October 31, 2023

Grieving someone you've never met

If my math is correct, it's been about 68 hours since I found out that Matthew Perry died. Which means I've spent about 68 hours feeling all sorts of feelings that I didn't know you could feel when someone whom you've never met is no longer of this earth. According to a quick Google search and a top psychology site, this is normal, and one great way to deal with it is to write about it, so here we go.

There have been a few "celebrity deaths" that have affected me deeply. Tom Petty was probably the biggest. When the guy who seemingly writes the soundtrack to your life dies and you realize there will be no more music and no more concerts, it's hard. The deaths of Kobe Bryant and Paul Walker both affected me pretty strongly, mostly for the same reasons — I grew up admiring their work, and they held a big place in the pop culture from my coming of age years. Losing them felt like losing a bit of my youth.

But Matthew Perry hits differently. Way differently. As I wrote in my review of his book last year, I'm not one to obsess over celebrities. I'm not above getting hung up on someone from time to time. Good lord, I spent a large part of my summer watching almost everything Chris Rock has ever done, and you should see my Vivien Leigh memorabilia collection, but otherwise, I just don't care, and I just don't have time for it. Matthew Perry has been the exception for two decades or a little longer.

I've spent the last few days trying to pinpoint exactly why he was the exception. I didn't really watch Friends until its later seasons. I had a massive crush on him for a while (still do, I suppose), and how could you not? He is beautiful. But I've had a thousand crushes on a thousand guys, famous or not, so that's nothing special. Of course, he's also amazingly talented and gifted, though I felt his best work was sometimes overlooked. Don't get me started on Studio 60, and if you didn't like his movies, I'm sure you never saw Birds of America, Numb, or even The Ron Clark Story. I would have loved to see him do more dark and dramatic stuff.

I always wished he would write more. I know he wrote a play, The End of Longing, and I fully intended to go see it, but that was around the time my mom got sick and ended up on dialysis, which took over my life, so that never panned out. I know he wrote some TV shows, but I also know that the process is often muddled with too many people having a hand in it. When I found out he was writing a book last year, I was so freaking excited. I really hoped it would be the first of many. Memoirs. Fiction. Whatever. When it came out, I devoured it.

Actually, I was driving around yesterday, deep in thought, and it occurred to me that 90% of the male characters I've written over the last two decades have largely been inspired by MP. No one else has ever influenced my writing like that. I didn't even realize it until yesterday, but I guess he was my muse in a way. Is my muse. I think that's something that will stick with me forever. I hope it does.

There was just always something intriguing about him. Few people can master that type of humor, and when they do, I'm drawn to it. And I always felt there was a loneliness about him that I found all too relatable. Maybe that was part of the draw — seeing someone seemingly on top of the world experiencing some of the same stuff you often went through in life.

I actually enjoyed seeing him on talk shows and making random appearances that popped up on YouTube as much as I did his acting, which is why years and years and years ago, I even signed up for "Matthew Perry" Google Alerts (way back when that was a thing and he was promoting something or another) to make sure I didn't miss any of those appearances. And for whatever reason, I never stopped them, even as they became fewer and further between for a while. Every day, I'd check my email and see a million notifications from work clients and colleagues and the random junk I get from every store from which I've ever bought something, but those MP Google Alerts were peppered in there for nearly two decades. Admittedly, sometimes I deleted them without even reading them. Sometimes they were about the famous naval officer of the same name. (I'm not a big history person, but I know a lot about that dude now.) It was like my own little private thing, I guess, and it brought me a little moment of comfort every day.

Until it didn't.

68 hours ago, I sat down in my living room to finish an article. I'm going back to Costa Rica next week, so I wanted to get as caught up on work as possible before I left. I'd spent the first part of the day cleaning out some of my mom's stuff—mostly because my body needed a physical break from my laptop—and had just watched Georgia beat Florida, so I was in a good mood. Before I got started on work, I checked my email. There wasn't much. It was Saturday evening after all. A few ads from stores. A couple of those MP alerts. I almost just deleted them, but I didn't.

I opened one and mindlessly glanced at it. Then I deleted it and moved on to the Google Doc where my half-written article sat waiting for me. But then I got goosebumps, my body reacting before my mind made sense of it. Did that say "dead?" I went back to my email and clicked on my trash so I could read it again.

Sure enough, the alert was from a TMZ article. "Dead at 54." This was obviously a mistake. Some weird glitch in the Google Alert system that mixed up some headlines. Some other actor must have died. Rather than click on the link, I went to TMZ.com and saw the same headline there at the top of the page. And then I went to Twitter. If you ever want breaking news on any topic ever, go to Twitter. I saw his name listed in the trending topics, and my heart sank.

I just sat there numbly for a while, unable to comprehend this. There are maybe 2-3 people in my life who know about my little fascination with him. I texted them. They didn't respond. My dad was in the kitchen fixing himself something to eat. "Matthew Perry died," I yelled into the next room. The words didn't feel right coming out of my mouth.

"Who?" My dad asked. I repeated it. "He seemed to have a lot of problems," he said. I didn't like that response. Eventually my friends responded. I didn't like their responses. The whole word responded. None of it made any sense. Why didn't anyone understand that this didn't make sense? I didn't get that article finished that night. I couldn't even sleep. I cried the next day. I made dark jokes about it because that's what I do. I prayed. I told God that if this was his doing, I did not think it was his best decision. Pretty ballsy move on my part, I guess. And an awful lot of grieving for someone whom I've never even met…

Over the last 68 hours, I've gotten dozens of those Google Alerts. At first, I clicked on them, forgetting what kind of morbid little reminders they'd have inside, and I'd go into shock all over again. I eventually started deleting them again because it went from announcing that a beloved actor had died to horrible invasions of privacy and stories about him that are obviously not true.

Yesterday, I even debated stopping the Google Alerts completely, but I just can't bring myself to do that. One day maybe. There may even come a time when they just stop showing up daily, when the world moves on. But I'm not ready to move on yet. As I said, they became a little source of comfort for me. My security blanket. All of it was. The TV shows, the movies, the interviews, the appearances, the YouTube videos, the book — that's where I often turned when I was riddled with anxiety. When my mom was dying and I didn't think I could face another day. When a pandemic ruined some major life plans. When my dad was very sick in the hospital. When a boy I liked very much didn't like me back. When I lost a job. When I felt alone in the world. When my dog died. When my grandfather died. When my mind wouldn't settle at night and I couldn't sleep. 90% of the time, this guy who I never met got me through it.

There's a quote going around from an interview he did last year. "The best thing about me, bar none, is that if somebody comes to me and says, ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say ‘yes’ and follow up and do it. When I die, I don’t want Friends to be the first thing that’s mentioned. I want that to be the first thing that’s mentioned. And I’m gonna live the rest of my life proving that."

Obviously, for many people, Friends is what first comes to mind when they hear the name Matthew perry. That's where they know him from. That's how they'll remember him. That's how they'll mourn. That annoyed me a little bit initially, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it was a show that was more than just entertainment. I know for many of my friends and people of my generation, it was a source of comfort as we grew up and learned how to be adults. I know for many people it's a go-to when they're anxious or depressed, an escape. And I don't think it would be that without him.

But if you dig a little deeper, you'll see that he did have a much bigger impact on many people's lives beyond just starring on their favorite TV show. Google drug courts or the Lili Claire Foundation. Dig around on a site like Reddit for a minute, and you'll see people talk about how he inspired them to get sober and face their addictions. Look at some of the social media pages of the people who did know him well, like actors Hank Azaria and David Pressman, and you'll see lovely words for a guy who seemingly treated those around him with lots of love and respect.

It may not be exactly the legacy he wanted, but it seems that Matthew Perry left a huge impression on thousands, if not millions, of people in various ways. And there will forever be an MP-shaped hole in this world that no one else can fill.

