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Everything is Optional

We’re in the thick of a Wind Chill Advisory until tomorrow. Shut-in mode INTENSIFIES. I’d intended to pick up takeout from our beloved Zen Box tonight, but it’s too damned cold. Though I did manage to stay out on the ice for about an hour last Saturday, for the Lake Harriet Kite Festival. I wore so many layers. And managed to get some decent shots. There were some particularly cool kites this year. But I skipped the “frozen yoga” at the nearby Art Shanty Projects. Today’s five things:

Undiagnosed ADHD is such a delight. All the symptoms without the certainty. This morning, I nearly missed standup because I got hyperfocused when I was in the shower. Started scrubbing the tub and took a magic eraser to the grout lines on the subway tile (so satisfying) and lost track of time. Wondering if I need to bring my pomodoro timer into the bathroom with me.

winter window bokeh

Every Fortress Falls

We’re still hunkering down in our household. Because of omicron, but also…we’re waking up to weather of -11° F with -26° F windchills so who wants to leave the house anyhow? More and more people I know have been impacted by this surge though. Here are some wise words from Dr. Scott Gottlieb on twitter:

Most people will end up getting covid over their lifetime. But the more people can delay their reckoning with this virus, the further along we will get on widespread availability and uptake of oral therapeutics, antibody drugs, and vaccines; to mitigate the risks of infection.

We’ll continue riding it out, because we can. Thankfully, distractions abound. And we’re quite good at keeping ourselves occupied over here.

This Saturday I will leave the house for a bit. The Lake Harriet Kite Festival will be happening on the ice next to the Art Shanty Projects. I haven’t been inspired to use my DSLRs much lately but I’ll be busting my cameras out for this confluence of magically Minnesotan winter events.

New headphones, old me

Existence is Chaos

The news continues to be bleak. The world is in crisis. But I’m trying to focus only on what is in my control. That has been my mantra for a while now. To keep my chin up while also keeping my head down? With that in mind, yesterday was remarkably productive, at work and in my personal life. I’d been putting off a call to my carrier. I had a bit of a hassle with an iPhone trade-in promotion. But after finally calling to sort it out we now have an unlimited data plan and will be paying $52/month less (for two lines). Works for me. I also scheduled my first International Association of Accessibility Professionals exam for next month. I’m starting with the CPACC. After that, I’ll study even more and take the WAS exam a month or two later. Thankfully, there is an option to take these exams from home. It involves giving a third party control of my personal laptop, which isn’t ideal, but I’ll make it work for a two-hour test.

Five things relevant to members of our household:

This afternoon’s breaking news? Minneapolis, St. Paul To Require Restaurant-Goers To Show Proof Of Vaccination Or Negative Test. This doesn’t go into effect until January 19th. Our household will still only be getting takeout and not eating inside restaurants during this surge. I’ve noticed some splintering in my friend group recently. Between those who remain vigilant, like us, and concerned about the ableism of the “everyone is going to get omicron” crowd. But that YOLO/Vax&Chill contingency just wants to get on with their lives, even if it means getting sick (and getting others sick). I hate it here.

Drove for the first time this year and was treated to this remarkable sunset downtown

Tomorrow is a Mystery

Donations are being accepted for the Matt Gray memorial Computer Science scholarship. The goal is to raise $25,000 so the first scholarship can be awarded for Fall 2022. If you would like to donate, please check the box for “Make this gift in honor or memory of someone” and enter Matt Gray’s name. His memorial was yesterday. I had hoped to attend in person but the risk is far too high. Our household has managed to avoid COVID so far and would like to keep it that way. I viewed a livestream of the memory-sharing portion of the service instead and, once again, cried alone at my desk. Grief, the modern way. It’s harder to hang on to much hope or find joy these days but I’m trying. Here are five interesting things:

A friend pointed out a highly relevant piece in the NY Times:

Another Covid Winter, but Our Quarantine Comforts No Longer Work
Americans have spared little expense over the past two years turning their homes into cozy havens. That doesn’t mean they want to spend another winter in them.

