Alternative retirement planning

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Once upon a time I wrote a personal finance column for a South African daily newspaper. The column was called “Smart Money”, and every week I used it to yatter on humorously about stocks, bonds, money markets and such esoteric entities. It was fun. I got invited to insurance company shindigs and had lunch with movers and shakers like the head of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and they would ask my opinion about the economy, and listen with interest as I repeated whatever I could remember from the last shindig or lunch I’d attended.

Fun, but also scary. I was constantly aware that, at any moment, I could lose my conversational balance and plummet like a sheep out of a tree.

My friends and family thought this was the funniest thing of all the absurd things I’d ever done. In fact, the only time I ever generated more whoops of appalled laughter was a few years later, after I’d moved to the US, when I got a job driving a school bus. According to the people who claim to love me, the only thing I do worse than manage money is drive.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and pondering how much easier it is to give great advice than to follow it. Take my “Smart Money” column, for example. I knew I was entirely unqualified to advise people where to invest, or to forecast economic trends. But I figured out pretty damn quick that many of my readers were people who had accumulated money by being good at whatever they did, but were as clueless as I about how to make their money grow. They were widget-makers and dream-sellers, not investors. So instead of competing with those much cleverer columnists who pontificated knowledgeably about this or that investment opportunity, I kept just one step ahead of my readers by hearing terminology I didn’t understand, getting boffins to explain it to me, and passing along what I’d learned at a rate of about 750 words a week.

Unfortunately none of this knowledge actually stuck, in the sense of me personally doing anything with it. As a result I’m now hurtling inexorably toward 60 – 70 – 80 sans safety net or parachute. The Hubbit is a fair bit older than I am, so when he retired we chose the larger-pension-for-the-rest-of-his-life option, rather than the very much smaller-pension-until-whichever-of-us-lives-longer-snuffs-it option. Not to be ghoulish about it, I’m expecting a decade or so of widowhood (preferably later rather than sooner). I’ve always assumed I’d be the merry sort of widow – like this one:

Seniorin mit Hund am Laptop, auf Wiese liegend

Okay, so she’s not merry, exactly. Poking around Adobe’s stock photos I found lots of beaming bints with gray hair, kicking up their heels or frolicking on the beach. But this is my kind of happy. Dog, laptop, solitude, trees. That’s plenty merry enough for me.

Not like this one…

Homeless elderly woman sleeping rough in a park

If I’m ever homeless, I hope I at least have a dog.

Only … a question that lately has been coming to mind with disconcerting frequency is, “How?”

I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with all the old farts you went to school or varsity with, way back in the Pleistocene … and they all seem so darn stable. Settled. Secure. A nice house in the suburbs, a holiday cottage here, an overseas trip there. How did they do it?

I seem to have lived my life just outside the masquerade ball. I can hear music and tantalizing scraps of conversations, I can smell food and perfume, I watch the dancers flirt from behind their masks and fans. I think I was invited but … ehhh … my mask makes my nose sweat. If I tried to dance I’d be like a sheep in a tree – baa-aa-aah, two, three, plummet.

Abandoning that strangely mixed metaphor and getting back to my point (I think I have one; I must just keep circling until I close in on it) … it’s clearly too late for me to spend my adult life preparing for old age.

For a while, until a couple months ago, I thought I’d get a job. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years doing a bunch of interesting things – not just journalism and tech writing; I’ve also started and run several businesses, a mission school and a dog rescue, some of which turned out well and taught me all sorts of useful skills. So now that I’m willing to let some plutocrat chain me to a desk for 40 hours a week in return for health insurance and enough money to pay down our mortgage, wouldn’t you think prospective employers would stare in awe at my résumé and exclaim, “Wow – you’re clearly a flexible, innovative problem-solver! We need you on our team right now!

We-e-ell, no. As it happened, their response tended to be more along the lines of “Seriously? WTF is this?” And, even more worrisome, every time someone turned me down I felt quite dizzy with relief that I’d evaded having to sit down at the same desk at the same time surrounded by the same people every day, regardless of whether or not I wanted to.

