Hello California

View from Jed’s guest room window this morning, palm trees and colorful houses and bougainvillea — hello, California. 🙂

I’m still a little tired from a few nights of broken sleep (tornado siren, party, dinner out late with George), but feeling better; I think if I sleep well tonight, I’ll be back to normal again. That’ll be good, because I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done the next four days.

The plan is to use this part of the trip as a semi-serious writing retreat — today, I’m hoping to write from 9-3 or so. Or try to, anyway. If I can finish a draft of the Jump Space book this week (not impossible?), that would be amazing.

Other than that, hanging out with Jed, probably lots of board games and TV in the evening. We started watching a new show together yesterday, Gentleman Jack (on HBO Max), which I’m quite liking one episode in. Gentleman Jack is based on a true story borne from Anne Lister’s secret diaries.

Lister kept diaries regarding her relationships with her secret female lovers as well as her efforts in reinstating her family home, Shibden Hall, back to notoriety. She is dashing and moody and sort of Byron-esque, and it’s really interesting seeing how we react to a woman behaving the way a lordly man typically does. The show plays with that in fun ways. If you liked Dickinson, you’ll probably like this. Season 1 is complete; season 2 will start June 6, 2022, so it’ll be a while.

Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman, would love to hear what you think of this show.

I’m going back to reading for a bit now. I just finished Delia’s collection of short stories, Young Woman in a Garden and Other Stories, which was delightful. The book blurb does a better job describing it that I would, so I give you that, with my recommendation: “In her vivid and sly, gentle and wise, long-anticipated first collection, Delia Sherman takes seemingly insignificant moments in the lives of artists or sailors—the light out a window, the two strokes it takes to turn a small boat—and finds the ghosts haunting them, the magic surrounding them. Here are the lives that make up larger histories, here are tricksters and gardeners, faeries and musicians, all glittering and sparkling, finding beauty and hope and always unexpected, a touch of wild magic.”

I’ve now started Emma Newman, who I hadn’t read before, and I’m really liking Planetfall so far — sort of like Becky Chambers and Martha Wells (and me) in terms of complex relationship dynamics and personal interactions, but with a nice added dose of science weirdness and new idea energy. If you come to science fiction for the sense of wonder, she’s giving out plenty of that energy…

Content Note: COVID Grief

The little graduation party we had for the kids on Saturday went reasonably well — I made way too much food, of course, but that’s to be expected. We had about 10 adults and 8 kids; everyone was vaccinated except for Anand and his friend Olivia, both too young.

We waffled about whether to ask the two of them to wear masks, but in the end, decided there was no real need; they were mostly outdoors, and when indoors, it was a big house with people who were vaccinated and generally also very careful. Oak Park’s COVID numbers in general are very low, and vaccination rates are good and getting better by the day. Judgement call, but it would’ve felt cruel to make them wear masks when nobody else was.

It was great feeding people, and it was great hearing the kids playing in the pool (not all of them went in, but most did at some point). It was REALLY great sitting around the living room and talking for a few hours. Lots of jokes, lots of laughter.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. My life during the pandemic was mostly…fine? I was even often happy, hanging out with the family or on my own. But laughing out loud ’til my stomach hurt? Not so much.

We also did some pandemic processing — how was the last year for you? I learned that one friend had had a major heart attack earlier this year — he’s fine now, thankfully, but it unnerved me that this had happened, and I hadn’t known. Since I’m on social media so much, I think I sort of have an illusion that I’m in touch with people, and that’s always an illusion; you just get a slice of life, and many of my friends aren’t even here.

But the pandemic made that all much worse, because without all the in-person density of conversation and knowing, the thin slice of social media connection often just didn’t hold up, dissolving into nothing. Weird and strange and lonely.

I’d messed up the invite — I’d meant it for 3, but somehow put 6, so most people didn’t show up until 6. (One person I’d talked to in person came at 3, so it was a rather odd party for a few hours.) Around 9, people started heading out, and that felt weird too — in the old days, board game nights sometimes went to 11 or midnight or even later, especially once the little kids had gotten bigger and people didn’t have to race home for early bedtimes.