While we may not want to, my two-person household has the privilege of staying put and staying safe for our third pandemic winter. And we are committed to doing so. I’ve ordered yet more puzzles (and puzzle storage). I have a new cookbook on the way. And Chris and Andy of The Watch just had an episode about their most anticipated TV Shows of 2022. We’ll make it work.

First 2022 selfie after bleaching and recoloring my hair silver, at home

The Past is Never Where You Think You Left It

The Minneapolis Star Tribune opened up their archives. They were free to search until midnight last night and what a thrill! I had a lot of fun with it and so did a number of other folks I know. We found stories about our homes’ histories, about vaudeville, bandits, and trolleys from 100 years ago. Apparently, one could have a job as a librarian on a trolley. How dreamy. I saw the headline “PONGS GRAB SECOND TILT LEAD” and it took me a while to puzzle that out (baseball related). I found lots of tidbits about the 4-plex our condo is in. In 1941, a 17yo who lived here was saved from drowning by friends. And in 1945, I could have purchased the entire building for just $30k. Dang.

My first Five Things List of the new year:

  • Now that it’s 2022, I’m realizing just how elderly our cats are. We adopted them in 2007. Olive was between one and three at that time. The poor girl now yells at my bed before jumping up to it. I just ordered a pet staircase to help her out.
  • Damon Krukowski, of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi, wrote about The Problem with Live Music. A compelling and unsettling read that takes you from the caves of Wuhan to the corporate culpability of Live Nation and AEG pushing for bigger and bigger shows.
  • Oh, the end of an era. Lowertown’s iconic Black Dog Coffee closed suddenly this week. It really anchored the neighborhood. I had an art show there once. In the 90s, I spent a lot of time in that space when it was still Kuppernicus Coffee. When I was even younger, in grade school, I remember visiting that space when it was an antique store run by my aunt’s friend. Here’s an old Q&A with Black Dog’s owner from 2006. RIP.
  • I listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour nearly every morning, when I’m making coffee and breakfast. For the last decade or so, Linda Holmes has been making a list of “50 wonderful things” from the year. Right up my alley, naturally.
  • From Linda’s list, something I may have missed entirely without it: Mystery Menu with Sohla and Ham, in which Chef Sohla El-Waylly and her husband Ham (also a chef) took a mystery ingredient and made a whole menu out of it. I LOVE IT.

Omicron seems to be doing what we feared. I personally know so many folks who have tested positive with breakthrough cases. Friends, coworkers, etc. It’s going to be a helluva ride. I stopped leaving the house a couple of weeks ago. But my son still went indoor rock climbing on the weekend. Everyone was masked but just how good are those masks against something so transmissible? I don’t want to keep him from climbing, since it’s his main form of exercise. Especially in a Minnesotan winter. But I’m trying to weigh the risks vs the rewards and it is difficult. Though so much less difficult than the choices other folks are facing. People who have to go to work in-person, especially those working in schools. And parents, who are being asked to send their children to those schools. While omicron is causing fewer hospitalizations among the vaccinated, it’s still going to have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities like those who are immunocompromised. It feels like there is no end in sight.

Olive the cat, mid lip-smack

The Past is a Map

Last December I only posted once to this blog, and it was surprisingly hopeful and upbeat. Unfortunately, I feel less optimistic heading into 2022. At this time last year we were on the cusp of rolling out vaccines. This month I know several fully vaccinated people with breakthrough cases of COVID, thanks to the omicron variant. At the start of the pandemic, writer Damian Barr wrote:

We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm. Some have yachts, some canoes, and some are drowning. Just be kind and help whoever you can.

