Are you there, Kate? It’s me, your immunosuppression.

At the beginning of this year, I had had enough.

It was January 29, 2021: The Capitol had been attacked; Biden and Harris had been sworn in; the COVID vaccine that promised a return to “normal” was slowly but surely trickling its way down the essential worker and health care professional chain to the rest of us; and I was sitting for the 49th time at the hospital in a plastic-coated armchair with an IV attached to one arm and a blood pressure cuff wrapped around the other, very aware of the pitying eyes of cancer patients around me who didn’t know why a vibrant 20-something (at that time) was also getting a bag of meds poured into their system.

A couple chairs over there was a woman in a bright headscarf getting receiving her own sack of chemicals. She was talking with the nurse about how she hadn’t seen some of her family members for a year because no one was willing to stay out of restaurants or stores for two weeks so they could safely visit her. By this time, my IV aperitif of Benadryl was kicking in and the room was getting fuzzy, but my brain was on full anger mode on behalf of this woman.

Like any well-adjusted millennial with hospital WiFi, I took it to Instagram.

Under a rather eye-catching (or so my Bennie-brain though) photo of my outstretched, IV-attached arm, I put this caption, which was my first true social media admission to having Crohn’s disease:

“Now, I *know* no one who follows me on here thinks COVID isn’t a serious threat, but on the off-chance one of you has someone in your life who does…
Any time I hear someone wrongfully say that COVID has a high survival rate and the only people who die from it are over 60 (that’s not that old, folx) or already sick, what I actually hear is that people who are older or disabled are expendable. As I type this, I’m sitting in a chair on an IV drip I get every 8 weeks to keep me from having Crohns symptoms. The trade off is that it makes me immunocompromised which…turns out not to be so great during a pandemic. But rather than go back to stomach aches that crippled me for a year and a half before diagnosis by skipping treatment, instead I remain exceeding careful and implore everyone else to remain smart, even as we start to open restaurants, schools, etc. One of those people at the highest risk is me, and I don’t care if you miss sushi bars and beer on tap. I love those things too, and I’d like to survive so I can enjoy those things when it’s safe again.”

What is Crohn’s, anyway? Samantha Irby succinctly explains it in her first essay collection, Meaty:

“Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract….the cells in my body that are supposed to protect against infection don’t recognize food and the normal, harmless bacteria that are in my intestine.”

Put simply, our immune systems are confused overachievers — and there’s no cure to their mania. None. Sometimes it goes into remission, but for the most part you’re always just waiting for a flair-up that will probably come at the most inconvenient time. For Irby, this means days of diarrhea, nausea, bread-and-water diets, etc., and, according to her own extensive research, it always hits when she has a new toxic boyfriend in her life.

For me, it means that I get knifed in the stomach by an invisible stranger every 7-10 minutes (the intervals change just to keep things interesting), and the only thing I want to eat is boxed mashed potatoes. The kind with the bacon bits and cheddar, preferably. I also lose my period (not a huge concern when you’re a 21-year-old virgin who hasn’t been visited by any archangels, but terrifying otherwise); my hair starts falling out from malnutrition and the blistering hot showers I take to feel better; my shin bones and calf muscles feel like they’re being pulled apart; and you’ll find me lying face-down on cool bathroom tile floors like a cat in the summer, trying to find some goddamn relief.

I’ve only had one flair-up since my diagnosis in 2013. It was summer 2018, and I remember it starting while standing in my nontoxic then-boyfriend’s kitchen. The room fuzzed out and I tried to put all my focus on watching him submerge a pork tenderloin in a sous vide bath while wondering who the fuck was shoving the carving knife between my ribs. A couple tests and six-week Prednisone regiment later (stay tuned for a mini-post of how fun that is), and I was back to normal.

Suffice to say, anyone who knows me personally knows that I don’t make a big deal of my Crohn’s because it never has been a big deal — to me, anyway. To a lot of people, Crohn’s is a near-death sentence; to some, it is death, because you essentially can’t eat without your immune system trying to kill you in the slowest, most painfully way possible.

