The weekend after Thanksgiving, I decided that I should reflect on the year and write a long essay about it. I knew I needed to start right away. But then Stevie P. died and I contracted COVID. Time ran out like dirty bath water. The new year starts tomorrow. This entry will be short.
It would be easy to focus on grief. Losing PK in March broke our hearts. Stevie’s death left us bereft of any animals companions. Four pets gone in less than 30 months. The house is too quiet. I miss them all so much.
But to judge 2022 by the events of its last month would be to give in to recency bias. When I thought about it, I remembered more good than bad in 2022. I have thrived professionally. Likewise, my creative writing has improved dramatically, both in quality and content. Carolyn and I also celebrated our twentieth anniversary this year.
It was a good year, even though it was sometimes painful. I hope there will be more joy and less sadness in 2023.
I mentioned recently that I have an assortment of stuffed toys. These are my favorites.
We went to a Tampa Bay Lightning game with friends in 2015. Thunderbug, the Lightning mascot, came to the section next to ours and I got pretty obnoxious about trying to get him to cover over to us. In my defense, I was hammered. He never came over. The next week, when we went to our friends’ place for game night, this Thunderbug was waiting for me. I brought him to work to keep me company. Every day for two weeks, I’d come to work to find that my coworker had posed him in different scenarios.
Sweetie attempted to smuggle this bunny into my luggage before a business trip so I would be surprised when I got there. Except that I needed to check to see if I’d put something in my toiletry kit, so I discovered him before I left. Barry is named in honor of a Barry White’s appearance as an animated bunny in a salad dressing commercial that was airing when Sweetie and I met.
Seahorse with No Name
“The ocean is a desert with its life underground And a perfect disguise above Under the cities lies a heart made of ground But the humans will give no love.” —America, “A Horse with No Name”
“Seahorse with No Name” is the name of the seahorse with no name, which means he does have a name. It’s very confusing. He wishes his kids would move out.
Another gift from Sweetie, who got him on a business trip to Maine. Named after the 26th President of the United States because he, too, is a bull moose. Teddy urges you to always vote Democratic because “Giving power to Republicans is like giving kerosene and matches to an arsonist.”
Stomp, a triceratops, is the late Cretaceous period’s hide-and-seek world champion. He didn’t realize he was playing; he is simply so much of an introvert that he didn’t notice the rest of his species going extinct. He doesn’t miss other triceratops because he says, “They were all a bunch of dicks, anyway.”
Today, on the twelfth day of isolation,* I tested negative. I was almost afraid to take it. I squinted real hard at the test after the timer went off, not sure I trusted my eyes. I took a picture and sent it to Sweetie. No line. Huzzah! Now, to be on the safe side, I’ll continue isolation for another 48 hours. But at least I see an end to this crappy experience.
If I were a social media influencer, I suppose I would have some sun-shiny take on it that ends with a cliche life lesson presented as if it were a profound discovery never thought of in human history. But I’m not, so I don’t. I already wore my mask in public and I’ll keep doing it. I can only withdraw from being out in the world so much, and I’m not going to become a hermit for the rest of my life.
If I learned anything, it was what’s comfortable & what’s not about my bedroom. Until this month, I haven’t spent much waking time there. It’s fine for sleeping. For hanging out by myself, it actually isn’t all that bad, either. I have a comfortable arm chair that normally holds a pile of stuffed animals. ** I suppose I could have used a little table to pull in front of it to rest my laptop on. Maybe I’ll make one when I finish the other wood shop projects I have in progress and planned.
That’s it. Some life lesson, yeah? Getting sick sucks. Avoid it if you can. Have a comfy chair in your isolation room. How profound.
* Worst Christmas carol parody ever.
** A big part of me is still ten years old. And yes, they all have names and biographies.
I played guitar for the first time in almost three years again this week. COVID quarantine is dull. By the end of the day, I’ve stared at the screen all I can. I have two guitars sitting there in their cases. Why not try it again?
I didn’t like how stiff my fingers were, or how sore my soft fingertips became after only a few minutes of play. I didn’t enjoy it.
Playing guitar used to be a constant source of comfort to me. “I play guitar” was part of my self-image, even years after I stopped playing. But over the years, my interest waned. I rarely thought about my guitars except when I noticed the cases off to the side in my bedroom. How did that happen?
