tapping back and forth between Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube and I feel really awful about myself when I realize I have yet again wasted an entire evening to that nonsense. I could be using that time to pursue my hobbies instead, and yet I’m not! My idea for accomplishing this is simple: when I go up to my room after dinner, my phone goes into my pajama drawer until I take it out at bedtime to charge. This way, I should be able to hear it if it rings or if my messages start blowing up, but if it doesn’t then it is basically out of sight, out of mind and that is what I need.

The second thing I need to do is to stop revenge procrastinating everything. You may have heard of the concept of revenge bedtime procrastination, which is basically staying up way too late to do more of the things you don’t get to do during the day. My issue is that I do not just revenge procrastinate at bedtime. Sleep is probably the most significant thing I procrastinate, but I am messing up my own life all day long by just not doing things when I am supposed to do them. Turning up a few minutes late for work is a less consequential one because we don’t clock in/out and my bosses don’t seem to notice or care, but I’ll put off cooking myself dinner until I’m so hungry I forget to put butter in the pan before I crack an egg in it (a real thing I did this week and it was a minor disaster, fml). Dealing with my phone issue will help immensely with this, because my phone is my number one accomplice in this procrastination.

If I can just get these two bad habits under control, I should be able to more successfully do some of the other things I want to this year, because I will simply have more time on my hands. Keeping up with both my daily journal and the one where I write little notes about the books, shows, and games I’m consuming is relatively simple. I did it last year and I’m confident I can do it again. But I want to write more, and try getting better at art, and maybe get back to playing music. I want to play more with photography as well. I did a couple of photoshoots of myself 2021 where I played around with different lighting setups (the photos in this post are from one of them) and it was pretty fun!

I also want to actually post 12 blog posts again. I only got 10 done in 2021, although one of them was a video so it took more time to put together than writing and editing a normal post. It was the first video I’ve made since quietly quitting YouTube a few years ago and I’m quite proud of it. I’d like to make more videos in the future if I have ideas, but I’m not putting pressure on myself. And speaking of proud, I’m actually especially proud of some of the writing I did in 2021. The first one that comes to mind when I think back to my favorite posts of last year is the post I did in June about my biological father, but if I were to call out two other favorites they would be the one I wrote in February about being touch-starved and the one from the beginning of May about how lonely and isolated I’d been feeling that winter/spring. I reread my 2021 posts while writing this one and I can honestly say I still like all of them, which is its own accomplishment.

So that’s what I’ve got cooking for 2022. Is there anything you’re trying to accomplish this year? I hope you can get it done! And I hope I can succeed with mine as well.

My 5 Favorite Reads of 2021

If you read my blog post about the bullet journal I kept in 2021 then you’ll know that one of the things I used that journal for was to keep track of the books I read. It’s possible that I missed noting down a book or two, especially books that I read on my Kindle during my lunches at work, but I’d say that I’ve kept a good enough record to be able to share a list of my favorite things I read last year. These books didn’t necessarily come out in 2021, I just happened to read and enjoy them over the course of the year. I tend to gravitate towards mystery/thriller books, historical fiction/non-fiction, and books with fantasy/magical elements and while those aren’t the only kinds of books I read in 2021 when I reviewed my journal and made this list there was definitely a pattern.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: I feel like with a list like this the expectation is to build up to my favorite read of the year, but I don’t want to wait, Ninth House is it for me. This is a mystery/thriller/modern fantasy novel centering on Alex Stern, a 20 year old freshman at Yale University who was recruited to study and be a member of the secret society tasked with overlooking the activities of the other secret societies on campus after she experiences a supernaturally-tinged traumatic event. As you can imagine, weird stuff happens and a mystery needs unraveling. I don’t want to say much more and risk giving something away. I read this book in June in less than a week, which is surprising because I usually only read physical books for 20 minutes or so at a time in the mornings before work. There’s a note in my journal from June 21 that says, “Tried to stretch out/savor Ninth House, but the only thing I wanted to do was read it, so I devoured the last 25% tonight.”

