Luminaria

There has always been a slowly simmering, low-and-slow kettle of hope and optimism at the base of me. It has nurtured almost all of my creative efforts, my love of holidays, my desire to play, and my comradery with others. 2016 dealt it a heavy blow, and the flame keeping it all going guttered. The last two years, and the last especially, saw it go out completely. I stopped writing, eventually gave up on reading, stopped reaching out to people, withdrew from a world that exhausted, depressed, and disappointed me.

I’m not going to lie. This is the direct opposite of how I always imagined I’d respond to a world altering threat. I always thought I’d be the one rallying people together, urging them to persevere and grow together. In retrospect, however, this is totally in keeping with how I respond to stress and trauma. My father’s death, the death of friends and other loved ones, the death of Owein, the collapse of Laughing Pan Productions, the fading of friendships…every single time something terrible happens I button up whatever horror I should be processing and get to work soldiering on. Ideally, and perfectly, by carrying others burdens. I push through my grief, my trauma, by helping others do it healthily. By letting it all out, by ritual and empathy and support.

I do not. I move on, in a way I suppose, but there’s no real catharsis. There’s no coming to terms. The emotions are just buried deep and life goes on. Now, obviously that isn’t healthy, for me or anyone…but it’s how I’ve managed to cope with loss up to this point. The pandemic changed all that, of course. Every day is a new micro-aggression, micro-trauma, micro-everything. And over the last year it’s become something…well, macro. Big. Unable to be suppressed. I know I’m not alone in this, there are lots of people going through very similar things, but this is my lived experience and I’m so dreadfully tired of putting on my humdrum, contented face and telling the world that I’m fine, it’s all fine, we’ll all be fine.

I have, at heart, a deep and burning anger at those who’ve kept this Pandemic raging and the society-taxing behaviors that have fed off the culture of this dire individualism. Every person I see maskless, wearing a mask but incorrectly, lying to me at work about why they are doing so…enrages me. Every person who works from home and complains about anything enfuriates me. The people who protest, who ignore medical guidance, and who encourage others to do so under the shroud of patriotism makes me want to scream. Forever, really. I’ve never stopped working. Not for one week. You all had weeks, months to process this new world. Every day, I just have enough emotional werewithal to respond to your reactions to it. That’s all. Nothing else.

Some of my emotional responses are entirely rational to feel, based on the real world we live in. Others are unfair to the victims of my silent vitriol. But I’m just so tired. I’ve worked, exposed to a public that clearly does not only devalue me and my coworkers, but does not treat me like a person. I am, instead, merely an extension of their complacent, entitled culture that views people who provide goods and services to them as nothing but conveyor belts in meat suits. Normally, I’d defend the public if someone came at them with claims like those I’ve just espoused. Like I said, I’m tired. Tired, but maybe not ready to sleep.

Tomorrow, I start my first day in my new position at my actual store for the first time–this, despite being promoted to that position back in August. I’m not back there full time, just partial weeks until everyone at the other store is fully trained. I’m quite nervous, actually. Lots of responsibilities and a mostly-new-to-me staff await me, as do a pandemic-reacting public to whom I have yet to really be exposed. I’m also thrilled. I’ve worked hard for this promotion, not just this past year through all the tribulations I (and we, I know all of us have so much!) endured.

I just set a reading challenge goal for 2021. I’ve picked up a new hobby, possibly, though times will tell. I grew my TBR pile by a factor of dozens since Christmas, just in books I’m waiting to be released. I cleaned today, and it didn’t feel like a burden, like one more thing designed to break me. This past week, I have had the tiniest of sprouts of story I occasionally think about. I spent this morning making spaghetti sauce from scratch, the first time in a year, and I love to do it. I’d forgotten that. I’d forgotten what life was like without the constant pressure of the public, my job, the holidays, my friends and family. What it was like to lose myself, even if just for a few hours, in activities I genuinely enjoy. To be honest, I forgot what enjoying anything felt like for a while now. I’m certain I wasn’t nearly as jolly as I thought I was being towards everyone this holiday season.

So, here’s to a new year, full of crisis already of both political and pandemic proportions. Here’s to roads covered in ice but new cars to traverse them. To new phones after waiting 6 years but needing to wait two extra weeks to get them. To the holidays, though I dread undecorating after them. To a year of trauma, but bravery in recognition of it. To carving out alone time, but having family (and cats!) waiting for you. To mental health, and asking for the help you need to get there for the first time. Here’s to a year that gives as well as takes, that gives me a chance–even a feeble one–to reignite the burner below that pot that’s grown cool but not cold. I’m tired, and the past few years have broken me a bit, but I look forward to learning how to mend.

Sometimes, the smallest of lights is enough when what surrounds you is dark enough.

May you find your light.

What a dear for a New Year

Today started with a text notification that my flight from Midway to Albany was cancelled–at 3:42AM. What followed shortly after was me scrambling to get dressed and figure out a)if that was true and b)how to resolve the issue to get me back to Upstate NY for my annual family Crimmas outing. The Chat client in the Southwest app wasn’t active. The Southwest website crashed with error messages every time I tried to use the link provided to change my flight. Their phone line had a 2.5 hour wait time that stretched behind the horizon of when my flight out of Grand Rapids was supposed to depart. I couldn’t just lose the flight, so I gathered my belongings and said goodbye to the cats (each get particular instructions on how to manage the household in my absence when I go on a trip), gathered Andy and into the blizzard we went.

