And Just Like That…

Poof! Elementary school is over. I’m sitting here in a bit of a haze, trying to remember how it all started. The day I dropped him off for Kindergarten, kissed my husband bye in the school parking lot, then drove to Walmart, alone, crying. Then proceeded to sit in the car at Walmart, alone, and cry. I wasn’t used to being alone. I was used to my little 50-pound shadow following me everywhere I went. I was used to arguing about whether or not he could ride in the cart. Used to having to hit the toy aisle to look at Hot Wheels, when all I needed was milk and bread. Used to a little voice coming from the backseat to ask, “Can we stop for ice cream if I’m good?” Of course we stopped for ice cream. Of course he was always good.

Today when I do a Target run he says he doesn’t want to go. He’d rather log onto Minecraft with friends. But then right before I walk out the door he comes running up, throws his arms around me. “Mommy, bring me back something,” he will say. It’s pretty different now, but also pretty much the same. Now I have a 100-pound shadow. This shadow follows me around to tell me about YouTube videos and this “sick” arrest he made in this “pretty cool” cops and robbers game on Roblox. Now I have to remind my 100-pound shadow to wear deodorant, to do the dishes, to figure out where that smell is coming from in his room. And I hear it only gets worse.

Friday morning we all gathered around the living room television to watch the live stream of Jackson’s Fifth Grade Graduation. Jackson wore a suit, with my cap and gown on top of it. Jerimiah wore a button-up, I donned a summer dress. We watched for an hour as the teachers and administrators shared touching memories, heartfelt messages, and love, so much love, with the only class in the school’s history to not have a Fifth Grade Graduation on stage. It was different, but also the same.

Jackson won several awards, including being named a DeKalb County Board Scholar, along with five other fifth graders. He is one of the smartest, the brightest, of the group. Of course we didn’t need an award to tell us that, but it was nice to be recognized for all the hard work. His hard work, our hard work as parents, and his teachers’ hard work as well. For being a kid that went to four different elementary schools, in four different districts, in three different states, you certainly would never know it. He’s been steadfast about two things: Making friends and doing his best, and that has been abundantly clear over the last few months. His friends blow up his phone all day with messages, emails, FaceTimes, and then there are the cards that arrive in the mail from different places. We shouldn’t be surprised, but sometimes we are.

Mr. Budd read a poem to his class this afternoon and it was the only time that I wanted to cry. The past two months have been a blur of activity and of hard work. Of moving from one fire to another, but the hardest part was stopping myself every time I made a decision about my son. Was this going to be good for him? Help in some way? Do I make him structure his day like school? Take breaks? Get it all done in one setting? Do I let him play Minecraft for four hours on a Tuesday while he Facetimes a friend? Of course the answer to that one is yes, because I have a social child who needs interaction. He saw his classmates six hours a day, now he could sit in isolation all day long if I let him, but I refuse to do that. I don’t want him to be lonely, to feel left behind. I want him to know that there is a wide world of people out there just like him, and hopefully they have parents that understand this too. The poem reminded me of this. Reminded me of the way we are all probably feeling from time to time right now. Alone, without a clear path. The poem Mr. Budd read was Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. The last two lines go like this, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/the world offers itself to your imagination/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–/over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

We have a running joke in the house. Jackson was working on a project early in the school year and as usual his mind was working quicker than his mouth and he was trying to say, “I’m in fifth grade” and “I’m a fifth grader” at the same time and he blurted out, “I grade five!” We all cracked up. And all year whenever he thinks too hard, or gets frustrated with himself because he thinks he can’t “get” a math question, we stop and say, “I grade five!” It gets us back on track. Let’s us laugh. Slow down a minute. Reminds us that we are all in this together. That we have each other. It means love. So yeah, we are proud of this kid of ours beyond measure. And yeah, we hope that his successes in elementary school equate to big successes in life, but we know there will be struggles along the way. We know there will be crying in parking lots. There will be hours upon hours of virtual playdates. We will feel lonely. He will feel lonely. Because we know this isn’t fifth grade anymore. But we are ready.