Call it privilege of the greatest kind: I grew up in a middle-class home with access to incredible health care and a father who had already been diagnosed and somehow found the greatest gastroenterologist on the planet who, upon retiring, referred him to the runner-up. So the minute I finally, begrudgingly, told my parents I was feeling like shit (I thought it was bad Chipotle eaten the night before we dropped my first magazine issue as chief editor, but a burrito bowl consumed on Oct. 17, 2012, shouldn’t still be causing stomach pains on June 25, 2013), Dad got me an appointment with his doctor. Three blood draws, a barium series, a colonoscopy and an endoscopy later, I received for my 22nd birthday a chronic illness diagnosis and prescription for a bimonthly Remicade drip — a drug that tells my immune system to chill, which works wonderfully…until a fucking pandemic happens.

Which brings me back to January 29. (I heard that sigh of relief.)

When I woke up after my treatment two hours later, my Instagram showed that I had upwards of 50 likes and several comments from people in my life who I never knew had Crohn’s disease. The burlesque singer whose gigs I used to stalk — I mean, track — around the city? Crohn’s. My coworker out in San Diego? Crohn’s. The IT & Data Analytics director I worked with in London last spring? Almost died from COVID that December and I had no idea. Something about my post made them all feel more comfortable with talking about their own experiences, and to this day I thank them for it.

We’re not all like Samantha Irby, writing out our experiences for everyone to read. Sometimes I wish more of us did, though, because I spent half of yesterday laughing, then pondering, over her bluntly honest exploration of a different, far more severe experiences with the disease. It made me think harder on how my rather minimal experience with Crohn’s has shaped the way I view its effect — or, rather, lack of effect — on my life.

For one, apart from having to take time off for treatment, I’ve never missed a day of work because of Crohn’s. I’ve never had to say “I can’t eat that” because I’m not sure my immune system will allow my digestive system to tolerate it. I’ve always had good health insurance — either courtesy of my parents or my cushy corporate job — that not only approves my Remicade prescription every year but also pays for most of each $10,000 treatment session. You read that right: The meds I’m on cost half-a-newish-car every eight weeks. Our health care system is fine. At my sister’s wedding, guests were telling my mom how healthy I looked, like they expected some waif hobbling down the aisle instead of a gleaming bronze yoga goddess. That’s a joke, as I’m still pasty and had by that point accrued my winter insulation despite daily vinyasa practices, but it’s also not, because that’s what Crohn’s does to a lot of people: It wears them down into joint-pain soup or brittle skeletons.

In 2018 my company happened to assign me the internal communications project for a disability self-ID effort among our employees. Leadership wanted to know how many people have disabilities so we could better serve them with accommodations (and put the numbers into our growing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report), and as an ad hoc HR Communications teammate, I was the go-to for it. When I pulled up the ADA list of covered disabilities, my eyes went directly to it: Crohn’s disease. I’d been living for five years with a disability and didn’t even realize it, mostly because my experience with it has been so milquetoast — milk and toast, two things that people with a severe Crohn’s flair-up need to stay away from, by the way, but not your eat-everything-and-anything girl! — compared to the scary connotation that the capital-D Disability caries with it.

But then COVID happened, and I had to hear every armchair epidemiologist under the sun talk about how only the already-sick die from the virus. And I thought about all the people I’ve seen when I go for treatment. I thought about the people over 60 like my own parents. I thought about all the people who I didn’t even know had a disability like mine. And, finally, I realized that hey! I’m one of those people! I’m immunocompromised and immunosuppressed, and COVID could actually kill me! My underdeveloped sense of mortality suddenly graduated college and got its first apartment.

It’s been almost a year since hearing the conversation at the infusion center that launched the Instagram post that told the world — meaning 270 followers — I had Crohn’s disease. Maybe it’s just the kind of people I attract and retain in my life, but everyone understood and shared words of concern and encouragement. A lot of them have taken hold of my “I’M IMMUNOCOMPROMISED BUT EVEN IF I WASN’T YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PEOPLE’ banner (a long tag line means a long banner and plenty of room for fellow carriers) and carried it into their own battles with people who don’t view disabled people as worth protecting, either as immunocompromised people themselves or using me as their poster woman. And I love them for it.