I wonder if maybe people were a little tired of all the intensity of conversation? We’re not used to this. We’ll have to re-accustom. Or maybe they were just tired. And it was Father’s Day the next day, and I imagine many of them had more socializing plans for that.

Afterwards, I cleaned up a little, then ended up sitting on the sofa in the living room. The kids had gone to bed, and I realized I was kind of upset. I texted Kevin to come down and talk to me, and we started in a bit of a fight, because even though he often doesn’t really attend my parties (our deal is that generally I get to throw as many parties as I want, and he doesn’t have to come to them), he usually stops by for a bit and says hi to people. And he’d told me that he was going to come by when he finished some work, and then he didn’t, and it just felt weird and distressing that he’d stayed upstairs the whole time….

When he came down, it turned out that he’d had a really bad work day, with some math he’d been working on unravelling, and he’d been trying to patch it back together, but it had put him in a terrible mood, so he hadn’t felt like socializing, and he’d forgotten that he’d promised me he’d swing by for a bit. So we sorted that out, with a little bit of frustration and some tears, but I do understand how that goes. If I’d had similar problems with a novel, I might’ve wanted to go hide and bang my head against a wall too. So I wasn’t actually mad at him for long. Good thing I expressed my upset; it let us sort it through pretty quickly and get back to our accustomed good place.

But I was sad. Really sad. And the sad wasn’t about anything that had happened that day, I think. It was a deep well of loneliness and sadness and I ended up sobbing for a good long while, my face buried in Kevin’s increasingly soggy t-shirt. It was all the pandemic loneliness and stress and grief, this ball of misery that I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying around.

Seeing friends again, having a party, had been so good, but I’d spent more than a year locking away, compartmentalizing my loneliness and extrovert-need for people. I think the party cracked the levee walls, and the waters came rushing in.

It’ll get better. I’m going to see Jed in a few hours, and will isolate with him for five days, and then I’m going to Alex’s where we’ll actually have another party, and I’ll see lots of old friends, and might even make some new ones. People people people. I need them, it turns out.

I know some people reading this are still sheltering in place, are still locked down. I’m so sorry. I wish I could hug you all. I hope it’s better for everyone, soon.

Notes From the Road: Chicago O’Hare to San Francisco

  • waiting for take-off, love seeing the Ethiopian Airlines plane — and then immediately wonder how badly they’ve been hit, how short they are on vaccines; we’ve GOT to get vaccines to the rest of the world, as fast as possible. Go, go, go.
  • United hands you a little packet with a sanitizing wet wipe on boarding; surface transmission is not so much a thing with COVID, but there are plenty of other bugs out there, and a lot of people in here, so I am happy to wipe down the armrests, tray table, seat pocket, and my hands. We probably should’ve been doing that all along.
  • beverage service is back to normal, which is nice, and they even gave us a few little snacks — pretzels and a Stroopwaffle. Particularly good because while they have additional snacks for sale, you can’t pay for them with a credit card or cash; you need to have loaded your card info onto the United app on your smartphone. If you don’t own a smartphone, I guess you’re out of luck; classist (and ageist) BS. Do better, United.
  • I’m lucky enough to have a window seat, so that wins me a little extra space and just one neighbor; social distancing requirements seem to have gone out the window at this point; this is a full flight.
  • said neighbor is eating a very aromatic hot sandwich that smells delicious; good thing I have plenty of tasty food, or I’d be seriously (silently) cranky right now. Reminds me of the chemo ward, where they asked us not to bring in smelly food, because other people there might be nauseated by the smell, or want some deliciousness, but not be able to eat that kind of thing
  • I’ve covered my legs and feet in my thin travel blanket, and discreetly slipped off my shoes underneath. I know some people are really grossed out by other people’s bare feet; I am not, but would rather not upset people unnecessarily. Hopefully the blanket suffices; my feet tend to swell a bit when we’re up high, so shoes get really uncomfortable.
  • my feet are not smelly, which would be a bigger problem. In general, reducing odor as much as possible when people will be trapped in close quarters seems courteous; I wear perfume much less often than I used to, and tend to avoid heavily scented hair, etc. products.
  • I was a little warm when we were on the ground, but it cooled down once we were up in the air, so it’s no problem keeping on the face mask and face shield; they actually keep my face warm and comfortable. Glad I brought the blanket and hoodie; both are now in use.
  • all those mundane travel details drop away as we take off, heading up to the cloud layer. I love, love, love flying. A little space when nothing is expected of me except existing. I breathe differently, up in the sky.