We love you, Jackson. We are so proud of you. We hope you always listen to the geese.

I grade six.

Mommy

Doom Surfers

I recently learned a new term, Doom surfing. I first heard it out of context, a Zoom conversation with other writers, when someone said they felt like they were Doom Surfing and I thought, “Oh that must be what I do too!” Because I can tell you at any given point how many cases of Covid-19 we are facing in my county (539), state (6383), country (311,658), and in the world (1,216,422). These are the numbers at this moment, anyway, which was probably yesterday if you are reading this. I assumed that Doom surfing meant people who are always falling down rabbit holes of dread and doom, especially now, connected with the current pandemic. I was half right. Or sort of right. Or there are a couple of variations.

A couple days later I Googled “Doom Surfing” and came up with one of those variations. I saw the term used for people like me, sure, people who are obsessed with getting the up-to-date news on cases and deaths and CDC recommendations, which only serves to stop us from getting a good night’s sleep. But come on, four days ago I got an alert on my phone that said an 11-year-old boy died in the county I live in. The next day I got an alert that said that data was wrong. But in the precious 18 hours between those two news alerts I lost my shit. So I mean, sometimes the doom just comes, I don’t have to seek it out.

But this other variation on the term is a bit more, umm, how should I say this? It’s pretty fucking sad and scary. In Alexandra Wake’s article “Doom surfing and fact checkers prosper in Covid-19 infodemic,” Doom Surfers were likened to people who share Infowars articles to bait and scare people. Wake said, “There are the ‘doom surfers’ looking for anything about the virus to share; the self-appointed online moral enforcers who shame others for sometimes innocuous and other times problematic actions; the internet trolls who appear to find joy in spreading fear or provoking racism; and the comedians who can bring a laugh with a clever meme, song, or video, but, in some cases, may inadvertently cause further harm.”

This made me pause. I wasn’t this kind of Doom Surfer, if there are in fact kinds. At least I hope I’m not. I don’t think I’ve been sharing memes that could further harm. I mean, I’ve been laughing my ass off at Carole Baskin memes, but that feels like a different post. I do, however, know and am in some cases related to, people who do fit this description. People who share misinformation and say things like, “Jesus is the only way out of this. If you don’t believe you can’t be saved,” among other really cool things. (Sarcasm).

Then there is the infodemic we are living in. Infodemic is a term coined by the World Health Organization to express their frustration about getting correct information out to the masses in a time when so much misinformation is being spread. By who? Not WHO. You guessed it, the Doom Surfers.

So how can we stop them? Or us? Or all of it from bringing us down? Simple answer: We can’t. Well, we can’t really stop the other variation of Doom Surfers, but we can work on our own behavior like the way we respond (or don’t respond) to them, and how much time we spend getting sucked into the rabbit hole of hell.

Here are some things I have done in the last three weeks to help, maybe they can help you too:

