Virtual Meet-Up

I did my first virtual meeting last week with a group called “The Quarantine Book Club” (I first told you about them in my “Submitting” post last week.) I stumbled upon them on Instagram. They are a group of readers, writers and designers, all around cool people who are hosting virtual meet-ups on Zoom with writers who are promoting books, or essayists and others like them. I stumbled upon them because one of my favorite writers, Megan Stielstra, was the guest. The tickets are $5 through EventBright, and I will post their events, website, and other links at the bottom of the page if you are interested in learning more. But for now I want to tell you about the hour I spent with 55 really nice, really honest, really empathetic and compassionate people at my desk in my pajamas.

I was nervous when I first logged onto Zoom, so nervous in fact that I didn’t even connect with video. That is an option you have. You can just stick a picture of yourself up, or it will just show your name. I chose this pic of Jackson and me as my image:

I couldn’t decide what I was nervous about, I think it was just the idea of meeting new people, yes, even virtually. I did feel a little better when Megan’s sweet face popped up, but I was still like, “Oh my goodness, what if I do or say something crazy and someone notices me?” So yeah, I sat in relative obscurity. For the record, I also didn’t ask any questions (though there were a so many for her we didn’t even get to them all), all I did was thank them at the end in the little chat bar, but I did listen, something I am really good at, and I did soak up some inspiration from one of my favorite writers and some really awesome new friends! (For real, some of us connected on Insta afterward.) And although I took four pages of notes just from listening, these were the big takeaways for me:

Because although Megan is a great essay writer, we didn’t really want to know about how to write an essay, we were all wondering instead, how you an keep writing, how you can survive, in a times like today. And she spent a lot of time telling us how she thought we could do that, how she was trying to do that, and how we as a community must do that. She talked about fear and sadness. About how we can service our communities with our writing. About how it’s okay to be down on the ground. It’s okay because there are people are around us who are not on the ground when we are, and we need to rely on those people, because one day we will be upright and walking, and our friends will be down there and they will need us like we did them. Really. Truly.

Don’t get me wrong, she did talk about writing. She gave some great tips on how to find where you should be submitting. She encouraged us all to get our words out there, but when one woman was unmuted to ask her question, and was crying alone in her bedroom because Megan had just given us all permission to be scared and sad, we all took a long breath in. We were all this woman. Or we have been. Or we will be. And it is scary and it is sad, and we feel bad about it, even though there just isn’t a need to.

I don’t know, listen, I’m still trying to wrap my head around all I learned in one hour with 55 strangers on the internet. I’m sure something good will come from it, but in the meantime here is the link to the Quarantine Book Club again, and here is an essay from Megan Stielstra’s book “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life” and here is a list of my favorite Indie Bookstores you can buy her, or any of the cool, fun, new books from. I’m sure you have your own Indie Booksellers too, but if not, check out Indie Bound.

Quarantine Book Club Twitter

Megan Stielstra Essay “Here is My Heart”

Some of my favorite Indie Booksellers, the kind of places you can get lost in for hours. Most of them are closed now except to online orders, but most are offering free delivery right now too. And if you’re ever in any of these areas, check out these fun shops, I’ve been to all of them and can vouch for their cold-hard coolness!

Okay, take care of yourself and each other.

M.

Internet Trolls

As you know, I’ve had my fair share of trolls over the last year. Matter fact, trolling seems to be a full-time job for some people. You can always tell who they are because they have screen names like TitsMcGee and @BigDickDaddy. Oh, and they are usually white males, not always, but the majority of mine have been. Some are bots from Russia. Had one of those on this here blog the other day. His name was DJT45. He followed me, then when I went to his page it was in all Russian. I quickly deleted him. In my experience it’s always the white guys with red hats that follow like CNN or WaPo and comment in the comment section crazy, straight-outta-left-field-bullshit conspiracy theories. Like why are you even following this “liberal bullshit” anyway? Answer: To troll.