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater: This series is the reason this post is called “5 Favorite Reads” and not “5 Favorite Books.” I know I’m very late to this series, so you’ve probably heard people gush over it before. I myself actually read the first book a couple years ago and enjoyed it, but never managed to get to the other three. This year, though, I finally went back and read them all, spreading them out over April, May, and June, reading other books in between to make them last. These books are another supernatural/fantasy mystery, this one about a group of high school kids in Virginia trying to find the tomb of a long dead Welsh king. Apart from just wanting to know how the mystery turned out, I really enjoyed the dynamics between the characters and seeing how their relationships shifted over the course of the books. Everyone, even the side characters, feel very distinct and left an impression on me. The value of found families is a theme in these books, which is something I always love to see in a book. Stiefvater knows how to spin an immersive world and I look forward to exploring more of her books in the future.

(I’ve had my Kindle for about 5 years now and it’s been great to not lug books to work. The Pokemon stickers were done by miski, but they’re not available anymore.)

Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons: I read this book on my Kindle in September, starting it when I was on vacation in Cape May. When the book begins Constance D’Arcy’s clone wakes up and needs to piece together what happened to her and what the original Constance had been up to before her death, as Constance hadn’t been in to do a mental upload in 18 months. As she tries to sort things out she discovers that there are more suspicious events happening than just the fact that she was brought online with such an out of date backup. The near-future sci-fi world building is really neat, and this book really made me think about the ethics and ramifications of human cloning in ways I hadn’t really considered before. For the record, no, I would not like to be cloned, thanks!

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore: I was vaguely aware that this book existed for a few years, and when it came up on Prime Reading (which is where most of my Kindle reading comes from) I was quick to snap it up and I read it in the fall. This is a non-fiction book about the women who were exposed to radium in dial painting factories in the early to mid 1900s, particularly during WWI and WWII, and the struggles they had getting justice from the companies they worked for once the radium made them ill and even killed some of them quite young. This book is actually local history for me — the portion focused on New Jersey actually happened in my county and when I looked up where the factory was I realized I’ve driven past it multiple times and it is now (after a lot of remediation) a soccer field. I have rarely been so angry reading a book. The things these women went through and the reactions from their employers were outrageous, but at least it all led to changes in workers’ rights laws. However, shit like this still happens today all over the place and it was kind of disheartening to read this book and realize that ultimately not much has changed overall.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia: This is the last book I read in 2021, literally finishing it in the early afternoon on New Year’s Eve. This novel, set in the 1950s, centers on Noemí Taboada, a privileged young woman from Mexico City who is sent into the countryside to visit her married cousin Catalina who has written a concerning letter home. Noemí stays with the unsettling family her cousin has married into and tries to figure out what’s going on without losing herself in the process. This is another novel that I couldn’t put down and can’t say much about without ruining the mysteries in it. I thought I had figured out the main twist part way through, only to be proven very, very wrong. It’s a tense, fun, quick little read that I can’t recommend enough.

I don’t actually know how many books I read in 2021 because I can’t be bothered to go through my journal and actually count them, but I know that when the pandemic started I got back into reading again in a way that I hadn’t done for years, so I did get through a fair few books. I’m excited to keep reading and find out what great books I’ll be able to share with you at the end of 2022!

A Year of Bullet Journaling

(The journal pictures in this post are of my fresh, start of the month pages because I didn’t want to share all my little notes.)

Way back in January I wrote that one of my goals for 2021 was to keep a bullet journal. I usually wait to reflect on my goals for the previous year in a post at the end of January, but have enough to say about this one that I felt like it needed its own space.

Part of the benefit of doing a bullet journal is that you can set it up how you like and don’t have space taken up by habit trackers or goal boxes that are irrelevant to you. I knew from the outset I wanted to do just a few simple layouts. Every month naturally starts with a title page. Obviously, a monthly calendar grid was absolutely necessary, as was a spread for each week. It took me a couple of months of experimentation to find a weekly set up that I liked, and once I settled on one I saw no reason to change it. I didn’t keep a traditional habit tracker per se, but I did round out each month of pages with a color coded list of whatever books I’d finished, shows/movies I’d watched, or games I’d beaten that month, along with little notes of what I thought of them. All of the pages were decorated as much or as little as I had the energy for at the time.

(My vast array of bullet journal supplies, lol.)