As for me, well, I think I'll be sad about this for a long time. I felt like he had so much more to give the world, but in a way, I guess that's selfish because he already gave us so much. And I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm so, so grateful for that. From the years of entertainment to the writing inspiration, my life isn't the same because he was in this world. And if I'm feeling that way, I can only imagine how so many others do. With any luck, wherever he is now, Matthew Perry can see what he gave every single one of us and be proud that despite any battles he faced, his life was so important and the positive outweighs the negative a million times over.

And that's why I find myself sitting here grieving a guy I've never even met.

May 15, 2023

My grades are here!

UGA released our grades today. I already had a good idea of what I would receive in each class, but they're official now.

When I set out on this journey, I kind of jokingly said I was trying to make the Dean's List, but that was before I realized what I was getting myself into with precalculus.

So, I made two As, a B+, and, well, let's just say I passed precalculus and never have to worry about trig functions again. The B+ really should have been an A, but I missed a project deadline in one class when I had COVID, so there wasn't much I could do about that.

But I'm proud of what I did accomplish — and not just my grades, but the many life lessons I've learned over the last few months. I also received some great compliments, encouragement, and advice from two of my professors at the end of the semester (one of whom was actually my math teacher, belive it or not). Both of them encouraged me to go in totally opposite directions with my life, but that's okay. It's nice to know I've got options.

I'm still signed up for a couple of classes this summer, and if you asked me a few weeks ago, I would have told you I was going to drop them, but now I'm not so sure. One really interests me, so I may keep it at least. I have a few weeks to decide. I do enjoy school. I just don't want it to take over my entire life.

Anyway, this concludes my journey through attempting to be a full-time student again. Thanks for hanging in there with me. May we never do it again.

May 09, 2023

My first attempt at Costa Rican cooking

Shortly after I arrived in Costa Rica, a friend suggested I try some gallo pinto. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew I was suppose to have some "authentic Costa Rican food" later in the week, so I assumed that would be part of the meal. But after a day or two, I realized that the hotel where I was staying served it as part of the breakfast buffet. So I tried it.

First, I'd like to say I've been a picky eater all of my life. If my poor mother appeared on the planet again right then and saw me purposely eating rice and beans, she'd probably die all over again. But when I travel these days, I try to push myself to eat new things. And thank God I did because it was delicious. It became my go-to breakfast along with the little empanadas they served. I'm drooling just thinking about it again.

If you're not familiar with this dish, it is a Central American staple, and it's usually eaten at breakfast. Wikipedia says that gallo pinto means "spotted rooster" in Spanish, though I've yet to get that far with my Spanish lessons, so I'll have to take their word for it.

Anyway, I did go on to eat several other foods I never would have eaten at home while I was in Costa Rica. I'm really picky about the fruit I'll eat, but I sat on a beach and ate mango and pineapple for probably the first time in my life. I tried guava pastries and margaritas and passionfruit this and that, and when that authentic Costa Rican lunch did roll around, I tried it all without hesitation, even the bit that I realized later probably had mayo in it. I don't eat mayo. I didn't die though. And I still ate my fair share of hamburguesas (I have gotten that far in my Spanish lessons) from the hotel's 24/7 cafe, so I wasn't a total daredevil.

But ever since I've been home, I've been craving that gallo pinto. I wanted to make it, but I lost my taste with COVID, and then I got busy with school and work, and then I realized you have to have Lizano sauce — a popular Costa Rican condiment that our driver, Roy, introduced me to — to make it, which I ordered from Amazon, but then I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.

Well, today was finally the day. I was finally going to cook my first authentic Costa Rican dish. I'm not exactly eating carbs at the moment, but I figured I could make this one exception. Plus, I try to cook for my dad once or twice a week, and he used to love rice and beans when my mom cooked them, so I thought he'd love this. I decided to fry some chicken to go with it, and I was going to make another side dish.

Let's just say it didn't go exactly as planned.

First, I realized I had to actually cook the beans and rice before I could combine them to make this dish. I've never actually cooked beans before. When I had my dad try the ones I cooked today, he said, "Are these beans raw?"

Second, when I went to add the cilantro, I realized that my grocery delivery person brought me parsley instead. I added a little anyway. Why not?

Third, I couldn't decide between two recipes. There was one that seemed really popular when I googled, but I'm also a fan of Costa Rican chef Melissa Guzman (I'm actually hoping to take a cooking class with her when I go back), and I wanted to use her recipe too. So, for some reason, I decicded to combine them.

Fourth, I put the rice in the freezer to cool it down after I cooked it, and I totally forgot about it and had to thaw it out to add it to the mixture.

Fifth, I can't cook to save my life. I mean, I can make some things. And by "some things" I mean tacos and chicken nuggets. I also make a pretty mean lasagna, but beyond that, when I cook, there's a 50/50 chance the results will be edible. The older I get, the more I like the idea of one day having a husband who comes from a long day of work, and I've made him some amazing meal that he devours, but unless this guy I marry also has the diet of an American six-year-old, that is most likely going to remain a fantasy.

So, how did my first attempt at gallo pinto come out? Well, given everything I said, it wasn't awful. It did not taste like anything I ate in Costa Rica, but it's edible. If you like hard crunchy beans and thawed rice. Though, my dad took a look at it and said, "I've had heartburn all day. I better not eat it." Where's the eyeroll emoji when I need it?

It's probably a good idea that he opted out of the meal. The fried chicken I made turned out pretty bad as well, and that's something I actually know how to make pretty well. I blame that on the brand of chicken I had though. I'm pretty picky about that, but again, my grocery delivery person got something else before I could object. And I never even got around to making another side dish.

So, my first attempt at Costa Rican wasn't a total disaster, but I wouldn't call it a success either. Honestly, I have about as much patience with cooking as I do with precalculus, but it doesn't stop me from trying when the random inspiration hits. I guess I'll just have to wait until I go back later this summer to have some good gallo pinto.

May 01, 2023

The Last Day of School

Today was the last day of school.

Remember back in January, when I was counting down the days until it started? Well, I've spent the last few weeks counting down the days until was over. And now, except for a final I have on Thursday (on my birthday of all days, go figure), I'm done.

I'm ready to get my life back. I'm burned out. I don't think I'll ever take a full load again. I actually talked to my advisor about this, and she was not really surprised, so maybe I did try to take on a little too much.

First, I had no idea what I was getting myself into with precalculus.

UGA has one of the most intense, difficult precalculus programs in the country. I've read that on multiple occasions. I had to have the class for my degree, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up. Looking back, I should have taken it on its own, not with three other courses. I also had no idea that I would actually have to attend class three days a week. I thought it was all independent work. Having a class smack dab in the middle of the day three days a week puts a damper on my schedule… or lack thereof.

Second, I'm not a math person. Ironically, I made a perfect score on the math portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test back in the day, and I've done pretty well in algebra, but beyond that, I'm a lost cause. I'm too lazy, impatient, and self-involved for any of it. I just don't care enough to try. And now, my brain is either too old, too bored, or too anxiety-filled (maybe all three) to memorize the identities of trig functions and rules of exponents and all those geometry formulas.

That got even worse during the two or so weeks I had COVID. My attention level waned, and I fell far behind pretty quickly, and I never really caught back up.

Thank God for YouTube. There are a few channels over there that do nothing but teach math, and they're the only way I managed to even get through this class. I highly recommend Brian McLogan and the Organic Chemistry Tutor if you need them. I got to the point where my professor's lectures didn't make sense, so I quit paying attention to them and just went to YouTube to learn how to do certain types or problems.

