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Fat pug

I mentioned a few posts ago that we had to say goodbye to our beloved little hard luck case Zuzu this summer. I’m understating that, acting like it was no big deal. I can tell you that it was absolutely devastating, that I can barely think about her without missing her so hard and painfully that I burst into tears, and it still can’t encompass how terrible it has been.

Our other pets, Aveline and Jincy, are also impacted by our family’s loss. Avi has been basically depressed — and I’m not projecting that, she refused to play for months. To complicate things, we moved across the country, which meant she had to go in a plane and live in a climate that is basically hostile to brachiocephalic dogs, so she couldn’t leave the house for weeks and weeks. And while she now has a walled yard to claim as her own, it doesn’t have grass, so it’s basically a walled yard of gravel, which is just weird to her. And quite frankly, us too.

As such, we have been giving her a lot of indulgences. Probably too many.

We established with a new vet her in Las Vegas in September, at which point she was weighed and assessed and generally granted approval. She was a little “pound positive” for her frame, but we figured that she was always trending on the heavy size due to all the additional treats she got just being near Zuzu, who frequently got to eat peanut butter as part of her seizure management protocol — Avi was happy to also eat peanut butter at that time and basically for any reason, thank you very much.

However, she managed to sprain her elbow last week jumping off the wrong side of a recliner, so I took her into the vet and she had gained over a pound in just six weeks. For you or me, that’s like gaining 20 pounds in 6 weeks.

Apparently food is love in our house. And thinking back, I did definitely order an entire CASE of “nom food” for Jincy, which normally I never do, but I had rationalized it that it was wet and she needed more hydration. And of course, Avi got more treats too, and apparently she eats her grief just like any red blooded American dog.

Someone is now on a diet. As such, we had to find another way to indulge the dog, which is one of the ways that we deal with OUR grief.

Enter Truly Giant Bear.

Our living room now looks like a budget day care facility. But the dog is thrilled to finally have a worthy opponent for her Ninja Attack Throwdowns, which frequently occur in the living room while we are trying to watch old episodes of The Great Australian Bake Off.

TGB is large, TGB is in charge, TGB is best of all completely gluten-free and zero calories.

Lest you think that Avi is the only pampered pet in our Las Vegas household — Jincy also has been indulged. She used to have a fabric play tube from IKEA when she was a kitten that she used and abused with frequency — it had the added benefit of terrifying the pug, who is inexplicably terrified of crinkly bags. However, over the years, the play tube lost its ability to stand on its own and frequently got shoved under tables and trapped shut. However, the New Improved IKEA tube is twice as big (and cost twice as much) and has some kind of support that keeps it always standing proud.

We’ve stowed the tube on the other side of the couch, however, so that on one side of the living room, TGB is taking many forms of pug-related abuse, while on the other side of the couch, there lurks a dangerous Tube Cat ready to inflict Maximum Impact upon any unsuspecting villains, squirrels or feathers on a string that happen to walk past the various openings.

All in all, we’ve spent less than $40 on indulging the pets and have enjoyed a fantastic return on investment. Sometimes when life throws a big pile of shit at you, you cobble together some kind of reaction plan and hope it’s enough to hold you all together. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can still get by.

 

Gobbled

 

Our Thanksgiving was a bit of a strange one — it is warm enough to have windows open and of course, no snow on the ground. Apparently it’s been a warm one in Wisconsin as well, so that really shouldn’t feel weird, but I don’t think I’ve ever cooked Thanksgiving dinner in cropped yoga pants and a short-sleeve t-shirt before.

The night before T-Day, we had gone out in search of Kringle Kreme for our morning coffee. Alas, this Wisconsin delicious alcoholic concoction is not distributed anywhere in Nevada, so I had to make due with Almond Milk Bailey’s in my coffee instead. However, we learned that our local liquor store wrangles up a bunch of food trucks in the parking lot every Saturday night, so basically that’s our weekend meal planning from now until the end of time. Liquor store parking lot taco trucks. This is what was promised to me in Trump campaign speeches — I’m glad to see it coming to fruition!

Esteban and I were planning on a quiet turkey day with minimal fuss — between the complications from his condition and my own flutter tummy, we can’t really eat large quantities of food, so it didn’t make sense to make a ton of side dishes, especially when we both just wanted to get our turkey and mashed potatoes on. I made two pumpkin pies earlier in the morning, while watching the parade. Typically I also make at least one if not more pecan pie because it’s so fricking easy and I always have everything you need for the recipe in the pantry, but the bowl for our food processor broke and we haven’t yet ordered a replacement bowl. Not that I really NEED a food processor to chop pecans, but that’s just the way I like to do it, plus we had plenty of pie anyway.