If my story changes the mind of just one person to be a little more compassionate, a little more understanding — or if it makes a fellow Crohn’s disease diagnosee (aka a Crohny) feel seen or less alone — then the last hour I’ve spent at my kitchen counter nursing day-old cold brew while typing this out will have been worth it. Putting my weird-ass arm photo on the ‘gram in January will have been worth it. Continuing to navigate around the small but loud group of inconsiderate Americans denying COVID safety precautions will…still be annoying.

And with that, I’m off to yell at anti-maskers at a brew pub. (Cue “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead.)

A list of reminders that you were here

Signs that you will soon be arriving:

Coca Cola bottles in the fridge.
Large ice cubes prepped in the freezer.
Crunch Bars and Chex Mix in the cabinet.
Folded towels waiting on the bathroom counter.
An empty dishwasher.
My favorite lingerie laid out at the top of the drawer.
Bed made, throw pillows on the floor
(Because, as you said that first night,
“Too many damn pillows!”
After I pulled you into bed
And tried to keep you there for the rest of the year,
Or at least rest of the weekend).
The light smell of the late afternoon coffee I brewed
To stay awake until you’d arrive,
Even though the adrenaline wouldn’t let me sit still.

Signs that you’ve just left:

Empty Coca Cola bottles in the recycling bag.
Fewer large ice cubes prepped in the freezer,
A new batch that you started still half-liquid.
Crunch Bar wrappers in the trash,
The little corner of one tucked under a placemat.
Half the bag of Chex Mix gone.
Towels hanging on the back of the door,
Then put into the basket for the wash.
A dishwasher waiting to be turned on.
My favorite lingerie waiting to be gently hand-scrubbed in the sink.
Bed made, throw pillows still on the floor,
The scent of your hair stuck to the sheets
(And to my hands, from how many times
I brushed it away from your face at the train station,
Wondering with each stroke
If I could crawl into those deep gray eyes of yours
And come with you).
Your Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue cologne mingling with
The smell of the bacon you cooked for breakfast to go with
Eggs and a flawless potato galette.
Pieces of that potato galette on the edge of the stove.
A clawing silence that I can’t cover up,
Not even with the Four Tops record you gave me
Spinning at the highest volume my Victrola can play.
A quiet that’s filled with the sounds of sirens
Bouncing off buildings in the city I love,
Just love a little less when you’re not here.

Some advice from the maid-of-honor to her sister and future brother-in-law

When Mom and Dad announced they were expecting another baby, I launched a campaign for a brother, convinced to my bones that I had some sort of say in the matter. I was, after all, 4 years old.

Mom and Dad let it continue for a couple months before they had to break it to me via wallpapering the baby’s room in pink that I’d be getting a sister instead. They tried to ease the disappointment with a purple ribbon that said “Future big sister,” a park district class for siblings-to-be, and many assorted Golden Books.

It must have worked, because by the time August 15, 1996, rolled around, I was just happy to be getting a sibling. I’d have someone to play with! I’d have someone to read to! I’d have someone to blame for mysteriously broken and/or missing items around the house!

Of course, there was a lot more to having a sister, as I would come to learn. A five-year age difference meant that I was responsible for imparting upon her the right kinds of wisdom before she got to Glenbard North High School and the University of Missouri.

But now Bridget’s moving forward into marriage, which is a new chapter of life that I haven’t experienced yet, and so in order to continue my rather shiny track record of advice-giving, I’ve had to turn to the experts.

A couple years ago, our family took a weekend getaway to Kinderhook, Missouri, to stay in a cabin on a golf course and unplug for a few days. In your early and mid-20s, there’s only so much “unplugging” you can really do, so eventually Bridget and I started flipping through the decorative books placed throughout the house. And that’s when she discovered a volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books with an excerpt from Jean Kerr’s How I Got to be Perfect, published in 1954. What particularly grabbed our attention was a tongue-and-cheek informational quiz for both men and women trying to be perfect spouses. I’d like to share some of the advice with Bridget and Bryan today;

  • Bridget: When Bryan asks where his clean handkerchiefs have gone, offer him one of yours, but add that you’ll fold it so that the lace doesn’t show.
  • Bryan: When Bridget asks “Will you lower that ball game?” The proper response is “Is it bothering you? Why don’t I go up to the bedroom to listen to it on the portable?”
  • Bridget: If you’re crying and Bryan asks why, the proper response is “Because I’m silly…Give me a hug and take out the garbage, and I’ll be through here in no time.”
  • Bryan: If Bridget ever asks “Do you love me as much as you did the day we were married?” the response is NOT “Oh, Lord, not again.” Instead it’s “If you have to ask that question, it must be my fault. I musn’t be showing all the love I really feel.”

