On fumes

It often feels like am ruled by inertia: if I’m lying down on the couch, it takes a superhuman amount of effort to change that. I’ll stay buried under the blanket until an actual emergency looms.

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But once I get rolling, God help you if you try to stop me. Interruptions—stopping here or there for this or that—feel like unbearable dams in the river of everything that is happening and must happen now now now.

Okay, I admit it: I’m looking for excuses for how I let the car run out of gas.

We’ve been driving around a lot to see the scenery. The gauge got below half, below a third. “I should get gas soon,” I thought, then forgot. Eventually it was below a quarter. “Remind me to get gas,” I told him, rather unfairly. I forgot. So did he.

And neither of us realized that after we went over that hill, there would just be…no gas…at all…for miles and miles, as the gas light came on and the gauge ticked down from four bars, to three, to two.

Nine miles later, a town sparkled at the base of a hill we’d just crested, lying against the bed of the ocean. “There will be gas there,” I said.

“Hope so,” he said.

I snorted, said something rather rude about how a town is hardly a town without a single gas station.

There was no gas station.

Down to one bar.

Thirteen miles to the next town, said the road sign.

Sweat broke out on his forehead.

I tossed my shoulders back and said we could make it all the way to our destination if we wanted, no problem. “You always have fifty miles after the light goes on, everyone knows that.”

“I thought it was twenty.”

Sweat broke out on my forehead.

What may have been thirteen miles later felt like about fifty. Every little tremble and rumble and wheeze of the car felt like the last breath of an empty tank. Our phones lied about having service: we couldn’t get any information to load. All there was to do was press on forward, through breathtaking countryside where we might very well be camping out tonight with no service and an inert vehicle, hoping that eventually there would be a town and that it would be the proper kind of town with at least one gas station.

We got to that thirteen-miles-away town approximately twenty-one miles later (I have verified against Google Maps). No gas. I felt like I was going to puke. We’d been at one bar for so long.

You go to worst-case-scenario planning so fast when you’re in a bad-case scenario. And yet it was and will forever remain imaginary, because we’ll never now know whether anyone would have stopped and helped us by letting us use their magically operable phone, or by driving ahead to the next town and bringing back a fuel can of gas to get us going. It would be night not too long from now. Would we have to walk miles along the winding, dark, shoulderless road?

I wondered whether this feeling was like the one that precedes a panic attack, which is not helpful when you’re driving. He started breathing differently. I apologized, which he accepted graciously, but like they say, the best apology is changed behavior, and I could hardly start filling up promptly at this point where there were no actual gas stations, I mean, honestly.

Through it all I had this sense that we’d make it, which was not supported by evidence, but which stuck with me. Something will happen. It just has to. There will be a town, eventually, with a gas station. It doesn’t make sense that there won’t be.

And, readers, there was. Two or five or some odd miles after the town we’d been aiming for, there was a gas station. It was crowded, because I imagine everyone else, like us, was fully in scarcity mode by the time they saw it. We filled up. We began breathing better, and we had a nice long verbal processing session about the whole thing.

I wondered aloud, probably too soon, whether this would be the kind of story we could laugh about soon, the time we wound around the wild coastline on fumes, the time we almost accidentally camped overnight in the national park. I vowed to become the kind of person who fills up between a quarter and a half tank. Call it a third-quarter resolution.

Out of the city and down to the seaside.

We escaped the heat for a while.

Now rather than heat hanging in greenest green trees, it’s fog rushing adrift overhead. It’s yellow grasses waving east, billowing and ragged like the ends of my hair after nine months without a haircut. Other plants are bulbous and Seussy. All of them make an alien impression no matter how many times I see them.

Cold breezes through the windows. Water rushing frigid over my toes washing the sand off.

The sand shining like flecks of gold, like motes of onyx. The beach strewn with endless kelp and weeds, as though the ocean herself had a nice haircut and strewed the leavings on the shore.

Birds soaring in grouped Vs, then bending their wings into a V to soar into the greygreen surf.

These days I write a lot. There are various journals for various purposes. This is sort of one of them. I often find myself in the middle of an entry writing: “I don’t know what else. I don’t know what there is to say.” But there’s always more, eventually.

And other times, there’s just the horizon and the teacup in my hands, and sitting rather too far away from the people you love best in the world.

Heat. Dancing.

You may be shocked to hear that in the middle of the month that is in the middle of the summer, in a neighborhood once noted for its swampiness in a city that it is often (technically inaccurately, but spiritually correctly) noted for being built on a swamp, in the middle of a coast known for stifling summers, during an unprecedentedly hot moment in the Holocene era, it is hot.