The day before Thanksgiving, one of my fellow graduate students invited us over to their house and I had promised pie and wine, which is why I made two pumpkin pies. Although honestly, if you’re going through the mess of one pumpkin pie, you can easily make two, four, eighty. Pumpkin pie is so easy it feels like cheating — crack some eggs, measure some sugar and spices, open two cans, stir and pour. I come from orchard country — if you haven’t been working at peeling and prepping/stoning fruit for an hour and you still haven’t begun to start the pie, you’re barely cooking. This is also the reason I love making pecan pies — again, you open some stuff, measure and stir. I don’t even LIKE pecan pies, but everyone else does and they make the house smell amazing — plus everyone acts like you invented fire when you show up with a pecan pie. Bitch, please, you do not realize how easy this shit is. Let’s instead talk about the time I whipped up a gluten free black cherry and blueberry torte in an American Flag configuration — now THAT deserved applause.

The lack of Kringle Kreme wasn’t the only tradition broken — in Wisconsin, you don’t even worry about where you’re going to put your Turkey to thaw because every house gets a walk in refrigerator half of the year — the garage is generally a nice 35-40 degrees, and you can modulate that by opening and closing the garage window, setting something on the concrete versus a table (up off the pavement is warmer, obviously). So we’re accustomed to storing and brining our turkey in the garage on a bowl set on the floor. However, in Las Vegas, the highs were in the upper 70’s and I didn’t feel like shitting my brains out from food poisoning, so we had to get ice frequently all week and keep replenishing a cooler set out on our deck. I am unreasonably irritated by that fact — I think it unsettles me the most about Desert Thanksgiving, to be true. That said, the brining worked beautifully and the turkey took on a really lovely herbal flavor from the fresh rosemary and thyme, so maybe keeping it in the garage is a little too cold.

Once I finished the pies, I started peeling sweet potatoes for slow roasting, per the Serious Eats method — which had to happen prior to getting the turkey in the oven. However, after peeling the potatoes and dumping the peels down the garbage disposal with the egg shells from the pie, everything went to hell. Our drain completely backed up. Esteban hauled everything out from under the sink and proceeded to dismantle the plumbing.

Let me tell you about this house we’re renting in Las Vegas. It believes it is a very fancy better-than-you mansion, but it doesn’t want you to look too closely at any details. Sure, it’s the newest house I’ve ever lived in my entire life. Sure, there’s marble floors in the guest bedroom’s closet for the love of god, but the windows? The seals around any openings? The sliding doors? The freaking appliances? The way that the air is handled in the attic? The cheapest possible. They put a thousand dollar ceiling fan in the living room, but the sliding door is locked with a bent piece of metal. And the garbage disposal is more of the same — once we took apart the pipes, I cleaned out the trap and found that it had merely suggested the concept of grinding the waste — it hadn’t really done anything worthwhile to the scraps. Basically, it’s another “they can’t see it so whatever is the cheapest” decision made by the corporation who built every house in our neighborhood.

We put the sink back together and found that somehow the seal around one of the pipes was missing — either it had disintegrated or got accidentally disposed of with the sludge that we drained while taking apart the plumbing.

You know what’s not open on Thanksgiving? Lowes. Home Depot. Places that sell gaskets for plumbing. We went back home, Esteban rigged up a fake gasket out of a Target plastic bag (which weirdly is holding) and we basically didn’t use the sink for more than simple hand washing for the rest of the weekend.

All of this put our entire dinner back by several hours. While the turkey was in the oven, we Skyped with family back in Wisconsin, and then I decided that I was too hungry to put off eating anymore and wanted pie. So you know what? We had pie before the turkey dinner and it was a fantastic idea.

We are adults who eat pie before dinner and set our social calendars by the appearance of liquor store taco trucks.

After a truly delicious but Marie Kondo minimalist Thanksgiving, we drove into town to meet at the grad student party and brought them a pie and some wine, and then hung out talking about character agency and dorky literary stuff, like how many submissions should you have out at any given time (answer: 100 is the goal, 10 is the minimum) for the rest of the evening, which was delightful.

Esteban managed to out my age, by telling one of my classmates that we’ve been dating since 1990. One of my classmates then came over to inform me that my relationship has been longer than she’s been alive. Now they all look at me like the old freak, which is awesome. Ah well, I knew it couldn’t last long. I mean, I got my masters degree in 2008 — most of these folks are MFA students straight out of undergrad, so when I was getting my Master’s hood and walking to Pomp and Circumstance, they were going through puberty.  I’m probably older than their moms.

Now I can justifiably be grouchy in workshop and tell someone to get off my lawn. In my defense, I frequently say “I’m old” in workshop — I think they just thought “old” meant something like “34 or 35”. It’s sweet, really.

Don’t forget — Holiday Card Exchange is taking names and kicking ass this year! You can sign up until Dec 1 and names will go out on Dec 3 so that you can start sending and receiving holiday cards through the New Year. Don’t forget to give your complete address!

 

PhD LMNOp

In my past life as a grad student, my class (because I still worked at my full time job so I could only manage to fit one class per semester into my life) was something I did one day a week. I drove to and from school, which was 120 miles from my home, in a single day. It was a brutal day — I would work half a day at my day job, leave around 1:30 pm, jump on the road to drive for two hours, attend three hours of classes, and then jump back in the car to drive back. I listened to a whole lot of iPod playlists, let me tell you.

