Random Autumn Thoughts 10/13/2020

Squirrel!

Tis my season to do nesting things. When the nights get longer and the days turn cold, I develop a specific kind of energy & focus. I move furniture, change light bulbs, finish assorted small repair projects I’ve ignored for months, get my flu shot & yearly physical, order clothes, do all the seasonal cleaning other people call “spring” cleaning, and basically Get Ready To Do Nothing At Home For Months.

My social batteries drain to zero between November and March. I do leave the house–for work, for emotional health, for fun–but it’s hard. It’s a physical strain. Knowing I am equipped to hide in the house if I just can’t cope with people– it keeps the stress below redline. Mostly.

Squirrel shopping is a major component of the prep. I pick up a little extra here and one more than I need there all autumn long, until my cabinets & closets are full.

(do not speak to me of “but restaurants deliver.” Ordering food is stressful. Drive-throughs are stressful. MENUS are stressful. A pantry stash requires zero interaction & minimizes decision paralysis.)

Stocking up always felt silly because it’s not like I can avoid shopping all winter like a hermit or a sleeping squirrel just by having extra boxed rice dinners or frozen green beans on hand. It’s not like I’m out in the wilderness where I might get snowed in for a month. FFS, there are six grocery stores minutes away from my home.

But the squirrel stashing feeds that emotional need for refuge-building, so I learned to indulge it. Coping mechanisms. They’re real.

Still, every year I wondered if it was an unhealthy emotional crutch and/or if I was allowing fears inspired by my post-apocalyptic fiction writing to affect my real life.

Until this spring.

I never worked down the pantry overstock the way I usually do in late winter. Pandemic news had me on edge by mid-January, and allowing the quirky desire to be Ready For Any Disaster free rein gave me a little relief from stress meltdowns.

By mid-March and the “stay home stay safe” phase of this dumpster fire year, my pantry was at peak November levels and more, since I’d impulsively grabbed extra cleaning supplies & personal care items on my February shopping expedition.

“Weird personal quirk” has turned into “reliable source of tiny indulgences that make involuntary isolation and fearful uncertainty more bearable.”

It stayed winter all summer long, as far as my nerves are concerned. I now catalog and inventory before shopping. (it IS possible to have too much boxed rice when the store keeps putting them on sale at 10 for $10.)

And now we’re heading into another winter, with who knows what kind of stresses and disasters await us all. My burrow is as ready as it can be, though, and that’s something.

A few things I learned this summer.

Milk gallons freeze just fine as long as you make sure the bottle has enough headspace; celery & carrots keep well and satisfy my greens cravings; commercial bread loaves and English muffins also freeze well; a watermelon keeps for a week on the counter if you don’t cut it open– and keeps for another week in the fridge if you rind & quarter it. Apples only freeze well if you peel & core them first & plan to use them for sauce or baking.

A things I hate but can’t help thinking about

We got a lucky break with COVID-19. Yes, I am aware how horrible and gross and coldhearted it is to say “lucky” when millions are dead and millions more are suffering and we aren’t anywhere close to being done with it. It’s AWFUL. I’m awful for typing it. I’m a sick monster.

What’s more awful is that it’s true.

SARS-CoV-2, the new-to-humans virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, is deadly, but some viruses are 20 or 30 times more lethal. We’re lucky they don’t spread easily. Others spread more easily than SARS-CoV-2 but aren’t nearly as lethal and/or we can vaccinate against them. (There are also some truly terrifying viruses that haven’t jumped from animals to humans yet. Looking at you, hantavirus)

We would be thoroughly FUCKED right now if the first novel virus we faced had been like measles, and everyone who got it infected 8-10 others instead of 2-ish. Or if it was like hantavirus and killed 30% of its victims, not 1% like SARS-CoV-2. What if it was like measles and hantavirus at the same time?

Infectious disease scientists don’t have to imagine that. They can model it. As the global population grows, the arrival and global spread of unique new diseases is an inevitable development. One of them is bound to be a monster.

And in February 2020, none of those experts could be sure SARS-CoV-2 WASN’T a Big One. They were pretty sure they had a handle on the basics of it–and they knew it was BAD–but it was still too new and the data was still too raw to be sure it wasn’t even WORSE.

Cautious, careful governments locked down to prevent its spread (real lockdowns, not our nation’s sorta-kinda-half-assed-half-hearted version of a lockdown, but real shutdowns) because quarantining is the one tried & true way to shut down viral spread, no matter what it is.

We now know SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t the Big One. It’s horrific, it’s historic, it’s phenomenally deadly and permanently damaging…but it’s treatable and its spread can be defeated by simple, low-tech, public health measures.

We caught the lucky break. The first modern global pandemic is a disease that is ONLY 10 times more deadly than influenza, and one that ONLY spreads at a moderate rate.