Well said and it still holds true. My little household is certainly not in a yacht, but maybe a small trawler? I fully acknowledge our privilege. 2021 was pretty decent for us, on a personal level, aside from my friend’s death. And unhealthy air quality that kept me indoors at times. Like many American workers, I switched jobs mid-year. And for the first time since 2015. It is higher paying and much more aligned with the work I want to do, and still fully remote, thankfully. Because of the higher pay, I was able to take a break from teaching. Working just one job makes for a much better work/life balance situation. All year I continued to nurture relationships with my most trusted friends / chosen family, even when anxiety and depression had me on the ropes. I am so grateful to have those folks in my life. I’ve built up a wonderful community for the kid and me, and I’d be lost without them. Last month I began my first romantic relationship in ages. That one is a work in progress. We’ll see. But the hard work in therapy is paying off. Now it comes more easily for me to speak up to set my expectations and explain my boundaries. Before therapy I was much more of a people-pleaser and so conflict avoidant. Even if this relationship doesn’t work out, I’m proud of myself for standing firm with what I want and need. I came across this (unattributed) quote:

I want you to know something: I am very good at being single. I have absolutely no problem being single. The only reason I would be in a committed relationship with someone is if that relationship is directly benefitting me and my life. I don’t want our relationship to become complacent or under-appreciated. I will give as much love, time and energy as I can to making sure that our relationship is something that is fulfilling to both of us.

Hot damn! That’s me now. Feels good. Some more closing thoughts for the year:

  • Some solid advice from Teen Vogue about How to Talk About a Chaotic, Traumatic Year
  • I watched the new Matrix movie on my TV, just like I did with the new Dune movie. I would have rather seen both on the big screen but I’m trying to play it safe. Not everyone is loving the new Matrix movie, but I sure enjoyed it. So much nostalgia. I was 25 and pregnant when I saw the first film. Seeing these aged actors play these beloved characters again was very satisfying. And there’s another level to it: ‘This was clearly written by people who feel like I do’: What The Matrix means to transgender and non-binary fans as Resurrections hits cinemas. I am one of those non-binary fans.
  • Years before COVID-19, I enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic pandemic novel, Station Eleven. I didn’t think I’d want to watch an adaptation of it now but it is beautifully done. “Both novel and series are less survivalist action-adventure than ruminations on what makes human lives meaningful, what we’d choose to save when losing everything.”
  • My son and I watched the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett last night. And it solved the mystery of how he survived the Sarlacc Pit.
  • Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who will try to profit from misery. Counterfeit masks are being sold that will not protect anyone from COVID-19. This is such reprehensible behavior. Thankfully there are groups carefully vetting such products. It’s probably time to up your mask game. Check out Project N95 or this article from NPR.

Nothing like a little deja vu for New Year’s Eve. Or is it a glitch in the Matrix? In preparation for tomorrow night, I suggested I would make vegan sushi again for NYE, but maybe I would add vegetable tempura this time. And my son was like “uhh, yeah. You did that last NYE too.” Sure enough, I looked back through my photos and there it is. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” At least I don’t mind repeating this piece of our past. But I’d rather we skip wave after wave of new COVID-19 infections. I no longer make resolutions or predictions so we’ll just wait and see what 2022 has in store for us.

Christmas Eve 2021 vegan cheesecake topped with blackberries and sliced almonds displayed on a red metal cake stand
Homemade vegan sushi feast on a white ceramic serving tray
spooky photo of my son at the age of 6, wearing a red velvet cape trimmed with white and a crown, with only the whites of his eyes visible

All Stories End

Usually I celebrate the solstice. But my good friend Matt Gray died yesterday. While I very much want to celebrate him, I’m still reeling. Last week I was able to join a Zoom with Matt, to tell him how much I loved him and how much his friendship meant to me. Matt said he loved me too. One of the perks of working from home is I can cry at my desk without anyone noticing.

In March of 2005, I was married to a very nice man but we were struggling (it was a short-lived marriage). We’d both been laid off from high-paying tech jobs and were working lower-paying part-time jobs to get by. He’d taken a job at UPS for the health insurance so I could focus on getting my son the help he needed. At that time, my kid was in early childhood special ed and regularly seeing speech and occupational therapists. I hadn’t planned to return to full-time work just yet but an opportunity came up. A friend was working for a little startup called Clockwork. Taking that job changed the course of my life. My experiences there weren’t perfect. My people-pleasing tendencies were still out of control and I was clueless about boundaries. That would come later, with therapy. But my time at Clockwork provided many incredible experiences, the autonomy and flexibility I desperately needed as a single parent of an autistic kid, and a group of amazing folks. Many of whom are still close friends / chosen family.