*****

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

– John Gillespie Magee

An Anglo-American aviator and poet. Magee served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States entered the war; he died in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire in 1941.

Notes From the Road: Product Review, AnväNDA Bag ($149)

(https://anvanda.com/…/anvanda-a-great-f-cking-bag-with…)

So, I’m a little annoyed at myself for actually liking this somewhat expensive bag, because it was served up to me as a Facebook ad. Oh well. However it came to me, I do really like it, and since I’m somewhat picky about bags and I normally travel a lot, I thought some of you might appreciate a review.

  • the big essential for me are the backpack straps; this is the only way I can carry weight for any length of time while travelling. But if you’d prefer, it also comes with a shoulder strap, and you can configure it as a duffel bag, messenger bag, shoulder, or tote. (If I’m sharing this with Kevin, he might prefer messenger, for example. Easy to switch.)
  • I also like the styling, a lot. It’s got that world traveller look, but manages to be professional enough for business, casual enough for adventure, and even appropriate for running around town doing errands. Great aesthetic. (It comes in a variety of solid colors, plus camouflage and a really pretty peacock print that tempted me; I went neutral instead, though.)
  • I love that the strap that buckles over the top zipper provides added security AND lets you attach it very securely to the handle of a rolling suitcase. My rolly has wheels that let it go in any direction, and with this strapped on, it was really easy to walk a long distance through the airport with almost no effort.
  • it came with a reflective rain cover, which I currently have tucked into the bottom of the bag; nice option for protecting electronics if caught in torrential downpour (for a short, light drizzle, I think the bag itself will protect sufficiently)
  • it fits my 13-inch laptop in the laptop sleeve, but I could wish it was maybe 1 inch wider; even though they claim it fits a 15″ or 17″ laptop, it’s a little tight getting my 13″ laptop in and out if the bag is packed fully; so far, that’s my only real complaint
  • right now, mine is holding: laptop, tablet, kindle, hoodie, thin travel blanket, bag of device power cords, a large plastic container of rice and curry, wallet and phone. That’s packed pretty full — you could slip a hairbrush or a non-bulky waterbottle in there if you tried, I think, but it would be some effort. It does have a water bottle pocket, to help keep it upright.
  • this is very different from my BIG space backpack, which can hold a lot more, but certainly for domestic travel, this is plenty for me. (For an international flight, I might want a print book, some magazines, paper and my roll of colored pencils for drawing, and a lot more snacks. I give up on travelling light when I’m going international; the priority shifts to having everything I need for survival and ideally pleasant diversion, even if I’m stuck on a runway for eight hours (which has happened). If I have enough snacks to share with a neighbor, even better.)
  • I did get the standard bag; there’s a large version, but that’s quite a bit larger, and would dwarf my frame, I think. Although maybe I’d get it for international travel; we’ll see if I continue to love this bag after a few trips. Använda Large GFB has a 27 liter capacity. Normal size is 17 Liters.
  • they give you the option of vegetarian leather if you prefer
  • I picked the option with a USB charger built in, but I didn’t get around to actually investigating that — I’m assuming I need to charge an internal battery before travelling if I want to use it.
  • it has an outside pocket for convenience and an inside pocket for security

Overall: Highly recommended, 5/5 stars. Använda.

An Absolute Miracle

Notes from the road: Chicago O’Hare to San Francisco.

I took a photo of my vaccination card, just in case, but no one asked about my vaccine status. I noticed while sorting my documents that while I have two more years on my driver’s license, my passport expires in a month, which means I need to renew it now — apparently, there’s a big backlog at the moment, and I’m hoping to be able to travel to Amsterdam (COVID-permitting) in November.

