staying connected while self-isolating

2020 sure isn’t pulling any punches, is it?

A lot of people are suddenly home who aren’t used to being home all the time. And while this situation is exceptional and scary and farther-reaching than anything I’ve experienced before–I realized this morning that I have already made 90% of the self-isolation transition, and maybe it’s worth describing how I’ve coped.

Everyone is going to have a different experience and set of circumstances, so here’s the context for me, personally, because this is all me, personally, and YMMV, and maybe some of this will help or all or none, etc etc, caveat, caveat:

I have always been a really outgoing introvert. There are fabulous people everywhere and I like to make friends!! But I also get overwhelmed from too much group activity, and I recharge best with long periods of quiet and introspection. So: lots of socializing followed by lots of recuperative quiet.

Wellllllll, then I had kids. And after Baby #2, I left my day job. Staying home with small children = constant vigilance and minimal adult conversation. Hoo boy. No socializing OR alone time! The perfect storm!!

I sharply whittled my VERY MANY activities down to a biweekly grocery trip, a monthly book club, and the occasional sibling hangout.

And now those are gone, too. But I got most of the way here 2 years ago, and I have dealt with these feelings before.

I’m not going to lie: isolation hit me with a pretty bad wave of depression. It’s rough! It’s disorienting! It’s literally isolating! And it is normal to go through some rollercoaster emotions. It is normal to feel a total disconnect from routine, because it’s kind of like the weekend? But the weekend never ends? And you still have responsibilities, whether work-from-home or the aforementioned children, or BOTH? And you never have to put your bra on or change out of those pajama pants, so you don’t, but that only increases the malaise? And you’re hungry at weird times and there are no external cues to shape your behavior and it’s hard to get started working on things but there’s also nobody telling you when it’s okay to stop, and and and…

And you realize you have lost your grip on the linear flow of time, much like the makers of this amazing poster I spotted in freshman year of college:

poster that says "stop the linear keeping of time!" with subheadings like "burn your calendars! smash your clocks! dechronologize yourself!" and more

It feels like life is simultaneously standing still and never pausing for breath. The weeks slip by too quickly and you feel like you’re not getting enough done for somebody who’s home all the time–but also the individual days can feel so slow when they’re not broken up into commute/work/break chunks. It’s just you and a couple of toddlers and 14 hours to fill before having that glass of wine and heading to bed.

It’s a whole mess.

So. My tips for coping, if you are an outgoing introvert suddenly stuck at home, lonely and yet never alone:

1) GET THEE TO SOME GROUP CHATS. I mean it. This is my #1 piece of advice and my friends do not even know the degree to which they have saved my sanity over the past two years. All day, every day, I message my book club, my sisters, and my writer friends. My phone’s got FB Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, and Slack, because everyone’s on something different, dammit. And in the more private chats I talk about personal things, sure, but I’m mostly there for company, for laughs, for daily water cooler talk. For memes!! Nothing like a good laugh to break you out of a funk.

2) Learn to love phone calls again. It’s really easy to go hours and hours without speaking, and then realize your voice is a croak. Also, my constant written chat does NOT keep my conversation skills sharp! I open my mouth and feel like I have forgotten what a normal volume is or what my cue is to respond. I get giddy and interrupt too much. I’m a disaster, is what I’m saying!! So I call my mom or my brother or a friend and I chatter a bit. Now that my book club can’t meet in person for a while, we’re gonna move to a group video chat so we can love on each other’s drunk, bored-ass faces.

3) Don’t be silent all the time. I love some calm, soothing silence, as I mentioned, but too much silence for too long and I sink very far into my thoughts. Time starts slipping by at a weird pace and I’m completely zoned out, susceptible to negative thought spirals. With the kids, there are cartoons and video games breaking up the monotony, but otherwise I use music. I pop on Pandora and jam.

4) Related item: dance party!!! I rope the kids into dance parties when they’ve been zonking on the games too long, but honestly these are just as much for my benefit as theirs. I have to stand up! And move my body! And it’s silly and we look ridiculous and I laugh.

5) Genuine alone time. Yup, this is the opposite of everything else on the list and it’s because of the introvert bit. I’m isolating with roommates here–the kids 24/7, my spouse evenings and weekends. I need that little bit of unwind every week to center myself, and so I schedule it in. Once a week I go lock myself away in a separate room, and for a few hours I write, and listen to soothing music, or stare dreamily out of a window–anything I feel like really, I’m just alone and quiet and nobody wants anything from me.