In my life as a PhD fellow, things are totally different. I don’t have a day job anymore — my day job is being a PhD fellow. This means in the morning I pack a lunch for myself (and often breakfast too), pack a thermal mug full of ice that I can refill with filtered water from the Hydration Stations around campus (I can’t stand the taste of Vegas water, but if it’s cold and filtered, I have half a chance), another mug or Nalgene with cold brew iced coffee, and hit the road ideally by 8 am, because campus parking is miserable and the ramps are full by 9. It takes me about 30 minutes to get to school because I have to cross the Las Vegas strip, which typically takes about half of my drive time between the lights and congestion near the strip. I used to drive a different way and sneak through the much less congested part of the strip, but then some asshole shot a bunch of people at a concert and it made me cry every time I drove through that section, so I avoid it now just out of habit.

Once at school, I park and walk to the building that contains all of my offices. Weirdly, I have three offices on campus, all in the same building. I don’t even get it. One is for the literary journal that is part of my job — that is shared with all of the editors, but usually we let the one guy who doesn’t have any other offices keep it as his own. One is in the English department — that one is shared with six grad students and only has three desks. The other office is in the Black Mountain Institute part of the building  — that office is shared with four grad students, but there’s three desks, so I usually get to sit in the same one. I like that one because it’s only creative writing PhDs in there, plus the staff of The Believer in the other offices, so it’s very literary and fancy and calm. Plus there’s a gorgeous library/reading room that has a nice couch and really lovely windows, and sometimes I do my classwork in there.

This multiple offices thing is just one of the “only in academia” elements of my career change that makes me shake my head. All of the PhD fellows in creative writing have multiple offices because we are half funded by the Institute and half funded by the English Department. Now, wouldn’t it make sense to just give people their own offices or cram fewer students in a single office instead of giving them several offices to share? Sure. But then who goes where? Why should one department get the writers when the other one is paying for them? This is the academic problem solving in a nutshell, you guys. It’s awesomely dysfunctional and I fluctuate between loving it and wanting to tear my hair out.

Once I’m ensconced in my shared office, I get to work. If it’s a teaching day, I spend about three hours lesson planning — I make a PPT deck because this is my first semester teaching composition and I don’t have a pre-made deck already created. Then I look for alternate resources that can help the students who need/want more background information or resources and upload all of them to my Blackboard shell. Finally, I build the assignment into Blackboard and then usually spend the rest of that pocket of time grading (because I always have (fucking) grading).

If it’s a class day, I have a lot more freedom. This semester, my classes are a lit course on Jane Austen, a fiction writing workshop and a “how to teach the class” class that all first years are required to take. Many of the first years were literally college seniors last year (my program also has a robust MFA program), so while I have a bunch of teaching experience in the college classroom, most of the other grad students do not, and apparently there’s also a Nevada statute involved that requires this course. That class has a ton of pedagogy work and responses, so I try to get them out of the way as it is my least favorite thing (it’s not bad, per se, I just don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy everything else). My writing workshop means I need to print out whichever submissions we’re workshopping that day, read them and craft a response. Throughout the semester I have been actually typing a letter to attach to my manuscript annotations, but as of two weeks ago, I broke that habit because I suddenly felt underwater from grading my students’ work and writing responses to them, so I’m trying to get back into doing that, as it’s really nice to get as a workshop submitter. Finally, my Jane Austen class has a whopper of a research component, so I frequently get lost in the stacks with that research.

For each class we take at the graduate level, we anticipate three times that for background work and reading — actual pedal to the metal active thinking time. So I’m taking 10 credit hours a week, that means that I’m anticipating taking another 30 hours a week for my own study/homework time. On top of this, the university anticipates that it takes me 10 hours a week to teach and grade and lesson plan and have office hours. This is bullshit, by the way, I spend way more time than that, especially if you realize that three solid hours of that ten are while I’m actually teaching — I just can’t get everything else done in seven hours. It doesn’t happen. That’s what I end up doing on Saturdays and Sundays — catching up on (fucking) grading. I’ve also learned that I really shouldn’t grade more than five students’ essays in a single sitting because I start getting really cranky and being more strict, so in fairness I try to spread this out and grade one or two essays whenever I have a spare pocket of time. That means I’m essentially always grading.

Usually at some point in the day, one or more of our PhD writing fellows will come into the office and then basically no work gets done because we all genuinely like to talk to each other. And really, this is why we decided that if I were going back to grad school, it would be full time and I’d live wherever it was, because that kind of community is exactly what I never got when I went to UW-Milwaukee and why I have pretty much only two friends from when I went to grad school. Okay, maybe three.

Finally, I need to put ten hours a week against our literary journal. This year I’m the assistant fiction editor and next year I’ll be the actual fiction editor. So right now, all I do is go through and read the work that our first pass readers have suggested would be good fits for the journal, and then I vote on it and say why I do or don’t agree. I also go through all of the things that the first pass readers voted down and look for anything that might have been a good pick but was misunderstood by the first pass reader — most of the time, though, their instincts are really good and I just decline the submissions. For literary journal submitters, by the way, this is why everything takes so long. Journals are underfunded, we’re reading for the next issue while we’re trying to publish the one before it, and we’re also dealing with literally hundreds of really good stories — I literally have over a hundred that have been thumbs upped by the first pass readers right now, but we usually only publish maybe six stories an issue, so it takes some time for everyone to read and vote on a story.

