57 Things I’m Grateful For in 2020

57 Things I’m Grateful For in 2020

I was going to pass this one by. I mean, it’s too tempting just to say, “I’m grateful for everything that didn’t suck in 2020” and have done with it. And I don’t want to sound like I’m giving some Academy Award speech – “Cram it into two minutes, be sure you don’t forget anyone or anything important, then shut up and get off the stage when you hear the music playing” – but I really would hate to leave anyone or anything out. This is why people keep “Gratitude Journals,” isn’t it? So they’re not left stressing over their sins of omission in December?

All right, here goes – not an exhaustive or prioritized list, by any means, but I am not older than Methuselah and this is supposed to be “one for every year you’ve been alive.” Or, to catch up – “Holly’s Hindsight 57.”  I am thankful for:

  1. My husband: I married well and wisely, 36 years ago – and that the man is still taking care of me and putting up with my nonsense to this day. Mostly with a sense of humor.
  2. My daughter and my son: healthy young adults that I am exceedingly proud of; I am grateful that I got to be their mom.
  3. My grandson: our whole family is so lucky to have him in it.
  4. My dad and my mother in law: that they are still active, healthy, happy, independent, and make growing older look not-so-scary after all.
  5. My extended family: two brothers, a sister, and cousins – some by birth and most by marriage, but it just seems too wordy to keep tacking on “in law” after all these years – they are “by choice” and “in heart.”
  6. Early retirement: despite the pandemic screwing up most of my grand plans, it has been fun – and I do try hard to remember how annoying it was, when I was still working, and my dad would say things like, “Every day is Saturday!” I try. I don’t always succeed.
  7. Good health: something we should all appreciate with heightened awareness, in 2020.
  8. People who care about strangers enough to sacrifice their own comfort and freedoms – e.g., wearing masks, sharing/donating to non-profits, continuing to work to keep essential services going). Postal workers, trash collectors, grocery store workers, and cleaning services are high on this list.
  9. Healthcare workers – from the doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the medical equipment repair people, the housekeeping and administrative staffers, everyone in the supply chain, and researchers who’ve worked overtime to bring us accurate diagnostic tests and the hope of a vaccine in record time.
  10. Ample food and fresh drinking water.
  11. Toilet paper (and my husband’s foresight in stocking up on things before a pandemic, not during!)
  12. Soap.
  13. People who sew.
  14. Good, escapist fiction. And the fact that, once you make reading it a regular routine, the habit quickly returns. So, surprisingly, do dreams. Not daydreams – but real dreams that liven up a good night’s sleep.
  15. Technology that has kept us in touch with each other: (even, @#$%) Facebook and Twitter; (especially) Zoom; Slack; email; messaging apps.
  16. PeoplesHost: my web hosting company, for being supportive, affordable, easy to negotiate with (and working hard NOT to claim the rights to my writing). Also, for not only providing support but for explaining what they did so that (if possible) I can do it myself next time – IF I want to. If you’re looking for excellent web hosting, click the name – it’s an affiliate link, but doesn’t cost you extra. I highly recommend PeoplesHost.
  17. Medium.com: writing here has provided me a creative outlet and even though I only earn about $1/day writing there, it has been fun and has covered the expenses of running this website. Since last December, I have written 170 stories, articles, and poems over there.
  18. Amazon and Kindle: I never have to venture out to shop or find something good to read. Even as I am grateful, I feel guilty – support local small businesses and independent bookstores!
  19. Toastmasters and the organization’s flexibility: When the pandemic hit, Toastmasters.org, District 56 (Houston area), and the local clubs I belong to (Cy-Fair Super Speakers and bToasty) pivoted on a dime to implement remote meetings, contests, and conferences, and to adapt to not only helping members develop their public speaking skills, but also help those who were new to remote working, learning, and socializing get comfortable with their technology and become more effective online presenters. Use the Find a Club feature to locate a Toastmasters club near you (or drop in one one that’s currently meeting online – maybe half a world away – if you’ve missed out on traveling, this year). It’s free to guests, so feel free to attend and see if it’s something you’d enjoy.
  20. Baking and cooking “therapy.”
  21. Loose-fitting lounge pants and not having to wear anything dressier!
  22. Resilient restaurants and food-delivery services: “date night” didn’t have to be canceled once, during lockdowns! (Always be sure to tip your driver as well or better than you would your waiter!)
  23. Readers who rate and review the books they read.
  24. Readers who leave conversational comments on blogs!
  25. Readers.
  26. Good handwriting. I need to use it more.
  27. Affordable hardware and software that meet my needs, and access to the Internet and mobile service. So many of us take this for granted, yet so many are without these things that are truly essential during a pandemic.