Energy is a lot of what bullet journaling comes down to for me, to be honest. Some months I was totally gung ho and happy to spend the time drawing out my layouts each month. There were many months where it felt peaceful and meditative in a way. However, other months, especially towards the end of the year, I had trouble getting myself to take the time for it, feeling like it was a tedious chore that I didn’t really want to do, but had to so I could write my little notes in it.

I’ll be honest, there isn’t really enough going on in my life that I feel like I need a planner to keep track of it, especially since ye olde plague sees me spending even more time at home than I did before. I did of course mark in appointments and events as they came up, but I got a lot more use out of my bullet journal as an actual journal to write a little bit about what happened every day. I don’t know why this had never occurred to me with the planners I’ve owned in the past, but I ultimately found that having a size limited box made it easier for me to keep up with regular journaling more than the intimidatingly expansive pages of the blank lined notebooks I’ve tried to journal in before. I’ve kind of fallen off of journaling for the past couple of months, but I’m glad that at least for a large part of the year I have a record of the things I’ve done and things I’ve felt.

So, to sum up, did I successfully complete a year of bullet journaling? Yes. But will I be doing it again? No. By the end of the year I found it kind of annoying. I’d rather just buy a new planner for 2022 and use it as a journal. However, I do intend to fill up the remaining empty pages of my bullet journal with more notes about what I’ve watched, read, etc. I’m not making a goal to read a certain number of books or anything like that, but I like that I have a record of not only the media I consumed, but also my general impressions of it.

Even though in the end I’ve decided not to continue bullet journaling, I’m glad I tried it. I’ve satisfied my curiosity about whether I was capable, but I’ve found out that it isn’t for me and that’s fine! That’s just how life is sometimes.

5 Things I’ve Learned as a Beginner DM

You may have noticed that after doing pretty well about keeping to my monthly blog posts for most of the year I’ve fallen off track over the last few months. There are a few different reasons for this (traveling, my chronic focus/procrastination problems, etc.), but also some of the time I would have spent writing blogs has been spent prepping for sessions of Dungeons & Dragons instead. I first started playing D&D at the start of the pandemic, as it was a solid escape from *gestures vaguely at the state of the world* and a way to keep remotely connected to friends on a regular basis. At the beginning of September I took the reins and started DMing for the first time for one of the two D&D groups I’m in.

(These are the 1st nice set of dice I ever bought, for my 1st D&D character, my paladin Ellie Crane. You can find them here on Kraken Dice’s site.)

Up until this point, this group hasn’t been playing with much of a formal system, but I requested that we try D&D 5e because that’s what the other group I’m in uses and I’m someone who really does the best with firm structure, lol. Instead of using one of the many campaign source books that exist, we’re using a setting and story of my own creation, because I was afraid the group wouldn’t enjoy the more structured nature of the 5e ruleset. If at the end of our journey through my little story they want to continue with their characters, I can easily pull a premade campaign book for us to use because I’m not planning on taking us to a very high level, but if they don’t want to continue with 5e then we can move on to another new system.

The original plan in March 2020 was actually for me to be the first DM of this group, but I was nervous and felt overwhelmed by the idea so I gently bowed out and two of my friends took turns to lead us through stories before I finally felt comfortable taking a turn. I was nervous the first night we played in my setting of the marshlands of Fendria because I was afraid they wouldn’t like my more high fantasy/historical-ish setting (there have been both werewolves and the mention of a salt cellar so far). However, they do seem to be enjoying the story so far – yes, I did directly ask because I’m that worried about everyone having fun, lol. I do still feel a little nervous before each session, but am getting more comfortable every time.

Leading the game via DMing has been a whole new learning experience for me and over the past two months of doing it, here are my main takeaways:

ENUMERATE EVERYTHING: When setting the menu at the first inn/tavern the party went to, I casually included chicken nuggets as a fun little throwaway because when I had the players complete character surveys before we began someone mentioned their character enjoying them. Somehow I did not anticipate that player asking, “What is the maximum number of chicken nuggets I can buy?” leading to me having to unexpectedly decide how many orders of chicken nuggets the barkeep had. This incident has since been followed by “How many bowls of porridge will the innkeeper let me have?” and “How many dog biscuits did I loot from the dead werewolf?” Fortunately from the porridge incident onward I realized that having the party member roll a d6 to determine how many of the item they get is a good way to deal with that kind of situation. Going forward though, I do intend to remember to determine proper quantities for more of these grouped items.