I ought to have adjusted by now, but I haven’t. People who have lived here their entire lives assure me that adjustment is physically impossible. It makes me wonder how people have lasted here for so many centuries, and also if this explains the constant attempts at vehicular homicide to which I am witness.

Today in between near crashes, I drove down a street named for a building that sits like a mountain in its center. The building is white. Its most megalithic part is made of cast iron designed to look like the white stone that supports it. I can only imagine how hot it would be to the touch. From a mile or so away, I saw the heat dancing in front of the building, or maybe it was the thick dampness of the atmosphere, dancing like candlelight.

It is natural for any living creature to grow languid in times like this.

We just came back from a short walk, a familiar figure-eight loop through the neighborhood on streets that have the biggest trees and the most little free libraries. (A frequent appraisal of little free libraries is a great way to psychoanalyze the area.) I saw my first cicada up close. It was making enough noise for the whole city block from a body no bigger than a flash drive, disguising itself as a spot of dark on a birch tree.

Later, a woman flagged us down from her porch. She needed Ian’s help moving a package inside. “I’m 99 years old and I live alone,” she said. We wondered how long she’s been in that house. Who she knew growing up. Her place did not appear to be air-conditioned, which is perhaps why she was on the front porch. I am not strong enough to live that way. I need frequent lie-downs even in the climate control. I am worrying about her and will probably continue to. I hope she has people to look in on her, but failing that, I hope she is able to flag down walkers when she needs something.

Walking outside on days like these, sweat can fall like tears streaming down the forehead, running rivulets of sunscreen moisturizer into the eyes. It is impossible not to become thoroughly bedraggled, which is at odds with how I always expect to look during summer (easy-breezy in a sundress).

Outside on the new patio, the plants (formerly houseplants, now potted outdoor plants; some of them are protesting this change more than others) sway in the hot breeze. Their leaves are both dancing and wilting at once until the shade falls on them. They seem to breathe a little sigh of relief.

It is a minor affliction compared to others, but recently I’ve been getting heat-related migraines frequently. Much like someone with a case of the vapors, I must treat myself gingerly, not ask too much of my body, not exert myself in any heat, water myself like a finicky houseplant. To my shock, though, I have been finding that I miss real exercise, which has become basically impossible due to the heat outdoors and the treachery of the virus inside any gym. So I decided to follow along to dancing videos on YouTube, inside in the air I am grateful I can keep cool. Yesterday while doing it I couldn’t stop laughing, waving my arms like a leaf blown by a chaotic breeze.

I hope you’ll find this moving

Yesterday I locked the door for the last time on my apartment. It was the place I’d lived the longest since I left my parents’ house at 17 to go to college (a relatively paltry 26 months).

The place was spotless, and it was no longer my home.

An anecdote: I moved to DC just about four years ago into an apartment in an L-shaped building. I lived at the tip of the short arm of the L. For various reasons, a year later, I moved into a unit near the crook of the L. For other various reasons, nine months later, I moved into a unit halfway down the long arm of the L. Now, I have moved to an apartment at the tip of the long arm of the L. How to extrapolate where I’ll go next? Will I be flung off the long arm? Whither?

When I lived in the apartment at the crook, I had a commanding view down over the interior courtyard and over the city blocks beyond. There is an apartment with an oversized patio at the top of the long end of the L. While I looked down from the crook, I sometimes saw the woman who lived in the apartment with the patio sunning herself. She was pregnant. She would lie on her outdoor couch and rotate herself, her belly gleaming with sunlight.

The next time I looked down on them, from the place I stayed for 26 eventful months, she was holding her baby.

That’s my patio now.

I can be a little philosophical about it now, because I’m sitting in a room that has been unpacked. I feel calm and in control of my life. This is very unlike the state of mind I have been in for the last four days, and which I will continue to be in as boxes and furnitures need moving. As the floor becomes inexplicably dirty (do I exude these particles from my feet? How else to account for it?) As I find, at the base of bag after bag, bizarre little trinkets I need to meditate over for ten minutes before I can convince myself to be rid of them:

Take, for example, a keyring I found. I don’t know when I acquired it. It must have been a gift. It is a gleaming hematite finish, and it has the Cal logo on it. It’s a nice-looking keyring.

I have a keyring already. I do not need another. I do not need to add weight to my keyring by adding this one. I do not know anyone who needs a Cal keyring (although if you do, fair reader, please let me know very soon). I should get rid of it.


I could put it in the bottom of a different bag, with different random items, and surely someday in the future I will find a use for them.

