Monday, April 6, 2020

Stopped Counting

Last week was both better and worse. I had large chunks of productivity interspersed with great periods of feelings of doom. The sun came out, but then the skies grew cloudy again. It was almost shorts weather for a day, and the next morning icy pellets fell from the sky.

My friend Cheryl shared a 50 random sentences writing exercise with me toward the end of last week, and it has become my daily therapy. Though I'm not following the exercise to the letter, the idea of it has given me a useful method of processing. I get to create a personal record of this time, and having a 50 sentence target gives me space to expound on it, yet the hurry to get the sentences written quickly helps me to get the thoughts out and move on rather than dwelling for hours and writing myself in circles. I blame Cheryl (this is what we have writing buddies) for getting my words flowing again.

I am dwelling on the novel-in-progress again. That, and doing jigsaw puzzles with my husband.

Life is good.

Stay home; stay healthy
man with desert scene jigsaw puzzle
Second 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in one week!

NYTimes has us at 853 with 25 deaths, 4/6/2020. Lyon County has 23 cases. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Almost. Almost. Almost.

This almost feels like one of those wishes I should have thought a little harder about before I wished it. I know I'm not the only one who has daydreamed of a pause button, fantasized about stepping off the hurried, worried world into a place of stillness, have no reason to hurry, nothing that needs to be done for a while. Almost. Almost. Filing big chunks of time with the moment. I'd forgotten how long a day can be, how many pages of a book can be read, how many dishes a family of five can get dirty! In the spaces where I'm not thinking about why we are here, why we are doing this, I can almost love the pace of this life. This isn't how I wanted it to come about, but there are pieces of this I am going to save. Pieces of connection/disconnection, that I am not going to give away again.

Happiness sometimes comes on a sticky note.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Closed Because We Care

  • Morning walks with the dogs. Afternoon walks, too. The frequent rains have messed with our walking schedule. And this morning I slowed us down because I felt compelled to read and take pictures of all the signs along the way.
  • The girls and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together. I'm reading quite a bit these days, though probably not more than usual. I am drawn to anything that isn't current events.
  • Making plans for Meadowlark Books. Feeling like I've taken a bit of a stumble here. March and April were supposed to be months of book releases and poetry events. 
  • Preparing for the first board meeting via ZOOM of the Kansas Authors Club. We've talked about holding virtual meetings for years. I guess we needed the prod to figure out how to make it happen. I, for one, am going to miss the road trip and visiting with so many of my writing friends over lunch.
  • Yoga. Stretching. Core Strength.
  • Watching Star Trek - Picard, one episode per night. I love him.  
  • Book keeping, bill paying ... a lot of the usual going on at the law office, but more relaxed with the doors locked. All clients are now scheduled for phone consults only. And our days are shorter. I didn't go in at all today, and I may or may not go tomorrow. I haven't decided yet. Sometimes we play ping pong at lunch, which is also usual.
  • Texting. More texting than usual, with a wider variety of people than is usual for me. Been getting some nice notes by email, too. Not much by phone. I've never liked talking on the phone much. But I have talked to my dad and my sister this week, which is a lot for us.
  • Whole family eating evening meal together, and everyone is taking turns cooking, so only have to prepare a real meal one out of every five days.
  • Board games. Maybe every third evening or so. Love playing board games with the kids.

collection of "closed do to COVID-19" signs

NYTimes has us at 171 cases as of 9:07pm, 3/26/2020. Lyon County has 3. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Rhythms and Routines, or – Is My “Exact Change Gene” Showing?

Life has certain rhythms, and I have long been a person who enjoys embracing my routine, tweaking my routine, inserting personal bits and challenges to change-up my routine, occasionally upending it altogether and starting over fresh. It can be fantastic (though also sometimes scary) when changes to life’s rhythms are personally driven. For instance, I took on a Jen-Sincero-Bad-Ass approach to publishing last year and the results were/are exhilarating. When I decided at the age of twenty-seven to leave my job and try on full-time parenting as a gig, it was a bit terrifying, but resulted in one of the most satisfying and personally growth-filled periods of my life (never mind the growing of kids, which was also rewarding).