On day one at Clockwork, in March of 2005, I met the amazing Matt Gray. We hit it off immediately (and worked together until 2015). Which was great, because we were sharing a smallish cubicle with our pal Marty. We called it the bullpen. At that time, Clockwork consisted of the four owners, five of us employees, and an intern. Over my decade with Clockwork, the company grew and so did we. Matt was a brilliant, thoughtful, enthusiastic, and kind young man. I had the honor of watching him mature into a wonderfully compassionate leader. And husband and father. The first time I met Carrie, the amazing woman he would marry, we went to see Andrew Bird at the Fine Line. We had seats in the balcony and dinner was involved. At one point Carrie intentionally flung some pasta over the railing to see what would happen. I had a laughing fit. I loved her instantly and gave them my blessing. Prior to that, Matt had been anxious about dating and worried he wouldn’t find the right partner. But he sure did.

There are too many wonderful memories but some highlights:

  • A group of us from Clockwork attended Pillow Fight Club in NE Minneapolis. I will always treasure the memories of Matt gleefully pillow fighting outdoors with my then six year-old.
  • When Clockwork took us on a surprise trip to the State Fair, Matt captured a shot of me standing next to the board ensuring I was tall enough to ride the rides. Just barely!
  • Matt and I shared a love of photography. We were constantly pointing our cameras at each other and everything around us. We went through a Polaroid-taking phase. We also co-ran the Twin Cities Flickr Group and organized a number of photo walks. At Como Park, in Lowertown, around the Stone Arch Bridge, at night in Dinkytown, and more. Flickr was a robust social media platform long before Facebook, twitter, etc. We shared so much community in the comments in those days.
  • Somehow we were offered the opportunity to take photos on the opening night of Edward Scissorhands at The Ordway. I invited along Matt and another photographer friend. We were allowed to snap off photos, sans flash, during the first thirty minutes of the performance. It was beautiful. The sets, the costumes, the dancers, the music. Absolutely perfect.
  • We enjoyed going out to view other artists’ photography. One notable evening we saw the work of Diane Arbus at The Walker, thanks to our friend Craig.
  • For a time, in 2005, Clockwork had me working on-site for one of our clients FT. It was a strange, lonely experience on a dysfunctional team. I even had a miscarriage on-site one day. Matt knew how isolated I felt over the six months I was stationed there. He did everything he could to lift my spirits. He hacked a sneaky solution that allowed me to reach Clockwork’s network to stay connected with my teammates. And he arranged a weekly lunch meetup and gave it an acronym I can no longer remember but it involved the words Sharyn and lunch and conspiracy.
  • One day there was some experimentation with dry ice in the kitchen sink. Another day, we melted some hard drives in the backyard with thermite.
  • Halloween is my favorite holiday and was always a big deal at Clockwork. Matt dressed up as a zombie a few times. And captured this shot of my “Hard Luck Wonder Woman.” Oof.

The rest is a happy blur. Matt had a love of unicorns. We enjoyed many board game nights and meals around the kitchen table. We saw Matt expand his incredibly limited, bland palate to an adventurous one. Though he always remained pizza-obsessed. We watched Apple keynotes and trailers together and went to movies as a group. There was so much knowledge sharing on a daily basis and on our Lab Days and at our annual Unconference and at Coder Dojo. We got dressed up for Clockwork parties and to celebrate our colleagues’ weddings. Matt was a constant throughout all of it for my decade at Clockwork. After his diagnosis, I’m so glad I spent many lovely evenings hanging out on his front lawn, catching up with our friends. But I’d hoped for more of those. There’s never enough time with the ones we love.

Matt Gray, nerding out
Matt, nerding out

Turn to the Light

Friday we experienced our first significant snowfall of the season. Roads were treacherous. So I postponed plans with the person I’ve been seeing. It’s more important that we both be safe than risk a car accident. Especially now, when hospitals are full of COVID patients. Thankfully, some fully vaccinated friends live nearby and were willing to walk a few blocks through a blizzard to play Mario Party with my kid and me. What a lovely way to kick off the weekend.