So, those are usually enough for me to manage, but the current situation is aaaaall of that plus an unending stream of personal and international stress, so here are a few more:

6) For the love of god, take breaks from social media!! It is really tempting to stay plugged in all day, especially since you are stuck at home and hardly seeing anyone, and it feels like conversation, doesn’t it? A steady, never-ending conversation, whether you’re actually leaving comments or just endlessly scrolling the feed. If it’s funny memes you’re checking, it’s good times. But if it’s an endless spiral of bad news, it’ll get in your head, amp your anxiety, make everything feel worse and more immediate. Not to mention the excessive screen time messing with your eyeballs. Take! Breaks!!

7) Like, try to exercise? If that’s your thing? I didn’t realize how much I moved around until I left my day job and atrophied up. I’ve got a combo exercise bike/elliptical at home, and a couple pairs of weights. For small spaces, there are portable mini-ellipticals for sale for about a hundred bucks, or I know folks who pull up yoga videos, youtube step aerobics routines, things like that. Or, you know…. dance parties!!!!

And…

8) Cry when you need to. Really. Take a moment by yourself or take turns with a loved one. My feelings build up and they don’t subside unless I get a good cathartic cry out. The weirdest things set me off. I’m good all day and then I read a tweet about somebody doing something very nice, or I hear some song lyrics out of context, or I let my thoughts wander too far into the future (when will my children get to play with other children again?) and I’m a faucet. Just let it out.

Signing off with some happy cats who are loving the extra lap time. ❤ ❤

black and gray cats sitting on sam's lap

the 2019 christmas card!

It’s that time again!! Every year I photoshop my family’s heads onto some ridiculous bodies, print out 30-40 copies at CostCo, and make Christmas cards.

Previous years:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016
2017
2018

Much of my December was taken up with the recently-mentioned toothpocalypse. I scaled back my usual holiday activities (no mountain of cookies this year, alas), but I was determined not to miss the annual Christmas card!

It took me a solid week to make and ship these things. I’d have a good hour in which two kinds of pain meds overlapped, during which I worked some photoshop. Then bedridden. Then another good stretch where I’d cut things out. Then bedridden.

ANYWAY. I DID IT. IT’S DONE.

The plot this year? Well, Rudolph is leading his team back through another storm, intent on reaching the Island of Misfit Toys, but… alas. They go astray.

Photo of Santa and reindeer with text: Another year, another snowy squall. But Rudolph insisted he knew the way. "There!" he cried. "The Island of Misfit Toys!" The clouds parted. The reindeer gasped--

Text: Alas. Wrong Island. Photo: Skull Island with Sam's kids as King Kong and T-Rex, Sam tied to sacrificial post, husband running away, and cats as boat captains.

I know, I know, my pics of the cards are lacking. Here is the photo insert in all its glory:

Skull Island, with Sam's kids as King Kong and T-Rex, Sam tied to sacrificial post, husband running away, and cats as boat captains.

And that’s it for Samtastic Books in 2019! I’ll be back next month trying to finish some short stories, start edits on a book for my agent (yep!! still love saying that!!!), and post some recommended reading, because the toothpocalypse definitely put me behind schedule in that arena.

Till next year! Enjoy these Christmas cats.

teeth teeth TEETH TEETH

Do you remember when I said that November was a cursed month for productivity? Well, the god of November heard my complaint, took offense, and convinced December to team up for an earthly reckoning.

Or maybe it was my own fool fault for thinking I could schedule dental work on December 5th and then spring effortlessly back into my holiday To Do List.

WHO CAN SAY?

Alas, what’s done is done. The reason: I’ve had two wisdom teeth sticking halfway out for years, perfectly situated to collect food particles but hard to clean. My dentist recommended pulling them before they became cavity-stricken bone shards.

One came out cleanly. The second was a fight. And the second promptly developed dry socket.

*clears throat*

*lifts megaphone*

THIS WAS THE SECOND MOST PAINFUL AND PROLONGED RECOVERY EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE!!!

haggard Sam with hot pack pressed to jaw

the author, in distress

The only thing that beats it was my c-section, during which one of my organs was literally pulled from my body, pushed back in, and stapled shut!! For ten days I did nothing but keep my children alive and monitor my jaw pain. My pain meds would wear off every 1.5 hours, followed by a horrendous debilitating gap till I could take more, 24 hours a day! I… did not sleep much.