Surely I will not, next time I move, curse myself for doing this time after time. No, this keyring is unlike all the other knickknacks and old papers and broken pencils and unclaimed spare keys that I’ve hated lugging around in the past. This keyring is something different: a potentially useful object. There is no worse sin than to purge a potentially useful object.

Look at this scarcity mentality that demands I shove these potentially useful objects into the backs of bags in drawers. It bears no resemblance to the reality of actual abundance around me. There are keyrings aplenty if I need them. And next time I need a keyring, am I really going to go searching through all of the bags full of potentially useful objects? Do I even remember that such bags exist, when it isn’t currently time to miserably move them place to place? Sadly not.

Friends, I have moved somewhere between 17 and 26 times in the last 14 years, depending on how you count. You’d think I’d be excellent at it by now. I am not. Catch me a few hours ago trying to negotiate keeping both of the dish-draining boards and all of the plates from both our houses.

A plague on that behavior.

So hold me accountable to this next time: I’m changing my ways. I’m saying goodbye to items that once served me and no longer do. I’m going to haul less out of this place than we just hauled in, or else I’m coming out feet-first.

And to you, empty room, I say: thank you for the last two years. Good luck with your new folks.

2020: Downhill

There are less than six months left in 2020. (Aside: I want to be able to write “There is less than six months left in 2020,” because I’m less interested in the countable number of months than in the uncountable amount of time, but it just looks so completely wrong that I can’t bring myself to do it. (Other aside: remember this pedantry later.)) I have yet again set goals for these next six months, which I plan to share for accountability!

But also! As I said last time, it seems crazy to be setting goals right now, what with all the trust in the future that that requires. If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it might be that we really can’t count on life looking any particular way at any particular time. Sometimes things just change. Sometimes there are murder hornets and maybe also flying snakes and they’re not even that big of a deal because there is so much else going on.

I’m not one for sports analogies. I needed help understanding the problem when Pete Buttigieg, way back many years ago in January, referred to Kobe Bryant’s achievements on the “field.” But even I understand the inherent drama about entering the second half of a sport thing. Are we up? Are we down? Do we have everything to lose or everything to gain? Etc.

And I think if I understood sports, I’d know that you can’t plan the second half until you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Here’s the thing: I always expect future-me to be an absolute superhero, a champion of efficiency who may also be able to time-travel, who squeezes 24 hours of productivity into an 8-hour day. She bears no relation to present-me, but I applaud present-me for this optimism.

So my work recently has been to accept that present-me, who needs a lie-down between tasks and who sometimes comes to covered in chip dust at the bottom of a Wikipedia k-hole, is the one I’m asking to do all of this. I’ve tried to give her a reasonable ask.

After that scale-back, I’m feeling pretty okay about my ability to do what I set out to do in the second half of 2020. Here’s what I’m aiming for:

  1. Take an online course on intuitive eating (half done)
  2. Play the piano at least three days per week, and be able to play one specific song fluently by the end of the year.
  3. Write a SFD (shitty first draft) of Book Three. (Note: this one I’m not at all sure will happen. “Not with that attitude!” you may object. But…seriously.)
  4. Perfect my query letter and send 60 queries for Book One.

Check back in 6 months to see how it went, assuming the internet still exists and I have not been murdered by hornets.

(Now, a final note on pedantry and the efficiency of present-me: I got waylaid for literally 24 hours by whether to say there “are” or “is” less than six months left in 2020. This is not the behavior that future-me expects from present-me! As a team, we will have to work on this.)

Goals in the now-times

Back in the before-times, I made some goals for the first six months of 2020.


It had been my intention all along to come back here and check in on those goals at the end of June. But as you may have noticed, the world has been doing something that looks a lot like falling apart, or (more hopefully) metamorphosing, between then and now.

I had no idea in early January that in the next six months I’d be up against a long bout with pneumonia, a global pandemic, a big transition in my family, major social upheaval, and getting ready to move apartments.

But here we are!

Mural on the Metropolitan Branch Trail by @marnimanning, used with permission.

These are over-the-top, bang-you-over-the-head type reminders that we are not in control of circumstances. We are not in control of the future. But making goals is an act of putting trust in the future.

That’s a tension I struggle with. I often look into the future with a jaundiced eye, unable to believe that anything good will come of it unless I wring it out with sheer effort. I’m consistently wrong about this. Time demands that I understand it will always surprise me.

Despite all this, I’m going to do a little reflection over the next few days to figure out what I want to put my attention and energy to in the second half of 2020. I’m going to set goals exactly as I did in January. I do not know what the world or my own circumstances will look like in late December. I’m going to try to live in that place between trust in the future and humility in my own ability to control it.

All that said, how did I do on 2020 goals part 1?