  28. Access to public parks and walking trails.
  29. A comfortable home.
  30. Good climate. Yeah, we all gripe about Houston heat and humidity, but it beats the ovens of Arizona and the biting chill of Alaska, and I can’t think of too many places I’m desperate to trade it for.
  31. Salt: I could sooner live without sugar. You know how deer need salt licks? It’s like that. But don’t call me “Dear.”
  32. Chocolate. And not having to choose between sugar and salt. Diversity in all things is a good thing.
  33. Friends who “get” me, and can tell when I’m being flippant and playful (and play along) and when I’m being serious (and take me seriously). It’s a gift. Introvert that I am, I call most of them “astute readers.”
  34. Music. Though according to Spotify, I really need to build some new playlists soon, or at least randomly shuffle the songs on them. I think my ears were in a rut, just like the rest of the world in 2020.
  35. William Ian Millar for not telling me to “bugger off” all the times I begged him to sing me The Unicorn, and for playing The Orange and The Green for me during one of his Facebook Live performances!
  36. No cavities, no cancer, and no corneal erosions!
  37. Security cameras that mostly just get to function as wildlife cameras, and the entertaining squirrels, possum, cats, spiders, and anoles who star on them!
  38. A car that works. With a new battery that works. Shutdown plays hell on your car battery. Go drive your car around a while – gas is cheap and a new car battery is not.
  39. Flu shots (much as I despise needles) and Brenda, at the local CVS, who manages to give them painlessly.
  40. COVID vaccines hastening across the country and the world. I’m not sure life will ever quite get back to “normal” but that’s okay. This will help.
  41. Biden-Harris, and supremely qualified cabinet nominees.
  42. A Supreme Court that, despite our worst fears, did not forget all they’d ever learned in Constitutional Law.
  43. A revitalized Space exploration program.
  44. My fellow writers – especially the ones who manage to stay engaged, productive, supportive, and encouraging while also being well-rounded humans and allowing me to be the same. That is, we do other things besides write, and care that the others are succeeding at those as well, or at least muddling through this strange year with hearts, brains, and body intact.
  45. Ample art supplies.
  46. Spicy peppers.
  47. The fact that I have managed to keep (most of) the plants in my gardens – both indoors and out – alive. This is kind of a big deal for me.
  48. Having had our shower remodeled last year, so that I can stand under a hot cascade of water and pretend that I am at a swanky resort spa. For glass blocks that let in sparkling sunlight but shield me from the neighbors’ gaze (I’m sure they’re grateful to have their gaze shielded from my nekkid body, too!)
  49. Moderators on social media who do their job well, despite criticism and abuse. Granted, there are far too few and I don’t know many personally, but they are out there – and they are much needed.
  50. Cybersecurity experts and law enforcement that swiftly shuts down fraud and other malicious bad actors on the Internet.
  51. Empathetic, competent humans who work in customer support, anywhere in the world. You are a rare and underappreciated breed, and don’t get thanked half as much as you get bitched at – but I am thankful for you.
  52. Companies that use IVR call-back “keep your place in line” systems and don’t make me talk to a f***ing machine.
  53. Principled investigators, lawyers, and judges who do their jobs with enthusiasm, diligence, and strong ethics. May your efforts at rooting out corruption and defeating monopolistic corporate endeavors be successful and just.
  54. Anti-racists. Not colorblind people, but people who are committed to ending discriminatory nonsense in whatever forms they find it, wherever it exists.
  55. Rainbows. Especially wide, iridescent, shimmering displays of color in a lightning-streaked sky at dusk, and full double-rainbows in sunshine. And that indescribable change of light that indicates I’m right in the midst of a rainbow. This is the “gold” at the end of the rainbow, and if you’ve ever experienced it, you sense that fleeting, precious moment.
  56. Teachers and daycare workers who have figured out how best to serve students and juggle the needs of their own families on a moment’s notice, and the working parents who have figured out how to partner with their children’s teachers while juggling their own jobs, responsibilities, and worries. These children are our future. They can catch up on the learning, but only if they and their parents and their teachers survive the pandemic.
  57. Hope. Near the start of the pandemic, I used a COVID app – not a contact tracing app, but one that tracked symptoms. They added a “mood tracker,” and I realized my moods had all but flatlined. I felt nothing. Not anxiety, not worry, not sadness, not depression – but not joy, optimism, or most frighteningly, hope, either. I even Googled “loss of affect” and worried, briefly, that I might have early onset Alzheimer’s. Disturbingly, I didn’t care. But hope has slowly, quietly crept back in. And I am grateful for that.
Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

