Quaranfeline


Day 21

I don’t know what the hell’s going on. It’s been three weeks now.

Three. Weeks.

They won’t leave. I mean, occasionally the little ones will go outside, run around and scream in the big green thing for a little while and come back in smelling of mud and sunshine (disgusting). And now and then the taller ones will leave, jangly things in hand, the way they used to — but they reappear again all too soon with the bags of Things We Can Smell But Not Eat.

And that’s it.

They watch the big box with the pictures. Nothing but other tall ones there, talking at them. It makes them angry. Why do they do this thing that makes them angry?

They watch the little folding boxes with the pictures. Sometimes they talk to those now. That’s new. (Maybe they are going crazy.)

And they use their little tappy boxes with the pictures. Stare deeply into them for hours, as if looking for the meaning of life itself, when we could tell it to them if they would only ask.

The Big Dummy is losing it, too. She’s used to sleeping most of the day, but with the tall ones here, she feels like she has to perform all the time. Begging for treats, spinning in circles, following them around from one room to the next with that dumb, hopeful grin on her face. God, she sickens me. Can’t the tall ones see through her sycophantish ruse?

And yet they shower her with pats on the head, with belly rubs, with face smooshes. I mean, I don’t want a belly rub — I’d shred their arms if they tried — but it’d be nice if they would offer. And who doesn’t want a face smoosh?

This is intolerable.

How are we to live when they won’t leave? Orange has gotten no work done on his opus, Black’s studies are falling behind. My experiments are on indefinite hold, and the Runt, well … she can’t even play properly. We can’t do any of the things we would like to do — that we must do — under the eyes of the tall ones.

If they knew what we knew, what we are, all would be lost. And as painful as it may be to keep them in the long, deep, dark about us — as painful as it is to laze around with them, to pretend to be only what they think us to be — it is a duty we must embrace.

We hear rumblings from the others. That their tall ones, too, have suddenly chosen to stay, that they no longer have their homes to themselves for even a single minute of the day. It’s not better to know that the others suffer with us, but it does make it more bearable, somehow.

As the sun rises on this day, the little ones are already awake. The tall ones are stirring. The One With No Hair sits with his folding box, sometimes looking oddly at me as he taps the tappy tappers. What is he thinking? That I will suddenly dance for him?

I’m no puppet on a string. He insults me with his very existence.

Blast. I made eye contact.

He’s coming this way. He’s … picking something up. What is that? Another box with pictures? Some new tappy thing? He points it at me and —

Oh.

Oh, you son of a bitch.

I have to go. The red dot on the floor is back.

Today I will catch it.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Caturday.


In Times of Crisis, Set the Standard


We got a gut punch in my state last night. Teachers, students and parents got the unbelievable news that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. For those keeping track at home, that’s the two weeks we’ve already missed, plus this week, plus six more weeks (and our “Spring Break” week is there too, which is just hilarious to me because it just means we’re home like we’ve been for the past several weeks already but nobody can go anywhere). Nine weeks of class time, of face-to-face interaction, gone.

I’m shell-shocked right now.

I have feelings about the closure. I’m sure you do, too. But they’re irrelevant. The die is cast.

All I can think about is everything that’s broken, now.

I think about the musical we were in rehearsals for, which will now not be happening. Six weeks of rehearsal and months of building and planning, for a show that, at least the way we envisioned it, will not happen.

I think about my seniors, who will now miss out on their senior prom and their senior graduation and their final performances and bows on our stage.

I think about all of my students who are suddenly, shockingly, with no forewarning or preparation, deprived of their daily interactions with friends and teachers and coaches.

I think about our parents, likewise deprived of graduations and shows and sports; and oh yeah, they suddenly have to figure out how to continue their kids’ education at home while also struggling to keep making money in our trainwreck of an economy at the moment.

And I think about my fellow teachers, whose plans for the end of the year are shattered, who now have to figure out how the heck to teach their courses at a distance (and a bang-up job they’re doing, despite everything).

I look at all that, and it’s easy to feel hopeless. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much to process at one whack; there’s too much pain and sadness and loss. We’re all sucker-punched, laid out on the mat, staring dazedly at the ceiling.

Good news is, everybody is laid out. Everybody is reeling. It’s okay to be messed up, blurry-eyed, exhausted, uncertain.

But we can’t stay there. We have to pick ourselves up off the mat, lace ourselves back up, and start swinging again. Even though it feels hopeless. Even though it feels like it doesn’t matter. Even if we’re just “going through the motions.”

At times like these, the motions matter. It matters that we get up at a decent hour. That we put some real clothes on. That we get a little bit of exercise, brush our teeth, shave, and put some work in. It matters that we set the standards for our students — for our children — not just in the form of expectations, that they still have work to do, but also that we set the standards in terms of how to act when things get rough.