  • Querying Book One: ✔️
  • Semi-detailed outline for Book Three and reading at least one research book: ✔️
  • Therapy at least once a month: ✔️
  • Comfortably running ~5 miles regularly: Absolutely not in this climate. Migraine city. Could reassess once the swamp cools down this fall. Could not.

Honestly, I’ve never felt more grateful that I happen to be an introvert.

Still sun, the other one

Today is the summer solstice: the first day of summer, and also the day the light starts falling back again, little by little.

Isn’t that interesting, that the beginning of something can be also when it starts to end? Ooh, aah, a metaphor.

My fear of scarcity manifests as this desperate white-knuckle desire to do it all, fill the day, squeeze every last bit out of the time, check the boxes. And then that task-masker self spurs rebellion from the other self, who refuses to comply, who manages to be late to work even when the commute is about thirty feet and doesn’t even require clothing, because she would rather lie in bed reading, or who passive-aggressively zones out during meetings playing Vertex (highly recommended).

It’s a weird mix, living with both of us at once.

But it’s actually fine. Both of us, together, we do manage to pursue our goals, and also to rest and connect. And, with some help, we’re learning to follow our joy first and foremost. Listen to that little spark that is delight, and watch it ignite. Follow that.

So that’s what I’m choosing to take from this solstice, the sun’s pause, the top of her magnificent annual stretch. Don’t give into the temptation to listen to the scarcity, which might say “There it goes. The nights will get longer from here on out. You haven’t made the most of the summer,” or the day, or the weekend, or the vacation*, or whatever it is. “You haven’t accomplished enough. There won’t be time to do it all.”

Instead, try the enoughness. Let the long light today be enough. That’s where life is located, I think.

*remember vacations?

Hypocrisy and discomfort

I generally don’t think it’s terribly interesting to point out someone else’s hypocrisy. Judging from the internet, mine is not a popular view. You’ll find all kinds of this style of argument, if you dare to look:

“How can you support X when you didn’t support Y?”

“How can you complain about A when B didn’t bother you?”

X, Y, A, and B can be anything you like, really. Claims of corruption in your party vs. comparable claims of comparable corruption in the other party. Trust in one scientific consensus and distrust in another one. Tolerating speeding but not jaywalking, I don’t know.

Too often, this is a bad move, as it exposes both parties’ hypocrisy (after all, if I support Y but not X, it doesn’t really put me in a good light to complain about someone else supporting X but not Y. If my claim is that X and Y are equivalent, then we’re both hypocrites.) Plus, I find it a bit dull. And worst of all, it doesn’t ever seem to move people, so it’s just fighting for fighting’s sake, which is basically my least favorite thing.


Isn’t it interesting that…

I just find it funny how

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You are not a dog.

This post is about plagiarism. 

First, a story. Last week, I unwatched some internet drama unfold. I won’t name names, but here’s a brief recap: a white woman wrote some journaling prompts for confronting one’s relationship to racism. A black woman accused her of plagiarizing some of these prompts from her viral blog post from a few years back. The black woman asked for an apology in a specific form. The white woman complied. 

Here’s what happened to me: when I looked at the black woman’s comparisons of the two posts, I didn’t see the plagiarism. I saw two sets of writings on the same topic, yes, but where the wording overlapped, I saw fairly general statements. I saw coincidence in syntax, in other words, not plagiarism. I was looking at it like a copyright lawyer.

But I kept paying attention, and finally I did see it. I finally heard and understood what the black woman was saying: the white woman took it upon herself to write journaling prompts about antiracism, and she did not credit the many black people who have articulated these concepts before her, even the ones who taught her these concepts.

It is irrelevant whether she wrote the sentences based on the black woman’s particular post or not. The white woman’s post itself is a problem: it arises from white people’s tendency to charge in and reinvent a wheel that black people have already been making.

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False choices and wrong answers.

All I have to add is this: we are often given a choice between human lives and property. What will we protect? What will we focus our attention on?

There’s a wrong answer, and it’s property.

But, you may protest, depending on the issue:

  • two wrongs don’t make a right!
  • they’re detracting from their cause!
  • people have to work to live!
  • they’re hurting the innocent!
  • money doesn’t grow on trees!
  • you would feel differently if your property were in jeopardy!

All of them valid points, if you look at them in a vacuum. But looking at them in a vacuum means turning your eyes down and away from the human lives before you.

You protest again: This is a false choice. Human life is unsustainable without money, property, sustenance.

Yes, it is a false choice. The deck is stacked. It makes us miserly and fearful.

A perfect world would be one in which we no longer have to choose between life and property.

A just world is one in which we make the right choice.