Pandemic Thoughts: If You’re Not Okay, That’s Okay

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Copyright: Shannon Fagan

Idea Overload

I quit social media again today. Okay, so “quit” may be a strong word since I’m posting this, but I am definitely dialing back. I do this periodically when it starts making me feel like a failure in my own life. And since the response to Covid-19 has ramped up, I definitely feel like I’m falling short.

The internet is saturated with ideas for those of us fortunate enough to be healthy but also stuck at home.

  • Make a schedule!
  • Go for a walk!
  • Have a family game night!
  • Read these 18 self-care tips to stay happy and healthy at home!
  • Do these 47 education crafts!
  • Here are some video links to free yoga! Free online classes! Free footage of California Condors doing the congo!

Here’s what happens to me as I scroll through all of those helpful posts (sooo much help): I start to feel pressured. I begin to feel like I am falling short, like I am not enough. I haven’t hand-sewn any face masks for healthcare workers, I haven’t made my kids do any school work yet, I have availed myself of zero free YouTube workout videos. We are basically acting like it’s summer vacation around here, sans day camps.

The Good

We’ve been on some hikes and some walks. We are making the kids do housework, and we are discovering some new shows to watch. I am enjoying our lax schedule and the idea of distance learning as a fun social experiment. It will be interesting to see what we learn as a society from all this, what will change permanently. <— See! Positive attitude!

I have also learned that even when you do chores, go running, read a book, play a board game and make everyone rake leaves, there is still a LOT of time left in the day to binge-play video games.

The Not So Great

Here’s what else has happened in our house since social distancing began: Jason yelled and threw things because (not really because) he lost at a video game. The kids have gotten in fights. I have cried in my morning coffee because I don’t have a job. Ou dog is driving us all nuts with her constant scratching because her foot thumps on the floor, and when she does it upstairs, it’s like a seventy-pound Thumper from Bambi is sounding the alarm for approaching doom. Our very own pandemic herald.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay

You can do all the “right” things. You can meditate, make schedules and mentally list everything you have to be grateful for, and still have a hard time. This IS a hard time. Whether your stress is derived from health issues, financial worries, being cooped up in the house with your family or a combination thereof, it is okay if you’re not totally okay.

We all feel better when we take good care of ourselves and our families. I’m not suggesting everyone spend the next several weeks wallowing alone in dark bedrooms with nothing but Netflix for company. Not the entirety of it, anyway. But there’s nothing wrong with you if all those helpful suggestions don’t make the anger, worry or fear disappear.

The big stressors are there in the background, so if you still grind your teeth, get irritable and yell at someone or close your bedroom door and cry, congratulations! You’re having a normal human reaction to things that are stressing out the entire damned globe. No amount of family game night is going to fix the downward-sliding economy, make a sick loved one well or get us back to our normal lives any faster. It just might make it a bit more tolerable, that’s all. Those big things will take time; we can’t repair them with essential oils or apple cider vinegar.

“These Uncertain Times”

I have a hard time answering when people ask me how we’re doing in these “uncertain times” as the media like to put it. We’re doing pretty good. We’re not too stir crazy or bored, and we all still like each other. With more free time, we’ve been getting outside a lot and spending some actual quality family time together. And also, Jason and I are worried about our finances and the medical vulnerability of some of our relatives. Sometimes that leaks out as irritation and anger. But at least we’re talking about it.

I’ve only got one suggestion to go with the mountains of advice you’ve read lately: If you are scrolling through your newsfeed, and you start to feel bad about the way you’re handling the Covid-19 crisis, close the app and social distance yourself from social media, just a little. Hell, you don’t even have to put your phone down; go play Words with Friends or something. Call a real-live friend and vent to them everything that’s pissing you off lately.

Bottom line, at our house, we’re okay, but we’re not totally okay, and as I remind myself daily, eventually, all of this will be okay. If you’re not totally okay, either, that’s okay. Don’t make not being okay even less okay by feeling not okay about feeling not okay. Okay?

 

‘Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit my Job.

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This probably isn’t the week to try to quit anything, except going out.

I quit my job with Neighbors of Four Points magazine several weeks ago. I was just ramping up the search for a new position when the coronavirus smashed everyone’s plans on the whole planet to bits and caused the cancellation of pretty much everything but healthcare.

On the one hand, I don’t have to deal with trying to work from home while the kids are not in school for what is currently going to be three weeks. My freelance client has even put projects on hold. As an introvert, nothing pleases me more than being on my own, whimsical schedule. And we are all healthy and not immune-compromised at our house. There’s a lot to appreciate, not the least of which is Texas Governor Abbott giving the okay for restaurants to deliver alcohol during this time of crisis.