You guys know I had to limit my Facebook time to a tight 15 a couple months back. Part of the problem is that I was reading the comment sections. Big mistake. I’d read say, a NYTimes article about global warming, and then I’d scroll the comment section. I’d come across no short of 100 trolls. People there just to argue and fight. They’d type in all caps: GLOBAL WARMING IS A LIBERAL HOX (they’d usually spell something wrong). Then about ten people would attempt to “school them” and it would just escalate. I usually wouldn’t comment, because I realize the game and I don’t want to play. But sometimes I literally couldn’t help myself. Like when it was a story about the polar bears dying in Antarctica and someone said, “This is all Hillary Clinton’s fault!” Dafuq?

I started to realize, on FB anyway, that some of my own family members are trolls. For sure. They will post a crazy, off-the-wall conspiracy theory meme then try to downplay it with an “LOL” or a smiley face emoticon and be all, “Haha.” But really, really, they want someone to comment. They are trying to start a fight. Engage. Flex their poorly-educated egos. My husband and I used to engage, now we just scroll past, or copy the meme and share it for our friends to laugh at it, or in some cases “unfriend” the ill-informed family member. Because you can do that, y’all! Not sure if you know that, but you can unfriend family members. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about them, or that you aren’t family anymore, it just means you’re hella tired of seeing their ridiculous, one-sided, fear-mongering shit on social media. It helps. Trust, it helps.

Last week I got sucked into the comment section of an Instagram post. I haven’t been limiting my Insta because I can normally control myself there. Plus, it’s a way for me to share pics and not have to log onto FB. Anywho, there I was scrolling the people I follow, a mix of friends, family, old classmates from both my schools, new friends, politicians, and celebrities, and I came across Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley reading a children’s book with her stepdaughter. I love Congresswoman Pressley, and the rest of “The Squad” of young Congresswomen who came to power in 2018. Like, I heart AOC. Anyway, Pressley isn’t my representative, she reps the 7th District in MA. Think: Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and the like. But as I said, I follow her personal account because I think she’s a badass. I also follow other politicians who are not mine, like Mayor Lightfoot in Chicago, Rep. John Lewis (who is the rep for the district next door to me), as well as Lucy McBath (my representative) and other local, state, and federal representatives who I respect.

Okay, so I’m enjoying Rep. Pressley doing a reading of “The Story of Coretta Scott King” by Patricia Pingry, and I’m seeing comments pop up but I’m ignoring them. My son’s school has been doing a “Mystery Reader” since they started virtual learning and I’ve been watching all these wonderful teachers read these adorable kids’ books all week long and I’m rather enjoying it. Jackson is too. So I settle in to watch Pressley and her stepdaughter read, but I can’t stop myself from looking at the comments because one of the first ones is in all caps and it says something like this (I’m paraphrasing): WHY DON’T YOU STOP READING AND DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR DAMN CONSTITUENTS!” Ahh, that was fun. Pressley had responded. She was very nice, explained that she was working to help, but that taking a break to read with her stepdaughter is something she does, so she decided to share with everyone that day in hopes of spreading this good book, and cheering some people up.

Geez, aren’t people the worst sometimes?

Anyway, I scrolled down, knowing it wasn’t safe at this point. And remember this is her personal Insta, not her work one. I scroll, scroll. Then I come to TitsMcGee’s post. Did you think I made that name up? Nah, he’s real. He’s a white dude. Big shocka I know. He comments, simply: “Thanks for wearing a hat.” Seems like no big deal, right? Except that Rep. Pressley has struggled with Alopecia her whole life. She’s has no hair on the top of her head from it. And before about a year ago she wore wigs when she was outside her home. Then she decided to stop. She wanted to bring awareness to the condition, and show support for others who have it, so she stopped wearing wigs. And that made white men upset. For reference, here she is in her official photo and one from an article she did explaining her decision to show her head:

Beautiful, right? Also, a strong, Black woman who has zero fucks to give. So yeah, Tits McGee was none too happy with her.

I regret not taking a screen shot of the conversation that ensued, but I don’t usually do that with my internet trolls, unless they come for me afterward like Crazy McCrazyPants, remember him? So I will do my best to recall the comments for you now.

TitsMcGee: At least she wore a hat.

Some Rando: Do you feel good about coming here just to say that?

