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Shelter in Place

Back in April of 2019, pre-pandemic, I took my son to The Netherlands for his Spring Break. We had a lovely time. While there, a friend messaged me to say that a band from Baltimore was playing in Amsterdam. Not far from my hotel. Walking distance, in fact. So I allowed my 19yo to have the hotel room to himself for an evening while I checked out a delightful venue called The Cave. And introduced myself to the duo that is Darsombra. I’m so glad I did. Ann and Brian are absolutely delightful. I’ve had the good fortune to see them perform in Minnesota a few times since then. Most recently in June. And they’re coming back tonight! Which is the main reason I didn’t try to get out of town for Labor Day weekend.

Music duo Darsombra performing at the Cave, Amsterdam
Brian of Darsombra playing guitar looking like a trippy space wizard
Ann of Darsombra playing keyboards while looking like a trippy space wizard

Enjoying the Scenery

Last winter was particularly hard. I’ve worked in tech for years, and enjoyed some autonomy with the option to work from home when it suited me (some employers have been more flexible than others). Since the pandemic started, I’ve almost exclusively worked from my cramped bedroom. I have a lovely compact ladder desk with side tables and an ergonomic chair. But our 2BR condo was built in 1922. The builders did not anticipate my particular needs. Getting out for walking breaks throughout the workday helps me maintain my equilibrium. But this is often impossible during a Minnesotan winter. Either the temperatures plummet to science fiction lows, or the sidewalks are icy and impassible, or both. I knew something would have to change for this winter. I am thanking my past self for planning this Portugal trip. I am 9 nights in and have 20 nights left. I miss my kid and my cat very much, but life is just so much easier here. The weather has been in the 50s and 60s. My apartment has a balcony that I have been making use of. A lot.

I have a few minor regrets. Things I failed to pack:

  • Bacitracin for my new tattoos
  • Band-aids
  • Ginger tea
  • My favorite pair of pants (could have sworn they made it into the suitcase)
  • US to Europe electric adapters (also, could have sworn they were in the suitcase)
  • Cleaning cloths for my glasses, though I brought the bottle of cleaning spray

Something I packed but won’t need:

  • My swimsuit. No swimming or hot tubbing with fresh tattoos.

Now for the gratitude. My first week here was all vacation so I had time to explore and sort myself out before settling into my work routine. I’m essentially working second shift, EST hours.

  • Last week I got to catch up with an old friend who was visiting from NYC. We hung out two different days.
  • Made a new friend. Someone I’d connected with on instagram the last time I was here, in January 2020. And he’s even more charming in person.
  • The apartment is comfortable, overall, but I truly love the balcony and will miss it when it’s time to leave.
  • Bombas slippers. They feel like little clouds encasing my feet after long days of walking 7+ miles.
  • Walking outside without worrying about slipping on ice.
  • Panda Cantina’s delicious tofu ramen.
  • The Aldi grocery store in the basement of this building. My kitchen is fully stocked and I’ve made some excellent meals. There are gorgeous restaurant patios everywhere that I do want to enjoy, but it’s good to save some money by cooking for myself too.
New full color peacock tattoo on my right calf

Subject to Change

In this new era, I still have enough optimism to make plans. Tentative ones. It’s far more likely those plans will fall apart than come together. Invariably someone gets sick and cancels (the responsible thing to do). Lately it’s been me more often than not. And this winter weather has been winter plus plus, with bonus bad air quality bummers. My daily mental health walks have been on hold since November. Last weekend I did make it to a bit of Drone Not Drones at The Cedar. But didn’t have enough stamina to stick it out long, despite wanting to catch up with friends. Today I’m skipping the Lake Harriet Kite Festival due to sub-zero temps and a lack of wind. Which is kind of a necessity for kite-flying. But tomorrow I’m hoping to make it to the Saintly City Cat Show.

Hopefully a change of scenery and a change of climate will help. I leave for Portugal one week from tomorrow. Though not with the suitcase I splurged on. UPS allegedly delivered it to my garage on Thursday. I don’t have a garage. I’ve filed a claim and reported it to the sender, but I highly doubt I’ll receive a replacement before my departure.

In the meantime, I’ve started planning a summer Seattle vacation before I even leave for Portugal. Hoping it’s better than our last Seattle trip. Summer of 2021 I took my son to visit family there. Unfortunately, we were subjected to a disgusting heat dome event. Or wildfires. Everything is so iffy these days. Even Portugal had a major flooding event last month. I’m hoping it won’t impact my trip, though I did read about some sinkholes in the streets of Lisbon.

