Our neighbor of 31 years died in February, followed by my godfather in March. They each meant very different things to me, but both occupied an archetypal permanence that’s hard to reconcile with death. And all grief is linked, isn’t it? This thread pulls on that one and so on and so on until the tapestry unravels and you’re left holding a mess of snotty string.
The last two weeks of my wall calendar are utterly blank. I’ve learned to read these gaps in my paper trail as markers of total emotional exhaustion (although sometimes they correlate with the thrill of a new relationship). In this case, I know the data is missing because I’ve been too tired to track whether I wore my mouth guard, too forgetful to know if I attended a Zoom meeting, too frazzled to write Morning Pages. Too much. Too much.
Last night I finally turned my phone all the way off and threw it behind the bookshelf. I buried my laptop in the couch cushions. I hid my iPad in the closet. I hucked all this technology out of my room because I was drowning in it, trying to get away from everything.
Instead, today, I walked. Not for long, but enough to remember what my legs are for. Enough to see how everything has changed from storm after storm of rich rainwater filtering into the hillsides since January. You can stick a finger in the earth and water pours out. Every divot in the trail is a spring.
I stopped off to download my Twitter data yesterday and caught a notification from this lovely thread that Brendan had put together sometime around Christmas:
Down among the thinkers and tinkerers and connectors, said the notification, he’d written some very sweet things about me. It came as something of a surprise.
It was a mention of “unselfing” by Helen Macdonald that drove me back to blogging in 2020. Since then I’ve heard it surface in other places. Annie Dillard describes it at length in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, saying “[…] I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I often wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.”
Both women have their fingers tangled up in something true.
I feel it when I’m driving the highway, lost in dark thoughts of mortality, only to abandon every thread for a glimpse of a hawk on a telephone pole. The moments before sleep when a barn owl’s screech pulls me out of my own body. The day I left the house in a foul mood to pace the gravel drive, stomping up and down until the lifeless body of a hummingbird stopped me short and lifted the needle of my displeasure.
I know the value of unselfing more than I ever have before, living here, doing this work, marinading in the near-depth of near-death.
But this thing that Brendan gave me feels somehow the same—an inverted twin sensation: being reminded out of the blue of Who You Are (or Were) Perceived to Be. It comes to me in a season where I’ve stopped saying hello to myself quite so often, possibly to the point of forgetting who that self even was before now. I say hello to death, I say hello to loss and calibration and labor and tending, but I don’t always say hello to me.
And the minute I type that I’m thinking of Sarah Ruhl, and these lines from the first essay in her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write:
I’ve written about that line here before, and the mantra repeats in my head as I walk through the meadows near my house.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
I miss her. I miss that Lucy. And so Brendan’s tweet feels like a kindness. Perhaps the kindness that social media kept drawing me back in with for all those years: a whole realm of people who could look at every passing thought and doodle and hard-won victory and low moment and interview and blog post and reflect back someone cohesive and true.
True only to what I’d shared, maybe, but still.
Something I couldn’t see with my own eyes.
Something the hawk sees when it’s looking back at me.
When things get overwhelming—as they have been for the last, oh, six months or so—I default to logging phone numbers and quotes and book recommendations and ideas in my to-do list app rather than filing them in their appropriate places. This never goes well for me, since my to-do list then becomes an un-completeable heap of Weird Stuff that elicits instant anxiety every time I look at it until one day (today) I rush through it and delete or file everything that isn’t an actual Task.
Taking a closer look at the demand history graph; check out the change from 5:50 PM to 5:55 PM (right after the EAS alert was sent out): a drop of, and I kid you not: 1.21 gigawatts (rounded to 2 decimal places). #FlexAlert#heatwavepic.twitter.com/QH1GS6EZ4b
These days when I see exhortations to conserve power or water or any other communal resource, I’m alarmed by how cynical I’ve become. Maybe it’s living in a drought-blighted valley where the local country club maintains an emerald green golf course, knowing that however many penalties the water district imposes, the wealthy will just pay for more water. Or maybe it’s general pandemic-era weariness. I don’t know.