After watching you two grow in love and life together over the last few years, I don’t think any of this advice is truly needed. But I’m an older sister, and if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s providing input whether it’s needed or not. Bridget knows that from 25 years of it, and now I’m very excited to play that role for my new brother, Bryan.

Is this a reboot, a remake or a sequel?

Yesterday at about 3:45 p.m. Central, I had the sudden urge to get to the water.

I can’t explain it: I usually avoid the Lake Michigan beaches like the plague, even in times that aren’t a plague. Call it residual hesitancy from a childhood where summer night news reports would announce that the fecal matter count was creeping up toward unsafe levels (because there’s a safe level?).

A 25-minute walk later, and I was back on the path that I used to run in pre-COVID days, staring out at the water:

Thursday afternoons in September are clearly a great time to go sit by the fickly fecal-infested lake.

Never before have I had such an intense need to get to this view before, and I still don’t know what drew me to it. If we’re being honest, the past 24 hours had been wrought with some personal drama and much-necessary self-reflection, none of which I feel like boring you with #onhere. Maybe it was an innate need to exhale all the drama and angst over Lake Michigan so that the breeze would carry it over to Indiana while I went back home to rewatch Oceans Thirteen only to realize I had actually never seen it and, two hours later, that who I thought was a budget Al Pacino actually was Al Pacino.

That’s just a snapshot of yesterday, and I don’t know why I decided to open with it on this post, apart from how it gave me an hour of a walk to think about how it was Thursday and another Friday was about to pass without me publishing anything to Convincing the Muse, making it nine weeks since my last substantive post.

I could lie and say I’ve been absent because I was reassessing what this blog is and why I contribute creative blood, sweat and tears to it for little in return. I could also lie and say it’s because I’ve been busy with a summer that I overfilled due to an already underdeveloped sense of mortality stunted even further by two jabs of Pfizer and the promise of a booster shot.

But I refuse to lie, and that’s why I’m not using this post to make any promises about a return to weekly Friday posts, or more substantive short stories, or constant NaNoWriMo updates come November. You might see more personal pieces a la Sara Benincasa or Samantha Irby (my new favorite essayist — please pick up her books ASAP). Maybe some updates on my newfound vim and vigor around querying Omaha. More Axiom Thorne entries from our now two-years-and-running D&D campaign, found fiction from the annals of my high school creative writing notebooks, and book and music recommendations.

Or maybe I just won’t post anything until after my sister’s wedding in two weeks because do you know how crazy wedding planning is, even when you’re merely the maid of honor and the bachelorette party has already been a success?

Maybe my 115 or so followers will unsubscribe from those WordPress email alerts. Maybe I’ll successfully kill this website by the end of the year and be out the 18 bucks I put down in July to renew the domain name. Maybe these posts will give my boyfriend a chuckle (and that’s worth it, honestly) or a fellow writer an idea for a story (go for it, fam) or the NSA something else to put in my file (eat my Google search dust, feds). Possibly all of the above, come to think of it.

Pitter-patter, let’s get at ’er.

Axiom Thorne: An ACTUAL Portrait of a Lady Unraveling

We’re about to hit the two-year mark on our Dungeons & Dragons campaign for which I created (and re-created, and continue to create) Axiom Thorne, and I’ve grown so attached to her that I commissioned a drawing of her from artist Chris Leverett.

Based on the information I gave him (that’s also included in this post), here is what he created:

All credit goes to Chris Leverett on this masterpiece.

