Deep Breaths

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday.

I’m in a position where I feel like there’s a fair bit of news that’s going to happen, but none of it has happened yet, so I don’t actually have a ton to write about this week. This is gonna be a short one. That said, I’m going to focus on a handful of things I’m currently feeling grateful for:

  • My job, even when it’s stressful, is really great. I have never felt so affirmed in a work environment as I do at this job, and there’s a sense of stability that comes with that feeling that’s really necessary right now. The fact that my husband is out of work and we’re still doing okay financially is mind-blowing to me.
  • The Illinois legislature voted to end cash bail, among other things! This is a big deal.
  • I’m in a new songwriting class that started on Saturday, and I’m very excited for it. It’s a small group, just 4-5 students, which always makes for an interesting session. This week I’m struggling with the assignment, but even as I feel like songwriting is an impossible endeavor, I’m still looking forward to class and feeling motivated to keep trying, so that’s exciting.

Insert Clever Title Here

Hello, dear readers. We’ve made it to another Thursday. And, here in the US, we’re once again grappling with the ugliness of white supremacy. Yesterday a bunch of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, and (unsurprisingly to anyone who’s been paying attention) there was very little done by the police to stop them. This is in stark contrast to the militarized police presence that was around when people were peacefully protesting in defense of Black lives over the summer.

I honestly don’t know what to write today. I have nothing new or particularly profound to say about all of this. I’m angry and sad, but not shocked. BIPOC and queer folks have been warning the world that this was coming since before Trump was elected.

This is an issue for white people to take ownership of and to fix. We cannot ask the people we’ve been oppressing to save us from ourselves.

2020/2021

Hello, dear readers! Here we are, the last day of 2020, a year that has been… *gestures vaguely*…something.

Last Monday, on the Winter Solstice, I did a little looking back on the past year, on the goals that I set at the beginning of 2020, at how much progress I made (or didn’t) on those goals, despite (or because of ) everything 2020 threw at me. I made a similar post last year, so let’s follow that same format and take a minute to glance backward and look ahead, shall well?

Goals I had at the beginning of the year, and progress on those goals:

  • Write. Songs, yes, but also other things, poems and short stories and maybe even games.
    • I wrote 42 songs, including one spoken word piece and something for every card in the Major Arcana of a tarot deck. I did not write poems or short stories. I started noodling around with writing a game, got overwhelmed, and set it aside.
  • Read more, especially poetry and other things that inspire me.
    • I didn’t read more – I read 13 books, contrasted with last year’s 23. But I did read more Mary Oliver poetry, which was an excellent choice.
  • Make music often, as close to every day as possible.
    • I did not make music as close to every day as possible. But I still made music, and in a year that tried to totally derail everything, I’m calling that at least a partial win.
  • Do the work, in therapy and on my own, to be an adult that my inner child can be proud of.
    • This is lifelong work, but I have done a lot of work in this arena!
  • Take care of my body and my brain and my spirit.
    • This hasn’t been a resounding success, but…you know what? Fuck it. Given everything that 2020 was, yes, this was a success. I got myself medical care when I needed it, I have a better awareness of what I need to do to take better care of my body, I’ve continued therapy, I’ve found ways to learn and grow despite *gestures wildly at the year*.
  • Follow through on the plan to have my credit card paid off in June.
    • I did this! I had it paid off in May, actually. This was a very big deal.
  • Create more routine and space for ritual in my life.
    • I often feel like I have failed at this, but in reality I have established some important routines and rituals this year. They just don’t look like I thought they would a year ago.
  • Get a new, better-paying job.
    • I didn’t post this one on the blog last year, because I knew some of my coworkers read the blog and I didn’t want to cause unnecessary alarm. But I did this! I started my new job in March, four days before we went into lockdown, and it came with an approximately 60% salary increase. I am so much happier where I am now (which is not to say I don’t miss my old coworkers, but this job is a much better fit for me).

Other things that happened:

  • Took a mountain dulcimer class, a couple of mandolin classes, three songwriting classes, and a handful of songwriting workshops.
  • Tried Tai Chi (for a couple of months, in the Before Times).
  • Cowrote a song with someone I met on the internet. Also cowrote with my partner.
  • Bought a gorgeous new octave mandolin that I’m absolutely in love with.
  • Got married!
  • Hosted write-alongs for Song School friends the week that Song School would have happened.
  • Performed with my partner at a virtual open mic.
  • Decided to take an indefinite break from Facebook.
  • Bought a Nintendo Switch Lite and played many hours of Stardew Valley.
  • Played a lot of D&D along with a handful of other delightful games.
  • Established a number of (virtual) social routines.