A Walk in the Park

November and NaNoWriMo have become as much of a tradition for me as apple cider and ghost stories in October. To kick things off right, I recommitted to my health and fitness goals, last week. I’m inordinately proud of the fact that I took two long walks – 6.5 miles – around my favorite local park, this week. The first time, I was exhausted and in pain. I took three days “off,” and the second time was a breeze. I didn’t even have to stop for rest, and averaged about 18 minutes per mile. The more I exercise, the more I realize I don’t want to derail my efforts with unhealthy eating, though I did pay for that Trick-or-Treat Blast from Sonic on Friday, and will finish paying it off today. Fortunately, the weather is great and a walk in the park isn’t really much of a chore.

Health and well-being should never take a back seat to anything. It seems obvious, but we all tend to forget that. Even the “fitness nuts,” as they pursue their addiction to the gym with grim determination, sometimes forget that a well-lived life is a well-rounded life. I think this is why my favorite exercise is a long walk in the park. “Travel” is (mostly) out of the question, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take little “day trips” and appreciate our usual surroundings. Combining this with “cardio” – power-walking several times around the 1.7 mile path – hardly seems like work. I’m “getting my steps in” while I get lost in my thoughts, listening to music or reveling in silence and birdsong. I can listen intently for the scurrying of tiny feet, stopping suddenly, inches away. It’s comical how squirrels seem to think that if they freeze, staring back with beady little black eyes, we won’t see them.

“Hi, Squirrel.”

His bent tail reminds me of a story my mom used to tell me about her own childhood. She and her brother had a BB gun. They were playing around in the back yard, and she took a turn. Shot a squirrel in the tail. That squirrel haunted her for years – she’d see it running around with its broken tail, glaring at her as if it knew, making her feel guilty. She owned a gun, but never shot at another living creature again. I saw this squirrel in the park, and for half a second, wondered if he had a message to give me.

It’s been years since I last saw a grasshopper, but they seem to be making a comeback. Scroll fast if you’re squeamish about insects, but remember that grasshoppers are vegetarian and don’t bite or sting humans.

Walking in the park, yesterday – Halloween – was fun. Earlier in the week, I ran across this spooky Jack-o-Lantern. A grinning orange pumpkin head, washed up on the muddy banks of a gloomy lake.

Someone should have added a headless scarecrow, just to make the picture complete.

I found some more “hidden” Jack-o-Lanterns there, on Halloween. They seemed happier. Maybe that’s because they were perched atop bales of hay, and seemed to be having a lively, friendly conversation. They didn’t seem to mind my eavesdropping, and taking a selfie with them!

We have an overabundance of Halloween candy. Despite the pandemic, Trick-or-Treating, done with the usual levels of parental hypervigilance, ought to have been safe enough. And so, we set out carefully wrapped bags of factory wrapped treats.

I thought it was a little sad, at first, but as we went outside to gather up the treats, we saw that the street was full, and little costumed children were emerging from cars. “Wait,” I said to my husband, thinking that, although the hour was late, they might want candy. But no – a neighbor was hosting a party. I guess I know who I’ll be avoiding at the mailbox for the next two weeks or so.