In that same vein, I want to be charmed by stories like “Trapped in Ikea: snowstorm in Denmark forces dozens to bed down in store” or “Dozens of strangers were snowed in at a U.K. pub.” But these weather events bring the climate crisis to mind. Which is the root cause of the devastating tornadoes that tore through the Southern US this weekend. The death toll is rising. In personally devastating news, a good friend is going into hospice care. He’s only 40. The last 16+ months he has been managing Stage IV cancer. A few of us will be having a zoom visit with him in a few days.

With so much bad news, it can be tough to keep my chin up and forge ahead. But I’m trying. In professional news, I am volunteering as a mentor in the A11Y NextGen program: “Our mission is to help people in the early stages of their accessibility journeys learn and grow together in an ally support group.” But I’m also working on my own professional growth. I’ve started studying for certification from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. I’ll be taking two separate exams early next year.

Before that, the holidays. Feels like we are bobsledding right into them at high speeds this year. Every year I have the intention of buying zero holiday gifts but I still pick up a few. Nothing extravagant. And mostly food or beverages or experiences (hoping it will still be safe to take my son on that trip in March). Next weekend we’re going on another double date with a pair of our mutual friends. That’s the advantage of dating someone you’ve known for decades through the local and fairly small music scene.

Self in a borrowed cat head mask

A Kite Dancing in a Hurricane

Early in 2020, I opted out of dating. After expending too much energy, yet again, attempting to change someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t meet my needs. Then the pandemic made it uniquely easy to roll with my singledom. But recently I reconnected with an old acquaintance. The pieces are falling into place. It has been extremely comfortable and reciprocal. Though it feels surreal to be experiencing this much happiness while the pandemic takes another turn, with the omicron variant (that’s already in Minnesota now). And the United States plunges deeper into neo-fascism, thanks, in part, to the right wingers on the Supreme Court. On top of that, we’ve got the continuing climate crisis to contend with. It’s December in Minnesota yet it is still sweatshirt weather with no snow on the ground. Last Winter’s lack of snow led to a massive drought all Spring and Summer.

Time marches on. Last week we enjoyed a small, in-person Thanksgiving gathering with our chosen family. My son and I upheld our little family unit’s annual traditions. I bleached out his hair on Black Friday and recolored it with a different hue. This time moving from cotton candy pink to a dark fuschia. Then we procured a Giftmas tree and decorated it before watching a Muppets Christmas special. I enjoyed a long weekend off from work. Spent a fair amount of time with the delightful person I’ve been seeing. He’s got an appointment for his booster shot son. My kid, myself, my Dad and his wife have already had theirs. Next month will be 2022. And before long, we’ll hit the two year mark of working from home for me, and remote college classes for my son.

A Christmas tree decorated with a tree topper that produces colorful psychedelic light patterns on the ceiling

Spectrum of Risk

Last week was a short work week. Now that I work for a financial institution, I get paid time off for banking holidays for the first time in my career. I took advantage of the long weekend by getting my Moderna booster shot. I sure know how to party. Next week is another short work week, with Thanksgiving and all. Speaking of, I saw this link for Unlearning Thanksgiving 101. It’s an indigenous-curated set of resources to help guide conversations / unlearning around the myth of thankstaking.

In alarming news, COVID cases have been skyrocketing in Minnesota. I’ll admit, I have been more social in recent weeks. I’ve eaten dinner inside restaurants once or twice. I attended a packed Patton Oswalt show (patrons were required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks inside but still). In public spaces, I keep my KN95 on. But I’ve been to a friend’s home a few times for small gatherings. It’s a tough balancing act between physical health and mental health. I an introverted extrovert. I feel better, overall, after spending time with the sort of people who fill my cup (I don’t miss mixing with folks who drained me). But the risk of breakthrough cases is a clear and present danger.

More mixed bag news:

Snow just started flying in Minnesota. We should be in better shape this winter than last, thanks to vaccines and boosters, but there is still so much uncertainty. Recommended reading: The Pandemic’s Next Turn Hinges on Three Unknowns: A potential winter surge is up to vaccines, variants, and us. I’ll just be over here, in the corner, with my anxiety.

Selfie while holding a red leaf in the sunshine with a tree with yellow leaves in the background