And then (!) the program expects me to put 20 hours a week toward my own creative writing. If you’re doing the math, this is 80 hours of work a week. This is why you need to buy your grad student friends and family some coffee once in awhile. They are exhausted all the time.

But you know what? I’m happier than I’ve ever been with my life and what’s happening. Even though I’m broke as a joke (PhD fellows get a very small stipend, well below poverty level, to subsist upon), every day is awesome. Even the worst day at school is better than the best day at my old terrible job in tech. Plus, I’m freelancing for extra cash, so I get to just keep my tech chops sharp without all of the soul-crushing assclowns who are making the tech industry a panopticon of douchery.

 

Also, my novel. It is a thing that is happening. I don’t hate it anymore. People are excited about the pages I’ve shared with them. My advisor is friends with a bunch of famous people and on a first name basis with people I idolize like John Irving and TC Boyle and he called my novel “Irving-esque, mixed with a touch of Saunders”. And while I want to pshaw his comment, he studied under Irving at Iowa and he literally was also George Saunders’ advisor as well. Insert deadpan look of shock and awe here.

So. That’s what it’s like to be a 46-year-old graduate student. Please don’t tell the other grad students how old I am. They all have decided I’m in my thirties and I don’t want to be the Creed Bratton of this particular office. Quaaar. Quaaa. Quabity? Quabity assurance!

Thanks for visiting That’s My Bix! where the pop culture jokes are all 13 years old. I’m sure they’ll never figure out that I’m in my 40’s, right?

Now I’m off to stick my arm up a turkey’s tuckus. Brine, baby, brine! (Hey, McCain/Palin reference! That will make me sound younger!)

 

 

 

 

 

Hey

Oh hi.

Well, this is awkward. How did I used to do this again?

So.

It’s been awhile.

Thunderburst recap montage: (Imagine a Sia song playing, perhaps “Breathe Me” or something super classy and not schmoopy even a little) Since we last spoke, I decided to get my Phd in Creative Writing, I threw a book and author festival for about 6,000 people, Margaret Atwood and I went bird watching together, I got a bunch of fellowship offers to various graduate programs, I decided to take the very best offer, Esteban decided to come with me (originally we were going to LDR that bad boy but then decided nah that would have sucked), I quit my terrible tech job, my dog died, we put our house on the market, we moved to Las Vegas, now I teach school and take grad school classes and edit a literary journal as my actual job.

Okay, that was a lot to take in. Many ups and downs. I’ll give you a moment. (Stop the Sia. STOP HER BEFORE SHE DOES EMOTIONAL DAMAGE!)

Are we there yet? Okay!

Vegas is weird. Our house in Vegas is enormous — but I miss the house that’s pictured above, which is our old dining room and part of my office in Green Bay. That room now looks like this, which is one of many heartbreaking things that I’m writing-about-but-not-writing-about in this update.

That’s sad. Let’s instead enjoy a photo of me and one of the people who basically make me work harder and harder at being a decent writer. She’s very wee and very smart and told me that I’m too sensitive because I couldn’t eat shrimp for four years after reading The Year Of The Flood. She told me I needed to toughen up or I wouldn’t survive the apocalypse. I said “Ms. Atwood, I think we all know that if the apocalypse comes, I’m cannon fodder.” And she laughed because she had already decided that anyway. She is wise.

Good thing she didn’t hear the story about my aversion to pork.

 

Yes, she’s in my car. It was a bright point in my year.

So now I work with word people. In the last three months, I’ve met three people who were nominated for National Book Awards. Pretty good clip! I also have had several stories published and someone actually reached out to me and solicited a reprint story, which I thought was only the stuff of legend and/or happened to people like the lady in the above photo. Maybe some of her talent rubbed off on my passenger seat.

Over on Facebook, for the last year, since The Incident in November when we basically went to the Darkest Timeline (Oh hellloooo long time readers of That’s My Bix! did you ever imagine a day when I would have begged George W. Bush to come back? That is today, my friend. I miss that goober like you wouldn’t even believe.) I have been doing this thing called #bixquestions where I start a daily conversation thread. It seems to be fairly popular, although what I’m doing isn’t that big of a deal, basically recycling Reddit forum questions and/or ideas I’m seeing online. I had thought at that time about resuscitating this page but I decided I didn’t want to turn the spotlight on me. We were all aching. We were all hurting. We were all in dismay. We still are.

Be the light you want to see in the world. That’s what they tell me. Some fortune cookie or other, at least.

I miss Green Bay. I miss Wisconsin. I miss my friends there. But this page? It’s still here. And I hope you are too. Hello friend. How have you been? I missed you.

The comments want to hear the elevator pitch version of how you’ve been doing.

PS. Holiday Card Exchange for 2017 is on. I repeat, Holiday Card Exchange for 2017 is a go! Sign up here. 