On the other hand, as a person who needs a job, the current situation doesn’t bode well. Hiring copywriters isn’t a priority right now. A lot of people assume that because my husband has a fulltime job, I don’t need to work; I just do it for personal edification or shits and giggles and to keep from being bored. These people don’t know me very well; I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself with a stack of books, puzzles and some wine without anyone paying me. We need my income. And while we can keep ourselves in food, clothing and shelter for now, my being unemployed for who-knows-how-long is stressful.

It’s a weird time. My kids are happy the state testing they dread every year has been canceled, and I am enjoying the change in routine, but I know it’s going to be challenging after three weeks. Despite the fact that I taught school for ten years prior to having my own children (or perhaps because of it) I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling. And I know I need to get a job. And I know there are immune-compromised people suffering from coronavirus or from anxiety about contracting it and a bunch of other people irrationally hoarding things and making it harder on everyone. My 68-year-old mom is still going to work in the lab at the hospital every day, and my sister is still stalking the streets of New York City providing necessary health care to those who live there. There is a lot going on and virtually nothing going on all at the same time.

This is going to be the thing our kids remember. Like we remember where we were when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center was hit. Like our parents recall their exact location when John F. Kennedy was shot. But this one is global; it’s an experience youth around the world share. Twenty years from now, my kids might run into someone from Italy, Australia or China, and they’ll ask each other, “What happened where you were during the coronavirus pandemic?” Since this is not an acute event but a lengthy pandemic virus, they will have a lot to talk about. And what will they remember about how the adults in their lives handled this challenge?

Dickens Was Right, Damnit

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Copyright: Paul Rushton

Dickens, be damned.

My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.

We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.

I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?

I hate it when he’s right.

BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.

My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho

It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.

My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.

The best of times weren’t that good.

I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.

It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) —  I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.

There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Why didn’t you just say so?

So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.

And also…

“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)

(non)Urgent Cricket Update

 

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This is technically a grasshopper, but really, who cares? Photo by Dmitry Grigoriev on Unsplash

So many people have asked me, “But what happened to the crickets?? Did they survive?!” that I decided to do an update. And I have the ulterior motive of showing off the original story at its new home, The Syndrome Mag. Thank you to the editors there for thinking it was funny and helping me make it even better.

I also have to give props to Maggie Dove, who writes RomCom Dojo. It was her piece in the same publication that gave me the idea The Syndrome Mag might like a story about dead crickets. Also, she is super sarcastic and funny, and I rub my hands together like a small child in a candy store every time one of her posts hits my inbox.

Anyway, yes, some of the crickets came back from being cryogenically frozen like Han Solo. They didn’t stumble around blind like he did, though. Or maybe they did; with crickets, it’s hard to tell. The other 950 insects stayed very much dead, and I had to extract the survivors from the piles of their compatriots’ carcasses, which they were surprisingly intent on burying themselves in.

I blame the post office. Our mail carrier is aggressively grumpy, and we all give him a wide birth. The crickets were left in a package locker overnight, and I wasn’t notified via text until the next day they were there. It got down below 30 degrees that night. Grumpy mail dude probably doesn’t give a shit about keeping crickets alive (which makes him remarkably like most people).

The company, Josh’s Frogs, from whence the crickets came, however, gave superb customer service and shipped me replacement crickets, all of which arrived alive. I think they threw in some extras for my trouble because there seem to be WAY more of them than usual.

Our beardie, Splynter, is now reveling in her abundance of deliciousness, or she would be if she were still eating crickets. Apparently, she’s fasting now. Figures.

What’s Grosser Than Ten Dead Crickets in a Box?

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1,000 stinky crickets

One thousand dead crickets in a box.

That’s what I’m looking at right now — 1,000 belly-up insects in a rectangular receptacle. I paid 30 dollars for them.

If that sounds like the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, to be fair to me, they were supposed to be alive. I bet most of you would give 30 dollars to get rid of a thousand crickets and wouldn’t dream of paying a third party, through Amazon, to carefully pack and send you (supposed to be) live crickets, but let me back up.

We have a bearded dragon. My youngest child has been obsessed with lizards since he was a toddler, so we gave in and got him one for Christmas last year. We did all the research on lights, substrates, tank size, and food. Bearded dragons, especially growing ones, like to eat crickets. No problem. Go by the local pet store every now and then and pick some up.

It turns out our beardie likes to eat LOTS of crickets — like 20 or 30 each feeding sometimes, even though she’s supposed to be about done growing. I don’t know where she puts them; she’s a very svelte-looking dragon. And she’s about the laziest being I’ve ever encountered.