I’ve pondered getting back into freelance technical writing, but the problem with that is, you have to market yourself. Back in South Africa when I partnered with my bestie, Twiglet, she slapped on face paint, donned a pantsuit with a nice brooch and high heels, and topped it off with an elegant hairstyle, and clients had no difficulty at all taking her seriously. I, on the other hand, with my swirling caftans and my hair falling out of a bun? Not so easy to sell to go-getting executive types. Plus I hate it.

So the fruit of my recent ponderings is as follows.

First, the masquerade ball is almost over. The dancers are getting tired; some have already left. I didn’t want to go when it was in full swing; why would I go now at the draggy tail-end of the party? Baa-aa-aah-plummet – and then what?

Second, I kinda like what the Hubbit and I have managed to pull together in our small corner of the planet. It’s shabby and untidy and a tad heavy on the dog hair, but I’d rather spruce it up (or not) than replace it.

ants and grasshopper

Third, in nearly sixty years of rarely worrying about tomorrow, this grasshopper has never gone hungry. I guess God likes the sound of my fiddling; at any rate, He’s provided for me this far, and I continue to do my grasshopper best to please Him. (I understand the moral of the fable; I’ve just never liked it. Those ants are a miserable, self-righteous, mean-spirited bunch – why would anyone want to be like them?)

So I have decided: enough with the worrying and pondering. Definitely don’t start with the wishing and regretting. I’m grabbing whatever time I have left and doing what I love.

In other words, work on my book continues, y’all! It’s called “A is for Affenpinscher”, and it’s the first in a series of 26, which is enough to keep me busy for a while. This first one is going slower than I like because I’m having to take time to walk in circles and get acquainted with the various characters, and then make notes so I don’t get them mixed up. But it’s moving along quite nicely; I’m having fun with it and look forward to putting it out there.

Speaking of which, two months from today is the annual Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. The cost of attending is wince-worthy, but it provides an opportunity to meet with 22 – yes, twenty-two, that’s two hands plus two thumbs up – editors and agents, all a-tremble with their eagerness to sign up fresh talent.

In two months I can finish writing the first book in the series, map out the second, and maybe overhaul a completely different manuscript (a YA fantasy) that I set aside years ago when I realized it needed … oh well, I’ll spare you the details, but I have to do a shitload of research in the form of gaming, which scares me a bit because what if I get addicted?

So, anyway, that’s my retirement plan. If you think it’s a little nuts, you’re probably right. On the other hand, look what I found in my fortune cookie tonight!

Fortune cookie

It’s a sign, right?

If you’re a gamer, which game would you recommend for fantasy, quests and magic? And, regardless of whether or not you’re a gamer, how do you plan to spend your declining years?

Marmeee’s Day

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The memories come like random pricks and stabs during the first year. First Washington summer without her. (I used to send her half-brags about our increasingly high temperatures, and she’d moan about being cold.) First South African spring without a picture of her hoya, its soft pink clashing with our garish autumn oranges and yellows. First snowfall – she so enjoyed the snow, the year they stayed with us. First Christmas. She missed her 83rd birthday, and my 59th, and their 60th wedding anniversary.

And, today, the first Mother’s Day, coinciding with the first anniversary of her death. It seemed like a cruel coincidence, but then I got to thinking about her, and about Mother’s Days with her, and other celebrations, and I couldn’t stay sad.

I’ve always loved eating in bed. I’m not at all sure she felt the same way – she was one to get up and grab hold of the day – but every Mother’s Day and birthday I insisted on giving her breakfast in bed, and it never crossed my mind that this wasn’t the best treat in the world. She wasn’t allowed out of bed until it arrived, typically several hours after her normal wake-up time. No, she had to relax, enjoy the lie-in, of course not make her own tea! What an idea! I guess she learned to listen for me stirring awake so that she could quickly hide the evidence of that essential first cup of the day, and jump back into bed before I tottered down the passage to check on her.

I don’t know what age I was when I started this tradition, but I do remember my favorite meal, which we quite often had for Sunday supper. It was easy to make, and so delicious that it was the obvious choice for any special occasion. For several years, every single Mother’s Day and birthday, I fixed it for her, and then I’d sit at the end of the bed, beaming with pride, and watch her eat every … single … mouthful. It never crossed my mind that (cold, mashed) sardines on (cold, leathery) toast might not be her favorite way to start the day.