Admittedly, I've only done well on one of the three big tests we've had, and I don't expect to do well on the final later this week. My hope is that I just pass the class so that if I continue this little journey towards that degree, I don't have to take it again.

As for my other classes, well… one was not great. The professor didn't really know what she was doing. I don't want to go into details, but there was a language barrier and some other issues. Add to it that the subject matter was far less appealing than it seemed initially, and I honestly felt like I was just phoning it in for that class.

My third class was actually a science course on a topic I really like, but it didn't focus on the aspects of the topic that I'm most interested in (basically, there was more physical science than biology), plus every week, at least 50% of the class would go on some tirade about climate change. Like one week, I proposed an idea that could actually help end world hunger in a fairly short amount of time, and I got berated because I didn't consider climate change when coming up with the idea. I don't know, I figure people would rather have access to food before they start thinking about all of that. It seemed a bit elitist. I got to the point where I just wanted to power through that class too.

My last class was actually my favorite. I hit it off with the professor early on, and all of our assignments involved a lot of reading and writing, which is right up my alley. But even that lost its luster. First, I didn't get to finish a project we had (that I'd actually been looking forward to) because of the whole COVID thing, and for some reason, I could never bring myself to ask the professor for an extension. There was another incident that soured me, and while I continued to work hard in that class, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

If I had to go back and do it all again, my initial reaction is to say no. It almost causes me to panic to even think about it. But I don't regret any of it because I think I learned more about myself and life over the last four months than I have in quite a while.

I also learned more during my spring break in Costa Rica than I did in any of my classes, but it was the juxtaposition of the trip with school that really taught me something. I'm still trying to get out of the mode where I have to pack every single thing I want to do in my life into a short period of time. I think a lot of that comes from having to take care of my mom for so long and giving up so much of my time. I learned how to juggle during that period of my life, but I'm tired of juggling. Yes, there are still many things I want to do, but I don't actually have to do them all at the same time, and there is really no deadline on 90% of them.

I just want to simplify things a little bit. There is so much that I've been holding onto that was part of my old life — my life with my mom — that I'm ready to let go of now. Going to Costa Rica and doing things way outside of my comfort zone taught me that. While my interests haven't necessarily changed, my mindset has. When I try to do too much at once, I get distracted from my real goals. Somehow, in the eight short days I was in Costa Rica, I figured this out, and I came home with three very basic specific goals that I was ready to conquer. School wasn't one of them, so it felt like a burden after that — yet another reason to slow down and take a class or two at a time. I have a decent job. I don't need that degree for my professional goals. If I get it when I'm 45 or 65 or 85 or never at all, it's not going to change anything. UGA will always be a special place to me and an important part of my life regardless, and I'll always have some good memories from my first time there and this time too.

And the final issue that played into my burnout is that I barely worked for the first couple of months of this semester. That made it a little easier to spend seven hours on math homework. Once I returned from Costa Rica, a project started up that I just didn't want to ignore. So, I became a little resentful that all the school work was taking away from my bottom line. Anyway, I'm supposed to take a class this summer, but I haven't decided if I will or not. It's actually one of the classes I was really looking forward to, so I may stick it out. And after that, who knows? My real plan for the next few months is to focus on those three basic goals that I came up with in March, now that I have my time back. Oh, and I'm also learning Spanish.

Because later in the summer, I'm going back to Costa Rica with a different mindset. I fell in love with that country and the people there and the way of living. All my life, I feel like I've been searching for a place to belong, and every city I've tried hasn't quite lived up to what I was looking for. Charleston, Savannah, and the whole Lowcountry area are the only places that come close. So, I want to go back and make sure I'm not making it all up. And after that, who knows? It's time to start taking one day at a time rather than trying to plan everything all at once.

What I do know is that today is the last day of school, and while it really wasn't as bad as I'm probably making it out to be, I'm excited to move on. I'm worn out. My professors and fellow students are too. We've even talked about it in class. There's a reason students get summers off.

And I can't say I didn't learn anything at all this semester. For example, I'm not so great at most of the precalculus, no, but I can compound interest with the best of them. I'd like to think the class that I enjoyed helped improve my writing a little bit. And I learned that no matter what the subject matter is, college students in 2023 can equate anything, ANYTHING, with either climate change or Taylor Swift.

April 29, 2023

Book Review: Going to Ground by Amy Blackmarr

Next week is my last week of school, and it couldn't come sooner, but I don't want to dwell on that. Instead, I want to talk about a book I had to read for one of my classes. We got to pick from a specific list of nonfiction books, and I intially planned to read something else entirely, but I'd also purchased Going to Ground: Simple Life On a Georgia Pond by Amy Blackmarr, and when I read the prologue, I knew this was the one for me.

It's about a woman in her 30s who gives up her life and career in Kansas and moves back home to South Georgia to, well, live a simple life. She moves into her grandparents' old fishing cabin with plans to write, and each chapter is about her experiences, which range from dealing with poisonous snakes to not having hot water. But in between, there are beautiful discriptions of the land and so much heart. I didn't expect that when I first started reading.

On a personal note, I related to so much of this book. It could have been written by me at this similar stage of life. Since my mom died, I've been trying to figure out what's next for me, and it felt like Blackmarr was speaking directly to me. From her desire to simplify her life to her attachment to the land where she spent so much time growing up, there were passages I felt like I could have written myself. And I don't want to spoil the ending, but I may have shed a tear or 2,000. Part of that was due to an incident, and part of that was due to a situation in which Blackmarr found herself that I feel like I'll find myself in one day. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's a heavy thing.

So, yeah, this book was published back in the mid-1990s — I'm a little late to the game — but I highly recommend it if you find yourself in a similar place in life. And even if you don't, there may be something for you. It's a beautiful snapshot of what life is like in rural South Georgia with a little humor mixed in too. As a matter of fact, it made the Georgia Center for the Book's 2005 list of "25 Books All Georgians Should Read."

As for me, I plan to explore more of Blackmarr's writing. And as I continue my journey towards whatever is next to me, I think I'll find myself reflecting on this book often.

April 12, 2023

You can't wait to write until you're in the mood...

I ran across this quote the other day. It's from the late Southern author Harry Crews.

"You can’t wait to write until you’re in the mood. My God, if you waited until you were in the mood, it would take forever. You have to sit down. The name of the game is to put it in the chair."

It's not the first time I've heard some version of it. In fact, it's probably the most common advice you'll ever receive if you want to be a writer. When people ask me how to get started writing, it's usually the first piece of advice I give them. Because I know it's true, and it's the only way I've ever gotten anywhere in my own writing career.

But the truth is that I don't necessarily always practice what I preach, and that's why many of my personal projects never see the light of the day. I'm the world's worst at saying, "I'm too sad to work on this story I'm writing today" or "I'm so tired and just not in the mood to come up with something funny to write for this," so I'll make a few notes on my phone or "do some research" and promise myself I'll do the actual writing tomorrow. Then days and weeks pass before I touch it again, I lose interest and inspiration, and the whole thing becomes another sad, abandoned file on my computer.

Throw in the fact that I write for a living — for other people — and it can be hard to switch mindsets from creating content for someone else's website to working on that new novel I've been dreaming up for the last few weeks. It's also easy to lose your voice a little bit while doing that.

I was actually just talking about this topic with my friend and colleague, Chris Queen, and he agreed with me, but he also said, "It's easy to make excuses to procrastinate, especially when you write other things for a living."

And he's right. Most of it is just that: excuses. Yes, having a writing career that is not your ideal and writing what you want to write are two different situations that can make the other a bit more difficult, but they don't have to cancel each other out.

When I was in Costa Rica, I started thinking about what I truly want out of life. What are my real goals? Which parts of my life are distractions from those? In the eight days I was there, it felt like all the gunk that had been building up in my mind over the last seven or eight years was slowly disappearing. I finally felt some clarity. I came up with three specific goals that I need to focus on to get myself to that place I want to be. One of them was that I need to start making my personal writing projects a priority again.