No, chocolate is not “NaNoWriMo fuel.” It is a reward for walking 6.5 miles – twice in one week – at the park.

Halloween Acrostic & a Bonus Hidden Message

I think only one person found the “hidden message” and I practically had to lead him to it and point it out. Which is fine, because Mitchell Allen has been writing word puzzles and brain twisting stories for as long as I can remember, so for him to admit that I “got him” with this is serious bragging rights for a day! If you see it, leave it in a comment below (no fair helping, Mitchell!).

Hallowed haunts all children know on Halloween!
A witch’s brew, spooked lemonade — as little happy
People cram their sacks with sweets to eat!
Pretending merry mischief, upon the stoop they creep, to
Yell the chorus, “Trick or treat!” Good
Heavens, it’s a sequined devil! Princess? Something
Airy, like a fairy — Tinkerbell! And me,
Lighting up the entry way, I hear them give
Little squeals, delighted, as shuffling zombie feet
Outside signal their arrival: More of my
Well-mannered ghouls. Autumn’s crisp, clean smell
Evinces all the joys of fall; this, but one treat.
Evening comes to send them scattering home — or
Now, one wonders, were they there at all? Oh, marvelous trick!

The 1st of NaNoWriMo – Kick Off to a Month of Literary Abandon

This will be the first NaNoWriMo in which I have the entire month off work! This is my work. Which means there really are no excuses, this month, doesn’t it?  And since “excuses” include this blog, which does not, itself, count towards the word count, I must be off!

Healthy breakfast: :heavy_check_mark:
Coffee: :heavy_check_mark:
Big tumbler of water close at hand: :heavy_check_mark:

Although the required daily word count to “win” this thing is only 1667, I’m aiming for 2000+, so I can enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday guilt free, without derailing any goals.

Till later, Commentaters.

 

 

 

 

Pigeonholed

Pigeonholed

It’s no secret that I spent the better part of my career as a senior technical writer. “Information Architect,” if you prefer late 1990s euphemisms, but I prefer things that emphasize the “writing” part of the job. I didn’t so much build data as untangle it and make sense of it. It’s also no secret that I like to play with SEO. And I do mean “play” – I’ve not made a serious study of it, nor read the blog posts of others who’ve made a serious study of it, and I have in fact turned off readers here by even joking about it openly (mea culpa, I apologize for the “meta blogging,” but you know I’m weirdly competitive and I do love a silly challenge). I like to think that my own writing is as scattered and niche-less as my search engine queries. But that’s not what you want, is it?

No – to be precise, it’s what one family member, eleven friends and six random spammers who’ve kindly bothered to subscribe to this blog tolerate, while the rest of the visits come through direct links or “organic search” to older incarnations of this blog by way of the following queries:

Technical Writer Till the Day I Die

I’ll admit it – after I bought my new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I had to search my own site for “can’t answer incoming calls android.” It’s a useful post buried in one of my older blogs, but not entirely accurate for newer versions of Android, because you can no longer dismiss the annoying Accessibility menu after setting Single tap to swipe. But what you can do is move the damned thing – make it an “Edge icon” – and get it out of your way.

How to Answer Calls on Android with Just a Tap (or, Google, if I’d wanted a @#$%ing iPhone, I’d have bought a @#$%ing iPhone!)

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Interaction and dexterity.

Toggle on the Assistant menu.

Toggle on Single tap to swipe.

To get the floating menu out of your way, you can no longer drop it onto a big red X on the home screen and make it disappear. You must turn it on and leave it lurking there. But you can make it unobtrusive and harder to open accidentally. Toggle on Show as edge icon and that will move it off to the curved side of the screen. You can reposition it by dragging it right or left and up and down. I now have it on the upper right corner – a portion of the screen I rarely have to touch, so it doesn’t pop open while I’m trying to do other things.  You could make it invisible, but then you couldn’t see where it’s lurking, and that’s kind of creepy.

You can also set the physical Volume up or Side key to answer calls. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Interaction and dexterity > Answering and ending calls.