Tits McGee: I don’t feel good about anything. Ever. But I can sleep better at night now.

Me: @TitsMcGee you lose sleep over whether or not a woman reading a book with a child is wearing a hat? There seems to be a lot more to lose sleep over nowadays.

Tits McGee: She looks like a comic book villian. (Shrug emoticon)

Me: Ahh, I see @TitsMcGee! You are just scared of powerful women. You should have led with that. I hope you get some rest.

[End Scene]

So that’s it. That’s all that transpired. I went on about my day. It was a good day actually, I adopted a new puppy, whole new post coming about that later this week. And then when I logged into Instagram later that day I was expecting to find that Tits McGee said some more gross stuff. Instead, I found that Rep. Pressley had deleted the whole encounter and followed me on Instagram. No shit! I know you don’t believe me, so I did screenshot that!

In fact, I immediately sent the screenshot to my friend Beth, the only one who I thought would appreciate my excitement, and she did. So there’s that.

I guess for one my “sticking it to the trolls” paid off. But honestly, really, there are some things you can’t just scroll on past. I wish I could, but I’m just not that kind of person. So watch out, trolls, cause now I’m on a troll roll. (That includes you fam and friends!)

M.

Trouble Writing

If you’re like me, you are having a really hard time trying to write right now. Seriously, I can’t seem to filter out all this negative stuff. It’s very real stuff, that we need to stay abreast on, but it still mixes with all my regular anxiety and nervousness and smushes together in my head and creates this monster who can’t focus on anything for too long. This means that I have all this time now, sitting at home, and I’m unable to actually write. Which seems absurd. So, I’ve taken to using prompts, something I don’t usually like to do, but it’s helping a little. Not with this here blog, but with my other writing, so I thought I would share some prompts with you today that I have come across that have helped me in the past, and some I just made up. It will be fun to see if you can spot the difference. And listen, please try your best to turn to books, and art, and staying in contact (though not physically) with your friends right now. I promise it will help, it might just take some getting used to. Stay safe and sane, y’all.

M.

Writing Prompts

  • Think about all that is worrying you right now, then pick something super trivial that pops up. If you’re like me, I’ve been worrying about what to cook for dinner every damn night. Now write a paragraph from the POV of a person who is consumed with this trivial problem.
  • Write about your writing process. What it means when you say you are writing. What does that look like? How does it feel when you’re “in the zone”? How often does it happen? Can you will it?
  • Write a short story about an alligator farm. At this farm, the alligators run the humans, not the other way around. So actually, literally, the humans are walking around trying to bite the alligators, and the alligators have to jump on their backs to wrestle them? No, can’t do it? That’s weird, because it’s a really (cough) good (cough) prompt. Fine then, write about an alligator wrangler named Boomer Sr. in the swamps of Florida. He has four fingers and a slight limp.
  • Think about your room when you were a kid. Try to get back into that room. Did you have a theme in your room? Did you share it with siblings? Did you have your own radio or television? A computer? Oh, so you were fancy and rich? Think about the carpet. Did you have a toy box filled with your favorite things? What was your favorite toy? Follow this rabbit hole for a bit.
  • There’s a woman on a ferry off the the coast of Alaska. It’s summer, but still cold because Alaska. She’s holding a banjo, and a plate of cookies is wrapped in plastic wrap beside her. What the hell is she doing there? Where is she going? Where did the cookies come from? What’s with the damn banjo?
  • Pretend like you’ve been asked to give a TedTalk on the anxieties of the world today. You can set it in the past, present, or future. What are the negatives? What are the positives? How do you help these people who have come to see you talk? What will you say to improve the moral, but also keep everyone safe.
  • Write about what it means to be mindful. Are you ever mindful? What does being mindful even mean to you? Have you ever caught yourself really engrossed in something that you forget all your other worries? What allows you to do that? Is it that new Netflix show about prison basketball, or is that just me?
  • Think of someone who really annoys you. I mean, you can’t even stand to hear them breathe next to you. You have to actively fight the urge to tell them how you really feel when they are around. You do not like this person. Now write a four-sentence character description of this person.
  • There’s a Netflix show about prison basketball. It’s called “Q-Ball” because it’s about the prisoners at San Quentin. Go watch it.
  • Create a series of comics, mini-cartoons, even just a hand-drawn meme. I made a series of Covid-19 related ones to react to the “Bob the Stickman” memes I saw the other day. I will post them below for your amusement. In your cartoon, however, you are the protagonist, and you are absolutely against, say, helping to stop the spread of coronavirus. Had enough of coronavirus? Cool, then make your protagonist anti-abortion, or someone who doesn’t believe climate change is real. Fun times.
  • Make a soundtrack for whatever you are writing. Oh man, it seriously makes a difference! I am working on a piece from my childhood and my soundtrack is all 80s all the time. But maybe your story is set in the 1950s or San Fran in 1974. Go to iTunes and get you a playlist going. Even if you are not a writer. Just someone who needs a little distraction. Music helps so much.
  • Pick up a project you had previously put aside because you were stuck. Now start it all over again from a different character’s POV. Why? I dunno, why not assholes?
  • Write about a first date. What is the worst thing that could happen? What is the best outcome? Is there sex? If there is please write about it, everyone wants to read about sex. Jesus, write more about sex. And prison basketball. But not prison basketball sex. Or… hmm.
  • Write a ten word story that starts with “Run…”
  • Respond to a series of “Dear Abby” questions, but respond from Boomer Sr in the swamps of Florida.