I didn't take my laptop on this trip. I didn't even take a notebook or anything to write in, which I regretted immediately, but I promised myself that when I got home, I would start writing. Daily. It didn't matter how much work I had, how much schoolwork I had, which animal needed what, or how tired I was or what mood I was in — I would work on something just for me every day. Even if I just sat down at my computer and typed out a paragraph of nonsense, I would follow my own advice and the advice that many others have given over the years.

It didn't quite work out that way. As we all know by now, I came down with COVID the week after I got back. I got behind on everything. I'm still behind on some things. And my goal kind of slipped through my fingers for a little while. But one night last week, I was kind of in a weird mood, and I had these ideas running through my head. It was late, but I was inspired, so I sat down and started to write. What came out was pretty good, I thought, and I actually had some big ideas about where it could go.

The next day, I had a ton of stuff to do. Between school and work, I was on my computer for about 11 to 12 hours that day, and that night, when I was at a stopping point, I shut my laptop down and got in bed. It was midnight. I was exhausted. I wasn't in the mood to look at the computer screen anymore. But then I remembered my goal, so I got up, grabbed the laptop and brought it to bed with me. I figured I'd just aim for that paragraph of nonsense, but two hours later, I'd written several pages and came up with several new ideas for this new project.

Will it ever see the light of day? I have no idea. But I feel like I'm in the groove now. And even if it doesn't, I know it will lead to other projects that might actually become something. As it turns out, just making a daily effort really is the best thing you can do. Which I knew. I'm just really good at coming up with excuses. I hate to compare it to a sport, but that's kind of what it is. You have to condition yourself and practice. There may be some rare weirdos who can wait for the mood to strike, but for most of the rest of us, putting yourself in that chair and forcing words out of your head is the only place to start.

So, if this is a hobby or career you want to investigate, don't go asking people for advice. At least, not at first. Sit down every day and write something. Anything. A chapter. A paragraph, A blog post. Keep doing it every day. That's where you can see if you have what it takes.

And if you're waiting for the mood to strike, you're doing it wrong. I once wrote an entire book while I was in the process of moving back in with my parents because the house I was renting had suddenly become unavailable. On the other hand, I once spent a week at the beach (see the picture above) by myself with plans to do nothing but write, and I came home emptyhanded. There is no right mood, and there is no perfect time or place to get started.

April 03, 2023

Chris Rock Therapy

Ain't gonna lie. It's been a rough few weeks since I got back from Costa Rica. And if you'd told me a few weeks ago that the only thing that would get me through it would be Chris Rock, I probably would have thought you were crazy, but here I am. Let me start from the beginning.

As I said in my last post, I came home from my trip, and a few days later, I had COVID. It hasn't been that bad overall, but it just seems to linger. I think some of that is actually pollen allergies because that's awful right now too, but I came home with these big plans and have yet to be able to implement them. Not only that, but I got behind on everything else. Then my dad got it. He's fine, but he was convinced he was going to die for about the first week, and that was fun to listen to. And on top of all that, I decided to do something way outside my norm, and while the results weren't necessarily bad, they weren't exactly what I was hoping for, and that left me kind of sad and confused for a while. And that's a lot for one short period of time that can rob your energy and optimism, especially when I came home on the highest of highs.

But I'm happy to report that I'm finally feeling almost back to normal, both mentally and physically, and there was no doctor or therapist involved or anything. I simply have Chris Rock to thank.

It all started when I was in Costa Rica. A friend of mine texted me and told me she'd watched his new Netflix special, Selective Outrage. She told me I should watch it when I got home. I tabled that idea and didn't think much more about it until a week or two later when I was in my bed looking for something that would take my mind off my troubles, something that I wouldn't have to think about too much. Something funny.

I love a good stand-up special, but I've watched most of the good ones on Netflix already — Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, etc., so I decided I'd try the Chris Rock one. The thing is I'm not sure I've ever actually seen any of his stand-up. As a matter of fact, I was looking at his filmography, and I've only seen a few of his movies. I have no idea why this is. He is a couple of decades older than me, and I was not allowed to watch SNL and stuff like that back in the day, but that doesn't seem like reason enough to have never crossed paths with much of his work.

So, I watched Selective Outrage, and I laughed so much that I had to take more cough medicine. I totally forgot about everything that was plaguing me for that hour or so. And the next night, I watched it again. And over the next few nights, I found myself trying to find something else that would put me back in that mindset, but I couldn't. So I searched and decided to try another Chris Rock special from years ago. And then another. And another. And within a few days, I'd watched every single bit of stand-up I could find that he's ever done. I even went on to download his comedy albums on iTunes, and I started watching some of his TV shows and movies.

So, is Chris Rock like some magic kind of medicine that cures everything that ails you, from COVID to heartbreak? Well, I'm no scientist, but I can only share my experiences. The man is a freaking beautiful genius. And I guess a lot of people already knew that. I'm just not sure why it's taken me so long to figure it out, but now I know what to turn to next time I find myself in such a situation.

March 25, 2023

PTD with a side of COVID

Up until last week, I'd never heard of post-travel depression (PTD). I'd certainly never experienced it. As I stated in my last post, I'm usually all in on a trip for the first three or four days and then I'm ready to get home, but this one went a little differently. I flew down to Costa Rica kicking and screaming and flew back to Atlanta the same way.

When I first got home, I had no desire to do anything that didn't involve me hopping on a plane and going back. School, work, my garden, my animals — I had no interest in any of it. I spent the first day in bed watching TV and recovering from a long day of travel. I spent the second day doing pretty much the same thing. I truly fell in love with that country and its people and the way of life. Being home just left me feeling unsettled. But then it got worse.

On Tuesday, I went out to feed everyone, and when I came back inside, I decided to make some ramen, which I never eat, but warm brothy food sounded good, and then I went to bed and slept until Wednesday. By Thursday, I thought I had a cold, but a friend told me to take a COVID test, so I did, and it was positive. By Saturday, my dad had it too, and he can be a tad dramatic when he's sick, and I knew I probably wasn't going to die from it, but his complaining might kill me.

I'd planned to hit the ground running when I got home to start working on a few things, but it's kind of hard to do that when you're sick. And really, it hasn't been that bad — more of an annoyance. I get tired easily, and the cough/runny nose is relentless. I also injured myself coughing, which I'm pretty sure takes a special kind of talent. Anyway, I know a lot of people have had it much worse, and I do have friends who have died or lost loved ones to it, so I'm grateful it hasn't been too bad. But man, the timing mixed with this so-called PTD sucks.

Throw in the fact that we seemed to be on a permanent freeze warning for the whole last week and a half when I'd just spent eight glorious days in the most beautiful warm, humid weather, and then there was the time change. And because I try to be somewhat responsible (unlike the sick lady who sat next to me on the plane and most likely got me sick), I couldn't really go anywhere because of the COVID. I can't smell or taste anything. I'm way behind on school, particularly math. I totally missed a big project for one of my classes in which I basically had a perfect grade. And a few nights ago, I decided to go out on a limb and do something I never ever do, and it did not really pay off, at least not the way I'd hoped — just made me feel like the world's biggest loser.

So, can I go back to Costa Rica yet?

Well, as it turns out, I can. This morning I was in bed, moping over the crazy thing that I did that didn't really have the results I'd hoped for, and I was texting a friend of mine. "Get up! Go do something fun!" she said.

"What's fun?" I asked.

"What's fun to you?" she said.

"Going to Costa Rica," I responded.

"So go," she said. "You can work from anywhere. Why not?"