The world is a cage fight tournament, humanity vs viruses ( sponsored by Climate Change!) and we drew a pussycat opponent in the first round. This was a lucky chance to fine-tune our fight strategies, build up public health muscle and improve our scientific skills, because as sure as rain falls, we’re going to catch a lion in one of our next match-ups.

Too bad we blew it big time here in the USA. We are fucking up our gimmee game beyond all recognition. I wish I thought that we’d learned our lesson, that we’ll do better when the curtain inevitably goes up on the Big One.

But I don’t think that.

I see to many people spouting bullshit like “There’s no point in making kids wear masks–the labels say they aren’t medical, so they’re useless!” Which is so staggeringly wrong it’s hard to know where to start. And an empathy-fail trophy goes to those who insist that the virus isn’ dangerous because no one they know has died of it. Runners-up in the ignorance sweepstakes are “It’s all a government hoax,” and “If we didn’t test so much, it wouldn’t be as bad.”

Oof. When the big one does come (or when we fail to contain this pussycat and it goes rabid) when there aren’t enough healthy people left to keep the lights on or the water running, no one to make or transport supplies, or to staff hospitals and stores and laboratories…well.

Hi. I write post-apocalyptic fiction for so very many reasons.

And a few bright personal threads

I am fully 2/3 of the way through Sharp Edge revisions and ready to send off the next section to my alpha readers for feedback. That’s very exciting.

I have a Bookshop.org presence now, where you can buy my paperback books AND ALSO support your local independent bookseller:

Thanks to the completed exterior house renovations, my office now has modern windows, so the blinds don’t sway whenever the wind kicks up. This makes me unreasonably happy.

I have put my ebooks up on Ingram for distribution, so brick & mortar store that sell ebooks should be able to order you mine now. I admit I haven’t figured out how that part works, exactly, but the channel is open.

AND! AND! I’m working up my courage to approach a professional narrator and get more of my books on audio. If you read audios and have a favorite narrator you would like to nominate, please, PLEASE share the name.

You have reached the end of this post!

That’s all the all I have until later. Thanks for reading.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Have a nice picture of autumn beverages to go on with.

Masks. Is yours comfy?

Early in the Age of Mask Mandates I noticed a puzzling thing: I had adapted MUCH more easily to wearing masks than others I knew.

Masks leaves a large percentage of my friends feeling breathless or dizzy, they give people headaches or leave them exhausted after a short time. They hurt. My friends are NOT using these problems as excuses to endanger themselves or others by going mask-free, mind you, but they do suffer major discomfort to be safe and save others.

But me? I’m not suffering. I find masks relatively comfy. This surprised and puzzled me, because as a rule, I have major problems adjusting to new physical demands. (Just ask my very, VERY patient optician.)

So why has mask-wearing been such a breeze? The answer came to me, after much pondering, while washing my face after a 3-hour mask-wearing shift at work.

I don’t mind masks because I was a competitive swimmer for six years, and I’ve spent countless hours swimming laps for exercise in the years since.

No, seriously. Here’s what I’ve learned from playing in the pool:

  1. Swim caps & goggle taught me how to endure the literal pain of straps and seals diging into my head. Anything that presses near the ears or nose, covers the sides of the head, or ties above the neck in back can lead to mysterious, horrendous headaches. You learn which precises spots on your head will tolerate intrusions by trial and error, and even then, tiny adjustments make a huge difference. I do all that without thinking.
  2. Wearing goggles also taught me how to tune out the sensation of things grinding against my cheeks and sinuses. Yes, that matters. We all have lots of nerves there. New experiences and sensations are exhausting even when they’re nice ones. Masks aren’t nice.
  3. Lap swimming taught me how to override my body’s interpretation of pressure. There’s nothing natural about putting your face into water and convincing your lungs it’s FINE, GO AHEAD AND WORK. Inhaling deeply when your senses tell you there’s resistance goes against instinct and sets off an unconscious stress response. Cloth doesn’t create that much resistance to inhaling, but it doesn’t take much to make the experience stressful. And stress = headaches, weariness, and anxiety. Me? I just…tune it out.
  4. Swimming taught me breathing discipline. Exertion in water ups the volume on that constant “not enough air getting through!” message the brain is sending. There is no way to compete without passing out from O2 deprivation unless you re-learn how to breathe in specific resistance-avoidance ways.
    Now that I’m looking for it, I catch myself breathing in through my mouth and giveing the breath a little deeper oomph than I “normally” would whenever my mask rides up against my nose. And then I exhale just that tiny bit more forcefully through the nose than I would without the mask on. Exactly as when I’m swimming.
  5. Competition taught me the importance of evaluating equipment. Comfort, looks, and performance all matter, but comfort has to be priority 1. If my cap gave me headaches, my goggles fogged, or my suit dragged, they weren’t right for ME, even if the whole Olympic swim team swore by them. Whichever one fits me best, meets the monimum specs and won’t get me disqualified.
    Same for masks. I don’t understand anyone who accepts the first mask type as the Only Type. I went through 5 styles and 3 different material combinations to find ones that I can wear all day.
    I am aware not everyone can afford that, but I think everyone should learn that they CAN find a different mask if the one they’re wearing is uncomfortable.
  6. Swimming also taught me how to accurately gauge a 6′ distance, to avoid touching my face, and to read people’s emotional state when half their features are obscured, but those skills aren’t quite as critical as the other ones.