Old Year’s Revolutions 2015

river road

 

We didn’t have a white Christmas but Mother Nature sure made up for the oversight two days later. I went to the historical society to do some genealogical work on Monday and when I walked into the building, it was still late November weather — in fact, not only was I not wearing mittens or decent footwear but I didn’t even bother with a coat — a light cashmere cardigan was fine. When I walked out two hours later, it was full on blizzard conditions.  We’re sitting under 13 inches of fresh powder dropped in about an eight hour time frame.

Perhaps it’s that shocking reminder — the idea that everything can change in a moment while you’re distracted with other things — that reset my head a bit. I’ve always been ridiculously nostalgic anyway.

You know that journalism nugget of “if it bleeds, it leads”? Well, if it’s schmaltz, I exhalts.

Clearly I write the wrong kind of fiction. For as much as I want to be the next Margaret Atwood, I seem to recall that Nicholas Sparks is outselling Mags ten to one.

So, it’s been a good year. I have maintained my track record of one short story published in a pro mag per year (this year’s in the current issue of Barrelhouse and if you love winter, it’s definitely a story about winter). We sold our house (finally). We kept Zuzu alive (through the grace of modern medicine, hallelujah) and found out that she didn’t have “inspecific seizure disorder” but rather “congenital hydrocephaly” (aka “Why irresponsible dog breeders all deserve an extra toasty spot in hell”). We celebrated the publications of several of our great writer friends and their magnificent books. I turned down two job offers and took door number three. I taught classes, both official and unofficial. I learned to prioritize better. And most importantly, we did a massive landscaping project and still stayed married.

I made new friends. I kept the old. All in all, definitely another checkmark in the Win column.

Happy new year, friends. Thank you for being here.

Trigger

Frozen

I’m thinking about the kids of Sandy Hook Elementary school today.

Like all national tragedies, where I was when I heard the news is burned into my brain. I was in an airport business lounge checking my work email. My coworker at my then-company, located in a suburb of Boston, gave me the news that there was an active shooter in a nearby elementary school. I spent my flight thinking it was a mistake. Much like when I heard that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as it sounded.  I was actually hoping that it had just been a personal vendetta, maybe a guy who wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend or something (how sad is that — that was the best case scenario in my brain) but then watching the screens when I landed in the Minneapolis airport, it wasn’t. It wasn’t.

Until I was about nine-years-old, I grew up in a house with guns. They were everywhere — on a big wooden rack hanging on the wall in the living room, propped up in corners, nestled in a sock drawer in dressers. I was seven- or eight-years-old when someone put a hand gun in my hand and propped a sick bird — a sparrow that the barn cats had been playing with — up on a fence post and told me to pull the trigger to put the bird out of its misery. I couldn’t do it — not because I felt bad about the bird (I did, I’ve always been a tender-hearted fool) but I physically didn’t have the hand strength to pull the trigger, which was sticky. I’m not sure why this adult gave a kid a handgun and told her to shoot. Maybe he wanted me to see the bird absolutely explode with the impact? Maybe he wanted me to feel the kickback, have the gun jump in my hands and slam back into my face? Maybe he was trying to teach me respect. I don’t know. It was not a good moment. He was disgusted with my weakness and swatted the bird off the fence post then stomped on it with his boot. I believe that was the only time I’ve ever held an actual handgun in my entire life.

We don’t have guns in our house. This is something I feel very strongly about. I’m just not interested.

It’s been three years since the little happy village of Newtown was forever changed. Those kids are now frozen in time.

On that business trip when I heard about the tragedy, I actually ended up flying to Boston a few days later. I had a hard time getting a rental car because so many journalists were flying in. In fact, at the rental counter, when they looked at my profile and it said that I was a journalist, they assumed that I was covering Newtown. There were signs all over Logan Airport directing people to special services teams the airlines had deployed specifically for the crisis. It was basically terrible on so many levels — from a grief perspective, from a national coverage perspective and from a national systematic nightmare perspective.

So, three years ago, 20 little kids were murdered by crazy person who got his hands on guns that were acquired legally, but the number of little kids who have been murdered since then is absolutely shameful.  Since then we’ve lost at least one American kid under the age of 12 every other day to gun violence. Those kids rarely get news stories. They certainly don’t get big news coverage on the anniversaries of their murders. They just become part of the statistics. 554 kids under 12. Not to mention the 100K more deaths since then among people over the age of 12.

If terrorists had done something like that, we would be calling for a nuclear strike.

Let’s forget about Donald Trump and his entire diatribe about entire religions for a second. Forget about closing our borders. The call is coming from inside the house. We are our own worst enemies. And maybe guns aren’t the root problem — maybe it’s mental illness or a growing sentiment of helplessness or disenfranchisement or just something in the damned water. I don’t know. I don’t care. If you left rat poison-laced food out on the floor, you wouldn’t blame the dog who ate it, you’d blame the person who made it accessible to the dog.

I’m just not sure why our right to safety and freedom from fear isn’t more important than a gun zealot’s need to have their buying experience be convenient and hassle-free. If it weren’t a real life hypocrisy, it would almost be funny that the same people who would love to see Planned Parenthood burned to the ground are the same people who feel that handguns should be in every home, in every purse and in every glove compartment.