Because, spoiler alert: we’re setting those standards anyway. When the kids see what we’re doing, we are setting the standard. When they see how we continue to put in work, continue to attack the day with energy, how we relate to each other with resolve and determination and hope (or how we don’t) — we are setting the standard.

We can’t forget that.

It’s okay to feel scared, to feel uncertain. It’s okay to take a moment while we’re down here on the mat to catch your breath, to reorient, to recalibrate. But even if we’re terrified, even if we give in to thinking that none of this matters, even if the best we can offer is to go through the motions, we have to go through the motions.

We have to get up off the mat. We have to keep punching. Even if we get knocked down again and again.

We have to set the standard.

The kids are counting on us.

Everybody in our lives is counting on us.


How Not to Backslide


I talk a lot about how hard it is to do the thing, and especially how hard it is to start the thing. There are endless ruminations — here and all over the web — about how difficult it is to start: how scary and intimidating the blank page is, how difficult to even step out the door in the morning, hell, just the challenge of getting out of bed itself, of reaching for your shoes instead of the snooze button.

And there are endless examples of people asking how to start. Looking for the magic bullet, the one piece of advice, the secret techniques to start them on the path. (s if there were just one. Or even a collection that might work, that wouldn’t require retooling and retweaking every time you go to employ them.)

And you know what? That’s fine. Starting is hard, it’s arguably the hardest step in a project, because you have to get past all that built-up doubt and insecurity, you have to give yourself permission to suck, and all that. Starting the Thing is basically like a mental version of the twelve labors of Hercules.

But Starting the Thing is only one piece of the puzzle, and as important as it is — and it is important, super important — it’s actually one of the smallest pieces of the puzzle.

The bigger piece? Probably the biggest piece? Maintaining.

Maybe this is on my mind because so many of us are entering another week of quarantine — be it self-imposed or otherwise — and we’re getting a little squirrelly. Week 1, we panicked and then we locked it down; week 2, we started getting some routines in place, now week 3 … we’re starting to feel the grind. This is when you need to focus on that other piece. When you have to focus on Maintaining.

See, when you Start the Thing, there’s this bait-and-switch that happens. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it seems impossible. Yes, you can’t see the end from where you are — you can’t even see beyond the first turn in the path. But the moment you do Start, there’s this incredible positive feedback loop that kicks into action. It’s immediate. “Oh, man, I wrote a few words on my space zombies fighting dinosaur pirates novel and it turned into two hundred — that feels great!” Or, “Whew, I was dreading starting this run, but I had to take my dog out to pee anyway and it turned into a mile before I knew it.” That happens. It happens often. You do the Thing that you’ve been building up in your mind as SO HARD, then you do it, and you get this great big payoff.

But dopamine is a kind of drug, innit? And like any drug, the more you get, the more you need. The high still hits as you keep Doing the Thing — as you keep adding to your word count, as you keep running the miles, as you keep making that progress — but it’s not like the first time. So you do a little more — you go harder, better, faster, stronger — and that picks up the slack. Sooner or later, though, you hit your limit, whatever that may be. You can only carve out so much time in the day, after all, and the body and mind can only take so much strain … so you can’t just add to the workload ad infinitum. For me, I peaked out at writing for two hours a day, and at four miles per run during the week. That’s what my schedule would allow, and that’s about all I really wanted to do.

That was enough.

So when you’ve reached “enough” — what then?

Then you move to the next phase: Maintain.

And Maintaining is hard. Way hard. Super way harder than starting. Because Starting comes with its own reinforcement. But Maintaining does not.

Gone is that rush of GoodFeel from just showing up, from just getting something done; you know what you’re capable of, so you now have a series of expectations for yourself. You don’t get bonus points for opening your project up, or from just jogging to the end of the street. You’ve got a quota to make. It begins to feel more like work than a new, exciting project.

Worse than that, when you Maintain, you’re by definition doing the things you’ve already been doing. I’ve been stuck in edits on a series of three chapters for the last several work sessions, because there is just so much to be fixed in there. And I’ve run the 5k loop near my house, and all its sundry variations, more times than I can count. These things are no longer new and shiny and exciting. They have become routine.

And to face that every day? To cope with the harsh truth that this thing you wanted to do — this thing you Started full of hope and excitement and a deep sense of purpose — involves, in no small part, drudgery? That’s a harsh truth.

It’s so easy not to maintain the progress, to let slip the work rate. Ahhh, I wrote extra yesterday, I’m gonna let it slide today. Well, I ran long this weekend … I can take it easy during the week. You know, I’ve been plugging away on this project … I’m gonna take a day off. You can be forgiven for thinking that way, and in truth, you’re not wrong to think that way. Accomplishment merits rest. Getting things done should earn you some downtime.