(My desk in D&D prep mode.)

PLANNING TAKES A LONG TIME: Probably there are many DMs who can sit down for just an hour or two to prep for a session, but I am not that that person. If I were working from a sourcebook I probably wouldn’t have to spend as much time as I do prepping, but since I’m making this campaign up from scratch it takes me a long time to get ready for each session. A good portion of this is because I basically wind up doing my notes twice, once by hand and the second type when I type them into my computer. I’ve written a bit before about how if you stick me in front of a computer and expect me to easily write, it’s not going to work very well. The words just don’t flow as easily and I also don’t have the self-discipline to prevent myself from wandering the internet instead. The dual process is helpful because I get my ideas down easily by hand and then can revise and reorder them in my computer as necessary when I type them up. However, this combined with my horribly distractable nature means that I can often take up an entire Sunday afternoon prepping for our Monday night sessions, which kind of sucks and I feel like it shouldn’t be that way, but I guess this is my curse to bear.

But my players do seem to be enjoying the story/setting I’m creating and so while I’m frustrated with myself for not being a more efficient prepper, their enjoyment makes it worth it. Making my own campaign gives me the space to include all of the silly little in jokes that I find funny. For instance, I created a recurring character very vaguely based on Criss Angel who I’ve named Christoph Engel and the laugh I got when I first introduced him and mimicked his “heavy breathing while doing magic” thing made me so glad I had written him into the story.

I’M BETTER AT IMPROV THAN I THOUGHT: As someone who thrives in planning and organization, the thing I was most worried about as a first time DM was the element of chaos the group would bring. I can only plan for so much, after all, and also the group is very capable of making decisions that could throw my plans off and force me to scramble. We’d been playing narrative games together for a year and a half before I took the lead so I was very familiar with the potential for my friends to do unexpected things, like when we decided not to not go kill the medieval versions of our characters’ bosses in the first story we played through or in our second game when someone rolled a crit to instantly stab and defeat a scary boss fight with a robot. Nothing so catastrophically game changing has happened to me yet, but I have turned out to be better than I thought I would be at dealing with the various surprises the group throws at me. For instance, at one point I created an opportunity in the story for the cleric to provide some spiritual solace to a distraught person and instead she chose to slap them in the face to snap them out of it and I think I rolled with it pretty well. It probably helps that I’m very much the type of DM to say, “well, sure, if it feels reasonably plausible to me, you can do it,” instead of overly analyzing the rules or having a very strict idea of what flies in the setting I’ve created. I’m sure at some point they will find a way to break my story, and hopefully I will be able to handle it gracefully.

(The rest of my shiny math rocks hoard! My favorite dice are from Everything Dice and Cozy Gamer, but I also have a few micellaneous sets that I’ve acquired one way or another.)

THE PLAYERS ARE A FANTASTIC RESOURCE: I mean, I guess this isn’t something I’ve necessarily newly learned because I’ve been playing narrative games with this group for well over a year, but boy are they good providing suggestions for situations that pop up during sessions that I struggle to find a solution to. For instance, a big “problem” has been the fact that one of the party members is a warforged. Warforged are constructs that do not eat or sleep and I have an unfortunately high number of situations in the campaign where eating or sleeping happens, such as waiting until morning to depart from a place. During our first long rest the warforged requested to go in the forest and hunt wolves and I was torn between “don’t squash the player’s fun” and “I don’t want them to take damage because they’re going to a boss encounter the next day.” One of the other party members helpfully suggested, “well, what if he just doesn’t find any wolves?” and so that’s what we went with. I consider this game to be a collaborative effort above all. I’ve written the story, I’m leading the way, and I’m the one making final rulings on things, but I’m also flexible and open to the players’ ideas.

DON’T USE IMPOSSIBLE ACCENTS FOR CHARACTERS: When I was helping one of the players put his character together, he mentioned to me that accents would really help with his immersion in my campaign. That made me internally go, “Well, fuck,” because I’m not terribly good at accents and can’t do very many of them, but now I knew I had to at least try to use them even though I hadn’t been planning on it. For the most part it’s been okay, but there have been a few setbacks. One of the main accents I can do is a rough, deep, gravely British-ish kind of accent that makes me cough when I use it for more than a sentence or two, so the two characters I’ve wound up using that for have been a bit tricky. But even worse was my decision to give the aforementioned Christoph Engel a Russian/Eastern European-ish accent. I’d thought I was okay at that one, but it turns out I am awful at sustaining it for any extended period of time. The party has suggested that it turns out he’s faking the accent, but I want to stick to my original idea instead of going that route, so instead we’ve decided that he’s traveled around so much that his native accent isn’t quite firm anymore. Engel’s accent is something I slightly regret choosing, but not so much that I’m willing to give up yet.