I went back to the dentist twice, and he said he didn’t see any inflammation, but the pain and pressure worsened, so after another few days of zero progress I dragged my tylenol-addled body to urgent care and got some antibiotics.

And would you look at that, I immediately went on the mend! It’s almost like I should have been on antibiotics the week before. X(

ALAS. It was a terrible couple of weeks, and my December goals turned straight to ash–they didn’t even catch fire first, they just went insta-dust. But it’s over. Fingers crossed!!

And hey, I now have some excellent fodder for future tactile details in my writing. If I ever dive into the realm of grimdark torture, I’ll just have my villain pull out somebody’s teeth. Done and dusted! He’s a monster and that poor character will never be the same again. SUCH REALISM, SUCH HORROR, HOW DOES SHE COME UP WITH IT?

I’ll just wink. Imagination, I guess.

the silence of the hams

It’s that time of year again! The weather begins to cool, the holiday ads begin pouring into inboxes, and I enthusiastically decorate my house for Thanksgiving.

Previous years have included:
Itsa Me, Thanksgiving!
The Adventures of Young Ham Solo
Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks
THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice
And the tradition’s humble beginning, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turkeys.

So what did we go with this year? You’ve seen the blog title already! It’s…

The Silence of the Hams

Obviously, we had to turn one corner of the living room into a prison cell:

hand truck with lecter mask and homemade strait jacket

A warning to misbehaving children

sam wearing lecter mask and strait jacket

…or  misbehaving adults

I, uh, might have ordered two $7 sweatshirts off Amazon and cut the sleeves off one to stitch onto the other. Super effective!

Despite the title, it was a more general horror theme. So I re-purposed some of my Halloween decorations and a bunch of Amazon package packing material to turn my bedroom hallway into a haunted cemetery!

butcher paper tree with witch decoration in front of hallway

Beware the cemetery witch!

hallway wall with paper trees, ghosts, and grave stones

proooobably shouldn’t have buried all these people in one spot

husband in Friday the 13th ski mask in front of hallway decorations

This is what I was afraid would happen!!

Good food, good fun! And afterwards, a grand Mario Party competition (on GameCube, OBVIOUSLY) and the traditional family roasting, in the form of giving only insulting answers during Loaded Questions.

Truly, the holidays are a magical time that bring us all together.

loaded questions game board with toys for playing pieces

Watch out, Finn! You’ll be caught by Toilet Duck!

Now time to go plan a Christmas party!

November’s coming. I CAN FEEL IT.

four carved pumpkins: a silly face, a bat, a cat, and a grinning emoji face

our time is nearly done

November’s coming.

I can sense it. I can taste it on the air. It tastes like wildfires and calendar panic.

November is a cursed month for productivity, and I can’t even properly explain why. All I know is that I make Grand Plans every year, and every year they get torpedoed as soon as I flip my Pets of Book Club* calendar to the eleventh page.

Some years it’s holiday planning that gets in the way. There is the grand family tradition of Themed Thanksgiving to uphold (previous years have included Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks, THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice, and of course The Adventures of Young Ham Solo). There is also advance Christmas prep, because I can’t just start on December 1st and possibly have everything ready in time!

And I have to confess: I wasn’t going to do a theme this year. But now that I pulled up those old photos… I THINK MAYBE I’M GONNA?? I just love it so much!

Other years I’m moving. WHY do our big moves keep happening in November? I don’t know, but it is always a disaster. I do not, I repeat, I do not recommend moving in November. Last year the move took twenty-two days of my life away. Twenty-two days! The time before that I scarcely remember, it’s such a blur. I went into a fugue, and when I emerged, I still had boxes to unpack.

Hopefully, I am in this house for the rest of my life, and never need to do that again.

So what is the problem this year? I mean, I’m not moving. I’m not pregnant or freshly encumbered with an infant. I’m not busy making a new costume (probably).

But still… November.

Will all of our pipes burst simultaneously? Will the California wildfires reach us? Will there be dramatic family announcements involving a long lost relative expiring and offering me a medium-sized fortune, but only if I spend the month of November in a haunted house?

(My last house was probably haunted, and I didn’t get a fortune, medium-sized or otherwise, for living there–so I’m saying I would definitely take the offer, if anyone’s listening.)

I don’t know. But I’ve got my eye on you, November!

I’ve got my eye on you.


*Nobody in your book club puts together a calendar every year with photos of all your pets? What a shame.

cross-stichery part 1

I learned how to do a new thing! As you can probably guess from the blog title, that thing is cross-stitch!

