week 6/52 — hanging out under trees

Fozzie loves the Christmas tree. He loves to play under it, cantering around the tree’s base and making the whole tree rustle like there is a tiny velociraptor inside. He also loves to curl up on the soft, faux fur tree skirt and make a cozy den for himself. Oftentimes you can hear a quiet snoring emanating from the corner of the living room the Christmas tree inhabits, like the tree is having itself a good snooze.

Ordinarily, I enjoy the ritual of putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it, but last year was bittersweet because we were pretty sure it would probably be Fozzie’s last Christmas. I honestly wasn’t confident he would even make it to Christmas. He hadn’t been eating much, was very lethargic, and just seemed… tired. His primary vet felt that his accumulating health problems were achieving critical mass. After the tree was up, Fozz wasn’t much interested in playing under the tree, and my heart broke a little.

Fozzie had been on a steady decline during November. It got so bad that on the night before Thanksgiving we called Laps of Love, the veterinary hospice, and made an appointment for Sunday to euthanize Fozzie at home. We didn’t go through with it. We had an appointment the following Tuesday with the Internal Medicine team at MedVet Dayton. Dr. O, the internist, had helped with Kirby and we wanted to see if she could do anything help with Fozzie.

She did.

Dr. O ran a battery of tests and deduced that Fozzie had hypertension, and prescribed him something to help with it. She recommended a new diet geared toward dogs with chronic liver and kidney issues. She also put him on some other stuff to bully his organs into improving.

Fozzie slowly got better. His kidney and liver enzyme levels improved. His blood pressure went back to normal. He regained his appetite and began eating regularly. He became stronger, more energic. He started playing under the tree again. Christmas came and went, and not only was Fozzie still here, but he’s the healthiest and happiest he’s been since late 2020.

I have no idea how much longer we’ll have Fozzie. I won’t kid myself: no matter how well he’s doing now, he is still a 19-going-on-20-year-old good boy with chronic kidney and liver disease. As such, we haven’t taken the tree down yet, though we did recently swap out the Christmas ornaments for some glittery, gold stars, thus metamorphosing the Christmas Tree into the Winter Tree. Not sure what we will do in the spring, if we’ll keep the tree up or finally take it down, but for now — it’s Fozzie’s.

Fun fact: After I took this photo of Fozzie the other night, I realized he had somehow gotten a string of lights wrapped around his chest and was, in fact, stuck.

In Soviet Russia, Christmas tree decorate you!

week 6/52 — comin’ up from the bottom

I met my neighbors for the first time yesterday. We’ve lived next door to each other for over three years.

Sure, we’ll say hi or wave when we see each other coming or going, but it’s never been more that.  No real conversations.  No casual chitchat.  Hell, I’ve never even gone the extremely basic extra step to say Hi I’m Josh.

The snowstorm last week changed that.  It wasn’t that bad of a storm, probably 5-6 inches with another inch of ice underneath.  More than normal, but not what anyone in this part of Ohio would call a blizzard.  I shoveled the driveway several times during and after the snowstorm, so it wasn’t in too bad of shape.  However, the snowplows finally came lumbering down our street Friday night, and pushed a bunch of wet and thick slush onto the bottom of the driveway.  This then had the temerity to freeze overnight.

I was excavating this heavy mess yesterday morning, and it was going fine but slow, when my neighbor appeared like a Columbia-clad angel and offered to help.  I accepted, and when we were finished, I helped him dig out his car, which had been walled in by the snowplows.  When we were finished, he said, “Oh, I’m REDACTED by the way.”  I told him my name, then we exchanged the names of our respective families.  I am comically awful at remembering names, so I had to memorialize theirs in a note on my phone, otherwise they would have whistled out of my head in a matter of minutes.

I don’t think we’ll become friends or anything, but it is nice to know one’s neighbors a little bit.  Also, let’s hear it for mutual aid.

Last night we went with friends to see HAMILTON.  I am a sucker for a good musical, and HAMILTON — or HAMILTOE, as I cannot stop referring to it — did not disappoint.  Afterwards, we walked over to 1Eleven Flavor House for dinner.  The vibe was chill and the food, a mix of comfort and Caribbean dishes, was delightful.  I had a jerk turkey burger and several Latin Mules.

Near the end of dinner, one of our friends remarked, “Hey, we went almost the entire time without talking about COVID!”

I had to think about it for a second, but it was true; aside from a passing reference to someone we knew having COVID, the subject didn’t come up once.  It was probably the first time since the pandemic began that COVID and its tentacles wending into everyday life had not made up a significant part of the conversation.

It was a fun, absolutely normal day, and I am grateful to have experienced it.  More like it, please.

I didn’t get any good pictures yesterday, so instead I will share this totally not haunted photo I took a couple weeks ago in the basement of a house we looked at. Not pictured: the ghost of a small child regarding me curiously from the shadows.

week 5/52 — ten good shots, i’ll take them all

Jess was in Columbus yesterday, so with no real plans I decided to get a massage and take myself out to breakfast.  I know some people find dining solo at restaurants to be uncomfortable, like everyone at the restaurant is going look upon them pityingly as if they’re some sad loser with no friends.  But I’ve always enjoyed it.  It’s peaceful, especially when I have a book, which I did.  My current read is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s excellent MEXICAN GOTHIC.