Either life is sacred or it isn’t. Either everyone is free or no one is. It’s just that simple.

 

An ode to fungus

Me and AceLiving in Wisconsin makes you a very particular kind of human. We’re extremely nice — almost annoyingly so. We value hard work and kindness over sophistication and intelligence — which is charming on a variety of levels but can be somewhat painful at times too. And in the winter when it starts getting dark by 4 pm and the roads become treacherous, we’re pretty happy to bunker down and stay indoors until roughly Cinco de Mayo.

Well, unless there’s a Packer game. Then it’s “Cold weather be damned, I’m taking off my shirt so that everyone can see my rigid nipples on the TV!”

Here’s the thing: Esteban is a really social person and is an extravert. Second, believe it or not, I’m an introvert at heart. So if Esteban is  relying on me to give him 100% of his social stimulation, that’s not going to go well for either one of us. This is easy to balance in the summer, when we’re going to the farmer’s market every weekend and the drive in movie theatre and the dog parks and going to hang out in his parents’ pool and the countless chats with neighbors who are out working in our collective yards, but in the winter, those things dry up.

Also, Esteban and I are home creatures. We like our little house and our little dogs and cat. We don’t drink very much and when we do, we’d rather do it at home because otherwise one of us has to stay sober to drive home and also, our wine and scotch libraries are better and cheaper at home anyway. If left to our druthers, we too would just batten down the hatches and avoid winter all together by never leaving Chalet Bix. But this is kind of unhealthy behavior. So we made a decision. We’d make an extra effort to go out and do things during the winter. Like, make it an actual priority. Last winter, that meant that we went out and did stuff that we’d never done before, like go walk around the Botanical Gardens to see their ridiculous winter light show and setting up entertainment dates in our house for people we never get to see very often.

This year, we’re upping our game. I’m going to start back up at my old pottery studio this winter (primarily so that I can make some really big bowls, which my local pottery studio can’t seem to accommodate very well and also so that I can see my friend Sara more often, as that’s her local studio).

And last night, we attended one of my alumni functions. They had reserved a VIP area at our local semi-pro hockey home games and the tickets were relatively cheap (plus beer and soda were free), so we decided “What the hell?” I had never been to a hockey game in my entire life. Esteban had been to exactly one about three decades ago when he was practically still in short pants.

I like ice skating! This is ice skating soccer, right? Kind of like manly ice capades?

NOPE.

Pucks. Pucks hitting the glass right in my face.

I’m super not kidding. This photo was taken from my seat. It. Was. Awesome.

The view from my seat

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to watch it from the stands though… Even if you are on the glass, it can’t be as good as when you can sit at your own bar table and frequently rub elbows with the mascot, the hot rink girls who do things like shoot t-shirts and cheese curds into the crowd with a cannon (yes, that’s right, they had a CHEESE CURD CANNON!) and have a private bathroom that is accessed through one of those doors marked “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!” because we were authorized, baby. Authorized up the wazoo.

So hockey. I like it. Who knew? Next up, I want to go to a Blackhawks game, although Esteban has his eyes on the Milwaukee team, to which I said, “Sure, what the hell?”

So our Winter Wonderful Year 2 agenda is off to a flying start. We are planning on tromping through the Botanical Gardens again next week and then, of course, Christmas is going to be a socialization fire hose, so that’s going to be a good time. We’re entertaining at our house on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day — I may have to burrow into a hole on Boxing Day and not come out for several days after that until my introvert energy stores are recharged.

Unless we get another chance to go to a hockey game, of course. That was kind of the shit.

 

How to make new lasting friendships as an adult

Weetacon 2015 class photo

About eleven years ago last month, Poppy and I met for drinks in Chicago and she said “Hey, have you ever considered having a Diaryland-Con in Green Bay? I like spa weekends, and I kind of want to experience the Bad Bar.”

A legacy was born on March 4, 2005 when we held the first “Green Bay Minicon” (as I was insisting it be called, even though people started calling it Weetacon immediately… it only took five more years before I gave in and started calling it Weetacon too).

After that weekend, we assumed that we had caught lightning in a bottle and the magnificence could never be repeated. I mean, somehow we got 27 people up to Green Bay in early March… that’s just crazy business, right? And yet, the next year we had more people! We added more activities. And the next year we had more people after that! We added even more activities! And then after that we had to set a capacity limit. And every year since 2005, we’ve been meeting in the same hotel on or around the same weekend to hang out, be silly, gossip and ostensibly network with other writers and readers. In theory, anyway.

So, we’ve got a lot of history behind this little weekend… and we work really hard to make sure that it’s a success. This year, we’re going back to our roots — the Weetacon 2016 will be held once again on March 4-6 and many of the same people who were at the first one will be there again this year! This year’s theme is “Slumber Party” which means — Comfy? Yes. Sexy? Possibly. Fun? Definitely!