The roads were…honestly, not great, but not the worst winter driving we’ve done. There were a couple of slick spots that made us nervous, and plenty of other drivers who clearly were uncomfortable with their surroundings and were making poor decisions. Like the guy straddling the center of BOTH lanes on MI-131, going 35MPH. That guy was worse that any of the squalls we drove through. But we got to GRR airport only 15 minutes later than originally intended. I waited patiently in line, Andy waited patiently in the cellphone lot. I was told my flight was cancelled. I was told there were no flights available for 2 days to get me to my family. This is because of the holiday, they said, but it’s also because Southwest has over the last few years curtailed a significant number of flights from Grand Rapids and Albany both–a perfect storm that leaves me just a few flights a day to choose from. Why not fly out of Kalamazoo? Because it’s double the price–and I end up with the same layovers in Chicago I try to avoid by having my connection in Baltimore this time of year where the snow and weather are rarely considerations.

So I checked other airlines. I checked about a refund. I checked, and rechecked, and outside of spending (and losing) a LOT of money, there was no choice but to take the delayed flight. And that sucks, not just because I was burning PTO to sit at home and do nothing–but because I only see my extended family once a year, and now for only 4 days. I’d spend half that in transit on either side of the visit! I was already exhausted contemplating the next week as it came into focus. Andy came and picked me up, and the roads were a bit better on our way back. I called work and asked to work today and put my PTO for today, anyway, back in my bucket. Work agreed. We came home, we fed the cats breakfast, and then I went to work on Day 1 of my “vacation.” It was the smartest decision I’d made in days.

For starters, me being there meant my other managers could focus on their own specialties while I focused on mine, making the whole team more productive. It gave me something to do rather than sit sullenly at home while Andy was at work and I was supposed to be half a continent away. But then I took a really hard look at next week, and realized I might be able to eke out some magic out of the situation. So after conversations with virtually every manager on my team, I suddenly had the 2 days AFTER when I was supposed to fly home off. I jumped on the chat client within the Southwest app seconds after my first break of the day began and confirmed it was possible to shift my return trip 2 days without penalty, and that there were indeed seats available. There was a $10 difference between the 2 flights, and the chat client prohibited currency exchange so I had to call Southwest’s customer service line. UGH. Yes, the same line that I sat on for HOURS earlier today trying to get answers and resolution to all of this in the first place. If the wait was 2.5 hours at 4am I shuddered to think what it was going to be now that the day was at full throttle and yet more flights wouldve been affected. My wait time? 1.37 minutes. I was on the phone with a lovely rep who took my payment, shifted my flight, and got me my full vacation back!

Then I called Mom, who cried, and I told her to call the rest of the crew cause I had to go back to work. During that conversation, though, Mom said something that sat with me for a bit: This would be the first New Years Eve I’d be home in at least a decade, due to my retail job forcing me to do family Crimmas back east usually on New Year’s Day. So when Andy picked me up after work, we went to Costco and got some champagne and some snacks, then to the liquor store, and finally to Meijer. We got home, and I put everything away while Andy fed the cats. Then I organized the kitchen–the clutter was killing me–and We settled down for an hour or two of quiet napping/relaxing before we fire up the kitchen and get started celebrating with games, and bubbly, and snacks.

It’s also the first time I’ve had to stop–really just STOP–and relax since the middle of October. No expectations, no gifts needing purchasing or shipping or fretting about arrival, no baking needing to be done, nor house nor tree to decorate. Just quiet and calm (and a bit of snoring from Andy–we HAVE been up since 4am…) And suddenly I found myself pulling out my laptop and writing this. It’s been ages since I’ve blogged, or written anything really. No real reason, except the shitshow that was 2019 really got me down. Still gets me down. It’s sometimes a struggle to retain any sort of optimism at all. In fact, if 2019 could be summed up in a word for me, its tired. Tired of Mr. Treason-in-Chief. Tired of those who support him, and those who pretend to for their own gain. Tired of watching the world literally burn. Tired of what should be obvious being obfuscated, and having to occasionally sell those lies to a public that seems thirsty for them. What’s the point of writing stories about self-transformation and the rebirth of hope if its only audience is a world that grows routinely and ever increasingly intolerant of both? I don’t know. The lack of answer–and my exhaustion–has silenced me for the better part of a year.

But I sit here tonight, with just hours left in the year, under the blue light of my Christmas tree surrounded by cats and a boyfriend who literally drives through blizzards just to put a smile on my face. I have a family who–though I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like–were brought to tears by just having a couple of extra days to spend with me. I have a workplace thats becoming more collaborative, more supportive, and more of a “bookstore” than its been in ages. I have books by my favorite authors to nestle in during the coming monsoon of bad news 2020 will no doubt bring. I have a lot. I don’t see my friends enough. I obviously don’t write often enough. I don’t work out enough (god, I hate it, but its something I need to get back to doing regularly).

But under this small sliver of blue light, in this still moment, it all feels like enough. I didn’t always think we’d get to the other side of this year, but here we all are. Me with my words, rusty though they may be, and my hopes, dimmer under the onslaught of a year of challenges but not guttered, not failing.

That’s not nothing.

It might be everything.