This morning I wrote 500ish words on a short story that has been in progress for a while.  I can see how to get to the end now, so I just need to finish it.  Maybe later this week.  I also figured out a name for it which I think will stick: “Belong to the Night.”

I really enjoyed this article about Chumbawamba from MEL MAGAZINE.  It talks about how the band’s one big single, “Tubthumping,” was a surprise mainstream hit for a band with decidedly anarcho-communist politics and that had, at the time, already released seven albums.

I was, I believe, 15 when “Tubthumping” came out, and I watched the music video daily on TRL.  I loved everything about the song, from its brassy, anthemic catchiness to lead singer Dunstan Bruce’s bleached blond hair, which I thought was so cool but, alas, never replicated for myself.  I bought the whole album, TUBTHUMPER, as we did back then, and it was good but weird.  A mélange of styles encompassing synthpop and punk, and a whole lot of social commentary that went completely over my empty teenage head.  Listened to it quite bit for a while, then moved onto the next thing.  Probably… Korn?

In the early Aughties, old comrade Nate acquired a batch of Chumbawamba’s earlier albums, which reintroduced me to the band, but with a different flavor, because now the band’s anarchist politics smacked me in the face.  I remember really liking some of those albums, especially ANARCHY (notable for having cover art that featured a low-quality but highly explicit photo of a baby being expelled from its mother).  Since the article came out a few days ago, I’ve been playing through Chumbawamba’s discography and am really enjoying it.  One song I’ve listened to several times now is “El Fusilado,” from their 2008 album THE BOY BANDS HAVE WON.  It’s a fucking earworm.

Gonna close this one out with a picture of Kirby, unhappily watching us while we hung out with his brother on the bed.

“Why have you forsaken me, father?”

week 4/52 — there goes my compassion, hurtling off into the aether

Is it gauche to frame a paycheck and hang it on one’s wall?  Possibly — but I’m doing it anyways.

My hope is that putting this check up on the wall next to my desk will help combat  the impostor syndrome that plagues me at times.  If nothing else, it serves as a visual reminder that I am a decent enough writer that someone once paid me a not insignificant amount of money for my fiction.  And that if I was able to do it once, I can probably make it happen a second time — if I’m willing to put in the work.

This is why I have made Put In the Work and Be Intentional With My Time my personal themes this year, especially when it comes to writing.  Writing is a very easy thing to put off until some later, fabled “perfect time” to do it.  The perfect time looks different for everyone; for me it, might be three or four uninterrupted hours in a coffee shop.  But what do you do if and when the perfect time never seems to quite materialize?  Waiting for the perfect time to appear can feel a bit like waiting for King Arthur to return and save England — i.e. impossible, especially when one has a dayjob, children and dogs to care of, meals to make, a house to be maintained, going to the gym, and spending time with one’s partner.  All are important and necessary to, you know, functioning and live one’s life.  But they can certainly throw up obstacles in trying to find the perfect time to write.  So, for me, it’s less about finding the perfect time to write, and more about finding a good enough time to do it.  Grabbing thirty minutes here, squeezing in an hour there.  Doing it during my lunchbreak or for a bit before bed.  Just put in the work, whenever and wherever I can.

Of course, once I do finally sit down at the computer with an intention to write, I am ridiculously good at using that time to do anything but write.  Not when I can endlessly revise the in-progress thing I’m currently working on instead of writing more of it.  Or catch up on the growing army of newsletters in my email box.

Write?  Sorry friend, I need to go doomscroll Twitter right now.

This is where being intentional with my time comes into play.  For me it means when I catch myself not writing, it’s pausing and acknowledging the fact that, yes, I am procrastinating, and asking myself, “Would I rather be doing the thing I am currently doing, or would I rather be writing?”  And then hopefully convincing myself that, yes, really, we should probably be writing.

None of this comes easily or naturally to me.  I am a professional procrastinator.  I am going to have to actively and mindfully work on this stuff and will no doubt fall short many times.  But hopefully I will also become a little bit better at it.

And speaking of being intentional with one’s time, I am going to hit publish on this post now and go work on that other thing for a while.

No Business Like Snow Business

It is snowing here in Dayton, Ohio.  A big ol’ winter storm has been making its way inexorably across the southeast part of the country, the western edge of it just barely crossing over my part of the state.  We’re expected to get less than an inch of accumulation.  Seventy miles east of here, in Columbus, they are expecting 3-5 inches, possibly more.

Earlier, while there was still daylight left, we bundled up and went for a walk.

This was our first time out of the house since Thursday.  I woke up Friday morning feeling like shit: head all congested, sinus drainage trying to drown me, fatigued as fuck.  No headache, fever, or aches, though.  Which then meant it was time to play the always fun game of Covid, a Cold, Allergies, Sinuses?  I didn’t think it was covid, but we have recently been out in the world more…  So, since we had some at-home tests, I thought I’d take one for a spin — or swab, rather.  It came back negative, as I thought it would, but it was nice to have confirmation.