She's right. The truth is that I really have been mentally planning a trip to go back since before I even got home. There's not much stopping me. I do have responsibilities here, though my dad and I have actually talked about this since I've been back. He's mostly willing to help me out with that for as long as he can, though we had this talk before he tested positive for COVID too, so I am not sure we're still on the same page. And I've decided to pause on adding any more responsibility to my life for a while until I figure this out. My biggest dilemma is leaving my dog, but she actually did pretty well while I was gone.

So, I'm planning to go back before the year is over. I could easily see myself spending a lot of time there in the future. It's hard to describe, but I just felt like I belonged there. Or maybe I just changed there, and it's not Costa Rica but me. After all, I stepped way outside of my comfort zone in many ways during those eight days. And even a little bit after I got home. Costa Rica me seems to have a lot less anxiety than Atlanta me, and I don't hate that. The only way to figure that out, I think, is to go back and dig in deeper. I'd also like to go back in better shape and having done more research on what I'd like to do while I'm there. I didn't take this first trip seriously enough.

Back when I was a little younger and traveled more frequently, my mom would joke that I liked to go on trips because it wasn't real life. I didn't have to cook, clean, work, etc. And admittedly, we stayed in a swanky resort and didn't have to do a lot of real life stuff during this particular trip, but as the week went on, I found myself wanting to. I really just wanted to go to a grocery store (says the girl who has been in a grocery store exactly once since March 2020). I wanted to see what it would be like to stay in a house that I had to keep up there. I wanted to have to learn some Spanish to communicate and pay for things in colones. That's why this felt different. I wasn't craving the vacation experience, I was craving the Costa Rican experience.

And I'm not sure where any of this will take me, but I'm gonna try to sit back and enjoy the ride. If I ever stop coughing...

March 20, 2023

I didn't want to go to Costa Rica

I didn't want to go to Costa Rica.

Just ask my poor cousin who drove me to the airport. She told me the other night that she was afraid I was not even going to get on the plane. But I've wanted to go to Costa Rica for well over a decade. And after my mom died, I wanted to go…somewhere. Anywhere. I was itching to get away from here, be it permanently or temporarily, so one of my friends and I booked a trip.

But in the weeks and even months leading up to it, I was so anxious about it. Looking back, I think I was just afraid to get outside of my comfort zone in many ways, but I'd invested too much money, and I couldn't let my friend down, so I went.

At some point after that ride to the airport, something changed.

I got up early that Saturday morning, and the first thing I did was bust my lip. It wouldn't stop bleeding. Two hours after I did it, I was standing in line at the airport holding a bloody paper towel to my face and wondering why I thought traveling during spring break would be a good idea. There were college kids everywhere. The security line was a nightmare because most of them had no idea what they were doing. Once I finally made it to my gate, we were informed that a flight attendant didn't show up, and we had to wait for one to come in from Nashville. My plane left two hours after it was supposed to, and the moment it lifted off, I got sick. I haven't gotten motion sickness since I was a kid and have never had it on a plane, but I spent the next few hours trying not to puke all over the mouthy old lady sitting next to me.

By the time I landed in San Jose, I just wanted to go home and maybe take a nap first. But somehow I managed to pull the wrong suitcase off the carousel and had to take it back and find mine, which took forever. And then, as I finally met my friend outside the airport, some guy came and tried to take my suitcase, and I nearly belted him, but she informed me that he was our driver.

Thankfully, my friend had some nausea medication with her, and the driver who I nearly took out had some cold water waiting for us. And thankfully, the two-hour drive to our hotel was rather pretty and distracting from the fact that I felt like death.

The hotel itself was gorgeous, and every single person who worked there was beyond nice. That was one of the first things that struck me about the country in general — the people are so nice. I realize 90% of everyone I dealt with works in the hospitality industry, but they go above and beyond what is expected. Even the immigration and security people at the airport were so kind.

A guy showed us to our room, and it was just breathtaking. We stayed at the Los Suenos Marriott Resort, and we splurged a little for a "swim-up" room, which basically means you step off your little patio, and you have your own little pool there that you share with about 10 other rooms. It was well worth the extra money so you could, for example, come home from a harrowing ATV experience in the jungle and jump in and cool off before heading out to eat.

I'm really not a resort kind of person — my friend who came along won't travel otherwise — but I will say it's one of the nicest places I've ever stayed. (When I go back, I'd like to rent a house and kind of immerse myself in the culture a bit more.) The only problem I really had was with some of the other guests. There was a group of young men (maybe college freshmen?) and their parents, and they were extremely rude, loud, and entitled. I was embarrassed as an American at the way they treated the place.

That night we swam and ordered room service, and I was starting to feel a little better, but I remember texting my cousin who had driven me to the airport and telling her I still didn't want to be there. I told her I was just going to have to count down the days until I came home. And I really felt that way for the next day or two.

On Tuesday, things changed. I've told this story 8,000 times in many formats, so I am going to try to keep it short, but my friend and I each picked an activity that we really wanted to do no matter what. Hers was an ATV jungle tour. I have never been on an ATV. I've never had a desire to. I've watched too many friends get hurt on them. When it comes to activities like this, put me in the water or on a boat. But she agreed to do my thing, so I went along with hers. I couldn't sleep the night before. I couldn't eat breakfast that morning. I was so nervous when I first got on the thing that one of the guides asked me if I knew how to drive a car.

I managed to make it up the mountain, but when those guys told me that I would have to let one of them drive me to the waterfall where we were supposed to swim, I just lost it. I've jokingly compared it to being a little girl when my mom signed me up for gymnastics. I was all for all of the activities except for doing a flip over the uneven bars. I specifically remember a night during which Miss Paige and Miss Ivy stood on either side of me and begged, bargained, and bribed. They offered me stickers, a milkshake, $20, and a trip to my favorite store. They promised they would hold on to me and not let me fall. I refused. I cried. And here I was 30 years later in the same position, only Miss Paige and Miss Ivy were replaced by Juan and Jesse, these hot Costa Rican dudes.

I've reflected on this a lot, and I realize it wasn't so much that I was afraid of the drive down as I was just afraid of giving up that much control among other things that had nothing to do with the actual steep, rocky terrain on which we were about to embark. But those guys were patient and professional and knowledgeable and honest, and when Juan said, "I've made up your mind for you," I ran out of excuses. And believe me, I had a lot of excuses.

So, I rode to the waterfall with Juan, and it wasn't so bad. I regret not enjoying the waterfall more, but I was just terrified at that point, so terrified I could barely even walk to it. My legs were shaking. The other ladies in our group swam and took pictures. I sat on a rock. My friend wasn't feeling well, so she decided to head back up the path early, and I followed. When I got to the top, I just kind of sat down in the middle of the dirt and wondered how in the world my life had come to a point where I was sitting in the dirt in the middle of a jungle in Central America trying to regulate my breathing the way Mel Gibson did with his asthmatic son in the movie Signs.

A few minutes later, Juan came up behind me, made some jokes, and asked if I was good. I think I responded by asking if he'd drive me back. He said, "of course. I'll have to." I said, "No, back all the way." He laughed and said, "To the office? We can do that." Thank God. Not only did I not want to drive, but I had zero confidence in my ability to do anything for myself at this point, and plus, I'm not gonna lie, if I have to ride on one of those things, it's a lot more fun riding along with a cute Costa Rican dude than it is going solo.

When we got back to the office, that's when I realized something had changed. I was no longer counting down the minutes until I could go home. I kind of wanted to stick around and see what else this place had to offer. I mean, I'd survived the thing I was dreading the most and actually ended up having a little teeny tiny bit of fun with it. And it really opened my eyes to some things about myself that I needed or wanted to change, but that's a story for another day.