But sometimes we don’t get to make those choices about the changes to our rhythms and routines. Occasionally one falls down the stairs, as I did quite literally in 2006, and everything you believe about yourself changes. Or a plague comes along, just as an example, and you find your routines spiraling out of control.

When R and I moved to Houston, I almost immediately began having difficulty sleeping. I would lie down in bed and begin to immediately wonder if I had locked the door to the apartment. I would get up to check the door, find that it was locked, and go back to bed. I would lie there for a bit and begin to wonder, had I already checked that the door was locked? Was it possible that I was remembering checking the door the night before and that I had, in fact, failed to check that the door was locked? And so I would get up to check that the door was locked again.

three dogs
Gratuitous cute pup photo to
help spread the smiles.
In my favorite psychology course in college (abnormal – isn’t that everyone’s favorite?) I remember getting the giggles one day as I began plotting the extremes of the personalities of my friends and family to their most dysfunctional extremes. Because that’s both the beauty and curse of psychology, right? Things that we all experience and feel, become personality markers, and conditions or tendencies that may come and go, and for a few, full-blown extremes of debilitating proportions.
Psychology student that I was (or perhaps it was just my farm girl roots that taught me the solution to most problems was within me), I began to examine my “did I lock the door” behavior and ask myself, 1) when does this become a problem, and 2) what is triggering this behavior?

My solution was eventually two-fold. First, I began keeping a stack of hairbands at the door to the apartment. When I locked the door, I would slip a hairband onto my wrist, and when I was in bed and begin wondering if I had locked the door, I’d snap the hairband to remember that it was real and I had, indeed, locked the door. The second thing I eventually did was to stop watching the nightly news, a habit I had from my father, something that seemed to me to be necessary as an adult living in the world. I began to realize that the nightly news in Houston stressed the *lucky duck* out of me. Living in a metropolitan area that was larger than my entire home state of Kansas meant that the picture painted nightly on the evening news was very, very different than the one I had grown up with. I still vividly remember stories from our first few months in Houston, including a child that was abducted from a home and murdered on “our side” of town (it was miles and miles away, in a different city-entity… but in my mind northwest meant too-near me). One night, I remember the news anchor declaring that it had been a good day in Houston with not one stabbing, shooting, car wreck mangling, or death. That was my eye-opening moment. I turned off the television and began reading the newspaper, where I could skip over the headlines that triggered my “is the door locked” behavior, yet still feel informed. Eventually, the stack of hairbands became a simple convenience that I could grab to tie my hair up as I was headed out the door.

Through my late teens and early twenties, I had a developing hyper-thyroid condition, which I now believe also contributed greatly to my hairband on the wrist episode. When the body is in a constant state of fight or flight, the mind tends to look for reasons to support the accelerated heartbeat. The nightly news was feeding me an ample supply of evidence that I should be concerned about locking my door. I had half of my thyroid surgically removed at the age of twenty-four and immediately gained a whole new calm and perspective.

 More than a decade later, a time of blissfully embracing the rhythms of life and glorifying in my routines, I had an event (the above-mentioned stair fall) that put me on a path that eventually led to a number of less-than-healthy routines. Unfortunately, this round it took me much longer to identify and take action against the behaviors that were beginning to control me more than I was controlling them. I did not become agoraphobic, but I could certainly see it from where I stood. And I began to understand OCD on a level far deeper than my college textbooks ever showed me.

Most of my friends and family will be surprised if they are reading this. Or maybe they are nodding their heads, seeing it now--the must-be-the-last-to-use-the-bathroom Tracy, the she’s-never-going-to-let-you-drive Tracy, the must-pay-using-exact-change Tracy. I’ve never had the ability to share the things that make me feel weak as they are happening, only later, and often then only through writing or in intimate conversations with people I really trust.  

It wasn’t until the rolling panic attacks began hitting that I forced myself to stop and reassess the way I was living and take action to change it. They were terrifying. I would feel them coming on and had only minutes to prepare myself. It was like being consumed by an ocean wave. My body would break out in sweat, begin violently shaking, and then the tears would come. I had never experienced sobbing like that, not even when my mom was dying. I used all the breathing and meditation techniques I had picked up in my youth while dealing with a hyper-thyroid, but they wouldn’t stop.
I eventually figured out that lack of sleep was at the heart of my issue, and I wasn’t sleeping because of damage that had been done to my upper back and shoulder in the fall. The bruises on my butt had been so extreme, I hadn’t stopped to consider how the rest of my body had been affected.