I’m sure I will have more lessons/advice to share the longer I DM. I do feel kind of silly for avoiding it and being nervous about it for so long because while I don’t claim to be the best DM ever, I’m far better at it than I expected. I have what I call my “big sister instinct” where I just want to take care of my friends and make sure they’re having a good time and I suppose that DMing kind of feeds off of that, lol. I’m excited to see what the players do with the rest of my story. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun!

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.

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.

Creating Joy in Crisis

At the start of the year I promised myself I would write a blog post every month, and this month I have procrastinated that pretty badly. As I sit down to write this it is 10 p.m. on the last day of March 2020. To be fair, there’s been a lot going on this month that has made it hard to find the focus to sit down and write. If you’re reading this from the far off future, this was the month that COVID-19 finally hit the United States and my day to day life still feels very unreal. The other day I wrote a very long post about how exactly things have progressed and changed for me, but thinking about posting that right now feels wrong because if I’m being honest, on the whole, compared to many others, so far this virus crisis has been little more than an inconvenience to me on a personal level. 

So what if I have to work from home on shitty, frustrating remote work software? At least I’ve still got a job. So what if I’m stuck at home? At least I live with my family and don’t have to worry about getting lonely. So what if the news is increasing the anxiety of me and everyone around me? At least everyone I know personally is still well. I have come to the conclusion that no one wants to hear my mediocre problems when people are literally dying. 

So instead let me tell you a couple of ways that I’m keeping anxiety at bay and distracting myself from thinking too much by creating a little bit of joy in my life. Because, yes, this is a highly serious situation, but I’m scared of becoming overwhelmed by my fears and not being able to continue getting necessary tasks done.

My friend Brenda taught me the concept of “laughing so you don’t cry” and that is a concept I’ve clung to for the past few years, especially now. My current favorite way to have a laugh lately is by watching a British show called Taskmaster. I first found out about this show in the fall by spending too much time in British comedian YouTube and it’s rare for an episode not to make me laugh extremely hard. The concept of the show is that a set of comedians are all given ridiculous challenges to do, usually completing them in creative or unusual ways.

The best part is that they upload full episodes to their YouTube channel. I’m not one for binge watching and yet I watched almost all of a series in one day last weekend. I’d like to point your attention to series 4 in particular, which is the series I first watched because I’m a Joe Lycett fan. It’s got a good mix of personalities and it’s still my favorite series that I’ve watched so far. (I’ve now seen S1 and S2 as well.)

The other thing bringing me joy right now should come as no surprise to you if you follow me on Twitter, and that is Animal Crossing New Horizons. The previous game in the series, New Leaf, was my crutch through the biggest depression of my life back in 2013, so it feels weirdly correct that the new game has appeared during a dark time as well. It’s just one of the cutest freaking games out there! I managed to start off with one of my all time favorite animals on my island (after resetting 4 times because I kept starting off with really hideous animals).

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The routine of all the little daily tasks to do to take care of and grow the community on the island is very comforting to me now, just as the last game was in 2013. And it’s also been a nice way for me to spend time with friends in a way while we’re all separated!

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I understand not everyone has access to a Nintendo Switch, so please allow me to recommend a couple of other games. Stardew Valley is available on computers and other consoles and I found it to be a pretty relaxing time sink last year and lost large chunks of time to tending my farm and making friends. I’ve also downloaded Neko Atsume to my phone. It’s a cat collecting game that was first big around maybe 2013? 2014? It doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se, but it is very cute! I also 100% recommend Untitled Goose Game, available on all consoles and computers, to everyone who loves being a hilarious agent of small stakes chaos.

And that’s all I’ve got to say for now. I hope you all are doing as well as possible! These are rough times, but nothing lasts forever and we will get through one way or another.