Standard Operating Procedure

I had shoulder surgery two weeks ago. Today I went to get my stitches out. It’s a simple thing, really, but important. The PA who took them out was a nice young man who was chatty and had a good bedside manner. He did a great job: careful, caring, gentle. All of that should go without saying, right? Except that it doesn’t. I’ve had PAs rip out my stitches as if they were tearing threads from an old sofa, not dealing with a sentient being. It takes so little — so very little — to treat others with care. And yet it seems to get harder every day.

I told Nick — the PA — what a great job he was doing, and he seemed genuinely surprised that I would have had any experience different from the one I was having with him. And that’s as it should be. If your SOP is to treat others kindly and compassionately, you can’t imagine any other way of treating people.

I’ve had some decidedly unpleasant written communications with people lately. Okay, with one person in particular. This person started our friction with an insulting email chock full of misogynoir. At the time, I decided not to stoop to their level in my response, and it seems that decision has invited them to continue to write to me from a place of disrespect and pettiness. Swell.

Unlike PA Nick, this colleague doesn’t have a baseline behavior of treating other people with kindness and compassion. They use all the right words, the words we expect to hear in “brave space,” “safe space,” “inclusive” spaces. Meanwhile, their default response mode is to lash out first and then slip back into friendly SJW language, attempting to gaslight others into thinking they’ve imagined the rudeness. Except the rudeness is in print. It takes but a moment to go back and check, to confirm that the obnoxious comments you thought you’d read were truly the obnoxious comments you’d read.

I am slowly regaining the use of my arm, and Nick’s gentle stitch removal is a nice part of my move forward. I don’t feel as though I’m regaining my ability to be in cordial conversation with this email-writing colleague, however. I thought I was, thought I’d made clear that rudeness and disrespect weren’t acceptable. The message didn’t land. Now all I want is to slap this person upside the head, something I know I can’t do (and know that I wouldn’t do, even it were an acceptable response and they were standing in front of me right this minute).

What I need to do is remember. I need to remember how long it took to come back from this surgery when I had it done on my left shoulder … and that wasn’t even my dominant arm and hand!

I need to remember how to move slowly and carefully. And that’s what I need to do with this colleague, too. Slow and careful feels frustrating when I want to be quick, venomous, razor sharp. But patience is what wins here. I had to start working my arm with no weight, and then with the one-pound weight, and then with two pounds. It was painstakingly slow, just like Nick’s painstaking care removing my stitches this morning. Fast and sharp would not have been my friends then, and they won’t be my friends as I draft my response. I need just as much care in my writing as Nick used on my shoulder. So much care that, when he ran into some trouble and said, “I need to get a scalpel,” I didn’t freak out because I knew he would continue to work slowly, carefully, and gently.

I don’t feel a pressing need to be gentle with this colleague. The slow and careful is for me, not for them. Slow and careful means I can get through to the other side knowing I did my absolute best and put thought into my words, not disgust and anger. It’s all for me, for taking care of myself.

We’ll see how I do.


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Isolated Impact

I’m thinking about ways isolation has chipped away at my social graces. Last week, I stepped into the elevator and met an adorable dog. I’ve never seen him before, and I was instantly charmed. He was kind of a beagle/Jack Russell/something, with the prettiest eyes! I immediately began talking to him through his people, two men I’ve never seen before, so I think they must be new/sort-of-new to the building. We parted as we came off the elevator, and only a couple of blocks later did I realize that I never actually spoke to the men, only to the dog. I didn’t introduce myself or try to interact with them in any way. I was just so focused on that sweet dog.

Today, I left for work and met the dog and his people again. I reintroduced myself to the dog and petted him for a minute or so, telling him how cute he is and how happy I was to see him again.

At least this time, I wished the men a nice day as I walked off.

I understand my focus on the dog — I love dogs — but usually I talk to the people, too. At least a little, even if it’s just to ask the dog’s name or breed. But I was so focused on that cute little guy that his people almost disappeared. I was happy to use them in my conversation with the dog, but talk? To them? Clearly not.

As I said above, I blame this on Covid, on the isolation of the last 2+ years. I haven’t had to maintain a regular practice in the social graces, haven’t had to remember how to behave with strangers. I’ve just puttered around tending to my own needs and maintaining a safe distance from everyone else.

This isn’t my behavior in every interaction with strangers these days. I still have some of my old niceties left, but my easier default definitely seems to be keeping interactions to a minimum. In my defense, I’ll add that neither of the dog’s people were wearing masks. I was wearing a mask. So maybe part of my behavior can be chalked up to not wanting their uncovered faces any closer to mine than they had to be? I’d lean into that as an excuse, but I know that’s not it, not the primary reason for my behavior. It’s really about me not being inclined to make nice with people.