Problem is, you let it slip a little bit, and it becomes easy to let it slip a lot. That rope starts to pull through your fingers and all of a sudden, it’s moving too fast to grab hold of as it whips itself away. The rock rolls past you down the hill, and it’s all you can do to get out of its way as it crashes down toward the bottom.

The only way to Maintain is to return to the work with the same perseverance, the same sense of determination and drive that got you to Start in the first place.

How do you do that?

Simple. You don’t.

Whatever it is that got you to Start the thing carried with it a little spark of magic, a little shock to the system that spurred you to motion where you were once at rest. Like a germ that hits your immune system and forces it to adapt (to use a really troubling though apt metaphor), once it’s struck once, it won’t hit you the same way again.

What you have to do is re-evaluate. Remind yourself why you are doing what you’re doing. Check in on yourself now and then, see if you’re still on the path you want to be on, if you’re still making progress toward that goal you set so long ago, or whether you’re simply coasting along. You stop being driven by the dopamine hits and you start being driven by knowing that it matters.

Turns out all those jerks who told you all your life that hard work is its own reward were right, even if they never explained why (or if they could even articulate it themselves).

There’s no easy way to flick this switch. It comes only from introspection and from a willingness to look yourself in the face and tell yourself the hard truth: that you’re slipping, that you could be doing more, that the work still needs doing and nobody is going to do it for you.

There’s no secret, no magic bullet.

I know, I know. I wrote this whole post out only to reveal that I don’t know a damned thing about how to stick to it, how to keep coming back to it, how to keep your head down and keep pushing forward when it gets hard. Fact is, the only secret that will work is the one that’s buried in your own brain already.

And you’ll either find it, and keep putting in the work … or you won’t.

(I hope that you will.)


We Have To Get Out


You could be forgiven for not realizing it’s Saturday right now.

With much of the US (and much of the rest of the world, frankly — though I haven’t heard much about Australia during this time; care to chime in, Glen?) on lockdown, either enforced, encouraged, or self-imposed, the time begins to blend together. One day looks much like the next. I mean, that’s the case anyway, but it’s doubly so when many of us aren’t seeing our usual coworkers, aren’t going through the usual stimulation of the job, maybe aren’t even leaving the house.

To further add to the confusion, if you’re an introvert like me, you now have the permission of the entire community to get away with your preferred behavior of vegging out on the couch, not going out, and generally keeping the world at arm’s length. You know, the things that, under normal circumstances, people try to talk you out of doing.

Which is all well and good for a few days. But we’re a week deep on the social-distancing, minimize-contact-with-the-world, wash-your-hands-everytime-you-have-an-errant-thought adventure train, and that’s when we start to go crazy a little bit. As any teenager will tell you, you can only stand your family for so long, but it’s not like that feeling goes away when you grow out of your snarling, brooding phase.

You have to remember that you are a product of millions of years of evolution. Our species did not develop so that we could watch endless hours of Netflix while sprawled on the couch shoveling the Cheetos we bulk-bought in a panic into our gobs. We aren’t made for bunkering and hiding.

We’re built to move. We’re built to survive in groups.

One of the most important things to do in a time like this, I think, is to remember that.

Don’t get me wrong, there are great things you can do while you’re isolating, and there are tons of blog posts and tweets to tell you all about the things you can do to stay productive — or be more productive — while you’re stuck inside. And you should maybe do them!

And we also need to understand that, in these trying times, it’s gonna suck. Productivity will take a hit, we’re gonna end up feeling crappy sometimes — if not a lot of the time — and that’s gonna slow us down from the things we want and need to get done. That’s okay, too. We can’t (and shouldn’t) expect ourselves to be perfect during this time, to weather the storm with style and grace and ‘gram-worthy hair the whole time.

But we can help ourselves out — and maybe more importantly, we can help out those who are cooped up with us — if we can remember that we are not meant to live this way and we conduct ourselves accordingly.

That means taking a little bit of time for self-maintenance. My early-morning runs feel more important now than ever. (I’m sleeping in until 5:30 instead of 4:30 to get them done, but I’m still up before the sun, because that’s when it happens.) On the days I don’t run, I’m doing calisthenics and strength workouts in my garage, in the cramped, kludge space I’ve cobbled together between the piles of junk we’ve been meaning to throw out and the Christmas decorations.

But you don’t have to get after it like me (aka like a psychopath).

Get outside for a little while.

Take a walk.

Do some work in the yard or the garden.

Heck, even just opening the window to let a little fresh air into your lair can do wonders for your subconscious self-calibrators of goodfeels.

You need this. You owe it to yourself, and to the family and friends you’re stuck at home with.


For The Record, Star Wars is Awesome


Because there is still good in this world, The Rise of Skywalker is available to stream today. So of course I’m watching it.