The trips to the pet store and the money spent on a la carte crickets were starting to add up, so I began ordering them in bulk from (of course) Amazon. Here’s the thing: when you’re housing crickets a thousand at a time, even though they’re only going to get eaten, you have to supply accommodations of a certain quality.

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I never thought I’d say this, but that’s a really cute lizard.

Your pet is only as healthy as the crickets she eats, so you want to feed those buggers some quality food — potatoes, carrots, or the slimy, orange cubes you can also get (like everything else) on Amazon. Crickets need water, too, but you can’t give them too much at a time, or they drown in it because they have brains the size of cricket heads. So not only have you taken on the care and feeding of a reptile, but you also have to feed and care for their food. Fine. Whatever.

So this afternoon, when I opened a box of one hundred percent dead crickets, I was vexed, irritated, irate, annoyed, indignant, and I wrote a strongly-worded email to the company (through Amazon) asking for a refund. In a huff, I sent Jason a text, told him what happened, and asked him to pick up the high-priced crickets at the pet store on his way home.

I was just lying down for a nap to calm my nerves after the disconcerting experience of opening the mass grave that had arrived at my home via mail when my phone rang.

Jason: Hey, the pet store lady says they’re probably not dead. They just went dormant because of the cold weather. You didn’t throw them away, did you?

Me: No, of course not. Why would I throw away a perfectly good box of dead crickets? (In truth, I did still have them — you know, for proof so I could get my 30 dollars back.)

Jason: She says just to wait a few hours and see if they come to. Maybe put them by the space heater in your office.

So that’s what I did. Now I am sitting here typing next to a box of one thousand maybe-not-all-dead crickets incubating next to a space heater. Just call me Miracle Max. They’ve got their favorite egg carton pieces in there and a bunch of premium, orange, slimy food cubes in case they’re hungry when they wake up.

I AM NURSING A HOARD OF FUCKING CRICKETS BACK TO HEALTH.

This is one of those things no one tells you about parenting: that you will find yourself doing the most ridiculous of things in the name of your children’s interests. My office is now a cricket infirmary because my kid likes lizards. How the hell did we get here?

It’s absurd, yes, but secretly, I love it. Let me explain, lest you get the wrong idea that a box of passed-out insects would make an excellent Christmas present for me. I love that my kids take me with them into exploring things I’d never have delved into otherwise. After all, if I hadn’t been playing cricket nursemaid this afternoon, I’d probably have been working, so it’s a good tradeoff. (Sorry, I would’ve had that to you by five o’clock, but our pet’s dinner had a medical emergency.) Also, if this kind of ridiculous shit didn’t happen from time to time, what would I have so much fun complaining about? But really, please don’t send me a box of dead crickets.

Coffee with a Side of Blackmail

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Copyright : iqoncept

My morning was hijacked by an email.

I was poking through my spam folder when I saw a message that appeared to be from myself but with a different email address. It began like this:

I do know @#$$%% is your passphrases. Lets get directly to purpose. No person has compensated me to investigate about you. You do not know me… 

I replaced the “passphrase” with gobbledygook here, but in the actual email, it was a password I had used in the past. My hackles went up, despite the horrendous grammar (or maybe because of it). The message was long, but the gist was they had downloaded all my contacts, and if I didn’t send them $997 in bitcoin, they would send everyone a video (they’d hacked into my camera) of me watching porn. Aside from my email address and the password, there was no specific information that indicated they knew anything about me. Ridiculous, right? Except…

I have watched internet porn before.

Just like most people probably have, at least once. My heart began hammering in my chest. I tried to laugh it off, but I couldn’t focus on my work. My overactive imagination kept conjuring up what it would feel like if my entire contacts list received that kind of video, how it could terrorize my family, my kids, even ruin my career. Then, I began to get angry. How dare this person hijack my brain with fear, distracting me so that a morning I planned to spend catching up on work was spent rereading the same paragraph over and over because I couldn’t concentrate. How dare they pray on people this way. It’s bullshit, and I’m not putting up with it.

I told Jason, you know, just in case it came to fruition, so he would be prepared. Plus, it always makes me feel less like the world is ending when I share, especially since he didn’t think it was any big deal. Luckily, despite what the malicious message implied, the notion of my watching porn has no chance of ruining my relationship. I went for a run, I calmed down. I feel better about it now.

I’m not the only one getting threatening spam.

I can’t help but think about the people who might be taken in by this, might actually send the money, or might not, but they live in fear of their worst, most embarrassing nightmare coming true. I’m mostly angry at the perpetrator, but part of the reason crap like this even has a chance of working is how horrified we all are that people might actually find out we like sex, that we might like to get creative with it sometimes, do something unconventional (not that watching porn is, at all, unconventional.)