The rest of the day I was kind of on a cloud. I remember Juan joking that he and I had to go back up the mountain to get the vehicle I'd made them leave behind. I remember getting back to our hotel and jumping in the pool. We went to the hotel bar for supper, and I had the best nachos I've had in my life and a couple of gin and tonics that probably kept me on that cloud a little longer. I also remember being super sore the next day.

On Thursday, we got to do my activity of choice, and that was a little less demanding. It was actually one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, though when I excitedly posted my videos and pictures on social media, I was met with lots of disgust. Apparently, most people don't find it exciting to let monkeys climb all over you. Well, I'm not most people. I'm the person who would think I could go pet a lion and it'd be cool.

So, we had to get up early that morning to go hang with the monkeys, but it was pouring, and there was a chance it might get postponed. Unsure, we headed to the resort's breakfast buffet, which was actually always really good. I took a picture of my plate each day, and I went from eating bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns to empanadas, gallo pinto, and fresh fruit really quickly. I tend to be a picky eater, but I wanted to embrace the culture. I just had no idea I'd wind up eating beans and rice for breakfast every day and craving it like crazy when I came home.

The rain eventually stopped, and we sat outside and waited for someone to come pick us up for the monkey thing, and that is when we met Roy. I know I joke about leaving with a crush on Juan, but if I'm honest with myself, I think I really left with a little crush on Roy. He was just the kindest person I've ever met. He's a taxi driver, but our guide had some sort of emergency we were told, so he led the tour for us, and it was just the three of us, and it was just such a fun, pleasant day.

We drove out to this place where monkeys live in the wild, but they're human-friendly, and will come climb on you, especially if you have fruit. Or in my case, they will climb on you and smash bananas into your shirt and play with your hair. I loved every minute of it and have no less than 60 videos of monkeys on my phone now. He explained to us that it was birthing season, so the alpha male and the females were a bit territorial, but he walked us up the road and showed us where the moms and babies were hanging out in the trees.

After that, we went to a nearby beach and ate fresh local fruit and talked for a while. I really enjoyed getting to know more about Roy's life, and he talked about how the pandemic had impacted the country. I really could have just listened to him talk all day. I wanted to know everything about him. He was a cool guy, and I got the feeling he had an interesting past. I regret not asking him more, but I was also trying not to be too nosy. Next, we went to Tarcoles Bridge to check out the crocodiles who live there — they did not climb on me — and after that, we went to this little restaurant to enjoy an authentic Costa Rican meal. It was so good. My only regret is that I was too full to finish it all after breakfast and the fruit at the beach.

My friend wanted to go into town and pick up some souvenirs for her family, so I suggested we ask Roy if he could take us rather than using the hotel transportation. I just felt really safe and comfortable with him, and I wish we had met him earlier in the week, so he could have driven us everywhere. We jumped in the pool to cool down for a bit, and then he came back and took us into Jaco and showed us where the good places to shop were located. I just can't express enough how much I enjoyed his company. I did not want to say goodbye when he finally took us back to the hotel.

By Saturday, I didn't want to say goodbye to any of it. The girl who started the week hoping to "just get through it" had fallen in love with this beautiful country. And it is beautiful. The people are so kind. I had a friend say, "There are kind people in the United States too," and I know that, but it's a different type of kindness. It's more authentic. The way of life is just so refreshing. It's more laid-back and casual. It felt like time passed a little more slowly. And the weather — it was warm and humid and while I did my fair share of sweating, most of the time I felt like I was being embraced by a warm sunshine hug. Really, that's the best way I can think to describe it. I wanted to be outside all the time, and thankfully, that's almost possible there. Everything there just felt right.

Well, everything except for the lack of Diet Coke, but I can learn to live with that, I suppose.

Maybe it's cliche for an American to go to some foreign country and find themselves or whatever, but I just really felt like I belonged there in a way that I've never felt anywhere else. I get homesick easily, especially when I have to leave my dog. Three or four days into a trip, and I'm beyond ready to come home. This sort of had the opposite effect on me. I went in kicking and screaming, and I did not want to leave when it was over. Since I've been home, I've been questioning everything I thought I knew about myself and what I want out of life. Maybe it's just some kind of weird post-vacation hangover, but it doesn't feel like that.

Right now, I'm just trying to get over the COVID the lady on the plane ride home gave me. She coughed like a smoker and blew her nose the entire time, so I figured it was inevitable. But after that (and after I finish this precalculus class), I'm gonna take some time and slow things down a bit and see if this amounts to anything or if it was just a fluke. Either way, I know that right now, I'd be more than happy to go back to Costa Rica for another visit. There is so much more I want to do and see. As the guy who drove us to the airport said, "You've only seen the tip of the iceberg."

February 17, 2023

When a room is more than a room...

This past Tuesday night — Valentine's Day — marked the first night I've slept in an actual bed since September 7. It was also the first night that I've ever slept on a brand new mattress, at least in my adult life. As far as I can remember, I've always just slept on hand-me-downs from my parents or grandparents. I have to say it's pretty nice.

That first night, I slept like a baby. On the second, my mind was racing. But I wasn't stressed about work or school or anything like that. I was thinking about the room in which I slept.

Up until September, Sadie, my dog, and I slept in one of the bedrooms upstairs, but in September, she tore her ACL, and stairs are now out of the question. We started sleeping in the den — me on the sofa and her in a dog bed — but I knew that wasn't a long-term solution. After much debate, I ended up buying a king-size bed earlier this year with plans to turn the little spare bedroom downstairs into a place where we could sleep.

It's taken me a while to clean that little room up, but I finally got it done over the weekend. Or mostly done. Done enough to roll out a king-size mattress on the floor. And that room may be the smallest, most insignificant room in the house, but now that I'm spending so much time in there, I can't help but think about how much time I've spent in there in the past.

This house has been a part of my life from day one and probably always will be in some capacity. My grandparents built it when my dad was in high school, and I grew up in the house next door. When my grandfather died a few years ago, my parents bought this one and moved in, and I've been living here with them as my mom's health got worse over the years. Now, it's just my dad and me, and one day, it will be mine alone.

As a kid, when I'd spend the night with my grandparents, that's where I slept. My toys were kept in that closet in a yellow laundry basket. I vaguely remember a blue and peach? maybe bedspread, and I remember hearing my grandfather snoring in the room next door and telling my grandmother I'd heard a bear. Thinking about that kind of took me by surprise as I remembered I'd actually slept in there many times before this week.

When my grandfather retired, they turned that room into his office with his big executive desk and all of his Georgia Bulldogs memorabilia. When that happened, maybe around the time I was in middle school, I'd come spend hours in there using his computer for school (or, at least, pretending I had to do schoolwork on it) because I didn't yet have one of my own. As the years passed and we all got older, I'd spend time in there with him, talking sports and politics, asking for advice, looking at pictures, and getting to know him as more than just the guy who fell asleep in his recliner watching the Braves games when I was a kid. When he died, most of his stuff was cleaned out, but his college diploma still hangs on the wall.

When my parents moved in several months later, my mom deemed it her office/craft room. She had a little home business at the time, plus more craft supplies than you could possibly imagine, and I helped her move them all over here from the house next door. The room became her space to get away from it all for several years until her health began to decline further.

Eventually, after being on dialysis for a couple of years, she decided to give home dialysis a try. She'd need a clean room where she could close the door and keep traffic, both human and animal, at bay. That room was really the only option, so I helped her pack up all the craft supplies again and haul them back to my parents' old house. I think it took 11 trips in my Jeep. Or maybe 13? Something like that. And that's not counting what we stored in the basement.