This isn’t to dwell on my history of behavioral extremes, but to say (yes, as it is happening) that I feel my “exact change” gene showing. As I imagine do many of you.

Paying for groceries with exact change has—off and on through the years—been one of my challenges. For the positive, it’s great for budgeting, making me feel in control of money when I am attempting to hit financial goals. There have been moments in my life, however, when I’ve found myself fishing through my coin purse, my pockets, the bag on my shoulder, determined not to break a dollar bill when I look up and recognize the look of exasperation on the face of the clerk. That’s when I know I’m crossing the line. My quest for exact change has become a hindrance rather than a help. I did it at the grocery store, my one trip last week. My heart began to race as I searched for exactly seventy-three cents, while my fist was full of dollar bills.

These are stressful times we are living in. These are trigger-inducing times for the psyche, and I would expect that even those of you who have rarely ventured on this path of behavioral extremes (at least those you dare to recognize) are seeking coping mechanisms at the moment.

This is my 14,000 word way of saying—it’s okay. You are going to be okay. You may have to resort to snapping yourself with a hairband at night or disinfecting your doorknobs routinely with aplomb. Yes, your hand-washing routine may be feel like it’s becoming a major operatic production. You may be longing (like me) to tackle-hug friends and acquaintances with whom you’ve barely shared a handshake until now. (Oh, the horror, what is this world coming to?)

I leaked tears on at least four separate occasions yesterday, and my centered-self couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for any of it. Well… except for the plague and all. But you know, what’s a little social distancing for a solitary-loving girl like me?

It’s appropriate to have messy feelings right now. And it’s appropriate to come up with some creative behavioral modification techniques if that’s what it takes to get you through. Just don’t delay my grocery checkout by digging for exact change. That’s all I’m asking. Pay your bill and get a move on. I’ve got a decontamination routine to accomplish once I am through here.

No really, we’ll get through this. (Write it again, make it true.) We will get through this.
And maybe we will pick up some beneficial coping mechanisms along the way, and may those that are not beneficial for long-term use fall away naturally and gracefully as our “new normal” begins to evolve.

Sending love and light.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Birthday Pie

When we celebrated E's birthday early two weeks ago, we did so because her little brother was in town and we figured we wouldn't see him again until M's graduation in May. And here we are with K at home and no parties for birthdays or graduation on the agenda. No parties, at least, with guests beyond our little clan. Two weeks ago, I might have come up with a dozen accounts of how we were planning to spend E's actual birthday and none of them would have ended like this.

lattice top apple pie with 24 on it
Happy 24th Birthday to E.
M and I made an apple pie today since we had already had cake. Not that two cakes would have been a bad thing. But we did have plenty of apples and E is a fan, so that is what we did. We were missing ice cream, but it was still delicious. The birthday meal was make-your-own-nachos bar. Mine ended up looking more like a taco salad.

It feels like our family members are starting to get into a rhythm - doing their thing for most of the day. For M & K today that included the start of online college classes. Each evening we've been coming together to eat, taking turns being the person in charge of preparing the meal. Perhaps it is our unschool roots showing. This part is feeling a lot like home to me. I'm treasuring this evening coming-together time at the kitchen table, listening to my children laugh and talk and tease each other. I remember my mother sitting like this, quietly at the kitchen table when all of her grown children were home. She'd have such a big smile on her face. I understand now what she was thinking, and I wonder what she'd make of the state of our world today. But especially, I wonder what she'd make of me, her baby, having a 24-year-old. E was the only one of my babies that my mother ever knew.

Some members of our writing group tried a Skype meeting tonight as Monday evenings are the usual gathering time for us (and we missed last Monday's formal meeting, one of the early casualties of the calendar when we were all attempting to make adjustments and deciding how many were too many and if we should get together at all). It's funny that I am one who often misses meetings for need of some alone time, yet I was really looking forward to seeing their faces. And though we had some technical difficulties, see most of their faces I did. I expect it will happen again. And perhaps we will even all get good at it before this is all over.

