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Events of the Week

Cross-posting from Patreon because I want to keep this stuff on my site, too. CW: this post talks about an ER visit, elder care, and grief.

Two days ago I was trying to explain to a partner how intense being a caregier is despite there not being very much “action”. My dad is stable. He doesn’t have a clear timeline. I just know that he is old, and often confused, and needs my help.

Yesterday that looked like agreeing to take him to The Farmer & The Cook, the local venue where the collage pieces we made together have been hanging for the last six weeks. That’s where I took this photo. He misses being out and about every day, greeting his public, watching people going about their business. It’s one of the things I struggle with most: I want him to be safe, and I also want him to be happy

A photograph of Lucy's dad, Peter, wearing a blue tshirt and a sun hat and smiling at the camera. He's sitting on a patio in the shade.

It was set to be a scorcher, so I made extra sure he’d had breakfast and his smoothie before we left the house, tried to get there early in the day, parked him in the shade.

But maybe I jinxed it, talking about there being no action, because ten minutes after I took this photograph he had an episode—slumped over, drooling, unresponsive. His dentures slid out of his mouth one after the other in a slow-motion horror show I’ll never forget. I kept hoping he’d snap out of it but he didn’t. Someone got me ice. I found myself wondering if his insurance would cover an ambulance. I didn’t know what to do. I called my mum to come join me and asked her to bring the walker, because we’d gotten him into the car with the walker on other occasions when he got wombly, but in this instance it was totally laughable because the man was clearly unconscious.

He was gone.

She arrived, took one look at the situation, and called 911. I just kept holding his shoulders, patting him down with ice, trying to bring him round. It is awful to feel so useless in the face of a crisis. I knew he needed to drink water but he couldn’t drink. How was I supposed to get him to drink?

He looked so small when they put him in the ambulance. 

A pen drawing of an elderly man in an ambulance surrounded by machinery and shadowy figures.

Driving the half hour to the hospital on the tail of the paramedics, there was no way to know what we were in for. Would he be paralyzed? Would he be dead? Would he remember? Would he be fine?

There’s a sick sense of relief bound up in an episode like this because we understand acute crisis. I can talk about “hospital” and “collapse” and “emergency” and people will understand—even if they’re just drawing from pop culture, they’ll understand. 

But every day as a caregiver carries that load of uncertainty. It’s not as loud, so we can function, but it builds and builds. It ripples. It reminds me that it’s not just my dad whose life could change or end at any moment—it’s me. It’s everyone. 

Even when nothing is happening, so much is happening. 

I spent 9 hours on the sidewalk outside the hospital, waiting. It was 90º out and miserable. No waiting room privileges because of COVID. Mum had to be the one person allowed in the ED with him because she knows his doctors and medical history better than I do. 

One impossibly kind nurse got me back to see him for three minutes, which wasn’t enough, but also was. I heard his voice. I saw his eyes open and smiling. I got to stroke his hair.

They kept telling us he was going to move to the hospital proper, where he’d be allowed two visitors, but when they finally did move him, four hours after that initial, tantalizing announcement, visiting hours were over. I had to stay outside.

I’m paying a lot of attention to labyrinths this year. I’d already been outside the hospital for two hours when I went to move the car and realized I’d been sitting twenty feet away from this:

A photograph of a labyrinth etched in a concrete patio at night.

I’ve stopped being surprised by this sort of stuff. I just start laughing and saying “Okay, OKAY I get it” to no one in particular.

I walked it when the sun finally went down and the temperature dropped enough to move in. 

In ten minutes I’m going to drive back to Ventura to pick him up and bring him home, apparently no worse for wear. No stroke, no heart attack, just…age. Heat. Dehydration. Blood pressure. Who knows. And this makes me feel relieved and grateful and exhausted and also so angry. Because even if he’s fine, we’re left carrying the weight of how it could’ve gone. These pendulum swings of possibility.

I’m left remembering his teeth in his hat on the floor of the car, riding down the highway with us on our way to the unknown.

?th Plunge

I lost track of how many plunges I took last year, I just know it’s been a minute since I marked the two little wavy lines on my calendar that indicate “Had the opportunity to get in a body of water and took it.”

Wait, no, I do remember the last time: New Year’s Eve!

Lucy, a young white woman with an sodden undercut, grins at the camera in front of a muddy river swimming pool.

Oh man, it was frigid and perfect and early enough in the morning that I just got to the river and stripped down and flung myself in and then screamed and jumped up and down and dried off and walked home as the sun was rising.

Bliss.