  • Log off. That’s easier said than done, I know. But even in this craziness I am still trying to limit myself to 15 minutes a day on Facebook (Y’all know I’ve been doing that for months now) and it is really helping.
  • Log into new, different ways of connecting to people. Look for the cool concerts, free art exhibits, and other new and amazing things that are happening on the internet these days. Last Friday night Jerimiah, Jackson, and I joined some friends in Rhode Island via Zoom to watch an improv troupe perform. It was so much fun. You can check them out here: Bring Your Own Improv
  • Read, read, read (but not the internet, duh.) When quarantine hit I ordered three new books that I’ve been wanting to read from three of my favorite Indie book stores around the country. For real. I ordered one from Chicago, one from Kansas City, and one from Atlanta. Supporting small business and getting my read on, it’s kinda cool. But if you can’t do that right now, check with your local library, most of them have online books you can virtually check out and read on your phone or iPad now, and/or other free online libraries like Open Library where you can legit check out Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmade’s Tale” right now. Do it! There are also lots of Little Free Libraries all over the country now. You can find those registered near you at their website. There were seven in our neighborhood in Charlotte, we even helped build them! You just bring an old book from your shelf that you’ve already read, and stick it in there, then pick a new book from the shelf that you haven’t read. Super simple.
  • When you are scrolling, scrolling, scrolling and you find yourself confronted with one of those people, the other kind of Doom Surfers, scroll on past (if you can). Sometimes you can’t though. For me it’s a simple question: Is this person potentially harming someone with their misinformation? If they are, then you know I can’t scroll on past. I have to say something. I try to keep it short, tell them the nicest way possible they are giving wrong information and remind them to check their sources. I will often do that for them, and post a source with the correct information alongside my comment, then I tell them to DM me if they are confused or want to talk more. Trust me, no one fucking DMs.
  • Last, but certainly not least, go outside. This sort of goes along with logging off, and I know some of you are like, “Missy, girl, I am not an outside person.” And I get that. But desperate times call for desperate measures, ya dig? Try it. For me. Go sit on the deck in that chair you bought when you moved in and it still doesn’t have a butt imprint in it. Dust off the pollen first. Go for a walk around your neighborhood. If you have a dog cool, if not, call your local animal shelters, the ones who are desperately looking for people to foster right now, and ask how you can foster, or if you are not committed, ask how you can walk a dog everyday. Trust me, you can. They have them. The dogs that would love an hour-long walk outside with a human who will also pet them.
  • Watch good television. Or bad television. Binge watch “The Office,” again. “Tiger King”? If you just can’t do it, if you just can’t bring yourself to watch a documentary that you think is horrendous and crude (it is, but it’s also so much more) than may I suggest some others. HBO is offering free streaming for 30 days right now and there is a great documentary based on the “Serial” podcast from a few years ago about Adnan Syed. You know the one. There is also a documentary series on Netflix that I recommend about men and women in prison in New York who can attend college through the Bard College Prison Initiative. It’s by Ken Burns so you know it’s good. It’s titled, “College Behind Bars” and it will get you thinking about a ton of things. It will really combat those hours you gave to “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” What’s that? You’ve never seen “W to the Fourth”? Then stop talking shit on “Tiger King.”

I hope some of this helps you. Some of this entertains you. Some of this inspires you. Most importantly, remember that Doom Surfing, as you and I do it, is sometimes inescapable. There’s nothing wrong with you if you are doing it. It’s human nature, actually, to want to know what is happening. And we are all anxious and scared and a little sad right now. That is the stone-cold truth. You are not alone in those feelings. But just make sure you aren’t the other kind of Doom Surfer, ya dig? Cause that’s bad news bears.

Take care of yourself. And be on the lookout for my “Tiger King” post, because obviously I have some shit to work through with that. Christ.

M.

Speaking of doom…

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.

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!

Mawkish

The first time I took a writing class where the professor instructed us to write creative nonfiction, I wrote a story about my sister. About how she would tease her hair, and as a child I would watch her in the mirror. She would tease, tease, tease, then she would ask if I wanted teased. Lots of teasing in the 80s. Lots of teasing with big sisters. I wrote my heart onto the pages for the first time ever. I made connections, pulled loose strings. I fell in love with the genre immediately. It called to me, to the little girl in the mirror, circling the big girl looking back through rose-colored glasses. I felt relieved that this sort of writing existed. I felt comforted.

I turned my essay in. My professor gave me a B. Made sure I knew he was being generous. He said my language was dramatic, yet lacking. He was a Shakespeare scholar. My subject choice, he said, was “saccharine”. Saccharine, I thumbed through my dictionary. Was that relating to sugar? Sweet, sticky? Overly sentimental. Mawkish. Why didn’t the Shakespeare scholar write mawkish on my essay? This was nearly fifteen years ago.

I’m hyperaware now of my own sentimentality.

I’m aware of what is expected, of what is tolerated in the genre.

I’m weary of bearded Shakespeare professors.

Still, I would have preferred mawkish.

M.