Okay, so I promised I’d share my stick-figure people I drew to combat “Bob” who I was really tired of seeing, y’all know Bob.

It’s not that I hate Bob, it just seems like Bob is a little, umm, how should I say this, well he’s lacking in his thinking. Plus the same people who were sharing Bob, who claims to “listen to science” are the same people who legit don’t listen to science, their hypocrisy was pissing me off. In return, I created these five stick figure people to add a little more dimension to this pandemic. Enjoy! And please, go forth and write about Boomer Sr, then send it to me so I can read it!

Posts I Would Have Made

I wrote a few posts last week, like last Monday, back, way back, before Covid-19 turned out to be so bad. Or before I was paying a lot of attention to it. Back when I thought I would still travel to Kansas City and back. I am sharing them today for two reasons: 1. To show how naive I was and 2. To allow you to laugh at me. Cause I think you probably need to laugh today. So here you go, one post for when I was flying to Kansas City and one for the way back home, when I thought all was still normal. Enjoy.

ATL–>MCI

If you’re reading this, I’m nonstop from Atlanta to Kansas City, on what is most likely a Delta Airbus, maybe a Boeing. I’m trying desperately not to get the Coronavirus, by keeping just enough alcohol in my system for the entirety of the flight. I’ll let you know, in about two weeks, if my plan has been successful. My husband’s probably not supportive of this plan. He’s probably already made a comment about ordering gin on an airplane very early in the morning. He’s probably reminded me that I shouldn’t drink with the Klonopin I washed down with said gin, as the plane ascended.

My son is probably ignoring the whole situation with YouTube videos and his earbuds, while peering out the window since beating me to the window seat, of which I actually allowed him to have on account of my motherly niceness. Also because people have probably sneezed on that window and he’s the least likely to die from the Coronavirus, if it in fact breezes through our household. Lest I remind you what I’ve just been told: Put on your own oxygen mask, before assisting others.

M.

MCI–>ATL

I’m headed back on another plane, bound for Atlanta from Kansas City, and I’m assuming that the Delta Goddess has given me enough leg room to stretch my legs to nap on the way home. I’m hoping. I’m assuming that I have not contacted Covid-19, that my son has not licked his way across the Midwest, and that my husband has given up on me trying to drink any virus away. I’m hopeful and assuming today.

When we land we have to get back to our car. Then we have to pick up the dog from the sitter’s. Then we have to unload the dog and the bags and book it to band practice, then from band practice to baseball practice. We have to eat dinner at some point. We have to unpack. Take a shower. Gather ourselves for the rest of the week at home.

But for now, I’m going to sleep on a plane. A Delta plane bound for Atlanta from Kansas City.