But we had a massive heatwave in early September, prompting the powers that be to send out a state-wide text encouraging people to reduce their power usage and avoid blackouts—and it worked! People were asked to make a sacrifice for the common good and they did! You can see it!
I’ve become a person who says I’m going to do things and then completely fails to do them and it feels so intolerable to my sense of self.
In my support group for young caregivers we talk about the emergence of new selves from this season of our lives. How they’re unfolding in real time. How we haven’t fully met them yet, or learned what they really care about. What they’re capable of.
Past Lucy—or Portland Lucy, as I’ve been thinking of her—excelled at Doing Things, but Present Lucy isn’t up to the job. Past Lucy still says “Thanks so much for thinking of me. This sounds like a great project! I’ll get you those initial sketches by next Friday,” while Present Lucy says “Have I already taken his blood pressure this morning? How long has it been since he ate? Will I be able to sleep in my own bed tonight or are his legs still too weak to go up the stairs to his room? He needs a bath today. When did I last cut his nails? Is that the alert system going off? Oh he just got out of bed. The nurse is coming at 1pm. The phone’s ringing—oh shit it’s the lawyer. I was supposed to sign that engagement letter. What did we talk about at the appointment? I can’t remember. It’s already been a week. How long has it been since I ate? I need to change his Depends. Time to take the blood pressure again. The nurse said he shouldn’t sleep too much during the day, but the physical therapist said to be careful not to overdo it on the exertion. Should he be exercising right now? Should he be asleep right now? What’s this check I just found in my desk? Agh, there’s the package I told her I’d mail before the weekend. Last weekend? What day is it? I need to do laundry…”
(and on, and on, and on)
The friend I’ve been doing coaching work with looks at me sternly from our Zoom window. “You need to let go of the idea that you can work in an environment where you’re constantly being interrupted by a medical alert system.”
Okay, so I have to leave. Go to the studio. I’m lucky—so lucky—to have a studio. I just need to get there. To get there I need to have slept enough to get up early enough to go before he wakes up. To get there I need to get the ingredients to make the quiche to bring the food so I can stay long enough to work. To get there I need to get gas in the car to drive across town to be there on time. To get there I need to have enough executive function to put all the pieces in place, and we already know how well that’s going.
“I hope your dad’s doing better after his stint in the hospital!”
I parrot back platitudes, but I don’t know what they really mean. He’s recovering from three surgeries and adjusting to new medications and succumbing to mortality all at once.
He went in unwell and for a moment I entertained the fantasy that he’d come out better. Not cured, just improved on some level. And maybe he is. Maybe it’s hard to see beyond the fatigue and the confusion to the circulatory system beneath. The miscalibrated meds a mask for actual health improvement. But it doesn’t feel like he got better. It feels like he’s just getting worse, and we’re over here pushing so hard to try and stave off something inevitable.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Last year I took a photo in this spot on April 11th. Happened to end up here again today while I was talking on the phone with Nia and realized I should do the same thing again. I lay in the grass under the valley oak at the bottom of the hill, stroked the velvety neon leaves unfurling at the end of every twig and branch, and thought about coming here in 5th grade after endless games of Predator/Prey in the groves further up the Saddle.
If the grass is still this green in April I’ll be very surprised, but I’ll take a photo that day and see. We had early rain this year—a rich rush of green. Maybe it’ll hold on. I’m still becoming acquainted with being here for a full year’s cycle.
Hourly Comic Day is an annual tradition in the comics community where folks set out to draw a panel (or two, or three) for every hour they’re awake on February 1st.
It took me a couple weeks to get through finishing my pages from this year because it was a) hard to fit in inking and watercoloring and posting around caregiving, but also b) just exhausting to deal with emotionally. Still: I’m so glad I did it. In 2021 I was right on the cusp of uprooting my life in Portland to move down to Ojai and look after my dad. Now I get to have a record of what the rhythm of these days has been like, and I’m sure I’m going to appreciate it more and more as time goes on.