I really needed a hobby this summer that was not associated with writing. I was halfway through crocheting a blanket when the heat waves hit, so that was promptly abandoned. I’d love to practice drawing, but typing for hours per day have turned my hands into useless claws, so that is off the board.

Thus, cross-stitch! It’s pretty, it’s precise, but it follows a grid, so my claw-hands just have to stab at the right corner and the needle will sort the rest out.

I debated jumping in with something elaborate and complex, but my internet friends suggested maybe not going off the deep end. ALL RIGHT, FRIENDS, FINE. But I am a supremely impatient person, so I couldn’t just doodle a stick figure either.

The middle ground: I decided to practice by making a piece for my 4yo son. I asked what he wanted: a dinosaur! Okay. I tracked down a simple two-color pattern for a T-Rex skeleton. I asked what color he wanted: rainbow!!!! Er, okay! I just switched colors when the time seemed right.

And Rainbow Rex was born!

cross-stitch dinosaur skeleton in rainbow colors with caption "rainbow rex"

CHOMP CHOMP, LADIES

I learned lessons! Like not letting the back get too messy, and leaving more room to frame, and perhaps most important of all: yes, you really do need to get the magic washable fabric pen, because the pencil lines will definitely not come out.

Heady with somewhat-success, I decided to creep a little farther onto that springboard over the deep end. Instead of picking one animal, this time I bought two patterns and mashed them together to make a hybrid bird-lizard, and instead of two thread colors I jumped to fifteen. What could go wrong?

NOTHING. HE’S BEAUTIFUL.

cross-stitch of a gecko with parrot wing and speech bubble "peace out bitches"

Gideon is getting the hell out of here

He now has a lovely home with a friend of mine. The stitches are small enough that she probably won’t be able to tell which ones accidentally went in backwards when I was trying to stitch with toddlers on my lap.

I learned more lessons! Like: try to keep the toddlers out of your lap, and it sure would look nice to fill the whole hoop so I’d better start making them smaller, and also: I bet I could start making my own patterns.

That’s right, friends. I’M GOING OFF THE DEEP END. Next time I should have some creative, uh… creations to show off.

Till then!


P.S. I ought to mention, for other people who enjoy the deliciously satisfying sensation of crossing items off a list:

One of my favorite parts of the process is marking the squares I’ve completed on the pattern with a highlighter. Section by section, row by row, it’s an endless and rapidly completed To Do, visibly done!

cross-stitch pattern for gecko with most of the squares highlighted yellow

GAZE UPON THE SWEET, SWEET MEASURE OF PROGRESS

Mmm, that is some good sense of accomplishment.

the endless To Do

Subtitle: YOU, TOO, COULD HAVE IT ALL!

This has been one of those weeks where it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing, because instead of completing any particular large project, I’ve taken care of the zillion little tasks that keep a household running smoothly. Individually, they seem like nothing. Collectively, my entire week has vanished!

I’m talking

  • School shopping
  • Follow-up questions to preschool because I haven’t done this before
  • Additional school shopping because yup, should have asked those questions earlier
  • Service appointment for Car 1
  • Paperwork and stickers for Car 2
  • Return package to post office
  • Follow up on refund for old gift cards (I want my money dangit)
  • Sort endless home refinance mail
  • FILING CABINET
  • Calk hallway chair railing
  • Touch-up paint on various walls, baseboards, and door trim
  • Several coats of paint on new cabinets
  • Home Depot AGAIN??
  • Grocery shopping AGAIN??
  • Budgeting, bills, meal planning, agh
  • Brief interlude with a rattlesnake on the deck?
  • Brief interlude capturing and releasing a field mouse from under the couch, likely promptly eaten by said rattlesnake?
  • Water the trees AGAIN??

And all the usual cooking and cleaning and bathing and puzzles and arts & crafts required by a toddler and a preschooler, who gamely joined me on all of these errands because their dad is out of town for the week.

ANYWAY I’M TIRED.

Somehow, despite all of that, I managed to do all of my Hugo Award voting, polished a couple of short stories and started their submission journey, and added 3K to my next book. I was hoping for 7K, but the universe had a good laugh at the sound of that, so I’ll have to settle for 3!

I leave you my new nemesis, the snek:

These photos were taken through fence slats and a window respectively, because DUH, I’m not going to be the bozo who dies taking a selfie with a snake.

Alas, I did not get a picture of the couch mouse, because, well, they JUMP.

Also, I think I need to repaint that fence.