M.

When in Doubt, Laugh It Out

I got an email from Delta yesterday, and I sucked in my breath because I have a flight scheduled for Friday morning, and I was like, “Shiiiit.” But it was cool. It was just telling me all the precautions they were taking in light of this here pandemic, and that they have a Command Station set up in Atlanta to combat any signs or symptoms of travelers. They didn’t tell me not to fly (that wouldn’t be a best business practice) but they did tell me that any and all change fees are waived right now, and that I can use my credits any other time if I do decide to cancel my flight. No harm, no foul. Thanks, Delta. But I’m flying out on Friday because my nephew is getting married on Saturday in Kansas City, and there’s just some things you don’t miss. But, I am a little nervous because Hartsfield-Jackson has had confirmed cases come through there, they are the busiest airport in all the land, and there are no instances of Covid-19 in KC, which means I may be bringing them gifts unbeknownst to them.

So, I’m anxious now. I wasn’t before, but now I am. I’m scared, and sad about all the deaths. I can’t imagine what China and Italy are going through right now, and I don’t want to know. I don’t want my fellow STUPID Americans (and our government) to muck this up and cause us to end up in bad shape, and worse yet, unable to help other countries who may desperately need our help. It’s bad enough that humans (and some dogs) are combatting this nasty virus, and dying from it, but why do we have to keep pretending like we don’t need to worry about it? We do. But… I deflect my emotions with humor. Which is what I’m fittin’ to do. And I get it, I know. You might find memes about a virus killing people repulsive. Then I’d just skip on down to the bottom where I fill you in on the important stuff. Cause these memes are all I have right now to keep me smiling. (Also, you’re probably not of my generation, and that is cool, it’s just that, well, we deal with things differently.)

Okay, we’ve had our fun, now let’s get real. Here is the most important site to keep updated in your browser:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC is still learning how Covid-19 spreads, but they know it is not airborne. Which means masks don’t help that much. If you just keep your distance (about six feet), don’t touch people, and wash your hands frequently you should be okay. It can spread through sneezing and coughing, but that doesn’t mean it just lives in the air. It means that an infected person, who may not know they are infected, can sneeze or cough and the droplets of their sneeze or cough can land near/on you and you can touch them, then touch your face, which is bad news bears.

The people actually showing the symptoms are the most contagious though. So think the sickest, the people in quarantine or those with really high fevers who just don’t look great, those are the people to stay away from. The rest of the people who have mild symptoms or are not exhibiting symptoms yet are least likely to infect others. Which is good, because if you’re still well enough to say, travel, then you are probably on the lower end of the contagion.

Community spreads are the most common as of now. That’s why whole provinces of China had it spread so easily. So it’s actually unlikely that I would bring the disease to KC, but you know, there’s a chance. It’s more likely that a student at a school gets sick, then the school has an outbreak. Which is why as I write this, the whole Fulton Country school district is out of school for the day. Fulton County is one of the Atlanta counties, and a teacher tested positive for Covid-19 this week, so everyone was out one day to clean the schools. It’s a process, y’all. And thankfully our backwoods-ass, horrible, pro-life governor is taking it seriously. You know, doing something good for once. Though to be fair, it’s the local officials who are handling things smoothly round here. And the big businesses like Delta. And thank the Baby Jesus for the CDC. Did I mention that? Cause if you’re still getting your news from our president, then, umm, I have no words for you. Stop. Just stop.

Okay, hope this helped in some way. It helped me laugh, cry, freak out, then laugh again. Stay safe out there, y’all.

M.

Here’s a great, short video on Coronavirus, how it spread, and how we can help stop it.

Trial by Fire

I’m sitting at Jackson’s first evening of the DeKalb County Honor Band and I’m watching two things unfold. Firstly, this band has been practicing for a week now, and Jackson and his classmates were thrust into their first practice tonight with little prep work, unsure what to expect, with some uber-talented kids. Fifth graders playing the tuba. Fourth graders on xylophone. A fifth grader on a bass drum. Extraordinary stuff. As I’m watching them warm up, with little direction from the loud, grumpy, but obviously talented band director, they are scrambling to get their notes converted, figure out what’s going on, and concentrating on listening for when it’s their turn to play. Second, Jackson is getting very nervous.