After a few years I graduated to cooking eggs, and I rallied my younger siblings to help prepare the ultimate breakfast tray. We prepared every breakfast in the same way. First, we made and buttered the toast. (It was a while ago, but I think buttering it was the Stranger’s job.) Then, while the toast waited on a cold plate, I fried the eggs. Lastly I boiled water, heated the teapot, and made tea. We laid this all out on the tray and paraded to the bedroom, the Egg toddling in last of all with a flower in a vase.

She ate every cold, greasy mouthful of those breakfasts too, washing them down with gulps of mercifully hot tea.

P Bday 2

The flowers on the left are from me. You can tell by the pink carnation.

I grew old enough to have my own money and go shopping alone, and breakfast in bed gave way to bunches of pink carnations. I’m pretty sure she didn’t particularly like carnations but she got them anyway, and when the Girl Child was born, that’s what she sent me.

Those carnations arrived while I was still in the nursing home. She followed them a few days later, having flown from Johannesburg to Cape Town to help us get settled into the house baby Girl Child and I shared with three other girls and a total of six dogs. I learned later that she’d had to throw quite the tantrum to be allowed to come… The Old Buzzard wasn’t pleased to have grandfatherhood unceremoniously thrust upon him. It wasn’t the first time she’d set herself as a small, determined buffer between him and me, however, and she got her way. I, of course, was oblivious to the fuss, aware only of the tremendous comfort of her presence, reassuring me – in the face of all probability and in defiance of her private fears – that I’d be fine, that I’d be a good mother, that everything would be okay.

Every afternoon while she stayed with us in Muizenberg she announced that she needed some alone time, and was going for a walk. I would generously encourage her to take the dogs along for company. It was years before I fully comprehended her indifference to dogs. She never said a word in argument – just leashed up all six and bobbed in their wake down Ventnor Road and to Sunrise Beach, like a small, anxiously squeaking balloon.

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Sunrise Beach, Muizenberg

Oh Marmeee … you left such a rich trove of memories! I love to dig through them, fingering, admiring and sorting them the way I used to play with your big tin of buttons, lying on the carpet next to you while you sewed. You were sewing and I was lying on the carpet, a band of sunlight across my back, when I discovered that I could read without moving my lips. Another time, you sat sewing on a chair in my bedroom, while I was in bed with yellow jaundice, and you told me about sex. You were embarrassed, and I was appalled; I’d thought the girls at school were joking!

She sewed a lot. Was that necessity, or did she actually enjoy it? Dresses for me – those damn Butterick princess line dresses that I hated, but she said they were slimming. I wanted flared skirts, circular skirts, in gaudy parrot colors, and at last she gave in and made them for me, and never said they made me look fat. Later she made me caftans; they make me look like a ship in full sail, and I love them and wear them every hot summer day.

Her home felt like a sanctuary, even when money was short, and especially when the Old Buzzard was tearing it apart in order to put it together again. One year she made light shades, one out of papier-mâché and another out of string and flour paste. She did batik and macramé, she crocheted blankets and made candles. She talked to plants and they grew for her. She expressed a liking for owls and unintentionally acquired a collection.

She sang, not quite as well as her mother but better than I. For years she sang in a choir; as long as I knew her – until cancer stole her breath – she would break into song in supermarkets and in the car and while gardening or cooking and just because. Now I do it. I wonder if the Girl Child does.

She wanted to be an actress, but settled for secretary. This paid off for me in my final year of school, when I took part in an essay contest – 50 typed pages on “The Press – Something-or-other of the People”. As usual I’d procrastinated; three days before deadline I’d completed the first of four sections perfectly, and had nothing else but a collection of notes. The night before it was due, we stayed up all night in her office while I scrawled and dictated and she typed. Every hour or so I’d raid the kitchen for sugary snacks to keep us going. I’ve never read the essay, but it won me a book voucher that I spent on the collected works of TS Eliot, which I have read.

Years ago, as we were getting ready to run away together for a rare few days without the Old Buzzard, she commented how much she was looking forward to some alone time. I hastily assured her that I wouldn’t be getting in her hair – that she mustn’t hesitate to tell me if she needed me to disappear with the Girl Child for a couple hours. “Oh, I don’t mean you,” she scoffed. “Being with you is as good as being alone.” If you get why that’s the best compliment I’ve ever had … well, then, you’re our kind of people.