Don’t ask me why you can’t customize this to use the Volume down key, three finger-taps and a nose bang, or a Judge-Judy eye-roll (the device has biometric options, right?).

Be sure to test it – have a friend phone you to make sure you’ve got your settings working the way you want them to work.

Now, Back to the Blog…

It’s depressing. Is this all I am to you – a technical writer who can tell you, when Samsung won’t, how to answer a phone? Why not read some fiction:

Or poetry:

 

Doing Art

Doing Art

My sister-in-law encourages me to dabble in art – she’s even said she likes some of my little sketches better than $750 paintings we’ve seen, together, at an art gallery. I’m not sure why, although I’ll admit that the thought of anyone paying $750 for the paintings we saw hanging on the gallery walls was encouraging – my first thought was, “I could do that!” And it wasn’t that they were bad, or amateurish, but that – unlike when I study a detailed, luminous, realistic, oil painting by Jacque Louis David – I honestly felt like those paintings represented an attainable goal. So does Jackson Pollock or Jo Baer, and I could do Duchamp but my husband disposed of our old porcelain toilet before I could take a Sharpie marker to it.

Sunday, I fell into her trap. “Have you been doing much art, lately?” she asked.

“No,” I said. I couldn’t think of any art projects I’d done in the past couple of months. “Not really. I’ve been writing, but that’s not art.”

“What about the sketches you’ve been posting to Instagram?”

The what? Oh. Splat! Face first, right at the feet of my biggest fan.

“Inktober! Yes, I guess I have been ‘doing art.'”

I don’t take myself seriously when it comes to art. Not the way I do with writing. It’s not a thing I can imagine doing professionally. But that’s not the point, is it? I “do art” the way some people meditate. To relax. Those sketches, if I really work on them, force me to slow down, to have patience with myself, to study and see the details in a thing.

I am learning not to compare my sketches unfavorably to artists who have spent a lifetime learning and practicing, becoming artists. I am humbled when I post to Instagram, and one or more of the artists I admire clicks the little heart. They don’t sneer; they are welcoming and encouraging. Of course, they might sneer, if I pasted my sketches on that art gallery wall with a price tag of $750. Maybe we can all have a laugh, go out for drinks on my ill gotten gains, the day I work up the nerve to do that.

A Different Kind of Grief

A Different Kind of Grief

Mourning the loss of an imaginary friend

Sometimes, we have to let go. Just as Facebook introduced us to “Friend” as a verb, we are learning to “Unfriend,” and even as it breaks our hearts to do it, it brings peace of mind. And freedom.

For years, we have agonized over cutting ties with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors over their problematic social media posts. It would be unloving, unkind, and overly harsh if we cut people out of our lives every time they make a mistake, or say something thoughtless or unkind. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…

I don’t believe that social media makes monsters of “nice people,” though. It often reveals a side of us that we’ve not been taught to conceal, online, as if “online” were an imaginary country, populated by imaginary friends. Like Vegas, what happens online, stays online.

But that’s not true, is it?

Real People

I know people who claim they’ve received death threats over anti-racist and anti-misogynistic posts they’ve made on LinkedIn. I believe them.

I know people who can no longer suffer in polite silence at the dinner table, and who probably won’t be attending the annual family holiday gatherings, because they have come to realize that the people they thought loved them unconditionally really do believe that gay people — like them — are aberrant and ought to die.

I know people who sincerely believe that, when it comes to police brutality, it’s just “a few bad apples” on the police force, and we ought to show unquestioning support for the police. Yet these same people think all Black Lives Matter protesters are thugs, rioters, and looters. They cite that one Black friend who pretends to agree with them, for the sake of peace, as evidence that they are right.

I know people who think women are to be cherished — until they open their mouths to contradict a man or to have the audacity to tell him, “No.” Then it’s open season to condescend to them, to berate them, to make their lives hell on the job, online, or at home, or to beat them into submission.