The band isn’t listening. They are goofing off. The director gets mad and makes them go down the line testing each of them on the songs they are supposed to know. Jackson just got the music sheets. He’s ill prepared and starting to sweat as the kids all around him go. They are in orchestra formation. He’s on the trumpet line. The director bypasses his section, more concerned with a flat clarinet. Jackson looks over the sea of winds and music stands until he spies me. I give him a thumbs up. He gives me a sideways thumb back.

The director is moving people around. Telling kids they need to practice. This one is flat. This one is off. He’s gruff. Jackson is unsure. There’s an A Band suddenly, and a B Band. You can tell the A Band belongs to the director. They shrug him off. Kick their music stand. Jackson, and the rest of the B Band, look wide-eyed, waiting to be called out. Nothing. The director marches on.

Percussion solo. Where are the flutes? Show up, flutes. Still no trumpets. The director throws his hands up. New kids, he yells. Looks over toward B Band trumpets. Jackson sits up straight, edge of his seat. New kids, I get it. You’re new. You’re jumping in. Go home and practice. Next practice, jump! You know who we are now. What we are. Who you are. Where you are. You’re supposed to be here. Jump!

Here’s to jumping.

M.

Private Lives

It’s fun to imagine what happens in the private lives of others. I think that’s one of the most pointed reasons I am who I am today. I spent years in quiet solitude. My nervous energy was too much for my little brain, so I’d opt to sit and watch people while I rocked back and forth on my knees. I’d hide in my closet or my toy box, or in clothes racks while my mother shopped, and I’d just watch the people around me go about their day-to-day lives. At some point I started to wonder what their lives looked like in the quiet of their own home. When they weren’t in public. I started to envision how that woman buying toothpaste brushed her teeth. Did she put the toothpaste on before or after she rinsed her brush? Did she do circular patterns? Did she brush her gums, like I just learned to do? What about her tongue? I guess this might be how writers are made. Hiding. Wondering. Eavesdropping and watching, in secret spaces and places.

I remember when I was about four or five. We lived in a basement apartment in Leavenworth, and there were two large windows near the top of the living room wall. If I stood on the wooden arm of the couch, I could peer out the window, relatively undetected, like a cat who just wants to feel the warmth of the sun. And some days that’s all I’d accomplish. Alternating between an hour of watching people, then an hour of Care Bears, until something exciting happened inside my house, like my sister came home from school or one of our neighbors stopped over to say hello.

The window looked directly into the parking lot of our apartment complex. Which means I could watch people getting in and out of their cars, which was my favorite, because as you might imagine our vehicles are our own little houses. Public, sure, but just private enough to let us sing our favorite song, or practice what we are going to say to the people we are headed to see. I liked to watch the people as they prepared themselves in their cars. Some of the women put their make-up on, using the rear-view mirror as their vanity. Some of them yelled at their kids in the backseat. Some men sat, silent, for long periods of time before they either left for work, or came home from work. My favorite people were the couples. They’d sneak kisses. They’d argue. I couldn’t hear them, just knew from their body language, their red faces, their hand movements, that they were upset. There are a lot of breaks up, and reconciliations, in the parking lots of low-income apartment complexes.

I learned in these long hours, that if you are quiet, if you are still and relatively unseen, you can gain more knowledge about a person than any other way. I learned to sort of fade into the background in those days. A trait that has served me well in my life and in my writing.

But still I wondered what the people did in the privacy of their own homes. I wondered if they had a cat, a cat that would rub itself against their legs as they cooked dinner. I wondered if they prayed before dinner. If they slept without clothes on. If they sometimes wondered about each other. Later in life, as I grew and discovered what really drives people, I wondered if they kissed each other after an argument. If they made love with the lights on. If they had sexual desires they kept secret. I think it’s human nature, to wonder these things.

It’s part of who I am, as a person and as a writer, wondering about the private lives of others. Fantasizing about how others move in the night, when they think no one is watching.

M.