I often call Weetacon my labor of love — and it truly is. About eight years ago, we added a fundraising component to our ‘writer’s weekend’ — we matched the theme of that year (“Meatacon”) by raising funds for a Green Bay food pantry that serves low-income and no-income local families. I basically raffled off a bunch of freebie stuff I’d been sent by rabid PR companies hoping to have me feature them on my blog. It was successful in my eyes — we raised over $400! Now the raffle has grown each year — everyone donates raffle prizes and then donates a dollar a raffle ticket for those same prizes. Each dollar goes directly to the charity of choice — we have three now so folks can choose where they want their totally tax-deductible donations going (the afore-mentioned food pantry, a no-kill animal shelter and the family housing non-profit where I stayed during Esteban’s prolonged hospital stay two years ago). After eight years, our annual fundraising total is usually around $4000 and in eight years of fundraising, we’ve raised almost $30,000 for these charities.

I think a lot about what my purpose is on this world. I used to think it was to write stories, but now I think I’m just a connector. Like the round thingy in a pack of Fiddlestix. It’s a lame part because you can’t really build anything out of just the round thingies, but without the round thingy, you only have a bunch of sticks. Okay, I’ll work on that metaphor, but I also do kind of look like a cog, so there’s that.

The cool thing about Weetacon is that we love meeting new people — in fact, because we normally sell out so quickly, I wanted to make sure that we still have space for first time Weetaconners every year. So now we reserve at LEAST four spots that only first timers can use — this ensures that we’ll give every newcomer equal opportunity to join in the fun.

Basically, half of the fun of Weetacon is getting to show new people how damned magical it is — and we get to experience it again for the first time in a tiny way. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth all year round, but for 48 hours a year, the Waterford room at Weetacon central absolutely OWNS that title.

So we love new faces and you don’t have to be invited. Many first timers don’t really know anyone! In fact, I even made a video talking to former first timers about what their first time was like! And if you come to Weetacon this year, you’ll get to hang out with at least four of these people because they’ve registered for Weetacon 2016 already!

You can register for Weetacon 2016 by going here and following these instructions. If it seems too easy, it’s because it is.

Registration is just $129 per person and covers at least one meal and a private karaoke party, plus a weekend of coordinated social activities. Hotel is just $89 a night for four star lodgings and a giant jetted tub and separate shower in every room. Plus free breakfast and free wifi. Why is this such a good deal? Three reasons a) they haven’t increased our hotel rate in 12 years b) Green Bay is about 20 years behind the rest of the country in cost of living and c) Weetacon is designed to be incredibly cost effective and respectful of all travel budgets. If you can get yourself to Green Bay, you shouldn’t have to spend much more than a few meals to entertain yourself.

Normally, Weetacon’s attendee capacity is 50 people but through a series of various life things (babies, job changes, life changes, etc) we’re looking a little more intimate this year. I can’t keep it set at 50 because I have to start finalizing contracts with vendors and need to have a good grasp on how much budget we have, so I will likely be reducing the Weetacon cap down into the 30s by sometime next week.

That means if you thought you had all the time in the world to decide if you wanted to go to Weetacon or not, you may have less time than you thought. On Monday, I’ll probably set the cap around 2 or 3 more than whatever we have registered at that point. And then that’s it.

I keep wondering how long we can sustain the magic of Weetacon, especially given all of the various implications for our usual suspects this year.  When we hit 5 years, I was pretty impressed. Then when we hit 10 years, I thought, “Huh… we can’t keep up at this rate.” Maybe we’re starting to see a natural ebb that I have been predicting for almost a decade.

At some point in the not too distant future, we may be calling it the Last Weetacon. Or, more likely, the Last Weetacon will happen and we won’t even realize it at the time. I will just decide that I can’t do another one for whatever reason and it will just be over. That will be a little bittersweet.

Let’s face it, as we get older it becomes really fucking difficult to make friends — REAL friends — and the fact that you can just show up at Weetacon and instantly be approved as a Tribe Member For Life? That’s some kind of magic. And we still have new faces every year, so the fact that the Tribe is still getting larger? Amazing.

So even if this IS the last Weetacon (and I’m not saying that it is, let us be clear right now), it’s nice to know that Weetacon will be around in the form of these friendships for a very long time.

Register for Weetacon 2016! This is your year! Your Tribe is waiting.

Holly jolly

photo 3

Remember when I said that December was a bit of an exhale? Bwah! I was smoking something really special.

This weekend we were full of stuff to do — Esteban left today for a business trip to Vegas. Since he had Scotty’s bi-weekly Dorkathalon on Friday night, we spent most of Saturday morning running around to help him get packed while also squeezing in our normal Sunday routine into Saturday morning, since we wouldn’t be able to do it Sunday. This routine involves giant vats of Starbucks followed by the splitting of a Swiss cheese bagel. We also did what every middle class yuppy seems to do on a Saturday morning — we went to Costco, where our Get Up And Go-edness was our own downfall, as we were far too early for samples. Because seriously, that’s the reason you go to Costco on the weekend, right? Well, and to also get dog drugs at their pharmacy (Let me tell you, if your animals need regular medications, Costco is the BEST and way way way cheaper than anywhere else. Plus the pharmacists at our Costco seem to be kind of lonely, so they know Zuzu by name and always ask for updates on how her med cocktail is going.) We did manage to do some holiday shopping too, and buy at least four items to fulfill our “All important random things that we spend money on that you really need but make you feel like you got screwed” quota for Costco shopping. In this case, plastic bins. Why should plastic bins be so expensive? Even at Costco, I can’t believe these things aren’t basically free. Or, you know, a dollar a dozen wouldn’t be unreasonable.