If you know anyone who has ever done home dialysis, you know that it comes with many supplies. Pallets piled with heavy boxes full of bags filled with liquid arrive every other week. After packing up all the craft stuff, my dad and I hauled all of those heavy boxes in and set up the space so she could sleep in there and do her treatments at night. It was exhausting, but she was so excited for the change. She had a nice nurse who came out and taught us how to do it and checked in from time-to-time, and for those two months or so, that room was a clinic.

Looking back, it felt like forever. My mom had broken her pelvis shortly before it happened, so that prevented her from being able to move the way she needed to. The machine was not working correctly, and I didn't actually figure that out until we were near the end of this trial process.

It was also one of the most stressful times of my life. After I'd go to sleep (if I did go to sleep - it got to the point where I'd just sit there in bed, anxious for the call), she'd inevitably call me and tell me it wasn't working. I had to go troubleshoot. This meant sitting up for hours and waiting to see what would happen when I did. I was so tired during the days that I'd fall asleep sitting in a chair. In the meantime, I was in the process of trying to find a house to buy because I was in the process of working towards adopting a baby, which I couldn't do without a home. On top of that, someone at my job had thrown me under the bus to save themselves in a particular situation, and I pretty much didn't work for a few months until it was rectified.

Even though that period was dark, I still remember those nights when my mom and I sat up in that room, waiting to see if the dialysis would work. We watched TV. She enjoyed Impractical Jokers. It's how I came to find the podcast that probably saved me, but that's a story for another day. We listened to music. Lots of Tom Petty, the one thing we could agree on. We sang. We made jokes. As awful as that period was, it really turned into a bonding experience. I'd promised her that as long as she was on dialysis, we'd be a team, and I felt like those nights really reinforced our dedication to that. Every trial she faced was mine too.

When my mom finally gave up on the home dialysis, we spent hours dismantling, donating, and tossing the supplies, and then we lef the room alone. No one really wanted to go in there after that, plus things got kind of crazy. That next year, she'd get severely injured in an accident that required many surgeries, and just as she recovered from that, my dad ended up with sepsis and needed open-heart-surgery. Her issues took up the first half of the year. His took up the second. I think I spent more time in a hospital in 2019 than I did any room in the house.

And suddenly, it was 2020. COVID hit my mom hard. She's a social person. She needs to get out and see people and go to the store and shop and interact. But given her health issues, that didn't seem like such a great idea at the time. Dialysis was her only outing. She needed something to do here to keep her busy . So, she asked me if I'd turn that room back into her craft room. I just wanted to see her happy at that point, so I did.

I spent the better part of a month that summer removing the rest of the dialysis supplies, cleaning the room as best I could, hauling all of her craft supplies back to this house yet again, and organziing them into labeled containers so that she could access them easily. It was definitely a labor of love — I'm telling you, this woman had enough craft supplies to fill that room 10 times. She loved the result, but I'm not sure she even used it until about two months before she died. That summer, she got really into it and started making all sorts of things with plans to take them to the shop to sell for fall and the holidays. It breaks my heart to think she had no idea that she would not live to see that time of year.

She painted and sewed and had a hot-glue gun running daily. The room became her happy place again in those final days, which was nice, because she wasn't very happy about much of anything else that summer.

And on the day she died, my dad and I rushed home to try to clean up a bit so we could get her home. And that's when the room became storage. Everything that was out of place in the rest of the house just got tossed in there in a fit of desperation. Her walker. Her clothes. My gardening supplies that were in the kitchen. The dog's old bed. The vacuum cleaner. A coffee table we no longer used. Amazon boxes. Anything that would be in the way, that would prevent her from getting inside or prevent relatives from visiting got tossed into that room, and that's where it sat until this past month when I started cleaning it up for its next role.

Going through it all, I felt like some sort of archeologist. I'd been taking out bits of the craft stuff here and there to sell at the shop, but I'd barely scratched the surface. There were still medical supplies tucked here and there, and even some of my grandfather's office items were still sitting in drawers, plus that diploma I mentioned is still on the wall. I even found my grandmother's death certificate from 1997 and pictures of my cousins and me when we were all little. It was like with each item I moved, I was peeling back another layer of my life. Another layer of family members long gone and the memories they left behind…

And this is what kept me up a few nights ago. I was thinking about all the time I've spent in that room and all of the purposes it's served over the years. I'm sure it also served several purposes before I was born, and it will serve several more in the future. It's even served hypothetical purposes that never materialized. When my mom started the home dialysis, I always assumed she'd die in that room as morbid as it is to utter out loud. One of my favorite songs is "Cleopatra" by the Lumineers, and there are lyrics:

Now a nurse in white shoes
Leads me back to my guestroom
It's a bed and a bathroom
And a place for the end

I couldn't get those lines out of my head at that time, but of course, it didn't happen that way. And when every house I tried to buy fell through for one reason another, my parents finally offered to give me this house if I fixed their old one up to their liking, so that I could get back to that adoption thing. I always pictured that room as a nursery in that scenario, but COVID hit, my mom got really really sick, and the world had other plans.

Who knows? Maybe prayers will be answered, and it will still become a nursery one day. Maybe my hard work will pay off, and I'll hang my UGA diploma next to my grandfather's. Maybe I'll move away one day and never step foot in there again.

What I do know is that it's a nice, cozy spot to do my homework, watch TV at night, or sleep on a mattress on the floor with my elderly disbaled dog, and that's good enough for right now.

February 10, 2023

Hell Week and a Gypsy

Last week, I saw that a girl in my math class had a real paper planner that she was using to keep up with her classes. First, I wasn't aware that college students still used such things (isn't there an app for that?), and second, I wondered why she needed an entire book to keep up with four classes. I mean, that day alone, I'd doctored a chicken, gone to class, did hours of homework, cooked, wrote two articles for work, and took care of all of my animals' other needs. And I am also taking four classes. I've yet to write down any kind of notes about due dates or anything like that. Oh, to be 20 again, when that's all I had to worry about. But it's nice being a mature adult who has it all together, right?

Well, at least I thought I had it all together.

I woke up the next day, which was Thursday, and realized I had a project due on Friday at noon that required me to have some supplies on hand that I didn't necessarily have and wasn't really sure where to buy. Oops. Thankfully, there's an Amazon warehouse near me, and both the items I needed were apparently in stock there because they were delivered about three hours after I ordered them. And even though I'd planned to chill that night, watch a little Netflix, and take a bubble bath, I ended up spending several hours working on said project to meet the Friday noon deadline. I managed to get an A on it, so there's that.

But then I started looking at my schedule for each class for this week, and, well, the first phrase that came to mind was "hell week." I had a test or quiz in every single class, and in some cases, both. This included my first big proctored, no notes precalculus exam (on which I didn't do too well, ugh). Taking four classes hasn't been that hard in itself, but taking four classes and one of them is an extremely demanding math class is kicking my butt, I'll admit. On top of that, I would be trying out a new role at one of my jobs starting this week. Throw in the fact that I'm leaving the country in a few weeks, and I have so much to do before I go, and well, you're starting to understand why I declared this "hell week."

My mom always used to say that you put energy out into the world when you speak, and maybe I should have thought about that before I came up with such a label, because on top of all that, it seemed like 100 things went wrong. I'll spare you the list, but it's just been one of those weeks when every aspect of life tries to act up at once. Thankfully, it's almost over. And I'm declaring the rest of this year "not hell week." I mean, it's worth a shot, right?

The only bright spot has been my new tiny kitten, Hattie. I've been planning to get a kitten since August. After losing Lily, I felt like my remaining cat, Annie, needed a friend. She'd never been an only cat, and she just seemed really lonely. In December, I decided it was finally time, and I bought some supplies, but I could never bring myself to execute. And then, a couple of weeks ago, the rescue where I got Lily and Annie posted on Facebook that they were having trouble adopting out black kittens, so I decided that Annie and I needed a black kitten. I didn't tell anyone but my dad and one of my cousins that this was happening, and last Tuesday, I spotted one on their website that caught my eye. I contacted them about her, and they told me to come see her on Saturday, so that is what I did.