I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was twelve. I learned the basic chords and I learned a few songs. But I never enjoyed playing. It didn’t help that the guitar wasn’t a very good one. It was difficult to get it to stay in tune, even over the span of a few minutes. That made playing it frustrating and I gave it up.
In 1989, a friend decided to sell the 1987 Aria she had bought new, only to discover that she didn’t enjoy playing. I tried it, loved the sound of it, and paid her cash. I decided to take lessons and pretty soon, I got good enough to play for others and have them sing along. That was what I wanted: attention and recognition.
That 1987 Aria is still my favorite, partly because of its beautiful sound. Mostly because of the many fond memories around playing it in public.
But the pleasure of performing faded. I didn’t know why. I almost stopped playing. What stopped me was a gift from a member of the therapy group I was in during graduate school. The gift was a question.
Her name was Becky. In one session, Becky observed that it seemed like I did everything with my eyes on how others would perceive it. And appreciate it. And approve of it.
She asked, “What’s wrong with just playing guitar to make yourself happy?”
That is one of the most powerful questions anyone has ever asked me. It shook me. It encouraged me and gave me permission to put my own enjoyment first. I started focusing on what made me happy to play and learn. I started enjoying it again. And I began applying the same principle to other areas of my life. It changed the way I approached life and helped me develop a happier outlook in general.
Playing guitar remained important for many years after that. Eight years ago, something changed. I lost my job. I found a new job soon after, but it was a horrible one. A lengthy commute sapped time and energy, and the toxic workplace drained me even more. I stopped playing guitar.
When I started working at Malwarebytes, I was happy again and had a shorter commute. I started playing again. But after a year, I changed jobs again. Again, a daily commute across the Bay. The next job was also in Tampa. After two years, I started traveling for work. I thought about buying a guitar I could travel with, but it never happened. By the time the pandemic began, I was so out of practice that it seemed like too much effort to start playing again.
These days, my commute is from one side of the house to the other. I have a lot more free time—especially now that I’ve quit Twitter and cut back on following and commenting on blogs. And I have a real desire to play again. The desire might fade once I’m no longer quarantined. But it’s going to be nice to spend time with that Aria again.
After almost three years of diligence and caution, I contracted COVID-19 this week. The last time I was sick was the week after the State of Colorado shut down over the disease while I was on a business trip there. I caught an ordinary cold from another traveler on the flight home. (“Ordinary” doesn’t do it justice. It was a doozy. But it wasn’t COVID-19; the symptoms weren’t the same.) I haven’t had so much as a sniffle since then, because I kept up masking discipline even as the world began to forge forward with a “What, me worry?” approach to a disease that was still killing tens of thousands of people a month in this country alone. And when people said, “Everyone’s going to get it eventually,” I would think, “Not if I can help it, bucko.”
I got every vaccination I was eligible for. I was super cautious during recent business travel. All was well. Carolyn and I had a trip to Saint Augustine planned last weekend. I tested before and during the trip to be on the safe side, since we were seeing a lot of people. But by Monday morning, I was feeling really low and when we got home, I tested again. Bam. Positive.
I used to joke that after three years of not even having a cold, I would be a giant baby the first time I got sick. But it wasn’t so. I immediately went into quarantine in my bedroom so that I wouldn’t infect Carolyn if I hadn’t already, and I simple… endured. I had a fever that first night that felt no more severe than the side-effect from my recent shingles vaccine. Possibly less, tbh. Since then, I’ve had mild symptoms, mostly congestion, and fatigue. The vaccines succeeded at blocking the disease from truly wreaking havoc on me. I only missed one day of work. I could have taken more time off but I was bored silly and, happily, there’s nothing wrong with my cognitive functioning. Since I am a remote worker, there’s nothing keeping me from keeping occupied.
So far, I don’t appear to have infected anyone else. I contacted my friends to let them know and four days later, they’re all symptom free and testing negative. Carolyn’s fate is still uncertain. Negative so far, but come on. We were in a car for several hours together, in a hotel room overnight, and we live in the same house. Quarantine precautions can only do so much.
On the morning of Saturday, March 10, 2012, as Carolyn and I were leaving the house to run errands, she looked out to our yard and spotted a ball of gray fluff on one of our bird feeders. When we went to investigate, we discovered a baby budgerigar. He was cold and tired and we brought him inside.