It’s nearly midnight. Mother’s Day is nearly over. The first year without her … nearly over. And this is what I’ve learned: She isn’t gone. She’s in me. I kill plants and I hate sewing and I’d sooner stick a fork in my eye than learn macramé, but a few minutes ago the Girl Child WhatsApped me a message that began, “Argh I forgot mother’s day! I’m a terrible child” – which is precisely the kind of message I sent to Marmeee any number of times. And I responded with “Hmph”, which is exactly how she would respond to me. And I know with no shadow of doubt that the Girl Child rolled her eyes and laughed, because that is what I would do.

When the perfect way the light drapes itself across the hills makes me catch my breath, when I warble in the supermarket, when I cackle at an absurdity that no one else finds funny, when I just can’t be bothered with makeup, when I’m depressed by my knees my calves my ankles, when I argue with the Hubbit about organic gardening, when my hair grows vertically upward, when I think about God, when I say “Oh FIDDLE-de-dee” or “Bugger it” or “Phooey”, when I see how my footprints in the sand point away from each other … there she is. There she is. She’s there.

Do you have special memories of your mother? I’d love you to share them.

 

The vicious absurdity of bathroom laws

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Last Sunday afternoon was breezy and bright, but I was too lazy to take the dogs for a walk so a friend and I drove into town to grab a cup of coffee. It was just your standard, laid-back, happy, Sunday-afternoonish sort of outing.

On the way to the coffee shop we swung by our local library. There were a couple of men – nice-looking grandfatherly types – standing near the entrance with a trestle table on which they had a couple of three-ring binders and some pamphlets. Attached to the wall behind them was a shiny sheet-sized poster featuring some message about “freedom and privacy for all” and a picture of a cute little blonde girl.

Transgender shocked girl (2).jpeg

Not this kid, but you get the idea. Who wouldn’t want her to be safe and happy?

As I ambled past them one man approached me with a binder, which he flipped open to reveal a sheet of paper about one-third filled with names and signatures. “Would you like to sign?” he asked.

“Sure!” I said – after all, we all like freedom, privacy and pretty little girls, right? I assumed it was a petition relating to the recent demise of internet privacy protections. I hadn’t really thought through what the little girl was there for … maybe protecting our freedom and internet privacy is a way to ensure her a safe and happy future. But to be honest, I didn’t think about it. There was a spring-like song in my head that didn’t leave a lot of room for logical analysis.

The man beamed at me, handed me a pen, and held out the binder for me to sign. “So what’s this about?” I asked, casually, just making conversation, and because even on a sunny spring day with a song in my head I am not a total idiot.

House Bill 1011,” he said, and when I looked blank, pen still poised above his piece of paper, he explained, “We believe people should have the right to vote when their privacy is affected.” I continued to look blank, but the song in my head was beginning to weeble.

I honestly don’t remember what he said next – he was still beaming and I think stretching his lips like that made it difficult for him to speak intelligibly – but you already saw the title of this post so you know what’s coming. For starters, the pen in my hand suddenly turned into a snake and bit me. “Oh my word!” I exclaimed, flinging it away. “You’re talking about restrooms? You’re trying to control how transgender people use public toilets?” He blinked and his beam wavered into bemusement. “Ugh! That’s disgusting! Your bigotry is disgusting!

Now I really don’t do confrontation. I mean, I do, but only under duress, and I need some sort of warning – time to work up a head of steam that will enable me to blast through my tendency to stutter when stressed and sob when angry. Under the circumstances I turned out to be as incapable of intelligible speech as he was, so I stormed into the library and slapped some books around.

When I stormed back outside the pair of them huddled together but stood firm, awaiting my next attack. I felt a bit sorry for them, actually – they were just a couple of gaffers doing their bewildered best to hold back the horrifying onslaught of … whatever it is they find horrifying. So I asked them some questions along the lines of “Have you ever actually heard of a case of a transgender person assaulting a little girl in a bathroom? Or of a predator dressing up as transgender in order to do so?” and they explained that they just wanted people to have the right to vote about something that affected their safety and privacy, so I asked, “And what about the safety and privacy of transgender citizens?” and … really, again, I don’t remember what they said. It didn’t have any logical handles that would enable it to attach to my brain.