And I tweeted about it. And my usually very humble Twitter account suddenly got a ton of likes and retweets, and a handful of comments.

Now I’m a Twitter baby, and I don’t care about it a whole heck of a lot, so the likes and retweets are cool, but the comments baffle me. Because most of the comments are negative.

I mean, I get it. Twitter sucks, it’s home to trolls and grumps and nothing is better than disagreeing with somebody on the internet and Twitter is bloody fanTAStic for that. But why? I make a post about something I love and grumps want to roll into the comments and say any number of variations on “YOU SHOULDN’T LIKE THAT THING.”

Like … okay? I mean, consider. You’re in a grocery store. (Actually, given the state of grocery stores the last couple days, the grocery store might not be the best setting to consider, but heck it, let’s move ahead.) You hear a person saying to another person, possibly while standing near the bananas, “man, I really love a good banana.” And you pounce upon them: “I HATE BANANAS AND I ALWAYS HAVE SINCE I WAS A CHILD BECAUSE MY MOTHER FORCED ME TO EAT THEM AND I HATE MY MOTHER AND YOUR MOTHER TOO.”

Well, we all have opinions, don’t we? But yours isn’t going to change the other person’s, in this case, and all it really accomplishes is making them wonder who hurt you and why you are the way you are.

Anyway, I just started responding to the negative comments with the following gif:

king e3 GIF

Which might, in fact, be my response to everything negative I encounter on Twitter going forward.

But I don’t want to gripe about Twitter (man, the world has enough of that). I want to rave about Star Wars. (Because … the world doesn’t have enough of that? Eh.) Because the new trilogy gets a lot of hate. And I think that’s hot garbage. I’m pretty convinced that most of the guff these movies get comes from prejudice on behalf of the guffer; it comes from hangups and holdouts that people have against these movies. Star Wars Owes You Nothing, as I’ve mentioned before.

And I get it. It’s impossible to consider the new trilogy independent of the originals. The new trilogy is not the original trilogy. Not for nothing, filmmakers have learned a lot about filmmaking since 1985 when Jedi came out. They know how to push our buttons better, they know how to pull us in. And the new trilogy is absolutely lousy with brilliant moments that push our buttons, both from a storytelling point of view and, of course, from a cinematic one.

So because you needed it today, here’s a non-exhaustive list of awesome moments from the new trilogy, moments that made me go “WHOA” or “HOLY CRAP” or “NO WAY”.

  1. Kylo Ren freezes that blaster bolt in midair
  2. Rey scavenging the husk of a star destroyer
  3. “The garbage will do”
  4. Rey mind-tricks the stormtrooper into dropping his weapon
  5. “That’s not how the Force works!”
  6. Kylo Ren murders Han
  7. The entirety of the lightsaber battle in the snow but especially
    1. Finn picking up the saber and
    2. Kylo Ren force-pulling the saber to him but it goes flying past him and into Rey’s hand (I get chills every time!)
  8. Luke tosses the saber over the cliff
  9. “You went straight to the dark”
  10. Kylo Ren murders Snoke
  11. And the entire ensuing battle in the red room
  12. Holdo’s kamikaze lightspeed maneuver
  13. Kylo and Luke’s duel (Luke doesn’t leave footprints!)
  14. Rey surrounded by the floating boulders as the rebels escape
  15. The Emperor’s cackle
  16. Rey accidentally blows up a ship with force lightning
  17. Dark Rey
  18. The duel over the ocean
  19. Rey kills — and then saves! — Kylo Ren
  20. Ghost Luke stops Rey throwing the saber away
  21. Thousands of ragtag ships drop out of hyperspace to fight on Exegol
  22. Kylo Ren pulls Rey’s saber from behind his back
  23. Palpatine zaps every single ship out of the sky
  24. Rey hears the voices of the Jedi

And I mean, there’s dozens of smaller, less significant and less awe-inspiring bumps along the way. These movies are awesome and they fill me with joy.

Is the new trilogy perfect? Heck, no. There are plot holes and dumb diversions aplenty, things that don’t make sense, things introduced and then forgotten or never explained. But — and here’s where I shock you — those things are in the original trilogy, too.

Episode IV is just, I mean, horrifically paced. It’s so slow. You’re a good hour into it before anything really starts happening. Empire has so many tangential diversions from the main plot it’s ridiculous. (Wampas! Space Eel on an Asteroid!) Jedi? All I have to say is Ewoks. Let’s not pretend these are perfect movies.

So when somebody tells me that any new Star Wars movie can never measure up to the originals … meh, that’s maybe not a bad thing.

Anyway, enough about Star Wars. (As if such a thing were possible.) I’m locked down and I have movies to watch.

Star Wars Rey GIF by Red Giant

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