I knocked on doors to ask everyone within a couple blocks of us if they had lost a parakeet or knew someone who had. No one did. I put a flyer on the bulletin board of the local pet store. No one ever came looking for him. Their loss.
I don’t know why I started calling him “Stevie.” Carolyn wanted to call him Pete, and so he became Stevie P. After a while, he learned to whisper his name. That was one of only two words he would eventually learn.
The rest of his copious vocalizations were whistles, chirps, and squeaks. He wolf-whistled. He imitated the beep of a package being scanned for delivery. He talked back to birds in the yard, and he mimicked Pookie’s “assemble the flock” scream. On days when Carolyn worked from home, her coworkers would hear him chattering away. Sometimes he would put in an on-camera appearance. He did it a few times with me, too. He would land on the lid of my laptop and peer into the camera from above. He also liked to perch there when I was writing. My little blue co-author.
Soon after we got him, Carolyn put a piece of strawberry on a food clip in his cage. He loved it so much that he smeared strawberry juice all over his face. When I saw him, I thought he’d injured himself and was bleeding. Since he didn’t like to bathe, he had a sticky, pink face for a couple days.
Carolyn has a glass statuette of a scarlet macaw, a gift from a former coworker. From time to time, he would fly to the top of the armoire where she keeps it and sing to it as if offering devotion to a deity.
Sometimes, when I napped on the sofa, he would land on my head and sing his loudest until I gave up on the idea. Other times, he would land on a nearby pillow and watch me until I woke up.
He was a bird who enforced boundaries. He would land on you, but would not allow you to pet him. He’d bite if you tried too hard, then fly away. It was better to let him sit with you on his own terms than have him abandon you.
By now, you’re probably wondering, “What about the second word in Stevie’s vocabulary?” Well, actually, it was a phrase but he pronounced it so rapidly it sounded like one word. My father, like me, is a loud, fast talker, and his animated voice always stirred Stevie up. Stevie would “talk back” to him, chirping and warbling madly. One day when my father was visiting, Stevie slipped a little something extra into his chatter: “fuckyou.”
We had only ourselves to blame. Carolyn and I both use salty language—especially when yelling at refs while watching soccer, which is, like practically all the time. Of all the things for him to pick up, though…
Stevie died a week ago, sometime between when we covered his cage for the night on Thursday and Friday morning. He had some kind of incident the previous weekend. A hawk had flown through our yard and we thought that spooked him, but now I wonder if it was a seizure that he simply couldn’t recover from.
All of our animal companions have died over the course of the last two and a half years. It has been devastating, and now the house is too still.
A new iOS update is out. As always it will take a lot of getting used to. I don’t like the redesigned lock screen. I especially don’t like the way it defaulted my old wallpaper to a new “personal” focus that blocked text message notifications. I didn’t know it was going to do that, so I missed messages all day long yesterday from my father and my wife.
But there is one new feature I adore even though I haven’t used it yet. You can now enable Siri to disconnect a phone call by saying, “Hey Siri, hang up.” I suppose it’s intended to make it safer to end a hands-free phone call while driving. That’s irrelevant to me. I don’t talk on the phone while driving. To explain why I’m excited about it, first we need to take a ride in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine.
I grew up in the era of bulky, heavy phones. In those days, to end a call, you would place the handset back in its cradle. If you were angry, you could slam the chunky handset down. It made a very satisfying & cathartic crash. Whoever was on the other end would hear it as the last sound of the conversation. For the recipient, it was loud, disturbing, and irritating.
With the shift to cordless, electronic phones, that satisfying option disappeared. There was no cradle to slam the phone into. Instead, you had a button to disconnect. Sure, you could pound that button. Do it hard enough, and you might give yourself a transient dislocation that would throb for days. But the other party would only hear dead air. For all they knew, it was an accidental disconnect. They might even believe that they got the last word! The advent of cell phones made it even less cathartic. Tap the screen. Bip.
With iOS 16, Apple has reintroduced the pleasure of rudely & abruptly ending a call. Because you can say, “Hey Siri, hang up,” and the other party will hear it! How exciting!
“Hi, this is Bruce Feeblebrain with Parents for Making Children Ignorant. Do you realize…”
“Hey Siri, hang up!”
Boom! The sheer rudeness of it more than makes up for the lack of physical satisfaction. The other party, interrupted, hears you overtly and angrily ending the call. No leaving them wondering what happened. Instead, absolute certainty that you did it on purpose.