So I shouted a bit and used the “bigot” word and waved my arms and didn’t make a lot of sense because another thing that happens when I’m upset and stressed is aphasia takes control of my tongue – sometimes it’s so bad the only word I don’t forget is “aphasia”. But this is what I wanted to say to them. This is what I should have said. This is what I’ll say next time.

First of all, just how does this whole transgender thing work? Well, I’m no expert, but as best I can figure it out from reading what various transgender people have to say on the subject, it seems to me that transgender people are the gender by which they identify. It’s not just a feeling, or a mood, or a phase. A person can have a penis and still be a woman, or a vagina and be a man. What, you don’t understand it? I can’t help you with that, because nor do I. But so what if you can’t? The older I get, the more things I find I don’t understand. Usually, in my experience, if I leave them alone and don’t poke at them with a pointy stick, they leave me alone and nobody gets bitten.

Secondly, this issue of who gets to use which facilities. Transgender women dress like women; I’m willing to bet most of them look way more feminine than I do. (Yes, that’s a low bar, but still.) Transgender men dress, walk, look like men. Republican dudes and duffers, do you really want someone in a dress and high heels standing next to you at the urinal? Or touching up her lipstick at the sink in your public restroom? Quit being dickish about this, and it won’t happen … because transgender people use stalls. Men with vaginas aren’t equipped to use urinals. Women with a penises will choose to wait … and wait … and, holy cow, cross their legs and wait in line for a stall rather than use the urinal in the men’s room.

Mind you … speaking as a woman who has, on more than one occasion, disdained the long line leading to the women’s room at a busy supermarket, preferring to dash straight into the empty men’s room right next door, I don’t really get why separate facilities are necessary. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we switch to unisex restrooms the better. Although … yeah, they can tuck the urinals off around a corner somewhere … I don’t want to have to see that. (Sorry, guys, I know you’re awful proud of them and all, but they’re just not pretty.)

Transgender bathroom-police.png

I borrowed this cartoon without permission, because it says what needs to be said and it wasn’t clear where permission might be got. Please check out their website so they get some benefit from it.

Getting back to the point, thirdly, there’s the issue of enforcement. Are you going to appoint genital police to peek inside everyone’s underwear before we’re allowed through the door? Because I really don’t see how that will enhance feelings of privacy! Maybe this law will apply only to people whose community knows they have transitioned, like at schools. How’s that for a great way to encourage tolerance and civility – forcing a girl (with-a-penis) to use the same shower and toilet facilities as the tender-hearted fellows on the football team!

Because, of course, fourth point, let’s not forget that this all starts with concerns about safety. Those worried folk who are so anxious to strip transgender people of their peeing rights aren’t naturally mean, they’re scared. They’re scared of big hairy men putting on dresses and claiming to be women in order to invade their little girls’ potty spots and Do Nasty Things to them.

The thing is, rape is already against the law. So are assault, indecent exposure and harassment. Predators don’t care about restroom laws. When they are set on doing their predatory thing, they already disregard far more powerful laws, with harsher penalties than anyone could dream up for using the wrong bathroom.

I wish people like those two old gaffers would stop and think about who is really at risk here – the girls with penises and boys with vaginas who just need to pee, in safety and privacy, same as the rest of us! And then get the heck out of there, because no one actually wants to hang out in a public restroom!

That’s what I wish I’d said, in calm and measured tones, but instead I got loud and emotional, and when I realized I was about to start sniveling I whirled around and stomped off, and nearly slammed into a couple of young people – a tall girl and a short man – who were standing just a little way off.

The young man said, “Um, I just wanted to thank you.” He gestured in the direction of the gaffers. “For what you said there.” I mumbled something awkward and incoherent. He said, “They asked me to sign and I told them I couldn’t because it would mean I’d have to use the women’s bathroom, and they seemed to think that would be okay.”

Completely inappropriately, because I was still all discombobulated and upset, I hugged him. He didn’t seem to mind, but I wish I’d known what to say.

What do you think about legislation requiring people to use the restroom intended for their assigned gender? If you had been involved in this conversation, what would you have said?