Chris is a great artist to work with (he’s doing portraits of almost all the player characters in our campaign!). Here’s how you can contact him to commission a piece:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chrisleverettart

Scene of the Write: Observations on a train to St. Louis

The following are observations made from a late June train trip from Chicago to St. Louis.

Just outside of Chicago: A boat graveyard, shells of old hulls and schloops tagged with graffiti inside a barbed-wire playpen. A shredded down comforter dangles from the wire, grayish-white stuffing droopy like mid-February snow drifts.

About an hour later, we’re stopped because they “have an issue on the train” they need to deal with. Anti-masker, perhaps — we just picked up some people in Joliet — but my brain is concocting a number of Mission: Impossible scenarios. Just outside the window is a country road flanked by stone pillars. The inscription is too small to read from here, but it’s fun watching as the drivers of cars are getting out and socializing while they wait for us to move out. There’s a man in a white sedan taking selfies, and a white limo with a driver dressed to the nines, taking his chances on getting out into the humid air.

On the way to Bloomington we pass a barn that looks like a drunk giant stepped into it, splintering half the roof and one wall down while the belfry still stands, weathered but intact.

Shortly after 5:15, the man sitting next to me — the one in bright green Chuck Taylor high-tops, with a copy of Reza Aslan’s Zealot that he’s halfway through, with a kid on the way and a weekend at the Cards game with some friends before he becomes a dad (all of which I learned by eavesdropping on his phone call for the first two hours of the trip) — offers me a shot of Bulleit Bourbon from a sealed bottle. I decline and watch as he proceeds to make a bourbon and coke in a thermos mug.

It’s happy hour on a Friday in the tiny towns we pass, too. A group sits in lawn chairs next to an above-ground pool in Macoupin County, a couple igloo coolers warming in the low evening sun. It makes me wonder what would be different about me if I had grown up in a town with a grain silo next door and Amtrak route cutting through my subdivision. Or if I’d be one of those people knocking back a Bud in the summer evening, watching the train from Chicago click-clack past, wondering what life would be like if I was on it.

I see you shiver with antici…

Tim Curry wakes me up with that line some mornings. It’s just tucked into the folds of my brain, in that rolling enunciation he has:

“I see you shiver with antici—

—pation.”

I’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show maybe twice in my life, thought a midnight dress-up show is on my bucket list. But there’s something about that line: About the onomatopoetic joke that combines a creative sense of word play with Curry’s incomparable delivery.

I can’t even say it wakes me up on mornings where something big’s happening. It didn’t wake me up this morning, but I’m thinking about it tonight as I’m waiting for something really wonderful to happen in just a couple hours. I’d say more but…this isn’t that kind of blog. Winky-face emoji.

Instead of shivering with anticipation, here’s the scene, written out as the biggest cheat of a blog post I think I’ve ever written:

Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure album is spinning on the turntable. The cheap Victrola suitcase player doesn’t do justice to the depth of this album‘s production value, but after months of searching and waiting for Best Buy, then Amazon, to cancel my order of a vinyl copy, I finally got the album from a tiny record shop in Chicago. Buy local, buy indie. The song that’s playing is “Step Into My Life.” Every song on this album is good, though. This and Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA kept me sane during Summer of My Suburban Pandemic.

A candle from Burke & Hare Co. is burning. It’s the Nevermore scent — tobacco, teakwood, vanilla and black pepper, like a high-line cologne that covers up the smell of the brownies I baked earlier.

Instead of reading the biography on Gypsy Rose Lee that’s waiting for me on my bedside table or watching the third episode of Halston on Netflix or god forbid doing more online shopping, I’m waiting for Sims 4 to finish updating so I can build a house and bulldoze it. That’s what I do now, I’ve learned. Sims isn’t fun as an adult: The excitement of building a person, giving them a house, finding them a job, make friends when you’re a barely a teenager completely dulls when you realize that your little virtual person is just as damn tired as you are, juggling the house, the job, the friends. So now I just build and demolish, like a kid constructing sandcastles at the beach.

I told a friend last night that I didn’t know what to do with myself now that my beta reader team has a copy of the first half of my novel: The logical thing would be to start the second half, but I’m far from logical with a can of Dark Horse wine in my system. He suggested I put on music and dance around the apartment.