I wasn’t feeling much better come Saturday morning.  Jess was now feeling crappy, too.  I was supposed to do some things this weekend, like play archery dodgeball for a friend’s 40th birthday and attend another friend’s birthday party, but it seemed the universe was sending a message of STAY HOME.  Instead, we’ve stayed in, slept, and I binged ARCHIVE 81, a truly excellent noir-horror show on Netflix.

I can think of worse ways to spend a long weekend.

Flocking Birds

Was outside earlier, snow flurries falling around me. I watched Fozzie tentatively sniff at a pile of frozen poop (his own, from earlier in the day), trying to decide if he wanted to eat it. (He did, but I ran over and cleaned it up first, stealing his “treat” from him.) I looked up and saw a flock of birds moving southwards across the gray sky.

Birds making me jealous by getting the flock out of Ohio.

Gray and cold, cold and gray. This time of year in Ohio is my least favorite. Dark by 5pm and, if you’re lucky, maybe a few errant rays of sunshine during the day. Here in the midwest, a sense of gloom haunts the landscape like the world’s most depressed ghost. Even my SAD lamp seems like it would prefer to hibernate until it’s time to go on spring break. There’s a reason why — at least in pre-pandemic times — I travel to San Diego every March, so that I have something to look forward to, to motivate me to just get through January and February.

I thought a return to San Diego might be in the cards this spring, but with Robert Ludlum’s The Omicron Variant still wending its way through the world, that seems less and less likely. So since I can’t change the fact that I am cursed to be living in interesting times, I’m instead working on changing the things I do have control over — like my mindset when it comes to the winter months. To accept them for what they are — just a season — and perhaps even try to find some joy in them. I turn 40 in a few months, and while I don’t feel old — hell, I barely feel like a grown-up (whatever that is) most days — I am becoming increasingly aware that the desire to skip ahead of the coming days, weeks, months and arrive at some vague, future endpoint, where things may not necessarily be better, and could possibly be worse, is maybe not how I should want to spend my life. And that means focusing more on the here and now, even if I really don’t feel like it some days.

So how’s all that going, you, my imaginary interlocutor, might ask? It remains a work in progress — but it’s going.

(003/365)

Okay By Me in America

First Monday of the new year. For me, the end of a four-day weekend. As my sister texted to me earlier, I always want to have the first Monday of the year off. I’ve only worked a few days the past several weeks, which has been pretty fantastic. Always nice to have the opportunity to pause, take stock, and rest and recharge. I have a good job with a good company, and my colleagues are all good people, so I try to never take these good things for granted.

Last night I saw the new WEST SIDE STORY. I can’t say if the 2021 version is better or worse than the original film or any of the Broadway productions, since I’ve never seen them. It means I also didn’t come in with any sort of preformed emotional attachment to those earlier incarnations. What I can say, however, is I enjoyed it immensely, and will probably be singing the seven or eight words that I know of “America” to myself over and over the next several days.

In other news, I think it’s time to toss out my pumpkins.

Beginnings of a pumpkin wasteland.

(002/365)

NIGHTMARE ALLEY

Yesterday we ventured out into the world to see the new Guillermo Del Toro film, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, at the Neon. I was really excited going in. GDT is one of the most interesting directors working today, and I am a sucker for a good film noir. It boasted an all-star cast and was gorgeous to look at, but it went on for too long (2 hours 30 minutes) and felt tonally… evil? It’s the best way I can think to describe it. I didn’t find myself sympathizing with any of the characters or caring about their fates.

I’m glad I saw NIGHTMARE ALLEY, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it.

We rang in the new year last night as we do every year — like motherfucking sorcerers.

(001/365)

Twenty Twenty Too

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the impending new year.

I am glad to see 2021 draw to a close. It’s been a shit year. An extended pandemic, the optimism of a vaxxed-and-waxed spring fading into a grim, variant-dominating autumn and winter of uncertainty. Then on a personal level, losing Molly, which was much harder than I ever thought it would be, and perpetually sick dogs in general, plus other shit I won’t bore anyone with. It’s all left me feeling very tired.

While 2021 can’t fuck off fast enough, it’s important to acknowledge the bright spots that managed to shine through the gloom. Nearly 8.5 billion Covid-19 vaccines were administered globally. I got to see family and friends again. I got published. And providing a timely and much-needed shot of serotonin, this belated Christmas gift arrived in the mail today.

It’s supposed to be a Christmas tree topper, but I suspect it will remain out somewhere in our house all year round.

I am under no illusion that 2022 will be easier. Too many variables, too many unknowns for that. But no matter how tired I may be, I remain optimistic that 2022 will be better than the year that preceded it. I don’t know how not to be optimistic, frankly. Not being optimistic means letting despair win, and I am too stubborn to let that happen. Pessimism will find no sanctuary here.

Instead, I am clubbing my optimism over the head, shoving it into an unmarked white van, and stealing away with it into the night, while fires rage, blue and red lights strobe, and sirens blare in our wake.

So let’s give 2021 the middle finger as we cross the finish line. We might be limping, might be bloodied and dragging one leg behind us, but the important thing is… we made it. And that’s not nothing.

See you on the other side.