When I got out on Saturday, I decided to go by Tractor Supply first and then I'd backtrack to meet the kitten at our local PetSmart. And when I arrived, a lady and her two kids were filling out the paperwork to adopt the kitten I had my eye on. I was so upset, and I almost walked out and decided I'd try again after my trip next month, but that's not what happened.

You can roll your eyes at this one, but the night before, I'd been trying to come up with names for a potential kitten. Lily was named for one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," and Annie's full name is Annabel Lee (courtsey of Mr. Poe). So, I was thinking about musical names, and Fleetwood Mac kept popping into my head. Rhiannon? Stevie? Christine? Anyway, as I'm leaving the store, kitten-less, I notice most of the kittens have buddies in their cages, but there is one cage with the tiniest black kitten in it, and she was all alone.

Her name? Gypsy. Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice...

Was this a sign from the heavens? I'll probably never know for sure, but I took it as one. I read the little "intro" on her cage, and it said she'd been found in the woods by a hunter when she was only a few weeks old. Not only was she adorable, not only did she have a Fleetwood Mac name, but she had like a little gothic fairytale background story, and if you know me, you know I'm a sucker for such things. So, I told the volunteer that's who I wanted, and she had me look at a few others to be sure, but I was sold.

And then I got her home. First of all, I ended up naming her Hattie. Gypsy got my attention, but I decided not to keep it. Second of all, I initially thought she was defective. The minute you touched her, she attacked, biting and kicking and scratching — not in a mean way, just in a "I have no siblings or cat mama to teach me how to play, so I don't know any better" way. Over the years, my mom and I have hand-raised a few baby kittens, and I know they can be on the wild side because they never learn how to play properly.

We're working on that, but otherwise, Hattie fits in quite nicely here. For now, she lives in this little tent thing I bought on Wayfair. It's a decent size for a little kitten, and she's got her food, water, a blanket, toys, and litter box in there. Plus, it's right next to Sadie's bed, and she has fallen in love with Sadie, though Sadie merely tolerates her. I thought it would be a great way to introduce her to Annie without incident, and so far, so good. Plus, it'll be helpful for my dad to have while he animal sits for me in a few weeks. Annie sits and watches her, but if she gets too close, she hisses at her. She's not mean to her though. I think she wants to like her, but Annie is not the most social of animals. She'll come around. And I think they'll become great friends. Hattie wants to be friends with everyone.

And even though I'm only six days in and already love that tiny little black kitten, I could have killed her a few nights ago when she somehow got upstairs and jumped from the second floor balcony onto the first floor. I just knew she'd broken all her bones, and I'd be buying my vet a European vacation or something, but she's fine. She was super sleepy the next day — I told my dad we needed concussion protocol — but she's back to her wild and crazy self. And she's only allowed time outside of her little tent when she can be supervised by a human because my nerves can't take another incident like that right now. But, like I said, it's hell week, so I expect nothing less.

January 19, 2023

All in...even with precalculus

Y'all, I might be a little crazy.

For some reason, I decided that I needed to attempt a full load of classes at UGA this spring. Up until now, I've only taken one or two classes at a time, all online, all asynchronous, but I guess I decided that I needed a challenge...because life hasn't been challenging enough over the last few years?

Never mind the fact that I work multiple writing jobs (though I haven't actually worked in a glorious month and as I get back to it this week, I am being choosy about what I take on). Never mind the fact that I have 20+ animals to care for and two houses and a good bit of land that I'm slowly but surely cleaning out and working on updating/repairing/fixing up. Never mind the fact that I've got two booths in a shop to keep stocked, and I've been on this crazy health kick of cooking more and working out daily. Never mind a million other projects I'm working on...

Let's just add four classes to the mix.

School started last Monday — I'm nearing the end of my second week — and I have to be honest, I kind of love it. I just wish there was a little bit more time during the day.

I'm taking a class about the history of landscape, as well as a marine science course. The third one I'm taking is the one that I was the most excited for — it's about the role landscapes play in literature, films, and art. Thankfully, those three courses are pretty laid back so far.

Because my fourth class, precalculus, is not.

Up until now, the classes I've taken during my Great Return to School have been fairly easy for me. This one isn't going to be like that. It's not so much that I'm bad at math. It's just that I hate doing math. But silly me chose a slightly difficult science major at a school known for its rigorous math and science programs, and precalc is a prerequisite for some of the upper level science courses I have to take. And while I knew it would be difficult, I didn't know it would be so demanding. I have to attend three classes a week. No excuses. Homework is due three times a week. I got a bit behind at first because when the professor said "you can skip the first chapter in the book; it's just algebra review," I realized I needed to not skip that first chapter because it's been a little while since I took algebra. Though I did well in it, so there's that.

Anyway, I think I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of it. Last Friday, I spent seven whole hours on it. Tuesday, I spent about four on it, and last night, I spent about three and a half hours working on a homework set that was due at midnight. So, that's progress, right? And it may not have taken that long last night except there was one problem that I just did not know what to do with it. I almost just submitted it incomplete, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet, even though I was exhausted. I'd been going for about 14 hours straight yesterday, and it was 11 p.m., and I just wanted to take a bubble bath and go to bed.

Thankfully, unlike my previous college experiences, we live in a world of Google and YouTube, and after realizing I was not going to find the answer in my head or my textbook or my class notes, I searched the Internet. Eventually, I found this amazing high school teacher who makes YouTube videos about math problems. In one, he did sort of a smaller, easier version of the problem I had, but I was able to take his advice and plug it into my situation.

And after about 45 minutes, I had the right answer. I couldn't believe it. I double-checked my work. I liked the video and gave the dude an appreciative comment. I ran around my living room squealing like a maniac.

What I did not do is look at the clock. I sat back down to fill in my answers and digitally submit the homework. I was so darn proud of myself. But I was met with a message that essentially said "This can't be submitted." What? Oh yeah, it's midnight. The homework deadline is 11:59 p.m. I guess it's sort of like the football player who is penalized for excessive celebrations. I got so cocky that even though I had the right answer, I still missed it and ended up with a B on my homework and an incomplete for that problem. One minute. Go figure. But whatever, I got the right answer.

I hate hate hate when people tell me I have too much on my plate, but realistically, I probably should have stuck to two classes this semester while I took precalculus. It is fast-paced and demanding of my time, energy, and brain cells. But I'm not going to back down now. I'm just gonna have to work a little harder and a little smarter and sleep a little less maybe.

Throughout my previous kindergarten through some college school career, taking the lazy way out was my thing. It worked for me. I didn't have to try too hard to get myself into the colleges I wanted or to pass my classes or to do well on the SAT. Hell, not to brag, but I got into Duke without even trying. They literally came to me. School was boring. I had better things to do.

When I went to my freshman orientation at the University of Georgia many years ago, I absolutely fell in love with the school, the campus, the people, and the city of Athens. I knew I'd found my place. But I know now I just wasn't meant to be there at that time for a variety of reasons. From the day I packed up my Jeep and moved to Atlanta to screw around at Georgia State and study acting, I've felt UGA calling me back as I worked through those other reasons, but the timing was just never right. I guess it is now. At least, it feels that way.

It's just a whole new ballgame. I crave knowledge. I want to read textbooks and write essays and take tests and do projects (well, not group projects — some things never change). I want to do well. I want to make As in my classes. I want to get a degree that I have absolutely no use for. Maybe it's maturity. Maybe everyone should take 20 gap years? I don't know what's changed, but I'm excited to see how long it lasts and where it might take me.

I just have to get through precalculus first.