For now, I’m taking it easy. Bundled up at home with my heating pad and Chinese takeout while binge watching Lockwood & Co on Netflix. It’s right up my alley, and not just because of all the Bauhaus, Joy Division, Siouxsie & The Banshees, This Mortal Coil, etc.

Lockwood and Co review – Joe Cornish’s teen ghosthunters are an absolute delight:
Following the runaway success of Wednesday and Stranger Things, Netflix has gambled on another gothy young adult show, similarly primed to become impressionable teens’ entire personalities. Lockwood and Co – created by Joe Cornish – is a lore-heavy supernatural series set in an alternative modern Britain where an epidemic of ghosts has raged for 50 years, but the only people able to see and fight them are children. To deal with “the problem” there are ghost-hunting agencies run by adults, who use the children to locate the angry spirits and destroy the “source” from which they emanate.

A bench covered in snow

Written on Water

There’s always been tension between art and commerce. But it has sunk to new lows in this country, in this era of late stage capitalism. It should be possible for companies to fund and distribute works of art - be they music, film, television, books - while turning a profit and protecting the artists. These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the relationships have become downright parasitic. Recently my son and I enjoyed watching season one of Pantheon on AMC. A beautifully compelling animated series based on work by the author Ken Liu. We were very much looking forward to season two. Which has already been completed and delivered to AMC. But rather than airing it, AMC is taking the despicable route of burying the entire season for a tax write-off. How utterly demoralizing for everyone who worked on the show. I first heard about this brand of shittiness with the Batgirl movie, back in August. Sadly, it seems to be a trend now.

In other bummer news, Low is my all-time favorite band. Alan Sparhawk’s wife and bandmate, Mimi Parker, died in November. They earned their money by touring, which is no longer possible.

Alan Sparhawk Discusses Fight To Get Low’s Masters Back From UMG:

Replying to a request for a repress of Low’s 1994 debut album I Could Live In Hope on Wednesday, Sparhawk responded, “@UMG won’t give the rights back. We’ve asked. Original advance was tiny, did 3 1/2 records with them that they won’t give back to us after 25+ years now. They keep licensing to crappy reissue companies and we see nothing. Meanwhile, we can’t tour anymore and tour was all our $.” When prompted to get a lawyer, Sparhawk wrote, “Been doing that for several years now. We get the run-around and end up nowhere.”

Please sign this petition imploring UMG to do the right thing and release Low’s masters to Alan.

Surprise Low set at Icehouse
Low’s release show celebration for Hey What
handclaps with Mimi Parker of Low

Grief is the Price We Pay for Love

The house is so quiet without Fred’s boisterous personality. Even when he was sick, he still had a tremendous presence. Immediately after his death, my son was beating himself up with what ifs. What if he hadn’t missed those evening doses of pimobendan here and there? I put a stop to that. But then I did the same to myself, internally. Wondering how things would have been if I could have convinced/forced Fred to take his aspirin more regularly. Or if I’d caught the kidney disease sooner. It’s been just over a week without him. My usual after-work routine involved relaxing on the couch with the bulk of Fred pinning me down. It was often the highlight of my day. We love our Olive, the 17 year-old cat Fred left behind. But she is aloof and not nearly as affectionate or even as approachable as Fred. We’ve loved her from a distance since 2007. We always joked that, if our cats were human, Fred would be a frat boy and Olive would be a stereotypically prim librarian. It’s the little things. When I sweep the floors, Fred would stomp right through the filth pile before I could get it in the dust pan. Or, worse yet, roll around in it. Olive will always walk around it. Now that our Giftmas tree is up, I find myself thinking “can’t put the wrapped gifts where Fred will reach them.” Because he would shred the shit out of them immediately. Olive delicately sniffs them. Maybe she’ll rub her face on the corner of a box. But that’s it. And after Fred ate wet food, it looked like Pigpen had been on the scene. When he was young, I had to buy him a puzzle feeder so he wouldn’t wolf his food down too quickly and barf it back up. Olive is a slow and dainty eater. Two wildly different cats.