Anyway, all this to say that I dropped James at the airport yesterday and then immediately took myself to the beach next door (Santa Barbara, you outrageous creature) and Got in The Sea. We’ve got a horrible heat wave on this week, but the wind was also blowing somethin’ fierce so I didn’t stay in long. Still: every time I take those first strides across the sand, feel the water on my thighs, mutter to myself until I can’t deny it any longer and plunge under—it’s like I’m coming home to a part of myself I didn’t know was missing. And the more I come back to it, the more it works. Every return heeds the voice in my head that says “You want this. You’re made of this exuberance. It will enlarge you.” while ignoring the one that says “You don’t have a change of clothes. It’s too cold. Ew, there’s seaweed.”

The “ew, there’s seaweed” voice can take a hike.

Outbound/Inbound

A good line from Sumana:

Marketing is an outbound chore that increases the frequency of inbound inquiries.

This sums up a lot of my aversion to being visible (and easily reachable) in online spaces right now. There’s a negligible line between “marketing” and “posting photos on Instagram” (irrespective of what those photos show) because my work and my online selfhood are largely the same. If people remember that I exist, they might send an inbound inquiry. “Inquiry” here can mean anything from a simple heart emoji in response to an Instagram story, to a complex email asking for advice. Both elicit the same sense of panic: someone needs something from me, and I don’t have what it takes to give it to them.

What’s worse is that I often don’t even have what it takes to tell them I don’t have what it takes.

This is embarrassing. I feel shame around it. I know a lot of people deal with it! But I feel shame all the same.

The other thing I catch myself thinking about is that this is totally a Me Issue. I mean, yes: I can make direct requests that people not message me in certain places. I can turn off comments. I can ask loved ones to let me make the first move in initiating conversation. But I’m not sure that’s actually the solution I want.

I want a list of readily available texts or emails I can send that let people know where I’m at without needing to draft them from scratch when I have no spoons to do so.

Take the little autoresponder texts that Apple offers when someone’s trying to call you: “Sorry, I can’t talk right now.” “I’m on my way.” “Can I call you later?” I finally found the menu to change them to something in my own voice the other day because I was so sick of going through the same cycle: getting an incoming call, thinking “AAAAAAAAA I CAN’T TAKE THIS RIGHT NOW,” looking at the available autoresponder texts, thinking “UGH THESE ARE ALL TERRIBLE AND ROBOTIC,” and then taking the call despite not being in the right place to do so.

And of course by the time the call is over I’ve forgotten about finding the menu to change the text response options.

It’s the tech equivalent of only remembering that you need to buy a new shampoo bar while you’re in the shower and unable to do so.

Anyway, I’ve had some truly delightful inbound inquiries lately. I don’t want them to stop. But I do want to build more internal trust around this: that I’ll respect both my own time and other people’s when I step into conversation.

Tell Me I’ll Be Okay

Shing wrote a very perfect post-mortem about their epistolary keepsake game, Remember August. It is personal and statistical all at once, just as much about the logistics of running a very unique kind of mail-based narrative as it is about the decline of once-cherished relationships. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but this sentence in particular hit me in the chest:

I felt a little bit like by making games like this, I was tricking strangers and friends into telling me that I would be okay.

I feel this so keenly when I listen to messages from The Right Number. Much like the handwritten letters players posted during their interaction with Remember August, the human voice carries so many layers of intimacy. The current prompt is about refuges, and people have been calling to describe, in gorgeous detail, their chosen temples and cherished landscapes. I lie in the dark and let their accents and words wash over me, one by one. A house in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A warm beach. A particular couch in a family room.

I never listen to too many at once, so there’s actually a backlog of messages I haven’t gotten to yet, but they feel timeless. There’s no response forthcoming, just the knowledge that I’ll listen to them and keep them safe somehow. And in return, they keep me safe, too.

Familiar

Going through my father’s private papers and files after he died, a well-worn folder slipped to the floor. Faded to a pale blue, I could only imagine how thickly covered it was in my father’s prints. I picked it up gingerly and breathed it in – it smelled like Dad – a stab of grief. It was chock-full of pithy quotes written on various scraps of paper, match book covers and the backs of random envelopes; my dad had kept these over a lifetime. If my father had religion, then this was his bible and I was holding it in my hands.

—Meredy Benson-Rice

Ambient Friendship

Bobbie’s on a roll right now.

Social media is built on ambient relationships. You post, you tweet, you share; I read, I listen, I see. Maybe we interact briefly. But I can feel closeness to you without actually having it. 

To make things even more complicated, we can exist on both sides—creators and consumers of other people’s thoughts, and each other’s. But so often I see what you’re doing, you see me, but we’re never quite talking to each other. 

Ambient friendship.

aaaggghhhh

Rhymes

I haven’t historically been someone who reads a lot of books simultaneously, but I won’t lie: it’s doing a lot for me right now. My brain is scattered and anxious and burnt out and overwhelmed and uncertain, but allowing pattern recognition to come into play as I’m reading across genres and timescales…that I can manage. It helps things feel as if they make sense.