 

The pooping peacock

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I haven’t had a lot of sleep just lately, because I’ve been stressing over my cows. We have three, and until recently they were all pregnant. We now have two cows, two babies … and one cow who still hasn’t bloody popped … so sleep continues to elude.

You have no idea how many things can go wrong during cow childbirth. And the longer I have to wait, the more I google, and the more I google, the more convinced I am that, sooner or later, I’m going to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina, wondering what the hell to do next. And then – I know this will happen because I have been present at a few calvings by now – the cow will poop on my head.

When this happens I will tell you all about it, assuming I survive, but for now I want to share something that gave me my first belly laugh of spring: a WhatsApp message from my niece, the intrepid Princess Swan, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And so the adventure goes: I am sitting in reception and I get a call from one of our boardrooms. Grace, one of our cleaners, screams, “SWAN! COME HERE!”  I run up the stairs and see, in the passage, a magnificent beast. 

A peacock.

And that peacock had shat everywhere.

How did it get inside? you may ask. It came from the roof, is our only guess. Swaggered down the stairs and into our lives.

Courtney's peacock.jpg

Peacock, looking a little ruffled

I call Free Me, an organization that rescues birds. (I have called them in the past with dying baby birds and they always come get them and make sure they survive.) But a peacock is not an indigenous bird, therefore they can’t help. They tell me to call the bird vet in Bryanston.

The vet is more than willing to take him in until the owner comes looking. Good – problem solved … almost! “How do you catch it?” I ask.

“Oh, simple. You merely put a towel over its head and it will sit down and calm down.”

Oh, if it were only that simple. Reuben, our IT guy, turns out to be not very good at this. He doesn’t want to get too close, and the towel keeps missing the peacock, which starts to get flustered. There is poop. And feathers. Eventually I, being an animal whisperer, intervene. I take the towel from Reuben and gently drop it over the peacock’s head. The peacock promptly panics.

But only for a minute. I guess the vet people know their stuff, because he does calm down, and I pick him up and cradle him like a baby. “Now what?” I ask Dalize, my center manager.

“We take him home,” she responds. But … where is home? We call around and learn he lives at the British International College just down the road. Dalize and I hop into her car. I am still holding the bird. For some reason no one else seems to want to have anything to do with it.

When we arrive, Dalize steps out of the car and walks to the security guards’ booth near the gate. “We have your bird,” she says.

Puzzled look. “You have our bird?”

“Yes, we have your bird.”

“Where is our bird?”

“Your bird is in the car.”

I get out of the car, still cradling this peacock wrapped in a towel like a newborn, and place him on the grass. Immediately about fifty kids run up, screaming, “Gerald! They rescued Gerald!!” Apparently Gerald has been missing for weeks.

Back at the office I run straight for the bathroom, because I have poop aaaallll over me.

So that is what happened to me this morning. What’s new with you?

After reading about Princess Swan’s adventure with the pooping peacock, my tribulations with the popping (and non-popping) cows pale into insignificance. I am left with two questions – and these may be among the Great Questions Of Life:

  1. Why do all true animal stories essentially revolve around poop?
  2. Who the heck names a peacock “Gerald”?

So what do you think? And what’s new with you?

The imperfect power of lists

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It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest and I can’t breathe.

No. It feels like a fist clenched around my heart, witch-claws digging into meat that struggles to beat.

No. It feels like an itch – a million separate itches in every cell inside my skin, too deep to scratch, although grinding my teeth helps.

No. It feels like no. It feels like urgent – hurry – too late. It feels like loss. It feels like quickquickrunaway! It feels like weep, bite, refuse, fail. It feels like hide, disappear, do not be.

Distressed woman

I am a maker of lists. On my phone, with a linked copy on my laptop, I have Evernote, and it is full of lists. There are several shopping lists, and a list of organic ways to deal with pests, and a list of natural cleaning products. Most important, though, are the to do lists. They are like gears – I engage them, and my day, and thus my life, moves forward.