There’s more to say but I’ve been formatting and posting these pages in various ways all day as I spread them across my internet haunts and I am wiped, so I’ll just get on with sharing them. If you’re finding this through an RSS reader, be warned that the gallery won’t work! Ya gotta click through to read it easily. (Also! An accessible edition with panel by panel alt text is available here thanks to a collaboration with various folks from the Friends of the Space Gnome Discord server. Blessed be their name.)
This one (my 30th since I started this practice in June of 2019!) is about stuff I lost track of in 2021, things I’m thinking about in the new year, trying to abandon perfectionism, what to share and what not to share, the topography of the Ojai Valley, and various other things.
Also: looked at a bunny, found some owls.
You can read the transcript or browse all the notes and associated ephemera over on Patreon for free, or just listen directly below.
[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]
I’m an inveterate thrower of clothes on the ground at the end of a long day. Always have been. If I’ve gotten sweaty or messy enough to huck them straight into the hamper, great, I can do that. But the truth is I usually wear things more than once before putting them in the wash, and so I throw them on the ground instead.
All days have felt like long days lately. This means I find myself wading through more and more mess as the weeks drag on, until I have to dig myself out over the weekend and return to some form of sanity.
Living in Portland it used to be easier. Or rather, I had a lot more floor space to fill up before things became untenable. But now I’ve moved my expansive Portland life back into to my childhood bedroom and there is very little wiggle room in either floor space or desk space. Things devolve from “slightly untidy” to “Death Star Trash Compactor” in very short order.
A couple weeks ago, when I found myself preparing to cast yet another t-shirt onto the ground in the desperate rush to get flat, I stopped. For no apparent reason, I thought about how putting the shirt away would be a kindness to Future Lucy. A gift.
I found myself thinking: “I want to care for this person.”
I wonder if this has something to do with becoming a caregiver for my dad. So many nights I find myself exhausted and ready to be unconscious, but I rally to do physical therapy with him, or make his smoothie for the following morning, because I love him and want him to be healthy and cared for, and also because he isn’t able to do those things for himself.
There’s a certain amount of distance I need in order to extend compassion to myself. Future Lucy isn’t here. She’s hanging around tomorrow morning, readying herself to face the day. I want to make it easier for her.
So I’ve started putting shirts away—although not without a certain degree of attitude. Usually I am muttering to myself, but I’m muttering about how this is a gift, and that it’s one I want to give because I love the version of me who’ll show up and do all of this all over again tomorrow.
Working on Tell the Turning with Tara and Stefan over the past year has been such a gentle, eye-opening process. Historically, there’s been an element of exhaustion or overstimulation in the work I make due to it being tied in so many respects to social media. The energy of being on Twitter or Instagram bleeds into everything from the pace of production to the pressure to reach more people. Even if I’m enjoying making the art, there’s this extra stuff that I don’t quite know what to do with.
But this book felt different.
We took it at exactly the pace we wanted to. We didn’t share a great deal online as things came together. Instead, we focused on enjoying the process of building something as a team. We focused on enjoying each other. Mostly this took the form of writing many, many goofy emails, but there were other bits and pieces too.
I’m pretty sure we’ve only had one Zoom call this whole time.
When it was time to crowdfund the book, it funded. Quickly, and without much fuss. There was no need to hurtle towards stretch goals because we knew what we wanted to make and it was modest. Between us, we knew enough people who were willing to pitch in. We shared the load.
Time passed. The manuscript was typeset. I spent about a month in my new studio making paintings, settling in, texting Tara occasionally to ask about the identity of this or that plant mentioned in the book. We took a walk on the beach when she was visiting California in the summer. Stefan and his team sent the book to print.
And now all three of us have copies in our hands. In Poland, in Portland, in Ojai. And I guess a lot of other people are about to have copies in their hands as well, but a lot of this still feels local to that trinity.
Three friends who wanted to make something together, and then did.
I like working this way. I hope I get to do it again sometime.