Of course, sometimes the patterns I recognize are massively uncomfortable. Here’s three about habit, practice, belief, and enthusiasm:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:

A photo of a book that reads: As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived.) We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point. That part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton, functioning from willpower, with a booster of pride to back it up. This is operating out of self-will. You know the image: rising at dawn with military precision, saluting the desk, the easel, the drawing board...

Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. Enthusiasm (from the Greek, "filled with God") is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

An annotation in the margin reads "Jesus fucking christ, OKAY."

Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods:

"Right," said Om. "Now...listen. Do you know how gods get power?"
"By people believing in them," said Brutha. "Millions of people believe in you."
Om hesitated.
All right, all right. We are here and it is now. Sooner or later he'll find out for himself...
"They don't believe," said Om.
"But—"
"It's happened before," said the tortoise. "Dozens of times. D'you know Abraxas found the lost city of Ee? Very strange carvings, he says. Belief, he says. Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure."

Fenton Johnson’s At the Center of All Beauty:

The thing about living alone is that—exactly like living as a couple—after a long time it becomes either a habit or a practice. A habit is a way of living that you follow because it's what you did yesterday and the day before and the day before that. A practice is a way of living that you create and renew every day. A habit is a way of being that controls you. A practice is a way of being that you control—a deliberate (ad)venture into the unknown.

I think I’ve listed these in the order I encountered them, but I can’t be sure. I just know I read the Cameron passage and felt personally attacked in that good, awful way that means something true is surfacing. I love daily drawing challenges. Arguably I’ve built a whole career on them. But I also, deep down, know that they can become a kind of ego trap. Fortunately there are all these other rhyming passages that offer alternative paths and approaches. Johnson underlines a truth I’ve already folded into large parts of my brain: that there’s a fundamental difference between a habit and a practice.


Bonus Kicker: I read Zina that passage from Cameron and she immediately latched onto the etymology of enthusiasm. “Did you know?” she asked. And I had to reply that I did, because there’s a phrase rattling around in my brain:

“The Greeks said that to be enthusiastic was to be filled with God.”

Why do I know this? Why do I know it with this specific wording? It feels like something I know through repetition, like I’ve heard it read aloud many times or included in a talk. I dig around in the filing cabinets of surface memory and find nothing.

At 11:30 that night I finally find it: a single quote pulled from a series of small stories written by Frank Chimero in, as far as I can tell, 2010. I’d written it down in 2016 in an old notes document where I kept links and things to include in my newsletter. A quick spin through the archives suggests that I never actually wove it into an update, but every time I went to write one I’d skim through that list of quotes and links and there it would be: a phrase.

I suppose this is how we learn.

More Relative Pricing

Mike mentioned this pricing structure for selling art that his partner Erika came up with and it made me scream it’s so good:

Cost of art = the number of hours it took to produce x the hourly wage of the buyer.

Doesn’t work for everything, but I love the idea of meeting people where they’re at in this regard. Granted, if I’m making a living off of selling my work, and most of my friends are broke cartoonists, that’s going to take a lot of hustle to make ends meet, but it really makes the case for befriending people outside one’s own socioeconomic bracket. (And as a patron—especially one with a day job—it offers a great guideline for compensating people fairly. Got into this on Twitter a while ago and several people talked about tipping artists based on the knowledge that were probably almost always undercharging. I love those people.)

Anyway Mike’s auctioning off this gorgeous piece to benefit Ukraine. Good guy.

Three Ephemeral Website Things

A few rhyming pieces from this week:

1. Sarah wrote a lovely, somewhat bittersweet post about finally closing her Photobucket account, which touched on a lot of what I find difficult about maintaining an archive of one’s creative work online as an artist, rather than just a writer:

I’ve never been sentimental about my childhood homes, but I imagine this is how it feels to leave one. I invested a lot more emotion into these drawings and writings than I ever did any actual geography; it was a (virtual) dwelling and a social life and autobiography all rolled into one. My blog archive and my long-defunct website, cosy and reliable home bases for so long, foundational in so many different ways to my identity, will be floating out there in the deep web without their illustrations, like abandoned buildings with hollow windows; it feels like I’ve pressed a button that sent them instantaneously into ruin.

2. Earlier this week, Brendan linked to Wesley’s writing, which led me in turn to their exploration of How Websites Die (which, in turn, referenced Winnie’s writing, whose work I only found recently through strange, roundabout blogging connections—did you know I love this game?). Timely to see that there’s a group of people all wondering about how we can (or if we should) make these spaces more enduring. Are they even built for that?

3. All these things led to thinking about how I do know someone who, out of a sense of love and duty and grief and stewardship, ensures that Chloe Weil’s site remains online, even eight years after her death.

I think the web is full of these silent acts of affection, but they can be hard to see.