  • There is my list of things to do every morning, and
  • another list of things to do every evening, and next to each item on both these lists are seven boxes so that during the week I can check things off as I do them, and see that they have been done. That gives me pleasure.
  • There is a list of chores I’m supposed to do every Monday/ Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday, and another for JFMAMJJASOND. They have check boxes as well.
  • I also have a list of things I want to do as soon as possible
  • condensed into a list of things I want to do this week (which I check off as I do them, to delete at the end of the week)
  • and backed up by a list of things that aren’t urgent but I want to do them someday, so I write them down in order not to forget them
  • and then there’s a list of improvements and projects I want to get done around our home and our farmlet
  • and a list of topics I want to blog about
  • and a list of characters in the book series I started writing just before I got stuck.

The lists stopped working about last November. First, I signed up for NaNo, and instead of starting something new I decided to have another whack at the novel I started writing the last time I tried to do NaNo, and for a while it was kind of like magic because suddenly the characters and the story line coalesced. Then it went from magical to miraculous, because I realized I didn’t have only one book; I had an entire series, something that would be fun to write, easy to sell – not great literature, but fuck that. I used to think I had a Great Novel inside of me, but now I just want to finish writing something that people will pay to read. So for a few joyous days I wrote and wrote, and it was wonderful and glorious and happy and enough.

But the gears locked up and I got stuck. Sometimes, looking back, it feels as though I’ve been halfway stuck for years. Scrolling back through this blog there are so many posts about new beginnings and fresh starts and shined-up resolutions – years of take a step, drag a leg, take another step, drag the damn leg again. And at some point around about November, I stopped. I began to sleep nine, ten, even twelve hours a night. It was never enough; I was always tired. I told myself to eat better, but I was too tired to cook. I told myself to take Argos for walks, to stretch in the crisp crunch of snow and oxygenate my blood with clean, cold air, but it was just too damn hard to get out of bed.

insomnia

Every morning I peer at my phone (scrunching my left eye shut and holding the phone a few inches from my stronger right eye, because to put in contact lenses I must get out of bed, and I don’t want to get out of bed, not ever – it always feels impossible to push the dogs and duvet aside until impelled to do so by the pressure in my bladder) and I look at my to-do-every-morning list, which I have pared down to the bare bones of home functionality. I pick three things to do. I tell myself that if I do those three things I can stop for a while, reward myself before deciding what to do next. I think about what I might use as a reward, to motivate myself to get out of bed and begin. And then I click on Cortana and read the news.

Sometimes it takes three or four hours just to get up, clenching against leakage as I hobblescurry to the toilet for the lovely relief of the first pee of the day.

depression-entropy-definition

How soon dishes pile up on kitchen counters and dirt coats floors and tables. Vegetables compost in the refrigerator, sheets turn gray, blankets smell of dog, piles of laundry consume all the socks and underwear. Some days a to do list yields a joule or two’s worth of energy, but it’s like pushing ectoplasm or blowing away a miasma. You can burn it off and, briefly, catch a glimmer of clarity and order, but the miasmic ectoplasm always oozes back. The only escape is via the secret garden of another book, and another, and just one more.

About two weeks ago I was fingerchatting with my bestie, Twiglet, on Skype, and I started to cry. I wasn’t especially sad – in fact, chatting with her always lifts my spirits – so I wasn’t sobbing or even feeling a need to blow my nose, but after a while it occurred to me that the steady flow of tears down my face wasn’t entirely normal. And then I remembered times in my life that this had happened before, and what I had done that helped. So while I was waiting for Twiglet’s response to something or other I had said, I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment. “What is this for?” the appointment-making person asked. “I don’t think Prozac is working for me any more,” I said, as my voice wobbled unexpectedly like a finger-clutching toddler walking along a wall.

I saw the doctor on Friday, and now I’m weaning off Prozac and have started taking Wellbutrin, and the pharmacist said I should expect to feel worse before I feel better. Specifically, she asked: “Do you have someone to talk to if you have suicidal thoughts?” so I passed that along to the Hubbit. He’s not much of one to be talked to, being more a fix-it kinda guy and also deaf, but he knows which of my friends to phone.

And, you know, I guess it must be working, because I’m dressed, and instead of obsessively clicking round and round between Facebook, Lumosity and the latest piece of insanity spewed from the White House, I’ve written this blog post. It’s not about a topic from my list, but I wanted to write something, and then I did it.

It feels good.