We went back home and Esteban finished packing while I made pecan pies for the holiday party we had in the evening. We tucked out for sushi lunch, which was lovely, and then made it back home in time to get ready, wrap our gift swap gifts and medicate the dog.

The party was fun. Any chance to slap on whorish amounts of eye makeup is a good time in my book. We stayed up far too late and got home and stayed up even later (more dog medication) and then sacked out.

This morning was fairly uneventful — I dropped off Esteban at the airport and then headed out to one of my favorite rural Wisconsin experiences — a chicken hall. Melinda and Kevin were up for the party and we made plans to brunch together. I called up Ward and June (who refuses to call it a chicken hall, but seriously, that’s what it’s called), and also my bestie Fern, who has two growing ravenous children to feed. You see, in Wisconsin, we have a tradition of gathering entire families who go to these family style chicken feed places. You basically eat like ravenous dogs off of communal plates and you don’t even care because it’s just so damned good. And fried. Sure, they offer baked chicken too, which is oestensibly healthier but why eat healthy when you can have broasted (aka pressure deep-fried) chicken and as much as you want? Let’s not fool anyone — that’s the entire point. Plus, it comes with a variety of vegetables, salads, stuffing and gravy and a bunch of dessert bars. So, think Thanksgiving, but with fried chicken instead of turkey and without the drama. All for the low cost of $14 per person. It’s a good time.

I came back home, dealt with the dogs, and then actually took some time to play Minecraft. I now need to clean up the house (because Esteban made deep-dish pizza on Friday night and the kitchen hasn’t been right since) and finish decorating the Christmas tree in the living room. In theory, I will feel good enough to then set up the tree in the scotch room, but that involves removing the loveseat from that room. The loveseat is going into the guest bedroom for now, but before that happens, I want to remove two dressers from that room. Before I can remove the dressers, I have to empty them. That’s why we needed the bins. Ah yes, full circle. Tidy.

I still think bins should be a nickel each, damn it.

For now, the oral syringes for the dog’s medication are soaking/sanitizing, the dishwasher needs to be emptied and refilled and there’s a Christmas episode of Gavin and Stacey up on Netflix that isn’t going to watch itself.

Ho Ho Holy crap I overschedule myself

"I fell. This is okay I guess."

If you know one thing about me, it is that I frequently overplan my time.

Take, for instance, the month of November. At work, I had planned for a month of insanity. It was great for my revenue numbers but super not great for my mental health.

I also have been playing professor once a week at the community college. When I had agreed to start doing this, I didn’t have a full time SF-based job, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to spend hours of my time grading poorly-written intro to journalism stories and writing lectures and clock off at 3 pm PST to go teach a bunch of people who are just trying to jump through the hoops to earn their degree so that they can get promoted already. But of course, I took the job after the end of spring semester, and then figured that I would have learned enough of the ropes by fall semester to be able to handle both. Bwah! The ropes! I now know the ropes – the problem is that there are so many fucking ropes! I’ve been more or less managing everything through September and October, but in November, the class not only had so many more pieces of homework to grade but it also had its final and final projects. So, there was that.

Because that’s not enough, I also signed up for NaNoWriMo! Because when you are chained to your computer 12 hours a day, what’s better than also deciding to spend some more time typing? But wait – because it’s not enough just to write 50K words in 30 days, I volunteered to be ML for Coldington in its first ever year being its own region.

You crazy, Lucy.

(This is where Jane will send me a text yelling at me for complaining for something I clearly invite onto myself and she’d be fucking right because I am my own worst enemy.)

I think I must really like to be busy. I do this to myself all the time, both on a macro and a micro level. My To Do lists are never complete because I’m completely aggressive on what I think I can get done. Basically, my calendar is always ten pounds of shit stuffed into a five pound bag. Add onto that a compulsive need to be on time and it’s a wonder that I don’t need to take anti-anxiety drugs.

Wait. Maybe I SHOULD be taking anti-anxiety drugs?

But, November is over now and it’s the big exhale. December is less crazy at work for a variety of reasons and school is all over but for the final grade submission. NaNo is done and I managed to squeak out the completed 50K (but my novel isn’t done), and I’m devoting January to getting my other thing I’m doing finished enough that I can inflict it on some beta readers in totality.

That being said, December is as busy as December always is. So that must be why I signed up for Holidailies. Because it’s not a party unless it’s a Wendy Bix Insanely Packed party.

Speaking of parties, you should know that registration is open for Weetacon 2016. It hasn’t sold out yet and this year is going to be a doozy. If you’re scared of Weetacon or if you have never been, I invite you to check out some of the videos we did this year to help answer questions and ease your own anxiety.

Besides, when you have entirely too much to do and not enough time to do it, it’s important to have something amazing to look forward to that is entirely just for the fun of it. Hope to see you there!

 

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