It’s very people-y in the airport, but I feel pretty well protected between my Moderna vaccine, mask, and the sleek little face shield that Jed found.

Security person #1, curiously: “What’s that?”

Me: “A face shield, see?” (Flips it down to demonstrate)

Security person #1: “Oh, cool.”

I’m not necessarily keeping the face shield on the whole time — masks are required both in the airport and on the airplane, except if you’re lowering the mask to sip or eat. I can still have the face shield on then; it’s open at the bottom, so it’s a nice way to facilitate eating / drinking during a long travel day, while minimizing the chance of someone coughing on you, or you coughing on someone else.

I probably wouldn’t bother for a short flight, but for anything over four hours, I think it’s worth considering, especially if you’ll be travelling through hot spots (or airports in communities with high levels of non-compliance with masks / vaccinations). It steams up a bit if you talk to people, but it’s easy to pop up onto your head, or all the way back.

It did trigger the security sensor, so I had to go back through to take it off (easy to take off and put on with buckles at shoulders); I’ll just take it off proactively and put it through the baggage scanner on my way back with my laptop, etc.

Hood comes in black / beige / grey / white, about $40 + shipping. Link (allow a few weeks for shipping from Bulgaria): https://www.etsy.com/…/face-shield-full-face-mask-hood…

Security person #2, after patting me down thoroughly due to a mysterious ping in the groin region, a pat-down in which I was cheerful, moved as needed without much prompting, familiar with the drill from prior travels: “I wish all my customers were like you!”

Me, grinning: “I’m just SO HAPPY to be travelling again!”

I packed a lunch in case I got hungry, since I wasn’t sure what the food situation would be, and I have a little bit of a complex about running out of food while traveling. My beloved Frontera wasn’t open, alas, so I didn’t get my standard grilled pork + fig torta for travelling; lots of other places are, though, and the Starbucks chai is just as yummy as I remembered, even if it’s not that much like actual chai. 🙂

Ensconced now at the gate with my laptop and beverage, the woman beside me strikes up a bit of conversation — it turns out that she’s also going to Mountain View, with a husband who works at Google (which is where Jed works). Small world!

Feeling incredibly grateful to be able to travel again. Vaccines are an absolute miracle. Thanks, science!

An Increased Sense of Responsibility

It is so strange — ever since running for office and being elected, I feel this increased sense of responsibility. So when a tornado warning went off tonight, yes, I went to go check on the kids and decide with Kevin whether we needed to wake them and head to the basement…

…but I also felt like I had to go online and post to all the community forums I administer, spreading the word about the tornado watch, and then answering people’s questions and relaying info from the news sites.

I’m pretty sure being elected to the library board, or even to the school board, doesn’t actually make me responsible for making sure the community of 63,000 souls (52,000 in Oak Park and 11,000 in River Forest) is as safe as it can be during a tornado watch….but tell that to my subconscious.

(And after all, if not your elected officials, then who? It’s not as if we have a tornado czar around here.)

But the warning’s past, and now, I really have to wind down and get my subconscious to let me go to sleep. Everyone is fine, and tucked up in their beds. Nothing else needs to be managed and worried over tonight…

Looking to Add a Dog

Putting it out into the universe that we are possibly looking to add a dog to our family. Characteristics desired:

  • strong preference for shelter dogs
  • preferably not a puppy, but young-ish; 1-2 years old would be ideal
  • gets along well with our tolerant old beagle-mutt and our adolescent and somewhat bossy cat
  • not super-high-energy; content with a house and fenced yard and a daily walk, but not needing a lot of high activity playing
  • kid and people friendly; this is normally a busy house with a lot of people coming and going, so we need all pets to be very gentle and easy-going
  • no preference otherwise on breed, size, etc.
I’m tentatively planning to go to the same great shelter where we originally got Ellie after I get back from this trip; they did a terrific job interviewing us and then pairing us with a dog who was well suited to our family at the time.

But just in case someone local happens to know the ideal dog, thought I’d mention here.