Goals for 2021:

  • Keep writing.
  • “Yes, and…” opportunities at work.
  • Keep investing in the communities and relationships that allow me to thrive.
  • Try to internalize the notion that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good or valuable.
  • Keep doing the work to be an adult that my past selves can be proud of.

May 2021 be a gentler year than 2020 was. May we keep finding reasons to hope. And may the lessons 2020 brought us not need to be repeated.

Christmas 2020

Hello, dear readers! It’s Christmas Eve, so I’m not even going to apologize for posting late – I’m off work, I slept in, it happens.

It’s obviously a weird holiday. We’re connecting with family and some friends for virtual celebrations throughout the weekend. It’s very weird to not be in Minnesota right now, and I’m missing a lot of people pretty fiercely.

But yesterday the plumber came and fixed the clog in our sink that had kept us out of the kitchen for days, so this morning I made actual breakfast and we can clean things up and make actual food for Christmas, so that’s something. We’re going to put up our tree and wrap presents. It’s slowly but surely coming together.

I hope that your holidays are as full of peace and light and joy as they can be right now. If they’re not full of those things (heck, even if they are), I wish you the space to be able to grieve what you’re missing this year.

Dream Collecting

Hello, dear readers! For once, I am writing this blog on Wednesday night instead of Thursday morning; here’s hoping it posts when I tell it to.

My week so far has been a bit of a mixed bag – I woke up Monday feeling very sniffly, and Tuesday morning I woke up with vertigo (which happens occasionally, usually if my allergies are particularly bad). I seem to be mostly on the mend, though, and tonight (Wednesday night) has been lovely – we had tacos for dinner, and I had my last session of songwriting class for 2020. The class has been absolutely magical, thanks to our inimitable instructor, Sue Demel, and a whole cadre of brilliant classmates. I’ve taken this particular class with Sue a few times now, and it’s always a joy – this third time around was no different. Every week I’ve been completely blown away by the songs my classmates have brought in! It’s inspiring to know that such beautiful creative work is happening week to week.

This past week our assignment was to be “dream collectors” – we were to ask friends and family to tell us about their most memorable dreams, and turn those into a song. In the past I’ve posted on Facebook to source this, but I’ve been off Facebook for a month now and am apparently not ready to go back yet, so I asked one of my D&D groups instead. They gave me the most beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking, weird, wonderful material to work with, and I really like what I came up with, so I thought I’d share it here. This is a rough draft and it’s still changing and settling into itself, but I’m pleased enough with it as it is. Enjoy!

Time Has Changed – (c) 2020 Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

You were a stranger
But your face was familiar
And I trusted you more
Than my own reflection
In a corner booth
Over Moroccan stew
It was an effortless connection

I opened my eyes
And you disappeared
The thin light of day
Spilled through the curtains
A lonely ache
Filled up the space
The emptiness a burden

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

I’m happier now
Than I knew I could be
I’ve grown stronger
And wrestled my demons
But still there are days
When the ghost of your face
Disrupts my sense of freedom

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

A Little Thursday Gratitude

Hello, dear readers, and apologies for the late blog today – my morning flew by (and also I’ve spent most of the week perpetually thinking it was Wednesday).

I have a lot of jumbled thoughts rolling around in my head today, but nothing that’s standing out as an “I should write a blog about this” sort of thing. So let’s keep it simple today – here are a handful of things I am grateful for right now.

  • My job. Aside from just being grateful to be employed right now, I am really grateful to specifically have this job. I love my team, our leadership is amazing, and I’ve never been in a job where I feel so genuinely valued for my contributions. It’s definitely not what I was expecting when I moved out of the non-profit world into a for-profit situation, but it’s been incredible and I’m so glad to be where I am.
  • My apartment. It’s a bit of a mess at the moment, but I am so glad that we moved last year. As much as I sometimes miss our old neighborhood, I cannot imagine how we would have managed this pandemic in our old apartment. Even though it’s just a one-bedroom, we have enough space (and enough doors that close) that we can each be in our own corners of the apartment to focus on what we want to get done during the day (and just have alone time, which is crucial for a pair of extreme introverts).
  • Community. I made a concerted effort early on in the pandemic to set up or get involved in some regularly scheduled virtual hangouts with various friends and friend groups, and it’s been a life saver. As an introvert, I think I used to downplay how much I need community, but being physically distanced from everyone has really highlighted to me just how important it is.

I hope you’re all hanging in there this week. Do what you can to take care of yourselves, and please, continue wearing masks and avoiding in-person gatherings. I know it sucks to not be able to be with people over the holidays, but if we want a chance at celebrating together next year, this is what we have to do.

Zoning Out

Hello, dear readers! We’ve survived another week. I hope you’re all hanging in there despite the shorter days and higher COVID numbers. I’m finding that all I want to do these days is hibernate.