Are masks the best thing ever? Ugh, no. I hear people better when I can see their lips move. I have a better chance of interpreting non-verbal cues correctly if I can see mouths as well as eyes and bodies. They fog my glasses. They make my face sweat. I constantly want to fidget with them.

But the kind of serious issues that make healthy people understandably unhappy about wearing them at all? Nope.

Last little point of interest: people masking up hasn’t significantly affected my ability to identify them. That isn’t a trick from swimming, though. That’s an unexpected silver lining to my faulty facial recognition software. I didn’t recognize people by faces before they wore masks!

So for me, a mask is just another head accessory, and I am thankful for that. I suspect I’ll be wearing one in public spaces for a quite some time yet. So it’s a good thing I love having the right accessories.

I am curious how all y’all are dealing with Mask Life. If you want to share which of your life experiences have helped you make your peace with wearing them, I’d love to read about it.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Until later!

gold carnival mask with red feathered headdress
This is not a protective mask, but it is pretty.

Time to level up, folks

If you’re one of the people who’s felt my scorn about your take on The American Plague Situation, please know I am not sorry. (If you are not one of those people, be warned this rant is long and…um…exceedingly ranty.) So. Onward.

When you sigh about overwhelming information, muse about lockdowns maybe being too extreme, express concern that the doom predictions aren’t coming true but your friends & family are going bankrupt/ being evicted/ losing their savings, if you wonder if the prevention is worth the effort and cost, or maybe it’s exaggerated and it’s definitely confusing and we can’t go on like this forever..this is what’s going on in my brain:

OMFG OH MY FUCKING GOD NO YOU ARE WRONG AND I AM TOO SHOUTYCAPS ANGRY AT YOU & THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD TO DEAL WITH YOUR IGNORANT BULLSHIT.

I am happy to have rational discussions about issues, and I think I have achieved that standard in most cases despite my above feels…

BUT. When you hear that edge in my voice, when you sense I am less patient than usual, less inclined to accept the validity of your ideas, and not treating your positions as reasonable, there is a reason, and it is this:

You are not reasonable. You are fucked up, AND you are identifying yourself as a direct, immediate threat to my life and the lives of people I love. I will not be chill about that.

Bad ideas come in gangs, and they beat up on rationality. “It’s all so confusing” runs with “They’re all equally bad,” “I can’t keep up,” and “I don’t know what to believe,” and they are all shitty excuses that play right into swearing allegiance to the ringleader of rational assassins, Denial.

When you hang out with the “it’s so confusing” mindset, you become the “It’s fine” meme dog. People deny their way into death by smoke inhalation every year. True story. No joke.

I’m actually in favor of letting people endanger themselves on their own time. But in the case of this pandemic, you are endangering others. Me.

So, fuck your willful ignorance. “Looking at both sides” and “I can see their point” acceptance of all ideas as equal spreads hot takes like “we can’t stay locked down, people are going bankrupt,” “But the children ARE FALLING BEHIND and having their childhoods ruined” and “cloth face masks don’t prevent disease, so are they worth the hassle?”

All those chunks of bullshit can be disputed and debunked point by point, but I have neither the patience or interest for it. No one who accepts them is doing so rationally. No one who even ponders them is thinking straight.

Look. I know news comes at us from all sides like fire hoses of fact & fiction, pouring data into the burning building of The Year 2020. But complaining that you don’t know how to interpret it all? That it’s too haaaaarrd?

TOO FUCKING BAD. FUCKING LEARN. I WOULD FUCKING TEACH YOU.

Wading through a neck-high flood of information isn’t fun. But it isn’t HARD. It’s just time consuming. Engage in source-checking, recognize and filter out data that’s tied up in bias phrasing and hidden agenda red flags, and translate hyperbole based on the facts you learn from the first two activities, and there you will find consistent, reliable information.

Please understand, my passionate horror of your attitude has deep roots. I have pushed back against the American devaluation of expertise and lived experience for decades now. The whole, “doctors disagree, so I’ll believe the conclusion that feels right,” makes my blood boil. The eager embrace of anecdote-as-proof, the trust in uninformed intuition, the erosion of respect for intellectual rigor and basic math…I have been howling and growling (and calmly educating people) about these problems for years.