NYTimes has us at 82 cases as of 8:11pm, 3/23/2020. Lyon County remains at 2. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sunday, Sunday . . . COVID-19 has reached Lyon County

table with markers and paper, sketch of two blue eyes
Doesn't all art start with the eyes?
Quiet weekend at home was almost enough for me to forget what is happening out in the world. Cleaning, reading, games with the family, a short walk, and making myself some sunshine today filled the time well.

sunshine collage art with face and crayons
My early 1990 era neurology textbook felt like the
perfect medium for the base of my project. 
For the most part, I have felt very peace-filled these last couple of days. Staying away from social media is definitely helpful, though I have to say that I am mostly impressed and pleased with the way my friends and family are responding to our current situation. My Facebook feed says to me that I  have chosen my community well. When I come across those who are ... well, less than like-minded, at least about the actions we should be taking ... I remind myself of things I love about them and try to tell myself that maybe their fear is not allowing them to think things through. On some subjects, I'm willing to say that hey, maybe it's me who has things backwards. But the science and the data seems pretty clear on this one.

Had a short chat on the phone with my dad this morning where I learned he has been through quarantine before. When he was six he had scarlet fever. He said they put a big red sign on the door and he and his little sister and mother could not leave the house. His dad slept away at work and he remembers Grandpa knocking on the door sometimes at night so that he could talk to Grandma. I knew my dad had scarlet fever when he was a kid. I guess I just never had considered that it was something they quarantined families for.

Technically we continue to volunteer to isolate ourselves. As much as possible, anyway.

Tonight's board game was iKnow, by Tactic USA. It's part trivia, part betting where you can get points for choosing correctly whether others will or will not get the answer right.

I've been long admiring the work of some local collage/multimedia artists and today I decided to tackle a project of my own. In the cleaning of the bedroom yesterday I unearthed a couple of college textbooks that I had set aside specifically with the idea of some recycled book art in mind. I thought we needed a little sunshine in our lives. I was pleased with the result.

collage sunshine art hanging above door
It makes a fine addition to my door of inspiration and
helps to brighten the whole room.
Kansas is at 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (2 of them in Lyon County) and 2 deaths. (per my preferred website for keeping tabs, NYTimes, 8:25pm, 3/22/2020)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Let's Live Like Every Day is Saturday

Everyone slept in today. Even R, the dedicated early riser. I am an early bird by training, but he's an early bird by nature... or at least such early training (paper routes) that he doesn't recall if it's second nature.

tablet with handwriting on it, pen, and stack of game cards
Six-Word Memoirs, by University Games
is a current favorite of my family. Today is
the first time we have played that I was not
the winner! I came in third 😎
Today has felt almost like a normal. The frightening part of that statement is to think we have adapted so quickly. But I think the fact that I've spent very little time online today has a lot to do with it. I made a reasonable plan for the day, and I followed it. R and I tackled the bedroom for a deep clean this morning. We pulled out everything that was pull-out-able, cleaned from floor to ceiling, and put only the stuff back that really needed to be there. We sent quite a few items to the shed, and made stashes for future library and Goodwill donations. We even washed the curtains.

I spent the afternoon catching up on a little work for Kansas Authors Club. The spring board meeting for KAC is being moved to ZOOM so that we can all attend from home. Online meetings is something the group has talked about for quite some time now. I guess we just needed a little prodding to make it happen. Personally, I am always a fan of the Kansas road trip and I enjoy visiting with my fellow board members in person. But conducting a meeting online makes so much sense. Saves time, saves gas, and in this case, it's simply safer.

Our local writing group is talking about meeting virtually next week, as well. I guess I will just have to get over being video shy.

The family gathered for an evening meal (twice-baked potatoes by K, who says he's been watching a lot of Bon Appétit--Delicious!). Then we played Six-Word Memoirs and watched a movie, "The Farewell."

Kansas is at 55 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2 deaths. (per my preferred website for keeping tabs, NYTimes, 9:04pm, 3/21/2020)

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