Now that I am done being scared and pissed off, I’m viewing it as a warning shot — to be careful online and to teach my kids to be the same. I am, right now in my head, composing a conversation I need to have with them about suspicious messages and how to handle them, (i.e., tell me so I can help and/or track down and beat the shit out of anyone stalking and scaring my kids.)

It’s less embarrassing when you share.

I debated whether or not to share this story here. It’s embarrassing, but considering how many people watch porn, it’s also ridiculous to be embarrassed about it. Telling you myself, instead of waiting for someone else to out me allows me to be in control, to take back the power that internet trolls are trying to steal for their own gain.

I know there are other people out there who’ve gotten these messages — people who feel scared, annoyed, angry, embarrassed. And when we keep these terrifying situations to ourselves, it eats at us and grows larger and heavier. We lose to the internet terrorists who want us to be scared enough to succumb to their wishes or at least live in fear for a while.

But when we are honest about who were are, when we stand on the mountain and shout, “Yes, I’ve watched internet porn before. So what?” When we let all of our skeletons out of the closet to dance around in broad daylight, no one can impose a fear hold on us. Here’s the other thing you find out when you let out gossipy truths about yourself….in actuality, no one really cares all that much.

The Time I Drove a Motorcycle Through a House

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My sister, my aunt Val, and me on Val’s motorcycle. We start ’em young.

When I was eighteen years old, I drove a motorcycle through the wall of our house. I wasn’t actually riding the motorcycle, and it wasn’t even running. How might one drive a parked motorcycle through a wall?

I was home from college for the summer, and I went out to the garage to get in my car and drive to my summer job at the bookstore. It was a hand-me-down, 1987 Nissan Stanza, standard transmission. I opened the car door, plopped my butt in the seat with my legs still hanging out the open door, and turned the key to start the car. It roared to life and lurched forward as I panicked, scrambling to get my feet in the car and on the brake to halt the car’s forward progress. Which I did. But not before the car pushed my dad’s motorcycle, parked in front of it, through the wall and into the brand-spanking new den my dad had just finished building.

If you know anything about cars and stick shifts, you probably think I’m making this up. You are thinking, But standard transmissions don’t start unless you have your foot on the clutch.

Yes, but not this one. That car began having trouble starting back when it was still my dad’s. Eighty-five percent of the time when my dad fixes something, it involves removing safety features. Like the one that prevents a car from starting unless your foot is on the clutch. I always left the car in neutral with the parking brake on, which allowed me to develop the (bad) habit of starting it without being all the way inside it yet. My dad, however, liked to leave it in gear with the parking brake off, and I’d forgotten he’d moved it for me the night before.

So there I am. I have to be at work in fifteen minutes, and I am staring in horror at the motorcycle handlebars poking through that brand new wall. In the span of five seconds, I have scratched the front of my car, damaged my dad’s motorcycle and demolished a recently-completed construction project. My sister has traveled halfway downstairs (not all the way; she’s 15 and only one notch above bored by the whole sitch) and is gawking from the stairwell like, What’d you do?!

Did I call my dad at work? No. I called my mom. I pleaded with her to call him, so I wouldn’t have to face the music. She flat-out refused, saying something to the effect of, “No way. You made your bed, now you lie in it.”

So I took a deep breath and called my dad but not before I came up with a strategy:

Dad: This is Pat.

Me: Dad, it’s April. I just pushed your motorcycle through the wall with my car, but it’s all your fault because YOU LEFT MY CAR IN GEAR, AND I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE IT IF IT WEREN’T FOR YOU!

‘Like how I didn’t give him a chance to respond? Like how I immediately went on the offensive and wholly denied any personal responsibility. Guess what? It worked. Just not how I intended.

My dad laughed his ass off at me through the phone. At first, I was scared he had lost it entirely, but then I realized he actually thought it was funny. My blaming it on him was so ridiculous, he wasn’t even mad. (Plus, by the time I was 18, he was starting to mellow a bit.)

He had me help him fix the wall, which was a logical consequence and was actually kind of fun — a bonding experience. It all turned out okay, and I never again started that car or any other manual transmission without both the clutch and the brake covered. I also learned…

  • When you fuck up really badly, if you can make your confession ridiculous to the point of hilarity, maybe they’ll go easy on you.
  • It is good to laugh at yourself.
  • It’s bad to park things in front of other things.
  • Under no circumstances should you remove safety mechanisms from devices used by people under the age of thirty.