But now the worship of snake oil over science is LITERALLY killing people by the dozens each day. COVID-19 is on its way to becoming endemic, and it didn’t have to be this way. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t hammer at the fracture points in our society until they shatter and send us careening into open civil warfare. (as opposed to the undeclared war already being waged by federal & local military forces against American citizens right now. BUT I DIGRESS. Sorrynotsorry. Recognizing the seeds of dystopia is kinda my thing.)

And okay, fine. I can’t resist. I will bring the hammer of reason down on a few points.

There are social safety nets that could catch EVERYONE facing personal or business losses due to the collision of a pandemic with a private sector Gone Wall Street Wild for 30 years. Mostly in the USA we’ve gone the “full-on blatant corruption & skimming” route instead, but that isn’t the POINT.

The point is, helping people through financial and educational loss is possible. Bringing people back from the dead isn’t. And don’t get me started on the “that which does not kill us leaves us damaged” aspect of COVID-19 which is becoming clear as cases pile up.

Pitting lives against economics is a rigged game, and if you’ve been tricked into playing it, you’re a fool. Period. There will also be economic devastation if factories shut down, ports shut down, stores close, utilities fail BECAUSE TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO RUN THEM ARE SICK OR DEAD.

Is that possible? Oh, hell, yes. Likely? Maybe? We are NOT under control. We squandered the initial shutdown time without developing resources for identifying & containing outbreaks. And now the spread is skyrocketing because too many people are tired of taking simple precautions. (The dangerous magical thinking goes something like this: we did the shutdown, we flattened the curve, it’s all over and now everything is fine!)

Uh. No. We barely flattened out the curve, and never came close to stamping it out anywhere. I expect we will face breakouts for years the way we used to see with measles & polio and still see with flu…and oh, yeah, we could have TWO pandemics at once this winter if it’s a bad flu season. Viruses don’t care if they’re inconvenient.

While I’m ranting, forget the phrase “herd immunity” forever unless you are saying you are a-okay with hundreds of thousands of people dying from COVID-19 and far more facing lifelong medical complications for your hypothetical, temporary protection. At least 20-40% of the whole damned herd has to get infected to matter at all, and its benefit assumes the immunity lasts. WHICH IT USUALLY DOESN’T FOR CORONAVIRUSES. If you are okay with that, GTFO of my life, you are a monster.

Don’t believe me? Look up the tweets by the governor of Mississippi, who lays out the gruesome toll.

Oh–and all your friends who are a) swearing they had Covid last year, or b) insisting lots more people had it already and never got sick and that means the fatality numbers are inflated and c) besides, it’s mainly old people? A) No. Just. Ugh. NO. B) Check your arithmetic, even if Covid only had the fatality rate of a mild flu, that’d be 325,000 dead people or more if left unchecked, so C) GTFO, monster. And some of those healthy folks walking around are breathing death, and we cannot know who they are.

Also not all the dead will be olds. Hospitals some areas are so full of COVID cases right now that Our Federal Government is hiding the numbers from the public. Young people. Old people. Sick people. Previously-healthy people. Virus doesn’t give a damn. The cold numbers are such that even tiny percentages add up to a lotta dead. Math is unforgiving that way.

And that’s why masks fucking matter. My fitted mask cuts the risk me exposing someone virus by more than half. I can’t know if I’m a healthy spreader. The antibody tests are trash.

But everyone who won’t bother to properly cover their damned noses is doubling MY risk. The sheer, flagrant selfishness of it enrages me. FYI, you will not choke on your own toxic exhalations or suffocate because you cover your face with thin cloth or paper. *FACEPALM*

ANYWAY. Wrapping up now, I promise.

All your musing and pondering comes down to the equivalent of this: “I heard the fire alarm, but I don’t smell smoke, the fire exits are hard to find, and leaving seems like a waste of time and money, plus so many people say we can ignore the alarms because sometimes the alarms are wrong anyway so I don’t know what to believe.”

To which I say, WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?

If you get to wrap yourself in a comfy blanket of information fatigue and refuse to educate yourself properly or keep a fucking mask over your damned nose, I get to call you a fucking accessory to mass murder.

Yes, I am judging people and finding them wanting. I hate losing faith in so many, MANY people I once respected, especially since they could do better and won’t. But alas, I am disappoint. SO DISAPPOINT.

TL;DR:
Stay strong, learn the difference between snake oil and science, remember you are mortal. This ain’t over. Keep a mask on your face, keep your distance from others, and keep your pantry stocked.

And if you’re one of the people who feels the way I do, hail and well met. We shall stand in solidarity. Separately. Safely.

And next post I’ll write about my exciting book revisions, or my upcoming Gen Con events or happy garden projects…or something.

Until later!