What Luck, This Life

I’m on an Eastbound Amtrak headed for New York City, and I’m cozy and warm in a big, business class seat. My son’s listening to music on his headphones, staring out into the lesser-known parts of Connecticut. He’s sitting next to one of his best friends, she’s re-watching last night’s Doctor Who episode. They’re taking a breather. They’re mentally preparing for an advantageous night ahead. Advantageous, an adjective I’ve been trying to work out in my head. An adjective I’m choosing over “crazy,” and adjective we’ve grown accustomed to as we travel this life with these people.

I’m Eastbound on an Amtrak, sitting next to my friend Beth, and we’re swapping stories from our family tree, amongst ohs and awes from the cliffed sea walls, the lone fishing boats dotting the landscape, the shipyard in Mystic with the buoys, and the beautiful sailboats we know nothing about, but wish we did.

We boarded at Kingston Station, and when we arrive at Penn Station we will reunite with our husbands, traveling by car to The Big Apple. Then we will see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller. Then we will see The Lion King on Broadway. Then we will be light, and joyful, and tired. So tired. But some things are worth it. Until then, slow and steady we go, Eastbound on an Amtrak and I just can’t shake the quote, “What luck, this life!” Because really, what luck, this life of mine!

Luck to you all this day and the rest of 2020!

M.

Silly Scandinavians!

Well Fuck a Duck! My mom used to say that when I was a kid. Back before she stopped using “bad words” and certainly before she found Jesus. She also used to say, “Well fuck me runnin’.” That’s sweet. Do you know how many times Little Missy imagined what that might look like in a literal sense? Yeah, kids are literal. So I assumed someone, somewhere, had fucked a duck and that’s why that was a thing. And as an adult I KNOW someone, somewhere has at least TRIED to fuck a duck, and that’s disturbing. Oh sometimes I wish to be Little Missy again.

Anywho, now that I’ve totally disturbed your week with some dangling images to fall asleep to, let’s talk about this “bad word.” You know as an English girl, and a writer, and a dabbler in all things linguistic, I love words. And I’m from the camp that there is no such thing as a “bad” word. Words are not inherently bad, people are bad. The power we sometimes give words is bad. But the word itself isn’t. Can’t be. That’s not how any of this works.

So sure, I say “Fuck.” Always have. You aren’t raised in a house where your mom yells, “Well FUCK ME RUNNIN’” and come out with a holier than thou attitude about “bad words.” Now is my mom proud of that now? No. But that was some shit she should have considered back then, ya dig? I used to be very selective with whom I said the word to. In fact, I was so selective people started to think I never spoke “like that” and I realized I was giving the wrong impression. Here’s the best thing I can say about that word, know your audience. I’m gonna leave it at that.

So where does “Fuck” come from anyway? Great question, I’m glad you asked! Fuck’s etymology is a bit hard to pin down, mainly because it was labeled a “bad word” many moons ago, therefore rendering large blank spots in its history, in fact the word doesn’t appear in any English dictionary from the late 18th century to 1965. Which is no way to treat such a versatile word, in my opinion.

So where do people think it came from? Well there’s some varying thoughts. First it’s believed this word has been around for a looooong time. Like back before the 14th century, but that it’s always had negative connotations, so it was rarely written and certainly not published, which means we have a lack of evidence now. But there is this fun little poem written in bastard Latin from the 15th century titled “Flen Flyys” that has a variant of the word. Allow me to share a line.

“Non sunt in celi, quia fuccant uuiuys of heli.”

“They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely.”

Okay, that’s good stuff. Damn monks. I never trusted them, not once. So here the word is “fuccant.” It’s some form of Latin, but no idea where it came from.

One of the other schools of thought is that the word comes from the Norwegian word “fukka” which straight up means “to copulate” or the Swedish word “focka” which means to strike or push, and “Fock” which just means penis. Listen, I’m not a betting lady, but if I were, the Scandinavians are the real winners here. Fucking bless you, you damn silly Scandinavians!

So there you have if. Some of it, anyway. Now go forth and use your secret favorite word today. And if someone gives you grief about it, inform them of the long history of the word, and then tell them to fuck off. You don’t need that kinda negativity in your life.

M.