Olive is also puzzled by Fred’s absence. Even in their twilight, they still had daily zooming sessions up and down the hallway, ending in some light wrestling in the dining room. Then intermittently grooming each other and/or napping on the bed or the comfy chair in the living room throughout the day. Or perched together on different levels of the cat tower. Mornings involved Freddy yowling for food well before my alarm went off. Then struggling to keep him from eating Olive’s food, and keeping Olive from eating his prescription food. Followed by the day-long bummer of trying to get various prescription medications into Fred’s system. There was a liquid drug we administered by syringe. The poor guy developed a gag reflex before we even brought it to his mouth. Just seeing the syringe caused him to gag. The other drugs we tried in multiple forms. At the end, we’d found some transdermal meds I had to rub into the skin inside his ears. One diminished his appetite and the other was an appetite stimulant. Then I worried about Olive licking it off while grooming him. On top of all that Fred had awful arthritis. I’d gotten him pet stairs to help him safely reach my bed and the living room couch. But he was clearly struggling with both strength and balance. It was heartbreaking to see this once hale and vibrant boy so diminished and in pain. That very last morning he refused to eat. Not even his favorite cat treats. And there was a raspiness to his breathing. The emergency vet and our own vet concurred. Fred was experiencing congestive heart failure. It would be possible to continue treating him for a little while, by regularly dragging him to the emergency vet to be put on oxygen. But he was a very sick cat and the kindest thing would be to give him peace. I know I did the right thing but my heart hurts. We miss our constant companion. Grief is a real motherfucker.

Freddy claiming me
My boys, pink-haired human son holding our orange and white cat
Two orange cats, a real tabby with a ceramic tiger
Two cats sharing different levels of a cat tower, in a sunny window
The whole family is hanging out in my bedroom / office, my son with both cats
A beautiful orange and white cat posing on a bed
Orange and white cat sitting on a blue blanket
Two beautiful tabbies lounging in bed on a colorful bedspread
An orange and white tabby named Freddy lounges on top of the cat tower

My Sunshine

The worst part about living with pets is saying goodbye to them. Fred had been with us since the summer of 2007. He was an incredible companion for 15+ years. But this year his health was in steady decline, despite our best efforts with prescription food and meds. Today things took a turn for the worse with congestive heart failure. For those of you who knew Fred, thank you for appreciating our magnificent ginger. He was one of a kind and the best boy ever. Parker and I are gutted, but I’m glad we were able to give Freddy a good life and prevent him from suffering any longer.

My son shared an utterly heartbreaking obituary of his own:

Today is a very sad day for me, my cat and best friend Freddy has been dealing with kidney disease, heart disease, and arthritis for a few months, and now I have to say goodbye to him.
He was the best cat I’ve ever had in my life, he’s been by my side ever since I was 7 years old and now I’m losing him.
I will always remember all the good times we’ve had together and you will always hold a special place in my heart forever. May you rest in peace dear Freddy I will never ever forget you, goodbye Freddy.

We’re going to miss our sweet lap cat. Rest in peace, Freddy Franklin Freeze Morrow-Mackall.

An orange cat named Freddy looking up

Sorrowing in Sunlight

Low is my all-time favorite band. I was lucky enough to do a little work for them, for a while (updating their website, some light tech support for Alan, etc). Long before that, I started seeing them at the start, in the 90s. The first time, I won tickets from Radio K when Long Division came out. In those early days, the crowd would sit on the floor so we could better embrace the slowcore of it all. Their music has been with me through the best and worst times of my life for the past three decades. Mimi and I were both pregnant when Low played Loring Park for the old music and movies series in 1999. I’ve seen them perform at other parks, in a kayak shed (at the Square Lake Festival), a former church, in museums, theaters, a potluck, and a rundown borscht belt resort in upstate NY. For a time, they would host holiday shows in First Ave’s main room. Once with the stage chock full of Christmas trees. Most recently, I drove to Duluth over Labor Day weekend to catch their brief set at the Water is Life festival. I had a bad feeling that it might be Low’s last show. Unfortunately, I was correct. Mimi passed away last night after living with ovarian cancer for the last two years. Their shows were always an incredible communal experience. Mimi will be remembered for bringing so much beauty into the world and she will be greatly missed.

Alan & Mimi, 2/3 of Low

Turning the Knobs

What an irritating week. One of the upstairs neighbors has a crew gutting and rebuilding her bathroom. Monday we were subjected to them jackhammering into concrete FOR HOURS. With no heads up. I work from home. She apologized as she didn’t realize it would be so loud. Tuesday our elderly cats were subjected to invasive (and expensive) checkups. Wednesday I was given a six-hour window to wait for an appliance repairperson. But I’m trying give myself an attitude adjustment and focus on better things.