I know people who believe strongly in freedom of religion. Unless you’re Muslim. Consistent with their view of Black Lives Matter protesters, these people are incapable or unwilling to distinguish between the faith and theology of Islam and the radical terrorist organizations springing out of theocratic, Islamist nations like Saudi Arabia or Iran. In truth, terrorism rarely springs out of something as simple as religious ideology, and it is never universally supported by the people of any nation. Phil Price, writing for Homeland Security Today, summarizes some of the findings in “Terrorism and Ideology: Cracking the Nut by Donald Holbrook and John Horgan”:

The authors argue that rather than being a direct, intellectual and theoretical basis for a terrorist’s commitment, ideology paints a bigger picture. It creates a climate and feeds a narrative where social and personal issues can be harnessed, such as anger at some perceived injustice, a sense of identification with a group — real or fantasy — and a belief that a particular organization can deliver results or salvation — political, collective, or personal.

It seems logical to assume that if people, and nations, felt heard and cared for by other people, and other nations — if they believed that anyone truly gave a damn about redressing their grievances — we would not have so much conflict and terrorism in the world.

I know people who are angry and belligerent when they are required to wear masks during a pandemic — despite the fact that their mask protects others from a potentially deadly disease, and others’ masks protect them. Many of these same people, though, think it’s their business — if not their God-given duty — to control women — in everything from how they dress to when and how they can obtain birth control or reproductive healthcare or abortions. Some of them blame women who seek abortions for engaging in “irresponsible sex” and would not lift a finger or agree to their tax dollars supporting her and her child(ren) after she gives birth.

What they may not realize (or conveniently choose to overlook) is that many of the women seeking abortions are married and have one or more children that they are struggling to support. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level).” Still, few are willing to consider that the best route to decreasing the abortion rate is not to criminalize a woman’s reproductive choices, but to make changes in society that would make abortion seem unnecessary in all but the most dire medical circumstances.

Politics and Morality

“Let’s just agree to disagree.” That works — if what we’re disagreeing over is whether pineapple or anchovies belong on pizza. You eat pizza your way; I’ll enjoy mine my way. If we have to share the pizza, we ought to be able to compromise — perhaps to agree that, for now, we’ll skip the pineapple and the anchovies, and just enjoy a cheese pizza and good conversation. That’s resource allocation and diplomacy.

But the central issues of the day run deeper than a difference of opinion. They’re not about whether to paint the police station burnt umber or café au lait.

A good friend of mine once said that she believed politics was “religion manifest.” Politics speak to our core values. And no political party is perfection; each side speaks to the values of the like-minded, but 330,150,668 people will never sing in unison. The best we can hope for is harmony, and peace.

There is no “perfect” candidate. No candidate of ideological purity. No candidate that represents us, and our opinions, all the time. And if there were, we would never vote for them in sufficient numbers to elect them to the office of President.

We choose the best we can, with the information we have at hand. And we judge one another for that choice. Sometimes, too harshly. Sometimes, not harshly enough.

I would urge everyone to vote — but before voting, to research the proven track record, not just their pretty, ideological words or the mud-slinging accusations lobbed at their opponent. What have they done that is consistent with your core values? Does it reflect their own claims, their pretty words?

I would urge everyone to vote in accordance with their values, not with the “herd.” Ignore the polls, the statistics, the speculation on the odds. What does any of that matter when you mark your ballot? Just vote.

Loss of Our Imaginary Friends

I believe the sadness we feel over alienation from family, the loss of friends, and the severing of social media connections isn’t grief at losing the person. They haven’t died. What’s died is the notion that they were ever who we believed them to be. We see the layered veneer peeled back — we see the whole self they’ve not brought to the office. And it hurts, sometimes.

We feel grief at realizing they were fictional characters in our heads. That they were not “better than that.” And that those fictional characters, our “imaginary friends,” have died. We want to believe that we can rewrite them, fix the flaws we only just now realized they had. We can’t.

I fully believe that without the space to screw up, to apologize — sincerely, to make amends, to be forgiven, and be allowed to try again, people will not bother to grow and change for the better. We don’t kick our children to the curb every time we’re angry with them. We shouldn’t do it with people we care about, either. They’ll lick their wounds and find validation and acceptance within their echo chamber. But no one is owed unconditional acceptance of the unacceptable, just because we like and admire other things about them.

Sometimes, we have to cut each other loose, and mourn what never was.