I’m choosing to believe (hope against hope?) that all is not lost, that I’ll be able to relearn how to be “normal” with folks again, but it’s distressing to see how completely uninterested in connecting I am, how quickly I turn away from new people. One of my favorite things about living in this city has always been the random-and-fabulous encounters to be had with strangers. I don’t want that to be one more thing Covid has taken from me.


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Curses and Blessings, reprise

What can happen when you’re given time and space alone with your ideas? When you’re sent off to a little cabin and someone else is cooking your food and tending to the day-to-day management of your comfort and well-being? When you’re told that the only thing you have to do is whatever you want to do?

Well, any number of things can happen, I suppose. I’ve had very different experiences with writing residencies and retreats. The similarity across all of them — the DIY and the formal ones — is that I’ve come back to my “real life” changed in some way, come back with some new understanding of the writing I went away to work on, which is precisely what I go away for. So … excellent!

How that realization or understanding happens isn’t at all similar. My first DIY retreat, I spent all day every day writing out one character (I was mostly a fiction writer then). I wasn’t working on the story that character was part of. I was digging into his history, trying to understand how he became the man who showed up in the story I wanted so badly to finish but which I couldn’t finish if I didn’t understand that man.

In the end, I wrote so much about him that I realized he was the main character, that the story he’d stepped out of wasn’t the central story at all, as much as I love my original protagonist. That was definitely not the place I’d imagined finding myself at the end of the retreat. Not even close. But I learned a lot about how I feel my way into a story and how to work with story elements and more formal tools to shape a successful arc and land sure-footedly at a conclusion.

At my first formal residency, I’d planned to write scripts for my comics project. I started a script, and it was a solid start. But, but the end of the two weeks, what I’d done most was learn more about how comics work, how sequential art moves with and without words and that some of my ideas were feeling awkward and clunky because I was writing scripts that were at odds with the medium I’d chosen. I did a lot of drawing, which I hadn’t expected, and learned some things about my drawing and what I want from my artwork.

And now …

I came to Alaska with a plan. I decided a while ago that I want to turn my “Fat Talk” essays into a collection. I had an outline of what pieces were needed to complete the arc I’d imagined for the collection. All I needed was time to really sit and focus, time to start building those missing pieces.

Except that’s not what my time has been here at all. I’ve been writing, yes. I wrote a whole new essay that is at least a strong skeleton for what I want the finished version to be. I’ve done some bits of other, not-part-of-the-collection writing. I’ve read through all of the existing essays and made notes for things that need revision, places where I need to go deeper or where I need to steer back on course.

So … productive. But also … not. Everything has felt a little off, a little not quite what I needed to do.

And then Sunday happened. Sunday, I ran up hard against the wall of: what even is this project? what’s the point? what am I trying to say, anyway?

It’s not an unfamiliar wall, but slamming into it is never welcome. And, to be clear, this isn’t La Impostora creeping up on me. She’s always lurking, but this question, this wall, is different. It’s more the realization that I don’t have the clarity about the project that I thought I had. Similar to the realization during that first DIY retreat that I’d been focused on the wrong character, that I was supposed to be writing a very different story.

What do I do when I run into the wall? Well, this time I did some good and some annoying things. I slept. A lot. I hung out on social media. A lot. And then — finally — I started journaling, writing out the conversation I needed to have to get answers to the questions the wall was asking. I made notes. I made lists. I asked and answered the same questions a few times. I just kept writing.

Slowly, and then more quickly, an answer — the answer — began to come clear. I fought it a little, falling immediately into the control freak role that sometimes creeps into my writing, trying to force things to go the way I want them to rather than the way they actually need to. Because, if the answer that was taking shape was really the answer, most of the writing I’ve done has to be undone and then rebuilt in profound ways … if it’s usable at all.

So here I am, halfway through my residency, with a project that’s totally in shambles.

And this, this is what can happen when you strip away the distractions of work and daily life and spend oceans of time with your ideas. This right here. The curse and the blessing.

Time to pick up my pen and get the fuck to work.


It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Gratitude

I’m in Alaska at my writing residency. It’s lovely here, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to be here. My tourist day in town — the day before I came up to the residency itself — was studded with random moments when I’d be walking around and suddenly “Thank you,” would just bubble out of me. Out loud. Literally just saying it aloud as I walked on the beach, as I stood in the museum, as I sipped mead, as I stared up at the mountains. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never had gratitude burst out of me before. It’s a curious feeling. I’d like to experience it some more!

I’m here to write. I’m here, most specifically, to work on “Fat Talk” essays. I am determined to shape that series into a collection. And, while I haven’t been away from the project for long, I kind of have, too. I did some writing in November, but never cleaned it up and posted it. I’ve been thinking about the project, but haven’t gotten any words on paper.