  • Took a rare weekday early morning walk yesterday. The weather and quality of light were incredible.
  • My kid and I enjoyed another top-notch episode of Andor. It’s got that spy thriller noir angle I adore, and I love a good heist. I’ve listened to some fascinating interviews with show runner Tony Gilroy lately. First on The Watch, and then on Maron. What a charmer. And he had a wild childhood with his two brothers, who are both working on the show with him.
  • Speaking of Star Wars, for years I’ve been threatening to pull together a Jawa costume for Halloween (and year-round cosplay). I’m finally doing it. I just hope I have all my materials in time for a party in a couple of weeks.
  • A lot of people think Home Service Plus is a scam but hey, our dryer has now been repaired. It would have been $45 for the part + $130 for the labor but I was charged nothing. The dryer’s gas coil needed to be replaced. No way I would have figured that out on my own. And the tech threw in a bonus. I complained that the dryer door opened the wrong way. He flipped it the other way around for me. Thanks, guy!
  • I finally started watching Los Espookys, thanks to a reminder from Pop Culture Happy Hour. It is delightfully absurd. And it feels good to see more queer representation on screen.
  • Speaking of, Velma from Scooby Doo is finally canonically queer. It’s about damned time.
A tree with bright red and orange leaves set against a blue sky
Looking up at a tree with sunlight filtering through bright orange leaves

The Blues

Where did the summer go? It’s true, I’ve spent too much time in my head, being overwhelmed by all the dire news. For now, just the highlights…I’ve been getting up to speed at my new job of nearly four months. At the end of June, I spent my birthday week driving around Colorado and New Mexico, catching up with some friends. In July, I drove my Dad out for another event with his newfound birth family. I’ve hung out with many friends on various patios and attended outdoor events. I renewed both my state park pass and my passport. We attended the Internet Cat Video Festival with our usual crew. The Yo, is This Racist podcast crew came to The Parkway Theater (and I wound up on the recording, eep). And I returned to The Parkway to see W. Kamau Bell on his book tour for Do the Work! An Antiracist Activity Book. His co-author, Kate Schatz, couldn’t make it in person, but joined via video on the GIANT movie screen, which was comical. I also stopped bleaching my hair and switched over to an easier-to-maintain (myself) dark blue.

My kid continued to go climbing indoors while not getting outdoors nearly enough. He continued to obsessively collect expansion decks for Red Dragon Inn (he nearly has them all now). And has been playing the game with me and with his anime club friends. He spent time cat-sitting and attending CONvergence. We attended his friend’s Fringe Festival show together. Yesterday was a strange milestone. My son returned to class on campus for the first time since March 2020. He’s been online every semester since. But it hasn’t been the best environment to support the way he learns. I’m excited for him while dreading our increased covid risk. He’s still President of the college Anime Club and will be tabling on campus for four hours tomorrow, trying to recruit new members. He’s also got a weekly Student Senate meeting to attend. Back-to-school always makes me nostalgic for the autumns of my childhood, with my brother and his October birthday followed by our favorite, Halloween. Fall will be here before we know it and it is always too fleeting.

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” — Henry David Thoreau

To that end, I’ve booked a month-long stay in Portugal in February/March. So I can escape winter for a bit while working remotely. My rooftop apartment even has a private terrace and the temps will be in the upper 50s to low 60s. Downright balmy compared to Minnesota. And I still have five months to continue my daily Duolingo Portuguese lessons.

The blues
My son, glaring at me, in the woods after a picnic

Every Time You Find Yourself Here, It’s Because You Chose To Come Back

In February, I started watching Severance on Apple TV. I was intrigued by the stacked cast — Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Dichen Lachman, and more. And a show directed by Ben Stiller. I hadn’t predicted how much I would connect with this deft work/life balance satire. Episodes were released weekly between February and April. During that period I realized my own job wasn’t a good fit. I found myself recruited away by another company in April. Amazingly, I just learned that my new employer’s headquarters are inside the building that serves as the stand-in for the fictional Lumen Industries for the show.

Building the Corporate Menace of Severance: Saarinen’s impeccable Bell Labs campus conveys the terror of utopian office design.

If I lived in New Jersey, I would have the option to work in this glorious building. Or terrifyingly utopian? Alas, I am far away in the Midwest and may be working remotely forever. Which has been on my mind quite a bit. Our two-bedroom condo was perfect for us when I bought it in 2019. When we rarely seemed to be at home. These days I work from my bedroom full-time. I need more space. More separation between work and life. There’s a house for sale just two blocks from us that would be perfect in so many ways. But the idea of putting my condo on the market and dealing with all the red tape of buying and selling plus the hassle of moving? Too much. I have, however, put in a lot of hard work lately to declutter and organize our place as much as possible. I need to optimize what little space we do have. And later this summer, a carpenter friend will be building me a custom Murphy bed so I can put my bed away during the work day. Though that will confuse the heck out of our cats.

Aerial view of the Bell Labs Holmdel campus