Jessie Ware just started singing “Mirage (Don’t Stop).” Seems as good a time as ever to get on my my groove.

Beta Readers Assemble: Pulling together the ultimate review team

I’m trying something new with Lucky Ellis and sending out the first half of the draft to my beta reading team before I even get my head wrapped around the second half. There are a couple reasons for this: One is that I’m hoping that once the first half is finalized — which I won’t feel it is until my trusted cabal gives input — it’ll provide an unalterable basis for the second half.

The other reason is I just need a bit of a spiritual uplift to get my energy up for writing Part Two. Hey, we’re all human. We all need our ego boost sometimes.

I don’t usually post “how to” articles on here, but this morning I found myself thinking about my beta reader team for this project and how it’s different from the project before it, which was different from the project before that, etc. So here are my tips for finding your A-team for beta reading:

1. Think about the project, not the people.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of “she’s my best friend” or “he read the last one” or “my boss found out I write and really wants to read it now” when drafting your team. Don’t. (Unless your job might be in jeopardy if you leave your boss out, in which case maybe start looking for a different gig?)

Let the nature of the project be your guide. Did it require a lot of world-building and lore creation? Find your Game of Thrones fans and Dungeons & Dragons DMs. Is it a romance? Call on your friend who eats Harlequin paperbacks for breakfast. Did you risk getting put on a watchlist for all the dark, murdery Google searches you did? If you have any friends in the medical industry, consider asking them to take a look.

In practice, here’s what that looks like: My first book, Omaha, included a lot of neuroscientific and anatomical details, so my friend Noah, who had just concluded his neurology rotation at med school, was the first one I called upon to read it. He gave me some pointers but seemed rather disturbed at how spot-on I was in creating my speculative brain-chip-driven dystopia.

Noah didn’t read Nobody’s Hero, though. For that one, I called on Cody, who once led the Loyola University Comic Book Club and has an encyclopedic knowledge of heroes and villains across big-name and indie series. He was able to give me some pointers on how to structure Nightfire’s team and create a stronger “big bad” for the ending.

But there are a few constant draftees in my beta reading team, which brings me to no. 2:

2. Find your expert readers, and make sure they don’t all look like you.

Almost all my close friends are readers, but there are some that are simply voracious: They read entire books in a weekend and know all the Book World Drama that goes on. These are my Expert Readers and have an automatic place on the board.

The team is also as diverse as possible. I make a conscious effort to ensure my books have characters of various races, sexualities, genders, cultures, ages, etc., which means that I’m not always writing from my own personal experience: As a single, childless white woman of considerable privilege, I’m only have one kind of perspective. That’s why my beta teams are filled with people unlike me — women of color, non-straight friends, parents, older, younger.

Note, however, that having a diverse beta reading team is not a substitute for hiring a professional sensitivity reader. You should still pay someone with that expertise to read your work before publishing.

3. Convey the importance of the job but don’t take it personally when half your team fails on their mission.

They say when throwing a party to only expect half the guest list. The same goes for beta reading. I usually get 2/3 of my readers to give me feedback, and only 1/3 of them do it in the timeframe I ask. Why? Well, we’re all busy adults with lives and day jobs and better things to do than read my newest book. So give your beta team a flexible deadline and lots of gratitude up-front so they know you understand what an undertaking this is — and to drive home to them, too, how much their feedback means to you.

Because the truth is, without beta readers, a lot of our work wouldn’t make it off our laptops and Google drives and into the hands of agents, editors and publishers. So choose wisely!

Leave the ghosts behind

Every box I packed last week, I made sure that none of the infected things were in it.

Nothing that had your memory on it made it into a box. Nothing that you had given me with a card, or shipped me in those polka-dotted sacks that Amazon uses to specify that someone half-dead on their feet put into a bag for someone who didn’t order it. None of the empty vases from my birthday flowers; not the crumpled business card or shotgun shell on a chain or the event wristbands curling into itself on my counter after your last visit; none of the burned CDs you left in my car — remember when we’d tear down silent suburb streets in that 2003 Impala, Nate Ruess and Janelle Monae declaring that we were young?