It’s almost enough to make me want to start answering telemarketing calls again.
For me, at least. I’ll deactivate my account as soon as I have time to download my archive and then delete all my tweets. Twitter’s new ownership motivated me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: stop using Twitter. The value of Twitter was never as high as the costs.
There was value. It’s not like when I quit Facebook several years ago. I loathed everything about Facebook by the end of my time on that platform. Stopping was simple and I didn’t miss it. Twitter was different. I disliked some aspects of it, but there were plusses. I used it to broaden my horizons by following people I wouldn’t have been able to interact with in meat space. People from different ethnic groups. Disability activists. LGBTQIA voices. I learned a lot. Twitter also provided humor, information, and sometime an outlet for my creative silliness.
The drawbacks were more significant. As an easy diversion and distraction, Twitter degraded my ability to focus and think. The filth of Twitter occasionally bubbled up, even though I was careful to curate who I followed. That didn’t do wonders for my emotional equilibrium or mental health. (The use of ethnic slurs spiked as soon as the transfer of ownership occurred. I don’t need that in my life.) Leaving Twitter will go a long way toward improving the quality of my intellectual life.
Twitter isn’t worth being part of anymore. Many of the voices I follow are leaving, anyway, and its usefulness will only decay from here. Time to go.
Three years ago, Vista Equity Partners CEO Robert F. Smith paid off the student loan debt of the entire Morehouse College graduating class. It was a good thing for him to do. But it was appalling that it was even necessary. Even more appalling is that the problem of student loan debt remains nation-wide. Student ought not have to accumulate a lifetime’s worth of debt for a four-year degree.
Over twenty years ago, I accumulated more debt than was healthy so I could finish college and then a graduate degree. Largely, I did so because I didn’t understand debt and how it would affect me. My debt for two degrees was smaller than what many students have accrued today for a single degree. And still, it prevented me from doing a lot of things I wanted. It forced me to make choices that I didn’t necessarily want in service to that debt.
I have since paid off my debt. I was fortunate to parlay otherwise impractical degrees into a career in technology that paid far above what I would have earned elsewhere. And while I enjoy what I do for a living, I’m definitely in this field because of the money, not for its own sake. I’d rather have been able to focus on writing fiction. I’d rather have spent time on woodworking. I’d rather have played guitar. Those things all had to take a back seat to servicing student loan debt.
I’d rather no one else have to make those sacrifices.
Massive student loan debt is a drag on our economy. It damages creativity, innovation, and progress. It is a symptom of the disease that afflicts this country: that people exist only so that profit can be squeezed out of them for the benefit of those who already have grotesque amounts of wealth.
It wasn’t long after Carolyn and I moved into our house before a little calico cat made her presence known. She showed up in the yard, demanding affection from Carolyn. She got it–and a can of tuna. Pretty soon, she was a regular in our yard. Later, we learned that she’d been a neighborhood fixture for a couple of years, part of a feral colony at the other end of our alley.
I named her “Porch Kitty” because she could often be found on our back porch. Also, I thought that if I didn’t give her a real name, I wouldn’t grow attached to her. I was wrong.
“Porch Kitty” quickly became “Princess Kitty” and “Precious Kitty” and “Perfect Kitty,” but mostly we called her “PK.” She was sweet, and friendly, and an expert at breaking and entering. She exploited damage to the crawl space vent screens to get into the basement and took up residence there. Once, she appeared on the second floor, having climbed the inside of the wall, and exited through a hole in our HVAC ductwork.
Soon, she was coming inside to eat, and then we made her a permanent resident of the house. We screened the back porch so she could still go outside, and that’s where she hung out most of the time. But for a while each evening, we’d tuck the two birds away so that she (and Chubby Huggs, who we still miss) could come inside and spend time with us. She’d alternate between sitting next to me and on Carolyn’s lap.
She feared nothing, except for a weasel ball we got her one Christmas. She hunkered down against the wall, tail wrapped tight against her body, and did her best not to let it touch her. But she was death to Christmas trees, was happy to scale any height, and just last year, killed a rat that had invaded the screen porch.
We moved here in 2002, and she was already at least two by then according to the neighbors at the time. So she was at least twenty-two when she died earlier this week. She had a good, long life and we were with her at the very end.
Rest in peace, PK. I’ll always miss your fuzzy little face.