Because I haven’t been on Facebook for the past few weeks, I was feeling like I needed a new mindless activity. I also just got my end of quarter bonus from work. So…last week I bought myself my first ever gaming console, a Nintendo Switch Lite. (My brother has always played video games, but was never great at sharing, so mostly I watched him play growing up and had very little of my own experience. I did get into the Sims for a bit about ten years ago, but it’s been a while since I’ve played a video game.)

I spent most of the long weekend getting acquainted with my new toy, and it is definitely really great for zoning out. I sourced some recommendations from friends and so far have really enjoyed Night in the Woods (which I played all the way through in two days) and Stardew Valley. I’m having a lot of fun with it, even if it means I’ve been a bit less productive than I intended to be this week.

I don’t have a lot more to talk about this week. Looking forward to a songwriting workshop this evening and a D&D game or two to wrap up the week.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

Thanksgiving 2020

Rather than a regular blog from me this week, I want to share some articles that seem relevant to today. I also want to say that, here in Chicago, Illinois, I am on Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi), Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Miami, Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux), and Peoria land.

First, some thoughts on land acknowledgment and reparations for Indigenous communities: https://nativegov.org/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/

And second, this article about stopping the violence against Native women: https://www.antiracismdaily.com/archives/stop-violence-against-native-women-anti-racism-daily

I hope your day offers you opportunities to be both thankful and thoughtful.

Midweek Musings

Hello, dear readers – welcome to another Thursday.

The past week is a bit of a blur in my mind. On Friday, I had an appointment with a rheumatologist out in the suburbs. A few hours before I needed to leave, I panic-rented a car – COVID numbers are out of control in Chicago (like they are most places in the US right now), and I didn’t want to spend an hour or more of my day trapped in a Lyft with a stranger. Of course, because it was so last-minute, I didn’t have the option of renting the car for just the day, so we unexpectedly ended up with a car all weekend.

The rheumatology appointment was disappointing, but the rest of the weekend was pretty nice. Sunday in particular was great – we went to our favorite breakfast spot in our old neighborhood with a friend and picked up some delicious food, and then later in the day we went back up to our old grocery store and loaded up on a ridiculous amount of food.

Tuesday was the tenth anniversary of my husband’s and my first date, so that was exciting. It was a low-key day, but it was nice to take a little time to acknowledge that hey, we’ve been together a long time.

Last night I had songwriting class. The song I wrote this week was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and I was super nervous to perform it, but I think it went well. It was a good reminder that vulnerability is often worth it.

This weekend I’m looking forward to the possibility of three D&D games and some other little chances to connect with friends (virtually, of course). It amuses me, sometimes, that my initial response to the pandemic was to pack my schedule with regular virtual social events – I am very much an introvert and would probably not socialize this much outside of lockdown. But I’m also increasingly aware of the importance of community and connection in these wild times, and I’m super grateful to have multiple little communities that I can connect with regularly.

Keep taking care of yourselves, friends. Wash your hands, wear your damn masks, stay in when you can. And check in on each other (virtually or at a safe physical distance). It’s the only way we’re going to get through this.

Making Space

Hello, dear readers – it’s Thursday again. I hope you’re all hanging in there. This past week was a long one as we waited to hear who won the US presidential election. It was a lot. It…continues to be a lot.

I realized over the course of the last few weeks that my anxiety was getting progressively harder to manage. This is pretty understandable, given the state of *gestures vaguely at everything*, but I hit the point early this week where I decided I had to do something. I’ve cut back a little bit on coffee, but that’s not really the direction I want to take – while the caffeine can be unpredictable in how it affects me, I find my morning coffee making ritual pretty steadying. When talking with my therapist on Monday, I finally admitted that I’ve noticed that time I spend on social media directly correlates to exponential spikes in my anxiety.

So, I’m taking a little break this week. I’ve signed out of Facebook on all of my devices and set up a 1 minute time limit in case I do hop back on. I’ve set a 15 minute time limit on Instagram and moved the app to a less convenient place on my phone’s home screen. And I think it’s helping. While I do get a little twitchy sometimes when I start to fall into autopilot and navigate toward Facebook and then realize I can’t do that, for the most part I don’t miss it. We’ll see how I’m feeling by the end of the week – I committed to staying off for a week starting Tuesday, and I’m going to reassess early next week if I want to go longer.

I also had the day off yesterday, for Veterans Day. That was also helpful on the anxiety front – I slept in and was pretty lazy for most of the day, which was (mostly) what I needed (it probably would have been a better long-term decision to work on some housework, but oh well).

So that’s where I’m at this week – trying to create some space so that my anxious brain and body can hopefully relax a little bit. I hope you’re all doing what you need to in order to take care of yourselves and your communities right now.