Instead I held a funeral at the garbage shoot: My own memorial to the people who had come and gone — or, rather, the times I had to the people who had come and gone. A wake for the person I was with them, and the parts of me that they had taken with them as souvenirs.

And I thought it would work. I really did. After all, we always say at the coffin’s edge “They’re in a better place.” And I’m sure all of you went to better places with husbands, wives, children, functioning livers, fulfilling careers. And, truth be told, I myself am in a better place than where many of you left me — a new apartment with in-unit laundry and a private balcony.

But when all the boxes were packed and taped, then untaped and unpacked, it became clear: I could set afire the love notes and friend notes with a bundle of smoking sage, but it wouldn’t burn the memories of you out of my mind.

So I guess I took you with me. I’ll try not to bother you.

Hope you enjoy the fresh air and sharp dryer buzzer.

The year I’ll become a cheerleader: Cautious optimism meets bitter realism in 2021

Remember all those word-truthers who went on and on in 2019 about how the new decade starts in 2021, not 2020? I think they had a point…

This post isn’t going to go on ad nauseum about the awfulness of 2020. We get it: the year sucked. And as much as we’d all possibly like to think of today as the start of a fresh, unsullied 365-day period, the truth is that the pandemic isn’t over. Racism and injustice isn’t over. Exploitation of the working class and economic disparity isn’t over. Hell, the current administration still has 19 days to smash up any last bits of remaining stability on its way out of the White House, and don’t think they won’t try.

But as Jonny Sun wrote this morning, “sometimes we need things outside of ourselves to help us believe that things can be different when it’s hard to believe it ourselves.” And that’s why 2021 — at least for me — is starting with a healthy cocktail of cautious optimism in a glass rimmed with bitter realism, all ending in me getting pink-faced and breathless while cheering on my friends.

(I’m doing Dry January, too, so excuse the booze-based metaphors. That and unspiked eggnog are all I’ve got right now.)

For a lot of us — notably the privileged (white, able-bodied, young, financially comfortable) among us — this is the first year that “survive” is at the top of our list of goals. COVID isn’t going away quickly, even with a vaccine now available, and I fear that the “crisis fatigue” that lured people away from playing it safe during the summer is about to hit us like a face mask soaked in chloroform. I saw a projection today that said the U.S. death toll will likely reach 700,000 by the time we wipe out the virus entirely. At 350,000-ish deaths today, we’re only halfway there.

So there’s the bitter realism on the rim of the glass. If you were able to tolerate it, now you get to balance it out with some optimism.

Any rose-tinted attitude I have toward the new year and next decade is directly due to the people around me, and here’s why: In the last 36 hours of 2020, my friends contributed more than $800 to Women Employed, an organization that’s been working for 43-plus years to enable equity for women in the workplace. One of those friends ran a virtual New Years Eve fundraiser herself for Brave Space Alliance, the only trans-led, Black-led LGBTQ+ organization serving the South and West sides of Chicago, and collected more than $550 in just 3 hours. The willingness and enthusiasm of the friends around me to take action for the causes we support made it hard to walk into 2021 with anything more than unabashed hope. There’s plenty of work to be done, but at least I know there’s also plenty of people willing to contribute to the effort. That in itself is enough to celebrate.

Which is why, in conjunction with my “survive” goal of 2021, I’ve decided that this is the year that I will become the loudest, most spirited cheerleader I can be for friends, family and causes that I support. It’s good for my soul and psyche, good for their self-esteem and energy, and (I hope) good for the world around us.

In fact, it might do us all some good to find someone or something to shake our virtual pompoms for — even if they haven’t made it to their goal yet. Remember that cheerleaders don’t show up after the game to celebrate with the winning team: They’re present from the first whistle-blow onward, and they rally support and sponsorship along the entire road to victory. And they have fun doing it! As Jonny Sun wrote, sometimes we need things outside of ourselves to give us hope, and while today that’s the change of the calendar to 2021, for the remainder of the year, that should be those who inspire us, help us grow, and make us want to be better contributors to the world around us.

Now pass me that bullhorn — I’ve got some people to cheer.