So these two weeks are time to pull this project back to the front of my brain and see what’s what.

And that’s hard and stressful because a lot of what I want to write about it hard and stressful. Having to put into words the ways in which I have been mistreated is hard. Having to put into words the ways in which I have mistreated myself is harder. It’s good to be here to do this. To have time and silence to push through the rough pieces. To have a group of writers to sit with at dinner and feel embraced and heard. This. THis is why “thank you” just kept bubbling out of me on Saturday. The understanding and anticipation of the gift of this

I came up a day early so that I could recover from a 20-hour travel day and play tourist in Homer for a minute. I wish I could have come up a full week early. I enjoyed my day of wandering in the cold and rain, however. I was exhausted — arrived at 7:30 in the morning but couldn’t check into the hotel until 5, so I had to stay awake and do something all day. And I did. Walked on the beach, stared at the mountains, had a really good omelet, went to the very excellent and inspiring Pratt Museum — if you’re going to be in Homer, for-sure visit the Pratt. It’s small and lovely. After the museum, I walked over to the Sweetgale Meadworks to try mead for the first time. I sampled all the meads ( 😉 ) and even got pics of a visiting moose before it was time to head to the hotel. On the drive to the hotel, we passed a coffee klatch of bald eagles — six of them just hanging out on the beach. And then I discovered that I’m not too early for late daylight! I thought I’d miss the whole midnight sun extravaganza … and I will, but the sun sets after 10pm right now, so daylight just goes on and on. It’s magical.

Here are some pics from the last few days:

My first good look at Kachemak Bay, taken from the back deck of the hotel where I stayed the first night.
The flights of meads I sampled. The flight on the left had my favorites: Sweetgale, Nagoonberry, and Wildflower.
One of the two moose who came by the meadery as I was sipping mead.
The view from my hotel room … at about 9pm. Crazypants that it was still this bright out!
Hanging out at the Salty Dawg Saloon before heading out to the residency. (That Stella Cidre was good stuff!)
A piece of the view from my cabin window here at the residency. That’s Cook Inlet.
Running away to write. 10/10 highly recommend
A mated pair of Sandhill Cranes who were hanging around outside the main house when I walked up for breakfast yesterday.

And now it’s time to get back to work! ❤


It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

March Madness

Another month of slices comes to a close. March goes by so fast (SO FAST!!). And every year I have the same realizations. I remember how much more I write when I focus on writing every day. I remember how easy it is to post to my blog regularly. I remember how fun (and sometimes stressful) it is to find a slice every day. I get a chance to check in with other slicers — catch up with returning folks and meet some new folks.

I also am reminded of how quick I am to cut back on sleep and how that adds up to me being completely exhausted by the end of the month. Case in point: how many times have a dozed off while writing this slice?! And every year I promise myself I won’t be in this situation next year … and here I am. Oy.

And now it’s time to start April’s challenge: a poem a day for National Poetry Month/National Poetry Writing Month. I have gotten nervous about taking on the Ghazal for the month, which tells me that I should definitely take it on. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve used a form with a rhyme scheme, so that will be an added challenge. I always kind of balk at rhymes.

Last notes for March:

I’m out of town tonight, having come south to visit my family and celebrate my sister’s birthday. It’s my first visit since Christmas … which you should read as I’m still pissed at Covid for keeping me from seeing my family every month.

The moment I saw the notification on my phone about second booster shots being approved, I was online signing up to get mine!

I have just a few weeks to set myself up for my residency. While I’m taking this mini-trip to see family, my cat is having a trial run being boarded so we can see if he can stay there while I’m in Alaska. (And oh my goodness, this should probably just be a slice of its own! I really had no idea what a nervous, fussy cat parent I am or how hard it would be to leave him at the boarding place!) So far, so good — because of course I’ve called them twice already to check on him and make sure they’re on top of his meds schedule. It’s either the kennel (that’s what we call “boarding places,” right?) or the hospital connected to the vet’s office. The kennel is a much nicer option. So, fingers crossed.

My desktop computer with its wonderful, giant monitor, has died. This is the computer I set up during the second week of quarantine in 2020 … and that shocking and unhappy event fell exactly one week after the service contract expired. Naturally.

I am having fun reacquainting myself with my hair at this new short length. I still catch myself doing things that would only be necessary if my hair was as long as it was three weeks ago. And I’m wearing earrings that have been out of rotation for years because they would get tangled in my hair, a thing that’s not an issue now. It’s like all these old faves are brand new again.

And there we are: the slicing challenge is an old fave (I still can’t quite fathom that it’s really 15 years!), and every time I participate, it’s brand new again. Thank you to everyone who has visited and commented. Thank you to Stacey and the team at Two Writing Teachers. And thank you to my own dogged insistence that I participate year after year!


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot